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Hesperia mayor ready for fight with county unions

Russ Blewett: Seeks to parley city, county experience into supervisor role

Staff Writer
Editor's note:

Throughout May, the Hesperia Star is profiling the seven candidates in the San Bernardino County 1st District Supervisor's race.

Russ Blewett has done the city council thing — twice. In the 1970s, he served on the Baldwin Park council and, in 2010, was elected to the Hesperia City Council. Now Hesperia's mayor is eyeing a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, citing a mix of public and private sector experience.

“I’ve created hundreds, if not thousands of jobs” in the construction business, Blewett said. Blewett is a past president of the Baldy View chapter of the Building Industry Association and has sat on the board of directors for the Inland Empire’s Board of Realtors. “What we need are job creators.”

When the housing bubble burst, it took much of the 1st District down with it.

“We were particularly hard hit in Hesperia. We are a town with a lot of tradesmen,” Blewett said. “There aren’t any builders. They don’t exist any more. The industry might come back some day.”

But to get there, Blewett would have the board of supervisors do what it can to clear out the back inventory of unsold homes.

“Housing got us into the problem. ... It needs to be dealt with,” he said. “I’d put so much pressure on the banks not to rent. ... Wouldn’t it be better for people to get housing at 4 percent (interest) right now instead of 7 or 9 percent in a few years?”

Blewett previously served as the 1st District’s planning commissioner and says that gives him an edge over the other six men seeking to replace Brad Mitzelfelt on the board.

“I’ll make an impact the day I go down there,” he said. “I know the system, I know its strengths, I know its weaknesses and I’m not afraid to rattle a cage or two.”

Among the cages Blewett is already rattling is opposing the San Bernardino County Elected Officials Pay Reduction Act, the only candidate to do so. If approved by voters in November, the act will slash future supervisor’s pay from an average of $271,000 to $60,000 annually and cut their office budgets (used to hire staff and rent office space) from a total of $6 million to $250,000 per office. The act will effectively turn the full-time legislators into part-time employees.

“This is not a part-time job ... particularly in the 1st District,” Blewett said. The 1st District is the largest of the five in the county and much of it is unincorporated. “You’ve got thousands of people without a mayor and four city council members to take care of their needs.”

But the county government has problems of its own that he says have to be addressed before they interfere with local government’s ability to serve residents.

“All of these issues are worthless until we deal with the number one issue: public safety pensions,” Blewett said. Like many government agencies and businesses, San Bernardino County is spending an increasingly large portion of its budget paying the pensions for an ever-larger group of retired employees. “If we don’t do this, this county will be bankrupt, period.”

But cutting the benefits of firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and other county employees isn’t a task to be accomplished easily, or by the faint of heart.

“It’s going to take political courage because you’re going to have all of the unions against you,” said Blewett — long an outspoken critic of unions. “It needs to be resolved or we’re going to be facing Greece II.”

Blewett talks about tackling the challenges facing the residents of the first district and the county with seeming relish.

“I don’t stick my finger up in the air” and see which way the political winds are blowing, he said. “That’s not leadership.”

Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.


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