≡ Menu

Ruby, 12, a lab mix dog well known for her interest in ground squirrels, pays a visit to one of the lupine fields in the path of the Ferrini Ranch development.


I agree that the proponents of this project are good people and have tried hard to craft something that will be approved. However I’d like to offer my perspective on some of the evidence presented at the Planning Commission hearings which prompted me to vote against this project, which evidence is not entirely consistent with the statements presented in the Herald’s views.

First, the project as proposed will definitely significantly impact the iconic view of the Lupine fields from Hwy 68 as well as other public viewing areas. Even if one accepts that the proposed engineering and restoration will restore the field itself to its current condition after the construction is complete, according to the evidence supplied by the applicant the roofs of the houses to be built at the back of the field and protected by the large proposed berm will be visible from Hwy 68 even after the berm is installed and the restoration efforts are complete. The view of the field of lupines fading into the oaks up the hills, the arguably most beloved view from Hwy 68 and the one that has graced our telephone books for years will be gone. If nothing else, these houses and the berm should not be approved.

Second, according to the Water Resources Agency presentation at the hearing, the Salinas River basin has been experiencing sea water intrusion since 1944 and is currently approximately 58,000 AFY overdrawn. That’s today, not counting projected growth, and using all the water that is currently coming in from the parts of the basin that still have more than they use, like the Pressure Area. New state law requires that we plan to get back into balance. Thus even ‘small’ amounts like +/- 90AFY will have to be made up somewhere from somebody. Rationally speaking this means either a mandated reduction in pumping, most likely from agricultural users, or some as yet unidentified increase in the overall supply of water – which all indications suggest will be expensive. So, yes, the amount requested is small. Unfortunately we don’t have it.

Third, the EIR traffic studies conclude that there will be an overall significant and unavoidable impact to traffic from this project, which is why a Statement of Overriding Considerations is required. The applicant does not dispute this. Discussions of whether the commute time in the area immediately adjacent to the project would be longer or shorter given the improvements proposed by the project do not change this conclusion. The question is whether the improvements to traffic suggested within Toro Park offered offset this impact. Personally I am not convinced that they will.

It is important to remember that the issue with a discretionary permit is whether or not the proposed project is a good idea at the time the project is considered. There are a myriad of other practical and technical reasons to support the three fundamental reasons I have presented here that the Ferrini Ranch, no matter how much one likes the proponents and dislikes the long public process, is not. “

Best regards,

Martha Diehl
Garrapata Trout Farm
35811 Hwy 1
Monterey, CA 93940


Lawyer is talking to son about attorney client privilegeFrom the start of the investigation that derailed his life, Steve Collins has acknowledged serving as a Monterey County water official while also working for the management company hired by the county to oversee the original regional desalination project.

He maintained, however, that the conflict of interest was created and countenanced by top county officials, particularly supervisors Lou Calcagno and Dave Potter, and that it was blessed by lawyers for the county.

Unfortunately for Collins, he wasn’t able to develop that as a defense because of court rulings that shield California officials from prosecution for creating conflicts of interest unless it can be proved they received a direct financial benefit. So, worn down and out of work, Collins accepted a plea bargain and admitted to one count of conflict while making it clear to anyone who listened that he would continue trying to prove his point in the court of public opinion.

Now, in a trial scheduled to start Tuesday in San Francisco, Collins may get his chance, although lawyers for the county and California American will do their best to stop him.

In a court filing last week, lawyers Robert R. Moore for Cal Am and Mark A. Wasser for the county warned Judge Curtis Karnow that “Collins intends to make a mockery of the justice system and this court by hijacking the trial of this case for his own selfish ends.”

The filing was unusual in a couple respects. For one thing, the lawyers spent considerable time questioning Collins before trial and are challenging his motivation but not the accuracy of his contentions. The lawyers also seem to be openly questioning the judge’s ability to recognize potentially inadmissible testimony.

The lawyers wrote, “As the trial approaches, Cal Am and Monterey (County) have monitored public and semi-public statements made by Collins regarding this lawsuit. Those statements make clear that Collins hopes to use the witness stand in this trial as a soapbox on which to cast all responsibility for his misconduct on Monterey (County) officials in a vain attempt to rehabilitate his sullied reputation.”

Collins says he doubts his ability to hijack anything.

“My success ratio in controlling legal proceedings to date, regarding me is zero,” he told the Partisan. “I could not even introduce witnesses and evidence in my criminal proceeding.

Collins will be testifying for the Marina Coast Water District, which is suing Cal Am and the county in an attempt to collect money it expended on the failed project and to avoid responsibility for some $18 million in pending expenses. The project was seriously sputtering when it was abandoned by the county on grounds that Collins’ conflict of interest voided the contract between the three partners, Marina Coast, Cal Am and the county.

The county contends that Marina Coast has no right to recover any expenses because its former general manager, Jim Heitzman, was instrumental in arranging for Collins to go to work for the RMC project management company.

Marina Coast responds that the county was at least equally responsible. It notes that Collins was involved in the project through his role as a board member with the county water authority and that he was heavily involved in the project at the direction of the Board of Supervisors.

It is difficult to determine how far Marina Coast will be able to push that argument this week. Judge Karnow ruled earlier that Marina Coast could not pursue the theory that the county also has “unclean hands.”

Lawyers for Marina Coast say that despite that ruling, the issue of what county officials knew and when they knew it will be a key part of the trial. Another matter that will consume much of the week-long trial will be debate over whether the county failed to take legal action in a timely manner.

Collins said he expects lawyers for Marina Coast to attempt to call county officials such as Potter and Calcagno to the stand but also expects lawyers for the county to object strenuously.


Collins, who once ran for a seat on the Board of Supervisors, was an accountant for Ocean Mist Farms and an exceptionally active member of the county’s water authority board when he became involved in the desalination venture.

Cal Am was, and is, under heavy pressure from the state to reduce its reliance on water from the Carmel River. With help from the state Public Utilities Commission, it reached an agreement to work with the county and Marina Coast Water District to build a desalination plant.

That effort stalled for some of the same reasons that have delayed progress on Cal Am’s effort to proceed on a different desalination plant on its own along the bay in Marina.

In both cases, a key issue has been the plant’s partial reliance on water that is considered part of the Salinas Valley aquifer and on concerns that pumping ocean water along the shoreline could intensify seawater incursion into the freshwater basin.

Agribusiness interests in the Salinas Valley were loudly opposed to the first plan because of the potential impact on their water rights. The supervisors asked Collins to use his strong ag contacts to help overcome that resistance. Over time, his role grew to the point that he was one of the county’s primary representatives to the project and a key contact with state officials and other project regulators.

According to Collins, he made it known to others involved in the project that he was working on the effort nearly fulltime but was unpaid. That’s when arrangements were made for him to be hired as a consultant to RMC in January 2010. Over time, he was paid $160,000.

Collins says county officials were fully aware of the arrangement and that lawyers for the county assured him it did not amount to an illegal conflict.

The arrangement came to light through the reporting of Monterey Herald reporter Jim Johnson. The disclosure led to the criminal investigation of Collins and to the county’s decision to void the contracts that were at the core of the ill-fated project.

