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I recently caused a commotion in the Monterey Herald’s letters section. On Tuesday, Aug. 29, the Herald printed a letter from Michael Baer of Monterey expressing his disappointment with the Mayors’ Water Authority, specifically their apparent inability to bring Cal Am’s ever-increasing water bills under control. So far so good.

Then in regard to Cal Am’s proposed desalination plant, Baer complained that the Water Authority could “not even be bothered to seriously consider a plan B, just in case this project goes the way of all previous Cal Am new water supply projects: failure.” This is where I saw a problem. Two, actually, but I chose to respond to only one.

The one I ignored was the alleged lack of a “plan B.” The Water Authority designated the project called Deep Water Desal as a backup plan. They directed the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to help develop the project on a parallel track with Cal Am’s project in case the latter fails to materialize. Baer may not have known this because it has not been given much attention in the local press beyond an initial announcement a couple years ago.

But I felt his other claim deserved some attention, as it has become popular in recent years to blame Cal Am for every previous project failure regardless of the cause or who was actually in charge. So I wrote the following letter, which was published in the Herald on Aug. 31s.

Cal Am not to blame for past failures

Michael Baer’s Aug. 29 letter made reference to the “failure” of “all previous Cal Am new water supply projects.” Let’s get the history straight. Cal Am has been the lead agency on only one water project, the current desalination plan. Earlier projects that failed were overseen by public agencies, not Cal Am.

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District was in charge of two viable projects, a desalination plant in Sand City and a new Los Padres dam on the Carmel River. Taxpayer advocates and environmental groups convinced voters that these projects were too expensive, environmentally damaging, and growth inducing so they were killed at the ballot box.

More recently Marina Coast Water District was the lead agency for the Regional Desalination Project. It involved three public agencies (none of which represented Peninsula ratepayers), each designated to operate separate components of a single desalination plant which would sell water to Cal Am. A conflict of interest problem brought the whole thing crashing down.

Cal Am took the reins only after it became clear that the public process was unable to deliver a water supply project. And while this may not be saying much, Cal Am has made more progress than any public agency ever did.

James B. Toy, Seaside

The very next day the Herald published a letter from Jan Shriner, a board member of the Marina Coast Water District. She didn’t mention my letter specifically, but it was clear she didn’t care for my choice of words as her first two sentences made clear:

Cal Am is not a ‘lead agency’ of any project they propose. Cal Am can’t be the lead agency because they are the project proponent and a corporation.”

Evidently Shriner believes the term “agency” only applies to governmental organizations. Perhaps that is the case in her world of bureaucratic legalese, but my dictionary defines the word more broadly as “an organization, company, or bureau that provides a particular service,” so I believe I used the word correctly when I applied it to Cal Am. If I had said Cal Am was “in charge of” instead of the “lead agency on” only one project I might have avoided this little kerfuffle. Live and learn.

The remainder of her first paragraph said: “Cal Am was a partner in the Regional Desalination Project (RDP) along with Marina Coast Water District and the Monterey County Water Resource Agency (MCWRA). Cal Am pulled out of the project (and sued MCWD) reportedly because a MCWRA director was accused of conflict of interest. The former MCWRA director pled no contest to the charges.”

This seems to confirm my original assessment, but her choice of words spins the story more in Marina Coast’s favor. I suspect this was the motivation behind her letter as Marina Coast has been on the losing side of litigation with Cal Am in cases relating to both the failed RDP and Cal Am’s current project.

But she did make one valid point. In my last paragraph I said “the public process was unable to deliver a water supply project.” Shriner corrected me by pointing to the completion of a small desalination plant in Sand City and a project called Aquifer Storage and Recovery, which she said are both under the authority of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. A pending recycled water project called Pure Water Monterey is a joint effort involving three public agencies. Those projects had crossed my mind when I wrote my original letter, but even when combined they don’t come close to fulfilling the need. However, they do help so for accuracy I should have said “the public agencies were unable to deliver a complete water supply solution.”

Moving along, on Sept. 2 and 3 two more letters appeared. The first was from Chuck Cech of Monterey, followed by Bill Hood, a part-time resident of Carmel. Both began with a brief reference to my letter indicating they didn’t like it. Then they changed the subject by asking me a series of long-winded questions about Cal Am’s handling of ratepayer money, which, of course, had nothing to do with the subject of my original letter except for inclusion of the water company’s name.

Along with their similar formatting, both letters seemed to imply that my unwillingness to blame Cal Am for the failure of three projects not under the company’s direct control somehow meant that I approve of everything Cal Am has ever done. The absurdity of that should be self-evident. And anyone who has read my previous writings about local water issues knows that at various times I have been both supportive and critical of Cal Am depending on the situation. I don’t know Chuck Cech, and he may never have heard of me, so he can be excused for not knowing that. Bill Hood, on the other hand, has no excuses. He and I have had several online discussions on this topic, including private e-mails and public comments on the pages of the Monterey Bay Partisan. He knows where I stand and it’s not where his very public letter placed me.

Since their two attack letters deviated so far from the subject of mine, I feel no obligation to answer their questions. But what the heck. I have nothing better to do right now, so I’ll give them a go.

Cech began with a note of gratitude: “Mr. Toy thank you for telling us Cal Am was not the lead agency on the three failed projects. However, Cal Am was a partner in each of these projects. They spent millions of dollars on each of these projects.”

It goes without saying that Cal Am was a partner since they would deliver any water produced by these projects. I assumed that was self-evident so I saw no need to deplete my 200-word allocation to explain that in my letter.

Then he launched his inquisition with this: “Every one of these projects failed. Does Cal Am have difficulty working with others, when it comes to controlling water delivery and cost on the Monterey Peninsula?”

Well, let’s see. I don’t recall any reports of strife between Cal Am and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, and the company seems to have a pretty cozy relationship with the Peninsula Mayors’ Water Authority (some say they’re too cozy). So, no, they don’t seem to have difficulty working with those agencies. As for Cal Am and Marina Coast, it’s no secret that their relationship has been strained since the collapse of the RDP program. Is Cal Am to blame? Maybe, but Marina Coast doesn’t have a particularly good reputation for cooperation. Two years ago then-Congressman Sam Farr suggested that Marina Coast should be disbanded because “they just haven’t conducted themselves in a very professional way. They’ve been fighting everybody else, and they’ve been sort of selfish and arrogant.” So there’s that to consider.

