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Ratepayers, let’s make this plain and simple: Cal Am has got to go and public water has to replace it.

“Where should Cal Am go?” Away from the Monterey Peninsula for good, that’s where.

“Why should it go?” The answer is simple and obvious. They’ve increased rates and fees, not only to cover water delivery costs but also costs arising out of their bad decisions and negligence. Those costs should not have been placed solely on your shoulder. Instead, Cal-Am should have borne their fair and equitable share, to say nothing about the almost 10% profit that is guaranteed by California regulation. The result is you, a customer innocent of any wrongdoing, has become the pot of gold at the end of Cal Am’s rainbow, to the tune of being hit with the highest cost of water in the entire country. If you are still asking if Cal Am should be be made to go away, consider:

Will Cal Am ever change colors like a salamander and rebate past unfair rate hikes back to you?

Second, will the local commercial customers who benefit from favorable rates not available to you change their colors, find a little equity and reason, and offer to use their influence to help you out of the deep rate abyss into which you have fallen?   I am not kidding, but I might as well be. It ain’t gonna happen.

Third, will your elected representatives, including city councils, mayors, supervisors and  those in Sacramento, come to their senses to understand they were elected to see the light and aggressively  protect your interests? Hasn’t happened yet, and such a sea change not likely in the cards.

“Why then, don’t our politicians understand the burden of very high and uncontrolled rate hikes on the average guy/gal?” Go figure – they don’t

“So what’s left? What WILL cause Cal-Am to leave town?”

Any realistic solution to  Cal Am must replace it with a workable public agency. You deserve an agency that represents all of you, not just some, that knows what it is doing, is transparent, is committed to working for you and that will deliver cheaper water.

Only one existing agency fills the bill — the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. It far from perfect, but it’s the ONLY one with all the elements necessary to actually manage a water supply system.   Creating a new agency would be time consuming, and a waste of time without an assurance that what you need will be what you get. If you are unhappy with the decisions made by the district board, remember they are elected by you and if they can’t get their individual or collective acts together, you could vote them out and replace them with persons who will.

It may take time, but don’t minimize the importance of getting educated, and actually voting. A landswell of public support for public water can make it happen. It has happened elsewhere. No alternative option can realistically provide you the representation and accessibility and ensure your ability to be running the show with your votes. Strong and unyielding public pressure can turn the district around and it’s more than worth the effort.

Your last question should be “Where and how can I get on board?” Call Public Water Now. The first step toward success is that group’s effort to pass a ballot referendum to initiate the process. They need you and your support. If costs are a concern for you, PWN is your best option. Get going, get educated and get involved!

Hood, former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, divides his time between Carmel and Columbus, Ohio.

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After a flood of inquiries, four or even five, I have decided it is best to share with Partisan readers the explanation for the recently slow flow of mirth and enlightenment from those who have brought you the Monterey Bay Partisan for close to three years now. It is a simple ankle injury. Well, not so simple, perhaps. It is a major sprain and a break of a sort that required surgery a week ago. The culprit was a car that opted to enter the crosswalk while it was already occupied by me and my wife, whose injury has caused her just as much pain and suffering without resulting in as much complaint.

Never fear, or do fear. We will return. We are currently on assignment, probing the vagaries of Monterey County planning policy and in the not too distant future there will be other works to entertain or confound. It’s just that, well, we were never particularly quick or agile,  and time we might have spent poring over campaign expense reports is now spent studying precautions against deep vein thrombosis.

In the meantime, please feel encouraged, as always, to submit your own writings, particularly those about local affairs, and we will see what we can do to keep this operation hobbling forward. calkinsroyal@gmail.com is the place to send them.

Cheers

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A 31-unit subdivision proposal going before the Monterey County Planning Commission this week carries a sizable load of controversies. The lots are too small, the location is too rural, the neighbors don’t like the idea at all and the county would have to bend various planning rules to make it work. There are water and traffic issues and more.

The property is along Val Verde Avenue on a pretty stretch of farmland just east of the Crossroads shopping center. The neighbors have hired lawyer Molly Erickson to combat the proposal and she has responded with considerable evidence of the project’s inadvisability. (Click the link for Erickson’s letter to the county planners in advance of Wednesday’s public hearing on the project. The county staff, by the way, recommends approval, largely because the project would add some units of affordable housing albeit on substandard lots)

But what is unusually interesting about this venture is the ownership. The property owner and applicant is  Carmel Rio Road LLC, a limited partnership headed by Ray Wirta, who is the CEO of international real estate giant CBRE and president of the Irvine Company, the real estate behemoth that made Orange County what it is today.

The names of CBRE and the Irvine Company don’t’ show up in the thick county file on the project, which, in slightly larger form, was turned down by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in 2012. But Wirta’s name on the application creates speculation that it may represent an unlikely attempt by the Irvine Company to dip a toe into Monterey County’s development waters to find out how accommodating they may be to Irvine Company-style mega development.

A call to Wirta’s office in Orange County went unreturned Monday, but the project’s local representative, Brian Clark of Sand City, answered a few questions about the venture. He said Wirta’s involvement is simply that of an owner  and that it amounts to a personal investment unrelated to the Irvine Company. Clark, who is in the loan business, said he has known Wirta for 30 years and persuaded him to invest. When the venture went before the county five years ago, noted Big Sur builder Bill Mcleod of Post Ranch fame was listed as a partner and he remains involved in some capacity.

The Central Coast would not seem to be fertile ground for an operation as big and aggressive as the Irvine Company, but land anywhere near the California coast has proved to be an irresistible investment lure for those who prefer subdivisions to sand dunes.

Raymond Wirta

The Irvine Company practically invented Orange County, which grew from 220 residents in 1950 to more than 700,000 in 1960. Worth more than $15 billion, the Irvine Company’s principal owner, Donald Bren, is the nation’s richest real estate investor. According to Forbes, he owns 57,000 apartment units, mostly in California, along with 500 office buildings and more than 40 shopping centers, including the sprawling Fashion Island in Newport Beach. From its Orange County base, the Irvine Company has expanded into major real estate markets across the country, including Silicon Valley in the past couple of years.

Unlike Donald Bren, whose name has been attached to numerous of his ventures and philanthropies, Wirta is largely unknown outside real estate circles – but he is a giant within them.

For the last several years he has simultaneously been CEO of CBRE, the world’s largest real estate investment conglomerate, CEO of The Koll Company and managing partner of at least two other real estate enterprises. At the same time, he is president of investment properties for the Irvine Company. He previously served as CEO of the Bolsa Chica Company, which for decades pursued one of the the most controversial real estate ventures in California history. Several years ago, he formed an entity known as Rich Uncles REIT to solicit small investors into the real estate investment trust market.

LandWatch Monterey County and the Carmel Valley Association also have written letters of opposition to the project.

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The Monterey Peninsula College faculty, of which I am a member, have been without a contract since June 2013. That year, and the year before, the faculty agreed to pay cuts of 2 percent to help the college get through financial difficulties. Also that year, we got a new president, Walt Tribely, and a new HR director, Susan Kitigawa. Since their arrival faculty have not been able to achieve a current contract–it will be four years in June!

In the school year 2013-14, the college continued to claim a “structural deficit” but the end-of-year actuals showed almost a million dollars in new money.  Faculty filed a grievance to get the 2% cut from 2012-13 restored and an additional 1% owed by contract’s salary formula. We had to go to mediation to get a 1% raise that was contractually owed.

In 2013-14, the college requested more sacrifices and offered no raises. The faculty had agreed to a considerable compromise on health care.  In the midst of voting on the contract an email from the state surfaced that showed the president had lied to faculty about the state of the college’s budget. Early in the year he had claimed the state had put the college on warning about the budget and he used this as leverage to force concessions during negotiations. While faculty were voting we discovered the state had written to him and said that in fact the college was not under warning and that employee salaries were not at all unusual–in fact, they were below average.  This discovery ended negotiations that year and the contract was not approved.

In 2014-15, the district negotiators continued to seek concessions and offered nothing in return.

