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An Open Letter to Peninsula Mayors and Supporters of Measure O

The mayors have stated their satisfaction with the defeat of Measure O, which would have initiated a process that could have culminated in the public ownership of Cal-Am.  They gladly supported Cal-Am, which used a massive amount of money to head off that potential outcome.   In the process, the mayors spoke only in generalities, arguing that “the time was not right” and any effort at public ownership would only be a “distraction” from the task of completing a desalination plant.

However, there are lessons, some clear, some not so clear, for the mayors that can be derived from an analysis of the election results.

Absentee voters, who filed their votes early in the process, had only the words of the mayors and Cal-Am to guide them. Even so, notwithstanding the over-generalizations and serious misstatements from the Measure O opposition, all of that empty rhetoric persuaded only  53% of the absentee voters to oppose the measure.

In contrast, voters who waited until the very end of the process and voted on election day had an opportunity to gather more information. They heard the arguments of the measure’s supporters and heard the reality behind the misstatements.

The Measure O supporters, despite limited resources, carried out a vigorous grassroots campaign, and spoke to many individual ratepayers, answering questions and seeking support directly from them. Fact:  55% of the election-day voters voted to support the measure.

So here are the lessons for the mayors:

(1) Spending a lot of money and failing to be completely honest with your constituents may not work the next time.  When people had an opportunity to ask questions, and hear and read facts directly from real people,  they rejected all those dire predictions you made without a speck of factual support.

(2) However, the low turnout of voters makes it more difficult to draw other firm conclusions.  In a mid-term election, even a major issue that had significant potential impacts on every voter wasn’t enough to inspire great numbers of voters to actually vote.    We don’t know for sure, but if even an additional 20% of registered voters had  voted, the result could have been different – or it could have been the same.  If that additional 20% mostly waited until election day, we might conclude Measure O would have passed with flying colors.

(3) But we can tell you this:  Even a group outspent 20 to 1 came close to pulling the election off.   That means, at it base, that you can’t continue to rely on persuading the voters with Pablum (typical political hyperbole).  They want and deserve facts.

(4)  They also deserve honest and aggressive representation of their actual rights, needs and demands. In the context of Measure O, that means protection against future out-of-control water rates, if Cal-Am is going to continue to be the water purveyor.   The efforts of those supporting Measure O are not going away.  They will be tracking your actions closely and if you continue business as usual, expect a strong and effective reaction.

(5) Since you and Cal-Am prevailed and although you might believe Cal-Am is under no immediate threat of a takeover, you should seriously initiate a sea-change, a 180-degree redirection of your relationship with that company.  From this point on, you should show your constituents, by words AND actions, that you will collectively do everything in your power to control and prevent unfair, outrageous and unnecessary future rate increases for everyone, not just a favored few.

(6) For every day that Cal-Am remains the water supplier, and as history indicates, Peninsula ratepayers will remain under a cloud of potentially unfair and uncontrolled rate increases that could bring pain and even bankruptcy to many lower income persons.   What they DON’T need is a group of politicians gloating and resting on their laurels because they deflected a determined effort to take Cal-Am public.

(7) What ratepayers DO need is for their elected leaders to slough off their egos, their personal biases and interests, and to roll up their sleeves, working as hard as they can at arms’ length from Cal-Am to ensure their constituents are treated fairly in ALL respects, starting right NOW.

Can they do it?   They’d be smart to consider it. A large, growing and determined group of observers won’t sit still if they don’t.

Hood is a water lawyer and engineer who also served as director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.

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The debate is on in Salinas over a depressing issue. Should the Police Department be required to identify police officers who shoot people? The issue grows larger and the debate grows louder with each “officer-involved shooting,” a first-rate euphemism if there ever was one.

Now that there have been four fatal shootings by Salinas police this year, the debate is likely to continue at least until the community has gone a particularly long time without such a shooting. A year or more might do it.

Unfortunately, the Police Department has added heat to the debate without illumination with its latest contribution, a list of emails, police reports and photos of graffiti, each seeking to indicate that the officers involved in the shootings of 2014 would be in additional danger if their names were made public.

The 200-page compilation was provided late last week to KSBW-TV and other media outlets in response to a public request for the names. It attempts to relieve the department from state disclosure requirements by demonstrating that the officers involved have been threatened and are in particular danger. Instead, the compilation merely documents the emotional instability of some people and the depth of anger that much of the community felt over some of the shootings.

The compilation is an additional example of the Police Department handicapping itself in its effort to win over the community. In the most recent shooting on July 10, authorities declined to release any substantive information on the circumstances on the day of the incident and then provided only the barest outline, which included the news that victim Frank Alvarado had been armed only with a cell phone.

I don’t mean to dismiss the Police Department’s concerns about identifying the officers. Being involved in a fatal shooting is terribly traumatic and publicity about officers’ roles  certainly could make them feel as though targets had been painted on their uniform.  But there is nothing about Salinas that should exempt the department from following the rules followed in most other cities, where such information is routinely made public for good reason.

Common sense tells us that a law enforcement agency should not be the sole judge of its performance. To an increasing degree, police departments are highly insular, paramilitary organizations that operate under the law but also under their own codes of conduct. They have created an us-them world in which almost anyone who isn’t a cop is a suspect and no one from the outside has any right to judge them. It is an understandable reaction to working in such trying circumstances, but that does not make it right or healthy for anyone. Respect for law enforcement agencies remains high but a growing portion of the citizenry is wary of the perception of police departments as occupying armies. If only the police are deemed worthy of judging the police, it does not take much imagination to envision a society in which only the police are deemed worthy of judging everyone else.

