Cover-up of Huge Public Safety Issue !
UPDATE 8/11/11 – City flat out refuses to release the requested “Banning White House” public safety document (view City response) – Needless to say, we do NOT concur with the City’s decision ! Most importantly, the City’s behavior goes to show that the document sought must indeed be a “smoking gun” which must be hidden from the public at all cost ! Stay tuned …. this is far from over !
Cover-up of Huge Public Safety Issue !
7/20/11 – Getting to the truth sometimes can be extremely difficult. The City of Banning, along with the Fire Department, appear to be stonewalling repeated requests for the release of a public document. This document presumably details possible non-compliance with public safety code by the “Banning White House”.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE “BANNING WHITE HOUSE” ISSUE
In the past, we had reported that the “Banning White House” – for at least 9 months now – has been allowed by the City of Banning to operate without a business license (view story). The business is located in a residential area and advertises itself as a location for corporate retreats, weddings and also offers overnight accommodations ; last year the facility even served as the location for an official City function.
Approved as a residence, the facility does not meet the much stricter requirements for a commercial establishment. To operate commercially, the facility must comply with stringent fire safety standards as well as other code provisions. There usually must be fire suppression systems (sprinklers), a fire hydrant on or near site, a driveway able to accommodate fire engines, lit exit signs, general safety inspection/ fences, compliant handicap facilities and access, and maximum occupancy determination – yet most if not all of those features are remarkably absent.
It was in late 2010 when then-mayor Bob Botts issued his “State of the City Address” at the “Banning White House”. The event was sponsored by the Banning Chamber of Commerce. Since then, many more public events were held at the facility, including a dubious “fundraiser” for an unregistered charity (story), theatrical plays and the likes. Business must me great : posted on their website, the calendar for July 2011 shows “rentals” of the facility on virtually every weekend (http://banningwhitehouse.com/).
A SMOKING GUN ?
Over 7 months ago , The Banning Informer began contacting Banning Assistant Fire Marshall Doug Clarke, demanding immediate enforcement of fire code at the “Banning White House” . We felt that holding repeated public events at the residence raises great safety concerns, and that therefore the facility should be shut down (“tagged”) until it undergoes appropriate fire and safety inspections.
However, over the following months no enforcement activity became evident. The “Banning White House” – who’s director maintains close ties to Mayor Barbara Hanna – continues to operate unabated.
Four month down the road, in a phone conversation of April 26, 2011, Assistant Fire Marshall Clarke mentioned that he had compiled a “list” which identified certain improvements that would be required at the “Banning White House”. ( see email exchange).
It is this “list” that has sparked our interest. Is this the “smoking gun” that will prove that
our City and Fire officials have long known about violations, yet they have chosen not to enforce the law ? For 3 months now , we have tried to obtain this document from various agencies : the Banning Fire Marshall, Cal Fire in Sacramento and – first verbally – from the City of Banning. Each one of the agencies declined to release the “list” and gave us the run-around.
The excuse from the City of Banning was that the document will not be released because the matter falls under the “pending litigation” exemption of the California Public Records Act. Litigation ? What litigation ? To find out about the nature of this supposed litigation, we placed calls to the City Manager’s office (Danielle Savard), Mayor Barbara Hanna and “Banning White House” director Pamela Scott, yet none of them were available for comment.
On July 18, 2011 we followed up with a detailed written “Request for Public Records” to the City of Banning , a copy of which can be found here and is well worth reading. This request specifically discusses in detail why the document MUST be released. The City has until August 2nd to respond. We will update this post after their response is received and take it from there.
“RUSSIAN ROULETTE” ANYONE ?
It is essential for every citizen to have access to City documents, even more so when they pertain to public safety. It is not only illegal, but also very bad public policy for any public agency to withhold such documentation from the public.
We have every right to know if and why there is non-compliance at the “Banning White House”. What if a fire breaks out up there – is there a mandatory sprinkler system and an accessible fire hydrant ? What if someone suffers a heart attack – can an ambulance make it up the long and narrow gravel driveway ?
Why has the City of Banning said ‘NO” to the release of an important public safety document ? What are they hiding ? Whatever happened to the principle of “open government” ? Is the City of Banning asking its citizens to play “Russian Roulette” with their health and safety, each time they attend a public event at the “Banning White House” ?
HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS : MAYOR BARBARA HANNA’S RELENTLESS PROMOTION OF THE “BANNING WHITE HOUSE”
It appears Banning’s Mayor Barbara Hanna is not overly concerned about public safety when it comes to the “Banning White House” : she never misses an opportunity to attend events and even publicly promotes the facility in relentless fashion. When recently asked “ what’s your hands-down favorite place in Banning ?”, Hanna responded that it is the “Banning White House” , (source).
As Banning’s Mayor, Hanna also has knowledge that the “Banning White House” does not have a business license. Without it, the business does not generate any sales tax revenue for the City, nor will they generate any “transient occupancy tax” revenue based on their overnight accommodations.
But this is not the first time Mayor Barbara Hanna promotes a business that she allows to operate without a business license : the defunct “Haven Café”, also heavily pushed by Hanna, was allowed to operate without a business license for the entire time it was open (story). To add insult to injury, Hanna even funded the business and building with an abundance of taxpayer money : her failed Haven pipedream ended up costing the taxpayer over $ 1.3 million dollars in cash, not to mention an undetermined loss in tax revenue. (full story).
Hanna seems extremely cozy with “Banning White House” director Pamela Scott. Could Barbara Hanna’s consulting firm, “Hanna & Associates”, have something to do with her overwhelming excitement for these questionable “businesses” ? Is there a financial interest ? As one would expect, Hanna could not be reached for comment.
In summary, Hanna’s behavior pattern can only be explained with cronyism and favoritism, if not outright corruption. A Mayor who promotes businesses which do not generate tax revenue for the City must be met with great suspicion.
CONSISTENT PATTERN OF NON-ENFORCEMENT
For more than 7 months now, both Mayor Barbara Hanna along with City Manager Andrew Takata have shown no particular interest in enforcing the law. At the same time they are attempting to keep vital public safety information from an unsuspecting public. Is there a cover-up ?
So far, the City has been less than forthcoming with information and now appears to stonewall the release of an important safety document regarding the “Banning White House”. This pattern smells of a “good old boys network” – a network that The Banning Informer has set out to expose and eradicate.
One way to do so will be to send Mayor Hanna into permanent retirement, come the November 2012 elections.