In 2015-16, faculty learned that the college budget actuals again showed new money and our salary formula dictated a raise of 4.39% retroactive to June 2015.  But the college refused to honor the contractual obligation and we had to grieve. Again it went to mediation. The mediator agreed with faculty but because we are out of contract we couldn’t go to binding arbitration. In order to give our faculty the first meaningful raise since 2007-2008 we agreed to 3% when we were owed 4.39%, and we agreed to defer it–with 1% in 2016-17 and 2% in 2017-18, and we agreed to remove the salary formula from our contract.

Each of these years the college has claimed a structural deficit anywhere from $1 million to $2.5 million. Yet again in October, 2016, the college revealed that its end-of-year actual for 2015-16 showed $2.5 million in unspent money, despite a budget for 2015-16 that projected a $2 million deficit. Thus, the college missed on the budget projection by $4.5 million on a $35 million dollar budget. And in negotiations for 2016-17 they continue to maintain that the college is in deficit and they continue to seek workload concessions that will lead to larger class sizes, faculty with more classes, and less time to grade and prepare for class.  All of these clawbacks will hurt students.

On April 21 the college regressively bargained: they had a 2% raise on the table going back to October and had not brought salary up all year during negotiations. At that meeting they said they could not offer any salary increase to full-time faculty and a 1% raise only to part-time faculty. Throughout negotiations that year the district had sought to coerce unpaid work from part-time faculty who are among the lowest employees of the college, have no job security from semester to semester, and who are only paid for the time in the classroom (no pay for time spent grading or prepping).

We had been fighting to get the district to recognize long-time part-timer faculty by allowing them to receive two-year extended contracts if they had a positive evaluation record and had taught at the college for at least seven years, but the college refused to do so.  We also had fought to ensure that part-time faculty who often teach at two or three colleges just to survive would not be required to do unpaid work, but the college continued to seek language that would allow them to coerce part-timer faculty to do unpaid work like program evaluation.

To give you some perspective: a part-time faculty person makes about $3,000 for a semester-length course.  To make $50,000, they would need to teach 17 courses. They get no benefits. Plus, they are prohibited from teaching more than three courses/semester at any one college.  Fifty percent of our courses are taught by part-time faculty.

The salary for our faculty is 61st out of 72 community colleges in the state and we are the lowest paid faculty in the area: as much as $10,000 a year lower than Hartnell and Gavilan, and nearly $20,000 less than Cabrillo and Foothill.

Meanwhile, this year the college has embarked on an ambitious expansion of administration and is in process of hiring five new deans and a new vice president for planning. It has reclassified the director of the foundation as a vice president, giving her a $100,000 raise.  They are spending over $800,000 a year on lawyer fees. They ignored faculty’s recommendation to bring in the state accountants to get an objective fiscal audit that would tell us the true state of the budget.

On May 5 after leading us to believe they wanted to make a deal, they gave us a last and best final offer that includes all kinds of workload concessions that are bad for students as well as other clawbacks in benefits, with no proposed raise to the salary schedule.  They are offering some raises to coaches and some small pay for part-time office hours; that’s it.

Please come out to support us at the next board meeting, 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 31,  at the Marina Center, 289 12th Street, Marina, room MA-404.  Public comment starts at 1:30.

Also, the board has scheduled an “emergency” meeting for 8 a.m. Tuesday  to evaluate the president. That meeting is at MPC’s Sam Karas Room, next to the library. We fear that they are going to extend President Tribely’s contract! This would be a huge mistake.

Please share with friends who care about labor and education.  And if you can come to either meeting to speak or show support, we appreciate it.

Haffa teaches at MPC and is a member of the Monterey City Council.

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The incredible shrinking newsroom(s)

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It wasn’t a good sign a couple weeks back when the Salinas Californian announced it would no longer concern itself with breaking news. The once-proud daily had been reduced to a three-days-a-week schedule, and who wants to read about a Sunday-night fire on Wednesday?

Unfortunately for all involved, it was possible for things to go down even from there. Now that copy editors have been removed from many newsrooms, the growing trend is newsrooms without editors of any sort. For evidence, look no farther than Wednesday’s announcement that the Californian will now join the ranks of newspapers without any editor on site.

Californian Editor Pete Wevurski already had been spread mighty thin, also serving as editor of the Visalia Times-Delta and the closely related Tulare Advance-Register. As you may or may not know, Visalia and Tulare are not within shouting distance of Salinas. They are, however, part of the Gannett chain, which never met a cost it couldn’t cut.

The new arrangement has the Californian, the Times-Delta and the Advance-Register operating under the editorship of Silas Lyons, the longtime editor of Gannett’s Redding Record Searchlight. If your California geography is rusty, all you need to know is that the drive from Salinas to Redding is three times longer than the drive from Salinas to Visalia. And it’s in a different direction.

Lyons is a fine editor, highly capable, and he may prove to be an adequate overseer of three-plus news operations with little  in common. The Gannett public relations team managed to put the best possible spin on it with a news article that presented  him as uniquely qualified for the geographical challenge. It notes that he grew up in North Fork, a scant 60 miles or so from Visalia, and that his first job out of college was as an intern for the Monterey Herald, for which he covered the California Rodeo in Salinas. It did not mention whether he had visited the city since.

In case you’re not catching my drift here, what concerns me is that readers are best served when the journalists serving them know something about the community whose name is in big letters on the front page. Creating clusters of newspapers led by one person off in Timbuktu might appeal to the bean counters at corporate but I’ll challenge all readers of local newspapers to point to a time when doing so led to improved coverage.

I’m not an objective critic of this trend. I was once the editor of the Monterey Herald. That ended three years ago when whoever was in charge decided it would be better if the editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel was to become the Herald editor as well. Given the resource constraints, Don Miller has worn both hats well though some readers complain that the two papers seem too similar on some days. There are some readers who believe Miller has done a better job than I did. I might be able to name each of them and I wouldn’t think of arguing with them.

My regular golf partner chides me when I grouse about the demise of local newspapering, and he’s right to complain. It’s just the way it is and pointing it out probably does no one any good. I guess I go on and on about it because, in a lifetime of local newspapering, I have seen how much good can be accomplished by competent newspapers and how much important, even critical, news is being ignored these days. That’s why the Partisan exists but it is like a minnow swimming against a tsunami. The bad guys like what’s going on with newspapers.

I was discouraged as well this week when my former former employer, the Fresno Bee, announced the layoffs of eight writers and the transfers of a couple of editors. The Bee had not been spared from any of the previous rounds of cuts but there are those who had thought the bottom had been reached. Not yet, apparently. Among the casualties, Donald Munro, the arts writer. He’s the only person who had been covering music, theater, art, etc., in a city of more than half a million.

As usual, the announcements in Fresno and Gannettland made mention of the digital age, not by cursing its role in weakening the printed word but by promising a warmer embrace in the future. In both cases, it was an example of doubletalk that almost suggested that eliminating some journalists amounted to an improvemernt.

Said Lyons: “The newsrooms in Salinas, Visalia and Tulare have incredibly rich histories covering their communities and are extending that local journalism into the digital age.”

Said Bee Publisher Tom Cullinan: “We must remake our newsroom to drive digital readership while at the same time reckoning with budget and expense realities that necessitate a smaller, more focused, nimbler newsroom.”

Good luck, Tom, and good luck, Silas. If you can figure out how to drive digital readership by shrinking your newsrooms, maybe you can also figure out how to stop my paper from landing in a puddle.

So, you ask, what can you do to help reverse the trend, to help the struggling minnow, to help convince publishers to embark on a strategy of improvement rather than degradation? Simply this. When something important to you is approaching, call the newspaper and point it out. And when something important to you isn’t covered, call the publisher and complain. It might not do any good but it certainly can’t make things any worse.

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On April 13, Cal Am wrote a letter to the Peninsula Mayors Water Authority, responding to a letter from Public Water Now and other parties citing “alarming deficiencies” on the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project (MPWSP). The letter from Public Water now cited lack of water rights and poor science surrounding the slant well ocean intakes proposed for the Cal Am desalination plant.

The Cal Am letter was signed by desal project manager Ian Crooks. An excerpt follows:

The most definitive and best science to determine the feasibility of slant wells is to drill and operate an actual slant well in the proposed project location and observe its performance. Cal Am’s test slant well at the CEMEX property in Marina has accomplished just that and proven unequivocally over its 480 days of pumping that slant wells are a feasible technology for our project. The important indices are yield, reliability and water quality, and results in all three areas are outstanding. (Italics and bold added)

I wish to rebut this statement as vigorously as I can.

