Sunday, June 24, 2018 – 02:30 p.m.

A local developer has somehow achieved an unimaginable re-zoning of property in Adelanto, California, a city in the midst of an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Questions are now arising as to how Upland-based Lewis Group of Companies, doing business through a Delaware incorporated entity, Adelanto Ventures, LLC, could get the Adelanto City Council, on a 3-1 vote, to approve the change of “low-density” residential-zoned land to industrial/commercial development for the sole purpose of commercial marijuana cultivation?

Land that is actually located some six miles from the area specifically set aside by the city for commercial marijuana cultivation activity. Land now zoned with an inconsistent use for the area.

The size of the parcel, just under 180-acres, originally meant to contain some 445 residential homes, is now approved for marijuana cultivation, even though the parcel lacks the necessary infrastructure for that purpose.

Reports that Former Adelanto City Manager Gabriel Elliott viewed the idea as inconsistent with the city’s general plan and would impact residential development adjacent to the Lewis property appear to be accurate.

Elliott’s opposition may have even been a factor in his demise as city manager.

Mayor Rich Kerr pushed employee sexual harassment claims against Elliott as the precursor to Elliott being placed on paid administrative leave in December 2017.

Enter Michael Millhiser, a former city manager to several Western San Bernardino Valley cities, as the interim replacement for Elliott, who remains on leave to this date. Millhiser, who had already served a previous six-month stint as city manager, prior to Elliot’s elevation in August 2017, was back in the saddle for another six-month run.

The reason for Millhiser’s limited service is state law strictly-limits the amount of paid public service for any current pensioner, which Millhiser is, to just 960 hours per year.

With Millhiser’s re-emergence, the Lewis’ marijuana zone change appears to have went on a glide path to approval. The newly-approved agreement doesn’t even require the Lewis property to comply with any residential buffering zone requirements.

Millhiser, from his past service in the cities of Upland, Montclair and Upland, was well acquainted with the Lewis operations and dealt with the organization in the past, and that relationship appears to have paid off big-time.

The week prior to Millhiser finishing his latest stint with Adelanto, the Lewis’ struck gold with the city council giving the zoning and general plan change the green light on April 25, 2018.

An article published in the June 23, 2018 edition of The San Bernardino County Sentinel newspaper prints some interesting comments from the players in this highly-dubious deal.

Here’s some excerpts from that article citing comments from one or more Adelanto officials with knowledge:

A high ranking Adelanto official who has functioned within both the managerial and land use echelons at City Hall told the Sentinel that the Lewis property is in the north part of the city, well outside the city’s industrial park, outside the area previously zoned for marijuana cultivation, and well away from where such zoning would be most logically and sensibly applied.

“The other bigger picture is there in no infrastructure there,” he said. “Not only is the zoning inconsistent but it is going to be extremely expensive to locate the type of support infrastructure those types of facilities will need, such as roads, water, sewers, etcetera. The other big problem is displacing the residential zoning there. Our priorities there were for high desert living or zoning for something similar. I am not sure exactly how many hundreds of acres they were going to change. What occurred at the April 25 meeting is obviously not looking really good.”

Milhiser’s prior connection to the Lewis Group of Companies played a role in the decision, the official said. “He [Milhiser] knows the Lewis people,” he said. “I am not really sure why he would do this. This isn’t a good thing. There are some significant issues. Environmental maps had to be written, and that was a major obstacle.”

The official noted that Elliott had not been willing to make the zone changes that the Lewis Group of Companies had requested. As soon as Elliot “wasn’t in the picture, miraculous things began to happen,” the official said.

Given the Lewis Group of Companies’ reputation and prestige, the official said it was difficult to understand why the company would have lowered itself to participate in the manipulation of the city’s zoning codes, even considering the money to be made. “If I were them, this is not something I would have wanted to get into,” he said. “It required an illogical zone change and altering the city’s zoning map. What is up there doesn’t conform to that land use. They knew that from day one, and what amount of environmental study would be required to make that work. They said, ‘We don’t want to do an environmental impact report.’ It was for that reason it was originally turned down. It looks really bad. For a company of Lewis’ stature, it’s hard to figure why they did that. For someone smaller, you can understand it. But Lewis doesn’t need the money and you’d think the company’s image is more valuable than getting involved in something like this.”

Unbelievably, for some reason Randall Lewis, Executive Vice President for The Lewis Group, felt compelled to actually give comments for the aforementioned Sentinel article.

Here’s the article’s Lewis excerpts:

Contacted by the Sentinel on June 6, Randall Lewis, Lewis Group of Companies’ executive vice president of marketing, said, “We own about 1,000 acres in Adelanto. We worked with the city to get an overlay on about 180 acres.”

His company has no intention of developing the property as a marijuana cultivation facility or operating it as such, Lewis said, but is looking to flip it to someone who will, now that the zone change has been granted. “We were involved because someone might buy it,” Lewis said. “We have no intention to go into the marijuana business in any way, either as a grower or a seller or a distributor. We went into this based on whether or not we could get the zoning. We wanted to see if someone wanted to buy some of the property.”

Land speculation is not the focus of his company’s efforts, but can be a consequence of what it does, Lewis said. “We are in the business of being a master developer,” he said. “We would serve as the developer, if our land was to be used for houses or apartments or a shopping center. In that case, we would do the developing. If the highest use turns out to be something other than that – other uses such as a gas station or a hotel, then part of our business is to get zoning for the property and sell it to someone who specializes in that kind of project. We will attempt to have that land developed to its highest use, even if we are not involved in the final development.”

So in Lewis’ eyes, it’s alright to plunder a residential area with marijuana grow facilities and make millions of dollars more as long as he’s not actually doing the cultivation?! But yet paving the way to make more money and letting someone else do the dirty work is just fine with him!

Since this whole debacle started, Councilman Jermaine Wright has been indicted, jailed and replaced by special election, while Mayor Rich Kerr has been subjected to the unpleasant experience of having a federal search warrant executed on his office and residence.

Why would officials stick their necks out for this unsavory business deal?

City residents can expect more fallout here.

To read the article published in The San Bernardino County Sentinel, click here.

To read Adelanto Ventures LLC, filings, click the following links:

Adelanto Ventures LLC – LLC-5

Adelanto Ventures LLC – LLC-12