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500_F_29758468_l9QixsSx8YdGJXteaQQYqGL70OmarU0SIt’s a good idea to have Monterey County represented on the mayors’ water authority. The agency’s main role is to push for a desalination plant to help ease the water shortage and to help oversee its construction and operation. Without county representation, residents of unincorporated areas of the Peninsula would have almost no say in the process.

It would not be a good idea, however, to have county Supervisor Dave Potter represent the county as planned. As ideas go, that’s a bad one, a very bad one, a no-good, rotten, horrible, what-are-they-thinking type of idea. It’s like using the wrong tool, painting your house the wrong color, or hiring a plumber to fix your car.

Even under considerable pressure from the state, getting a desalination plant built is proving to be a huge challenge for local officialdom. It’s complicated, controversial and costly. It doesn’t help that the leading players in the process are California American Water and the California Public Utilities Commission, two entities with public approval ratings about on par with the Kardashians.

Among the problems with Potter is that he could have been the public official who led the Peninsula toward a water solution years ago but never really tried. He was in the perfect position. He has been on the Board of Supervisors for more than a decade. He simultaneously served on both the California Coastal Commission and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, two key players in the water world. Instead, Potter played a low-key but important role in actually derailing the previous effort to build a desal plant. Cal Am’s initial effort was getting nowhere fast when it completely crashed and burned after it was discovered that Monterey County’s official delegate to the process, Steve Collins, was being paid under the table by the project engineer. Collins says Potter and Supervisor Lou Calcagno engineered and approved his actions. They deny that, of course, but there’s little doubt in the public’s mind that neither of the supervisors has been forthcoming about what they did and when they did it.

In the court of public opinion, Potter has pleaded ignorance. Many students of local governance don’t buy it. Potter gets deeply involved in most issues of importance. If he was as uninvolved as he claims to have been in round one of the desalination process, he was derelict. If he was as involved as he should have been, he knew what Collins was up to.

Potter is a remarkably intelligent and crafty politician who has flirted with serious financial and legal issues throughout his career. He has been on the wrong end of several personal lawsuits, and he needed to turn to rather mysterious financing to avoid bankruptcy. His former wife once alleged he had forged her name to paperwork for a second mortgage on a house he had purchased from the family of a development lawyer. He brought us the hugely controversial Monterey Downs racetrack proposal. That he has remained in good standing with voters is testimony to his considerable political skills or the public’s forgetfulness.

It is true that of the five county supervisors, Potter is the most knowledgeable about desalination. That is not necessarily a good thing, however.

One of the biggest obstacles to successful completion of Cal Am’s current desalination plan is public skepticism, both about Cal Am’s ability to carry it off and about the price tag. The failed process previously and the current one have been start-and-stop affairs. Some of that is natural because the list of regulatory agencies involved is monumental, but the constant delays also have raised questions about Cal Am’s ability and even its commitment. While the process stretches on, Cal Am merrily collects considerable profits from the Carmel River water it sells to Peninsula residents, and it is virtually guaranteed to be repaid for every expense attributed to the desalination effort, every expense plus a 10-percent profit.

Potter’s appointment to the authority board would not reduce the skepticism one ounce. In fact, it would add considerable unnecessary weight. His motives and allegiances would be questioned at every turn.

At the moment, county officials are awaiting an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office on whether Potter or other county officials would have a conflict of interest. There is considerable litigation swirling around the players in the desalination arena, and the county is heavily involved in all that. But letting an AG’s opinion be the decider would be the worst kind of cop-out. Potter may not have a conflict in the narrow legal sense in that none of the participants in the process is likely to wire money directly into his bank account or stuff cash into his pockets, but he could hardly be more conflicted.

Potter’s wife is a hotel executive and the local hotel industry is Cal Am’s biggest supporter on various water issues. Potter had a highly publicized legal dispute with one of Cal Am’s potential desalination competitors, Nader Agha, after soliciting him for an unorthodox and essentially illegal campaign contribution. Another potential competitor is represented by local public relations kingpin David Armanasco, whose interests usually mesh with Potter’s. Among other things, Armanasco negotiated the out-of-court settlement that prevented details of the Potter-Agha matter from becoming public.

So what should the county do? It is considering paying its share of past expenses for the mayors’ authority and becoming a dues-paying member, complete with representation on the authority board. Potter already is a member of the authority’s governance committee, but it remains possible that he could be removed before any permanent harm occurs.

Calcagno is out as the county’s representative. He leaves office at the start of the year and one of the first questions about any property proposed for desalination purposes is whether Calcagno owns it.

Supervisors Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas are out as well. Armenta has absolutely no standing on the Peninsula, and Salinas, despite being a former state legislator, has shown no inclination to study Peninsula issues.

That leaves Jane Parker, which is a very good thing.

Now that Potter has become a full-time champion of development interests, Parker is THE environmentalist of the board. Her critics in the hospitality industry and at the chamber of commerce would violently oppose her involvement, which would represent yet another mistake on their part.

Parker is indeed close with environmental interests who fear that a large desalination plant would be growth inducing. She, therefore, could not be counted on to be a gung ho, no-questions-asked supporter of the current process. Which means that project advocates would need to convince her of the worthiness of their decisions. Which means that, unlike Potter’s assent, Parker’s approval would have meaning. If funny business were to break out as it did in the first attempt, Potter would likely be an accomplice. Parker would be the first to point out the problem.

Though there is good reason to worry about the necessity, expense and viability of desalinated water, there also is good reason for this project to continue. If there is not a confluence of additional conservation and other smaller projects that combine to ease our water woes, desalination could in fact be the key to preventing a state-ordered cutback in water usage, a cutback that could devastate the Peninsula’s economy. It is a solution with a long list of harmful side effects, but for the most part those who oppose it are those whose livelihoods are not dependent on an  adequate water supply.