The key to Collins’ defense was his assertion that his work for RMC had been arranged by county and Marina Coast officials and that supervisors Potter and Calcagno had even encouraged the arrangement.

Collins couldn’t use that as a defense, however.

The state Supreme Court had ruled in 2007 that public officials cannot escape culpability for conflict of interest by demonstrating they were following instructions from other officials.

A year later, an appellate court expanded on that ruling in another case involving a railway project in the Orange County city of Placentia. In that case, the city’s public works director was convicted of criminal conflict of interest because he had a financial interest in a construction contract, but the appeals court said his boss could not be prosecuted even though he knew about and even encouraged the conflict. The appellate court ruled that California law does not allow for prosecution in such cases unless the official had been received a direct financial benefit. With state legislators in no apparent hurry to eliminate that loophole, the ruling continues to dictate such cases in California.

The rulings do not apply to federal court, which is where Collins plans to pursue a claim against various county officials. It is scheduled for trial in February.


Forgive the Partisan for being partisan about a daughter


Just a little bragging about one of my great daughters, Olivia, who is the deli manager for the FeelGood group featured in this SF Chronicle article


A better cop could have kept the peace without using a piece


law enforcementDuring 30-some years as a journalist, I crossed paths with lots of police officers. Did retirement stories on several. The ones who told me they never fired their weapons over long careers came to mind after the last two days of agonized national trauma over the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

As a young reporter writing about these departing officers, I could feel my spirits flagging when one of my retirees told me this. That would take the ready sizzle out of the story. No action. No tales of bullets flying to jazz up the story.

I would have to find another angle, thinking did this guy (When I was young, all police officers were men) push paper across his desk for three decades?

As I got older, I realized the adage of the work done by police and soldiers — months of mind-numbing routine punctuated by moments of existential crisis — was true.

Even officers who never fired their service weapons or even drew them had faced high-stakes situations when their lives and the lives of others were in the balance. Somehow they managed to diffuse the tension, and everyone involved lived to see another day.

Maybe it was luck, but I believe there was something these cops possessed — a combination of training, street smarts and empathy for the other guy — that transformed potential front-page stories about violent death into inside-page briefs about surrender and arrest.

These officers did their job, and did it exceedingly well, I came to realize.

The day after St. Louis County County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced in a deservedly criticized press conference that the grand jury, after 25 days of sifting through all the evidence, decided against charging Wilson for Brown’s death, Wilson sat down for his first interview with a television anchor.

He said he had no regrets, wouldn’t have done anything differently, had done his job.

All that has happened since Aug. 9, along with the historical racial fissures in Ferguson and the remarkable document dump of grand jury evidence, ensure that the protests, the disbelief, the debate over Brown’s killing will never die.

There were leaks, different stories by witnesses, bungled procedures at the scene, ambiguous physical evidence, and Wilson’s all-too-pat account of fearing for his life at the hands of a man who appeared like a demon or the Hulk, rather than a big man-child. All grist for the mill to keep grinding.

Even if Wilson had gone to trial, chances are he would have been acquitted by a trial jury. The law gives wider latitude to police officers to use deadly force when they believe their life or the lives of others are in danger. And, of course, there was two-bit, grab-and-go robbery of a couple fistfuls of cheap cigars that Wilson’s attorneys could have made hay of at trial.

Maybe something good will come out of the ongoing outrage and debate. I hope so, but have my doubts. Too many times, law-and-order, demagoguing politicians have vaulted into office by widening our nation’s tragic racial divide, rather than trying to close it.

Darrell Wilson may believe he did his job.

But he didn’t do anything close to a good job.

In a neighborhood that Wilson described as being anti-police, he managed to put into motion a 90-second spiral of anger that culminated when he fired the last of 12 shots at Michael Brown.

He said he politely asked Brown and his friend to get on the sidewalk. Brown’s friend said Wilson’s words, more believably, were a command punctuated by the F-word.

Wilson punched his patrol vehicle into reverse and came to a screeching halt so close to Brown and his buddy that some witnesses thought it hit the men. That proximity led to the struggle between Brown and Wilson at the vehicle door and the first two shots.

Wilson told the grand jury he thought if he could buy 30 seconds, his backup would arrive and they could arrest the men for the store robbery.

But Wilson’s barked command and aggressive maneuver with his vehicle burned up those precious seconds. They seem the hair-trigger tactics of an over-amped officer already on edge in a landscape he perceives as hostile. Maybe he was following his training. But street smarts? No. Any empathy for the two men? No. They were just suspects.

Here’s what I think. The old officers who told me they never drew their weapons probably would have been able to handle this confrontation, too, without unholstering a gun —  with their training, knowledge of their community, and an understanding of how human beings — not demons — react in those existential moments when lives are in the balance.

Good cops, who would have known no one has to die over a few bucks worth of cheap cigars.


Dollar bagThe public really should support Monterey County supervisors Dave Potter and Simon Salinas in their plan to take the money out of political campaigns, but the effort should not stop at contribution limits. The larger problem is not the amount of the contributions but the impact they have on the recipients. So why not do as Pacific Grove and other jurisdictions have done and require the elected officials to abstain when their vote would benefit a contributor?

Money indeed is the root of most evil in politics and as they say at AA meetings, “half measures availed us nothing.”

As pitched by Potter and Salinas, Monterey County will soon consider adopting state limits of $4,200 from individual contributors and $8,500 from political action committees. The limits would apply to the supervisorial candidates and those running for sheriff, district attorney and county superintendent of schools.

Successful sheriff’s candidate Steve Bernal raised more than $500,000 in his recent campaign, prompting the opposition to charge that he had bought the election. Such amounts are becoming commonplace in local politics.

“There shouldn’t be the perception that the one who spends the most money is going to win, and that’s kind of the way it’s been headed,” Potter told the Monterey Herald.

True enough. But community members who are concerned about decisions by the Board of Supervisors are less concerned about the size of their campaign treasuries and more concerned about the impact of contributions of any size. Buying elections is certainly a problem, but buying votes is a bigger problem.

For example, the Ferrini Ranch subdivision proposal goes to the supervisors next month. It is a highly controversial development that features nearly 200 lots that stretch along congested Highway 68 near Toro Park. As the Partisan recently reported, the developers have been generous contributors to the current supervisors, with the exception of environmentalist Jane Parker. They even contributed to incoming supervisor John Phillips.

The biggest recipient of Ferrini Ranch money has been Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who received $4,750 from one of the partners in the development in 2010 and $4,500 from another.

Supervisor Fernando Armenta says he has never, ever voted against a proposed development, so the Ferrini people were able to save some of their money. In recent years, he has received only $500.

In the past four years, the Ferrini Ranch developers have contributed $2,300 to Simon Salinas, who is almost always a sure vote for development projects of any kind.

After receiving a series of contributions from the developers earlier in his career, Potter has reported receiving $1,800 from them since 2011. He’s not as much of a sure vote as Salinas is, especially when the project is in his district as the Ferrini project is. He is likely to vote against the development if it is clear that it could win approval without his vote. Consider that a prediction.