Traditional “scientific method” would support Mr. Crooks’ first sentence. Scientific method requires a hypothesis, and the hypothesis of this “experiment” is that a slant well can sustain a continuous extraction rate of 2,000 gallons per minute (gpm) from the proposed location without harming the groundwater. Extensive modeling by notorious hydrogeologist Dennis Williams, president of GeoSciences, was presented in the first environmental impact report iteration in 2015, and was modified by HydroFocus and Lawrence Livermore Labs in the recirculated version now pending. This extensive modeling “finds” that the hypothesis is correct and therefore that the damage to the existing surrounding coastal aquifers of the Salinas Valley River Basin is “insignificant.”

This is where a test slant well comes into play: To test the modeling work with a field test. This is also sound experimental design based on the scientific method. However, it is at this point I must diverge from Mr. Crooks and his statement highlighted in bold above. Let’s examine the “outstanding” results of the thre indices, one at a time: Reliability, yield and water quality.

Reliability

The long-term pumping test began on April 22, Earth Day, 2015, which was 722 days before Mr. Crooks’ letter to the mayors. Assuming he accurately represents that the pumping had continued for 480 days as of April 13, that means the pump had been idle for 242 days, or just over 33 percent of the total time. Who in their right mind would rate a 67 percent reliability performance as outstanding? When I was going to public high school that rate of performance was known as “a D.”

Yield

CalAm has consistently made claims, widely reported in the local papers and public meetings, that the slant well yield has “exceeded expectations,” steadily drawing between 2,000 and 2,200 gallons per minute (gpm) when it is operating. But here is the problem. There is no evidence or data to support the claim within the public sphere. The current EIR presents no such information. The Hydrological Working Group (HWG), a team of hydrogeologists including Dr. Williams, monitor and measure the well’s performance as required by its permit issued by the California Coastal Commission. The HWG is required to post weekly reports on the public website www.watersupplyproject.org and submit monthly reports to the acting director of the Coastal Commission, which are also posted on the website. The monthly reports are nearly 1,000 pages, reporting minutiae gathered electronically every five-15 minutes about the groundwater and salinity levels at the monitoring wells. Yet the yield results about how many gallons of brackish water are being sucked through the slant well and tossed out to sea through the existing outfall pipe appear nowhere in any of the documentation of these lengthy reports.

As far as “yield exceeding expectations,” you will just have to take Cal Am’s word for it, and surprisingly, everyone seems to (and are damned jolly that it is going so well!) However, in my experience, I have learned to never take Cal Am’s word for anything. Except when they tell us our rates are going up. I always believe them then.

Water Quality

Cal Am reports about water quality are focused solely on the level of salinity of the water drawn through the slant well. The company hopes for a salinity percentage as high as possible. The higher the seawater percentage (i.e. the percent salinity of the brackish water), the lower the percentage of fresh water coming from the landward aquifers and the less water that has to be delivered to Castroville to satisfy the agency act in the “return water agreement.” The agreement is a ridiculous plan cobbled together by politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers that could cost ratepayers millions of additional dollars annually and would require an entire essay to describe its stupidity in detail.) These folks are relatively pleased that the salinity was recently measured at 92 percent seawater. However, the percolating winter deluge will likely dilute that percentage, pumping even more freshwater out to sea this spring. They predict and hope that salinity at the slant well will rise to the target level 96 percent seawater or higher once they install sevem more production slant wells, and start sucking out groundwater at over 10 million gallons per day.

You might be wondering how such a volume of pumping could be expected to have “insignificant impact” on the surrounding aquifers and so do I. It seems like magic, and I suspect magical thinking here regardless of what the extensive modeling in the EIR predicts. Fortunately, the test slant well experiment has provisions to collect data on this aspect. Monitoring wells in the area help determine what is going on in the groundwater near the slant well pump.

So, what has happened at the threshold monitoring well in the 480 days out of 722 of the long-term pumping test as of April 13, 2017? The answer is that the salinity has steadily and “very slightly” risen by over 25 percent in that time. That is an alarming number! This result is further accentuated by the fact that in the 26 days prior to the beginning of any slant well pumping (the only baseline there is at the site) the salinity at the threshold well actually dropped by 2.2 percent.

Rising salinity at this spot indicates significant rising seawater intrusion into the basin. Mr. Williams and the HWG claim that these results are unrelated to the impact of a single test slant well operating only 67 percent of the time. They say it is for other reasons, but they do not quantify nor verify those claims with data.

The science is poor because the scientists have a predetermined outcome that goes beyond normal bias. But what can you expect when you are examining science reports from Cal Am and its Crooks?

Michael Baer is a retired public school science teacher,  a 30-plus year resident of the Monterey Peninsula, and a local water activist.

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The government capitol in Havana was designed to replicate the Capitol in Washington, though the locals take pride in saying it’s bigger.

They love us down in Cuba.

We are assured of this everywhere we go on the island. It feels genuine, without irony and without the sense that the sentiment is the result of a directive from La Oficina Gubernamenta de Propaganda y el Sentimiento Feliz.

“We like Americans,” they tell us, time and again, from every city and every barrio, from Havana to Santa Clara. “We don’t like the United States government, but we like Americans.”

It’s nice to hear, of course, when you’re an American visiting a country with such a curious relationship with its nearest neighbor. For Americans of a certain generation, Cuba has long been an enigma, a mystery that seemed vaguely scary way back when.

If Americans have a notion of Cuba at all these days, it’s likely an amalgamation of grubby revolution, godless communism, dangerous beards, improvised cars, angry exiles, lively music, failed assassination attempts, stinky cigars and an excess of rum.

We recently spent a week there to unravel what we thought we knew.

After nearly 60 years of being pais non grata to the United States, Cuba got a visit from President Obama last year in a first-step effort to normalize relationships. He was the first president to step foot in Cuba since Fidel and Che deposed Batista, the Mafia and the International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. back in the 1950s.

Normalization would be nice, obviously, but lifting the trade embargo would be even better.

That’s another constant you hear from people if you’re an American in Havana. We talked to an architect, to a diplomat, to college students and to senior citizens at a community center and they all told us the same thing: the U.S. embargo is killing Cuba.

It’s a “fact” Cubans have embraced since the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia left Cuba to fend for itself. For about 40 years, the USSR managed to keep old-fashioned communism alive in Cuba with sizeable stipends in exchange for sugar, the island’s primary resource. Cuba’s unholy alliance with the Soviets allowed the U.S. to whip up Cold War fears with a convenient nearby enemy. Then, all of a sudden, boom!, the Kremlin said adios to Cuba. But that didn’t keep every American president from shaking their fists at and/or ignoring the island nation.

A scene from a farmer’s market in Cienfuegos.

Cuba has been working through abandonment issues since its population nearly starved to death during what they now call the “special period” in the years after the Soviets disappeared. With Russia a lost cause, Cubans turned their attention to the United States and to the embargo. Because what else could they do?

The U.S. is Cuba’s nearest neighbor, so it sort of makes sense that the average desperate Cuban would want to make friends. They hear about New York. They hear about L.A. They are intrigued. And maybe they could benefit economically without the sanctions.

For the most part, Cuba is still a horse-and-cart country. Nearly everyone works for the government because virtually everything runs through the government. The basic monthly wage is the equivalent of 27 American dollars. Everyone is guaranteed free housing and free health care. University and trade-school education is also free. Food staples are exceedingly cheap and available from neighborhood bodegas. Free preschools, free senior care.

It might sound like a progressive Democrat’s ideal, but all this free stuff is difficult to sustain when the economy is in free fall. So Cubans end up with a lot of mediocre free stuff. And there is really no incentive for a citizen to attend university when the guy who is driving a patched-together ’54 Buck for tourists in Havana is earning more in a single day than a government functionary makes in a month.