Cech continued….and continued:

Did Cal Am conduct the necessary due diligence investigation of all aspects of these projects before agreeing to join them? Since Cal Am was not the lead agency on any of these failed projects, why did they spend a total of $34 million on them, without turning one shovel of dirt? Why is Cal Am not responsible for their cost of these projects? Why are ratepayers now paying $34 million to Cal Am plus interest for these failed projects?”

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Why don’t you ask Cal Am? While you’re at it, ask their lapdogs at the California Public Utilities Commission.

Hood had a similar line of questioning, but he opened by impugning my recollection of past events: “Mr. Toy relies upon his version of history to claim that Cal Am is not at fault with respect to the present condition of water supply efforts.”

Stop right there, Bill. It looks like you’re accusing me of making up alternative facts, Conway style. I take that very seriously because my reputation is at stake. If you are going to announce to the entire Peninsula that I have fabricated my own “version of history” contrary to actual history you need to explain your reasoning. If I have said anything that is untrue then by all means correct me (as Jan Shriner did). I’ll take my lumps, learn from it, and strive to do better next time. But please don’t suggest in public that I’m spreading misinformation then blow past the accusation by saying nothing more than…

I do not agree with him, but even if I did, I would ask Mr. Toy these questions:”

And just like Cech , you abruptly change the subject. I call this diversionary tactic “debate and switch.”

Now to answer your question: “Yes, a fact-based opinion as to whether or not Cal Am is the villain in the Peninsula water scenario is necessary (and, frankly, is already on the record). But, why are you avoiding the ‘elephant in the room’ by ignoring the more immediate and concerning issue that has resulted from the historical and ongoing Cal Am/CPUC/local political support process that has created the highest cost of water in the country?

I’m not avoiding the subject. In my blog and in the comments section of the Monterey Bay Partisan I have used the word “unethical” to describe Cal Am’s recent retroactive rate increase. But I didn’t mention it in my letter because…

a.) Water rates were not the subject of my letter.

b.) The Herald’s 200-word limit prevented me from going off on a tangent about water rates.

c.) The subject of Cal Am’s high rates is discussed almost daily in the Herald’s letters section and frequently in the Monterey Bay Partisan. At this point there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said a dozen times already

Next question:  “Even if you were right and I was wrong, doesn’t all of this tell you that something is amiss and has to be corrected?”

Yes.

Do you really believe that the nation’s highest water costs are the result from other factors at play not related to Cal Am, et al?”

The question is a little confusing. Do Peninsula voters, the Water Management District, and the state water board’s cease and desist order qualify as “other factors” or do they get lumped in with “et al”? If they are other factors then my answer is yes. If they fall under et al then, no.

Either way, are you satisfied with the current situation, and, if so, why?”

I’m not at all satisfied. In an earlier commentary here I likened our situation to a “freakin’ nuthouse.” As the years have passed there’s been more and more bickering and less and less cooperation among everyone involved.

Making matters worse, Cal Am squandered a lot of goodwill by imposing their retroactive rate increase on top of rate increases to build their desal plant. And whoever was the genius that guaranteed Cal Am a certain amount of profit from every capital investment, including unproductive ones, should be run out of town in a westerly direction. But when it comes to building a water supply project Cal Am strikes me as the only adult in the room. The company is under a lot of pressure to succeed, and they’re doing their darnedest, yet a lot of people seem determined to block their every move. I tell you again, local water politics is a freakin’ nuthouse!

The really frustrating part is that it was ridiculously easy to avoid the current situation, but we collectively chose not to. Had voters approved the local water district’s plans for a dam and desal plant combo in the 1990s, the mess we’re in now would never have happened. The state would likely never have imposed a cease and desist order on Cal Am pumping. Cal Am would never have gotten into a costly failed deal with Marina Coast, nor would the company be sinking buckets of capital into their own desal plant to be paid for with our water bills.

But Peninsula voters were led astray by various activist groups claiming that better, faster, and cheaper projects could be had if we just listened to them and ignored the advice of the bureaucrats. But their promises were empty. They never had a plan. In the last quarter century the names of the activists have changed, but their message is the same. They’re still promising better, faster, cheaper water if we just listen to them. Unlike the majority of voters I didn’t believe them then, and I certainly don’t believe them now.

So here’s where I stand. I don’t care if the water company is public or private. I don’t care if our new water supply involves a dam, a desal plant, water hyacinths, or icebergs towed in from Alaska. I don’t care if a desal plant is fed by slant wells, open ocean intakes, or a bucket brigade. I don’t care whose toes get stepped on, whose feelings get hurt, or whose ideology gets squashed. At this point I don’t even care how much it is going to cost. I just want it done!

James Toy lives in Seaside and is a regular contributor to the Partisan. This first appeared on one of his blogsMr. Toy’s Mental Notes.

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Richard Hajas of Ojai gives some tips to Peninsula folks about how to take over a water utility

Corrected Ojai takeover figure below

 

Public Water Now Holds Forum on the Feasibility of a Cal Am Buyout

PWN’s guest speaker, Richard Hajas, spoke from experience Monday night. Former general manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District in Ventura County, he was the key author of the feasibility study for the community of Ojai in its recent successful buyout of the private Golden State water system.

Hajas worked as a volunteer with Ojai Flow, the citizens group seeking to municipalize Ojai’s water system. He did the feasibility study pro bono. “Our Feasibility Study was our bible—it had all the facts we needed to argue for local public control,” he told the audience.

To determine if such a takeover is affordable to ratepayers, Hajas explained that the rate base is critical to the cost estimate. A reasonable estimate must also include the fair market value of the system, the costs of a 30-year bond to cover the purchase, the legal costs, and the costs of getting the public agency prepared to take over the operation.

Why did Ojai want public ownership of their water? Hajas said, “The cost of water from the private provider was the big problem. Our costs were more than twice as much as our neighbors and Golden State Water was taking $6 million a year out of our small community.”

The Monterey Peninsula has the most expensive water in the country. The audience could definitely relate to Ojai’s motivation! Although Ojai has a much smaller water system than the Monterey Peninsula, the community successfully fought the corporate Goliath’s legal onslaught and publicity campaign and won public ownership.

Hajas cautioned that the current private water owner will do everything possible to discourage the public from such an undertaking. “Water is a very profitable business,” he said, “and the private owner will definitely not go away quietly.”

It took seven years and cost a total of $60 million for Ojai to buy out Golden State Water. When it came to a public vote Hajas felt confident in the outcome. (Article originally said, incorrectly, that the total was $44 million.)

“I’m a numbers guy. Voters approved the process to purchase the Golden State water delivery system with an 87% majority.”

