In This Episode
Stevevonna announces her candidacy for mayor, challenging a former ally for the top spot on the city council. But as the election nears, a new issue takes center stage – not weed – but the city’s water supply.
For early, ad-free access to episodes, join ‘Friends of the Pod’—Crooked’s new subscription community—at crooked.com/friends
David Weinberg If you like Dream Town, The Story of Adelanto and want access to early ad-free episodes. Join Friends of the Pod, Crooked’s new subscription community at crooked dot com slash friends.
Betsy Zaiko Well, well, well, well. Here we are. The final chapter of our story. It looks like we got ourselves another election. I believe they call that full circle. Stevevonna, she’d had enough and trying to work alongside the mayor decided to run against him instead. Stevevonna versus the mayor. Yep. I bet it’s going to be a close one. Stevevonna’s a fighter. And the mayor? Well, now he’s proved he’s got what it takes to win. I wonder how it’s all going to shake out in the end.
David Weinberg On October 3rd of 2022, I placed my phone and keys in a plastic tray and walked through a metal detector inside the entrance to the federal courthouse in Riverside, California. Today was Jermaine Wright’s sentencing hearing after being found guilty of bribery and attempted arson back in June of 2022. Jermaine entered the courtroom in handcuffs and leg shackles he had on a cream colored jumpsuit. His last name was tattooed on his forearm in cursive. He looked defeated. He kept his head down and hardly said a word as he stood next to his lawyer who had on a bow tie and purple socks. It had been three and a half years since I’d last seen Jermaine. When I interviewed him at City Hall back then, his daughter sat by his side doing her homework as we chatted. I think a lot about something he told me that day when I asked him about why he changed his mind about weed.
Jermaine Wright I spent a lot of time speaking to national bishops in the Methodist churches, as well as Church of God in Christ. Talking to a lot of people that I’ve known that I have a lot of respect for and really searching myself to see am I doing what’s right not only for my city, but can I look at myself in the mirror when I do this?
David Weinberg I also think about the fact that Jermainee Wright was a supporter of the prison back when he was a council member. I wondered if you felt different about prisons now that he lived in one. I wanted to ask him this, but he declined my request for a follow up interview. In the end, former pastor Jermaine Wright was sentenced by Judge Hazel Burnell to the minimum of five years for the bribery charge and five years for attempted arson. But both sentences could be served concurrently. He’s scheduled to be released on March 4th of 2026. Jermaine’s sentencing brought an end to one chapter of Atalanta’s history. But what about the larger FBI investigation? There were still a lot of unanswered questions. And that uncertainty makes it feel like the sword of Damocles is hanging over the city of Adelanto, who might be the next person to get arrested? The owners of the jet room or Bug or maybe city manager Jessie Flores, perhaps the man in the clown suit. That would be a twist that no one saw coming. It had been over five years since the FBI first rolled into town, and a lot of people felt the same way Stevevonna did. She wanted to close this chapter of Adelanto’s history for good.
Stevevonna Evans I’m trying to figure out what really happened, how do we fix it and not so much focus on the past because we want to move forward. Right? But if we don’t unpack and figure out where we went wrong, how do we move forward?
David Weinberg This was the question being put before voters in the upcoming mayoral election. Did they want to move forward with Stevevonna’s vision of the future or the mayors? And what did Adelanto’s future look like seven years after legalizing weed. From Crooked Media. This is Dream Town, The Story of Adelanto. Chapter eight. Sometimes you win. When Stevevonna decided to run for mayor, she went all in. She could have run for reelection to the council at the same time, but she decided it was no use trying to work with Mayor Reyes.
Stevevonna Evans It doesn’t make any sense for us to sit on this dias for another four years and pretend like everything is cool because it’s not because you feel like I’m a problem.
David Weinberg Stevevonna and Reyes continued to butt heads over a number of issues leading up to the election. And as you might remember, the Adelanto City Council is nonpartisan. But Stevevonna is a progressive Democrat. Whereas Reyes says he’s a registered Republican, though he calls himself a 60, 40.
Mayor Reyes 60% Republican, 40% Democrat. Right.
David Weinberg It’s not surprising that Reyes and Stevevonna disagree on certain issues. Take immigration reform. This was an important issue in Adelanto because the city is home to the state’s largest immigration detention prison. Stevevonna was in support of closing the facility down.
Stevevonna Evans In a perfect world, there would be no more detention centers altogether.