With five supervisors on the board, three votes are needed to approve. Salinas and Armenta are in. Calcagno could be swayed by the fact that the project would rely on the endangered Salinas Valley aquifer

Most of the contributions made by the Ferrini Ranch developers would have been allowed if the proposed limits had been in place. The gifts to Calcagno would have needed to have been trimmed only slightly. Will the contributions make the difference. They total not much more than $20,000 but, yes, they certainly could be the deciding factor, overriding such issues as water, traffic, urban sprawl, leapfrog development and destruction of habitat.

As stated above, there is good reason to support the contribution limits. It would make it harder for candidates to run Bernal-like campaigns featuring a barrage of negative advertising. But the limits would have no impact on supposedly independent groups doing the dirty work for the candidates and no impact on corrupting the process through well-aimed but smaller contributions.

In Potter’s last campaign, opponent Marc Del Piero received more than $100,000 from an environmental trust created by a lawsuit settlement. Only cynics or the closest observers might suspect that Potter and Salinas are motivated by that as much as anything else, but it is difficult for anyone who pays much attention to the supervisors to avoid a touch of cynicism.

When Potter and Salinas start their next campaigns, they are likely to have money in their campaign treasuries, a luxury not shared by their potential opponents. And as congressional elections have made clear, incumbency amounts to a contribution magnet.

Fixing the flawed system we labor under now would be difficult. Ordinances requiring officials to abstain from votes benefitting contributors can be hard to enforce and interpret. When does a vote benefit someone? How about indirect benefits? And what about contributions from environmental groups such as LandWatch? If LandWatch contributes to an official, must that official abstain on all land-use votes?

Those are tricky questions to be sure, but the issues they pose are not insurmountable. It is better to have discussions over the fine points than to continue the process as we know it.


Riot policemenLike many of you, I am watching TV tonight, watching what’s happening in Ferguson, and worrying about the state of race relations, about the state of our justice system, about the militarization of police departments and the polarization of society. Lot to worry about here.

I’m thinking Partisan readers may have some words of wisdom, or some questions for others to answer. Of course, I’m not looking to have people attack each other for their views. Let’s talk about the issues, our concerns and our ideas for how to improve things.

If you feel like starting, click on “comment” below and have at it.


Sheriff-elect Steve Bernal announces top appointments

photo copy 5

PR executive David Armanasco helps Sheriff-elect Steve Bernal take questions at a news conference Monday. Armanasco said he is assisting Bernal at no charge.

Monterey County Sheriff-elect Steve Bernal introduced two of his key appointees to the media Monday, declared his plan to start a community advisory group and said he had not read Sheriff Scott Miller’s long and well-circulated analysis of the campaign just ended.

Bernal had no explanation for not reading Miller’s post mortem, which was published on the Partisan website last week and is currently running as a four-part series in the Salinas Californian. When pressed by a reporter who expressed surprise, Bernal said that he had read one paragraph.

Miller was critical of the Republican Party for strongly backing a relatively inexperienced challenger and critical of Bernal’s campaign for its negativity and manipulation of the deputy sheriffs’ union to take a vote of no confidence in Miller. He also criticized the daily press for taking much of Bernal’s campaign rhetoric at face value.

Bernal, asked to respond to repeated criticism that, as a sheriff’s deputy, he isn’t truly qualified to hold the top spot in the department, said his appointees should put that concern to rest.

Bernal’s undersheriff will be Galen Bohner, a former Monterey County sheriff’s deputy who is now a lieutenant with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. According to the resume distributed by Bernal’s public relations representative, David Armanasco, Bohner is highly experienced in just about every aspect of law enforcement. (See complete record below.)

To a position immediately below Bohner, chief of operations, Bernal appointed Tracy Brown, was with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department from 1984 to 2011, when he retired. According to Armanasco’s news release, he held positions including deputy sheriff of corrections, deputy sheriff of operations, sergeant and commander. (See below for more details on Brown.)

Bernal said he had not spoken to Miller since his upset victory but said, “I’ve reached out to him.” He said he is hoping they can get together to discuss transition issues.

Looking on like proud parents were Bernal’s campaign manager, Brandon Gesicki, and local Republican Party stalwart Paul Bruno, who was instrumental in raising money for Bernal’s campaign. With help from relatives and agribusiness, Bernal raised about $500,000, outspending his boss 5-to-1.

Bernal ran an aggressive campaign accusing Miller of being soft on crime and pounding on the deputy sheriffs’ union’s decision to issue a vote of no confidence against Miller.

Bernal talked at length about establishing a community advisory committee, similar to those that exist in many counties, but he said he didn’t know yet whether he would be picking the members or if people would be able to apply.


Galen Bohner background as provided by Bernal and Armanasco:

Galen Bohner is currently a Lieutenant at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and has been working with the department since June of 1991. During his time with the department he has worked at 3 of the largest detention centers in the county. Bohner has experience managing county/city operational budgets and grants, scheduling, supervision of all sergeants, overall operations and volunteer groups.

In 1998 Bohner was promoted to detective and assigned to work major narcotics.

During his time working narcotics, Bohner worked with federal, state and local drug task forces and was involved in the seizure of illegal drugs and currency worth millions of dollars. In 2001 Bohner was promoted to sergeant, assigned to the Corrections Bureau. In 2003 he was assigned to a newly acquired contract city, Adelanto, where his duties consisted of patrol watch commander, supervision of detectives and clerical staff and coordinating special events.

In 2005 Bohner was selected to start the first regional gang task force, assigned to the Specialized Investigations Division (Homicide). In addition to battling gang crimes, Bohner addresses many civic groups and community organization about gang issues throughout the region and he worked with all agencies within the county to coordinate gang sweeps.

In 2007 all gang teams were moved from the Specialized Investigations Division and merged with Arson Bomb, and Crime Impact Teams, to form Specialized Enforcement Division (SED). The primary responsibility was SWAT and collateral duties of fugitive apprehension. As a Crime Impact Sergeant, Bohner was a SWAT team leader and along with all other Crime Impact personnel was cross sworn as a United States Deputy Marshal, part of the Southwest Fugitive Task Force. Bohner was personally involved in the apprehension of hundreds of wanted felons (mostly homicide suspects) across the country and abroad.

In 2011 Bohner was transferred to the City of Victorville where he supervised the Gang Team, Retail Theft Team, MET Team and Crime Free Multi-Housing Unit. In 2012 he was promoted to Lieutenant and was assigned as the Executive Officer of the Victor Valley Station/City of Adelanto. As a dual operation (county/contract city operation) he is second in command (Assistant Police Chief for city operation) of a station which includes two sub-stations and covers over 1400 square miles for the county operations and 54 square miles for the city side of the operation.

Bohner is very familiar with Monterey County. Prior to working in San Bernardino County he was a Deputy Sheriff with Monterey County. He completed his field training in Salinas and worked patrol in King City. While in Salinas he was a Field Training Officer on the Tactical Team and the SWAT team and was also assigned to the Specialized Enforcement Division.


Apple Valley Station Deputy of the Year 1998
International Footprinter’s Officer of the Year 1998
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Medal of Valor 2011


1984 Central Coast Counties Police Academy Graduate
A.S. in Administration of Justice from Hartnell College, currently working on a B.A. Degree

Tracy Brown background as provided by Bernal and Armanasco.

Tracy Brown worked at the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department from 1984 to 2011, when he retired. During his time at the Sheriff’s Department Brown held several positions including Deputy Sheriff of Corrections, Deputy Sheriff of Operations, Sergeant and Commander.

