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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?

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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MAYOR SAYS ISSUES COULD BE OVERCOME

Del Rey Oaks Mayor Jerry Edelen says he will create another opportunity for the City Council to consider whether the little city should join the regional energy consortium known as Monterey Bay Community Power.

“I will be placing this issue on our next City Council agenda (April 25) for discussion/possible action,” he said via email, adding that he remains concerned that the city potentially faces liability as great as that faced by the other 20 jurisdictions involved in the project even though most of them are considerably larger than Del Rey Oaks. If that issue can be resolved, he said he can see the city participating.

The Del Rey Oaks council originally agreed to take part in the three-county agency on a unanimous vote but a council majority switched sides March 28 when the issue returned to the council for a mandatory second reading. A petition for a rehearing has been circulating and Councilman Layne Buckley has been rallying others to support another vote on the issue. Unlike many cities, Del Rey Oak’s statutes provide that only the mayor can return a matter to the  council for a rehearing.

The venture has received strong support from area activists, and other cities involved in the venture have agreed to pick up some of Del Rey Oaks’ initial costs of membership.  But City Attorney Christina Trujillo said at the March 28 meeting that the city could face liability equal to that of the three county governments involved – Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito – or the various other cities involved. That caused Edelen and two others to reverse their votes, leading to a 3-2 decision against membership. Of the 21 potential members in the three counties, only Del Rey Oaks and King City have balked though a final decision hasn’t been made in Pacific Grove. The Pacific Grove City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter Wednesday.

Edelen said, “I am scheduling this issue because ultimately it will be a City Council decision. Our collective wisdom is almost always better than the wisdom of any one of us….including me.”

The mayor said he and the city manager have talked to other cities about ways to limit Del Rey Oaks’ exposure. As it stands, the city is in a four-city pool, along with Seaside, Marina and Sand City and, Edelen said, each is equally liable.

“Both my new city manager and I have tried with the other cities,” Edelen said. “We got a partial response from Seaside; however, it doesn’t address any future liabilities. I’ll speak to those during our Council Meeting.

“I believe that eventually we’ll get an agreement agreeing to share liability in our 4 city pool on a per capita basis.  Once that is secured, I believe we’ll have enough support to sign the agreement.”
The consortium will offer residents of the three counties the option of continuing to buy power from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. or through a collective emphasizing reliance on alternative sources such as solar and wind. Operators of similar consortiums elsewhere have had mixed success reducing energy bills but they have managed to significantly reduce their communities’ reliance on fossil fuels. During the second Del Rey Oaks council discussion, Edelen questioned the future of such collectives because he believes oil prices will drop dramatically under the Trump administration.

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This letter to the editor of the Monterey Herald from local libertarian Lawrence Samuels seems like a good discussion topic. Please feel free to weigh in:

Don’t fumble away Cal Am in political football game

In responding to “Cal Am takeover bid eyed,” it is nothing new that the anti-water crusaders want to force the sale of a business concern via eminent domain. This type of government seizure occurred in the 1930s all over Europe. Mussolini nationalized three-fourths of his economy in 1934. The National Socialists of Germany did the same, confiscating over 500 large companies through Reichswerke Hermann Göring in an anti-capitalist bid to establish a command economy and to increase the redistribution of wealth.

One of the main reasons why Italy’s postwar economy did so poorly was its political ownership of most businesses, exacerbated by an unmanageable bureaucracy built up during Mussolini’s regime. American forces tried to unravel Italy’s economic inefficiencies and corruption, but found the task daunting. And yet there are still people who want to repeat history at the expense of an unsuspecting public.

Government ownership of an enterprise is like a political football game where powerful insiders always score as both victors and beneficiaries. You would think that the world would have learned its lesson from World War II. Please, leave Cal Am outside of the inherent inefficiencies of government bureaucracy that can only make prices even higher.

— Lawrence Samuels, Carmel

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PUBLIC TAKEOVER EFFORT SHOULD BE FAVORED THIS TIME

For much of my journalism career, one of my roles was to offer advice in the form of editorials but it was more of an exercise than a meaningful attempt to get anyone to act a certain way. I considered it a success if anyone read the whole piece and gave it any thought.

The advice I am about to give is different. For one thing, the intended audience is much smaller. It is for the people who make decisions on behalf of California American Water Co., the principal purveyor of water to the Monterey Peninsula. And it is meant to be persuasive and not just informative.

So here goes.

Cal Am, it is time to sell.

For the benefit of your company, your shareholders and the people of the Monterey Peninsula, it is time for you to sit down at the bargaining table and try to work out a fair price for your highly successful and equally controversial enterprise. Coming to terms with the community, without a protracted takeover process, will save you money. It will maximize the return to your shareholders and that, after all, is what you are all about.

So why am I saying this? And why now?