David Weinberg But the mayor felt differently, even though he was himself the child of immigrants who came to this country illegally. He was supportive of the private prison company, Geo Group.
Mayor Reyes They have been a good partner for the community. They’ve donated thousands of dollars to the Little League, thousands of dollars to get kids to college and give back.
David Weinberg The mayor did agree with Stevevonna that America’s immigration system is broken, but he saw it as a federal issue.
Mayor Reyes Immigration, in my opinion, shouldn’t be handled by people who have been in politics for one, two, three, four years. That should be something where the big boys and girls should roll up their sleeves and really do what’s best for our country.
David Weinberg Stevevonna and the mayor disagreed on other things like cannabis regulation and how to combat racism in the city and police reform. And then there was the water issue, something I’ve alluded to before. It’s been a problem in Adelanto for decades.
Allen Hampton The first week I was here, I noticed that the water had an odor and I saw it had a discoloration. You know, we can’t drink the water.
David Weinberg This is Allen Hampton. He and his family moved to Adelanto from Compton, California in 2016. Like a lot of people, the high cost of living drove them out.
Allen Hampton We was paying $2800. We got up the hill and we was only paying 900 for a four bedroom house.
David Weinberg A few years after they moved in, Hampton and I chatted in the garage of that four bedroom house on a quiet street in a subdivision surrounded by open desert. He told me that this new life suits him.
Allen Hampton Yeah, it’s been great. Except the water.
David Weinberg Hampton has his own catering business. His garage was filled with shelves of spices and pantry items and spread throughout the garage were gallon jugs of store bought water.
Allen Hampton We probably go through 150 gallons of water store bought water a month. We have to brush our teeth with the water and we cook with the water. So most of the times, if we can’t get water, we’re using broth because water has went up. It used to be 99 cents and now it’s a $1.50 Gallon. And it cuts into the profit.
David Weinberg His family does have to use the tap water to wash dishes and for bathing, even though it makes their skin itch.
Allen Hampton One of my children can’t even, you know, barely wash your hands because of the water. We thought it was the soap, but we changed soap and now we found out it was the water. What can we do?
David Weinberg The first time Hampton went to a city council meeting to voice his concerns, Rich Kerr was the mayor and Bug Woodard and Jermaine Wright were on the council. Hampton’s first impression was that they weren’t all that concerned about the safety of the town’s water.
Allen Hampton They don’t care. If you’re not coming there with, you know, weed farm and, you know, any any kind of business that has to do with that, then they not gonna listen to you, they’ll listen to you, but they’re not going to do anything.
David Weinberg People in Adelanto have been complaining about the water for a long time and ever since the city started raking in money from weed, they expected the water quality to improve. But years went by and it didn’t seem like anyone at City Hall had any plans to fix the problem. But according to Hampton, things change after Stevevonna was elected to the city council.
Allen Hampton We had one person responsive to the issues of water, and that was Stevevonna Evans.
David Weinberg Water became a key issue in the run up to the 2022 election. And as a council member, Stevevonna believed it was her duty to find out why there were so many complaints about the city’s water. But she says when she took initiative, Mayor Reyes was not supportive.
Stevevonna Evans The mayor said on several occasions that I was working outside of my scope of work, you know, and I need to let the employees do their job. And, you know, this isn’t your job to do. And it wasn’t easy.
David Weinberg She couldn’t investigate the water issue through the council, so she decided to get to the bottom of the problem on her own. She started by reaching out to Perc, the company that Adelanto contracts to manage its water infrastructure.
Stevevonna Evans We pay Perc a lot of money, no shade. I love our guys at Perc. Please don’t get me wrong. I think that they are amazing people and they’ve never given me a reason to doubt what they say. But my problem is, if your report is saying that the water is fine and everything is good, then why is it cloudy? Then why does it smell? Why does it taste funny? Why does it come out brown? That doesn’t coincide with everything’s fine.
David Weinberg One of Stevevonna’s concerns was that Perc was paid to operate the city’s infrastructure, but the city also relied on PERC to test water quality. Stevevonna thought it would be good to have a third party to test the water.
Stevevonna Evans I reached out to Pitzer College and I said, Hey, you got any kids that want to help me? Shout out to Ella.
Ella I’m sort of the water nerd.
Stevevonna Evans She was the student who took this on as her thesis paper.
Ella I was sort of the person who could just think about water for hours on end.