While assigned to the Custody Bureau, Brown supervised thesecurity and safety of inmates incarcerated at the Monterey County jail. While assigned to the Enforcement Bureau, he was a Field Training Officer for 7 years and a Field Training Officer Program Sergeant for 2 years. In addition he supervised Deputies and professional staff employees at the South County Station, Central Station and for 2 years performed duties as the Background Unit Supervising Sergeant.

As Commander he supervised sworn and professional staff within the Internal Affairs, Human Resources, Backgrounds and Workers Compensation units. He supervised Patrol Deputies, Sergeants and staff at the Central Station and Coastal Station and oversaw the Field Training Officer program and Search and Rescue team.

Previously Brown was Peer Support Group Manager for 18 years, a Search and Rescue team member for 2 years and Emergency Vehicle Operations Center instructor for 8 years. He also served as Interim Deputy Sheriff’s Association Treasurer.


Deputy Benefits Association, Employee of the Month Award – two time recipient Monterey County Sheriff’s Office Lifesaving Award


Brown holds an Associate of Arts Degree in Humanities from Hartnell College and a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Law Enforcement Management from Union University.

Peace Officer Standards and Training Certificates:

  • Advanced Certificate
  • Supervisory Certificate
  • Management Certificate




PinocchioThe day after is here. Depending on whose talking points you believe:

— It’s the day after a feckless tyrant shredded the Constitution, rewarded millions of lawbreakers and would-be ignorant Democratic voters, and then stomped on shredded pieces of the Constitution just for more laughs

— Or the day after a president, fed up with promises, endless promises from Republicans in Congress, used his authority to issue a limited set of executive actions on immigration that would both strengthen border enforcement and lift the threat of deportation for about 4 million undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years.

A couple day-after pieces struck me.

One was about how little the agricultural industry — which has been been facing labor shortages in recent years as the Obama administration actually ratcheted up immigration enforcement — didn’t get a guest worker program under the president’s actions. I’ve always wondered why the farm industry needs those “guest” workers to harvest its crops. Hmmm.

The other was an editorial in the Carmel Pine Cone that starts with the assertion that the Obamacare law was passed in the middle of the night without public scrutiny. It then compares that process to the actions announced by the president in his prime-time speech Thursday, which it claims fly in the face of what the majority of Americans want on immigration.

The rest of the editorial is pretty much boilerplate and broad strokes. There are polls referenced but not cited; a historical footnote the United Farmworkers Union in the 1960s opposed illegal immigration while ignoring its current position on immigration reform; and an assertion the Democrats’ dismal fortunes in this month’s midterms was a huge shout from the rooftops against executive action on immigration.

And I had thought the rooftop shouts were about Obamacare, ISIS, Ebola, the IRS, Benghazi, Jonathan Gruber, gun control, abortion, religious liberty and the Keystone Pipeline. Silly me.

And it talks about “Obama’s amnesty” — as all the conservative media are doing — though there’s much room for debate over whether anything in the president’s actions amount to amnesty.

But what can you expect from an editorial that begins with a huge fact error? The Affordable Care Act didn’t pass in the middle of the night without public scrutiny.

Many votes were taken in both the House and Senate, as versions of the law went through eight months of hearings and changes. There was even a summer recess during which the Tea Party movement was born, as many members of Congress went back to their districts and learned that a goodly number of people in colorful costumes had scrutinized the bill.

How could there have been all those windy debates over the existence of death panels in the legislation if no one from the public — or Fox News, the public’s representative — had scrutinized the bill?

For the record, key final votes to reconcile House and Senate versions of the health care law — after the president issued an executive order (horrors) to assure a few anti-abortion Democrats that the law would not fund abortions — were recorded at 10:49 p.m. and 7:05 a.m.

Now in Carmel, 10:49 p.m. may qualify as the dead of the night. But at 7 a.m., a lot of folks there are up, maybe for a morning walk or to check on early trading on the markets.

If not for all the undocumented immigrants, maybe some would be up even earlier — say 5 a.m. — to motor off to lettuce and artichoke fields for those great jobs that some of those lawbreakers have been grabbing.

Here’s a Washington Post explainer on the president’s actions.


Proprietor’s note: To the surprise of many veteran political observers in Monterey County, sheriff’s deputy Steve Bernal upset the incumbent, Sheriff Scott Miller, in the Nov. 4 election. Residents of Monterey County are left with an unusually inexperienced young deputy to lead the largest law enforcement agency on the Central Coast, which has prompted some to call for taking the sheriff’s position out of electoral politics and making it subject to appointment. When asked by reporters to explain what happened and what it means for the county, Miller responded with this post mortem)


While many contributing factors appear to have influenced voters in the election for Monterey County sheriff, the results of the race can be traced, in large part, to two major factors unrelated to the qualifications of either candidate to hold the office: 1) strategic phone polling and 2) campaign contributions, in the form of special interest money and one very rich relative.

On a quiet evening last summer during the lull between the primary and general elections I received a phone call at home from a political research pollster working for the Bernal campaign. I was asked a series of questions all prefaced with the phrase: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate if you knew…?”

There were questions related to endorsements: ”Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate if they were endorsed by former Sheriff Kanalakis? Former Sheriff Gordon Sonne? Governor Jerry Brown?” There was a Bernal campaign favorite: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if you knew there had been eleven claims of discrimination or harassment filed against him?

Sheriff Scott Miller

Sheriff Scott Miller

And perhaps the pivotal question and the pivotal moment in the 2014 campaign for sheriff: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if you knew he had received a vote of no confidence from the deputy sheriff association?”

I asked the pollster if Sheriff Miller had actually received a vote of no confidence. The pollster ignored my question and repeated the one he had originally asked: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if you knew he had received a vote of no confidence?” After several more attempts to clarify whether such a vote had actually taken place and several more rebuffs by the pollster, I gave my answer: “I would be MORE likely to vote for Sheriff Miller if I knew he had received a vote of no confidence.”

In actuality, I just wanted to move on to see what the rest of the questions were like. I mean, who in their right mind would actually be more likely to vote for a sheriff candidate who had received a vote of no confidence? Is that a condition or attribute that engenders confidence in a candidate for sheriff? Perhaps I’d be neutral on the issue if I had other information that would override the impact of a no confidence vote, but the pollster didn’t provide “neutral” as an option. It struck me that “less likely” was virtually assured of a response near 100%, unless you were the candidate in question.

Coincidentally, they were speaking to the candidate in question. I’m Sheriff Scott Miller. I thought at the time that I was really glad I hadn’t received a vote of no confidence. That would be powerful stuff. Good thing, I thought, that I hadn’t done a thing to merit such a vote.

This polling conversation took place months before I actually received a vote of no confidence from the Monterey County Deputy Sheriff Association (DSA). At the time of the phone call no one had mentioned the possibility of such a vote taking place. Even with the typical political murmuring taking place within the Sheriff’s Office during campaign season, everything seemed to be moving along reasonably well. Positive progress during my first term as sheriff had been steady and, in some cases, remarkable when compared to the work of previous sheriffs.

