January 29, 2007

New supervisor getting to know vast district

Jeff Horwitz, Staff Writer

Promoted to the office of 1st District supervisor three weeks ago, Brad Mitzelfelt hasn't been spending much time there.

The supervisor's public schedule for one recent day shows him running among meetings and events spread over 16 hours in Hesperia, Victorville, San Bernardino and Victorville again.

"I have a little bit of extra work to do in that the district has been given a supervisor, not appointed one," he acknowledged during an after-hours interview in his still-undecorated county office. "I have a limited amount of time to prove myself."

Mitzelfelt was appointed by his board colleagues this month to complete the two years remaining in former Supervisor Bill Postmus' term. Mitzelfelt, who was Postmus' chief of staff, has kept much of his boss' staff intact. He even brought back Postmus' former deputy chief of staff, Paula Nowicki, to serve as his office's own chief. Even with their help, he said, settling into his new role on the board isn't easy.

"I was pretty close to their arena, but I wasn't in it," he said of the other supervisors.

The constituents of his 20,000-square-mile district aren't easy to please, say some of the High Desert's elected officials.

"It is way too big for one person," said Hesperia City Councilman Ed Pack, who endorsed Mitzelfelt for the 1st District seat. "It's hard to make everybody happy - or even close to the majority."

Victorville City Councilman Mike Rothschild agreed. Although he initially supported fellow Councilman Bob Hunter for the job, he wished Mitzelfelt luck and said that he would need it: Since the 1960s, the district has recalled one supervisor and booted out any incumbent who tried to serve more than two terms.

"We're growing and becoming more sophisticated," Rothschild said. "Eventually, we'll probably be kinder to our supervisors than we have in the last 40 years."

One large question, Rothschild said, is whether Mitzelfelt will approach policy matters from a different perspective than Postmus, who is now the county's assessor.

Within the next few months, Rothschild and Pack noted, the board will be addressing numerous controversial projects, from an open-air sludge composting facility in Hinkley to the placement of a $20 million county government center coveted by Victorville and Hesperia.

The government center had been slated for Hesperia, but Mitzelfelt requested time at last week's meeting to further consider its placement.

"I think that shows a bit of independence," Rothschild said. He added, however, that "it takes more than just a few weeks to figure out if somebody's playing with a new deck of cards."

Longer-term concerns include the Victor Valley's increasing traffic congestion, its recently developed gang activity, and concerns about the pace of desert development and the water supply.

Mitzelfelt is not short on policy proposals. In interviews last week, the supervisor proposed ordinances limiting where sex offenders may congregate, seeking gang injunctions, reviewing off-
highway-vehicle enforcement, and longer-term plans to shape growth in the desert and make the Victor Valley a logistics hub.

Fighting to keep the desert's vast swaths of federal land open to the public is a pet project: Mitzelfelt has been part of county skirmishes with federal agencies and environmental groups over road maintenance, grazing rights, and fire protection in the Mojave National Preserve.

Last week, he was selected as vice chairman of the QuadState County Government Coalition, a joint-powers authority between four western states that will likely bring him a greater role in such matters.

But Mitzelfelt also concedes that his new job will require far more than a head for public policy. As a chief of staff, he would spend hours researching and writing memos on a particular problem. As a supervisor, however, "you have to stop doing that," he said. "I need to get used to having staff do that so I can be with constituents getting new ideas."

Along those lines, Mitzelfelt has begun the sort of barnstorming tour of city council meetings normally associated with a campaign. He intends to attend city council meetings in every one of his district's cities, he said, though getting to far-flung Needles and Trona might take a while.
"I'm going to wear out a lot of tires," he said.