Too much has gone wrong with the process and there are too many unanswered questions to warrant full support at this point. The principals need to step it up. But if the process is to proceed, if it is to have any hope of gaining the public support it needs to prove worthwhile, Potter should be on the sidelines and Parker should be in the thick of things.

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strategyThe race for Monterey County sheriff invariably becomes one of the most spirited local political races. And the current contest between incumbent Scott Miller and challenger Steve Bernal certainly fits the bill.

Even before the June primary, the sheriff’s race had been peppered with words like sleazy, shadowy, corrupt, snubbed, axed, no confidence and smear. And those were just the words employed by the folks trying to chronicle the no-holds-barred affair.

As the campaign comes down to the final five weeks, I anticipate receiving all sorts of highly uninformative mailers to aid me in making my choice. They, no doubt, will leave me slapping my head in wonderment at how stupid campaign consultants think we are.

As I see it, Miller is running on the assertion he has both the experience and education to deserve another four-year term and his opponent is a mere deputy, who has never administered anything more complex than an occasional move between Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.

Bernal, on the other hand, claims to better understand how deputies and the public regard the Sheriff’s Office and how it must be changed to better combat and prevent crime. He asserts that Miller has lost the confidence of the men and women in the department — or at least the current leaders of the deputies’ union and their friends.

That’s it in a nutshell. I leave it to the minions of the local media to get at the truth behind all the gates – PACgate, Uniformgate, Spokesmangate, Debategate, Songate, Friendofsongate and Burglarygate — swinging around the sheriff’s contest on squeaky hinges.

But I’ve had one nagging question, still unexplained, about Bernal since the plucky, country crooner announced his candidacy. What kind of candidate for an office with a four-year term makes a 10-year plan the centerpiece of his campaign, as Bernal has?

I would expect a more realistic four-year plan, or if an extended platter of policies is needed, an eight-year plan or a 12-year plan. You know, something evenly divisible by four.

A 10-year plan — a phrase reminiscent of those boffo Soviet five-year plans for agriculture, industry and world conquest back in the Cold War — makes me suspect Bernal would count on 2-1/2 terms before retiring with a mighty fine pension. The plan makes no mention of such a retirement schedule for Bernal or any of his top appointees, who also would be in line for salary-sweetened pensions after 10 years.

Instead it includes vows to fight gangs, increase numbers of investigators, set up violent crime and cyber-sex units, improve communications within the jail and with the public, and other swell things.

Nowhere does it say why all this must take 10 years, or, for that matter, how it would be financed. But money’s not my question. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s why 10?

Is it just because 10 is a double-digit number, and it looks big? Is it because that’s how many fingers the average voter has on his or her hands? Is it some kind of power number in law enforcement circles?

Bernal’s website has promised his 10-year plan would be fleshed out during the campaign. Well, good. Maybe the candidate can explain what he plans to do in the first four years under his 10-year plan. After all, that’s what this election is about.

And that’s, as they used to say in print journalism, three times 10.

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UPDATE FROM ROYAL CALKINS: Very interesting to note that the Herald endorsed Miller today. Interesting because the Herald has been on a solid Republican run with its “suggestions” for statewide offices and Bernal, of course, is a creation of the local GOP. You can read the Herald’s endorsement here.

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SUSAN MEISTER: Books worth remembering on a desert isle

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Desert tropical island with palm trees.Larry Parson’s reflections on reading made me think about my OLLI class, the one I chose because its chief focus is Tolstoy’s “Ann Karenina,” a book I read as a late teenager contemplating the dark world of adulthood. Reading this book many years later is a very different experience. Maturity lends perspective, and my perspective is that nothing much has changed in the many layers of social and political life depicted in fanatical detail in that book. It took place in late 19th century Russia, but not so much has changed in 21st century America: the pettiness and ineffectiveness of bureaucracy, the war between the classes, the rejection of change even while it is barreling towards you at warp speed. Especially in regard to the role of women: has anything changed all that much in Mississippi or Arkansas or Texas? The themes of great books are of course universal, but you do not expect to see glimmers of your own society in the meeting rooms of a Russian agricultural committee as described by Tolstoy.

My reading habits have changed a lot. I once was a devotee of fiction, especially the world of the Victorians, with their repressed sexuality set inside intensely romantic settings, the weather wild and the country houses dominated by faultlessly clad swains. “Wuthering Heights” was an early favorite, my vision of Heathcliff aligned perfectly with the screen image of Laurence Olivier raw and manly against the Scottish moors. Soon I migrated to George Eliot, and “Middlemarch,” perhaps the greatest English language novel ever written, not only because of the compelling plot and the complex characters set in their rigid social setting, but because of the scathing intelligence of Eliot herself, an observer of character so precise and so deep that even today readings of her work provoke the surprise of yet another insight depicted in her pages.

But now I have little patience with most contemporary novels, perhaps because I have not ranged out into the international world of literary fiction enough, or perhaps because the real world, with its conflicts and tragedy, seem the plot of the greatest novel that might ever be written. Now George Packer, just about any essayist in The New Yorker, including Atul Gawande and Anthony Lane, claim my focus. My night table is sagging with biographies of Bach and Lawrence of Arabia; and I have essay collections by the amazing Rebecca Solnit waiting, too, along with books on contemporary issues by the great Thomas Friedman. I am now much more into fact than romance, though I occasionally dip into my vintage edition of poems by Auden and my old mentor Donald Hall.

Reading is my ultimate form of self indulgence. There are so many reasons not to read: Netflix, music practice, editorial writing, a new political campaign to which I am devoting myself, lunch with friends. I have every reason to duck the hard work of reading, because unless you participate with the author in his or her world, you are not really paying attention. My nearly greatest fear is not having enough books in my actual possession that are awaiting me. While I know there is little chance of that, I worry. And what if I were kidnapped and placed into solitary confinement? What books could I remember well enough to be my companion through whatever hardship might be on offer?

