Editor’s note: This is the last of a two-part annual series that began last week.

Chuck Washington appointed supervisor

By JP Crumrine
News Editor

The Hill received a new supervisor this year. Chuck Washington, former Temecula city councilman and mayor pro-tem, now represents Riverside County’s 3rd District.

On March 4, 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Washington, 62, to fill the vacancy on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors after Jeff Stone was elected the 28th District state senator in November 2014. The 3rd District seat includes all of the Hill and west to Temecula.

Washington, whose term will end in December 2016, quickly opened his campaign to be elected to a full, four-year term. Since his appointment, he has been a frequent visitor to the Hill, including at the Idyllwild Community Center’s first fundraiser in September. He also has generously helped several local organizations, especially the Idyllwild HELP Center, Soroptimist International of Idyllwild and the scholarship fund for the Idyllwild Arts Academy Summer Program.

Washington is a registered Democrat and the only one on the current Board of Supervisors. But two Republican challengers have already announced their intention to oppose him.

In April, only a month after Washington’s appointment, Randon Lane, Murrieta councilman and mayor pro tem, was the first candidate to announce his challenge to Washington. He was first elected to the Murrieta council in 2008.

In August, Shellie Milne, Hemet councilwoman, announced she was seeking Washington’s seat on the board. Milne is not the career politician. She first sought public office in 2014 when she ran for and won a seat on the Hemet City Council.

If both stay in the race, the June primary will narrow the field to the top two vote getters. The next supervisor will then be decided in the November election.

Following Washington’s appointment, Board Chair Marion Ashley, 5th District, made the following comments in the press release. “… It is truly momentous because Chuck is the first African-American to sit on the Board of Supervisors. I’m sure he will do a tremendous job. … As expected, the governor made an excellent appointment.”

Stone and Washington served together on the Temecula City Council and also worked together when Washington was a member of the Murrieta City Council.

Drought creates water emergency
Forest fires now a greater threat

By JP Crumrine
News Editor

California and the Hill suffered through the fourth-consecutive year of drought conditions. 2011 was the last year when local rainfall exceeded the historic average.

During the past four years, Idyllwild’s total rainfall has been 34.2 inches less than the cumulative total for four average years. To recover that much rain, El Niño would need to bring more than twice the average rainfall. Through the end of December, Idyllwild has received 14.3 inches of rain, which is 5 inches more than the average through the end of December.

The entire state, not just the Hill, has endured this unusually long dry spell. In April, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and mandated a 25-percent reduction in water usage. Then in November, he issued a second executive order authorizing the State Water Resources Control Board to extend the water reductions through October 2016 if drought conditions persist through January 2016.

The results of the drought have been dried-out forests and parched shrubs, which has greatly increased the threat of fires. In 2015, 6,318 fires burned more than 300,000 acres in State Responsibility Areas. In 2014, 4,270 fires burned 191,300 acres.

Consequently, Brown declared a state of emergency in November due to the number of dead and dying trees resulting from the four-year drought. Brown also wrote U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack seeking help to mitigate this forest crisis.

Brown cited several reasons for issuing the Emergency Proclamation. The tree die-off is of such a scale that it significantly worsens wildfire risk in many areas of the state and presents life-safety risks from falling trees to Californians living in rural, forested communities.

The number of dying trees also increased on the Hill, according to Dave Simmons, Southern California Edison’s barkbeetle project manager. His crews have removed many dead and dying pines due to the bark beetle resurgence. During 2015, nearly 2,400 trees were removed along Edison’s power lines in Southern California.

More than half of these tree removals were on the Hill, Simmons said. Edison is using four crews and now takes about four to five weeks from identifying a tree for removal until it is down.

Because of the drought’s damage, Edison is expanding its project statewide, Simmons said. Consequently, he attended a meeting with the Governor’s Task Force on Tree Mortality, created as part of Brown’s emergency proclamation.

The state Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire convened the group, comprising state and federal agencies, local governments and utilities, in order to coordinate emergency protective actions and monitor ongoing conditions.