It’s partly because I went to a forum Monday night in Monterey in which the leadership of Public Water Now sketched the basics of the group’s upcoming effort to convert Cal Am from a privately owned, profit-taking business to a publicly owned, public-benefit operation. There were about 140 people there and, as far as I could tell, none of them was from Cal Am. If there had been, I suspect they’d be writing a memo to their bosses making pretty much the same argument I’m making here.

A key argument against a public takeover effort will be that it has been tried before, most recently four years ago, and it failed then. Don’t be fooled. Although Cal Am outspent the public takeover forces 20-1, the margin of victory, was 55-45, closer than anyone expected. If this thing goes to the ballot again, you can expect the numbers to be reversed.

Since the 2013 vote on what was called Measure O, the rates Cal Am charges its customers have risen dramatically, more than doubling in many cases, and they are poised to keep going up, dramatically, for as long as the company owns the water operation. A key argument against Measure O was that a public takeover wouldn’t be cost effective. Cal Am has crippled that argument by squeezing every ounce of profit out of its customers.

The last straw for many Peninsula residents was the company’s successful effort to raise rates to make up for money it didn’t make while the community was working hard to conserve water because of drought. Cal Am wasn’t alone in this extraction. Many publicly owned water systems in the state did the same thing, but they weren’t dealing with such expensive water.

Here’s more. The 140 people at the meeting Monday night weren’t a bunch of fuzzy-headed activists. There were past and present members of Peninsula city councils and the water management district board. There were lawyers and retired CEOs. This wasn’t a bunch of twenty-somethings. This was a bunch of sixty-somethings, people who know a little something about elections. Many of them stopped to make  campaign contributions on their way out.

Also in the crowd were numerous people who were active in last year’s Measure Z campaign. That was the successful measure to ban fracking in Monterey County. Exxon and Mobil made like Cal Am and piled big money into the fight to defeat the measure. By the time it was over, they had spent more than $5 million on slick and tricky advertising that twisted the measure’s intent. In the end, Measure Z passed with more than 55 percent of the vote, a result that should scare the heck out of Cal Am’s accountants.

One of the speakers Monday night was the woman who ran the Measure Z campaign and the similar campaign that accomplished the same goals in San Benito County. She knows how to run a grassroots campaign, and so do many others who were in the room.

The people who ran the Measure O campaign were there Monday night, of course. The ringleader is Public Water Now’s George Riley, who knows almost as much about water as Cal Am. After Measure O went down to defeat, Riley didn’t walk away to lick his wounds. He dug into water issues. He continued studying Cal Am and he studied the campaign it ran against Measure O. It is safe to say he learned a lot in four years.

Four years ago, the focus of Cal Am’s fight against Measure O was the company’s desalination project, its complex and expensive answer to the Peninsula’s chronic water shortage. Cal Am campaign ads hit hard on the theme that a public takeover would delay the desalination project, which, the advertising assured us, was looming just over the horizon.

George Riley

Four years later, the desalination venture has added untold millions of dollars to the future financial burden imposed on Cal Am’s customers, but groundbreaking is no closer.The project has been stalled by technical issues and conflict-of-interest concerns, perhaps even by lack of will on the part of Cal Am. At the moment its product is something it pumps for free from the Carmel River. Even though state utility rules guarantee that it will make money in the process, getting a desal plant built is a difficult and expensive task. Critical issues, such as water rights and basic pumping technology, remain unsettled.

At the same time, alternative solutions to the Peninsula’s water shortage have moved ahead, including a plan for an ambitious water recycling project that just last week received approval for the bulk of its financing plan. That is something Cal Am’s desalination planners can only dream of.

What that means is that the need for a large and expensive desalination plant is weakening. As it stands, Cal Am looks to charge its customers hundreds of millions of dollars to treat much more water than the Peninsula needs, water that likely would be used to create subdivisions for which there is no demand. No wonder political support for Cal Am is drying up.

Cal Am officials likely have noticed the uptick in letters to the editor critical of Cal Am and its ridiculous water rates. Those letters are from actual bill-paying customers, not Public Water Now activists. The issue of Cal Am rates is not just something for Public Water Now to turn into a slogan. Real people are really upset with the cost of water and don’t like it one bit that the cost here is about as high as it is anywhere.

A lot has changed in four years. When Measure O was on the ballot, the Peninsula mayor’s water advisory board played a key role in urging its defeat. The makeup of that board has changed. Most notably, former Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett is out of office and out of power. It was Burnett who coalesced the mayoral opposition to Measure O and who coordinated strategies with the Peninsula business community’s support for Cal Am. For elected officials, supporting Cal Am politically is far riskier now than was then.

As Riley pointed out Monday, the makeup of the water management district board has changed as well. That’s important because the district would become the initial operator of the water system once Cal Am was removed. Former Sand City Mayor David Pendergrass is gone from the district board, along with his unflinching support for Cal Am. New county Supervisor Mary Adams is going onto the board, bringing her brand of quiet progressivism with her.