Most importantly, the lines of communication between the DSA and my administration were solidly in place. There were few, if any, complaints being voiced by the DSA leadership during our regular monthly meetings about any job-related issues under my control that weren’t already addressed or being addressed. Under my watch, training had doubled, special units had been restored, better equipment had been provided, staffing had been added and patrol deputies had been moved from fatiguing 12- hour shifts to 10-hour shifts. I had obtained funding to construct a critically needed jail expansion that would improve staff safety, funding that had been sought unsuccessfully by my predecessors. I had treated staff with respect, dignity and support and had participated in every department-sponsored social event to which I had been invited. In short, none of the conditions existed that normally lead to no confidence votes.

About two months after the phone poll, I heard a rumor that the DSA board was going to press the membership to conduct a no-confidence vote on me. (They had previously voted to endorse my opponent in the general election, Deputy Steve Bernal, in a secretive and equally dubious process). I learned the no-confidence vote movement was triggered at a DSA meeting attended by only 17 members of the 300-plus member DSA and, by special invitation, my opponent, Deputy Bernal, and one of his campaign handlers, Brandon Gesicki. According to individuals present, Bernal and Gesicki addressed the group for half an hour, encouraging them to conduct a vote of no confidence, advising them (based on the results of their phone polling) of the power such an action could have in the race for sheriff and of the relevance the DSA could regain by impacting the race. At the end of their presentation the members present voted 12 to 5 to hold such a vote.

I was never notified of the pending vote by DSA leadership. I was never given an opportunity to address the membership regarding the vote or provide a rebuttal to the one-sided, inflammatory and inaccurate information given to DSA voters in support of the vote, which was apparently scripted by the Bernal team. Points made as grounds for the no-confidence vote centered largely on actions, real and imagined, of my adult son and his friends, not on my actual performance as sheriff. I didn’t learn the specifics of what DSA members were being told until after the vote had concluded, when I read the information in a newspaper account.

Having heard that a vote of no confidence might be pending, I distributed an email to department employees reminding them of the many accomplishments we had achieved together during my term as sheriff, which amounted to three single-spaced pages of meaningful organizational improvements. As a result of my email I was threatened by the DSA board with legal action for “campaigning on duty;” not directly, but through a press release they and their attorneys issued to all media outlets. DSA leadership and their lawyers had morphed from a union-like organization interested in protecting the rights of their membership to an arm of the Bernal campaign. Not only was I denied the opportunity to address the allegations made in support of the vote of no confidence, I was threatened for distributing a generic list of achievements. They wanted to block any communication between the DSA membership and me, while they and Bernal’s team had unfettered access to them. This didn’t exactly amount to a democratic process or level playing field.

I was given no opportunity to have anyone from my side participate in monitoring the vote, which was purportedly done electronically. The votes were tabulated by the DSA president and his designees, who were already in my opponent’s camp. Ultimately the DSA president reported that, based on the secret vote conducted by him, approximately a third of the membership eligible to vote had voted to support the vote of no confidence. No mention was made that two-thirds of those eligible to vote either chose not to vote or voted to support me. Also not addressed was whether the vote actually qualified as an official vote under DSA bylaws, since the amount of votes received did not amount to a majority of eligible DSA voters, a contention that in 1998 helped propel detective Gordon Sonne into office as sheriff.

Regardless of the process used to obtain it, there can be no denying that the wielding of this “vote of no confidence” became a critical element in the campaign for sheriff. There was a top-of-the-fold headline in a local newspaper trumpeting the fact that there was going to be a no confidence vote, before the vote was actually conducted, followed by top-of-the-fold headlines following the vote. It became the centerpiece for every piece of campaign material coming from the Bernal camp from that point forward. A barrage of television commercials centered on the vote, (along with my alleged responsibility for all gang violence in the county, rising property crime rates and graffiti on the former Fort Ord). The Bernal message largely became the no confidence vote. Their message reflected the strategic direction of their phone polling.

Of course, such a message would have been limited in its effectiveness without the means to distribute it to the largely uninformed masses. Deputy Bernal, who couldn’t find the money to pay his monthly mortgage or car payments, managed to amass the largest campaign treasury to run for the Office of the Sheriff in the history of Monterey County. He bragged about raising $65,000 in one evening, actually suggesting at a forum that he could do the same to help fund any shortfalls in the Sheriff’s Office budget if he were elected, (such being his naiveté regarding the office and the budget process).

Much of his funding came by way of Margaret Duflock, a ranching and oil magnate, who is the mother-in-law of Bernal’s brother. She gave Bernal hundreds of thousands of dollars, via direct donations, loans and contributions to political action committees (PACS), which then steered the money to Bernal. She reportedly gave $25,000 to the DSA, which has usually been strapped for money, following its endorsement of Bernal and the no-confidence vote, as if to pay them for their actions. With her bottomless checkbook and ability to influence other donors, the Bernal campaign was able to run near-constant campaign attack ads on every local television station, day and night, seven days a week, throughout the month leading up to Election Day.

The lack of any limitations on campaign donations in Monterey County clearly facilitated the metamorphosis of a candidate who, by any objective measure, lacked the bona fides to serve as an executive or manager in any law enforcement organization in the United States, into sheriff-elect of the largest law enforcement agency on the Central Coast. In military terms, the Army private has managed to become the commanding general overnight. What I had diligently prepared for through education, training, experience and performance over the course of 38 years, Bernal achieved by attending Thanksgiving dinner with his brother’s mother-in-law. In other words, Bernal and his donors, with the assistance of the co-opted president of the Deputy Sheriff Association, were able to buy the Monterey County Office of the Sheriff as if it were a very expensive truckload of alfalfa hay.

Those of us who care about public safety in these parts should be troubled, not only with how this campaign was won, but with the troubling thought that this may now become the model as to how sheriffs in this county are elected going forward.

The timing was perfect for the type of campaign that relies on smoke screens and misdirection. Bernal’s handlers wisely kept the candidate sequestered from direct media access whenever possible. They cancelled his attendance at public forums after seeing how poorly he performed in them. They repeatedly made claims that were without merit and easily refutable, but who stepped up to question the veracity of these claims?

Our community’s historic fact-checkers–seasoned journalists with a thirst for the truth–have largely gone the way of the dinosaur. Daily coverage of the sheriff’s race was delegated largely to inexperienced reporters who often seemed to receive little guidance from editors who, in fairness, likely had more important things to do, like figuring out how to save their newspapers.

After months-long hesitation, the local daily newspapers finally came on board. The Monterey County Herald and Salinas Californian issued strong and unequivocal endorsements for my re-election in late September. (To their credit, Californian political columnist Jeff Mitchell, Mary Duan and her staff at the Monterey County Weekly and Royal Calkins of the Monterey Bay Partisan had it right from the beginning). The endorsements used phrases like “the choice for sheriff is so clear, even the Herald got this one right;” “thankfully, this choice is an easy one;” and “Bernal is unqualified to be sheriff.” Bernal’s campaign and his handlers were categorized in various press reports as “slimy,” and “liars.” Obviously, the results of this election leave us with questions as to how many voters actually still read daily newspapers and the overall impact of (late-arriving) editorial endorsements.