Under public ownership long-term savings for small usage customers is project to amount to hundreds of dollars per year and much more for larger customers. For the Ojai community of 5,000 to 6,000 people, the total savings over the first 10 years could reach $25.8 million.

Asked if it was worth it, Hajas said, “Yes, because it will cut the annual cost increase to ratepayers in half, from 8% per year to 4%, over a 20-year period, saving many millions of dollars. And I stress the importance of looking at such a project over the long term. It’s long-term savings. My kids and grandkids will see the greater benefit”.

George Riley, director of Pubic Water Now, ended the meeting saying, “PWN wants to make the public aware of the problems and costs related to private water systems. Their motivation is profit, they’re answerable to their shareholders, not us. It easy to see why 87% of the water systems in the U.S. are publicly owned and operated for the good of the communities they serve. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but more water rate increases are coming from Cal-Am. We need to take action!”

Public Water Now will begin collecting signatures in October to qualify municipalization of our water system for a vote on the November 2018 ballot.

Melodie Chrislock, the communications director for Public Water Now, can be reached at MWChrislock@redshift.com

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Warren Church, who served on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors from 1965 to 1977, a tumultuous time in the county’s history, died Saturday, Sept. 2, at the age of 87, his family announced.

Mr. Church chose to use the California End of Life Option due to terminal illness. The California End of Life Option Act is a statute that allows certain terminally ill adults to request and obtain a prescription for medication to end their lives in a peaceful manner. The law was adopted in June 2016.

His final wish was to spread the word that this choice is available to California residents who are at the end of life and meet the criteria.

A celebration of his life is being planned and a date will be announced soon.

Mr. Church, known as the father of the Monterey County parks system, never missed a board meeting in his 12 years as a Monterey County District 1 supervisor.

He helped turn the tide against Humble Oil’s bid to establish a major refinery in the Moss Landing area in the mid-1960s, by requiring strict environmental regulations regarding such facilities. The project would have kick-started a 3,800-acre industrial complex in Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough that included a nuclear power plant. The board of supervisors voted 3-2 to approve Humble Oil’s facility, but because of the regulations that the board passed to regulate air quality and other factors, Humble Oil decided to build its facility in Benicia instead.

The development of the proposed industrial complex would have irreversibly changed the look and feel of Monterey County. Much of the Monterey Bay’s marine environment, now protected by state and federal law, would have been decimated, and tourism and agriculture would have been greatly diminished.

Mr. Church’s tenure on the board coincided with a period of great change for Monterey County which was instrumental in creating the county that exists today. There was intense pressure to change the character of rural North Monterey County to a densely developed area, which Mr. Church challenged successfully by establishing rural residential zoning in 1972, and growth guidelines for the entire county in 1976 to protect rural areas and the county’s less-urban character.

Mr. Church also sought to preserve the area’s natural beauty by promoting a county parks system, which began with Royal Oaks Park in 1966, which he named, and later was the inspiration for naming the North County community of Royal Oaks.

EARLY YEARS

Born on Oct. 19, 1929 in the Elkhorn area of North Monterey County, just days before the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression, Mr. Church lived in the county all his life. After graduating from King City High School in 1947, he attended Hartnell College in Salinas and then Cal Poly State College in San Luis Obispo. He was drafted in 1951 and sent to Korea with the U.S. Army 987th Artillery Division. There, he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

Mr. Church returned and continued his studies at Cal Poly, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences in 1962. He went on to get a master’s degree and a teaching credential, and taught in Monterey County schools. In 1974, he received the Honored Alumni Award from the university’s alumni association.

In 1959, Mr. Church established Church Christmas Tree Farm on Hidden Valley Road, which is one of the state’s oldest Christmas tree farms in continuous operation.

Mr. Church also helped found American Legion Post 593 in Prunedale; and wrote several books, including “The Overburdened Ark” on population control, and others on the history of North Monterey County.

A LIFE IN POLITICS

In 1964, Mr. Church ran for District 1 Supervisor as one of six candidates. He made the runoff, and then was elected, handily beating incumbent Chester Deaver, who had served three terms on the board. At the time, the position was a part-time one, and came with a typewriter and $300 a month for incidental expenses. Mr. Church was the last supervisor to keep his office at his home and use his personal phone for county business, and never sought reimbursement for either from the county.

Mr. Church was a firm supporter of the Monterey County Free Library System, working to provide four of the five libraries in his district with new and expanded facilities and services during his tenure. He helped create the Monterey County Parks Department, which took over recreational management of Nacimiento and San Antonio reservoirs.

Other accomplishments included creating the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Program, initiating the county’s first family planning program, expanding the sheriff’s patrol and litter control, and initiation and support of health and social services programs that included drug and alcohol rehabilitation, formation of the Women’s Commission in 1974 and upgrading of Natividad Medical Center.

He also worked on numerous local and regional boards throughout his life. Gov. Edmund G. Brown appointed him to the California Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Redwood Road and Trail Committee, and the State Local Applications Advisory Board. Mr. Church served on the National Association of Counties, the state and Monterey County Democratic Central Committees, San Felipe Water Importation Committee, and the Tri-County Coastline Committee.

In addition, he served on a variety of governmental bodies for Monterey County, including the Welfare Commission, the planning committee for the Water Resources Agency, Elkhorn Slough Estuarine Sanctuary Committee, Pajaro River Watershed Flood Protection Authority Board, and many others.

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Regarding the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Aug. 25 editorial, “Last-minute water tax can’t be justified however worthy the cause”: Unsafe drinking water is a Third World problem that cannot be tolerated in California. It is long past time that the Legislature produced a sustainable solution that will ensure a basic right to water that is clean and safe.

Such a solution is at hand. It is a bipartisan plan supported by environmental groups such as Clean Water Action, health groups such as the American Heart Association, and farm groups including the California Rice Commission and the Western Growers Association.

Senate Bill 623 creates a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund designed to provide emergency relief and a sustainable long-term solution by funding water treatment facilities that these small water systems cannot possible afford on their own. Funding would come from two sources.

Because in many cases the source of contamination is a high concentration of nitrates, an unavoidable byproduct of farming operations, the agricultural community is stepping up to support a fee to cover nitrate-related costs. It is a statewide problem, so the funding structure also includes a statewide solution — a modest fee not to exceed $1 a month on the water bills for residents and businesses.

A recent poll showed that two-thirds of Californians — alarmed by the plight of those without access to a safe water supply — support this approach.

The fact that a million Californians cannot use water from their taps to mix baby formula, make iced tea, brush their teeth or simply to straight-up quench their thirsts ought to be unacceptable.

