The Haven Pipedream
“Haven Coffee” : Mayor Hanna’s pipedream is coming home to roost
3/4/11 - The story of the Haven is a tale of favoritism, cronyism, the commingling of Church and State, lack of business sense, false Christianity, slick corporate shell games and outright abuse of governmental powers by our elected officials.
It was another one of Mayor Barbara Hanna’s many crack pipe ideas : the City of Banning spent $ 1.2 million in taxpayer money so the Haven Coffee house could open in late 2009. But it lasted only a little over a year: as of January 2011, the Haven has closed its doors. In violation of City code, Barbara Hanna, Bob Botts and Don Robinson all made sure that the business could open without permits. It never secured a valid business license either.The Oddfellows/Haven project has now become the latest of Banning’s countless million dollar redevelopment disasters. Here is a timeline :
2007 : ODDFELLOWS BUILDING IS REMODELED WITH TAXPAYER FUNDS
The owners of the Oddfellows building, 42 W. Ramsey St., felt it was a good idea to remodel the building. Owners Rob Freeman and Dirk Dorning ask the City for money and were promptly given $ 675,000.00 in taxpayer money . Bonafide tenants of the building desperately want to stay, but are forcefully evicted . The tenants promptly sue the building owners and the City for wrongful eviction. The remodel work starts.
2009 : ODDFELLOWS BUILDING TURNS INTO A MONEY PIT
In the following two years the project goes way over budget. The owners want more money to finish the job.. Hundreds of thousands. What easier way to get more money than to grease the palms of Mayor Barbara Hanna (at the time a Council member) with a couple of campaign contributions ! Oddfellows owner Rob Freeman did exactly that : he contributed to Barbara Hanna’s 2008 election campaign, not once , but twice (view filing pg. 6 ). It worked as it was supposed to. Hanna voted to give the building owners more money – a lot more : on May 26, 2009 she approved – along with the council – an additional amount of $ 42,000.00 and finally on June 23, 2009 yet another $ 398,152.78 .
THE “CHURCH OF HANNA” - OR : HOW TO ENTER THE COFFEE BUSINESS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TAXPAYER
For quite some time, Calvary Chapel of the Pass ( a.k.a. Calvary Chapel Beaumont) has been the church of choice for Mayor Barbara Hanna. Anyone familiar with Mayor Hanna’s modus operandi knows that she is a notorious “control freak”: Hanna will not join such an organization unless she can exercise influence and control, so that she can effectively use the church as her political platform. Calvary Chapel of the Pass, appears to have been an easy target for Hanna : its spineless Pastor, Chris Johnson, was no match for the manipulative Hanna :
Hanna’s word soon was to be accepted as the true gospel ; she succeeded in her mission to convince everyone that she was the true Messiah that would bring about a “better Banning”.
It all went according to plan : Hanna had finally found a church at which she “had a voice”: in a perfect synergy of Church and State, the “Church of Hanna” was born. As a result of this unholy union, “The Haven Company, Inc” was conceived soon thereafter.
On October 26, 2009 (view filing), an influential member of Calvary Chapel of the Pass, John Utterback, who was also holding sermons, followed suit and promptly formed the for profit “Haven Company, Inc”. Utterback took on the role as President. His fellow church member, Vince Pellegrini, acted as “Agent for Service of Process” as well as “General Manager” of the corporation. According to press reports, Pastor Chris Johnson at one time also acted a President of the Corporation (view article) .
WITHIN ONLY DAYS OF INCORPORATION, CITY AWARDS “THE HAVEN COMPANY, INC.” AN UNSECURED $ 30,000 LOAN
Within only a few days of incorporation (view filing), Haven General Manager Vince Pellegrini appears before the City Council (CRA). He admits having no experience in the coffee business. But having been coached by Barbara Hanna with support of Bob Botts, Don Robinson and John Machisic, he is given an unsecured loan of $ 30,000 that day. Debbie Franklin is the only dissenting vote.
On November 19, 2009 , both “The Haven Company, Inc” President John Utterback as well as its General Manager Vince Pellegrini sign the Owner Participation Agreement ( view copy ). According to a church member, Pastor Chris Johnson reminds the congregation that “we are responsible (for the loan) for the next five years”. Pastor Johnson was also seen personally working at the Haven.
NOVEMBER 2009 : THE HAVEN OPENS DURING THE PHINEAS FESTIVAL
The Haven opens its doors. The building had previously obtained a “Certificate of Occupancy” (CofO). However, the law requires for “The Haven Company, Inc” to obtain their own separate CofO for their tenant improvements. The Haven never complied (view story).
With full knowledge of management as well as council members Barbara Hanna, Bob Botts and Don Robinson, the Haven opens its doors without safety inspection, without health department inspection, without fire inspection, there is no business license and no certified handicap access in compliance with the “Americans with Disabilities Act”.
DECEMBER 2009 : CITY PAYS $ 50,000 TO FORMER ODDFELLOWS TENANTS AS SETTLEMENT OF LAWSUIT
In December of 2009, the City Council votes unanimously to pay the former tenants of the Oddfellows building $ 50,000 as settlement for their wrongful eviction claim. The City pays 100 % of the settlement. But the owners of the Oddfellows building, who are the primary defendants in the lawsuit, pay nothing. Another sweetheart deal courtesy of the council ?
