By Marshall Smith Staff Reporter and J.P. Crumrine Editor

Editor’s note: At the end of each year, the Town Crier looks back at the headlines that made the biggest local news during the year. The summaries of five major stories are presented here in the first of a two-week series. Readers are encouraged to comment on these and other 2012 stories.

Hemet Station Commander Capt. Scot Collins talks about the crime in Idyllwild at this March meeting. Photo by Barbara Reese

Idyllwild residential crime brought community together
Idyllwild residents saw residential property crimes continue to spike through much of 2012. The trend put 2012 on track to approach more than 90 felony property crimes for the year, dramatically raising levels that had begun to grow three years earlier. Most often targeted were second homes of residents whose primary residences are off the Hill, residences that were vacant throughout much of the year.

In February, then Hemet Station Lieutenant Geoff Raya explained department staff reductions affected Hill deputy response times. He also explained that station policy was to dispatch deputies only to “in progress” crimes.

Those eyes and ears did not deter an armed robbery of Mountain Top Liquor store late Sunday night, Feb. 26. The suspect fled on foot with an unspecified amount of money and has as yet not been caught.

The demands for greater police response produced a March 2012 town hall meeting with Hemet Station Commander Capt. Scot Collins and his key administrative officers. About 150 residents attended the meeting at Idyllwild School. Collins and officers further explained the effect of staff reductions on deputy response times, and advised residents, especially part-timers, how to “harden” their homes and make them less appealing as targets for criminals. Regarding the growing residential burglaries, Collins noted, “Most persons of interest [in the recent crime spree] spent significant time here or were raised here from birth.” At the time many locals had trouble believing such an upswing in crime could be all local in origin.

A second Town Hall meeting took place on Monday, April 9, Third District Supervisor Jeff Stone’s “Public Safety Summit.”

Some arrests for local burglaries began to occur in the spring. On April 27, Sheriff’s deputies searched Ron Kimmerle’s Pine Cove residence and adjoining buildings and discovered a trove of stolen objects including an urn with ashes with the decedent’s name and a white wedding dress. In May, Kimmerle was charged with two counts of felony burglary and two counts of receiving stolen property after RCSD investigators positively connected Kimmerle and the stolen goods to several area burglaries. Nevertheless, because of jail overcrowding, Kimmerle continued to be released. Eventually Kimmerle was again re-arrested and bail was set at $120,000. He remains in jail. Local Taylor Dravenstatt was named a codefendant. Both await jury trial after the first of the year.

Even with the jailing of Kimmerle, residential burglaries continued to increase. In August, the Sheriff’s Hemet Station officers and deputies began a weeklong crime sweep, targeting homes that had been under surveillance for some time, homes believed to host local drug traffickers and users. The sweep netted 13 arrests, and residential property crime began to decline from September through year’s end.

In February, Chief Deputy Mitch Alm said in a Town Crier interview, “Communities that are more participatory [in crime prevention] have the lowest crime rates. The eyes and ears of a community are the most effective crime deterrents.” Urged to take precautions, local residents began forming Neighborhood Watch groups. Reserve Deputy Barney Brause was sworn in as local Watch coordinator and groups began to appear in various parts of Idyllwild and in Pine Cove.

By fall, the number of commercial burglaries began to grow. In the final months of the year, businesses that were successful burglary targets included Fairway Market, Village Hardware and most recently Forest Lumber. No suspects have yet been apprehended or charged.

Idyllwild’s new playground takes shape quickly thanks to all of the volunteers that donated their time. Photo by Careena Chase

Idyllwild builds a playground
In June, over five days, Idyllwild residents came together to build a $100,000 playground on the Idyllwild Community Center site. It is the first substantial permanent construction to be erected on the site.

Lead playground activist and fundraiser Dawn Sonnier had envisioned the five-day community build as a replication of Town Hall’s 1946 construction by community members.

Sonnier and her Idyllwild Community Recreation supporters organized the construction project into teams led by local captains and advised by playground designers, Leathers and Associates of Ithaca, N.Y. Once the playground was built and dedicated, it was immediately overrun with excited children.

In April, land donor Dave Butterfield increased his matching gift from $25,000 to $50,000 thereby enabling construction of a covered pavilion that had not been included in the original budget.

In May, a fundraising concert on the site raised additional funds, which the donor had agreed to match.