It is a problem we are morally compelled to solve, and a sensible solution is at hand.

Sen. Bill Monning is a Democratic state senator representing Carmel. Contributing to this piece was Tim Johnson. president and CEO of the California Rice Commission.

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UPDATE: IN COMMENT SECTION BELOW, STEELHEAD ASSOCIATION’S FRANK EMERSON RESPONDS AND SAYS, WELL, YES, WE HAVE RECEIVED A LITTLE BIT OF MONEY FROM CAL AM.

The Monterey Herald’s most recent editorial on the important subject of water might have been compelling if its premise had been correct. Ironically, the errant editorial began with a lecture strongly and wrongly insinuating that backers of a public takeover of Cam Am Water play fast and loose with the facts.

The focus of the piece Thursday’s was that “some public water advocates have expressed the view” that the Carmel River Steelhead Association supports Cal Am’s deeply troubled desalination project because the organization has received money for its noble work protecting the fish in the endangered river.

(I would include a link to the editorial but as far as I can tell it is not been posted to the web.)

The Herald doesn’t get specific about the source of the supposed payments to the association, but the editorial seems to be saying that those unnamed “public water advocates” have alleged that the association gets money from Cal Am. The Herald doesn’t identify or quote any of the public water advocates who purportedly have accused the association of having been bought off. I could be wrong, but I believe there were no names or quotations in the article because nobody has made such an accusation, at least not in any type of public forum.

Several years ago, I asked one of the association’s most active leaders, Frank Emerson, if the group was getting any money from Cal Am. I raised the question largely because Emerson has defended Cal Am so strongly and has been so vigorous in his criticism of Cal Am’s critics. He said Cal Am hadn’t provided a penny. I believed him then and I believe him now. I disagree with Emerson’s view of Cal Am. He seems to forget that its record of overpumping the Carmel River and its neglect of the San Clemente Dam were key reasons that the steelhead are in danger in the first place. I disagree with his opinion but I don’t question his honesty.

The issue of a public takeover will be on the ballot late next year. The last time the issue was on a public ballot, Cal Am fended off the effort through an exceptionally well funded and deceptive advertising blitz. If the Herald wants to play any useful role in the next election, here’s hoping it plays it straighter than it did this week.

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I am a Monterey-based artist writing to share news that I believe would be of interest to Partisan readers. Six years ago when I was living in Ohio, I formed an anti-bullying organization with my childhood art teacher called the You Will Rise Project. It uses the arts to empower young people to speak out about bullying. I was bullied terribly as a child, and with the guidance of a caring mentor, art helped me cope. Today more than one in every five students report being bullied, and bullying victims are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.

In partnership with Open Ground Studios, we are bringing this project to Monterey with a community art installation celebrating diversity on Sept. 8 and an Art Against Bullying workshop series in October that is free for high school students. This project is transformative for young people who get involved. Applications for the workshop are due by Sept. 14 and can be found at artagainstbullying.com. Thank you!

The You Will Rise Project created a large installation at Cornell University made out of Post-It Notes, on which students wrote both positive and negative labels that they had been called. The result formed a series of portraits of students, which remained on display at Cornell. A similar project using puzzle pieces will be unveiled Sept. 8 at Open Ground Studios.

FALL 2017 PROGRAM SERIES & RELATED EVENTS
Pieced Together: Community Art Installation
Visiting Artist Mentors & Activists from Columbus Ohio
Face to Face Exhibition of Paintings by Paul Richmond
You Will Rise: Art Against Bullying Workshops
Sundays in October 1 – 22, 12-3
Pop-Up Exhibition: Art Against Bullying
October 29, 1-3pm

ART ACTIVISM COMES TO MONTEREY
Open Ground Studios and the You Will Rise Project join forces.

SERIES DESCRIPTIONS
Pieced Together is a collaborative community art installation in conjunction with the You Will Rise Project. Artists Paul Richmond, Aaron Anderson and Denese Sanders are creating a massive mural out of puzzle pieces that will form the faces of 3 diverse members of the community. We are inviting people from all over the community (at outreach events such as Seaside Community Fair and West End Celebration and invitations around town to share the project) to decorate a puzzle piece in a way that represents something unique about themselves. We’ll be working Monday, Sept. 4 – Thursday, Sept. 7 on the installation at Open Ground Studios and the community is invited to participate. The mural is part of Paul Richmond’s solo exhibition called Face to Face and will be unveiled at the artist reception Friday evening Sept. 8th from 5:30-7:30 pm.

Face to Face: An Exhibition of Paintings by Paul Richmond. Paul’s work is an investigation of identity, mythology, and human nature. Reality and abstraction compete within the figurative foundation of each piece to make the subjects’ inner struggles more tangible. He often draws upon personal history to approach universal themes. The expressive application of pigment reduces the literalness of the depiction, engaging with an exploration of color, form, shape, and pattern as windows into the psyche. By deconstructing and rebuilding the figure, his goal is to invite understandings that reach beyond the immediate surface and reveal the complexity of the individual.

You Will Rise: Art Against Bullying Workshops

You Will Rise Project is an organization founded in 2011 that empowers those who have experienced bullying to speak out creatively through the language, visual, and performing arts. During the month of October, we are inviting teens (grades 9-12) to participate in free workshops where they will work with professional artists and mentors to create raw, uncensored works about their experiences with bullying. The resulting collection, including collaborative installation pieces and individual creations, will be presented in a multi-media pop up exhibit at Open Ground Studios that is open to the public.

Visiting Artists from Ohio: Artists/mentors Aaron Anderson and Angela Wilson, and You Will Rise co-founder Linda Regula will be making their way to Monterey in support of launching the You Will Rise Project on the West Coast. Aaron is one of the Directors of the You Will Rise Project, and is a talented graphic designer and fine artist. Angela is the Operations Manager, and is an instructional designer and fine artist. Linda Regula is a fine artist, teacher, gallery owner, museum curator, and published author. She was Paul’s childhood art instructor, and their relationship, dating back to 1984, was the basis for creating You Will Rise. Linda and Paul were both bullied as kids. Linda attributes her experience of being bullied to the fact that she was “poor, skinny, motherless, and very shy.” Paul was bullied because he is gay. They both believe that these hardships served as powerful motivation to make choices that ultimately enriched their lives — and their art. We are planning opportunities in and around the Peninsula where these arts activists will be able to share their stories, their work and their passion to stand up against bullying.