About this time, rumors emerge that Barbara Hanna’s consulting firm, “Hanna & Associates”, may have performed (illegal) consulting services for the owners of the Oddfellows building (more on this story). Hanna denies the allegations.
EVEN FREE LABOR CAN’T MAKE THE BUSINESS WORK
Over and over again, Pastor Chris Johnson called on his church members to “volunteer” in the business – as if the business was some sort of community service, while in reality the corporate ownership aims at being profitable (for-profit corporation).
It is the purpose of redevelopment to create jobs and sales, in order to create a tax base. But these goals were never accomplished. Free labor, provided mostly by well meaning, yet gullible church members, was used almost exclusively during the first year of operation. This created no jobs but instead took away job opportunities for Banning’s unemployed while using taxpayer funds in the process. Wage earners cannot compete with free labor.
But for whatever reason, the business could still not turn a profit. Down the road, things started to look gloomy as volunteers started to fade away. It became clear that the demographics of Banning never supported a coffee business in this location in the first place.
SEPTEMBER 2010 – THE HAVEN GETS A “NEW OWNER” – OR : HOW TO PLAY A CORPORATE SHELL GAME
Finally in September 2010, we are told that the Haven has a “new owner”. Well – not exactly !
Vince Pellegrini, General manager of “The Haven Company , Inc” launches a new Corporation named “The Haven Cafe, Inc,” (view filing).which takes over the Haven. In short : “same guy, different corporation”.
While this is hardly newsworthy, Press Enterprise reporter Erin Waldner goes out of her way to write a sugarcoated article (view) about this being a big “change in direction” for the Haven. What she does not tell the reader, however, is that the “transfer” was done in violation of the Owner Participation Agreement (loan agreement) . The OPA specifies in article 7.1, that “The Haven Company, Inc” was prohibited from transferring the Haven. They needed to secure prior approval by City for any such a transfer. This was not done. Instead, Vince Pellegrini casually notified the City after the fact. Both Utterback and Pellegrini have breached the Agreement with the City.
According to article 7.3.3, a transfer without prior approval constitutes a default and triggers “forfeiture” of the entire agreement. The loan amount now becomes due and payable immediately.
This means that the original party, “The Haven Company, Inc”, represented by its officers John Utterback, Pastor Chris Johnson and Vince Pellegrini, now owes the City of Banning the entire $ 30,000 + interest.
Aside from the transfer, “The Haven Company, Inc.” beginning November of 2010, has also defaulted on interest payments of $ 590 per month (article 188.8.131.52) . A recent public record request revealed that the City has yet to receive a single dime from “The Haven Company, Inc.”.
OCTOBER 2010 – RUMORS OF HAVEN CLOSING
In October of 2010 rumors emerge that the Haven is set to close its doors after the election. Vince Pellegrini vehemently denies the allegations. He assures the public that everything is fine with the Haven.
JANUARY 2011 : HAVEN CLOSES
Citing a “dispute” with the City over permits (which were never obtained), the Haven seizes operation and closes its doors. After spending over 1.2 million in taxpayer dollars, the Oddfellows building sits vacant and no jobs have been created. Before all this money was spent, the City was much better off : the building may have been old, but it was occupied with tenants who paid rent, paid taxes and created revenue for the City.
“CALVARY CHAPEL OF THE PASS” CHANGES ITS NAME TO “CALVARY CHAPEL BEAUMONT”
Right about the time it becomes clear that the Haven is a failure, “Calvary Chapel of the Pass” changes its name to “Calvary Chapel Beaumont” (view their new website). When was the last time you heard of a church changing its name ? Is the church carefully trying to avoid any association with the Haven disaster ?
Is Pastor Chris Johnson planning to “reach out” to the City to Beaumont next for another “Haven-style ” community project ? Beaumont City Council, you have been warned !
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Well, it sure looks like neither officials from “The Haven Company, Inc” nor the “Calvary Chapel of the Pass/Beaumont” want to pay back a dime, folks. They are silent like the lambs.
We tried to ask President John Utterback, presumably a devoted Christian, about any liability for the outstanding loan, but he would not talk – when asked about the Haven, he was “silent like a lamb”. Utterback referred us to Pastor Chris Johnson for answers.
Things weren’t much different when we asked Pastor Chris Johnson if he felt that he, his church or anyone else for that matter should make good on the $ 30,000.
His only response was that neither he nor the church had “any liability in this matter”. He referred us to John Utterback. You get the picture.
Well, it sure looks like both Pastor Johnson and John Utterback know how to talk the talk – but do they really walk the walk ? Applying principles of Christianity to oneself has always been where the rubber meets the road…..
We urge John Utterback, Vince Pellegrini, Pastor Chris Johnson and Calvary Chapel of the Pass (a.k.a. Calvary Chapel Beaumont), to do the right thing and make good on the full amount immediately !
Alternatively, we ask the City Council to initiate immediate legal action against all individuals and entities involved in this scandal !
The Haven is a perfect example for everything that is wrong with the City of Banning.
Our City is drowning in the inertia of corruption and immorality brought about by Mayor Barbara Hanna, the High Priestess of the “Church of Hanna”.