Here is my abbreviated list of fiction:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
David Copperfield (and almost everything else) by Charles Dickens
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Art is long, life is short. Next time, my list of non-fiction. If you’re interested

Susan Meister is a journalist who lives in Pebble Beach. She is a regular contributor to the Partisan.

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goofy_golfer_5It’s Thursday afternoon in south Salinas, and fighter jets are tearing across the sky. Depending on one’s point of view, they are making an unholy racket or thundering the sound of freedom.

This only happens once a year — for this, my dogs and cats are thankful — on California International Airshow weekend in Salinas.

For me, it means another once-a-year chance at one of the best secrets on the Central Coast. But before I divulge this marvel, grant me a modest digression.

Never in my 30-plus years of journalism did I write one of those stories of the genre “best kept secrets known only to locals.” You know the kind, they come with headlines that promise to reveal “10 hottest hideaways for revelings of those really in the know.”

Such stories I always considered shills for the tourist trade, or worse, the products of turncoats willing to reveal some of the few special places known only to people who live and work around here for a paltry handful of silver.

Never have I stooped to that mercenary level — until now.

It’s no surprise the Monterey Bay is a special place for the game of golf. Duh. There are world-famous courses and many other great and very good courses to beat golf balls around until you you are blue in the face.

I have played a lot of them, though I’ve never been invited to the private gems or paid through the nose for 18 on the most famous loops. But many times, I’ve played what I consider the most fantastic rounds of golf one could ever hope for on the Central Coast.

The opportunity only comes on Airshow weekends at the modest muni course Salinas Fairways.

If you tee off Saturday or Sunday about 12:30 p.m. and the course is not backed up by legions of weekend duffers who play as slowly as a blimp hovers over a Pebble Beach tournament, you will hit a stretch of back-nine holes cheek-to-jowl with the Salinas airport as the headline act screams down the runway.

Over the years, my partners and I have seen the Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds and the Snowbirds do their thing from tee boxes, fairways and greens at least as well as anyone sitting in the grandstands on the other side of the fence abutting the par-three 13th.

There is nothing like lining up a putt when two fighter jets are roaring just above the pines nearby, doing one of their collision-avoided-at-last-second stunts. It is both breathtaking and a perfect reason for blowing an easy five-footer with no break.

The best part of the show goes on while you play four or five holes. You walk down fairways, head tilted back, watching the sky and forgetting, for the moment, how wretched that last drive was. There are explosions, columns of colored smoke and planes rolling, spinning, soaring and tumbling.

Added bonus: the spectacular aerial happenings are free, included in the cost of a weekend round. If your timing is impeccable, you reach the 17th, another par-3 beside the airport grounds, after the show is over. Airshow attendees are lined up in cars, inching away from the parking area while you and your partners pull out short irons to go for the green.

By the time you clear the 18th and have put away a beer or soda, the Airshow traffic has dissipated and there’s nothing but clear skies on the roadways. And you head home with the ideal excuse for shooting another execrable 107 — All the noise from those freedom-loving jets put me off my game.

Keep this under your hat, OK.

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Court rules, again, that beaches aren’t commodities

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beach partySometimes the people win.

A San Mateo County judge ruled Wednesday that California’s beaches are public treasures, not businesses that can be closed like donut shops and used car lots. Just because someone has enough money to buy property along the shore doesn’t give them the right to put up gates and locks.

The ruling specifically affects only Martins Beach, a small slice of shoreline near Half Moon Bay, but it reestablishes important precedent for the entirety of the California coastline.

The property is owned by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who bought the 53 acres for $32.5 million in 2008. For much of the last century, the previous owners had charged for public access. Khosla blocked the access gate in 2010, saying he was worried about the cost of maintenance and liability insurance. When the Coastal Commission challenged him, he took the tack that business owners cannot be required to remain in business and that the government had no say in the matter.

The Surfrider Foundation and others successfully argued that public access to the shore trumps the billionaire’s argument. His analogy about forcing a business to remain in business might have been apt if applied to shopping center property but not to a public treasure.

“It’s a fabulous victory for the people of California because now their coast is safe,” Joe Cotchett, lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Those people who wanted to roll back the California Coastal Act must now live by the law, and money cannot change that.

Khosla, of course, has received support from development interests that see gold in the sand, so expect appeals up the legal ladder. But for now at least California’s beaches won’t be divided into first class and economy sections.

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Do profits prevent Cal Am from picking up the pace?

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????Twelve years ago, Nader Agha told me “Cal Am will never build a desal plant.”

We were having lunch at the Hyatt Monterey. Agha had set up the meeting to chew me out. I was the city editor at the Monterey Herald, which had published an article about his plan to buy the National Refractories property at Moss Landing. Agha, the developer-coin dealer-entrepreneur, was buying it as a potential site for a desalination plant of his own and he feared that publicity would kill the deal.

When I said I was skeptical about his ability to build a desal plant, he shook his head and said, “Do you really think Cal Am is going to build a desal plant?” He drew in his breath and raised his shoulders and said, slowly and loudly, “Cal Am will NEVER build a desal plant. NEVER.”

Why’s that, I asked, quickly and softly. He pulled out a pen and started scrawling on a napkin. There were numbers and arrows and plus signs and minuses. When he could tell I was not following, he wadded the napkin and said, “It’s simple. Cal Am is making too much money selling water that it gets for free. Why would the company want to spend millions of dollars doing something else when it is making so much money selling water it gets for free?”

Each time Cal Am suffers another setback in its effort to build a desal plant for the Peninsula, I think about Agha’s prediction. He’s no expert on utility finance but he has does know something about buying low and selling high. Given Cal Am’s halting progress toward a desal solution, I have had plenty of occasions to think about his forecast.

