10:44 PM PST on Saturday, December 4, 2010

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

In his last meeting as a San Bernardino County supervisor, Paul Biane spoke about the guiding principle he learned from his father.

“Leave it better than you found it,” he said.

As Biane’s eight years on the Board of Supervisors come to an end Monday, he leaves a mixed legacy. Constituents praised him for helping to fund libraries and parks in his district, but many were troubled by allegations linking him to a criminal investigation.

A past ally, Fontana Councilwoman Janice Rutherford, defeated him in the Nov. 2 election in a campaign where she said he had become ineffective because of an ethical cloud that hung over him.

Biane, 46, has chosen to focus on his accomplishments as he leaves office. He declined to be interviewed, but in a letter he outlined several projects he helped fund in his district, including libraries, parks and highway and road improvements.

“I won’t say every decision I made as supervisor was easy or without controversy, but I leave this fulfilling job knowing that I have left Second District communities better off than when I joined the Board of Supervisors in 2002,” he wrote.

At his last board meeting a few weeks ago, some constituents from his district — which includes Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Upland, Lytle Creek and Crestline — thanked him for helping deliver projects.

Bill Steiner, a Crestline resident, said Biane paid more attention to the mountain community than his predecessors and helped push for a skateboard park, a dog park and a $5.9 million library that opened last summer.

“He’s actually done a lot for us up here and we’re very appreciative,” said Steiner, who is president of the Friends of the Crestline Library.

Board Chairman Gary Ovitt, who won his own bid for re-election in June, praised Biane as having improved the qualify life in his district.

“I think he will be remembered for the good things he’s done and he can be proud of what he accomplished,” Ovitt said.

Still, Biane’s vote in favor of a $102 million settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners in November 2006, and the subsequent criminal investigation, remains one of his more controversial actions. The company had sued the county over a flood control easement at its Upland housing and retail development.

“I still stand behind that vote,” Biane said at the November meeting. “I still think it was the right thing to do.”

Prosecutors said the settlement was the result of an illegal conspiracy involving extortion and bribes, and they have brought charges against Bill Postmus, who was chairman of the Board of Supervisors at the time, and Jim Erwin, a former assistant assessor. Both have denied the charges, as has Colonies.

Court documents appear to implicate Biane as one of five unindicted co-conspirators who prosecutors have said remain under investigation.

Biane has denied any wrongdoing and said he voted for the settlement to spare the county further financial damages if the case went to court.

But the Colonies settlement and a county lawsuit against Upland, claiming it also bore responsibility, cost Biane support in Upland, where most city officials endorsed Rutherford, said Upland Councilman Ken Willis.

He said the city has spent $3 million defending itself so far. Willis had backed Biane in the past but was angry that the supervisor didn’t try to work with the city.

“If the County of San Bernardino had not decided to sue Upland to recoup $102 million that Paul Biane on his own volition decided to give away, he’d still be a supervisor,” Willis said.

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