That’s not to say that capitalism isn’t alive, if not well, in Cuba. To survive, everyone needs to improvise some sort of gig, some of it with the government’s blessings. Bed-and-breakfasts are huge, for instance, and so are paladares (private restaurants opened in homes). Virtually every shack along the beautiful, tropical shores of the Bay of Pigs — remember that place? — is open to tourists.

Also, black-market capitalism seems to be a thing. A visitor to the country can purchase dirt-cheap cigars from vendors who sidle up surreptitiously, as if they’ve got high-grade heroin for sale.

The embargo will be lifted, eventually, after American capitalists figure out that there’s money to be made on the island and when they accept that free enterprise in Cuba is complicated. Or when communism eventually collapses under the weight of its incapacities.

It may or may not happen during the Trump administration, and that’s okay, according to the experts in Cuba.

“Cuba isn’t losing any sleep over Trump,” said Carlos Alzagaray, a Cuban diplomat. “The attitude here is that it couldn’t be any worse than it’s already been.”

A billboard outside the Che memorial in Santa Clara

If anything, Cubans seem rather bemused by America’s plight these days. “You’ve replaced no-drama Obama with all-trauma Trump,” Alzagaray said.

When that day finally comes, when access and trade with the United States open up to Cuba, we’re led to believe that it will be embraced like the dawning of a new age. Best-case scenario, the economy will prosper with a new emphasis on capitalist principles, allowing an upgrade to its generous social programs.

A philosophy student, Maria, says she hopes to see a McDonald’s franchise in every neighborhood someday.

Virtually everyone we met in Cuba said they yearn for better access to the Internet. It’s difficult for Cubans to keep up with the rest of the world these days, we are told. The messages they get from tightly controlled media are limited. Billboards everywhere still propagate Big Brother-like nationalist propaganda. On the bright side, some local black-market entrepreneurs earn a nice living by downloading information off the ‘net and delivering weekly pacquetas from their thumb drives, at about $2 a pop, to those with a hunger for outside influences. For the most part, the pacquetas include very little useful news, but are mostly filled with celebrity and entertainment items from around the world.

We’re told that Jimmy Fallon is very popular in Cuba.

Hearing the party line day after day, a visitor can easily develop the sense that the embargo has become a handy justification for the country’s malaise. Some might say that the embargo absolves Cubans from making an effort to self-determination. Surely Cuba has had enough time to work through its issues, to massage its systems, to reinvent itself, even under the weight of its creaky autocracy.

While that might be partially true, it doesn’t absolve the United States from carrying out a policy against Cuba that can only be referred to nowadays as petty and venal. The embargo is payback for a forgotten history, at the expense of generations that continue to suffer the consequences. How easy would it be to allow some free trade to its nearest non-border neighbor, to 11 million people who have never consumed a Big Mac? Fidel is long gone. Raul is on his last legs. The U.S. trades with China; we’re on speaking terms with Russia. But, somehow, Cuba gets our cold shoulder.

The political intellectuals in Havana will tell you that the exiled Cubans in Miami have an outsized influence on American-Cuban policy. In Florida, a state with a significant influence on national elections, no presidential candidate since Nixon wished to risk losing the Cuban vote, which could swing Dade County, which could swing Florida to an opponent. So U.S.-Cuban relations remain in statis, for no good reason, forcing Cuba to build trade relationships with third-world banana republics with no more future than their own.

Nevertheless, Cubans tell us they love the American people even as they despise American policies. It sounds like a broken record. Even Maria, the philosophy student who yearns to eat a Big Mac someday, apes the party line about, about the goodness of the American people and the not so goodness of the American government.

I didn’t mean to deflate her sense of what Americanos are like, but I thought she should know that the people from the U.S. are the government. U.S. citizens, after all, elect the boobs who continue to nurture our country’s petty institutional grievances.

Former Monterey Herald Editor Joe Livernois is a Monterey writer. See his collection of photographs

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Spring, when nature’s clockwork reveals the certitudes of life bursting forth after the hidden dormancies of winter. California is witnessing a super bloom of wildflowers coaxed forth by drought-busting rains. And home gardeners are dealing with the ever-vexing question of which tomato varieties to plant.

The springtime of a presidency, too, has its new-growth marks. Reports on the new president’s honeymoon being over are quickly followed by the hoariest of benchmarks for the new guy’s (always a guy, still) first 100 days. Some presidents — FDR, Obama, Reagan — are viewed as those who did great things in their first three months in office. All modern presidents are judged thusly; it’s the first rule of Beltway journalism.

There are scores of stories, commentaries and gasbag explosions about the infancy of President Donald Trump’s tenure, which hits the 100-day mark Saturday.

I’ve been biting my tongue about President Trump for several reasons: the wait-and-see reflex, the avalanche of coverage out there about Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride, and the wise admonition my mother instilled to not say anything if you can’t say something nice.

Judging Trump’s first 100 days as a colossal failure would be too easy, though accurate. A lot of people are doing that, including most Americans who put his popularity at the lowest level ever for a new president.

It would be easy to rattle off the ways the Trump administration has pushed retrograde policies on every issue from health care and the environment to immigration and criminal justice reform. It would take no hard work to assemble a long list of naked lies, empty boasts, clumsy threats, self-inflicted wounds and pocket-lining grifts perpetrated by the White House over the past three months. But that game is overwhelmed by players.

Trump’s only big deed is restoring a conservative majority to the Supreme Court with Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to allow a vote on Judge Merrick Garland for a year, really won that trophy for the GOP. Trump simply picked the best-looking conservative off a handy list compiled by the Heritage Foundation. Any Republican president could have done that. Hell, you or I could have done that.

Still, I’ve put together a list of positives generated by the Trump White House. It doesn’t include his raft of executive orders, which aside from those blocked by courts, don’t amount to much but words on pretty paper. Nor am I going to give credit for his use of awesome arms in one-off attacks in Syria and Afghanistan. Those miserable wars remain unabated, and your guess is as good as mine in divining what Trump will do to help end them.

Credit, though, is due on several fronts:

— Golf: Trump has played so much golf that it must be doing some good for the sport, though I doubt many young people will take to the links in emulation of their 70-year-old president. Since he won’t disclose his taxes, I say Trump should release his golf scores, so we know if anything is getting better.

— Emoluments: While xenophobia was the fancy new word learned by many Americans during the 2016 campaign, emoluments has been added to our vocabulary as he moved into the White House and turned on the open-for-business sign. I believe the White House should announce daily how much money the president made in the past 24 hours. Again, as a kind of reassurance that at least something is getting better, I.e. the Trump family fortune.

— Citizen engagement: Trump’s nascent presidency has stirred Americans and citizens throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands have marched in support of women, immigrants, scientists; Thousands of would-be candidates are lining up to enter politics; and many “safe” Republican congressional seats may be hotly contested in 2018. These are good things.

— Truth and lies: The leader of the Republican Party, the party whose great thinkers have long longed decried moral relativism, has brought us a golden age of factual relativism, in which all negative news is fake news and critical journalists are enemies of the people. This has caused resurgent interest in the literature of authoritarianism and newspaper subscriptions. It’s good more people are reading Orwell and, maybe, fewer are logging onto Breitbart.

— Nuclear war: So far, Trump hasn’t touched his nuclear arsenal against North Korea or Canadian dairy farms. That is good. The other night, though, some of his top advisers — nicely  dressed chowder heads on Fox News — were glibly weighing the pros and cons of preemptive nuclear strikes on North Korea. Let us hope that Trump, who boasts the best TiVo in the world, won’t be swayed by these lunatics. The White House just proved it could learn about the Holocaust by using Wikipedia. Maybe they should look up “Hiroshima” by John Hersey and start learning some rudiments about the reality of nuclear weapons.

— Things are complicated: Trump has been playing catch-up on several fronts. He has learned that several things, including being president, health care, North Korea, NATO, trade pacts and having a campaign under FBI investigation are complicated. These baby-step signs of humility from the man who bragged, “I alone can fix it”  last July are good things. It’s probably better to have a maniac capable of learning rather than a closed-minded megalomaniac in charge of the country.

— Business of government: In his wild AP interview last week https://apnews.com/c810d7de280a47e88848b0ac74690c83

Trump acknowledged a big flaw in the old saw of running-government-like-a business. He said he’s learned that as a public leader you have to care about people, to have a heart. That’s rarely the case in the business world, where the bottom line is all and a heart is best keep cold.