Following officer-involved shootings, many police departments hold off for several days to provide time for the officers to receive counseling and get some stress-relieving rest before additional public scrutiny descends on them. If is common for officers to take extended vacations or leaves of absences while tensions on the street work themselves out. But it remains a matter of public policy in most jurisdictions to let the public in on the assessment of police shootings.

As it stands in Salinas, the public would have no way of knowing if the same officer or officers were involved in two or three or even four of the fatal shootings this year. Had any of the officers been involved in shootings in previous years or in other jurisdictions? Had any been sued for alleged brutality? The shooting victims this year have all been Latinos. Were the officers Latinos? Gringos? Their identities matter to the community and should be shared.

More than a decade ago, while I was assigned to the police beat at the Fresno Bee, a team of narcotics officers attempted to buy drugs at an apartment. The plan was to buy meth or coke and then force the door open and arrest everyone inside. Something went terribly wrong. A veteran narcotics officer thought he saw someone inside pull a gun so he opened fire. A nine-year-old boy inside the apartment was killed. A thorough search of the area turned up no weapons other than those the officers carried.

Under department policy, the officer’s identity was to be withheld for a week or so to give him time to recover from the trauma. While working on the story, I discovered his name.It turned out that the same officer had fatally shot another youngster under very similar circumstances a couple of years earlier. A civil trial over that shooting was playing out at the county courthouse the very day of the new shooting.

The question confronting the newspaper was whether to add to the officer’s stress by publishing his name, whether to take the chance of making him a target in the eyes of the boy’s grieving family, or whether to share the information with the public.

It wasn’t a difficult decision. We went with the name.

As far as I know, the officer never shot anyone else.

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A Monterey County Superior Court judge—not Lydia Villarreal–has ruled that San Benito County violated state environmental protections when it unlawfully approved an steam-injection oil drilling project that could affect hundreds of wells in the Salinas Valley watershed.

The ruling came from Judge Tom Wills, who wrote that San Benito officials had not seriously contemplated the “numerous opportunities for toxic spills” at the Indian Wells project.

Although Monterey County Judge Lydia Villarreal has been seen as the court’s keenest enforcer of environmental protection regulations, she had ruled earlier that limited testing of the Citadel Exploration Inc. wells could proceed near Pinnacles National Park.

Wills disagreed in the recent ruling, siding with the Center for Biological Diversity’s view that a complete environmental impact report was needed for 15 test wells. The suit centers on the issue of whether an operator is required to analyze just the isolated repercussions of the test of individual wells or the impact of the full potential development. Wills determined the review needed to focus on the larger project.

“There is evidence in the record that Citadel planned to drill ‘hundreds’ of wells at the site if the pilot project demonstrated commercial viability,” Wills wrote in a ruling first reported by the Monterey County Weekly.

The Indian Wells project would use cyclic steam injection, a water-intensive and potentially polluting form of oil extraction. The court agreed that San Benito County unlawfully failed to consider development of the oil field beyond the initial 15 “pilot” wells in the challenged approval as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. The court also found that the county failed to properly analyze the huge water usage, water pollution risks, greenhouse gas emissions, and threats to the California condor — even from the initial 15 well approval.

“This legal victory helps protect California’s water, wildlife and climate from dangerous new oil development,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “It makes no sense to fast-track dirty and risky new oil projects when it’s painfully obvious we have to shift to clean energy sources to respond to the climate crisis.”

The lawsuit says the project site drains to the Salinas River and is an important foraging habitat for the California condor.

“This project could turn this beautiful area into a massive new oil field,” said Deborah Sivas, director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, which represents the plaintiff.

According to a Center for Biological Diversity news release, cyclic steam injection — also known as “huff-and-puff” — is an oil-extraction technique applied to heavy-oil reservoirs. During the process, the operator injects steam at very high temperature and pressure into the well. The well is then sealed, allowing the steam to heat up the surrounding formation, which thins the heavy oil so it can more easily flow toward, through and out of the well.

The process is extremely energy intensive and can cause well failure, shifting and buckling of the ground, and unexpected eruptions of fluid and steam from the ground, according to the center.

San Benito County voters are scheduled in November to consider an initiative that would prohibit high-intensity petroleum operations, including cyclic steam injection and fracking, throughout the county.

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When candidates for sheriff receive an endorsement from the Deputy Sheriffs Association, they’re hoping the public thinks it means the deputies are backing the most competent contender, the one best able to protect the public. They’d rather that voters not notice that the association’s focus isn’t public safety. It’s a union and it wants what’s best for the union members, the deputies.

Schooled by campaign handlers who know how the system works, deputy Steve Bernal, a candidate for Monterey County sheriff, made a set of outlandish promises to his fellow duties in his successful bid for the association’s endorsement. At the top of Bernal’s list of promises he can’t keep is using seniority to award weekends off for deputies working in the county jail and to determine who gets first pick for the most popular vacation schedules. That is a good goal, but Bernal takes it one large and silly step farther. In an email to the jail deputies, he wrote that “any changes to this policy should be unanimously decided on by the employees.”

“Any changes to this policy should be unanimously decided on by the employees.”

In other words, if the Sheriff’s Department administration needed to shuffle shifts around to ensure that deputies with the appropriate skills and training were on duty at the right times, it would need to get the approval of every deputy in the jail.

Why’s that? Bernal explains that “management should not be allowed to arbitrarily dictate your schedules.” Perhaps this would be a good place to mention that Bernal has never been a manager. Incumbent Scott Miller, on the other hand, has been a manager for most of his career.

Those are not Bernal’s worst ideas. Because jail deputies are always having to worry about internal affairs investigations arising out of complaints from the public, inmates and other deputies, Bernal promises to make some of those investigations disappear. Internal affairs investigations would be initiated only when it appears a crime has been committed. Such things as insubordination, breach of policy, undue absences or tardiness, harassment of inmates or their visitors would not qualify. Waste of time, that’s how Bernal sees it. He doesn’t say how non-criminal complaints would be handled. Maybe the deputies could take a vote?