Stevevonna Evans And so she got in the trenches with me. Out knocking on doors and asking people, sounding like crazy folks, like, can we have a sample of water from a faucet that you haven’t used today? And that’s how it started.
David Weinberg Ella and her peers did a comprehensive study of Adelanto and its water, and they came across some unsettling statistics about the health of Adelanto citizens.
Ella The rate of low birth weights in nearly the 100th percentile for census tracts in California. So that means there are essentially more low birth weights occurring in Adelanto than any other location in California that we know of.
David Weinberg Ella witnessed this statistic firsthand.
Ella I was with these two new parents asking them about their water in their house, and they had their baby with them. Very adorable baby, but definitely the smallest baby I’ve seen in my entire life.
David Weinberg When I asked Mayor Reyes about Adelanto’s water, he told me that there was nothing wrong with it.
Mayor Reyes We don’t have a water quality issue. If you go to our water basins and you look at the reports that are done by the professionals who specialize in this, there’s not an issue with the water.
David Weinberg He says the real issue is Adelanto’s aging infrastructure. It’s not that the water is bad. It’s that the pipes are old.
Mayor Reyes Because we are in a desert community. Whenever a pipe bursts, all that dirt is getting circulated into our water infrastructure. So again, we don’t have a water issue. A water is not contaminated.
David Weinberg Stevevonna was not happy to hear the mayor’s claim that Adelanto’s water was fine.
Stevevonna Evans To say that the water is fine is sickening. Go talk to the people and ask them if they think their water is fine. I’m sure that the mayor of Flint said that the water was fine. It’s annoying. Thanks, David, for pissing me off.
David Weinberg I’m sorry I really didn’t mean to come over and anger you.
Stevevonna Evans Oh, that’s frustrating. You cannot live in Adelanto and say the water is fine. You cannot.
David Weinberg I reached out to Perc to ask about their water study, but they did not respond to my interview request. This was a key issue for Stevevonna, not just on the campaign trail, but as a resident of the city whose water came from the same wells as everybody else’s.
Mayor Reyes We’re going to go and move on to our presentation by Ella Meyer from Pitzer College regarding our Adelanto Community Water Report.
Ella Today I’m presenting on the Community Water Report that was created to compile research on Adelanto’s water and suggest pathways to achieve water justice for Adelanto’s residents. Next slide, please.
David Weinberg On September 14th, 2022, the students from Pitzer College presented their water report to the City Council, and for Stevevonna, it was a bittersweet moment. On one hand, all this work was finally coming to fruition. One of the key findings of the study was that Adelanto’s water had dangerous levels of PFAS chemicals, also known as forever chemicals. PFAS chemicals have been around in lots of consumer products since the 1950s. They used to keep food from sticking to packaging and to make carpets resistant to stains and in foam used to fight fires.
Ella It is a chemical that once it leaches into the groundwater, it is so hard to get out, it basically stays there forever. And the same goes with when this chemical leaches into human bodies, it accumulates in your bloodstream over time.
David Weinberg When Adelanto’s water was tested for PFAS, there were samples that contained 2 to 4 parts per trillion of PFAS in the water, which is between 500 and 1100 times higher than the EPA’s advisory for lifetime exposure. Another key finding of Ella’s study was that many of the wells that Adelanto draws its water from are located very close to the former site of George Air Force Base, an area that was designated a Superfund site. The land was found to have a very high concentration of toxic chemicals. Adelanto filed a class action lawsuit related to the toxic waste the Air Force base left behind when it closed.
Mayor Reyes There’s really a lot that I can’t speak on too much about it because there is pending litigation around that and some things that we’re exploring. But yes, there’s contamination from the air bases that have most definitely affected parts of my community.
David Weinberg Stevevonna and the people of Adelanto were glad to see this action being taken. But Stevevonna was also upset because she felt the mayor was now taking credit for work. She says he discouraged her from doing.
Stevevonna Evans And then to have the council be receptive of the report and, you know, now try to take credit for the report, but it is what it is, right? I don’t I’m not a credit seeker. I don’t care who gets credit. I also don’t like when you take credit where it’s not due. But to be so against it while it was happening and then to say, oh, great teamwork, like there was no teamwork, bro. You guys fought against me every step of the way.
David Weinberg When I spoke with the mayor, I asked him about this. Were you supportive of those efforts? I know one of her criticisms was that she felt that you weren’t supportive of those efforts to have that study done. Do you think that’s accurate?
