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No Sympathy for the Devil: Mayor’s Pal Ari Swiller Snookered DWP But Country Folk Fight Him

Even the best laid plans of heavyweight City Hall insiders like Ira Swiller can sometimes go awry.Thumbnail image for kern-money.JPG

Swiller — a green energy profiteer who parlayed his connections to billionaire Ron Burkle, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and two-time DWP General Manager David Freeman into a personal fortune — has run afoul of a country folk in Kern County.

They are fighting tenaciously to stop him from cashing in on a dirty deal that threatens the quality of their rural lives and the fragile habitat of the Kern River Valley.

In classic City Hall style, Swiller is responding by throwing around money to community groups and political forces to squelch all opposition.

Two years ago, Swiller “outsmarted” the DWP ago to acquire the 68,000-acre Onyx Ranch northeast of Bakersfield in Kern County, prime land for a wind farm.

It was a questionable deal on many levels.
Swiller’s firm Renewable Resources Group partnered with the CIM Group — a well-connected development company that has gotten nearly $60 million in city funds for various projects in recent years and obtained more than $300 million in investments from city and state public employee pensions. Renewable Resources was founded in 2004 when Swiller became the mayor’s lead fund-raiser with Freeman who by the time the deal went down was the Villaraigosa’s top environmental adviser.
The DWP tried to get the property for years and included the Onyx Ranch Wind Farm in its long-range green energy plans but Swiller outmaneuvered the city’s utility and got the land for $48 million, $2 million less than the DWP offered, from the deeply divided Rudnick family.

Just like that, he spun off half the property to the notoriously corrupt City of Vernon for $42 million after the DWP refused to meet his demand for $65 million for the same deal.

When David Zahniser broke the story in the LA Times last September, Swiller through his lawyer denied knowing of DWP’s interest until early 2008 although the carefully-documented article cast considerable doubt about the truth of that and whether this was an inside deal.

For his part, the mayor — well-known for his contempt for ethical rules and laws — insisted through his spokesman that “does not
discuss his friends’ private business matters with them…It’s not part of the mayor’s agenda to worry about people’s private
business dealings.”

Proving there may still be some justice in this world (if not in LA), Swiller, the city slicker with all his clout at CIty Hall, has run into stiff resistance from the country folk of Wendon, near Lake Isabella.

The 2,300 residents, many of the pensioners and people of modest means have banded together to form Preserve Kern River Valley – home to the largest river-bank forest in the West and more than 300 species of birds which helps bring thousands of tourists to the area every year.

It isn’t the wind Swiller is trying to harness for millions — at least not yet — but the sun, which is part of the problem.

He has set aside 500 acres for a 60 megawatt solar project, big enough to provide power to 20,000 homes when the sun is shining brightly and not obscured by the frequent dust storms from winds blowing hard off the Tehachapi Mountains.

Preserve Kern River Valley has gathered 2,300 signatures on a petition to block Swiller — that’s one for every person in the region where the average home costs $70,000 and many residents are living on modest fixed incomes.
The group has stopped Swiller’s bulldozers from grading the land without permits, forced him to revise his draft environmental impact report, gotten state Fish and Game to take a hard look on the impact on wildlife while the Army Corps of Engineers have issued a cease and desist order and SoCal Edison has made him move electrical equipment above the flood plain where the solar panels are supposed to be installed.
“PKRV wants to be accurate and fair, but to me the whole deal stinks to
high heavenj,” said Jody Steel, president of the group in reaching out for support for her community.

“I never heard of a city like Vernon, and to be honest, I
feel we are up against forces we don’t understand.”

She notes PKRV needs to pass the hat for the money to rent buses to take people to Bakersfield for hearings and to appeal to the County Board of Supervisors that will ultimately make the decision on the project.

“We are not wealthy. We are average citizens, we sense subterranean powers at work, but don’t know how to find out about them.” Steel said.

Subterranean is a nice way to put it when it comes to players who exploit our environmental concerns while doing more harm than good.

Mojave Desert residents banded together and successfully made DWP’s life so miserable that plans to build the Green Path North power transmission line was abandoned.

Kern River Valley residents are trying to do the same and need — and deserve — all the help they can get.

We saw green fraud stopped in Measure B. We saw it stopped in the desert, We see Northeast LA fighting the Arroyo Seco solar project.

How can we throw out the impact on people, the land, water and wildlife of green energy projects without a holistic analysis?

The state law giving green energy exemption from environmental laws is nonsense — nothing but a license to profiteers like Ira Swiller to rape the land.

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14 Responses to No Sympathy for the Devil: Mayor’s Pal Ari Swiller Snookered DWP But Country Folk Fight Him

  1. James McCuen says:

    To Anonymous on September 26, 2010 3:49 PM,
    Actually the correct spelling of Swiller’ first name is ‘Crook’.

  2. anonymous says:

    To PKRV:
    Keep up the good fight people. We’re proud of you and behind you.
    God bless you.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The PKPV people should read Mulholland’s biography, Rivers in the Desert, which recounts similar land swindles by City of Los Angeles slickers. Swiller should be shortened to just “Swill.”

  4. People in Kern County hate LA. And there are lots of old grudges going way back.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The lazy reporters have not investigated, as yet, how and why the corrupt Vernon officials paid such an exorbitant land price to Swiller for the wind farm!

  6. Anonymous says:

    10:51-David Zanhiser did an extensive piece on this a few months back for the Los Angeles Times.
    Mr Swiller is close to the Mayor.
    There would be a story here, if the City of LA did business with Mr Swiller.
    As Zanhisers article states; Mr Swillers company offered the land to the DWP, who elected not to purchase it.
    Mr Kaye hates the Mayor and anyone close to him.
    What is the story here?

