John “JP” Pomierski
Cloud over Upland
Mayor’s future is on the line
Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Created: 07/10/2010 07:08:31 AM PDT
UPLAND – Mayor John “JP” Pomierski was elected by Upland voters to save the city from the verge of bankruptcy.
The citizens trusted his abilities as an Upland businessman to lead them to the financial stability the city enjoys now, 10 years later.
But his own business dealings have come under scrutiny by federal investigators. A June 10 raid by FBI and IRS agents on Pomierski’s home, City Hall and two local businesses has left residents questioning the integrity of the mayor who helped pull the city out of its fiscal darkness, and wondering what his future might be.
When Pomierski was elected in 2000, the city’s finances were in disarray. There was talk of doing away with the city’s Police Department. Upland was spending more than was coming in and residents were being asked to consider a tax increase.
But the voters rejected the tax hike and elected Pomierski, an Upland contractor, to take the reins.
Early in his tenure, Pomierski, the City Council and city staff made difficult decisions that eventually stabilized the city.
Now, with a balanced city budget, plenty put away for a rainy day and no looming layoffs, the mayor faces a new challenge: potential federal charges of wrongdoing.
FBI and IRS agents confiscated boxes of records from Pomierski’s home, where his construction company is based, and from City Hall, JH Builders in Upland and Venture West Capital in Rancho Cucamonga.
A search warrant for Pomierski’s cell phone sought records as evidence of violations including conspiracy, extortion, bribery, fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
Pomierski has declined to talk about any aspects of last month’s raid, and the FBI has had no comment about when or if any charges will be filed.
The raid marked a political low point for Pomierski, who can point to several accomplishments as mayor, including bringing more tax revenue into city coffers through various developments.
The city is reaping the benefits of The Colonies development in north Upland, large chain retail stores, more businesses downtown and new home communities.
By creating a balance of commercial and residential property, the city was able to lure in more businesses that generated the tax revenue needed to get out of the red.
Residents were also more apt to spend their money within city limits.
“I think the proof is in the pudding,” he said in a recent interview.
Before he was mayor
John “JP” Pomierski was born Jan. 3, 1954, in Chicago.
His family moved to Upland in 1968, after his father, John F. Pomierski, took a job with General Telephone and Electronics Corp., which is now Verizon.
“It was a small bedroom community,” Pomierski said. “My dad had to be close to work at GTE. He had to live within 10 miles of work, so we chose Upland.”
The city had a population of 18,000 at that time, he said.
John Hendon, a neighbor, became good friends with Pomierski’s father.
“They moved one door from us,” Hendon said. Our “two families became very close.”
Pomierski and his three younger brothers became involved in sports. Pomierski’s father and Hendon got involved in Pop Warner football and their sons played on the same team.
Pomierski stuck with football and played on Upland High School’s team.
Mark Hill, founder of the Upland Lemon Festival and owner of Davis Goldmark Jewelers in downtown, has known Pomierski since they were young.
“John has always been one of the greatest people I’ve ever known,” Hill said. “He was a leader in high school, on the football team and when in college. He’s never been one to just sit back.”
When he graduated from Upland High, Pomierski attended Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga for two years and earned his AA degree.
He enrolled in the University of La Verne as a business administration student, but left after two semesters when he lost a scholarship.
“I only went there for a couple semesters because I couldn’t afford it on my own,” Pomierski said.
He worked for Bill VanSant, a local general contractor,
The company started out doing concrete work, patios and patio covers. That led to the construction of custom homes in Glendora, Claremont, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga.
Pomierski got involved in commercial work including remodels, additions and new buildings.
In 1997, his company oversaw the construction of the parking structure in the Oldsmobile dealership at Mark Christopher Auto Center in Ontario.
“I’ve been focused to pretty much stay in this local area,” Pomierski said.
Pomierski is the sole employee at JP, and hires subcontractors to help with projects. He had a superintendent for 25 years, but had to let him go in the slow economy.
He’s been able to keep busy with some smaller jobs in the community, including a current project at Grace Lutheran Church of Upland, where Hendon attends.
“John was always around doing things,” Hendon said. “He was a very hard worker and really used to do a lot of work in construction.”
Pomierski married his wife, Kimberli, in 1979. They have three daughters.
He stayed involved in youth sports through the years. He was a board member for the Upland Hilltoppers, a girls’ fastpitch softball program, for 10 years.
The late Mayor Bob Nolan appointed Pomierski to the Upland Housing Authority in 1996.
Running for mayor
When Nolan decided to not run for re-election, Pomierski ran for mayor in 2000 against two council members, Sue Sundell and Tom Thomas.
At that time, the city was considering a contract with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, police officers and firefighters were taking jobs in other cities for better pay, and the cracked streets were being neglected.
“We were spending $2 million more than we were taking in, and we had $2 million in our reserves,” said Councilman Ray Musser.