There’s more. Bernal says deputies should be offered training to make them more versatile or to improve their chances for career advancement. But only on a “purely volunteer basis.” If a supervisor feels a deputy needs training with, say, weapons or writing reports or interpersonal skills, the deputy could just say no thanks.

Deputies assigned to work as bailiffs in court would be allowed to keep those coveted assignments for as long as they wished. Though they might really have to think about it, because if they were working in the jail in a Bernal administration, they’d get free meals.

As a sheriff’s deputy, Bernal is among the lowest ranking members of the Sheriff’s Department. His candidacy is a creation of partisan politics. The Republicans were casting about for a candidate and in Bernal they found a presentable young man with access to campaign money. If he is elected sheriff in November, he would jump over sergeants, commanders, lieutenants, captains, and the undersheriff to become the guy in charge.

Things like that do happen, in places like Indiana and Louisiana, where the political patronage system is still in style. It doesn’t make any sense there, however, and it certainly doesn’t make any sense here. If Bernal truly wants to be sheriff, he should volunteer for every training opportunity, work his way up the ranks and try again when he has picked up some management experience and a clue or two.

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City Hall columnist Jeff Mitchell over at the Salinas Californian is the only reporter type I’ve known who takes pictures of his awards and posts them on Facebook, or anywhere else. If he’d like, I’d be glad to make a printout of this column and turn it into another award for him. Call it the “Monterey Bay Partisan Award for Journalism that Blows Up in the Journalist’s Face.”

It’s a small story but worth telling just because, well, because it is so small.

Mitchell wrote in his Californian column  Monday that Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane has proved his unworthiness for public office for posting a Facebook photo that shows him and four other men in a vehicle. One of the men is in the back seat and he’s holding a can of Coors Light beer. Mitchell concludes based on nothing at all that it’s an open container and he reports that his buddies in law enforcement tell him it’s a crime to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Where Mitchell goes astray is figuring that the can is open. No way to tell. He also concludes absent any facts that the vehicle is mobile. And he also forgets about that part of California law that makes it OK to have an open container in a bus, limo or taxi. Looks like a taxi from my vantage point.

The cool thing about the column is that Mitchell can use the same headline, ” McShane Post Shows Questionable Judgment,” on the retraction.

In fairness to Mitchell, he does do some good work at times. He did some important digging on financial abuses at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. But he lacks a sense of proportion. A can of Coors is not a hospital administrator’s secret pension.

McShane, like Mitchell, also gets it wrong sometimes. He’s young and he acts like it. It wasn’t smart to put the photo on Facebook because it does seem to sanction drinking and riding, at least at rodeo time. But does it rise to “Once again Councilman Steve McShane has proven he has no business being in local politics?” The Partisan thinks not.

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County supervisors in California are responsible for lots of things, from health care to jails to the potholes on your street. But few people pay much attention to the supes until a big land-use issue comes along.

Even something as relatively small as the Corral de Tierra shopping center proposal last year pulled the citizenry away from the TV and caused neighbors to argue over open space vs. private property rights. Suddenly the five supervisors were receiving the attention they should have been receiving day to day—attention of the sort that detects patterns. It turns out that when the issue is land use and the stakes are high, our supervisors are following a script written years ago.

I bring this up now because an important supervisorial contest is on the November ballot. It’s Ed Mitchell against John Phillips in District 2. It’s about who will represent the north end of the county but it should matter to you no matter where you live, because the script impacts land-used decisions countywide.

Will the script be followed when the supervisors vote on the upcoming Ferrini Ranch development along Highway 68? It depends on who wins in November.

Here’s how it goes:

For most significant development projects, the script gives the developer two votes from the start. Supervisor Fernando Armenta of District 1 and Supervisor Simon Salinas of District 4 are almost guaranteed yes votes. That’s partly because most of the larger development projects are on the Peninsula, a place that doesn’t matter to Armenta and Salinas. They represent parts of the Salinas Valley, so they have nothing to lose by voting for projects and plenty to lose when they vote against. Such as campaign contributions. Lose those and you lose cushy jobs.

Armenta once told a jarring story about how he sees development issues.

It was at a Monterey Herald editorial board meeting. I asked Armenta whether he had ever taken a stand against development interests. He chuckled and said that he had. He explained that it was during the debate over the current Monterey County general plan. Developer types and property owners who hope to develop their land some day were pushing a development-friendly version of the plan while environmentalist types were pushing a new, slower-growth version.

It had turned into a chess game, and the development forces and their buddies on the board thought they saw an opening. They decided to try to pass the development-friendly plan on a surprise vote before the opposition could figure out what was happening.

So at one Tuesday board meeting, then-Supervisor Jerry Smith introduced a surprise motion to approve the developers’ plan. Everyone then looked at Armenta.

Armenta said everyone assumed he would second the motion. Others on the board were ready to vote in favor but didn’t want to second the motion because it would become too obvious that the fix was in.

“I just sat there,” Armenta said, grinning.

I asked him why.

He said it was simply because everyone expected him to second the motion because he was such a pro-development guy. He said he needed to teach “them” a lesson about taking him for granted. In other words, he wanted people to know that if they wanted him to vote for their project, they’d better ask nicely. His support wasn’t automatic. There were conditions. By the way, Armenta did not seem at all embarrassed by what he was saying.

The script continues. Though her vote is not nearly as automatic as those of Armenta and Salinas, Supervisor Jane Parker is a good bet to vote against large development projects of the sort that create traffic and water problems and upset environmentalists. Most developments.