Brown also ordered Cal Fire and the state Air Resources Board to work together with federal land managers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand using prescribed burns. The intent is to reduce fire risk and avoid greater pollution form major wildfires. The goal is to increase the number of days when tree waste from high hazard areas may be burned.

Services, from trash to pay-TV, found new operators

By JP Crumrine
News Editor

During 2015, ownership of various Hill utilities changed hands. The change affecting nearly all residents was CR&R Inc. of Stanton becoming the new manager of the Idyllwild Transfer Station as of Nov. 1. CR&R bought the contract that Waste Management Inc. had with Riverside County.

But cable television and telephone services also were acquired by new operators.

Transfer Station
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the transfer or sale of Franchise Area 8, which includes Idyllwild, Anza and Pinyon, in October. CR&R has already implemented some changes, such as eliminating or reducing some fees at the Transfer Station.

“We’re real excited about being up there and providing service to the customers,” said Alex Braicovich, senior regional vice president for CR&R. He added that CR&R is making some positive changes, “but not wholesale changes because we know the station has been there a long time and people are used to the hours.”

For example, the station will continue to be closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The County Department of Environmental Health recommended the approval, primarily based on its experience with CR&R. For more than 25 years, the company has served five franchise areas within Riverside County, such as Cherry Valley, Cabazon and the unincorporated area near San Jacinto, all larger than Franschise Area 8, and several other Southern California areas, according to John Watkins, DEH deputy director.

CR&R Riverside office is in Perris. As well as in this county, it provides waste and recycling services throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles, Imperial, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Early in 2016, Verizon landline customers on the Hill should expect Frontier Communications of Connecticut to take over their phone service.

The two corporations announced the purchase in February 2015. For about $10.5 billion, Frontier will acquire Verizon’s wireline operations in California, Florida and Texas, which serve about 3.7 million voice customers and 2.2 million high-speed data customers.

Frontier will offer California, Florida and Texas customers the company’s full portfolio of products and services, including broadband services, wireline local and long-distance phone service, video-viewing options, and innovative products and services such as Frontier Secure, industry-leading digital security, providing customers with online computer and personal identification protection and 24/7 technical support, as well as hard drive backup.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the deal in September, expected to close before April 2016. The California Public Utilities Commission is still deliberating the sale.

Verizon disposed of these properties because its strategy will concentrate on wireline operations in the East and the fiber-optics market, according to its press release.

Pay TV
The delivery of televised entertainment or pay-TV will be changing for many Hill subscribers. Two major national business transactions are consolidating the market for cable service.

DirecTV, which delivers televised entertainment through satellite transmissions rather than a high-speed cable to the house, is now a unit of AT&T. The Federal Communications Commission approved AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV in July. The acquisition was announced in May 2014.

AT&T, the former “Ma Bell,” is now the largest pay-TV provider, with more than 26 million subscribers, including 1.5 million in the Los Angeles region.

Cable marketer Time Warner Cable has found a new partner with Charter Communications, following the dissolution of its proposed merger with Comcast. Time Warner and Charter hope to close the merger in the first quarter of 2016.

In May, Time Warner and Charter announced their plans to merge only a month after the failed deal with Comcast. Charter also is acquiring the cable network of Bright House. Once these two deals close, the new company will serve nearly 24 million customers in 41 states.

Neither federal nor state regulatory authorities have announced any decision on the proposal. Stockholders of both corporations have approved the deal. But Dish Network Corp. has formally opposed the merger in a filing with the FCC. In July, in a letter to the FCC, Netflix, which opposed the merger with Comcast, announced its support for this action.

Idyllwild and Pine Cove water districts held election campaigns
Fern Valley Water and Idyllwild Fire had no opposition

By JP Crumrine
News Editor

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the August mail-in ballot local elections have usually focused on the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commission; however, 2015 saw Hill residents more concerned about water policies than fire responses.

Both Idyllwild and Pine Cove water districts held election campaigns for seats on their boards; while Fern Valley Water District and IFPD had no challengers to the incumbents seeking re-election.

But incumbent directors for IWD and PCWD encountered challengers, and voters’ responses were surprising. Pine Cove constituents chose to stick with their incumbents Diana Eskew and Tim Lange. The challenger, Sharon Kaffen, found insufficient support from the voter base to unseat either of them.