The prediction was that the general fund would run dry in the 2004-05 fiscal year and be more than $1 million in the hole the following year.
Pomierski campaigned as a businessman and pledged to bring a business sense and unifying force to the council.
Bringing in “top notch” businesses to serve the residents was also on the agenda.
“It’s a great bedroom community, and I felt it needed leadership and needed to embrace business more,” Pomierski said. “It’s nice to have a handle as a bedroom community but bedroom communities don’t create sales tax.”
Pomierski came into office with the motto “Treat it like you own it” – a phrase borrowed from his father.
“I still say that quite a bit and I kind of preach it and I hope all the city staff gets it, too,” Pomierski said.
Pomierski’s reputation for big-money campaigns got its start during his first run for mayor. He was criticized for raising more than $76,000 for the 2000 election.
It was double the funds Sundell collected and four times as much as Thomas.
Nolan, the former mayor, raised about $7,000 from 1993 to 1997.
“Yeah, I did take it to a new level but as I’ve told people before, I only spent the amount of money that was donated,” Pomierski said. “If I was only going to raise $25,000 then my campaign would have been about $25,000.”
Out of his contributions, $21,800 came from self-loans and family members.
Christopher Leggio donated $5,000. The Leggio family was close friends with Pomierski’s family.
“So Mark, Christopher, Shirley and Chuck were obviously instrumental in my first run because they were our friends and they were very involved in politics in Ontario anyway,” Pomierski said.
The Leggios own Mark Christopher Auto Center in Ontario and Mountain View Chevrolet in Upland.
Pomierski’s opponents began to question how a non-politician was able to gain so much monetary support.
“I stood up to a lot of criticism and a lot of bashing and a lot of ugly, ugly rumors,” Pomierski said.
Over the last 10 years, he’s raised more than $600,000 in campaign contributions.
Pomierski has continued to receive support from the Leggios and family members.
In the last two elections he gained support from some of the area’s largest developers and businesses including the Colonies, Lewis Group of Companies and Burrtec Waste Industries.
Musser and Thomas were already seated on the council and changes to the finance department were under way prior to Pomierski’s election.
The city hired Stephen Dunn to act as the finance director.
Sundell said one of the most significant actions that helped the city was a change in leadership at the city staff level.
“We experienced so many financial problems and that was an important choice that the council made to get a director of finance and I think our city manager has done a remarkable job,” Sundell said.
“Between the two of them (current City Manager Robb Quincey and Dunn) they’ve done a remarkable job in turning around the financial orientation of the city to make it much more conservative.”
A key change was the council’s receiving monthly financial statements.
“That’s going to go on forever,” Musser said. “All future councils will have that. That was the biggest decision that the City Council made roughly 11 years ago.”
A shift in the city’s waste management was also in the works. The city was losing $3.5 million from the general fund to pay for trash services.
The council voted to go to bid for a new trash collector and eventually signed a contract with Burrtec Waste Industries. That decision later resulted in a $1million refund to residents in 2007.
But in order to make enough money to put toward city services and save in reserves, the council needed to make some tough spending cuts.
“The second go-around was to actually cut services and this is about the time the mayor came on,” Musser said.
Early in his mayoral career, Pomierski and the council voted in 2001 to idle a fire truck, lay off 19 police officers and firefighters and close the library on Sundays.
“We had some really tough decisions to make in 2000, 2001, 2002, but one of the things that helped us was we decided we were going to put a task force in place to help guide and model a vision for the city,” Pomierski said.
The council adopted an ordinance that required the city to keep 25 percent in reserves.
City employees in charge of landscaping were let go.
Morale within the Fire Department was declining due to stagnant pay and benefits. Firefighters were leaving Upland seeking better salaries in other cities.
“My first meeting we were having Fire Department guys coming up to the mic and yelling at me, `You’re really going to park this fire truck?”‘ Pomierski said. “And then the Fire Department, Police Department and city employees had 10 salary increases in a row since that day. So we turned things around.”
Pomierski formed the Upland Fire Foundation in 2004 to boost the Fire Department with community support.
Large businesses eventually opened along Foothill Boulevard, including Lowe’s Home Improvement, a Vons shopping center, Marshall’s, 24-hour Fitness and Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market.
The College Heights apartments and adjacent commercial area opened during the mayor’s current term.
The Colonies Crossroads shopping center in northeast Upland became one of the biggest tax generators for the city.
“I would say they definitely fortified the movement that was in place and that movement was business coming in,” Pomierski said. “Confidence was coming back, people started to have a reason to stay and shop and keep their tax dollars in Upland.”
In 2010, Upland has a balanced budget, avoided layoffs and reached its goal of keeping 25 percent of the budget in reserves.
“The city just looks better. The streets, the sidewalks, the redevelopment, just everything that (Pomierski’s) helped do has helped the city,” Hill said. “We’ve got money in the bank now whereas before the city was broke, so I think he’s done a great job as far as being mayor.”