So it’s now 2-1. What about Dave Potter, the cagey one?

If you were to go back through his land-use votes over the years, you might not detect a pattern. Like I said, he’s cagey.

If the development is in his district—maybe in Carmel Valley, Corral de Tierra or the southern coast–and if there is considerable opposition, the script calls for Potter to vote no, but only after making a deal with his co-star, Supervisor Lou Calcagno.

Now it appears to be a 2-2 tie. But remember. Calcagno and Potter have already made a deal. The vote is actually 3-2 in favor of the project. Potter can tell the neighborhood opposition that he did his best to stop it and he can tell the developer about how he and Lou made it happen.

There can be deviations from the script, occasional ad libs. Which is OK with the players as long as the story turns out right.

So why does it matter who wins in November? Calcagno is retiring from the board.

His District 2 replacement will be either Ed Mitchell or John Phillips. If Mitchell wins, they’ll have to write a new script.

Mitchell is the feisty land-use activist, a fixture at board meetings, a longtime neighborhood organizer in Prunedale. He’s the troublemaker in the white cowboy hat. Mitchell worked for years as a contract compliance officer and he’s a detail guy. He has watched as the county for years has made empty promises about providing water to the dry parts of his district. Whenever a land-use proposal goes to the board, he wants to know where the water is coming from.

Phillips is the more polished of the two. He is a retired Superior Court judge who has won great admiration for his work developing and operating the Rancho Cielo youth ranch, which has provided vocational and educational alternatives for hundreds of at-risk youngsters. He’s also much more of a behind-the-scenes guy than Mitchell. For years now, he has played an informal but key role in helping to select local lawyers for judicial appointments.

Phillips is well known and well liked within the upper crust but no so well known to the general public. While Mitchell’s motivations are fairly clear—he wants to solve problems in his district and disrupt the script on land-use issues—Phillips’ intentions are less clear. So are his views on development and land-use issues.

Which brings us back to the point of this missive. This runoff election is important well beyond the confines of North County. While people living in Pacific Grove and Carmel and King City won’t have a vote in November, they still have an important stake. That’s why they should go to campaign forums and ask questions. How would you have voted on the last general plan, Judge Phillips? Have you received campaign contributions from developers? Mr. Mitchell, can you see yourself supporting a large residential development anywhere? How about on farmland? What defines a good project?

The people of PG and Carmel and King City also should make it clear to the media that those kinds of questions need to be asked, and answered.

Voters in Pacific Grove and Carmel and King City who already know which candidate they prefer also should do one more thing. Campaigns, unfortunately, run on money. Voters with strong feelings about the future of Monterey County should be making campaign contributions now if they want a say on how this plot turns out.

If you think the 255-home Ferrini Ranch subdivision would be a good thing to add along Highway 68, you should consider sending a campaign contribution to Phillips, or volunteering to help in his campaign. If you worry about traffic along Highway 68 or other ramifications of what amounts to leap-frog development, you’d be better off helping the Mitchell campaign instead.

No matter where you live.

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KSBW television says at the end of General Manager Joe Heston’s latest on-air editorial that the station welcomes responsible replies. Even though my middle name is Responsible, it’s hard to tell whether this will meet the standard, so here goes nothing.

The topic was surveillance cameras.

Years ago, writer Hunter Thompson was defending his style of rule-breaking journalism. He wrote that the only objective form of journalism was a surveillance camera in a store, but he corrected himself, saying that even that didn’t qualify because someone could decide when to turn it on and off.

That’s part of what’s wrong with Heston’s latest editorial, in which he gives unconditional support to installation of police surveillance cameras. (Not everywhere, of course, but in high-crime neighborhoods.) He anoints them as infallible, even headlining his piece “Cameras don’t lie.” The truth is, as even Heston knows, they do fib and they create misimpressions. Even law enforcement sees it that way. Oftentimes when a video camera catches a cop smacking someone around, the official line is that the camera didn’t record the events leading up to the smacking. “Oh, don’t be misled by what you saw on camera,” they tell us. “That’s out of context.”

When two Salinas cops recently shot and killed a man holding pruning shears, the action was caught by two cameras, but we were told they only caught a tiny bit of the part where he lunged at the officers.

I agree that surveillance cameras can be useful in the right place and the right time, but I don’t share Heston’s enthusiasm for their widespread use or his trust in their accuracy. I also am bothered by the way he dismisses people who don’t agree with him.

“With cities using surveillance cameras in public areas,” he tells us, “it should remind people that if you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to worry about.” In other words, if you don’t like it, you must be up to no good.

It is one of the worst arguments possible: I must be right because anyone who disagrees with me should be ignored.

The city of Salinas recently started using surveillance cameras and Seaside is about to start. Heston tells us that people shouldn’t worry because there are lots of cameras out there already—TV cameras, cell phone cameras, security cameras. Which is a little like saying don’t worry about a new source of pollution because there’s already a lot of pollution.

Heston concludes, “When an innocent bystander is killed during a community disturbance and a police officer is knocked unconscious by a bottle to the head, surveillance cameras may, sadly, be the only fearless, accurate, yet ever-silent witnesses to the crime. In those cases, the camera would be the Eye of Truth.”

Heston apparently doesn’t watch much baseball and hasn’t seen those instant replays of close calls. It’s a new thing in Major League Baseball this year. When the coach thinks the umpire got it wrong, he can ask for officials to watch the play again, on camera, in slow motion. As often as not, the replay from one angle makes it appear the umpire is right but the replay from another angle shows the coach is right.

Can both be right? Probably not. Can both be wrong? Absolutely. As Nietzsche said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

By the way, any sort of reply to this editorial is invited, responsible or not, but those of you submitting the irresponsible type are encouraged to make note of that at the beginning so you don’t startle me.