“Well, in business you don’t necessarily need heart, whereas here, almost everything affects people,” he said. “You have to love people.” This tiny glimpse into the heretofore unseen soft side of Trump may be a good thing. It’s a good thing when a national leader isn’t a heartless bastard.

I don’t expect Trump to go all hippie, “Love is all,” on us in the next 100 days. But maybe he will learn a few more things about public leadership now that he’s admitted one of the main duties is to actually care about people. That is if a 70-year-old man with super-abundant self-adulation can detect much of anything beyond the glow of his own star.

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The California Public Utilities Commission is in crisis and in the headlines and needs help to regain its focus on serving the public interest transparently.

I spent 15 of my 19 years at the CPUC working as its public advisor before leaving in 2004. The Public Advisor’s Office was established by law to help the public participate effectively in CPUC administrative proceedings and to help the commission encourage effective public participation.

From this vantage point, I have opinions about the deeper levels of the problems facing the CPUC than are revealed in the headlines today.

And I outline below some ideas about important needed next steps.

There is no doubt that one of the central problems at the CPUC is what is often called “regulatory capture,” meaning that the commissioners and, to a lesser extent, the staff, become captured by those they regulate.

This happens because the representatives of the regulated utilities have become part of the daily life and habit of the CPUC.

The CPUC is not the only government agency to become captured. It is an all-too-well-known phenomenon among regulatory agencies.

The answer to this problem lies partially in structural reforms like those to ensure that commissioners do not speak to parties in cases outside of publicly noticed hearings.

Preventing regulatory capture also requires the governor to appoint knowledgeable people who have the will and personality to understand their role and avoid being “captured” by the regulated utilities.

A second deep problem is a dirty little secret among those who know the regulatory world of the CPUC that is not discussed in the press.

The dirty little secret is that the CPUC cannot possibly effectively do every job assigned to it.

There are simply too many laws with too many requirements and too few staff.

For example, even if you tripled the five or so staff people the CPUC has who cover gas pipeline safety, they could not possibly monitor every utility installation of underground pipe or maintain their own independent database of the pipes in the ground. The CPUC has only barely enough to audit the efforts of the utilities. Yet many in the public think and expect that the CPUC will be there when all gas pipelines are installed and will have its own independent database of what pipes are where.

One answer to this problem is to have a top-to-bottom independent review of the CPUC responsibilities. Experts and public members of the review panel should examine every law that requires CPUC regulatory action and determine which are truly needed to protect the public safety and health, which are otherwise essential and which need to be rescinded so that the CPUC can focus on its essential responsibilities.

The review needs to examine how many staff are actually necessary to do an effective job for each of the statutory requirements examined by the review panel.

If this is done in a public way, it may also help the state Legislature and the public have fuller understandings of how much varying levels of regulation and oversight cost.

There is no doubt that the CPUC is in crisis. Not only does it need change from within, it must find a way to regain public confidence.

In the last session, the Legislature passed numerous bills that addressed the crisis at the CPUC. Some of these were thoughtful and others not as much. The governor vetoed all of them. It was good to hear that Gov. Jerry Brown has now engaged with the Legislature to try to agree on needed reforms.

It is also clear that the CPUC needs a public, independent review of its statutory responsibilities. If the governor will not appoint such a review panel, then the Legislature should.

This is a much more reasonable and prudent first step to take, especially when compared to the short-lived constitutional amendment proposal to take the CPUC out of the state Constitution.

This proposal asked us to trust that the Legislature would come up with the details of how to distribute the CPUC’s functions and responsibilities only after the fact. Before starting down that road, wouldn’t it be good to have a thorough review of the current statutory responsibilities of the CPUC?

Robert Feraru is a former employee for the California Public Utilities Commission who held several senior staff positions from 1985 to 2004. He lives in Richmond. This piece first appeared in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in March 2016.

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Friday’s Carmel Pine Cone contained two unvarnished attempts to vilify Public Water Now, the group leading the upcoming attempt at a public takeover of Cal Am Water. George Riley, the extremely water-savvy managing director of Public Water Now, usually doesn’t let the Pine Cone’s excoriations get to him, but this heavy-handed and apparently erroneous attack got under his skin.

In a letter to the Pine Cone and the rest of local press corps, Riley calls reporter Kelly Nix’s front page story on Public Water Now “appalling” and argues that the companion editorial on April 21 was “riddled with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and assumptions.”

Riley goes on to demand a retraction and clarification though he said he doesn’t expect either. Pine Cone Editor and Publisher Paul Miller has been an unquestioning promoter of Cal Am at least since the turn of the century, and Cal Am has been a significant advertiser in the weekly publication. Efforts to control Cal Am’s rapidly escalating price structure or to scrutinize the company’s flawed and increasingly expensive desalination project have been met with derision, even ridicule from Miller.

In the news article on Friday, Nix focuses on a letter to Public Water Now from the Peninsula mayors’ water committee, saying it had been signed by the committee chairman, Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe. In his letter of response, Riley says the letter was not signed by Kampe or anyone else, was not approved by the mayors’ committee and was not even sent.

“People who were at the meeting confirmed that the letter under discussion was not approved,” Riley wrote. “I watched the tape of the entire meeting. The Pine Cone is dead wrong in its report.”

A draft of the letter was considered as a possible response to a March letter from Riley in which he criticized the desalination venture in general and its reliance on so-called slant wells. He correctly notes that the slant-well technology, despite being favored by regulators, has not been put to at any desalination plant in the world. Nix sought to rebut that by quoting Cal Am officials as saying their controversial testing of the technology is going well. The testing process was interrupted by disclosures of conflicts of interests involving the designer of the technology.

“It’s most unfortunate for readers when the Pine Cone reports unsubstantiated information as fact,” Riley wrote. The account “was NOT based on what the mayors said.”

“It must feel exciting for a small paper to believe it has a big scoop, then pontificate with an editorial,” Riley continued. “But it is a serious breach of journalistic ethics, and your responsibility to this community, to fail to verify, or to ignore that step altogether.”

Riley retired as chief housing officer for San Mateo County and ever since has led Peninsula efforts to control Cal Am’s water rates and to put the private company into public hands in hopes of controlling costs.

Direct links to the Pine Cone article and the editorial are not included in this post because the weekly newspaper’s technology does not accommodate linkage. Those wanting to read those pieces can, however, go to the Pine Cone’s online archive (Google Carmel Pine Cone archive or click here) and then click on the line labeled “download this week’s edition” and wait for a download of a facsimile of Friday’s paper.

Nix’s article gives no indication that he sought any comment from Riley before posting his piece and Riley says he was not approached. The Partisan sent an email to Nix before working hours Tuesday and had not heard back as of 11 a.m. This report will be updated if he responds.

Unlike Nix’s story, Miller’s editorial makes no pretense of objectivity.

“… This community’s water activists must be the dumbest people in the world,” he writes.

“Not only do they incessantly fight every single thing that might help eliminate our perennial water shortage, they simply won’t give up on the idea of a government takeover of Cal Am, no matter how many times the public tells them, ‘No.’”

It goes on like that for several more paragraphs. He says the activists are opposed to desalination, slant wells, pipelines and even water recycling “for utterly nonsensical and self-serving reasons,”none of which he mentions.

He writes that the activists “hate private business and have a deep narcissistic desire to get everybody else to hate businesses, too.”

He concludes, “The only intelligent thing for the activists to do would be to devote their energy to helping solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water problem, and stop pursuing their little takeover hobby until the shortage is gone.

“The problem is that little word, ‘intelligent.’ We don’t know how smart the activists are. But anybody can see how stupid they act.”

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Proprietor’s note: Arlene Haffa was among the speakers at Sunday’s science march in Monterey. Here, with her permission, are her remarks. She teaches chemistry and biology at CSU Monterey Bay but she wants it made clear that the views expressed do not reflect those of the university.

We just heard an excellent statement on the importance of science literacy on the health of the ocean. I am hoping to convey a more general urgency for scientific literacy and its role in shaping civil societies.