I thought of it again this week, of course, when I heard that Cal Am is suing over rights to use the Cemex property in Marina to drill test wells. In case you missed it, there had been a big fuss over the last several months over whether the city of Marina would allow Cal Am to drill the wells without conducting a complete environmental impact study. The city said no, and Cal Am supporters howled that do-nothing environmentalists on the City Council were trying to block the desal plant because of its growth-inducing potential.

As we have been told again and again, time’s a’wasting. The Peninsula is under state order to greatly reduce its reliance on the Carmel River. Cal Am needs to develop a considerable supply of replacement water pronto or face large fines.

Who pays those fines is an open question, of course. If Cal Am can persuade the state that it did all it could, those fines could land right on top of our water bills. Cal Am has stumbled to the right and stumbled to the left since the original water cutback order of 1995 but has managed each time to somehow put the blame on everyone else.

Now, here’s another delay and Cal Am is telling us it wasn’t its fault. It was Marina’s fault or the fault of whoever got to Cemex.

It turns out Cal Am had no firm deal with Cemex to drill the wells. Cal Am’s engineering department had gotten ahead of the legal department. In other words, this multinational conglomerate has been spending more ratepayer money and doing all sorts of engineering and hydrological work based on a handshake arrangement with another multinational conglomerate.

Good thinking.

Now Cal Am will try to get the courts to order Cemex to go along as a public necessity. There will be appeals and appeals of appeals, all involving deployments of sharply dressed lawyers.

We’ll be told that it’s the fault of do-nothing enviros, or even Cal Am customers who couldn’t convince Marina politicians that it is their responsibility to fix water problems outside their jurisdiction.

Eventually, I imagine, we’ll be asked to pay for it all, the appeals and the appeals of the appeals and the nicely dressed lawyers and the studies. Plus a 10 percent profit margin on top of it.

And in the meantime, Cal Am will keep pumping free water from the Carmel River and charging us more and more for it.

All because Cal Am’s lawyers didn’t do their job.

Or did they?

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Magic book with magic lightsAbout a month ago, one of those “challenges” appeared on my Facebook feed, asking people to name 10 books that “have stayed with you in some way.” Several people responded with pithy, intellectual lists that left me feeling like I’d spent my life reading comic books, decades before they were transformed by literary fashionistas into graphic novels.

Maybe I had. At times, I still find myself reciting Junior Woodchucks Guidebook aphorisms that Donald Duck’s three nephews rigorously intoned in my old comics.

Upon reflection — a mental undertaking violently at odds with social media and contrary to rules of the challenge — I realized I’ve read many good books during the past 50 years.

Still I find it hard to categorize any as the most lasting. Some made me laugh; others made me think. But is enjoyable or enlightening a guarantee for permanence? I think not.

When I owned a Volkswagen bug, there was a popular, spiral-bound book for home mechanics with a black-and-white illustrated cover. The title was something like “The People’s Guide to Keeping Your Volkswagen Running at Incredibly Slow Speeds Up the Gentlest Slopes While Infuriating the Unenlightened Swine Driving Gas Guzzlers Behind You.” I was wedded to my gloriously grease-stained copy back then. But I haven’t thought of her since I moved out with a Chevrolet during the Carter years.

When I came to Salinas, I burned through Steinbeck novels and books of Spanish grammar. They were important to understand the city’s literary heritage and more than half of its people. Aside from The Grapes of Wrath none belongs on any list of 10, but the grammar stayed.

Postings by Facebook friends and followers included titles I read in my late teens and 20s, such as Catch-22, Sometimes a Great Notion and One Hundred Years of Solitude. That made me think we read our “lasting books” in the bloom of youth and early adulthood, before literary pursuits turn to thrillers, romances, self-help or the latest riveting series on HBO. Titles of our touchstone books seemingly are intertwined with posters that decorated walls of dorm rooms and shabby first apartments.

For the past two or three decades, my reading — aside from thrillers by the likes of Michael Connelly, Alan Furst, Philip Kerr and Olen Steinhauer — has tended toward biographies, histories, essays, poetry and current events. I can list authors — Ron Rosenbaum, Christopher Hitchens, George Packer, Tony Judt, Clive James, Wystawa Szymborska — off the top of my head, but not titles.

Nevertheless, the names of a few books slowly bubbled to the surface during the past few weeks. So belatedly I rise to the challenge, after — sorry, fellow challengees — thinking.

The abiding ones are “Ecclesiastes,” and “The Book of Job” from the Bible, Ball Four and North Dallas Forty from sports; All the President’s Men and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich from journalism; and The Power and the Glory and Against Our Will from two distinct wells of truth.

The most interesting books, of course, are the ones still to read. As those three know it-all, punk ducks would say: a Junior Woodchuck’s job is never done.

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500_F_53293135_27J85jZn71YPw8YyiI93FVhmRFHQ1gFuI have been accused more than once of talking too much. I like people and like sharing stories. It takes a lot to make me speechless. At the moment, I’m close.

Some background:

Last week the Partisan published a commentary by retired Monterey County prosecutor Ann Hill about John Phillips, the former judge who is now running for Monterey County supervisor. Hill asserted that throughout his career Phillips had demonstrated sexist traits and lapses in judgment of the sort that would make him a poor supervisor.

Shortly afterward, the Monterey County Weekly belatedly discovered that someone has been anonymously distributing flyers featuring a cartoon depicting a wild-eyed Phillips engaged in intercourse with Lady Justice. The result of that discovery was a piece by Weekly editor Mary Duan that was posted online late Friday. It contains an assertion by Phillips’ campaign manager, Plasha Will, to the effect that I might have played a role in production  of the trashy flyer. Her evidence? I formerly was a newspaper editor and therefore knew some cartoonists. Really. That is what she said. You can read it by clicking here.