If the ballot measure proceeds, Cal Am officials will spend millions fighting it while telling the shareholders that they are protecting the investment. Then, when the measure prevails, Cal Am will spend millions in litigation, fighting the election results initially and then watching as platoons of $500 per hour lawyers negotiate over the public purchase price of the system. In the end, a court, not Cal Am, will decide on the purchase price.

Cal Am officials on the Peninsula have insisted for years that their system here is barely if at all profitable, yet they have made it clear that they will fight to keep it. If anyone knows any Cal Am shareholders, you should send them this piece and encourage them to ask the company whether this fight really makes sense. Doesn’t it make more sense to start negotiating the price now?

It is time for the company to recognize that the tide has turned. By working every angle to squeeze maximum profit out of every aspect of the operation, they have invited a takeover by a publicly operated management structure intent on public service rather than rate of return.

I don’t mean to suggest that the takeover effort is a slam dunk if Cal Am resists. It will require tremendous energy and effort. But by every indication, there is an ample supply of energy and will and a diminishing set of reasons to keep Cal Am around.

So, Cal Am, if you’re thinking like the good corporate citizen you claim to be, you should conclude that it was nice while it lasted but it’s time to move on. And even if you’re thinking like the calculating enterprise that you really are, you should realize that sticking around means throwing lots of good money into a pot you can’t win. To steal a line from the anti-Measure O campaign, it’s a risk you can’t afford.

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Charley

Though I have sworn off them in times of loss, I have always been a dog person. Cats are fine, I guess, but it says a lot that the one time I was fully responsible for naming a household cat, I called her Vermin.

Dogs are something else. They almost never cheat at cards. They are usually straightforward about what they want from you. Some have been known to bark at appropriate times. If they could be taught to rub our heads the way we rub theirs, they would be the perfect companions.

I’ve been around a lot of dogs. I had a job once as a kennel cleaner for a humane society back in the hometown of Visalia, a place where too many folks think it’s cool not to neuter their dogs. One summer, one of my main tasks involved euthanasia. It was not an easy job.

Later, I actually lived on the property of another humane society, this one in Chico. My first wife ran the place and we lived about 100 feet from the kennel. We did not need a watchdog of our own.

In order, the important dogs in my life were:

My grandfather’s pack of beagles, hunting dogs deep in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York. He called them all Mitzi.

The family dog when I was a kid, a neurotic cocker spaniel. We called her Mitzi, too. When we would come home, she would run around the yard in crazy circles until she collapsed, forgetting why she had started running in the first place.

Babe, a hound/shepherd mix with the world’s saddest eyes. A friend’s girlfriend said that if I didn’t take her, she’d go to the pound.

Spanky Garcia. He came from the Butte County pound. He was a lab/boxer mix with some funny biases. We thought the name might help.

Roger, a shepherd mix smarter than many people I see on TV. He was also a particularly strong swimmer. Butterfly as well as freestyle.

Ruby, the lab/blue lacy mix. One of nine from a litter delivered to the SPCA along with her mother. I wanted one of the chubbier boys but my daughter insisted that she was the one. She was the almost perfect dog. The only trouble was that she liked to explore the neighborhood, even when that meant climbing a seven-foot fence. And that she got old.

Zorro, the Queensland healer. He’s my neighbors’ dog, actually, but we fostered him for a couple years while the neighbors were living on a boat. His best quality is his contagious calmness.

Charley, the American bulldog/pitbull mix, the point of this essay, which is less breezy from here on.

I’m not entirely sure why I wanted an American bulldog. It’s probably the junkyard dog look combined with an air of general goofiness. Kind of reminds me of me, I guess. After Ruby had chased her last ground squirrel, I started looking for another dog, maybe an American bulldog, and a friend told me that a friend of hers was in possession of a pit bull that had been impregnated by a hulking American bulldog.

Like most people, I have never been a fan of pit bulls because, like most of you, I don’t like being bitten and I wouldn’t want my dog to bite someone else. However, because of my time in the world of unwanted dogs, I have paid attention to the debate over nature v. nurture in the realm of pits. Yes, quite a few pits have proved to be too aggressive, some fatally so, but the message from all those Save the Pit Bulls websites is that it is the fault of bad owners, not bad dogs. A large herd of people out there insist that if they are raised with a gentle hand instead of a spiked collar, they can be lovely companions.

So I went with Charley. I think he was 9 weeks old when we got him, large for his age but a cute as any pup, black with a white blaze. Charley had spent his earliest days with a couple of brothers and his mother, while the father was penned separately because he could get rough. Almost 140 pounds of rough. I understood that when I took Charley home. At least I thought I did.

Charley grew quickly. It was obvious he would need training, which I provided, and gentle care lest the tough side of his personality overwhelm the clownish side. He got the full soft-touch treatment, except for some corrective yelling when he was caught chewing things other than a bone. I can’t remember now if he chewed up two or three remote controls until he had finally trained us.