Mayor Reyes It’s not that it’s not accurate. I most definitely support it. One of the things that I always that I will never take away from, you know, Councilwoman Evans, is she most definitely has a heart of an activist. Right. And typically the heart of an activist. It’s kind of hard wanting to take criticism or one and take guidance from other people if it doesn’t meet your your agenda. Right. I’m glad she got it done. It was. How would I? I still have to be respectful because I don’t want to get in trouble with saying anything. Lost my train of thought. So, yes, I’m supportive. Yes, it was great that we did, but. We all had access to that information.
David Weinberg Reyes says he already knew about everything that was in the students report before they tested the water. Which raises the question, if the mayor knew about the PFAS chemicals in the water, why didn’t he pursue litigation against the federal government before the students presented their report? And why is he still saying today that the water is totally fine? I wrote to Reyes asking for clarification on this, but he didn’t respond. Stevevonna believed that the work she spearheaded on the water issue gave her an edge in the mayoral election. And as you’ve learned by now, it doesn’t take many votes to become the mayor of Adelanto. In 2018, the population was just under 35,000 and Gabriel Reyes won with 1539 votes, which was about 4% of the city’s population. Ten days before the 2022 mayoral election. I met up with Stevevonna on the north side of town. She was putting on a Halloween trunk or treat event in a dirt lot a little less than two weeks out from the election. Right?
Stevevonna Evans Yeah.
David Weinberg How are you feeling?.
Stevevonna Evans You know, I feel really good. I think that it’s going to be super close between the mayor and myself. But I think that overall, we’ve done we’ve done all we can do and we still have things to do, of course.
David Weinberg Do you have any plans for like the last week coming up? What is the last week of the before the election look like for you?
Stevevonna Evans Yeah, try to only cry once a day. That’s the goal. Keep the crying down. No, you know, I think it’s just to stay in the trenches. We got to get. We have a whole lot more people to call now. A whole lot more doors to knock on. That’s what we have to do. That. That’s how you win elections.
David Weinberg As Stevevonna and I were chatting, kids started walking across the dirt lot towards the bouncy houses that Stevevonna had rented. Her plan was to let the kids play during the day, and then when it got dark, there would be a trunk or treat. She’d reached out to a local car club and the members had promised to park their classic cars on the dirt and open their trunks, which would be full of donated candy.
Kids So when the truck or treat is here can the people bring their costumes? Yeah. Can they? Are you going to have fun? Yeah, we’ll have fun. Shut up. You shut up. Shut up.
Kid What’s your name?
David Weinberg David.
Kids That’s my brother’s name. You copied my brother’s name?
David Weinberg I think I had his name first. The sun dipped towards the horizon and the sky started to turn pink. The older brother’s kids peeled off one at a time to go home and change into their costumes. Slowly, little Batman and astronauts and football players and jerseys way too big for them, emerged from the nearby apartment complexes hand-in-hand with their parents. I don’t think that’s a thing. And then I noticed Stevevonna was off to the side. Looking distraught, going, gone.
Stevevonna Evans I’m a little stressed out.
David Weinberg Why?
Stevevonna Evans Because the car club hasn’t shown up.
David Weinberg Yeah, it’s already 6 huh?
Stevevonna Evans It’s 6:06.
David Weinberg As the minutes ticked by, I could see Stevevonna was getting more upset. The car club still hadn’t shown up, and it was almost time for the trunk or treat to begin. She started wiping tears away from her face with her sleeve.
Stevevonna Evans I’m a little bit um in my feelings a little bit right now. It’s going to be great. Yeah. It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be great.
David Weinberg Well. You weren’t supposed to cry today.
Stevevonna Evans I thought we were going to be good. Remember I said once a day and so this would be the once. So we’re fine. It’s like freaking A. I mean, maybe they’ll pull in right now, but I don’t know how long I wait before I, you know, move on to the other plan.
David Weinberg Stevevonna never heard from the car club. None of them ever showed up. But Stevevonna sprang into action with a backup plan. She went up to every adult she could find and asked them if they had a car. And slowly she was able to assemble a line of cars. I chipped in and parked mine in line with the others.
Kids Candy. Thank you. Thank you. You’re welcome.
David Weinberg I lost the sour patch. You’re welcome.
David Weinberg And then the party started.