Oddly, the only real issue germane to my bid for re-election–my performance as sheriff–was virtually ignored by the press. Instead, I was battered almost daily by press releases from the Bernal camp over largely nonsensical, trivial and irrelevant issues. These press releases, which in years past would have been tossed in the trash can by discerning newspaper editors, were usually published on the top of the fold after I was asked for a comment. While I provided copies of my resume, future strategic plans and accomplishments as sheriff to local media, they seemed to prefer dealing in the raucous allegations fed to them by my opponent. This strategy skillfully distracted the public from the real issues.

Broadcast news was largely missing in action, save an excellent profile piece on both candidates by Felix Cortez of KSBW, which was so revealing and instructive of the contrast between candidates that we posted it on our campaign website. KCBA Fox News doesn’t broadcast a local version of the news anymore, using instead an Oakland-based news show. Their sister station, KION News, who does, never contacted me about the election until they asked for an urgent sound bite—at 10 PM on election night, after all the polls had closed. If they ever covered the race, it was without my participation.

(After being contacted recently by a reporter from KION looking for my reaction to the latest election update, I asked her if the station had made a conscious decision to avoid covering the sheriff’s race. She told me KION station management had decided not to cover any local races, other than the fracking measure in San Benito County, because of the impact fracking might eventually have on Monterey County.)

I’ve been accorded the respect of my peers in the ranks of Monterey County law enforcement executives, who twice elected me president of our county law chief’s group and who unanimously endorsed my campaign for reelection. They universally praise the level of teamwork we have enjoyed the past four years, particularly compared to the relationship they had with my predecessor. Our interaction with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the cities in Monterey County has never been better. I have superior working relationships with every elected official who holds any sway on county issues, from the governor to local mayors. Many of them are mourning the pending change of leadership to an individual they have never met.

But while many may consider me an effective law enforcement executive, I certainly wouldn’t be mistaken for a formidable campaign manager or campaigner, at least not based on the results of this race. I made several decisions early on in this campaign that I was determined to follow, win or lose, which ultimately figured in the outcome:

First, I was asked to register as a Republican by the local party godfather-figure. (I am registered as a “decline to state” voter). I was told if I would do so, the Monterey County Republican Party would endorse and support only me, even though two of the candidates running against me in the primary, including Bernal, were Republicans. I was told the party would do their best to talk the others into dropping out of the race. I was offered the campaign management services of Brandon Gesicki, who ultimately ended up working with Deputy Bernal. I declined the proposal, choosing instead to remain independent, thus motivating county Republicans to work against me throughout the campaign.

In retrospect, if I had registered as a Republican I may have won the race in the June primary, but I didn’t want to feel compromised by a group who didn’t care about my skills as sheriff, but solely my party affiliation. Strategically, accepting the invitation would have been the smart campaign move. Of course, I wasn’t thinking like a politician. I was thinking like a cop who didn’t want to be led by the nose.

Second, I was determined to run on my qualifications and accomplishments. I was determined not to run attack ads or conduct negative campaigning against my opponent. I focused on Bernal’s lack of qualifications and experience, but avoided attacking the many vulnerable areas of his personal life and those of his campaign team. I believed my accomplishments as sheriff were substantial enough to carry the day. If the public didn’t agree, that was their call, but I wasn’t going to sling mud.

I kept this commitment, although in retrospect attack ads would have likely been more effective. I wasn’t willing to win at all costs, not being a true politician.

Third, I was determined to spend no more on my campaign than I could raise from donors. During the campaign for sheriff in 2010 I spent $122,500 of my own funds. Raising campaign funds is more difficult for some than it is for others, particularly when you are running for the office of the chief law enforcement officer in the county and you refuse to take money from people who expect favors in return. That severely limits the pool of potential major donors. I mean, who gives a candidate for sheriff thousands of dollars because of their winning smile? In any event, it became evident to me early on that I’d never be able to compete with the half million dollars or so that Bernal raised from relatives and special interests without selling my soul. I wasn’t willing to pay that price. Ultimately I spent another $40,000 of my personal funds on this race. Instead of raising campaign funds the past four years while in office, I chose instead to put my effort into running the Sheriff’s Office. Strategically, raising campaign funds through the years would have been the smart political play. Starting with an empty campaign treasury versus a bottomless checkbook obviously made the task of running a vibrant campaign an uphill climb.

My purpose in writing this piece is an attempt to provide some insight from my perspective to those who seemed baffled as to how a deputy with no leadership or management experience, no formal education beyond high school, no job development of any kind beyond entry level deputy, can win an election over an experienced, educated and highly qualified incumbent who, by most objective accounts, had accomplished more in four years as sheriff than my four predecessors combined. I invite an objective examination of my term in office to see if others agree with that conclusion. Otherwise, I’ll leave my efforts to be judged by history.

I wish the best for the people of Monterey County, particularly those who will suffer as a result of this election. Individuals who supported my administration are already being threatened with removal and intimidation by the camp of the sheriff-elect. He has looked into the personnel records of excellent current employees specifically to see if they are on probation and has intimated he will fire them, regardless of their performance, so he can replace them with his cronies. Rumors are he wants to hire family members, though he would have to violate county policy to accomplish that. He will come into office beholden to a large number of special interests and large donors, along with the architects of his largely unexpected victory, their clients and the mysterious business PACs who materialized to donate thousands to him.

My successor is unlikely to continue the community outreach efforts I had undertaken with the supporters of jail inmates, immigrant rights advocates and small neighborhood groups of Spanish-speakers in Castroville, Chualar and Pajaro. He has never participated in the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace in Salinas, the Monterey County Gang Violence Program, or any other community-based organization in Monterey County. He declined to attend a forum held by LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and, to my knowledge, has never attended a meeting of any civil rights group in Monterey County.

The sheriff-elect may not yet even realize how much he doesn’t know about the current state of the Sheriff’s Office, having overlooked reality to instead maintain his focus on campaign rhetoric. During an initial press interview with (now that the pesky fracking issue has been decided) KION News, Bernal said he will kick his administration off by improving relationships with other county police departments and communities, opening lines of communication, and so forth. He has no idea how strongly those ties already exist, albeit with an administration that will be leaving. He says he will strengthen the existing gang task force, apparently unaware that the task force is already the largest such team in California outside of Los Angeles. He says he will establish a violent crimes unit, again unaware of the mission and capabilities already in place.

And he certainly doesn’t know how he’ll pay for any of his plans, having little familiarity managing budgets, household or otherwise. The future outlook of the Sheriff’s Office budget looks pretty grim in the coming years, with expenses constantly escalating and revenues stagnant. The fact that he has never supervised a single employee means his learning curve will be immense, now that he will be responsible for more than 420 public safety employees, He will find that his new reality isn’t taking an occasional crime report and patrolling the fields of southern Monterey County; it’s now litigation, risk management, policy development, municipal budget management, managing complex human resources issues, crisis management and strategic planning, domains he knows absolutely nothing about. With luck, he’ll have the wisdom to bring in a team of experts to handle these critical issues, but they aren’t growing on trees and even the best advisors require executive oversight so as not to run amok. For the sake of public safety in Monterey County, let’s hope he chooses wisely.

I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to serve as your sheriff. I’m proud to have been in the fraternity of law enforcement professionals for thirty-one years. I will miss the profession, but I’m confident I will find other meaningful pursuits to fill my time. I wish you all the best.