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One of the best campaign commercials ever

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Salinas City Councilwoman Kimbley Craig is in the advertising business, so it stands to reason she could come up with a top-notch campaign commercial. Does this mean I’m endorsing her? Heck no. But I endorse the point she is making.

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The Monterey Bay Partisan is two weeks old now, so I thought some loyal readers might like an update.

With some 200 hits on a good day, traffic has been better than expected, considering that all the writing so far has been mine, a fact that can try even my patience. Technical assistance has been provided thus far by my lovely family and my lovely friend Paul Skolnick. Some of you Fresno types may remember from his Channel 30 days.

 YOU TOO CAN BE A BIGSHOT WRITER

Which takes me to Appeal No. 1. I thought I had made it clear early on that I am looking for others to share the writing. After you have liked us on Facebook, after you have hit the share button and gone to the site itself to hit the subscribe button, your work is not done.

You need to leave some comments at the end of the pieces your read, AND THEN WRITE YOUR OWN DARNED PIECE. Write about the topics covered here or write about something entirely different. You can write about the potholes on your street or man’s inhumanity to man, especially local man’s inhumanity to local man. Pitch your project or poke holes in someone else’s. Write about Cal Am! Write about the upcoming election! Write about how that darned Monterey County Weekly hasn’t written a word about the Monterey Bay Partisan. I can’t promise you I’ll put everything on the website, but I will tend to err on the side of putting it out there.

Sure, we’re small now, but most great, world-changing ideas started out small. You may wonder why you would write something for a blog with a three-figure circulation. I’ll tell you why. Unless you’re Charles Krauthammer, your writing isn’t getting much play in the local dailies and weeklies. This isn’t supposed to be just Royal Calkins’ blog. It’s supposed to be a community blog. Let’s get this party started. You can find me at calkinsroyal@gmail.com

 CALLING ALL ANGELS

Which takes me to Appeal No. 2. I am doing this out of passion for journalism and to fill some gaps in the local news and opinion scene (do I have to spell everything out?). I’m not trying to make a living out of it. I’ve got other things to do that actually make me a little money. But, and let me be absolutely clear about this, I COULD USE A LITTLE HELP HERE.

Some wonderful folks approached me after my much-celebrated departure from the Monterey Herald in February and offered to help me launch a site something like this (actually they were thinking bigger and better, but here we are.) A little financial help was extended, accepted, greatly appreciated and depleted before I decided to try to get this moving without the complications that committees can create.

I am finding now that despite that aforementioned passion, expenses can be the enemy of resolve. There are fees for the website host, for the domain name, for this and for that. I hope eventually to be able to pay for some of the contributions that will be prompted by Appeal No. 1. And now some of my wiser friends are telling me that libel insurance is a must if this site is to be as vigorous as the community deserves. And then there’s Freelance Guild dues and that kid in college, etc., etc.

So here’s the plan. I am getting the Monterey Bay Partisan incorporated as a non-profit, and then I will ruthlessly seek out those among you whose extra money is just sitting around looking for something to do. The aim is to raise enough to support some actual journalism, some digging into the things that need digging into, instead of relying on mere opinionizing. Or is that opinionating? At the moment, for instance, I am working on a piece about some surprising security breaches at a local defense facility and a fraud aimed at seniors.

When newspapers started shrinking, one of the first casualties was investigative reporting. As newspapers morph into 24/7 news operations aiming to out-Twitter the competition, what passes for in-depth reporting of any kind will become a memory. I won’t say that blogs like this are the answer, but I don’t see many other candidates out there.

I bring this up now as something akin to market research. I’d like to get some sense of whether the idea of private sponsorships is practicable or not. If you think you might be interested in lending a financial hand, please give me a shout at calkinsroyal@gmail.com. I won’t spread your name around, but if and when I do line up sponsors, I would hope to acknowledge them on the website.

I don’t plan to sell ads. I know how much they can taint the editorial processes. (Actually, it is less of a factor than you might expect at most newspapers, but when it happens it creates a smell that is not quickly forgotten.)

So if you’ve got a few bucks, or a buncha bucks, that could use some exercise, you’ve found the place. Again, send me a note at calkinsroyal@gmail.com, and we can talk about it.

THAT DARNED SHOE

When my friend Paul and I put that profile of a pelican at the top of this page, it never occurred to us that anyone would see anything but a pelican profile. But we have learned the hard way that some people, and you know who you are, look at the pelican and see a high-heeled shoe. Take a look. You’ll see what I mean.

This high-heeled shoe instead of a pelican is not a good thing.Branding and marketing and all.

So look here soon for another change. Obviously, our budget doesn’t allow for any meaningful testing of designs or other factors, but I’m headed out to find something new for the top. Maybe I’ll find a pelican that doesn’t look like a shoe. I have reached out to some photographer friends, hoping they might share some iconic Monterey Bay images but I guess they’re busy trying to come up with sponsorship money instead.

With any luck, I’ll find a beautiful beach scene, or some perfectly photogenic otters. And if you see the otters and think one of them looks like, say, Joe Heston, please don’t tell me.

Later.

chiclet_p_50x87

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PURELY OPINION: The Monterey Herald gets one right

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For many readers, a good editorial is one they agree with. As long as the conclusion or recommendation is on target, the supporting information is secondary. For good editorial writers, however, the supporting information is the most important element. After that come the usefulness of the analysis, the crafting of the piece and, finally and in a distant fourth place, the actual position taken.

An editorial is an opportunity for a writer schooled in a topic to use any number of creative tools to analyze and explain an issue of public importance. Unlike the beat reporter, largely constrained by the rules of he said/she said journalism, the newspaper editorial writer is free to use various writing devices to demystify anything from water politics to Dave Potter’s political longevity. That’s why astute readers are likely to disregard the most subjective passages while keying in on the rest of the package.