For most of his short life, Charley showed few signs of aggressiveness. In all, there were three episodes,  the third truly horrible. Some of you will want to stop reading now.

No. 1. Charley had gone out on a walk with a neighbor and her decidedly gentle dog. They came across the carcass of a ground squirrel and Charley wanted it to himself. I wasn’t there, but I understand the scuffle included Charley biting the neighbor dog on the neck. An alarm of sorts went off in the neighborhood.

No. 2. It was months later when another neighbor asked if she could bring her medium-sized, exotic breed, solid white pup over to play with Charley. Her dog had two smaller playmates and she wanted it to get to know bigger dogs as well. Charley was definitely a bigger dog by then. Just over 100 pounds of bigger.

They sniffed each other once and the smaller dog suddenly lashed out. It was like alligator wrestling, or a washing machine filled with black and white towels. It seemed like it took five minutes for me to pull them apart but it probably was about 30 seconds. I think each dog mainly got a mouthful of fur and, remarkably, no damage was done.

After that, Charley was clearly on probation, but there were no new offenses for weeks and weeks and the neighborhood alarm went off.

No. 3. I was off somewhere when I saw the text message from a third neighbor. She liked taking Charley when she walked her own dogs because he was lively and could get the others running. The three dogs all got along great. Until this day. The text message said something, “Royal, come home. I think Charley just killed Harper.”

I raced home but too late to be of use. The remains of Harper, the 50-pound husky, were being hauled away. Charley was oblivious. I learned later that all had been going just fine on the walk until the neighbor stopped to give the dogs a treat. Charley decided it was his and his alone. I never asked for a full account. I really don’t need that image in my head.  I consulted our vet and it was agreed that Charley really could no longer be trusted with other animals. Or people.

Harper was a sweet dog who did not deserve his fate. I still don’t know how I can ever make it up to his owners.

Daphne

Though we are still grieving over Charley, an otherwise wonderful dog, and though I still sometimes look for him on the couch, we have brought a new dog into the house. She is a shy, little Dalmatian mix, a rescue. Her name is Daphne and I’ll let you know how it works out. No problems so far but it’s only been a week.

In the headline, I promised a message and here it is. I am not going to turn into an anti-pit activist or an anti-American bulldog activist, but I will not just go along with the “it’s not bad dogs, it’s bad owners” mantra that surrounds the bully breeds.

Animal shelters everywhere have a surplus of pit bulls and pit mixes. I don’t know if it’s because they are hard to place or if it is because too many pit owners are irresponsible about spaying and neutering their creatures. Some of both, I imagine. But I do know that I no am no longer resting comfortably on the nurture side of the divide, and that if anyone asks me if they should adopt a pit or an American bulldog or a pit-American bulldog mix, I’ll tell them there are lots of other dogs out there that need homes. And I’ll also tell them about Charley.

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Unfortunately, all we know about this story is what we read in Saturday’s Herald, so here is a link to that story  for those who missed it. In a nutshell, the California Public Utilities Commission says Cal Am knew many households are claiming more residents than they actual have, essentially providing them with a discount, but the company did nothing about it.

UPDATE:

BELOW YOU’LL FIND A DISCUSSION OF THE RESIDENTIAL ALLOTMENT ISSUE FROM THE PUC ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE’S PROPOSED DECISION. CAL AM SAYS IT DIDN’T HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHECK TO SEE IF CUSTOMERS WERE ACCURATELY REPORTING THE HOUSEHOLD SIZE AND THAT IT TRUSTS ITS CUSTOMERS. THE JUDGE WRITES, “We agree that applicant should use the honor system and trust its customers. We also think a responsible utility trusts but verifies.:

 

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Applicant describes the residential allotment system in the last 15 years as having four defining features: (1) reliance on self-reported information, (2) no independent verification by Cal-Am, (3) no authority for Cal-Am to compel information from its customers, and (4) authority for enforcement of penalties with respect to misreporting being solely with the District. (Exhibit 13

78 See June 17, 2016 Motion for Adoption of Settlement Agreement, Exhibit 1, Appendix E, Attachment 1 (2016 Monterey Peninsula Water Conservation and Rationing Plan at
Rule 165.E.5).

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A.15-07-019 ALJ/GW2/jt2/lil PROPOSED DECISION

(Stephenson) at 18-19; also July 13, 2016 Reply Comments at 7.) We briefly examine these features and applicant’s responsibilities. We conclude that the allotment system is clearly vulnerable to abuse. It is also clear that applicant failed to audit customer surveys or take appropriate actions to ensure that allotments are accurate.

Applicant must at all times reasonably administer its tariffs. It is probable that applicant failed to do so by failing to audit customer allotments or take other appropriate actions to ensure the accuracy of allotments. We keep this proceeding open for the assigned Commissioner and Judge to examine whether or not applicant should be penalized for failure to reasonably administer its tariffs and, if so, to recommend a penalty.