Idyllwild voters demonstrated disenchantment with their incumbents. Challengers Steven Kunkle and June Rockwell unseated former directors Warren Monroe and Dean Lattin. Board President Jim Billman was re-elected, although he finished third in the race behind the newcomers.

Campaign issues
The Town Crier sponsored a separate campaign forum for each to allow an opportunity for the public to meet and question the candidates. The IWD campaign, which took a slightly contentious tone in July, engendered this question as the first one posed at the forum to all five candidates: “Being on the board requires you to be a team player. How have those on the board already been a team player, and, for the new [possible] members, how can you come in and be part of the board?”

The major issues during the race were the recent series of water and sewer rate increases, the board’s decision to raise its own compensation — from $50 to $100 for attending the meetings, board or committee — the denial of “will-serve” letters during Stage 2, and the need and financing for the recycled water facility. These each may have contributed to the toppling of the only Hill incumbents to lose in 2015.

Addressing the board’s stipend for attending the meeting, Rockwell said, “I won’t take the money. It’s appalling. I’ll donate it to families who can’t pay their water bill.”

In Pine Cove, Kaffen could find little traction for the issues, which she raised during the campaign. PCWD’s overall finances, salaries, and adequacy and source of water supplies were policies that provoked little voter antagonism toward the two incumbents. Both Eskew and Lange feel PCWD is in good shape going forward.

Fern Valley Water District directors Trischa Clark and Richard Schnetzer were re-elected without any opposition. They began full four-year terms in December.

IFPD Commission President Jerry Buchanan and Vice President Larry Donahoo were re-elected to their second four-year terms, also, without any opposition.

Idyllwild restaurants were big news in 2015

By Marshall Smith
Staff Reporter

Idyllwild businesses have long come and gone with few remaining for decades or even many-year runs. But 2015 saw shifts in the Idyllwild restaurant scene that raised the bar both in quality and ambience yet also saw major changes in some marquee restaurants.

In January 2015, one of the longest-running restaurants, Jo’An’s Restaurant and Bar, changed owners. Bought by Mo Jacob, this purchase finally saw the retirement of founder Joan Lackey.

Mid-year saw other changes. Fratello’s, owned by Luis Solis of The Lumber Mill, opened in the spring and quickly established itself as a popular Italian eatery. Arriba Mexican Restaurant saw a reboot in May by new owners Carol and Juan Martinez who joined their operation, CJ Fast Food and Takeout, with their new purchase.

Also in May, Mariah Tartaglia’s La Bella Montagna morphed into La Bella Bistecca, changing format to a “spaghetti Western” steak-and-chops restaurant. Sadly for Tartaglia’s loyal customers, the reboot did not save the restaurant, long plagued by location and lack of a beer and wine license. La Bella closed in November, ending a three-year run.

The La Bella location on Highway 243 will open under new owner Luis Solis in as an Asian fusion restaurant, Jade Mountain Asian Bistro, combining Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine traditions. It will open this month. Word has it that the Pho will be out of this world. With the Lumber Mill and Fratello’s, this will be the Solis family’s third Idyllwild restaurant.

Frank Ferro’s long-awaited upscale eatery Ferro opened on July 4 after several weeks of soft-opening nights to fine-tune food and service. Also in July, Dave and Julie Dillon’s popular Idyll Awhile Wine Shoppe & Bistro changed owners. Lynn and Greg Adams bought the “go-to” town gathering and watering spot.

In December, Windean Dahleen’s Idyology, which had opened in November 2014, announced it was for sale.

Sales announced this year but not yet consummated also included two of Idyllwild’s flagship restaurants, Lanny and Jane Wagstaff’s Gastrognome and Trudy Twardowski’s Oma’s European Restaurant and Bakery.

And just before the year-end closing bell, the wildly popular Town Baker, founded by Paul Amick and Ken Urias, announced it had been bought by Daniel Rykowski and Louie Torres. Amick cited health issues as the reason for sale. The new owners are slated to take over in the beginning of February.