The importance of the underlying information is why I was pleased to see the announcement in Sunday’s Monterey Herald that Phyllis Meurer has been added to the Herald’s editorial board.

This means Meurer will have a place at the table when the four-person board considers its positions on various issues. Presumably, her vote will carry  as much weight as that of the other members, Publisher Gary Omernick, Editor Don Miller and editorial writer Tom Honig. (Sometimes publishers insist on veto power, which seldom works out well.)

The upside here is that Meurer brings a deep understanding of government, politics and public policy in Monterey County. She is a former Salinas city councilwoman, a onetime leader of the League of Women Voters and the wife of former Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer. What she doesn’t know about public affairs in Monterey County, her husband does.

Some readers of the Monterey Bay Partisan will remember that I was editor of the Herald until February and I wrote the editorials for the past several years. I am not a fan of what has happened to the editorial page since my departure – a sharp right turn in the choice of columns and editorial cartoons and a decline in the number of local editorials and columns. Some of that is a function of the relatively short tenures and divided focus of the editorial board members.

Omernick has been publisher about six years but the realities of modern newspapering require him to concentrate on the business side of the operation, both here and at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Miller has spent his entire newspaper career at the Sentinel, where he continues to serve as editor even while holding the same position in Monterey. He is counting the days to retirement. Libertarian-leaning Honig also spent his entire newspaper career in Santa Cruz before being replaced by Miller. Honig’s relatively short Peninsula experience prior to his recent Herald assignment consisted of working for the Armanasco public relations firm and the Panetta Institute. I write about their backgrounds not as criticism but to explain their challenge. It’s tough to thoughtfully editorialize on local issues when your idea of local involves a different locality. Meurer’s appointment to the editorial board can help change all that. She has a remarkable depth of local knowledge and an endless list of local contacts to help the Herald unravel the issues.

Still, there already has been grousing in some quarters—progressive quarters—about Meurer’s new role. I believe much of it is misplaced and, even if it isn’t, it really doesn’t matter all that much.

One issue on the left side of the political dial is her leadership role in the successful campaign against last year’s Measure M, which was intended to stop the proposed Monterey Downs racetrack development at Fort Ord. She told me she was motivated largely by her belief that the proper government decision-making process is preferable to decision-making by referendum. I strongly disagree with her, largely because the government process in the land-use arena is easily and often corrupted. But because she probably doesn’t see the government process the same way, her position is sincere if not valid.

During that campaign, I called Meurer to ask how she defended the highly deceptive advertising her camp was using in its campaign against Measure M. I wasn’t satisfied with her answer, which essentially was that the other side was being deceptive as well. But I did come away feeling that she truly believed what she was saying. Some of my environmentalist friends who were on the opposite side of the issue have suggested that she was somehow bought off. She was not.

Also from the progressives comes concern about Meurer’s husband, Fred, who ran Monterey’s City Hall for decades before retiring and taking a position with the Panetta Institute. Fred was an exceptionally capable and accomplished city manager who could balance a budget in the morning and fix the Planning Department copy machine before lunch.

In recent years, unfortunately, Fred Meurer has been vilified by some as a tool of business interests, the hotel industry, the good ol’ boys of local commerce. I understand the perception. The local economy and city government revenues are so dependent on the hotel industry and other elements of the local power structure. (Did I mention Cal Am yet?) I don’t embrace the accusation, however, because when a City Council has five members, city managers quickly learn how to count to three. Those who didn’t like Meurer’s administration should have spent less time complaining and more time getting their candidates elected or lobbying the successful candidates. Fred Meurer would have been an equally forceful and successful manager on behalf of an entirely different sort of city council.

Phyllis Meurer is an independent and highly capable woman who has nothing to apologize for as she assumes this new role. While I was at the Herald, the publisher talked often about bringing a woman from the community onto the all-male editorial board. I made a series of suggestions but never mentioned Phyllis because of Fred’s City Hall role at the time. If not for that, I certainly would have recommended her.

It doesn’t particularly concern me that she favors Monterey Downs. For reasons I never understood even though I was there, the paper editorialized early on in favor of that project. Never mind that it is seriously misplaced and doesn’t have an adequate water supply and that horse racing is the sport of scoundrels. It doesn’t concern me that her husband has been a huge figure in local politics and public policy for decades. I am won over by knowing she brings with her a wealth of knowledge about how things work around here, about who pulls the strings and even about where the bodies are buried.

One thing that does concern me is that her new role could help cement the Herald’s fear of offending Cal Am. Fred Meurer has been a consistent supporter of Cal Am, which has developed a loyal following in the business community by engineering a pricing structure that favors large commercial customers over residential water users. Phyllis Meurer will provide a valuable service if she demonstrates her independence and research skills in this area.

During the recent campaign over Measure O, the unsuccessful ballot measure in favor of public ownership of the Cal Am water system, Monterey County Weekly published an absolutely excellent editorial in favor of the proposition. Beyond the appropriate conclusion, what made it so strong was the information and analysis it presented. It was unusually long, long enough to discuss each significant issue and explain it to a population that was clearly confused. It was so well researched that it would have been instructive even to the staunchest opponent of Measure O. The Herald’s editorial opposing the initiative was little more than a rehash of Cal Am talking points.

It is my hope that with Phyllis Meurer aboard, the Herald will be reminded of the importance of research no matter which direction the paper leans on specific issus. As I said at the start here, editorials succeed not by how much they persuade but by how much they inform. I expect Meurer to provide some of the necessary information and, when she doesn’t have it, to ask that it be provided in some fashion before an editorial decision is made. If she draws from her strong League of Women Voters experience, the Herald and its readers will be well served—even when its opinions are all wet.