TIMELINE & DATES

August 10 – August 27, Launch Pieced Together: Facebook live video, Seaside Community Fair, Youth Arts Collective, Boys & Girls Club, West End Celebration

Sept. 4-7: Pieced Together Installation at OGS with artists Paul Richmond, Denese Sanders and visiting artist Aaron Anderson
Installation participation open to the public: Monday Sept. 4 12:00-5:00, Tuesday Sept. 5. 2:00 – 7:00, Wednesday 12:00 – 5:00, Thursday 12:00-4:00

Sept. 8, 5:30-7:30, FACE to FACE opening reception and unveiling of Pieced Together

Sept. 23 & 24: Artist Open Studio Tour at Open Ground Studios – additional opportunities for community participation with Pieced Together installation, plus live painting demonstration by Paul Richmond

Oct. 1 – 22: Sundays 12:00-3:00 Art Against Bullying Workshops. Up to 15 participants, and 5 local and visiting artist mentors on-site.

Oct. 29: Sunday 1:00-3:00 Pop-Up Exhibition – Art Against Bullying

SPONSORS – This program is made possible in part by a grant from the Arts Council of Monterey County, the You Will Rise Project, Open Ground Studios and Paul Richmond. We are seeking additional sponsors to support and build this program on the West Coast. Those interested can contact Open Ground Studios to get involved.

ABOUT THE VENUE At Open Ground Studios we believe art plays a profound role in our human experience. As adults we are often consumed by the pace and responsibilities of our lives, while our creative spirits wait patiently to be revived.
We believe emerging and professional artists thrive in a collaborative and supportive community, where freedom for innovation, growth, and camaraderie is limitless. It is our responsibility as a society to invest in the arts to preserve and strengthen this aspect of our community and of ourselves. At Open Ground Studios we specialize in maintaining space for the exploration of visual art that inspires transformation.

Open Ground Studios is located in Seaside in a 2000SF space that that houses a gallery, communal studio space, coworking, a printmaking studio, and a frame room. OGS serves teens, adults, artists and creative explorers. We promote community entrée into creative productivity by hosting workshops, open studio time, classes, social events, and exhibition space.

For More Information:
Paul Richmond, Artist and You Will Rise Project co-founder
Tel: 614-306-0488
Email: paulrichmondstudio@gmail.com
Website: artagainstbullying.com
Instagram: @youwillriseproject
Facebook: facebook.com/youwillriseproject

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The following is a letter to me from Rep. Jimmy Panetta in response to my correspondence to him about the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Following his letter is my response:

Dear Ms. Akkad,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 1697) and allowing me to clarify my position as a co-sponsor of this bill.

I share your strong commitment to civil rights, including the First Amendment right to free speech. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, however, does not restrict the right of U.S. citizens to free speech, but rather is a narrowly targeted bill that would exercise Congress’s authority to regulate international commercial activity.

In 1977, Congress amended the Export Administration Act to prohibit U.S. persons from complying with unauthorized boycotts by a foreign government. This law, upheld by the courts, was enacted in response to the Arab League boycott initiated after Israel’s independence. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would extend this existing prohibition on U.S. companies from cooperating with foreign government boycotts of Israel to boycotts by international government organizations, such as the United Nations.

The legislation was introduced in response to U.N. Human Rights Council and other international government organization initiatives to economically isolate Israel while ignoring the atrocious human rights practices of some of the world’s worst regimes. The bill does not regulate non-governmental organizations, nor does it prohibit Americans from expressing their political points of view, including speaking in support of boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) efforts, engaging in boycott activities or otherwise voicing criticism of Israel. Furthermore, the legislation neither compels companies to conduct business with Israel, nor punishes them for refusing to do business with Israel for political or economic reasons.

Again, I share your commitment to the constitutionally protected right to free speech. As the bill moves through the legislative process, I will keep your views in mind and support any effort to further clarify that the bill does not infringe on the right to freedom of speech.

I appreciate knowing of your concerns and encourage you to continue to be in touch via my website, signing up for my e-newsletter, following me on Facebook or Twitter, or calling my office.  It is an honor to serve you and the central coast of California in the United States Congress.

Sincerely,

JIMMY PANETTA
Member of Congress

 

Mr response:

To refresh your memory, I had tried to offer Mr. Panetta some background about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, given his support of HR 1697; had pointed out how such a bill would run counter to our Constitution; and then specifically asked him why, given his district’s composition, he would choose to be part of such a bill in the first place.  Since Mr. Panetta did not respond my points, I remain curious about his motives.

With the luxury retirement offers, I attended a meeting our congressman had with the Monterey chapter of Veterans for Peace on Friday, Aug. 18 . He was there to address topics of interest to that group, which included their concern over his co-sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Explaining his rationale, Mr. Panetta began by giving us his understanding that it “focuses on the Export Administration Act of 1977” that was created, in part, “to prevent people from participating in the Arab boycott of Israel back at that time.”

He continued by stating, “Arabs were boycotting Israel just because they did not like Israel. You know the reasons why. Back in 1977 this law was created … What the law says is that it prevents people from participating in an unsanctioned boycott of a foreign government.”

For emphasis he repeated his explanation, and said, “It prevents participation in a boycott by a foreign government.” He stated that the act went through the courts, was challenged and found constitutional. It is current law.

Then, in further explaining what he calls a narrowly focused bill, he said HR 1697 amends that act by adding international government organizations, “and that’s it.” He said, “So what the law would say is that it prevents participation in an unsanctioned boycott by a foreign government and international government organizations. That’s all it does. So, if you’re for BDS (Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions) against Israel, you can speak out. You can do your own boycott, divestment, sanctions. Companies by themselves can do their own BDS. It does not prevent anybody, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it does not prevent anybody from doing their own boycott, divestment, sanctions of Israel.”

He further stated, “It also depends upon how you feel about BDS. I am against BDS, Bernie Sanders is against BDS. I just got back from a trip to Israel where every single person I talked to over there, from people in Israeli leadership to people in Palestinian leadership — the Palestinian minister of finance — I had a one-on-one conversation with him and I straight out asked, ‘How do you feel about BDS?’. He said, ’Of course I’m against it. It hurts us.’ I spoke to people in the labor movement. They were against it. And I made sure because I wanted to see if there was anybody who supports BDS. Not one person supports BDS.”

He concluded by stating that before the bill goes to the House for a vote, “The authors should clarify the bill to let people understand that it doesn’t go against/infringe free speech. The second thing is if it comes to a vote as is, I will be inclined to introduce an amendment to the bill to clarify that bill.”