Science is not an “us” versus “them” issue. It is not conservative or progressive. It is integral to our very existence. Without science we could not have civilization. Thus, in order to preserve our civilization, and provide hope for a better future, we need science education.

How many of you have used science today? Did anyone use their cell phone? Let’s give a shout out to science!

When we partake of these fruits of science we are “standing on the shoulders of giants,” a phrase first used by Bernard of Chartres to compare the then contemporary 12th century scholars to dwarfs standing on the ancient giant scholars of Greece and Rome.

Whose shoulders might you be standing on now?

Cell phones’ shoulders include astronomy, rocketry, electricity and those with the ability to put forth new ideas.

There are the shoulders of Aristarchus of Samos, an ancient Greek astronomer who determined the sun was the center of the universe rather than the earth. This was in conflict with both the current scientific dogma and religious doctrines and was not proposed again until 1543 by Copernicus just before he died. On the other side of the earth the shoulders were put into the foundation of our cell phones during the 11th century Song Dynasty in China, with the invention of gun powder and rockets as recorded by Wujing Zongyao.

Another set of shoulders belonged to the Italian Galileo Galilei, who preferred to be convicted of heresy by the Roman Inquisition in 1633 and spend the rest of his life under house arrest for his view that the earth rotated around the sun rather than say it wasn’t true. Galileo also contributed to the scientific method, a viable telescope, and the military compass among other things.

Your cell phone relies on Sir Isaac Newton, a 17th century English mathematician who gave us classical mechanics, the laws of motion and universal gravitation.

People now had the foundations in planetary sciences, and rocketry necessary to imagine the future.

Science fiction works of the French Jules Verne and English HG Wells spurred interest in interplanetary travel in the early 20th century. This was coupled to ballistic advances due to war, the shoulders of Tsiolkovsky and his application of the rocket equation to space travel, and Potočnik who described geostationary satellites.

The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite in 1957 under the direction of chief rocket scientist Sergei Korolev. And it was a science fiction writer again, Arthur Clarke, who first wrote about using 3 geostationary satellites for mass communications.

These shoulders that made cell phones possible are from all across the earth- Greek, Chinese, Italian, German, Russian, Slovene, English, and the United States of America.

Go science! Give it up for the cell phone!

On the flip side of this technology that allows for better interpersonal communication, as well as access to information, there is an imbedded inherent risk.

Science, and the technology it creates, poses moral and practical challenges.

Who has read Frankenstein? Or seen the film? The novel is a great example of science doing Godlike things. The idea of being able to make or manipulate life itself makes science thrilling, benevolent and transformative, but at the same time so frightening and unsettling to those who don’t understand.

Dr. Frankenstein was dedicated to finding a cure for mortality. But, he created a monster instead. How do we manage the power that science offers? How do we make sure that science is put in service of good and not evil?

Science is power. Knowledge is power. Science isn’t inherently good or bad, but it comes with responsibility.

Thinking back to Galileo’s military compass: It made the firing of cannons more accurate. This could reduce collateral damage, but could also increase ballistic accuracy.

Rockets by delivering payloads kill humans and damage the earth. Rockets by delivering communication satellites bring humans together.

I find a similarity between Galileo and our secretary of defense, James Mattis. Secretary Mattis has publically asserted that climate change is real, and a threat to American interests abroad, and the Pentagon’s assets everywhere. In this he is standing on the shoulders of scientists, and at odds with many of his peers. He is using science rather than political pressure to draw his conclusions in an effort to protect the United States.

We should appreciate the secretary’s willingness to put American interests first above the disapproval of his colleagues. The scientific community is overwhelming convinced that the truth of the matter is that the climate is changing, and the people have something to do with it.

In regard to climate change, some imagine the scientists are personally gaining from the science. In my opinion this is more like Pascal’s Wager.

Pascal’s contributions to the fields of pressure, vacuums, and hydraulics are likely imbedded in rocketry, but it is his philosophical dilemma that I paraphrase here. He argued that any rational person should live as if God exists. For, if God does actually exist, there is only a finite loss of some pleasures, whereas one stands to receive infinite gains and avoid infinite losses.

Our nation is currently in a conflicted debate as to whether climate change is the truth, or something we should deny. If climate change is real, then it is the greatest threat facing all of humanity and our earth.

A rational person should live as though climate change exists. For if climate change actually does exist, there is only a finite loss of some pleasures (like the combustion engine, or coal burning power plants), whereas one stands to gain the retention of the earth as we know it and civil society.

While education is my primary professional purpose, I also perform research, and was asked to speak about it.

My research is working to address climate change as it relates to agriculture. My colleagues and I are studying how to help the agricultural community best manage fertilizer and irrigation, so that our food can be grown in economically and environmentally sustainable ways. Nitrogen is one of the most necessary ingredients of fertilizer. While nitrogen is the 5th most abundant element on Earth, it wasn’t discovered until 1772 by the Scottish physician, chemist and botanist Daniel Rutherford. He called it “noxious air”. Then Justus von Liebig made the agricultural sciences blossom in the late 1800s when he discovered its importance to plant growth. The agricultural revolution was started in 1903 when the Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland, and his business partner developed the Birkeland-Eyde process to remove nitrogen from the air, and create solid fertilizers. I am standing on these shoulders.

Agriculture is a $4 billion industry in Monterey County, and our growers help to feed the people of the earth. Fertilizer is expensive, but seen as a good investment to insure crop success. However, if more fertilizer is applied to a field than the crops can absorb, the excess is either leeched into the groundwater, or emitted into the atmosphere. I work with NASA scientists Forrest Melton who is using satellite data to help inform growers about when to irrigate, and Kirk Post who is helping to assess nitrate leeching as a function of the amount of fertilizer and water applied, with the chemical analysis help of Erin Stanfield. UC Cooperative Extension scientists are calculating how much nitrogen ends up in the crops. My lab is adding the last component to the nitrogen budget by measuring the excess nitrogen emitted as nitrous oxide into the air. Nitrous Oxide is a greenhouse gas 300 x more potent than carbon dioxide. Most of the nitrous oxide emissions are a result of excess fertilizer. This part of my research rests on the expertise of Stefanie Kortman.

Ag research is saving farmers money, feeding more people, and making the earth more sustainable.

Do we have any Neal de Grasse Tyson fans in the house? He said: “The good thing about science is that it is true whether you believe it or not.”

It is difficult to change the world, or the opinion of those that do not want to face the truth. To deny science is to deny truth.

However, scientific literacy can help all of us be better citizens, and help to create the type of world we want to give to future Americans. The Native American 7th generation principal is codified in the Iroquois Great Law of Peace. It says that in every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations in the future.

Scientific literacy makes us better consumers and wiser voters.

The current generation diligently strives to advance science, in order to become the shoulders for those in the future. For this to be insured, it takes funding, and policies that promote science. We should be grateful for our next speaker, the Honorable President of the California Senate, Bill Monning. He is a leader that has supported science education in our state and thus has helped to preserve our planet, and our democracy.

I would like to thank him for this, and I thank you for your attention

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I was taken aback reading a recent editorial in one of the Peninsula’s newspapers, which attacked a group of local individuals whose words and actions are not shared by the writer. The First Amendment clearly protects the publishing of differing opinions. But to see an experienced journalist paint those who disagree with him as “stupid” seems to me to be a mistake.

This unprofessional language targeted the group of Peninsula water activists who, literally alone, are concerned about the past, present and continuing rising cost of water. It is for that reason – to remove that incredible burden on all ratepayers – that they commit their time, money and actions in an effort to replace Cal Am with a public agency.

While I am offended by the writer of the editorial and disagree with his views, I would never call him “stupid.” In my experience, such terms are used publicly under two conditions: (1) the user is angered because someone else has the temerity to state a position that doesn’t agree with the user’s views; or(2) the user doesn’t really know what’s going on,. A preferable way to express one’s response would be to at least try to research the underlying factors before drawing conclusions. In any case, the use of unnecessary name-calling is little or no help to facilitate readers’ understanding of who is right and who is wrong.

Water activists have opposed Cal Am, but not for their own special interests. Peninsula ratepayers have been hit, time and time again, with major rate increases to the point that local water costs are now the highest in the country.  These hikes, bordering on outrageous, have caused the activists, most of whom could actually afford such increases, to fervently commit themselves to do something about it.