Construction of the Colonies development in 2005 may become known as one of Pomierski’s largest legacies as mayor.
Now a major source of sale tax revenue, raking in more than $1.3 million in the last year, the 434-acre residential and commercial development has been plagued by lawsuits, setbacks and investigations.
Although the project was set into motion before Pomierski took over as mayor, the problems and benefits surrounding the development escalated two years into his tenure.
“The first time I met (then-Rancho Cucamonga Mayor) Bill Alexander in Rancho at a meeting he said, `JP, 70percent of people in Upland shop in my town,” Pomierski said. “I said we’ve got to give them a reason to spend their money in Upland.”
The developers – Colonies Partners LP – have played a big role in Pomierski’s campaigns, donating nearly $100,000 since 2001.
The contributions have left some residents and officials questioning the methods used to settle some of the disputes surrounding the project.
The county is investigating a $102million settlement in 2006 between the Board of Supervisors and Colonies Partners over the development’s water basin project south of the shopping area.
Attorney General Jerry Brown and San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos announced charges in February in a corruption case in which two former county officials were charged with conspiracy, bribery and extortion. County Supervisor Paul Biane was implicated as an unnamed, uncharged co-conspirator.
After agreeing to the settlement with Colonies in November 2006, the county sued Upland, San Bernardino Associated Governments and Caltrans, claiming the three entities shared responsibility for the freeway plan and the re-routing of storm water runoff onto the Colonies property that was at the heart of the dispute.
Now Upland, Sanbag and Caltrans are counter-suing the county, citing the possible corruption surrounding the settlement as one of their defenses against the county’s action.
Colonies’ legal battle with the county “probably cost us, very conservatively, $5 million a year” in lost revenue, Pomierski said. Colonies Crossroads lost potential tenants to Victoria Gardens because of the lawsuit, he said.
The county’s lawsuit against Upland and the others has led Pomierski and members of the council to speak out against Biane, whom they had supported in past years.
The city has spent more than $2.5 million fighting the county lawsuit.
“Paul voted to sue Upland over the Colonies situation to repay the money they paid the developer,” Pomierski said. “Well we don’t feel that’s fair. We weren’t advised about it. We weren’t asked to comment about it.”
Not everything about the Colonies development is controversial. The revenue benefit the city has gained from the development was instrumental in keeping it afloat financially.
The commercial portion of the development has brought in millions in revenues.
It “is now producing almost $2 million a year of just sales tax that we have never ever had in our lives for Upland,” Musser said. “That has been a godsend. That has been a financial pillar.”
The more than 1,000 homes have generated property tax for the city as well.
“You could call it our savior, well-received, perfect timing – We could always take a little more,” Pomierski said.
Pomierski vs. Musser
One of Pomierski’s campaign pledges was to unify the council and staff.
His goal was to create a team that would move the city forward. He went as far as handing out green and white Upland jackets to the council.
When Musser decided to run against Pomierski during the November 2004 election, a rift formed between the two developed that would last for years.
Pomierski said he felt “hoodwinked” and that Musser would be splitting off from the “team.”
Musser lost his race against Pomierski and the following January he was removed from all his committee posts.
Musser failed to unseat Pomierski for a second time in 2008 and was again left off all city committees.
“I donated to his campaign, had fundraisers for him,” Pomierski said. “I’ve done a lot of, I think, pretty decent things and it seems like every time I’ve done something nice for him I get a knife in the back.”
Resident Van Putman, who has supported Musser for many years, has spoken out against the mayor’s treatment of Musser.
“It was patently unfair and clearly a petulant, childish act,” Putman said. “Ray ran against JP for the express purpose of bringing civility and good governance back into city politics.”
Musser regained four committee posts in March after residents made a fuss over the mayor leaving him out of the 2010 committee appointments.
Considering higher office
Pomierski has said he hopes to run for higher office when the time is right. Depending on how the FBI investigation goes, he said this month, he may actually take a stab at moving up politically.
Pomierski was considering a run for Biane’s seat this election, but decided to continue his role as Upland mayor.
He came out in support of Fontana Councilwoman Janice Rutherford, who is opposing Biane in a run-off election in November.
After meeting with Rutherford, Pomierski decided not to run and to support her instead.
Pomierski said he has had aspirations to run for county supervisor for eight years. He said he was even approached during his first year as mayor.
“I said, guys, I just got elected,” Pomierski said. “We’re starting to turn the ship around. People are going to think I’m some sort of stepstone guy or whatever. I can’t do that. I need to continue to help turn Upland around.”
And although he’s turned down a couple of opportunities to run, Pomierski said he would still consider running for higher office in the future.
“I’ve been asked to run for Assembly and some other stuff,” Pomierski said. “I just don’t want to go to Sacramento. I’m just so disenchanted with what’s going on up there. I just can’t tell you how disappointed I am in the whole Legislature.”
Business as usual
(Photo illustration by Gina Dvorak Staff artist; staff file art)
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