  7. Anonymous says:

    The whole deal stinks to high heaven; did Z-Man ever find out who Swiller’s “partners” were?
    No way could he have pulled this off himself, so, as one detective said “Cherche l’argent.”
    Those of you who are illiterate will have to guess or, do it the old fashioned way, look it up.

  8. Anonymous says:

    11:23 AM stay tuned. DA is investigating Vernon energy firm tied to City Administrator`s wife. And may be Ari?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Please take out “Bakersfield cleaning service” Sept 28 at 12:58 am” its just a spam bot.

  10. EKS says:

    June 11, 2010
    An open letter to Mr. Ari Swiller, 
    I am a neighbor to your property that your group Renewable Resources bought in Weldon but you are not my neighbor. Bear with me to explain.
    I first read about you in the LA times last September of 2009. The tile of the article “DWP is outmaneuvered in a deal for wind farm site” was an eyebrow raiser. When I read that you beat the DWP in buying the Onyx Ranch for $48 million and, before the transaction was completed, offered to sell less than half of it to DWP for $65 million I was in awe. You are quite the savvy entrepreneur. What topped the charts, as slick was when DWP rejected the offer; you sold that piece to the city of Vernon, with its own electric utility for $42 million in the blink of an eye because of your relation with the Mayor of Vernon. What an inside move. Now for only a mere $6 million you own the Onyx Ranch proper, the property where you want to build the Weldon Solar Project, and the Hanning flat property and a few other parcels. What a deal!
     If you can stump DWP at its own game of land and water exploitation than you are a skilled and cunning entrepreneur. I personally have no problem with you making a profit but my concern is that you have the suaveness that can be applied to exploitation.
    Based on this information and being a community member of the Kern River Valley and a close neighbor of your proposed Weldon Solar Project, (It is not a ranch Ari, and to call it one is a red flag of deception in itself.) I don’t trust what you would tell me about your proposed project nor with what you may do in the future with your other holdings in the valley.
    My REAL neighbor spoke at one of our meetings. He used to work your piece of property until he found out in a very unofficial way, Notices of Peparation on the windshields of paritioners of the Weldon Methodist Church, that you were planning on building a solar project. People that work for you told him that the ranch was being renovated and updated to continue farming. This was false and a betrayal of trust to one of our community members and so it becomes a betrayal to the community. Yes, I mistrust what you may tell us because you do NOT have a vested interest in our community but you do have a vested interest in the land and water of our community. I am concerned when a large privately owned entity that is not based in a valley comes in and assumes it can do what it wants with its property. I want to know that a group such as yours will aid our community and its natural habitat and not exploit it. The Kern River Valley is one of the most beautiful areas in California with abundant natural resources and it is also a very hurting community financially.
    I am a neighbor to your land but you are not my neighbor. You do not live here; your project does not support our community and its environmental health and well-being. So far, from your actions your single purpose in our valley is to make a profit and NOT be a community neighbor that participates in the daily lives of our valley. You have been throwing your money around the valley to sweeten your image.
    Be aware of the footprint you leave behind on the land and the people you tread on as you walk away with money in your pocket.
    Ellen Schafhauser
    PO 1082
    Weldon, CA 93283
    P.S. You have a skeleton website that is appallingly uninformative for such a professional entrepreneur. Your is not much better. This tells me you were unprepared for the community inquiry into your plans. You may know about buying valuable land and making deals but your lack of foreplanning says you and your group do not know what you are doing.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Please go to the Kern County website-they brag about their alternatre energy resources.
    You, as a citizen of the County will get the benefit of jobs and a tax base. On land that hasnt been touched in decades.
    Moreover, your neighbors, the Rudniks, have lived there longer than you probably have. They have been trying to sell the land for a long time.
    Throughout your ‘letter’ one finds scant information about any problems you have with this project.
    And your address is a PO Box. Sounds real local.

  12. Jody says:

    Thanks, Ron.
    To Anonymous at 6:17 PM:
    Here in Weldon, many of us live on dirt roads. The Post Office does not deliver mail on dirt roads. Probably over half of us in Weldon use PO Boxes, including me. Mine is PO Box 1520, Weldon, CA.
    The jobs are temporary jobs (about 7 months), require some college training, will pay roughly $12/hr in our area, then for future jobs the worker will have to either commute long distances or move.
    The project site has been planted yearly for generations. Right now most of it is in potatoes, and farmed by people who have lived here 5 and 6 generations. I know them, they are my friends.
    The zoning, and thus the tax base, will stay agriculture. There will be no increased taxes at all.
    Solar projects make sense some places. Not in Weldon.

  13. James McCuen says:

    To Anonymous on September 28, 2010 6:17 PM,
    Isn’t ironic that you are attacking the credibility (questioning if they are a local) of someone in opposition to this project by discussing the use of a PO Box – A PO Box which is located in Weldon.
    YOU obviously have a financial stake in this project and yet choose to be totally ANONYMOUS not even giving a name and therefore have less credibility than the innocent person that you are attacking.
    An amateur could check public records for Ellen Schafhauser to verify that she is indeed a local. But we can’t check a shill like you who in a cowardly and dishonorable way chooses to attack way attempts to attack a local who has to live with your project while you live off the hard earned taxpayer dollars of the working class.
    We in LA support Jody Steel and Ellen Schafhauser (how can anyone make up a name like that?) and only hope that someone from law enforcement (FBI or County DA) will step up to the plate and investigate Swiller and his gang.
    PS: Anonymous, actually we can find out who you are by checking the IP address of your posting.

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