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4:40 p.m. Update: District Attorney’s Office says Alvarado had attempted to set curtains on fire at his family home and would not comply with police direction when at least two officers arrived. When told to put his hands in the air, the DA’s Office said, he instead went at the officers with a cell phone in his hand and was shot. DA’s Office said it did not know whether a Taser or other device had been used.

Update: Monterey campaign manager and public relations specialist Spencer Critchley says in comments below that the no comments from the officials do not reflect a no-comment position. It’s just that they can’t comment. Critchley is the acting public information officer for the Salinas Police Department.

Text of original piece:

If Salinas police had arrested Frank Alvarado early Thursday, they would have been required to provide some details, starting with why he had been arrested. State law mandates the release of some basic information in order to prevent what would amount to secret arrests.

But since Alvarado was killed, state law apparently doesn’t require the Police Department to say much of anything about it. Salinas police and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office essentially have revealed nothing about what led to the 5 a.m. shooting on the east side of Salinas.

So what we have here amounts to an almost secret killing.

The District Attorney’s Office will now conduct an investigation. It will interview the officers involved and any witnesses. It will look at photos from the scene of the shooting, examine bullet casings, examine Alvarado’s criminal record, wait several weeks for results of toxicology testing, and then make an announcement.

Unless DA investigators determine that the officers acted criminally, all the public is likely to hear about the outcome is that charges will not be filed. Then the Police Department will announce some time later that no department policies had been violated.

Details? The whats and whys of what actually happened? They may never be made public. If the investigations support the officers’ actions, officialdom may find it necessary for the sake of argument to say what Alvarado did to prompt the shooting, but if any contrary evidence exists, we’re not likely to hear about it.

It is easy to understand why the authorities would want to keep the information under wraps. This was the fourth case this year of Salinas police fatally shooting someone, and the most recent previous case prompted considerable protest after a video went viral showing officers shooting a man who may or may not have been threatening them with pruning shears.

The authorities don’t want more protest marches, more angry neighborhood meetings. But there is some reason to suspect that this official silent treatment could backfire. The public, and especially Alvarado’s family, will want answers. The authorities, after formally adopting a no comment posture, could find themselves locked into that posture, no matter how awkward it becomes. Anyone thinking the public reaction would be “oh well, that’s the way it goes” ought to think again.

This is not to suggest the police did anything wrong. Alvarado was a parolee with a history of violence. But the police don’t answer just to themselves or the District Attorney’s Office. They answer to the public. This “no comment” position isn’t acceptable.

Salinas police officials have said they are working to regain the community’s trust. They are going about it entirely the wrong way.

A reporter for the Salinas Californian tweeted this morning that DA Dean Flippo “may” have more to say later today. Go for it, Dean. You’d be doing the community and probably even the Police Department a favor.

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PURELY OPINION: Tear the pump house down

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If Cal Am water proposed building a pump house like the one it owns on Eardley Avenue in Pacific Grove, it would be met by considerable squawking. Too big. Wrong location. What about the trees? Make  ‘em pay for an environmental impact report.

Why then is a proposal to tear it down sparking a similarly negative reaction?

Because it’s old.

Historic preservation is a grand thing. People and institutions on the Peninsula have done a rather good job of it and it enriches the lives of everyone who passes through here. The places that have ignored history in favor of “progress” are much the poorer for it.

But not everything old is intrinsically worth saving. The modest, one-story Cal Am structure, which is no longer in use, looks to be somewhat interesting. Encircled by trees, it is not entirely an eyesore even with its boarded-up doors and windows.  PG Mayor Bill Kampe has suggested putting a fence around it to keep people out while officialdom ponders its fate.

It is a good thing that some thought is going into this, but it would be a shame if the thinking is followed by a bunch of spending. We don’t need an expensive study to tell us what we already know. It’s an old pump house that isn’t used any more. And we don’t need to make Cal Am or anyone else spend a bunch of money to restore it. Cal Am customers are already paying too much for everything Cal Am-related, and most Pacific Grove taxpayers would rather pay for street repairs or a functional police department.

I say tear it down and plant some more trees.

Disagree? Tell me why. Add a comment below or send a commentary to calkinsroyal@gmail and we’ll share it.

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Those “Please Don’t Litter” ads will go back up on Monterey Salinas Transit buses now that the recycling coalition has agreed to make them look more commercial and less of a public service.

recyclephotoiMST officials had declared Monday that the ads sponsored by the Central Coast Recycling Media Coalition amounted to “issue” advertising. And though the message was benign, MST General Manager Carl Sedoryk said he feared that allowing such advertising would put the bus system on a slippery slope toward more controversial messages about issues such as religion and abortion.

So, to make them less about any message and more about commerce, the district will pay to add the logos of some of the corporate members of the coalition, which is mostly made up of cities and waste management districts.

Waste haulers Waste Management and Republic Services are also among the membership and they presumably have a vested interest in stopping littering because they make money hauling and recycling items that might have become litter. Or something like that.

The district also will give the coalition an extra month of advertising, so look for the ads to grace the buses well into autumn.

The district’s advertising policy, printed on its website, says it does not allow “political, religious or sexually explicit advertising nor does MST accept alcohol or tobacco messages.”

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The words “Please Don’t Litter” are about as controversial as “Don’t drive drunk” or “No U-Turn,” but apparently they’re too loaded for officials of the Monterey-Salinas Transit Authority.

The regional bus authority has canceled a $7,605 contract with the Central Coast Recycling Media Coalition to have anti-littering ads placed on the sides of 39 MST buses this summer. The signs had been posted on some of the buses already but were being removed Monday. Meanwhile, officials of the Santa Cruz Metro system said they had no problem with the same ads being posted on buses there.