I believe Mr. Panetta hasn’t done all of the research he spoke of at that Friday. On a minor point, the Export Administration Act was introduced in March of 1979 and enacted into law by Jimmy Carter in September 1979. So, some of his terminology and dates are incorrect. In addition, unless my reading of the current bill HR 1697 from the government’s website is completely wrong, the bill, like the Senate’s version, still contains these words:

The bill prohibits any U.S. person engaged interstate or foreign commerce from supporting:

  • any request by a foreign country to impose any boycott against a country that is friendly to the United States and that is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or
  • any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.

Unless “U.S. Person” does not refer to you and me and to any U.S. company, I believe Mr. Panetta’s letter is inaccurate.  What he said to his audience Aug. 18 also seems to be inaccurate. “U.S .Persons” do appear to be prohibited from a boycott, divestment or sanction of certain Israeli policies. Perhaps Mr. Panetta should read the actual bill before the House. Again.

The trip he referred to was for freshmen members of Congress, along with Steny Hoyer and Kevin McCarthy, and took place in early August. It was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Of course he met with those people! They’re the only people he either had time to meet or was allowed to meet on the whirlwind trip. His reference to the Palestinian finance minister is laughable because Salam Fayyad at this point has very little support or credibility among Palestinians and remains a relevant voice only for Israel and its allies. Like many of the other members of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Fayyad has worked hard to keep the Palestinian economy dependent on Israel while promoting a small economic elite in the West Bank. Of course Mr. Fayyad would reject any support of the BDS movement!

Mr. Panetta could have spoken with people in the region who would let him know that BDS is not anti-Semitic but rather is against Israeli occupation of Palestine. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, it is non-violent in nature and simply aimed at giving Palestinians the same rights as the rest of humanity.

There seems no logic to his firm rejection of BDS nor does he seem to understand the obviously complicated issues surrounding the Palestinian/Israeli impasse. Mr. Panetta’s focus on HR 1697 is its potential constitutional problem. It’s an important one, but it’s not the only problem with this amendment to a segment of the original unfortunate law.

In his Q&A session, Mr. Panetta said that if the authors of the amendment do not clarify it to ensure that it does not infringe on free speech, he will do just that. Given the wording of the existing bill, Mr. Panetta would have to rewrite a significant portion with very little apparent chance of it being approved. His statement also conflicts with what he said earlier in his discussion, that the House Rules Committee under GOP majority rule controls all amendments to House bills. He and Barbara Lee sit on the Rules Committee. So he saw exactly how her amendment to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) adopted after Sept. 11, 2001 was “plucked right out” of the Appropriations bill before it was sent to the House floor for a vote.

Mr. Panetta acknowledged that his amendment to cut off all funding for any executive order that would open up our coast to oil drilling received the same fate. So, what assurance does he think he has in offering any successful amendment to this or any bill? It’s easy for him to offer an amendment, especially in the environment on Capitol Hill. It appears far harder for him to be straight with his constituents.

I do not believe Mr. Panetta has devoted enough time to any investigation prior to offering his support for HR 1697. Perhaps it’s because he’s new to Capitol Hill or because he doesn’t have adequate advisers or time managers. That was clearly obvious on Friday when he mentioned that he had not had time to read the 10 questions the veterans had sent him prior to the meeting. His time with the veterans was also limited because his aide rushed him to his next gathering even though they had arrived late to this one. I left frustrated and assume others felt the same.

It also makes me wonder why a freshman member of Congress from an ag/tourist district feels the need to support this bill.

Akkad lives in Carmel and maintains close ties to the Middle East. Panetta, a Democrat,  represents the Central Coast in Congress.

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A Peninsula water solution without desal?

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For those of you who missed it, the Monterey County Weekly had an important piece this week raising the possibility that the Pure Water recycling project could be enlarged enough to eliminate the need for Cal Am’s tremendously expensive desalination plant. Here it is.

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Friends, in light of the violence and death wrought in Charlottesville, Va., the failure of the president to denounce the KKK, Nazis, and white supremacist groups is more than outrageous.

His suggestion that there are “fine people, very fine people” within these groups betrays a basic understanding of what these groups stand for and his continued efforts to try to maintain his base of support among these groups. The fact that millions of Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis and that thousands of Americans died fighting to liberate Europe, North Africa, and Russia from the horror of the Nazis seems not to register with the current occupant of the White House.

As the fascist organizations bask in the media attention and the equivocations of the president, they are planning to demonstrate in other cities to provoke violence and to seek attention for their warped, immoral, racist, and violent ideology. It is important NOT to allow police powers or other governmental authorities to suggest that their conduct is protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Their conduct explicitly advocates violence against Jews and people of color including immigrants. Permits should be denied and organizers of these hate groups should be brought to justice as terrorists—that is what they are.

Too many have died to rid the planet of the scourge of those who worship Hitler and now Trump. Let us draw courage and purpose from the courage and sacrifice of HEATHER HEYER who was killed by a terrorist (and the 20 others injured and the two police officers who died) and as part of a conspiracy of groups of terrorists who are pushing their sick and morally bankrupt ideology, looking for media coverage, audiences, and new recruits. Not in San Francisco, not anywhere… Time to build the resistance, time to join arms with all communities to denounce the hate and to promote the protection of ALL people’s inalienable right to life, safety, and equality…. The current occupant of the White House has betrayed his oath of office and should be impeached.

P.S. Last night in San Luis Obispo, 1000 demonstrated in solidarity with the victims of Charlottesville and in opposition to the Unify the Right Movement.

Bill Monning, D-Carmel, represents the Central Coast in the California Senate.

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Superior Court Judge Tom Wills has upheld Monterey County’s approval of the Ferrini Ranch subdivision along the Monterey-Salinas Highway. Disagreeing with LandWatch, the Highway 68 Coalition and others, Wills held on Aug. 3 that Monterey County’s environmental review adequately disclosed and mitigated impacts to water resources, traffic and air pollution.

The project consists of 185 lots with 168 market-rate homes and 17 inclusionary units on the east side of Highway 68 between San Benancio and River Roads. It sits across the highway from the existing Toro Park subdivision, also developed by the Ferrini developers, the Kelton family of Southern California, longtime campaign contributors to several Monterey County supervisors over the years. See previous piece on special treatment afforded the developer.

“To say we are disappointed is an understatement,” said Michael DeLapa, executive director of LandWatch, one of the plaintiffs.
DeLapa said Monterey County’s approval of the venture relied on unsatisfactory measures to mitigate water and traffic issues.

The environmental impact report said the Salinas Valley Water Project would provide a sustainable supply even though it is already in overdraft and is being seriously undermined by seawater intrusion.