9.1. Excess Allotments

Applicant states that with the current rate design (including self-reporting) “it becomes obvious that some customers are allocated more water at lower rates than intended under the rate design.” (Exhibit 1 (Sabolsice) at 19.) In support of its changes to Rule/Schedule 14.1.1, applicant says water rations ”are currently based on customer survey data that is not accurate.” (Exhibit 1 (Sabolsice) at 22.) Applicant reports that:

Data shows that the number of residents per household has likely been significantly over-reported, thus increasing the allotment at each tier and improperly reducing the water bill for those over-reported households. Assigning allotments using the survey data has therefore unfairly assigned too much water to some residential properties and reduced the amount of water available to others in the community. (Exhibit 1 (Sabolsice) at 23.)

Applicant knew there were problems.

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A.15-07-019 ALJ/GW2/jt2/lil PROPOSED DECISION 9.2. Reasonable Administration of its Tariffs

Applicant says it “has no means to investigate the reporting of allotment data.” (Exhibit 12 (Sabolsice) at 8.) Applicant is incorrect. Applicant has a duty to:

… take responsible efforts to identify mischaracterizations in its documentation for number of people, lot size and large animals. In part, this will be accomplished through an annual survey… (D.09-07-021, Appendix A, Section IV.F.)

That is, applicant must take responsible efforts to ensure the accurate administration of its allotment system, and those efforts are not limited to an annual survey. We are simply not persuaded when applicant disavows any responsibility to verify allotments.

Applicant tries to shift the responsibility to ORA, claiming that ORA repeatedly supported the allotment system, failed to suggest changes (if ORA had any concerns), and ORA’s current concern in combination with a recommended $17.4 million disallowance is opportunistic. (Exhibit 13 (Stephenson) at 18-19.) We disagree. Applicant has the affirmative duty at all times to reasonably and responsibly administer its tariffs no matter what ORA or others may think or do. If ORA believed applicant was reasonably and responsibly administering its tariffs, there would be no reason for ORA to withdraw its support of the system or suggest changes. Applicant has the primary duty to administer its tariffs and, when a change is needed, to present compelling evidence in support of that change.79

79 In 2005, applicant proposed eliminating the residential per capita allotment after the first block but failed to carry its burden of proof in support of its proposal. (D.06-11-050.) This shows applicant knew at least as far back as 2005 of problems with the allotment system.

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A.15-07-019 ALJ/GW2/jt2/lil PROPOSED DECISION

Applicant tries to shift the responsibility to the District. Applicant says the District “has retained the sole authority to require verification…” (Exhibit 13 (Stephenson) at 1.) This is not correct. The District has no rule or ordinance that prohibits applicant from verifying allotment claims from its residential customers. (RT Vol 4 at 561.)

Applicant says it has no enforcement authority, and the District is “the local ’water cop’ with the authority to cite and fine violators.” (Exhibit 13 (Stephenson) at 25.) Applicant understates its responsibility and overstates the Dictrict’s role. There is no prohibition against applicant partnering with District to cite and enforce. Applicant cannot disavow any responsibility by seeking to place the duty solely on the District.

Applicant says it does not and cannot verify the number of residents per household because its tariff (Schedule MO-1) does not include any provision allowing Cal-Am to seek verification. (Exhibit 13 (Stephenson) at 21-22.) Applicant has it backwards. The tariff does not prohibit verification, and applicant has an affirmative duty at all times to reasonably administer its tariffs.

Applicant claims it “has no means to investigate the reporting of allotment data.” (Exhibit 12 (Sabolsice) at 8.) We are not convinced. Applicant testifies that it provided summaries of allotment information to the District and specifically identified customers reporting more than eight residents so that the District could research the reported number. (Exhibit 12 (Sabolsice) at 8.) Applicant presents no evidence that it followed-up with the District. Applicant presents no evidence that it asked District to verify customers reporting less than eight residents per household. Applicant could partner with the District to pursue verification for residential customers, but presents no evidence it reasonably did so.

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A.15-07-019 ALJ/GW2/jt2/lil PROPOSED DECISION

In fact, applicant could itself audit residential customers, but failed to do so. Applicant says it does not have access to the number of dependents reported to the federal Internal Revenue Service, or tax forms in general. It says it cannot obtain school records to determine the number of children living in a home. It does not review local newspaper death notices to reduce allotments. It cannot obtain hospital birth records or adoption paperwork. It does not ask for social security numbers. Applicant says it would be difficult to challenge a customer’s reported survey information without surveillance, and surveillance by a regulated utility would be improper. (Exhibit 12 (Sabolsice) at 7-9.)