The ads show a gull and a crab entangled with a cigarette butt and a hamburger container respectively and declare “Please don’t litter. The difference you make is real.”

recyclephotoiMST has no problem with the message itself and certainly isn’t in favor of littering, said General Manager Carl Sedoryk. The problem, he said, is that the ads are “issue ads” that take a position rather than promote merchandise or services. While other transit agencies have adopted policies that allow them to exercise discretion over the types of issue ads to accept, Sedoryk said public agencies that accept issue ads could be put in the position of having to accept other issue ads that are more controversial.

Sedoryk said MST’s goal is to avoid controversy and to stick with a simple and clear policy. He said issue ads of almost any sort can lead to efforts to place ads on much more controversial topics such as abortion, religion and gun control.

Though the district’s aim has always been to have a clear policy, determining what amounts to an issue ad and what constitutes a permissible commercial ad can be a “very fine line,” the manager said. Advertising from social service groups and non-profits generally would be accepted if they are promoting a service but not if they are merely promoting a cause, he said. Monterey City Councilwoman Libby Downey, who chairs the MST board, could not be reached to comment Monday.

Transit districts from Seattle to New York have wrestled in recent years with a similar issue but involving advertising far more pointed and controversial than those being rejected here. In 2012, ads placed by a pro-Israel group denouncing Islamists as “savages” led to legal action and a decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York to prohibit ads that it “reasonable foresees would immediately incite or promote violence” or an “immediate breach of the peace.” Anti-littering ads presumably would be acceptable under that policy.

In Seattle, ads with Middle Eastern themes prompted transit officials to tighten their advertising policy but the rules were later loosened when the financial impact on the transit authority became clear.

This summer, Middle Eastern advocacy groups have taken out large ads on the sides of District of Columbia Metro buses to argue over the most contentious of issues. The Washington Post reported that one group bought ads featuring a drawing of Uncle Sam waving a Israeli flag and decrying U.S. support for Palestinian occupation, and another group countered with ads featuring a photo of Adolph Hitler and referring to “Islamic Jew-hatred.”

Sedoryk said MST had rejected previous ads as being too political but this was the first time the ads had actually been printed  installed on buses.

“The policy was adopted by the board (about a decade ago) and we have to enforce it.” He added, however, that the coalition could choose to appeal the rejection either to him or the authority’s board of directors.

A representative of the Central Coast Recycling Media Coalition said an appeal was likely. The coalition is made up of 24 public agencies and waste disposal operations, including the cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, Del Rey Oaks, Pacific Grove, Salinas and Sand City and Monterey County.

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Americanization could fix soccer’s fatal flaws

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The great thing about watching soccer on TV is that if you miss something, you don’t miss anything.

I know, I know. Everyone else in the world can’t be wrong, so I have been watching the World Cup games on the tube and have found them somewhat interesting. In fact, they have reminded me of some of my favorite memories. Like the time I went for a walk with my brother and we walked and walked for quite a long time and didn’t get home until very late. Or the time we were going to visit friends for the weekend but they got called away for a family emergency at the last minute and we couldn’t go, so we stayed home and played Canasta.

Others undoubtedly have made suggestions about how to make soccer more American and, therefore, more interesting to Americans. Some ideas of my own occurred to me while watching the Costa Rica/Netherlands contest, in which the most interesting thing was trying to figure out if there is a rule that required the Netherlands goalkeeper to wear that hideous green outfit or if the idea is just to make the goalie wear colors that clash horribly with those of his teammates.

I thought I was beginning to understand how long soccer games last but not only does the clock go the wrong way but additional time apparently is added arbitrarily in order to avoid making the players tense.

The most obvious good idea regarding soccer would be to make the goal bigger. Sure, low-scoring games can be intense, but no-scoring games, not so much. It was cool when Timmy Lincecum threw a no-hitter last week, but what if the Padres pitcher had thrown one as well? I would have asked for my money back.

More fights would be great. Wrong and absolutely inappropriate, of course, but great. Come to think of it, I’ve watched the equivalent of three World Cup games, lasting approximately five months or so, and I don’t think there have been any fights. How tough would those Belgians have been if Tim Howard had started swinging? Huh? And with the fights would come more ejections. My favorite obscure game is water polo, in which most of the scoring comes while one of the players treads water out of bounds. Toss a Brazilian soccer fellow or two in the penalty box and watch a real game break out on the field.

I won’t recommend cheerleaders. Should have been banned from American sports years ago. But how about some pep bands. They could play the whole time because they certainly wouldn’t be interrupting anything. In fact, FIFA should put a basketball court next to the soccer field so there would be something to watch.

Clearly the game would be improved if the players could use their hands. Whoever thought of the no-hands rule must have been joking. Or teach someone a lesson. If using hands is too much of a change for the foreigners who like foreign food and things the way they are, how about using a much harder ball so the players would really have to put some thought into letting it bounce off their heads. Everyone, athletes included, need to learn that choices come with consequences.

You’ve seen those penalty shots, where the defensive team lines up some players who have to jump to try to block shots. How about if they get to stand on another guy’s shoulders like acrobats? More opportunities for athletes of a different sort.

The only other idea that comes to me is the goalie throwdown. Allow one person on each team to tackle the goalie whenever the ball if within, say, 10 meters. The defending team could have someone blocking for the goalie, like a fullback, which would take a defender out of the action and open the net.

There are other possibilities, of course, like trap doors in key spots or using an invisible ball. They say it is hard to find qualified soccer officials. Well, how about no officials at all? What do they really add to the game?

I could go on and on but at some point some of my ideas might begin to seem a little forced.  Also, I’ve got to get back to the tube. I hear that some of  yesterday’s games are about to wrap up.

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