DJ Hey, you guys having fun? All right, here we go. I’m very scared of what’s about to happen, because I know you guys know how to do this dance.
David Weinberg Stevevonna stepped on stage and was surrounded by kids in their costumes. The stage lights lit up, dust being kicked up by all the dancing. Jab, jab, jab, jab, jab. Everyone was in a good mood. The kids were all pumped up on candy. Only little smoke poured out of the smoke machine.
Stevevonna Evans Y’all are amazing. Y’all know all the dances. All right, guys, come off this way. Go off this way. Go off this way, big kids go that way.
David Weinberg As the party came to an end as Stevevonna made her last campaign pitch to the crowd.
Stevevonna Evans We want to thank you guys so much for coming out. We appreciate you Adelanto residents. I look forward to serving you for four more years guys, on your ballott if you haven’t already filled it out, you know who to bubble in, Stevevonna for mayor. Guys, thank you so much for coming out. Thank you.
David Weinberg This was basically the end of Stevevonna’s campaign for mayor. There would be some phone banking and a bit of driving around, sticking campaign signs into the dirt. But this was the big finale for the election. But would it be big enough to make her the mayor of Adelanto? Ten days later, she’d find out. On November 8th, 2022, the sun rose at 6:17 a.m. in the city of Adelanto. It was cold and rainy in the high desert. It was also Election Day. I’m a reporter. I was wonder if I could ask you about who you’re planning on voting for. Across the nation, people were making their way to their local polling precincts cast to cast their votes for local, state and national candidates.
Kevin Who I’m voting for?
David Weinberg Yeah.
Kevin The City Council?
David Weinberg For the mayor yeah.
Kevin Oh, okay. Well, I’m I’m a toss up between Esmeralda and Reyes here in Adelanto, so I’m going to read their statements in here to finally decide.
David Weinberg One of the first people I met at a polling station outside a middle school was Kevin. Gray beard, longish hair and a button on his jacket with a peace sign and an American flag print. Can I ask you just one more question about how you feel like the city has done in the last four years since the last council election?
Kevin I’ve been in here since about 92, and I think that for the last eight years, the city has been steady improvement. It’s the neighborhoods are much better. There’s seems to be almost no, you know, talks running around, spray painting on things. So the tours seem to be under control.
David Weinberg Twerps aside, I can’t say there was any one issue that more people were concerned about than any other. One woman who didn’t want to be interviewed said she was moving out of Adelanto because it was too diverse. Another woman named Aliya told me she’d recently graduated from college and moved back to Adelanto.
Aliya Yeah, I grew up here, but it’s nice. It’s nice to always come home and know that you have a home like this town. This town is really nice. I love it so much. It’s real nice.
Clip I’ll keep this note really short. You’re a scientist.
David Weinberg After the sun went down, I headed over to a mexican restaurant called Pancho Villa’s in Victorville or Stevevonna was hanging out. There was a big election watch party for Juan Korea, a high desert Democrat who was running for state assembly, along with several other Democratic candidates running for offices in the high desert.
Clip What we have done this past cycle, these past two years, is truly, truly incredible. And I know that tonight we are going to be turning parts of our district blue for the first time that we’ve never seen before.
David Weinberg On one hand, it was nice, first of all, honor to be at a big party among fellow progressive candidates. They even invited her up to the mic to say a few words. So awesome to be here with so many family. But here she was about to possibly become the mayor of her hometown, and she wouldn’t even be in Adelanto when the results came in.
Stevevonna Evans I would love to be doing this in Adelanto. But the problem is there’s nowhere that stays open. There’s no there’s no restaurants, there’s no nothing. So you’re kind of forced to go into Victorville, which is one of the issues that we have. Right. We’re forced to go to our neighboring city to spend money because there’s no where in Adelanto to spend it.
David Weinberg All around us. TVs were announcing the election results, but it was all national politics. The Democrats were doing surprisingly well in their congressional races, and it was looking like they might keep a majority in the Senate. But all of us here in this room, we were waiting for a different set of results. Who would represent the high desert in the state assembly? Who would be the head of the Victor Valley School Board and who would be the next mayor of Adelanto? To get those results. Stevevonna and her campaign manager, Jaysean Johnson, had to look at their phones. They were huddled together in a booth refreshing their browsers over and over again, waiting for the first batch of votes to trickle in. And eventually they did.