We agree that applicant’s ability to obtain corroborating information may be limited, but applicant could at least select a random sample of residential customers to verify the annual survey information, or select a sample of those customers with potentially questionable allotments. Applicant could ask the customer to verify the information with whatever documentation the customer wishes to use (e.g., tax forms, school records, Department of Motor Vehicle information), but not require any specific type of document. Failure to provide adequate information in the judgement of applicant could result in the customer getting the minimal allotment (e.g., one person, no large animals, no outdoor landscaping).80 Whether or not all contacted customers are cooperative,

80 There is adequate due process with this approach. For example, applicant would have its own internal review and appeal process for customers who feel the minimal allotment was incorrect. After using the applicant’s appeal process, a dissatisfied customer could contact the Commission’s Consumer Affairs Branch (CAB) for assistance, if needed. Most inquiries to CAB are resolved by telephone. If necessary, the customer could also file an expedited or regular formal complaint. (See Rules 4.1 to 4.5 of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure.)

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A.15-07-019 ALJ/GW2/jt2/lil PROPOSED DECISION

applicant could make the initial inquiry, and refer those customers with questionable responses to District for further examination and enforcement.81

Applicant partnered with District to audit a sample of non-residential customers. District audited indoor fixtures, and applicant audited outdoor usage. The audit identified 139 non-residential customers to be noncompliant with their assigned rate category and the customers were given 30 days to correct deficiencies or be moved to a different rate division. (Exhibit 12 (Sabolsice)
at 3-4.) There is no compelling evidence that applicant could not do this in partnership with District for its residential customers, or do so on its own.

Rather, applicant “has utilized the honor system when customers provide survey data or update survey data.” (Exhibit 12 (Sabolsice) at 7.) Applicant says it has been its “policy to trust its customers and use the honor system when recording survey data.” (Id., at 9.) We agree that applicant should use the honor system and trust its customers. We also think a responsible utility trusts but verifies.

9.3. Further Process

Commission approval of a utility’s tariffs includes the obligation that the utility reasonably administer those tariffs. Failure to comply with any part or provision of any Commission order, decision, decree, rule, direction, demand, or requirement for which a penalty has not otherwise been provided subjects the utility to a penalty of not less than $500 nor more than $50,000 for each offense.

81 Misreporting survey information, for example, is a misdemeanor punishable as an infraction pursuant to Section 256 of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District Law, Statutes 1981, Chapter 986. (Exhibit 13 (Stephenson) at 24.)

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A.15-07-019 ALJ/GW2/jt2/lil PROPOSED DECISION

In the case of a continuing violation, each day’s continuance is a separate and distinct offense. (Public Utilities Code Sections 2107 and 2108.)

We keep this proceeding open for the assigned Commissioner and Judge to explore whether or not applicant should be penalized for failure to reasonably administer its tariffs and, if so, to recommend a penalty. The allotment system has been in place for 15 years. The examination must consider the duration of the offense, if any, and the appropriate fine.

We take very seriously the integrity of the regulatory process, including applicant accurately and reasonably administering and enforcing its tariffs. We are very concerned with inequities between customers that resulted from applicant failing to reasonably administer and enforce its residential allotment system and permitting invalid allotments. Customers who experienced the inequity would not only blame applicant but also the Commission, thereby challenging not only the trustworthiness of the regulatory process but government itself.

We recently found applicant in violation of our rules and applied a fine of $15,000 per violation for 58 violations. (D.15-04-008 and D.16-01-025.) We took many factors into account including: the severity of the offense, the conduct of the utility, the financial resources of the utility, the totality of the circumstances, and the role of precedent. We also considered the sophistication, experience and size of the utility; the number of victims and economic benefit received from the unlawful acts; and the continuing nature of the offense. If, in the further proceeding, applicant is found in violation of our requirements, we will take these, along with any other reasonable, factors into account.

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{ 25 comments }

Exciting news today with Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo’s announcement that Charles Holifield will be charged with murder in connection with the Peninsula’s most notorious unsolved crime, the June 1998 slaying of 13-year-old Christina Williams at Fort Ord.

Holifield has been in prison for nearly two decades for the attempted gunpoint kidnapping of a Marina woman two months after Christina disappeared while walking her dog. He has long been considered the prime suspect in her killing, which has been the subject of intense investigation by local authorities and the FBI. At a news conference Thursday, Flippo said DNA evidence is what finally made the case against Holifield. He would not elaborate, saying it would come out in court.

It appeared several times over the years that an arrest could be imminent, most recently in 2010. That year, a federal grand jury was convened to reexamine the evidence against Holifield. Among those called to testify was former Monterey Herald reporter John DeSantis, who had written a compelling story implicating Holifield in 1999. Among other things, DeSantis spelled out other assaults linked to Holifield and bearing strong resemblance to the Williams case.

Because of his other crimes, Holifield was a suspect early in the Williams investigation but he was essentially cleared by alibi. He and relatives described how he had been at work the day the girl disappeared and they provided investigators with a detailed accounting of his various comings and goings. DeSantis’s article, however, poked a giant hole in the alibi by establishing that Holifield’s movements couldn’t have been as described because President Bill Clinton was on the Peninsula that day and his motorcade would have made some of Holifield’s movements impossible to have occurred as he and associates described them.