Duan apparently also deduced that timing could constitute some sort of evidence against me. She reported, incorrectly, that the flyers started appearing after Hill’s piece ran on this blog on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Among the many shortcomings of that theory is that Prunedale residents had started receiving the flyer in the mail sometime before Sept. 12. I’m trying not to make too much of this anyway because I was already having trouble tracking the notion that an entirely reasonable piece by a well-identified 30-year prosecutor is likely to result in a crude and anonymous cartoon. Because of Hill’s piece I gathered my cartoonist friends and urged them to do their worst?

I understand that Hill’s piece may have bothered Judge Phillips. If you’ll scroll down below this post, you can find Hill’s writing and, connected to it, several comments supporting Hill’s point of view and several others firmly defending Phillips. I think it is a good thing that Hill’s piece set off a civil debate about a candidate’s record and character. That is exactly what should happen in a political campaign. Unfortunately, the judge’s attempt to point a finger at me over the ridiculous flyer could be viewed as support for Hill’s point about lapses in judgment.

For the record, the existence of a commentary on this website does not in any way constitute an endorsement of the thoughts contained therein. We don’t have to agree with something in order to print it. I barely know the judge. Before Hill’s commentary ran, I asked him if he wished to respond. Plasha said he did not.

By the way, the Phillips camp essentially accuses his opponent, Ed Mitchell, of being the sly character behind the flyer, possibly in concert with my stable of cartoonists. Mitchell told the Weekly he didn’t care for that one bit and wants an apology. Oh, also, the offensive cartoon is there on the Weekly’s website so you can see what the fuss is about.

OK, enough. I am now back in speechless mode.

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mans hand hiding ace in the sleeveHere’s the Monterey Herald’s recommendation on Proposition 48 on the November ballot, in its entirety.

“This measure is merely a ratification of an agreement between Gov. Jerry Brown and the North Fork Indian tribe allowing it to acquire land 38 miles away from its reservation and build a casino and hotel. Also, the agreement prohibits another tribe, the Wiyot tribe, from building a casino but allows it to share in the profits from North Fork casino’s profits.”

It’s almost, kind of, sort of true, but as much as I appreciate brevity, a little more information is required to make it actually, all the way true. (The Herald’s parent company recently required one of its papers in Pennsylvania to go without power for a few hours on a recent afternoon in order to save money. Perhaps the company is now trying to reduce its ink expenditures.)

Prop. 48 is not “merely a ratification of an agreement between Gov. Jerry Brown and the North Fork Indian tribe allowing it to acquire land 38 miles away from its reservation and build a casino and hotel.” It actually would ratify a highly significant shift in California policy on where tribes can build casinos. Up to now, the government allowed Indian casinos to be built only on land owned by recognized tribes. Prop. 48 would put the public’s stamp of approval on new precedent, which would enable tribes or casino operators working with tribes to buy land just about anywhere in the state for gaming purposes.

Proponents say the new rules would create new economic opportunities for tribes that for one reason or another do not possess land suitable for casinos. The North Fork tribe has been mired in poverty for decades and has been left out of the gaming bonanza that has enriched some tribal operators. Even if it did own potential casino property, the tribe is centered in the sparsely populated Sierra foothills where a new casino would have to compete with other well-established tribal casinos in the area. The tribe’s agreement with the governor would enable it to set up shop along heavily traveled Highway 99 near Madera on the San Joaquin Valley floor.

Opponents argue on the other hand that ratifying Prop. 48 would essentially legalize casino gaming everywhere in the state. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I have my own opinion but it’s up to the voters to decide and, to me, it is an exceptionally important public policy question. I don’t think it is a good idea to discourage voters from paying attention by dismissing it as “merely” the ratification of an existing agreement. In reality, Prop. 48 “merely” asks the voters to put their stamp of approval on a precedent-setting arrangement worked out between tribes and politicians who have happily accepted huge campaign contributions from tribal interests.

For what it’s worth, the Herald recommends a yes vote.

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The owner of a minor league baseball team from Bakersfield, appropriately named The Bakersfield Blaze, says the team may move to Salinas for the 2016 season. The nickname, I figure, refers to Bakersfield’s blast-furnace climate and not to one of the hardscrabble city’s pioneer strippers.

The Blaze ownership’s first pitch will be thrown Tuesday to the Salinas City Council, and will include, per initial reports, plans for a 5,000-seat stadium on East Alisal Street financed largely with private money. Watch closely if the council has the old hidden ball of public financing tossed at it. The only sure thing is that Councilman Jose Castaneda likely will be against whatever his colleagues have to say on the subject.

The Class A team, which just lost its affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds, has the oldest stadium in the California League and the league’s lowest attendance. That’s despite having not one but three costumed team mascots — Torch, Heater and Pat D. Panda.

In years past, I attended minor league baseball games when Salinas fielded the prodigious Packers and the zesty Peppers in the old northside yard near the DMV office and rodeo grounds. I always thought a good name for a Salinas team back then would be the Pickle Pepper Packers, the Spry Spurs, The Fog, The Mist or The Foggy Mist.

500_F_60115782_25WUyIBSc35kXN4kVaOrj7BvRdKTufynThe complaint I heard most often about going to the ballpark was that nights in July and August in Salinas were too damn cold and wet. Indeed, there was a city softball field in the shadows of the real ballpark. I worked at the Salinas Californian then and played first base and outfield for several seasons in the Class Z softball league. Imagine that, a small-town newspaper with enough employees to field a softball team. Today, your average newspaper would be hard pressed to field a two-person toboggan team without resorting to freelancers.