Finally on June 13, construction began. The preplanning was evident as volunteers who had never before worked together produced five productive days of construction, painting and creating deep beds of cushioning wood chips. Crews worked from 8 a.m. to noon, broke for lunch that was provided on-site, and resumed from 12:30 to 5 p.m. The last shift, after a provided dinner, worked from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

The completed playground is a beautifully designed group of interconnected structures and spaces, many adorned with original works of art from Idyllwild artists. There are spaces that only little children could access.

More than anything, as volunteers viewed what they had built, there was imagination and wonder on display that brought tears to the eyes of many. “The level of this is amazing,” said former Marine Rick Foster, who had managed the tool dispensary. “All the people who showed up, the good feeling, the cooperation.” And trying to say more, Foster had to turn away with tears welling in his eyes.

At the dedication on Father’s Day, June 17, Sonnier thanked her 10 construction captains and all the volunteers that helped her realize her dream.

Max dressed for his inaugural ceremony at ARF. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
Idyllwild chooses its Mayor
Until late this spring, Idyllwild was without any political leadership. As part of the unincorporated portion of Riverside County, Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone represents Idyllwild on the Board of Supervisors; otherwise there are several local special districts and community service areas.

But ARF (Idyllwild’s Animal Rescue Friends) changed this, and now the town has local and popular leadership — Mayor Max.

In April, Janice Murasko of ARF announced that an election for Mayor of Idyllwild would be held in June. Only qualified canines and felines would be eligible for the election, which would be conducted under old-fashioned East Coast election traditions — money rules.

Excessive fundraising and the involvement of money — the unspoken reality in elections — are usually the elephants in the political living room. But ARF was willing to face and embrace this issue. In fact, ARF hoped to make plenty of money from this election in Idyllwild to help finance their animal rescue operations.

Voters made $1 dollar donations to their favorite candidate and the next mayor would be the candidate who garnered the greatest contributions for ARF. Multiple voting was encouraged.

By the May nomination deadline, more than 14 candidates were on the popular ballot. Two felines — Inksworth von Fluffypants of Zanzibar “INKY” and Paris Adamson — were hoping the dozen canines would split the spunky dog vote.

But when the results were announced at the inaugural reception in early July, Max clearly was best of show and town. Magnanimous in office, he quickly appointed his election opponents to various legislative and cabinet posts.

“The overall result and response was beyond our wildest expectations,” said Murasko, election organizer. During the election, ARF raised more than $30,000, which was a significant addition to their finances, since its annual budget approaches $40,000. A significant portion of the funds helped finance Sadie’s Clinic, said Murasko.

The other canine candidates were varied in size and coat thicknesses — Cayenne Pepper, Chip, Dawson, Hogan (who is Vice Mayor), JoJo, Kula, Lucky, Roxi du Dog, Ruby, Stitch, Stoli O’Rock, Tots and Winston.

Since the election, Mayor Max has praised the Hill’s benefits while traveling California, including a long ride to San Francisco. “They have a lot more cars and noisy places there than Idyllwild,” Mayor Max told the paper’s local political reporter, Monk, “But lots of good food.”

He also was seen frequently at local functions such as the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, the fall dedication of the tree monument Harmony and the Idyllwild Summer Concert Series.

Many feel his popularity is growing, unlike many contemporary human politicians.

Part of the audience attending the June 20 CSA 38 special meeting. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

Pine Cove ambulance service
Through a contract with the Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District provides ambulance service to residents of County Service Area 38 in Pine Cove.

On July 1, the three-year contract was due to expire, so negotiations to renew the service began this spring and early summer. Since the legal document is between the county, who oversees the CSAs, and the Fire District, the negotiations did not include representatives of the people who pay for the contract — Pine Cove residents.

In its negotiations with the county, Idyllwild Fire said it was losing nearly $90,000 annually by servicing Pine Cove and Zone 3.

Although a CSA 38 subcommittee met several times with a few IFPD commissioners and the advisory committee did hold public meetings, the contract was renewed based on Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency Director Bruce Barton’s recommendation to 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone.

About 30 people attended its June 20 meeting, when the advisory committee voted to recommend terminating the IFPD ambulance service. After nearly an hour of discussion about the pros and cons, the committee recommended a change to the ambulance service on the Hill. They asked Barton to replace IFPD’s service with American Medical Response, the countywide ambulance provider.