There are people, including the editorialist, who support Cal Am and are angry at the activists’ efforts to replace it with a public agency. But nobody else is working to change a system that doesn’t protect vulnerable ratepayers on the Peninsula – not the state (the California Public Utilities Commission or state legislators), not local politicians (e.g., the mayors), and certainly not Cal Am. The onlygroup is fighting unfair costs are the water activists. Without them, water will continue to be beyond some persons’ abilities to even pay for it. The combination of the CPUC and Cal Am, all supported by the powers-that-be, is the status quo that has to be changed.

The CPUC has five members – all appointed by the Governor, Unlike many other states, California does not require any specific background or expertise. This results in political appointees who may not be equipped to ensure that the agency protects both the utilities and their ratepayers. It is akin to a president appointing a big donor who has zero diplomatic experience to be the ambassador to a major country.

Consider, too, that the Peninsula mayors have just sent a letter to the leader of one of the activist groups warning that continued opposition to Cal Am will cause serious economic impacts on the Peninsula. Interestingly, the mayors make no reference to the cost of water.

Overburdened ratepayers cannot continue to function in such an environment. All journalists writing about local water issues should get the facts first and not ignored the financial burden endured by the ratepayers.

Hood is a former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He divides his time between Carmel and Columbus, Ohio. The editorial he refers to was in the Carmel Pine Cone on Friday.

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UPDATE: SO I WASTED MORE TIME THAN I HAD TO SPARE WRITING THIS PIECE ONLY TO LEARN AS SOON AS I HAD POSTED IT THAT COULTER’S TALK AT BERKELEY IS TENTATIVELY BACK ON. I PROBABLY SHOULD JUST TRASH THIS PIECE, BUT WHAT THE HECK. HERE IT IS ANYWAY. NEW INFO ON COULTER BEING RESCHEDULED IS AT THE BOTTOM. CHEERS:

It’s not hard to imagine a group of conservatives in the Bay Area sitting around trying to think of some horrible person to invite to speak at Cal in order to make academics and liberals look bad.

Earlier this year the horrible person was Milo Yiannopoulos, who turned bigotry into a career that flamed out when he started championing pedophilia shortly after his abbreviated Berkeley appearance. Though numerous other colleges around the country had politely and quietly turned Milo away,  knowing that his campus appearances were intended largely as provocations, Cal had said OK and even let the junior Republicans on campus book him into the largest lecture space on campus.

To the surprise of no one, a semi-organized group of self-styled anarchists showed up and made a mess of things to the point that the show couldn’t go on. Just as the organizers had hoped, UC Berkeley officials were portrayed as weak-kneed hypocrites. The headlines told us that Berkeley, home of the free speech moment, had put a muzzle on provocative speech. Almost none of the news coverage mentioned the other  campuses that had simply uninvited Milo in the first place. Berkeley tried to stay true to its free speech roots and took it on the chin.

(Critics do make one good point, which is that it might have been smarter for the police officers on hand to have made some arrests rather than simply watch the unfolding shenanigans.)

For the young conservatives, earnest types who perhaps couldn’t get into Stanford and couldn’t afford USC, the Milo thing couldn’t have gone any better if they had planned it. Which they did. So they got back together and came up with another horrible person, Ann Coulter. You know who she is, and if you don’t, I’ll provide a glimpse of her shameless brand of racism in a moment.

The Berkeley brass was presented with the prospect of a Coulter appearance that was publicized before they had been consulted.  Look what happened the last time, they said as they declined to roll out a Coulter carpet. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, so we’ll pass.

And so the conservative crowd is huffing and puffing again. Their argument goes like this: Those liberals are just so close-minded, and they don’t want people to hear “the other side.” Which would seem to suggest that the conservative crowd is big on courting ideas contrary to their own, a notion for which there is slight supporting evidence.

Here, for them, is a sampling of what “the other side” has to say. It’s taken from Coulter’s most recent blog posting. Conveniently, it’s about immigration, which was to be her topic at Berkeley.

She writes:

… Breathing a sigh of relief that, unlike Western Europe, we don’t have Muslim rapists pouring into our country, recall that we have Mexican rapists pouring into our country.

Almost all peasant cultures are brimming with rapists, pederasts and child abusers. Latin America just happens to be the peasant culture closest to the United States, while the Muslims are closest to Europe.

According to North Carolinians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, immigrants commit hundreds of sex crimes against children in North Carolina every month — 350 in the month of April 2014, 299 in May, and more than 400 in August and September. More than 90 percent of the perpetrators are Hispanic.

They aren’t even counting legal immigrants. Aren’t those worse? Only certain Republicans get excited about the difference between legal and illegal immigrants. The rest of America is trying to understand the point of the last 40 years of legal immigration. Why was this necessary?

Below is a very short excerpt from a few days in November 2013. As Stalin is supposed to have said, sometimes quantity has a quality all its own.

(She lists the names of a half dozen Hispanics arrested in North Carolina in 2013 before continuing)

… The list, for a single month in a single state, goes on in the same vein through 87 separate offenders. When not providing North Carolina meatpackers with cheap labor, immigrant workers seem to spend all their time raping little girls.

To be fair, there are also Asian names, such as Y’Hon Nie (Indecent Liberties With Child, First Degree Sex Offense-Child, Second Degree Sexual Offense); and David Vo Minh (First Degree Sex Offense-Child, Indecent Liberties With Child).

The stuff in italics above, that’s Coulter. There’s more, much more in every possible format. Those who might have been enlightened by her on campus have had plenty of previous opportunities to receive her message.

Sure, I would have preferred it if even someone as vulgar as Coulter had been allowed to speak, and that a reasonable number of police officers would have been on hand to keep the peace, and that people who don’t like Coulter’s hate-mongering could have held their signs while holding their noses.  I’m big on free speech. I think it’s great but I hate the way people of all persuasions play these little free speech games as they attempt to make “the other side” look bad. It’s not about ideas or expression. It’s a game, and it is tiresome.

Coulter’s immediate reaction was to say that the 1st Amendment essentially required Berkeley to host her, presumably along with  anyone else with any kind of message. Which is nonsense. Even Coulter knows the 1st Amendment says you can say most anything you want but it doesn’t require you or me or anyone else to provide you with a platform.

So here’s what I would do if I was in charge. I’d send a letter to Coulter telling her all about Cal’s  Sproul Plaza, made famous by Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, the movement that made Berkeley synonymous with free speech. I’d probably include some photos of past events at Sproul, and I’d invite Coulter to take advantage of all that space the next time she’s in Berkeley. I’d also remind her that  graduation ‘s coming right up so she shouldn’t dally if she wants to draw a crowd.

SO HERE’S THE UPDATE INFO FROM THURSDAY P.M., AS TOLD BY THE WASHINGTON POST

Officials at the University of California at Berkeley on Thursday reversed their decision to cancel a speech by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter.

The university had announced Wednesday that it was canceling Coulter’s appearance following several political protests in Berkeley that turned violent.

But on Thursday, the university reversed its position, saying officials had found a venue where they could safely hold the speech on May 2, instead of the original April 27 date. However, a leader of the college Republican group that originally invited Coulter said the university was placing strict conditions on the event, and he said his group intended to reject the new terms.

Before the reversal was announced, Coulter had vowed to go ahead with an appearance anyway. That probably would have put security officials on high alert and might have sparked another showdown in struggles over campus safety, student views and ideological openness.

“What are they going to do? Arrest me?” she said late Wednesday on the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Coulter said she “called their bluff” by agreeing to rules set by the university seeking to prevent violence.

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Who needs friends when we’ve got Facebook?

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It has become a weekly thing, Facebook announcing that it is doing something to make the Facebook experience less injurious to people and democracy. The bosses at Facebook are now looking for ways to stop people from killing others for the sake of interesting posts and ways to prevent Republicans and other unprincipled sorts from posting fake news.

(Actually, one of the worst fake news sites that gets reposted way too often on Facebook is the Palmer Report, which is as liberal as Breitbart is barbaric, but I shouldn’t mention that because Bill Palmer once threatened to sue me to hell and back if I called him a purveyor of fake news again, so please ignore this paragraph.)