Those softball nights were cold and damp. As soon as the sun went down behind the fog bank racing in from Castroville, there was enough dew on the outfield grass to solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water woes. One night in left field, I tried to get a jump on a low fly hit my way. One foot slipped, then the other slipped, and soon I resembled Bugs Bunny trying to dance on a frozen lake. I did something bad to my right knee, left the game and went to a doc-in-the-box clinic. Two friends and I left puddles of ballyard drizzle on the clinic’s floor as we waited for someone to check my knee, swollen by then to the size of an iceberg lettuce head in August.

Thirty years later, I believe climate change may be working in Salinas’ favor when it comes to night baseball games. This summer has been the foggiest-free summer I can remember. Many nights were clear, warm and surprisingly drizzle-free. So it may be a good time for minor league baseball’s return to Salinas.  And the team could sponsor a contest to let the community pick a nickname, say the Salinas Cool But Not Colds.

I have ideas for three new mascots — Crucifer Cruiser, Straw Berry Good, and Mixed Green Marauder. Hey, it’s not the majors.

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UPDATE: ANN HILL’S RESPONSE TO COMMENTS ON HER ORIGINAL COLUMN, PRINTED BELOW
I could have remained silent. According to some of the responses to my commentary, I should have remained silent. It was a difficult decision whether to come forward with the information I shared about the second district supervisorial candidate John Phillips. For those who have not had any negative experiences with him and who wrote about him glowingly, that is your good fortune and that is your right. I tried to focus on some traits I witnessed that would raise serious questions about this candidate’s fitness to be one of five county supervisors. Each candidate – Mitchell and Phillips —
in this race has his loyal supporters. I wrote for the undecided voter in the second district who is seeking information on both candidates. Perhaps there is someone who has known Ed Mitchell for more than thirty years who can share information about him. Sharing information is not “ranting”. Let’s continue to share information about both candidates.
Ann Hill

 

 

COLUMN BEGINS HERE

The race for District 2 supervisor has focused primarily on whether voters want a third pro-development vote on the Board of Supervisors or whether they want a majority of smart-growth county supervisors. This is a reasonable assessment of the major difference between John Phillips, who is getting lots of money from developers and builders, and Ed Mitchell, who draws support from conservation and environmental groups. But it fails to look into the character of either candidate. I do not know Ed Mitchell, but I have known Judge Phillips for more than thirty years, and I am concerned about certain traits he has displayed in two prior positions of authority: assistant district attorney and Monterey County Superior Court judge.

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Judge Phillips was my boss in the District Attorney’s Office before he became a judge. The DA’s Office was a boys’ club when I was hired in 1981. There were just a few women attorneys. The men were in control and Judge Phillips was the alpha male. Some would say that most men who are his age (70 and up) have a history of sexist remarks in their past, because “that was their generation.” I am nearly 70 and I believe that most men in my generation were not as blatantly sexist as many of the men my age with whom I worked in the DA’s office. And Assistant District Attorney Phillips was the leader of that pack.

As a judge, John Phillips was very concerned about the rights of the criminal defendant – rightly so. However, he often did not show the same concern for victims or witnesses who came to court to testify – particularly female victims and witnesses. The case that stays with me involved a gang drive-by shooting in South County. As the deputy district attorney prosecuting one of the gang defendants in the car, I had subpoenaed to court a teenaged girl who had also been in the car at the time and could identify who had done the shooting and who was driving. With the help of an investigator I was able to persuade the girl and her mother to come to court, so the girl could testify against one of the defendants. She was our only cooperative eyewitness. Naturally, both she and her mother were terrified of retaliation by gang members if she took the witness stand. Somehow, she summoned the courage to be sworn in and to identify the defendant as one of the participants in the shooting. She testified before Judge Phillips, who turned to her at the end of her testimony and criticized her in front of a courtroom full of people for what she had worn to court.

In my eyes, the witness had on a clean, pressed, age-appropriate outfit with several layers on top, including a transparent blouse that was over another opaque top. But to Judge Phillips, it was not her courage in coming forward in the face of certain violence against her and her family that he noted. Rather he chewed her out for wearing clothing that he felt was suggestive. The girl left the witness stand in tears. She told me that the judge made her feel like a prostitute. A male deputy sheriff sitting in court who was waiting for another case commented that Judge Phillips was way out of line in the way that he had humiliated the young witness.

This incident was troubling when it happened, and it is still troubling because it makes me wonder whether Phillips would treat a young woman who appears before the Board of Supervisors in the same manner. Maybe he has matured since leaving the bench and establishing the Rancho Cielo youth camp but can we take the risk that a candidate with a history of sexist remarks to and about females has become enlightened and is no longer disparaging of girls and women? More than half of Judge Phillips’ constituents are female, and many women and girls appear to speak before the Board of Supervisors. Will their comments be taken seriously, and will they be given a fair shake if  Judge Phillips is a supervisor, or will he focus on their style of dress or find some other sex-based reason to put them down?

My concern is based in part on Judge Phillips’ reaction to a written complaint filed against him with the Commission on Judicial Performance by the young girl and her mother. An investigation was conducted by the commission. I was contacted and asked if I had witnessed any inappropriate treatment by the judge. The defendant’s attorney was contacted too. I was told the entire investigation was confidential and that I should feel free to speak truthfully. I told the investigator that I had indeed witnessed the judge browbeat the young witness about her clothing choice  and that she had felt degraded by his treatment and told me she would never return to court to testify. The defense attorney warned me against being honest with the investigator, because Monterey County is small and the legal community is even smaller.

After the investigation was concluded, a year-end report of the Commission was issued that indicated that a Monterey County Superior Court judge had received a letter of reprimand for inappropriate comments to a female witness. While no case name was cited, it seemed clear to me that Judge Phillips had been reprimanded. Sometime after the report came out, another Superior Court judge came to me at a Bar Association meeting and told me that Judge Phillips hated me because I had “beefed” him to the Judicial Commission several times. Never mind that I had not ever “beefed” Judge Phillips to the commission – I had just answered the investigator’s questions honestly – from that time on I knew that I would not get a fair shake in his courtroom.