While transportation officials say relieving congestion on Highway 68 is their highest priority, the development would add significant traffic to the heavily traveled road. The developer will be required to pay for another traffic signal, or likely a roundabout, and to widen a one-mile stretch of the highway.

DeLapa said LandWatch will consider an appeal.

“We remain undeterred in our strong belief, supported by strong facts, that the county and the court erred, and that Ferrini Ranch is the wrong development in the wrong place.”

You can read the court’s decision here (1.8M PDF file).

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Weigh in on what can be done about the racist right

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Your thoughts: Is the apparent rise of white supremacism a function of politics or pathology? Should it be confronted or ignored?

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Monterey County’s principal traffic agency is on the verge of trying to improve traffic conditions on Highway 68, also known as the Monterey-Salinas Highway, in a roundabout way. Literally.

Thursday night, three transportation officials made a presentation in support of replacing all the traffic lights on Highway 68 between Blanco Road in Salinas and the Monterey Airport with roundabouts, also known as traffic circles. The panelists were Debbie Hale, executive director of the Transportation Agency of Monterey; Grant Leonard, a TAMC planner and the point man on this project; and Rich Deal, traffic engineer for the city of Monterey. Mike DeLapa, executive director of LandWatch, was the moderator. They spoke to a lively group of about 75 residents who braved the humidity and Route 68 rush-hour traffic to attend the meeting at San Benancio Middle School.

While informational, this presentation was basically a hard sell of roundabouts, giving very short shrift to any other options. It may be that roundabouts are safer than traffic lights, as alleged. And it may be that roundabouts will improve the flow of traffic on Highway 68, although crawling along at 20 mph or less through the circles may be more of a slow drip than a flow. But for those of us who were previously force fed traffic lights all along this 15-mile “corridor” (the term used by the planner) because they would make the highway safer, allow a bit of skepticism about this “flavor of the month” safety improvement.

Whatever is decided, the money will come from voter-approved Measure X. Addressing existing congestion on 68 is the No. 1 priority for use of that money. The TAMC board is scheduled to vote on the roundabout plan this month, starting a process of construction design, right-of-way acquisition and environmental review that could take more than three years to complete before actual roadwork could begin.

Deal gave a lengthy description of the roundabout that is just being completed on Holman Highway (Highway 68 west), next to Highway 1 and the entrance to Pebble Beach. As a former designer of freeways, Deal said he much preferred designing a roadway that is environmentally friendly. He showed a diagram of the new roundabout, which includes a bike/pedestrian path over Highway 1, sparing bikers and walkers the nightmare of vying with cars and trucks in the roundabout. When asked why there was only one roundabout on this part of Highway 68, Deal said the money was limited. He said additional roundabouts are being proposed to replace the light at Community Hospital and the light where Highway 68 enters Pacific Grove.

Are there options other than roundabouts? Yes. Highway 68 can remain as is, an option that some in the audience favored. Or there could be a bypass at Corral de Tierra and San Benancio roads, which would allow traffic from these two busy side roads to enter and exit 68 without traffic lights stopping the flow of traffic.

This is an option suggested by Mike Weaver of the Highway 68 Coalition. It has been an option since the Las Palmas development was built. As part of the Highway 68 traffic mitigation for that project 19 years ago, money was given to the county to buy 11-plus acres next to the highway just north of the Corral de Tierra stoplight. This acreage makes the building of the bypass possible – no more land needs to be purchased. However, TAMC’s Leonard said the bypass alone would cost $25 million. In contrast, he put a $50 million pricetag on all the proposed Highway 68 roundabouts.

Another option is “adaptive signals,” that is, making the Highway 68 signals talk to each other, so that the green lights can be synchronized. This would also speed the flow of traffic. However, according to Leonard, this option costs at least $34 million, and it has been apparently rejected because of the cost.

How many roundabouts would be built? The intent is to place them on 68 at Josselyn Canyon Road, Olmstead Road, State Route 218, York, Pasadera, Laureles Grade, Corral de Tierra, San Benancio, “New Torero” and Blanco. Leonard said there may also be a roundabout at the Ragsdale intersection. The “New Torero” designation is for the expected improvements to the Torero intersection, at the Toro Park subdivision, which will be funded by the money from the developers of Ferrini Ranch. Leonard said that because the Ferrini Ranch development has been approved by the Board of Supervisors, and even though it is in litigation, TAMC must factor in the money the developer has to pay to mitigate the development’s traffic impact. TAMC has not played an active role in limiting development along Route 68, despite the fact that fewer vehicles using the road on a daily basis would make the highway safer.

The panelists observed that the roundabouts would not increase the capacity of Highway 68, which they acknowledged is used by far too many vehicles. Its design capacity is 16,000 vehicles per day, and currently it accommodates between 25,000 and 32,000. The primary reason to build roundabouts is that they are expected reduce accidents by keeping traffic moving. One study has shown that travel time on the entire route at peak hours would be reduced by approximately 5 minutes if the roundabouts replace the stoplights.

One person who spoke up is an avid biker who likes to bike “the loop,” the roadway that loops away from the highway San Benancio to Corral de Tierra. He asked how the roundabouts would affect bicyclists, who now can ride on the shoulders of Highway 68. If the roundabouts were built at both San Benancio and Corral, bicyclists would have to navigate the traffic circles while hoping not to get rear-ended by road-raged drivers. The bicyclist suggested a frontage road but the idea was met with a shrug. Clearly, some users of Highway 68 have not been given much consideration in this proposed plan for roundabouts. On the other hand, drivers of 18-wheelers will be happy to learn that their rigs will still be welcome on this scenic highway.

For those who remember when Route 68 was a two-lane road connecting Salinas and Monterey, be advised that TAMC also plans to widen Route 68 to two lanes in each direction between the airport and York Road, as well as between Toro Park and Corral De Tierra. Thus, our scenic highway will become a scenic freeway for the most part, and there will still be a few places for drivers to come roaring up in the right lane to cut in front of you as you enter one of the remaining parts of the two-lane highway. That widening of Route 68 has a price tag of $107 million.

There is a bright spot in all of this. The state has become very interested in protecting wildlife by building corridors for them to safely get over or under highways, so that they can still wander over their entire habitat. We were informed that even if the roundabouts are not built, and even if the widening is not done, the state will help improve the “connectivity” for wildlife at 10 locations along Route 68. The state would help pay for the expansion of drain pipes to make them big enough for deer and other wildlife to get through, so they can go from one side of Route 68 to the other.