Herald readers don’t know just how good they have it


Businessmen with business trophy. Cheerful young businessman shoApparently I need to update my resume. I once thought it had as many boasts as I could ever get away with. The Chico newspaper where I began my career was the only paper covering all of Butte County. When I worked in Fort Wayne, I had more front-page stories than some of my co-workers.

But I missed something that should be at the top of the page. Without ever working for the New York Times, it turns out that I previously worked for the “best newspaper in the country.” At least that’s what I was told Wednesday when I called the Monterey Herald and got the front desk answering machine.

“Thank you for calling Monterey Herald, the best newspaper in the country” is what it said.

I called back. I don’t hear so well and maybe I had mistaken “county” for “country,” which could start a fight with Monterey County Weekly or the King City Rustler. But, no, I had heard it right the first time.

(It made me think about the sign that was in front of the new restaurant/nightclub on Main in Salinas, declaring it the “premiere entertainment venue” on the West Coast. Good to know. Should save us some travel expenses.)

As for the Herald’s declaration of superiority, I’m going to call my mother with the news, put it in large type on the resume and stop griping about the price of a subscription.


The oil exploration company planning to sue San Benito County over the anti-fracking measure that voters passed on Nov. 4 portrays itself as a victim unfairly being denied access to oil worth at least $1.2 billion.

What Citadel Exploration doesn’t mention, and what wasn’t mentioned in initial TV news reports on the lawsuit threat, is that its exploration efforts were halted by a Monterey judge this summer because it had not performed adequate environmental studies.

Oil and gas well profiled on sunset sky

In a ruling reported earlier by the Partisan and others, Monterey Superior Court Judge Tom Wills wrote that San Benito Counthy officials had not seriously contemplated the “numerous opportunities for toxic spills” at the Indian Wells project, part of the company’s “Project Indian.” Judge Lydia Villarreal had earlier ruled that the project could continue but Wills said no.

Wills agreed with the Center for Biological Diversity’s view that a complete environmental impact report was needed for 15 test wells. The center’s lawsuit focuses on 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.

Citadel and other oil companies spent more than $2 million to unsuccessfully oppose the Measure J initiative, which 58 percent of county voters supported on election day. Mendocino County voters passed a similar ban but another was rejected in Santa Barbara County.

In San Benito, the opposition campaign was also backed strongly by farmers who hoped to sell rights to oil below their fields. Campaign advertising hammered on the message that Measure J would ban fracking in San Benito County even though there was no fracking in San Benito County, an apparent effort to make the measure sound frivolous. While Citadel maintains that its “thermal injection” process for finding oil does not constitute fracking, the measure is broad enough to include the technology.

Citadel signaled its next step the day after the election by filing an 8-K form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In it, the company said Measure J amounted to a regulatory taking and said it would ask the county to “compensate the company for the diminished value at the Indian Oil Field based on the reasonable Unrisked Resource Potential the property would ultimately yield, or allow Citadel to proceed with full field development and steam injection under the exemption ordinance.”

It followed up the next day with a letter to the county saying the San Benito wells could yield between 20 million and 40 million barrels of oil


Transparency Word Magnifying Glass Sincerity Openness ClarityQuestion of the day:

What do the following have in common?

The Cannery Row Co. Pebble Beach Co. Granite Construction. Monterey County Business Council. Fort Ord Reuse Authority. FORA contractor EMC Planning Groupu.

First Tee. Granite Construction.Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. California Fisheries Association.

Monterey Convention and Business Bureau.  Carmel Mission Inn. Highlands Inn.

Several local law firms. Several local restaurants. A bank or two. Diocese of Monterey.

Give up?

Why, it’s David Armanasco. And the list of local companies and entities that are represented by his public relations firm goes on and on from there.

Now, add to the list the name of Sheriff-elect Steve Bernal.

As the vote count continued last week and it became increasingly clear that Deputy Bernal is going to upset Sheriff Scott Miller, Bernal announced that Armanasco will be handling his media calls and other public relations matters during the transition. No, strike that. Armanasco made the announcement.

It is a natural pairing. Bernal was backed heavily by the Republican Party locally and was backed by many key business figures, and those are Armanasco’s people. And Bernal apparently plans to keep up with his South County patrol duties for the time being, making it difficult for him to “interface” with community leaders, so he needs someone to serve as his proxy.

Armanasco is expert at dealing with the press and equally expert at ducking questions from the press. For instance, I asked him by email last week about the financial arrangements. Who’s paying him?

He responded quickly and pleasantly.

“We are helping through transition for Bernal.  He will not have any announcements until next week.  Since the incumbent has not conceded, Bernal has decided to wait for the latest vote count to be made public late Friday and the voter trend confirmed. Next week he will announce his transition adviser team.  He is still working on patrol so it helps him that we can field calls and make arrangements for him to respond to inquiries when he is off duty.”

Thanks, David, But who’s paying you?

Over the weekend, KSBW interviewed Bernal and asked if Armanasco was being paid out of campaign money. The answer was no. It apparently was a short interview and it wasn’t clear whether the reporter got a chance to ask a follow-up question.

Why does it matter who is paying Armanasco? Good question. Armanasco’s firm does all the things that most public relations firms do. It prepares news release and plans public relations strategies. It writes speeches for clients and helps craft their messages.But Armanasco goes a step farther. In addition to the other chores, he specializes in introducing clients to the right people, who, in many cases, are other clients.

If one was to draw a link chart showing connections between Monterey Peninsula businesses, governments and non-profits, Armanasco would be right in the middle like the hub of a wheel. He isn’t a powerful figure in his own right—though he did once serve on the Coastal Commission—but he’s friendly with the powerful people hereabouts and he’s not a bit shy about marketing his connections

Armanasco’s reach extends beyond the Peninsula as well. He is also a principal in a statewide lobbying and consulting company called California Strategies, which is made up of several former legislators and aides to high-ranking politicians. He joined the firm in October 2013, coincidentally the same month that it became the first company to be fined for lobbying without registering as a lobbyist or filing disclosure documents. Three principals, including former Central Coast legislator Rusty Areias, were ordered to pay $40,500 for lobbying the Legislature and the Air Resources Board on behalf of Boeing. One of the three ordered to pay the fine, Winston Hickox, is a former secretary of the state Environmental Protection Agency. His efforts helped Boeing avoid responsibility for cleaning up a toxic site near Los Angeles.

Look for Armanasco to spend many of his billable hours introducing Bernal to the powers that be on the Peninsula and beyond. Until his dark horse campaign, Bernal was an unknown on the Peninsula and in Sacramento, where he will need to focus much of his attention because of state funding issues. His 15 years in the Sheriff’s Department have been spent in South County and he lived much of that time in San Luis Obispo County. His kids go to school in Templeton.

During the campaign, GOP bigwigs introduced him to some of the right people on the Peninsula, those who could commit money and their good names to his campaign, but he still has some catching up to do. He still needs to meet construction company leaders. There are new jail facilities to be built. He needs to meet the bankers and architects and the lawyers and others on the Peninsula who have a growing interest in public safety in the unincorporated reaches of Monterey County.