At the meeting, interim Idyllwild Fire Chief Mike Sherman said, without the money from Pine Cove he would have to limit Idyllwild’s staffing to one ambulance.

If American Medical Response, the county’s current ambulance service, replaced IFPD, their contract requires a less than 30-minute response. While the ambulance might have been lodged at Pine Cove Fire Station 23, during the day it could have been stationed elsewhere, such as Lake Hemet, to help AMR respond to any call on the Hill.

Stone felt the 12-minute response specified in the IFPD contract was too valuable to risk increasing for Pine Cove residents.

“Pine Cove bought a 12-minute response time from Idyllwild. The county service is 29-59 [not more than 29 minutes and 59 seconds]. That’s extremely unacceptable,” Stone said, explaining his reasoning.

Stone credited Barton with the idea to subsidize the Idyllwild’s service until the county knows the results of the larger countywide ambulance service contract offering in two or three years.

The county will provide $47,000, in addition to the current CSA 38 payment of about $119,000 and $3,000 from the county for coverage of the Zone 3 corridor, to extend the contract. This is a $25,000 annual increase for Pine Cove residents, who also feel they should not have to pay out-of-district fees for the service.

Despite the committee’s opposition to the contract extension, the additional funding will come from CSA 38 reserves.

Both CSA 38 Chair and Vice Chair, Jerry Holldber and Marge Muir, said they were told CSA 38 would not be the source of the additional funds. Nevertheless, Bill Brown, the County Service Area Operations Manager for Riverside County’s Economic Development Agency, was adamant that the CSA 38 funds would be tapped.

“I empathize with Pine Cove,” Stone said. “Why do they have a fee and Idyllwild didn’t vote for one? My long-term goal is to fix this.”

As the county develops a new emergency services master plan, including drafting a new contract for re-bidding within the next two years, he expects Pine Cove’s situation to change. The renewed contract is only for three years, through June 30, 2015.

November election brought changes to Hill’s representation

Incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack was upset by Dr. Raul Ruiz in the November election. She visited the Hill prior to the election. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

The November election results were surprising, and yet confirmed changing voting patterns on the Hill.

Hill voters were generally of a similar mind as voters throughout the county. However, there were a few noticeable differences and the most striking was local turnout.

Hill precincts all had a greater percentage of registered voters casting ballots than the county or statewide. The total turnout in the state and county was 71 percent of registered voters.

On the Hill, Garner Valley, Idyllwild and Pine Cove residents turned out in numbers greater than 80 percent. The Mountain Center turnout of 77 percent still exceeded the countywide percentage.

Despite greater civic interest on the Hill, almost everywhere, Riverside County or the Hill, the turnout was less than 2008 turnout. For example, in 2012, 88 percent of Garner Valley voters submitted ballots, which was four percent less than the 92 percent cast in 2008. Countywide turnout was seven percent less than four years ago and down in each Hill precinct except for Idyllwild. Since the number of registered voters declined, the actual number of voters was about 100 fewer.

While the four Hill neighborhoods generally were in agreement in all the races, Idyllwild stood differently on both the 36th Congressional District and Proposition 30. For the first time in years, the majority of Idyllwild voters supported Rep. Mary Bono Mack’s challenger — Dr. Raul Ruiz, the winner. The other Hill areas continued to vote for the incumbent.

Idyllwild was also the only precinct to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increases — Proposition 30 — and also had the highest percentage of voters in favor of Hemet School District’s Measure U.

In the Hemet Unified School District election, Lisa DeForest expanded her lead as the top vote getter and Jim Smith and Marilyn Forst remained second and third for the three seats in this election. DeForest started her second term in December and Forst, who is beginning her fourth term, was chosen board president in December, succeeding Idyllwild’s representative Bill Sanborn. Smith is a former HUSD administrator.

Incumbent board member Charlotte Jones decided not to seek re-election. She was first elected a HUSD trustee in 1996.

Redistricting placed the Hill in state Assembly District 71, whose triangular shape extends south to the border with Mexico. Nevertheless, the past practice of choosing a Republican assemblyman continued. Incumbent Brian Jones was easily elected and received more than 60 percent of the vote from both Riverside and San Diego County voters.