Stevevonna Evans Oh, my God, He’s killing me. It’s donw. He’s got it already. There’s no way I can come back from that.
David Weinberg The numbers did not look good for Stevevonna. In the first batch of votes, Mayor Reyes was ahead by 400 votes. This was pretty much how the rest of the night went. Stevevonna repeatedly checking her phone to see if the vote tally had changed. Slowly, the crowd thinned out and by about 10 p.m. everyone had gone home except a couple of stragglers and Stevevonna.
Stevevonna Evans We’re far behind. He has 600 and something and I have 200 and something.
Clip You have 200?
Stevevonna Evans Yeah.
David Weinberg Stevevonna and I both left at the same time, going our separate ways in the parking lot. Before I made the drive back to L.A., I checked the results one last time. Stevevonna was behind by 400 votes. And supposedly only 4% of precincts had reported. But that didn’t seem right, and it seemed unlikely that Stevevonna would close the gap, though technically the election had not been called. On November 9th, the sun rose at 6:18 a.m. in the city of Adelanto. The residents awoke to the news that Mayor Gabriel Reyes had won his reelection bid with 1696 votes. In second place was Stevevonna Evans with 605. Which meant that the December 14th City Council meeting would be her last.
Stevevonna Evans We done with regulations over here. Just kidding. All right. So I want to thank my sons, Cameron, Aiden and Declan for their many sacrifices for the last four years. I want to thank my trusted friends that stood by me and supported me and the boys as we endured what proved to be a very trying four years. I want to thank those staff members that did all you could and continue to do all that you can do to move our city forward in the right way. To the Council and City Manager Flores. It was an experience, for sure. It’s time for us to get back to work without the restrictions put on me by the seat and this building. I look forward to working with you guys to ensure that the folks that sit in these five seats are held accountable and do what’s right by us. Let the admonishments begin. Let’s get to work.
David Weinberg Stevevonna says that she doesn’t plan to give up fighting for the issues that she campaigned on. She’s just going to go back to fighting as an activist.
Stevevonna Evans I think that it’s going to be a benefit to have had the four years of experience, you know, on council. Now, I understand how to work this from, you know, from the inside.
David Weinberg Stevevonna may never have run for office if it hadn’t been for the nightmare she went through after her daughter Haven died and her children were wrongfully taken from her twice. The sad irony of her situation was that when she did get elected, it meant she had a lot less time to spend with her children. But now she would be getting a lot of that time back. And the biggest change to Stevevonna’s life happened not long after she lost the election.
Stevevonna Evans I got married.
David Weinberg Married, right?
Stevevonna Evans All the way married? Yeah.
David Weinberg Engaged and married.
Stevevonna Evans Yeah. Within a week. Yeah. Yeah, a few days, actually. Yeah, but it was. It’s good. You know, I think when. When it’s right, then you just know. You know, you don’t have to take forever. And. And. And so super happy.
David Weinberg I visited Stevevonna and her family on a recent Wednesday night down at City Hall. The council meeting was in session. If Stevevonna were mayor, that’s where she would have been. Instead, she was at home with her family.
Stevevonna Evans Look at us eating at a normal time like a normal family. So we’ll have dinner and, you know, probably listen to some of the some of the meeting. We also have Bible study tonight. So we’ll do some of that. And then my husband will be having the basketball game on. I think I hear it on already. So we’re doing that. Yeah, Multitasking.
David Weinberg What are you making for dinner?
Stevevonna Evans Tuna casserole. Oh I should have picked something more black for this? Ahhhh, yeah. No. Quick and easy. Tuna casserole is one of one of my family’s favorites, so it’s pretty good.
David Weinberg Stevevonna’s absence from politics may be short lived. She has a new six year plan. She’s going to run for a seat on the council in the upcoming election, make another run for mayor in four years, and then run for county supervisor. Now you might be wondering whatever happened to Bug and his colleagues plan to save Adelanto from bankruptcy. How did that pan out in the end? Well, Bug’s plan may have got the ball rolling, but under his leadership, along with Kerr and Jermainee, things were a mess. Back then, cannabis was only bringing in a few hundred thousand dollars a year. Plus there was all the corruption. Stevevonna and Mayor Reyes, along with the new council, did their best to clean things up. And by and large. They have succeeded. In the last two years of Stevevonna’s term as a council member, the city almost balanced the budget and that would not have been possible without the money the city is taking in from weed. Here’s Mayor Reyes.