Whether campaign contributions can be used for post-election PR isn’t entirely clear. Maybe Bernal’s family will pay Armanasco’s fees. Bernal’s brother, Mike, is a cattle rancher and his mother-in-law, Margaret Duflock is a rich cattle rancher. She contributed around half of the half million dollars he spent on the campaign. But if she pays, Bernal would eventually have to fill out a form reporting the gift.

There is a good chance then that Armanasco is working for free. Donating his time. He does that. He has worked pro bono numerous entities over the years.

One example comes to mind. Ten years ago, when the city of Salinas was struggling to find the money to keep its libraries open, city officials proposed several potential tax increases but was mostly focused on a sales tax increase. Along came the business community with an alternative. How about a utility tax on businesses?

It sounded so generous, so community-minded, and on top of that, David Armanasco would volunteer to help the city get the measure passed. For free.

Never mind that it was a virtual secret that there would be a cap on the utility tax, making it so that the maximum impact on any one business would be minimal. The utility tax would essentially cost businesses less than the alternatives. Never mind that some of the affected businesses were Armanasco clients.

Anything wrong with that? No. Anything illegal? Not a thing. It’s smart business, and many clients have found it smart business to hire Armanasco.

A couple years back, Supervisor Dave Potter was in some trouble because he had solicited and accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution from developer Nader Agha and had asked Agha to make the check out to another fellow. Later, Agha found out that Potter had used the money for something other than his campaign, so he sued.

Armanasco, a longtime friend of Potter’s, went to work. He worked tirelessly to get Agha to accept an out-of-court cash settlement from Potter and to agree to make the amount and details confidential.Anything wrong with that? No, unless you think things like that ought to be worked out in public. Anything illegal? Well, yes, but not Armanasco’s part. And if it helped him get Potter’s support for his Deep Water desalination project, what’s so wrong about friends helping friends?

Armanasco is often quick to offer assistance. When I was editor of the Monterey Herald, I hired a business reporter. Armanasco quickly volunteered to hold a reception for the reporter and introduce him to the business community. My boss thought it was a great idea. I thought it was a horrible idea. The reporter was perfectly capable of meeting the business community on his own and I wasn’t interested in setting Armanasco up as a conduit to the Herald’s business page. I got my way but barely.

The point here is that Armanasco is part PR man, part schmoozer, part political fixer. Bernal can’t be blamed for wanting someone like that on his transition team. He doesn’t move in the same circles as Armanasco, and Armanasco certainly can help steer him in the right direction, even if it happens to be the direction that serves Armanasco and his clientele, the cream of the Peninsula.

But during the campaign, Bernal was quick to criticize Sheriff Miller for supposedly hiding things. Bernal says often that the public wants transparency, which means it wants access to information about how things work. If he meant a word of it, he needs to start by explaining his relationship with Armanasco and spelling out the financial arrangement. And if he doesn’t feel up to the task just yet, he could have Armanasco do it for him.

(Finally, though my prediction on the outcome of the sheriff’s race was a giant miss, allow me a couple more prognostications. I’m guessing that Bernal is going to name an old friend, Galen Bohner, from Southern California to the undersheriff spot or another top position and former sheriff’s Commander Mike Richards as a chief deputy. Some of his supporters won’t like the appointment of an outsider, though, because one promotion from inside the department leads naturally to two or three additional promotions from inside. So if Bernal changes his mind on that one, don’t hold it against me. Richards was terminated by Miller and later ran against him unsuccessfully. Bohner is a former Monterey County sheriff’s deputy who is now a lieutenant in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. For several years, he headed a regional gang task force in the high desert. Also said to be a serious contender for undersheriff or another top spot is Tracy Brown, a former sheriff’s commander who left the department when Miller was elected four years ago.)


Greed as deep and cold as his richest mine


old miner helmetEvery now and then a criminal comes along whose deeds are head-explodingly evil compared to run-of-the-mill outlaws in jail jumpsuits across the land. They make the usual felonious lot  — the dumb, lazy, addicted, hateful criminals littering daily court dockets — seem as common as weeds in a field.

Don Blankenship, the former $18-million-year CEO of the country’s sixth biggest coal extraction company, appears to be one of these — written large. That’s if new federal charges that he wantonly disregarded mine-safety rules to make a bigger pile of money stick to the man nicknamed “The Dark Lord of Coal County.”

Blankenship’s multiple-count indictment last week stems from an April 2010 explosion at a West Virginia coal mine owned by his old company, Massey Energy. The blast, blamed on accumulated coal dust and methane, killed 29 miners, all but two of the men laboring in tunnels 1,200 feet underground.

Blankenship retired in 2012 before Massey sold to another coal company for $7.1 billion. Details in the indictment paint him as consumed by profits with faint regard for his mine workers. His behavior seems a caricature of an avaricious capitalist from a hack-written, 19th century communist tract.

Just reading the indictment leaves one breathless.


Don Blankenship

Among the things Blankenship allegedly did as he ignored hundreds of safety-rule violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine:

  • Kept a close watch on every penny spent, person hired and pound of coal at the mine. He once turned down a request to hire a contractor for $750 to check a winter freeze-proofing system with a note saying, “Nonsense, giving money away.”
  • Ordered mine bosses to “run some coal” and “worry about ventilation and other issues at an appropriate time. Now is not the time”
  • Received a $17.8 million compensation package in 2009, the same year Massey Energy mines racked up 8,900 safety violations.
  • Concluded it was cheaper to pay the fines than fix safety violations.
  • To cut production costs, reduced the number of miners working on safety projects, telling one mine boss to “run this section like a coal mine, not like a construction job.”
  • Threatened to shut the mine unless production increased, warning an executive, “You have a kid to feed. Do your job.”
  • Berated one mine executive by saying children could could run “these mines better than you.” Sent a note warning “I could Krushchev (sic) you. Do you understand?” evidently referring to Nikita Khrushchev, former premier of the Soviet Union who was ousted from power in 1964.

After the disaster, he approved a formal statement to stockholders and financial regulators, along with a press release, claiming the mine complied with all safety rules, fully aware the assertion was false.

All the crime-talking heads on cable television should talk about Blankenship and the widows and orphans for weeks, but they won’t. They’ll stick with the convenient small fry, and ignore the well-dressed monsters in our midst.

Blankenship’s attorney, describing his client as a tireless advocate for mine safety, promised a vigorous defense. He blamed the charges on Blankenship criticizing “powerful bureaucrats who got him in trouble.”

Ahhh, The good old bureaucrats defense, used by financiers who wreck the economy and mine owners who blow up workers. Common criminals never use it. Maybe it’s too far beneath even their tattered dignity.


Important cultural event for you cultural types


Gordon poster22 copy


Something fun and musical to do Sunday night


Creative vector Violin Concert poster designHere’s something different to do Sunday evening.

Eldar Hudiyev, an award winning violinist from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan will play a benefit concert oat 6 p.m. Sunday at Wave Street Studios, 774 Wave St., in Monterey, an address that abuts Cannery Row. The program consists of popular world music from Italy, Germany, Russia, Azerbaijan and the good old USofA. If you don’t know Wave Street Studios, it is a lovely small venue with wonderful acoustics.

Eldar is the brother of Farkhad, conductor of Youth Music Monterey, and has played with many hotshot musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Nancy Selfridge is an organizer of the event and she is hoping folks will drop by and stick some bucks in the bucket.