What is most disturbing about Judge Phillips’ reaction to a complaint about his performance as a judge is that he blamed the witness and the prosecutor who presented the witness for getting him in trouble. He apparently never saw anything wrong in his mistreatment of the terrified young woman. Furthermore, he jumped to the wrong conclusion about me – based on no evidence – that I had filed complaints against him – and then he shared this mistaken belief with at least one other judge. He never confronted me directly with these false assumptions, but knowing his belief that I had “told on him,” I made every effort to avoid holding any hearings or trials in his courtroom, especially any that involved women or girls as victims or witnesses.

The negative traits that I have witnessed in Judge Phillips – sexist remarks, poor treatment of a witness, inability to acknowledge one’s own bad behavior, developing and holding a grudge based on a mistaken belief – are not traits I would like to see in any elected official, especially one of our five county supervisors. If you don’t acknowledge that you have done wrong and learn from your mistakes, you just keep making the same mistakes. That is the concern I have with supervisorial candidate John Phillips. The five supervisors vote on issues of importance to all of our lives in Monterey County. We cannot afford to have even one of those five decision-makers relying on personal biases rather than the facts presented to the board.

Retired lawyer Ann Hill was a deputy district attorney in Monterey County for 32 years. 

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Does PUC President Peevey Have Dirt on Gov. Brown or What?

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Businessman holding a cardboard with a clown on it in front of hIf Michael Peevey isn’t removed from the state Public Utilities Commission by the end of the week, it could finally be time for Californians to find a way to eliminate the commission and develop some other vehicle for regulating utilities.

The big news Monday was that four senior PG&E officials have been fired because they had been involved in a long exchange of emails that documented the sweetheart relationship between the energy company and its so-called overseers. Among many other things, the emails showed that the PUC, especially Peevey’s staff, welcomed the company’s input on which administrative law judges should preside over PG&E rate proceedings and other matters.

The emails leading to the departure of the PG&E crew add to a sorry record of inappropriate communications between the agency and the utility. For instance, last year when PG&E was indicted over the catastrophic natural gas explosions in San Bruno, Peevey, the commission president, didn’t give the company advice about safety. Instead, he quietly lectured it about PR. In an email, he told company officials that they should not have announced the coming indictment in advance because that resulted in two damaging news stories instead of one. He called PG&E’s attempt at transparency “inept.”

In response to Monday’s action, Peevey scrambled to save his job. After an earlier batch of inappropriate emails was distributed, Peevey canned one of his staffers. This time, he said he would recuse himself from the process of setting the fine against PG&E over the San Bruno explosions but would continue hearing PG&E rate matters. His response is as unsatisfactory as everything else he has done. He needs to be removed from office before he can do any more damage.

Other PUC officials said it seems the commission needs a refresher course on the rules, which obviously is true. PG&E was wrong to take advantage of an ethically challenged bureaucracy, but it is that bureaucracy that is the bigger villain here. One PUC official tried to put a positive spin on things, suggesting this is a good thing because it likely will lead to greater transparency. That demonstrates confusion about the meaning. When the public talks about transparency, it’s saying it wants better and more honest government, not simply a better view of the corruption.

Peevey was president of Southern California Edison before Gov. Gray Davis appointed him to the commission. One of the commission’s roles is to keep the state’s utilities healthy so they can stay in business and obtain financing at reasonable rates. Peevey gets that part but he apparently hasn’t a clue about its even more important role, protecting the public. It’s time for him to go.

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Sweaty Scribe Awaits Muskrats and Giants

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DELAWARE CITY, Del—On a warm afternoon in late summer–make that a very warm afternoon–this little town goes almost completely quiet for long stretches. Eventually the peace is broken by the sound of a boat easing into the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal that connects the tiny marina to the huge bay but the quiet returns and lingers until someone starts up a lawn mower on the other side of town, maybe a half mile away. It is said that muskrats can be heard doing flips into the channel in the evening but I have not heard any of that yet. Too much quiet can make you nervous so I am looking forward to dusk.

There is nothing at all exotic about Delaware City or anything else within 100 miles. There are the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, of course, and the occasional foreign freighters passing through but otherwise this is as American as it gets. With its square houses, lawns without fences and stores with hand-painted signs, Delaware City could be almost any small town in Indiana or even Kansas. It is no Chualar but it is a little bit Spreckels.

FOX News is usually on at Crabby Dick’s restaurant, easily the biggest business in down, unless there’s a game on. They have plenty of teams to root for here. It isn’t far to Philadelphia and, by boat, Baltimore is only 72 miles away. The Orioles are doing well enough to root for,  even when the Yankees’ Derek Jeter plays his last game there on Sunday, and the Ravens may be worth cheering for again once the nation gets the bad taste of Ray Rice out of its mouth.

It seems to be a conservative place. The evidence, beyond FOX News, includes the bar named Lewinsky’s. It’s on Clinton Street, the main drag, so the signs advertising it say “Lewinsky’s on Clinton.” It might almost seem clever except that no one named Lewinsky has anything to do with the place. It’s just a gimmick.

The much better gimmick at Cordelia’s Bakery next door is baked French toast, very thick slices. I plan to be there when the doors open at 6 a.m. because they are known to run out.

Alert and even drowsy readers of the Partisan may quite fairly ask what this has to do with the Monterey Bay, with the water shortage, the upcoming sheriff’s race, the militarization of our police, or the community-wide examination of the relative merits and demerits of slant wells and open water intake. The answer, of course, is nothing, nothing at all. It even would be a stretch to claim that time away from the Central Coast will help yours truly sharpen his focus on the issues that will still be there upon return next week. I really have little excuse for diverting all you gentle readers from the deep wisdom of Facebook.