Mayor Reyes We wouldn’t be here with any type of physical stability without cannabis. The cannabis industry from disallowing this year we’re going to bring in is estimated at $5.3 million. So the cannabis industry is bringing about 25 to 30% of our general fund.
David Weinberg Having a balanced budget is a huge achievement for Adelanto, but a balanced budget just means that the city breaks even each year, and Adelanto needs substantial funds to fix its infrastructure. Mayor Reyes says that replacing the city’s water pipes alone will cost tens of millions of dollars.
Mayor Reyes You know, pre inflation, we were talking about maybe like in 2019, 2020, before COVID, it was right around like 40 million. Right. That it would probably cost to do the whole thing.
David Weinberg But Reyes is optimistic because his administration has successfully balanced the budget for multiple years in a row. The city’s credit is improving.
Mayor Reyes We’re working on our credit rating. We’re working on other various things to continue this show, our fiscal responsibility.
David Weinberg And with a good credit rating. The city has a better chance at getting infrastructure funding from the state in the form of bonds.
Mayor Reyes You know, Fiona Ma was a big supporter of my campaign. She endorsed my campaign. She’s our state treasurer. And she said, Hey, when you guys get everything in order, you get your ducks in a row, you know, approaches and we’ll see how we can support and give it as a bond to to address those issues.
David Weinberg On January 13th, 2023, former Mayor Rich Kerr pled guilty to one count of wire fraud. Prosecutors in the case had evidence that he had accepted over $57,000 in bribes and kickbacks. His sentencing is scheduled for August 4th of this year. He’s facing a potentially lengthy stay in federal prison, though it’s possible his guilty plea was part of a deal that he made with the feds. Perhaps he was promised a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against people who have yet to be charged. And one of the most powerful people in Adelanto, city manager Jesse Flores, who was appointed by Mayor Kerr, Bug, and Jermaine is still in power. As the city manager, he’s in charge of matters, both big and small.
Jesse Flores We have been experiencing vandalism in our local park restrooms, our toilet paper. It either comes up missing or it’s removed from its dispenser and shoved down the toilet, causing it to back up. We do apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused those individuals that just wanted to use the restroom. Help is on the way.
David Weinberg Apparently, there are still a few twerps running around town. As for Bug, he decided he’d had enough of Adelanto and of California. He moved to Kingman, Arizona, a few months after he lost his reelection bid. He’s much happier living in a place where he can carry a loaded gun.
Bug You know, I mean, over here, we’re allowed to, you know, openly carry our guns in our own course are loaded. I mean, how stupid it would be or openly carry. I’m not a gun. I mean, you’re asking for trouble.
David Weinberg Bug looks back at his tenure on the city council as one of the more interesting times in his life.
Bug Yeah, Yeah, that was a a former life. But, um. Yeah, I, you know, I, I did my four years over there, and I’m very happy to where I’m at now, you know, and doing what I can, you know, for the future of our children and a lot of, shall we say, mankind in general.
David Weinberg To this day. Bug has never been charged with any crimes related to his real estate dealings with the jet room, which, by the way, is still open for business, if anything. Bug says that all the good he did for Adelanto has been overshadowed by the corruption of everyone around him.
Bug It’s very, very shameful. But it is what it is. And yeah, it’s just the way I am, you know, I just. Just do people right, you know, and don’t fool around and. You know, it’s kind of kind of what it’s all about, isn’t there? And I think I’m sure you’re probably the same way. Yeah. Yeah.
David Weinberg Bug seems to be living his best life. For someone whose idea ultimately helped save a town from bankruptcy, he seems to have exited the stage quietly. And I wonder how he sees himself and the story of Adelanto.
Bug I was curious if you feel like you learned any big life lessons from your time in politics. And learn lessons? Well, not really.
David Weinberg In a lot of ways, Adelanto is a different place than it was back when Kerr was mayor. The transition from prisons to pot is ongoing nowadays. One of Adelanto’s biggest employers is the cannabis industry. A big change from back when the prisons were the top employer. In fact, the days of Adelanto being a prison town may be numbered.
Diana Esmeralda We had like hundreds of people that were released, which was a miracle. Like a total exodus, you know? Exodus in the Bible.