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In a way, it makes sense that in a column about the excesses of other journalists, mostly those who aren’t fond of Donald Trump, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. goes way overboard.

The columnist, distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group, has made a career out of being a relatively rare conservative Latino. His latest column this week was at least the third in which he criticizes pundit Mark Halperin for the manner in which he once interviewed Navarrette’s buddy, Ted Cruz. But that isn’t where Navarrette blew it.

The column starts by forgiving Halperin’s previous insensitivity because he had, in Navarrette’s words, a recent “epiphany” and has come to the realization that some journalists are overly aggressive in their coverage of the current president. That’s the theme of this Navarrette column, in which he writes that “media types” cozy with “Team Hillary” during the campaign “did everything from attending an off-the-record dinner at the home of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, to submitting their stories to Clinton officials before publication, to soliciting anti-Trump material from the Democratic National Committee.”

I put part of that quotation in italics because that is where he screwed up.

Submitting articles to the subjects of those articles is a big no-no in journalism, at least it is in traditional, mainstream journalism, which is the branch of the profession that Navarrette was writing about.

So who exactly submitted their stories to Clinton officials before publication? Navarrette strongly suggests that they included “reporters, anchors and columnists,” yet he doesn’t name any.

I looked at previous Navarrette columns to see if they were included there. Couldn’t find them. I checked national publications of various political leanings. Couldn’t find them there. It’s a pretty large accusation for a supposedly responsible national columnist to make. The way Navarrette put it, it sounds as though a wide swath of the national press corps was letting Clinton edit their campaign coverage, which is nonsense.

The one example I did find involved Politico reporter Ken Vogel’s decision last April to send a draft of an article about Clinton’s campaign fund-raising to Democratic National Committee officials for pre-publication review. Here’s a Washington Post column about it.

Politico later apologized and made it clear that Vogel had violated the organization’s policy.

“In this case, the reporter was attempting to check some very technical language and figures involving the DNC’s joint fundraising agreement with the Clinton campaign,” Politico said in a written statement.

“Checking the relevant passages for accuracy was responsible and consistent with our standards,” the statement continued. “Sharing the full piece was a mistake and not consistent with our policies. There were no substantive changes to the piece.”

Vogel’s piece, it turned out, was fairly critical of Clinton, stressing that she had received outsized benefits from a campaign contribution-sharing arrangement with the DNC.

Were there other examples? Perhaps, elusive as they may be, and if so, Navarrette should share the details. The result would be much more interesting than most of his columns.

Apparently unafraid of irony, Navarrette criticizes the unnamed media types for privately supping with Podesta but in the same column writes uncritically, even enviously, of Halperin having recently been invited to a private meal with Trump.

Navarrette concludes by applauding Halperin for saying, in a recent interview with The Hill, that since Trump took office, “too many people in the media have decided that we’re going to be warriors in some kind of hostile confrontation with the people we cover.”

“Halperin figured that out and blew the whistle,” writes Navarrette, apparently surprised by Halperin’s insights. “Many of his colleagues will hate him for it. But the rest of us should thank him.”

In my view, the rest should be asking how much the Post Writers Group is paying Navarrette.

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Something rather remarkable has happened. It was only a few months ago that the nightly news regularly featured another video of an unarmed person being shot to death by a police officer. Now, shootings like that seem to be a relatively rare occurrence.

It’s too soon to declare the epidemic over, but there has been a change. And how does the Trump administration respond? By proposing to eliminate consent decrees, those legal devices whereby the Justice Department monitors police agencies with more than their share of civil rights issues.

Did consent decrees in Baltimore and Chicago and elsewhere end the shootings? No. It’s more likely that it was simply the proliferation of phones with video capabilities and the increasing chance that violent confrontations would be filmed. Some law enforcement advocates suggest it’s because police officers have been intimidated and are policing the streets less aggressively and making fewer arrests. Others note that the bulk of the videotaped shooting deaths involved traffic stops or nuisance arrests, not armed robberies.

The Partisan would love to hear from those in law enforcement and others who care about public safety issues. Have there been changes in policies and practices? Are you concerned about the president’s pronouncements about getting tougher on crime and reviving the so-called War on Drugs? Can police departments be self-governing and self-monitoring or do they need civilian oversight?

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The possibility of another attempt to put Cal Am Water in public hands prompts reflection over the history of major Monterey County ballot measures in which money and the big-lie technique prevailed. The first in recent history was Measure M back in 2000.

It was initiated by the Pebble Beach Co. with the aim of forcing the county and the Coastal Commission to allow it to build another golf course at the famed resort, but that’s not how it was sold to the voting public. Instead, the commercials and four-color fliers promoted the false notion that Measure M would stop development in the Del Monte Forest that surrounds the existing golf courses.