Anyway, what I was getting to is that while I applaud most of Facebook’s attempts to fix things it should have fixed long ago, I do have some other suggestions for other ways to improve the center of the social media universe.

Let’s start with the word “friends.” For reasons of promotion and perhaps insecurity, I am a promiscuous “friender.” I do it because Facebook is the main avenue for promoting the Monterey Bay Partisan, the blog that attempts to cover some of the news that used to be glossed over by something many of you may recall, newspapers.

(Newspapers do still exist, of course, mainly in museums but also in some cities within the sound of my tweets. In Monterey, there is the Herald, also known as the Santa Cruz Sentinel. In Salinas, there is the Californian, which recently announced that it would no longer cover breaking news. I didn’t see the announcement but I understand the editor said everything that could ever happen in Salinas had already happened and so he hoped to make the paper’s archives more easily available.)

Where was I? Oh, yes, Facebook and promiscuity. When I was editor of the Herald years ago, in the relatively early days of Facebook, I wrote a column that said I had amassed something like 65 Facebook “friends,” though it is certainly not true that I have that many actual friends. Well either I have grown immensely popular or the definition of friends should be changed to “people I might have heard of but I doubt it.” I am, in fact, I am on the verge of hitting the 3,000-friend mark, which, at one time, was the limit unless you had some sort of special waiver or your name was Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel.

Clearly the next big change Facebook should make is to replace the word “friends” with something much more encompassing. Maybe “friends and others,” or “contacts,” or “potential customers” or, in my case, “people who should subscribe to the Partisan but can’t find the ‘subscribe’ button on the page.”

Facebook would need to be careful with a new term. “Friends and others” could be problematic because some of your Facebook friends would worry about which category they were in. “Friends and former friends and ex-girlfriends and some of my daughter’s friends and politicians in my area” would just be too long.

The people who run cyberspace have invented quite a few words, including the web, and the internet and tweeting and twittering and skwelping and skwa-toot (you’ll learn more about the last two soon.) So maybe a whole new word to replace friends. Schmiends? Contactos? Sixdegreeants? Oh, I’ve got it. The next new word Sean Spicer invents at a daily briefing.

Lately I have been receiving quite a few friend requests from women who apparently enjoy being photographed with their clothes off. The requests say the women live in Monterey but I doubt it. Maybe the new Facebook term should be “friends and others and hookers.” (It is interesting to see who has said yes to these friendly women.)

To mark the occasion of almost 3,000 whatevers on my page, I took a spin through my list both to renew acquaintances and see whether any useful information could be gleaned. It was sort of a fail.

In most cases, my Facebook page tells me how many friends my friends have, which can be pretty cruel. For instance, that local Republican Party activist you’ve heard so much about has six friends, and most of them are related.

My list of friends also, in some cases, provides an accounting of the number of “friends” we share. For example, Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker and I have 1,103 mutual Facebook friends, which doesn’t surprise me. She and I are a lot alike. Quiet, pleasant to be around, respectful of others’ opinions, slight of build, etc., etc. When I had hair, it was reddish, like hers. The real reason, though, is that when I get a request to friend someone who is a Facebook friend of Jane’s, I am quick to punch the accept button because I figure he or she is unlikely to carry concealed weapons or attend Trump rallies.

Lest anyone think me incapable of reaching across the aisle for fear of getting swamp water on my Birkenstocks, I am proud to say that I am a Facebook friend of onetime GOP congressional candidate Casey Lucius and that we share a whopping 528 friends. What links us, I suppose, is that neither Casey nor I is likely to be elected to high legislative office unless we make some big changes

Here are some others with whom I share many Facebook friends: Former Monterey City Councilman Jeff Haferman, 997; Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin, 469; land use activist Gary Patton, 235; Monterey City Councilman Timothy Barrett, 607; Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane, 563; Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado, 270.

Also in the lots-of-mutual-friends category, at 260, is a surprise: Ed Ghandour, the Santa Rosa developer who wants to build a hotel and totally mess up a stretch of Monterey Bay-front property in Sand City. What I surmise from this is that I know quite a few people who think they could make money working on the hotel project.

I’d like to say that people of color are amply represented in the entire batch of 3,000 but that wouldn’t be true. I think that says more about the makeup of this community than it does about me.

Considering how many close and adoring friends I have collected on my Facebook page, there aren’t many celebrities. There’s Janis Ian the singer, of course, and author James Bamford, who was writing about the National Security Agency back when appropriation of the White House seemed to be nothing more than a hopeless Russian fantasy. I’m a Facebook friend of singer-songwriter Mike Beck, who has more than his share of real friends.

For the most part, though, my Facebook friends are, as far as I can tell, a spirited and engaging bunch with only minor criminal records, cute and accomplished children, too many cats and too much time to waste. If you and I are not Facebook friends, act quickly and you could become my No. 3,000.

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Proprietor’s note: Tom Moore, an exceptionally well qualified member of the Marina Coast Water District‘s board, posted the following as a response to a previous Partisan post regarding the wisdom of private v. public ownership, a subject of current interest because of a looming effort to put privately owned Cal Am water under public ownership. As it stands, the group Public Water Now is expected to sponsor a ballot measure that would require a public buyout of the water utility and put it under the management of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, which is governed by a board of elected officials.  Moore did not intend this to be a standalone commentary, but it deserves more attention than it would have received otherwise.

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Point 1: The vast majority of public sector organizations, for-profit organizations and non-profit organizations provide significant benefits for their clients and society, at a cost that is as reasonable as their physical, legal and market circumstances allow.

Point 2: If you insist on clinging to the myth that all government organizations are inefficient, inept and run by lazy, overpaid bureaucrats then:

a. You must notify your local fire and police departments, along with the county 911 Center that they must NEVER respond to a phone call or alarm from your home. You must also never accept medical treatment under any circumstances from Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. To do otherwise makes you a hypocrite.

b. If you really insist on dueling over the issue, then: AIG, ENRON (“Smartest Guys in the Room”), Bernie Madoff, Wells Fargo Bank, IndyMac Bank, Washington Mutual Bank, Bethlehem Steel, White Star Lines (owners of the Titanic), Pan Am, Eastern Airlines, Drexel Burnham Lambert, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Union Carbide (Bhopal killings), PG&E (recent San Bruno killings), Three Mile Island, Exxon Valdez. How many trillions of dollars were wasted and innocent people injured or killed by these “efficient” private companies?

Point 3: How much do you think Cal Am would charge its customers if it was not regulated by the CPUC and instead all its water rates were set at the sole discretion of the Cal Am Board of Directors?

Point 4: The CPUC regulatory process is arcane, complex, difficult, time consuming and, above all, expensive for everyone involved. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and years can be spent on a given Cal Am rate setting process. The CPUC exists only so that a private company can be in a line of business that must, of necessity, be a monopoly (such as a utility).

Point 5: Marina Coast Water District is a government organization. Its Board of Directors consists of five locally elected citizens who are paid all of $50 per month. This Board meets one to two times a month. All meetings are held locally, not in San Francisco or New Jersey. The public is even welcome to attend these meetings. (Just try to get into a Board meeting at Cal Am, if you can even find out where and when they are meeting….).

Point 6: Marina Coast is beholden ONLY to its customers and the local voters. There are no shareholders to keep happy and no stock price to worry about. By law Marina Coast rates contain no profit and MUST be reasonably related to the actual cost of providing water and wastewater services. When a new rate plan is developed, it is put together for the next 3-5 years. It takes only about four months to develop and approve such a rate plan. The cost of a new rate plan is less than $50,000, including consultants and staff time. And all Board deliberations on new rate plans are done locally and open to the public. The public even gets to weigh in on new rate plans via the Proposition 218 process. So who is the inefficient bureaucracy here: the government owned utility or the privately owned monopoly?

Point 7: Points 5 and 6 can be repeated (with a couple of slight adjustments) for the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency (MRWPCA). Note: with the cooperation and assistance of the Marina Coast Water District, the MRWPCA will soon be bringing the Cal Am service area 3,500 acre-feet per year of new water. This is the largest amount of new water for the Cal Am service area that has been developed in the past 22 years. And guess what? The MRWPCA is a government owned utility.

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