David Weinberg Again, this is Diana Esmeralda. She came in third in the mayoral election and has been a proponent of closing down Adelanto’s prisons. In September of 2020, during the spread of COVID, a federal judge ruled that GEO Group, which owns Adelanto’s immigration prison, had to reduce the number of inmates so that each person could be spread out six feet apart. Hundreds of detainees were released. And by July of 2022, the average daily inmate population was just 49.
Diana Esmeralda It was like they just opened the gates and let them out. You know, like the walls of Jericho were going to come down. And it was such a beautiful thing.
David Weinberg In March of this year, GEO Group announced that it was laying off 112 employees at the Adelanto facility. Soon after that, the San Bernadino Sentinel reported that GEO was closing the facility entirely. But they did not respond to my email when I wrote to confirm this. If the facility does close, the current city council will have to figure out how to replace the funding the prison was bringing into the city. Meanwhile, Stevevonna is making the most of her life outside of politics. She has more time to devote to her nonprofit Haven’s Future, which is named after her daughter who passed away. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide resources and support for families as they go through the child and family services system. A while back, Stevevonna held a fundraiser at the Sierra Lakes Golf course in the city of Fontana, California. She reserved a ballroom with huge windows overlooking the golf course. There were big round tables with beautiful floral arrangements in the center. Golfers from all over the country came to compete in the tournament. There was also a raffle and guest speakers, including a CFS social worker who spoke about the problems inside the system. After the speeches, Stevevonna asked everyone to dig deep into their pockets and give what they could asking for.
Stevevonna Evans And I know that with the support of viewers like you, players like you, we will make that happen. And so that’s basically my story. But before I get down, I.
David Weinberg Want you at the end of the day. Stevevonna and her team encouraged the guests to take the flowers home with them. They folded all the tablecloths and packed everything into Stevevonna’s car before she made the long drive back home to Adelanto. When it was all over, she felt relieved.
Stevevonna Evans You know, I think that it was a super successful day. While we didn’t raise as much money as we would hoped, we learned. And so when we moved forward next year.
David Weinberg When I asked Stevevonna how much money the fundraiser brought in, she said that unfortunately, with all the costs of putting on the event, she just broke even. But she considered the day a success.
Stevevonna Evans You know, I don’t. I don’t think that you ever lose anything. It’s always you win or you learn. Right.
David Weinberg Stevevonna says the event got her some media attention and she was already getting calls from families asking how they could help her. She learned some valuable lessons from the experience and from the last four years of her time on the city council. Not just about politics. She’s hopeful about the future. There are a lot of broken systems to fix and causes to fight for. But the way she sees it. Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.
Betsy Zaiko Well, that was quite a tale, wasn’t it? Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s not the end of the story of Adelanto. No, man. The sun keeps rising and setting on this patch of land out here in the Mojave. All sorts of things keep happening. In fact, not too long ago, a new stranger came to town. A real big shot. Richest man in the world, they say. Well, used to be, anyway. Fellow by the name of Elon Musk. Can’t say for sure. He came into town himself, but he sent some of his people to set up shop in Adelanto right down the road from the jett room. Mm hmm. Now, what this Elon fella was interested in is what lies beneath the city. Now, apparently, this is an ideal spot to practice holding in. You can’t make this stuff up. You see, Mr. Musk wants to build a network of underground tunnels all across America. And he promised Adelanto they could get in on the ground floor of this exciting opportunity. Who knows what will pan out? I’m certainly no expert on the matter, but I do know this. There seems to be something about this place that attracts folks with big dreams. Maybe it’s the wide open spaces. A blank canvas, you could say. Remember how once upon a time this was all underwater? Of course, nowadays there doesn’t seem to be enough of the stuff. I do wonder what the next hundred million years will be like in Adelanto. Heck, I suppose anything could happen. After all, this is the city with unlimited possibilities.
David Weinberg Adelanto is an original podcast from Crooked Media. It’s hosted, written and executive produced by me, David Weinberg. Nick White is our story editor. Angel Carreras is our associate producer, Sound Design Mix and Mastering by Brendan Baker of Phenomephon. Our theme song is by Icarus Himself, and our original score is by Eric Phillips. Fact Checking by Amy Tardif. Additional production help from Ines Mesa, Sydney Rapp, and Kobe Copeland. Thanks to Betsy Zaiko for narrating portions of the show. From Crooked Media. Our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Katie Long and Mary Knauf. With special thanks to Alison Falzetta, Laura Smith, Andrew Leland. Richard Parks III, Shocker Molly, and Katya Apekina..