I guess I am writing because I don’t want you to forget the Partisan. In my brief absence, I hope you have missed some of the sporadic eruptions of content on this page and have discovered that even yesterday’s content is likely to produce very worthwhile commentary by Partisan readers. The comments attached to the recent Letter to the Editor from the Hospitality Association are very worthwhile. Take a look.

Beyond that, I have no news to report. The closest I can come will not matter to you West Coasters. It is my discovery that the Giants-Diamondbacks game will be televised here, on ESPN, starting at 10 p.m. I hope Crabby Dick’s will still be open at that hour and that the bartender can be persuaded to shove the O’Reilly-Hannity boys aside in favor of Pagan, Panick and Pence. If necessary, I will promise to bring him a slice of that French toast tomorrow.

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Not fair concept.In the article just below this one, the Partisan the other day mentioned how officials of Monterey Plaza Hotel had called in each employee who lives in Marina to urge them  to attend a Marina City Council meeting regarding Cal Am’s plan to drill test wells as part of the utility’s plan to build a desalination plant in Marina. Employees were expected to meet one-on-one with the hotel’s personnel manager or his assistant. (The council the next night voted 3-2 not to issue a permit for the test wells, potentially causing a significant delay in the desal project).

In response to that article, the Monterey County Hospitality Association sent the following letter to the Partisan.

” The Partisan recently appeared to take issue with the Monterey County Hospitality Association’s efforts to inform its members and their employees about critical decisions that were pending before the Marina City Council and unfairly focused its commentary on one hotel. MCHA, a member of the Coalition of Peninsula Businesses, believes the record needs to be set straight.   MCHA has made no secret of its work to secure a long term water supply for the Monterey Peninsula. We are proud of our efforts and will not apologize for them. We think we have done some good.

“A key vote on a vitally important issue was pending before the Council. MCHA, as an organization, believed it was essential that before making a decision the council members hear not only from the usual voices, but also from people, including residents of Marina, who are employed in the Hospitality Industry. MCHA is known as an organization that focuses on educating its membership on critical civic and related topics. We asked the general managers of properties in the Cal Am service area to inform their employees of the City Council hearing, the issue pending before the City and to offer assistance, including sample letters, to the employees who might like to speak at the hearing. MCHA is the trade association for the hospitality industry and our mission is to educate and provide political advocacy for our members.  Both of these core responsibilities were met when we informed and educated our members about the pending vote at the Marina Council meeting.

Sincerely,

Gary Cursio

Co-Chair Government Affairs

Monterey County Hospitality Association.”

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UPDATE: Marina council says no to Cal Am test well plan

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Child superhero modern city background.FRIDAY UPDATE: Marina City Council voted 3-2 late Thursday to deny Cal Am’s plan to proceed on test wells for desalination project. Cal Am expected to appeal to Coastal Commission. Detailed article in the Herald.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Marina City Council session on Cal Am test well proposal went until midnight Wednesday, with lots of Peninsula business interests speaking. Council to take up the issue again at 6 p.m. Thursday at Marina City Hall, 211 Hillcrest Ave.

UPDATE WITH LETTER TODAY FROM MARINA COAST WATER DISTRICT LAWYERS TO CITY OF MARINA: Letter Re. Appeal of California American Water Company (Cal Am) of the Denial by the City Planning Commission for a Coastal Deve (00265973xB0A85)

Forget what the agenda says about the Marina City Council meeting tonight. It makes it sound as though there will be a boring technical discussion about the hydrology and engineering ramifications of test wells Cal Am wants to drill along the Marina shoreline. What it really is, however, is a showdown between Marina, which is not in the Cal Am service area, and Cal Am’s interests on the Peninsula.

Some say the decision may be the most pivotal step this year in the long-running desalination saga. Some Marina officials don’t think there are many good reasons to be helpful to Cal Am, so Cal Am and its core supporters in the Peninsula business community are turning up the pressure.

For evidence of a power play in the making, there’s the instructions officials of Monterey Plaza Hotel issued last week to all the hotel employees living in Marina. They were told to go to the hotel’s personnel office one by one to talk to the personnel manager or his assistant about tonight’s meeting and to sign letters of support for Cal Am’s proposed desalination plant.

A note from personnel director Rick Salgado said his office would “educate” employees about the importance of speaking up at the public hearing, which precedes council discussion and possible action. Managers were told that none of the employees would be forced to sign the letters but were required to listen to the company message at the direction of hotel manager John Narigi. Narigi, of course, heads the Monterey County Hospitality Association’s water coalition and aggressively supports Cal Am.

It was not clear Wednesday whether the hotel’s Spanish-speaking employees would be provided with Spanish-language versions of the documents supporting the project.

Tonight’s session at Marina City Hall involves an appeal of the Marina Planning Commission’s earlier rejection of Cal Am’s test well program for the long-delayed desal plant that Cal Am now wants to build at the Cemex property on the shore in north Marina. The Planning Commission said no, based partly on technical concerns but also as an expression of Marina’s unsteady relationship with Cal Am. While Cal Am serves the entire Peninsula, Marina’s water purveyor is the Marina Coast Water District. At one time the Marina Coast district was a partner in the Cal Am desal venture but is now locked in pricey litigation over finances in that failed arrangement.

There are other issues in play as well. While Cal Am and its supporters in the business community have their eyes on a plant large enough to accommodate growth in Cal Am’s service area and beyond, the Marina council includes a strong environmentalist component that has been slow to support major development. Future development of Fort Ord, including the proposed Monterey Downs racetrack development, also could be affected by the desal plant’s timetable and location.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at council chambers, 211 Hillcrest Ave. After a number of routine items, the hearing on the test wells is the first matter on the agenda.

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