Measure M did contain a provision limiting the company’s ability to develop 425 acres that previously had been zoned for housing, but the company hardly needed a ballot measure to protect the property. The Pebble Beach Co. offered to permanently fallow the land for ballot measure purposes only after it had already shelved any plans to develop it. We hear a lot about Fake News. This was a Fake Ballot Measure. The campaign featured TV ads with popular actor Clint Eastwood, a Pebble Beach Co. principal, strolling through the trees and saying something like “if you love these woods as much as I do, you’ll vote yes on Measure M.”

The measure passed easily, helped by voters in the far reaches of the county who had no idea they were really voting only to add a golf course. Though the golf course deal was later scuttled by the Coastal Commission, Measure M demonstrated how moneyed interests could manipulate voter initiatives. Until about that time, the side attracting the most money had prevailed in every statewide ballot measure in California. Monterey County would prove to be equally fertile ground for deceptive politicking.

Other examples of dishonest but successful ballot measures include the 2016 ballot fight over the Monterey Downs horse race project and, of course, Measure 0 of 2014 in which California American Water twisted the truth to persuade voters not to move forward with a public takeover of the Monterey Peninsula’s privately held water system.

A giant anomaly, of course, was last year’s Measure Z, the anti-fracking measure approved by Monterey County voters despite a gusher of oil company money that paid for ads falsely charging that the initiative would shut down oil production in the area. But Measure Z’s success is no assurance that reality will trump money in the next big ballot showdown, which is likely to be another attempt to bring Cal Am under public ownership. If that ballot measure materializes in the coming, as expected, voters are likely to see another slick and misleading opposition campaign essentially paid for by the same ratepayers the measure would be designed to help.

Public Water Now, led by water activist George Riley, is believed to be on the verge of a decision to move ahead with a public takeover measure, which would be fueled in part by giant rate increases the company has imposed on its captive customers and the certainty that its struggling desalination project will lead to large additional increases.

The last time the issue made it to the ballot, in 2014, Cal Am prevailed by a count of 55 percent to 45 percent. But analysis of the vote showed that early, absentee voters who had been primarily exposed to Cal Am’s advertising voted against the measure while voters who waited for detailed information from the measure’s proponents voted for it. In other words, higher-information voters favored the ballot measure while those who were spun by Cal Am went the other way.

Cal Am’s anti-O campaign repeatedly described the takeover effort as a risky gamble. If O had passed, it would have required the Peninsula’s water management district to study the feasibility of a public takeover. The study wouldn’t have come cheap but it would have cost far less than Cal Am spent combating the ballot measure. Cal Am called Measure O “the risk we can’t afford.” What we can’t afford, Riley and a growing number of others believe, is Cal Am bills.

The Cal Am campaign also emphasized that negotiating a sale to the public would distract the company from developing a desalination plant – a plant that seems barely closer to reality even now, three years later. Cal Am also repeatedly mischaracterized attempts to takeover water systems elsewhere and the results of successful efforts.

A public takeover of Cal Am’s Peninsula water system would be an extremely difficult and expensive process and Cal Am can be expected to fight Public Water Now at every turn. The company has maintained through the years that the Peninsula system is barely profitable yet it has made it clear that it will fight any and all takeover efforts, which suggests the network of pumps and pipes is more profitable than the company lets on.

My own limited research  leads me to believe that in the short term, a public takeover would not result in lower water bills because a public agency would need to borrow sizable sums to complete the transaction. Dave Stoldt, manager of the water management district, once estimated that there would be no actual savings to the customers for as long as 30 years. Proponents disagree, saying savings would materialize much more quickly. Either way, I believe a takeover is worth pursuing because the savings to future customers, decades and decades of future savings, would make the effort worthwhile even if our bills didn’t immediately go down.

To me, the prospect of a takeover is an important public policy issue that should be decided by careful analysis and a considerable amount of professional cost accounting. The decision should not be based on a clever advertising campaign.

The way Cal Am conducted itself last time around was shameful but you didn’t hear a peep about it in polite Peninsula circles. As they did with the Monterey Downs ballot measures, pillars of the community knew that the side with the most money was cheating but they just looked the other way.

If Cal Am listens to anyone in public life on the Peninsula these days, those people should make it clear that the company should stick to the facts and the math and not create its own make-believe reality. The hospitality industry and other business interests have benefited in recent years from sweetheart rate arrangements with Cal Am. They should not let those short-term gains stop them from encouraging Cal Am to be the good corporate citizen it claims to be.

At the same time, Public Water Now and its supporters can and should be expected to play it straight. If buying out Cal Am is a good idea, the numbers should tell the story. If it doesn’t make financial sense, the idea probably isn’t worth pursuing no matter how much better off we would be with a water company run by an accountable local agency rather than for the benefit of distant shareholders.

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