According to Hale and Leonard, this plan will be presented to the TAMC board at its August meeting for approval. Once approved, the plan is sent to the state Department of Transportation for its review and comments. But since the money for the roundabouts will be taken from the Measure X taxes, a local source, the state will not be required to give its approval. Once TAMC gives the OK, it can follow the state’s suggestions or not. The public can write comments on TAMC’s website at this time, as well as after the plan comes back to the county after the state’s review.

How many roundabouts would be built at one time? No one knows for sure. Also, no one at TAMC knows how long it would take to build all the projected roundabouts. And no one knows how the construction process itself would hurt traffic flow on an already challenged roadway. The planners expect there would be more traffic on Imjin Road, which also connects Marina to the Salinas Valley.

One wonders what it would take to reduce the carbon footprint on Highway 68 –- to build light rail connecting Salinas and Monterey and to run electric buses for employees, as Silicon Valley employers do. Yes, it would take a lot of money. It would require a bolder view of the future than replacing traffic lights with traffic roundabouts. It would require embracing measures that actually reduce the number of gas-guzzling cars and trucks on Route 68, thereby reducing pollution, improving safety, and eliminating some of the worst road-rage drivers in the county.

My hope is that someday we will return to the San Benancio School and discuss our disappointment with the roundabout plan as we review TAMC’s plans for reducing the vehicles being driven daily on this beleaguered scenic highway.

Ann Hill is a retired lawyer who lives near Highway 68.

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I have been fascinated by elephants ever since I was a small child and my parents rewarded me for good behavior with a wonderful trip to the circus. They were huge and I was so excited to see such a large animal actually do tricks. There were other attractions that day but I couldn’t have ignored the elephants. They were just so damned big and different.

As history tells us, the Romans ignored elephants, only to get trampled by Hannibal. There should have been a lesson there for the ages but local politicians, the California Public Utilities Commission and Cal Am Water have blatantly ignored the elephant in the room of water politics.

“There’s an elephant in the room” is meant to identify a major element of an issue that is ignored or deliberately avoided while the issue is being discussed. During discussions of how the Monterey Peninsula is to come up with a reliable source of reasonably priced water, the invisible pachyderm has been the cost that eventually will be paid by Cal Am customers. Neither our local politicians, the CPUC or Cal Am has been publicly addressing the overall costs of future delivery of water. The total costs are not clear, but among the costs looming for the customers is at least $280 million for the desalination plant Cal Am plans to build and numerous other expenses to be billed later. That’s an elephant that doesn’t get mentioned during the ongoing and long-running debate over the size, design and location of the desal plant.

Instead, the politicians merely praise Cal Am’s progress on the project while the CPUC and Cal Am simply ignore the elephant. Whatever the cost, the CPUC will allow Cal Am to pocket the money from ever higher rates. All the while, the huge animal with a big trunk and big feet fills the room.

Even the best eye doctors could not open the eyes of the politicians. The CPUC and Cal Am, meanwhile, seem to have glasses that digitally erase the elephant’s image. And it will remain that way until the grassroots efforts now in progress restore the vision of the people in charge. Fortunately for the customers, the groups Public Water Now and WRAMP and others have been fighting the high costs and are making headway toward making sure everyone sees the elephant.

The CPUC’s mandate is that it treat ratepayers and utilities equally. But the commissioners don’t get it and our elected officials don’t seem to want to get it. If you, as a ratepayer, don’t want to get trampled even more than you already have, you should join your water activists as they ride the invisible elephants into the center of the public discussion for all to see.  Let the unseeing trio become like the Romans.  Get on board, see what you can do to open some eyes

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Sometimes news stories speak for themselves. This one from the San Francisco Chronicle almost does that. It’s about a proposed development in our midst called Walden Monterey. A place of peaceful reflection for those with $5 million for a building lot. Here is the San Francisco Chronicle and here is some advertising material in found online. Walden Monterey

Reflect.

From a Walden Monterey ad

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This past weekend, I read an interesting article in The Intercept, “US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel.” It caught my eye because I’ve had the privilege of meeting and discussing this boycott campaign with one of the founding members of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement, Omar Barghouti. What I know about the movement leads me to conclude that it comes nowhere close to being a threat to the state of Israel, if that country is serious about ending its occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

The subject is the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, H.R. 1697, that would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or Israeli businesses called by the United Nations, the European Union or any other “international governmental organization.” Violations would be punishable by fines of up to $1 million and imprisonment for up to 20 years.

I did a double take when I saw that one of the many co-sponsors of the bill is our 20th Congressional District representative, Jimmy Panetta. What follows are the comments that I would share with him in a letter or face to face:

Dear Congressman Panetta,

I wonder if you can explain to your constituents why you’ve chosen to attach your name to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, HR 1697.

In the first place, its title is misleading and it tries to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. It is NOT anti-Semitic but rather it is against Israeli occupation of Palestine. It was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and, like that successful movement, is non-violent in nature and simply aimed at giving Palestinians the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Secondly, HR 1697, an AIPAC-sponsored proposal, appears to impose civic and criminal punishment on individuals solely for their political beliefs about Israel and its policies. Doesn’t that violate the 1st Amendment? Strictly speaking from a constitutional perspective, this bill seems to be antithetical to the very ideals Congress seeks to uphold. So, again, Mr. Panetta, why are you co-sponsoring it?

Thirdly, why would a congressman from the 20th District – one based on agriculture and tourism – feel the need to be a part of this bill? You sit on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, not Foreign Affairs or Financial Services. Additionally and ironically, we live in an area that was affected by a boycott of its own back in the 1960s. What’s the difference between UFW supporters of that historic grape strike in Delano – like Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Bill Monning – and BDS supporters? How is your co-sponsorship of HR 1697 going to impact Monterey or Santa Cruz counties? And, on the other side of the world, what kind of message is this bill sending to the Palestinians and Israelis when things are heating up once again in Jerusalem over the Al-Aqsa dispute?

In an effort to urge you to reconsider your co-sponsorship, I would be happy to provide you neutral and accurate information about the BDS movement, if you’re interested in being fully informed. Additionally, you undoubtedly are aware there are many Palestinians and other Arabs who are your constituents here on the Monterey Peninsula and in the rest of your district. Many of them, I am sure, share my concern over your seemingly needless support of HR 1697. If you’re interested, we could meet with you to give you information that might make you rethink your support of this unfortunate bill.

Sincerely,

Celeste B. Akkad

If Partisan readers feel as I do about this issue, I urge you to contact Congressman Panetta.

Celeste Akkad lives in Carmel.

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