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110_F_66851562_fFaspr2gJRZ649D8HnBiDZyATXAzuOcPI’m always asking myself what’s the end of the year without a news quiz. Actually, I stole this idea from the Fresno Bee. Give it a try and see how you do. And, yes, I do know that the questions should be numbered and the answers should be lettered, but I am remain a klutz when it comes to formatting anything, so I’ll make this my last formal apology of 2014.

A. Which of the following happened in 2014

  1. One of the four open investigations into officer-involved shootings in Salinas was completed
  2. The various Peninsula agencies agreed on a plan to increase groundwater storage and expand conservation efforts
  3. A sheriff’s deputy with no management experience was elected to head the county’s largest law enforcement agency

B. Which of these development projects moved ahead despite demonstrably inadequate water supplies:

  1. Monterey Downs
  2. Ferrini Ranch
  3. Corral de Tierra shopping center
  4. All of the above

C. GOP political consultant Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

  1. Managed a principled campaign
  2. Told a chamber of commerce committee that his candidate’s opponent would soon be charged with a crime
  3. Became a campaign issue to the point that he had to pretend to leave the campaign

D. The Monterey Herald editorialized that

  1. Water should not be an issue when developments are proposed because no single development could exhaust the county’s entire water supply
  2. The Pebble Beach clambake golf tournament should be moved to summertime so better weather would attract more tourists
  3. Howard Gustafson and Ken Nishi were the best candidates for seats on the Marina Coast Water District board.

E. California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey

  1. Was caught skinny dipping with the PG&E board of directors
  2. Told Southern California Edison shareholders that if they thought rates were too high, they should just discontinue their electrical service.
  3. Called victims of the San Bruno explosion “a bunch of crybabies.”
  4. Finally got the hell out of Dodge.

F. California American Water Co. spent more than $2 million on

  1. Defeating a public campaign to take over the business even though it claims to be losing money
  2. Brochures touting the company’s frugality
  3. Lunches with Michael Peevey

G. The proposed design of the Monterey conference center was compared to

  1. A post office, circa 1962.
  2. A dental office, circa 1972
  3. A visionary yet misunderstood monument to man’s inhumanity to man

H. In his book, Leon Panetta

  1. Disclosed that the CIA staff kept him in the dark about everything
  2. Revealed that he worked as a script adviser on Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Disclosed that it was Sylvia who found bin Laden
  4. Mentioned that he had wanted Al Pacino to play him in the movie, a young Al Pacino.
  5. None of the above.

I. The oil industry spent $2 million on

  1. Attempting to defeat a public campaign to prevent fracking in San Benito County even though the oil companies contend there is no fracking in San Benito County.
  2. Beautification of the Lost Hills oil reserve
  3. Brochures touting the industry’s environmental resolve

J. Lou Calcagno’s final act as Monterey County Supevisor was to

  1. To take Steve Collins  to lunch
  2. Give John Phillips’ home phone number to Tony Lombardo
  3. Pardon Dave Potter
  4. It’s a secret

Answers: A. (3). B. (4). C. (2 and 3). D. (2 and 3). E. (4). F. (1). G. (1 and 2). H. (5). I. (1). J. (4)

If you correctly answered all 10 questions, consider this an offer to come to work for the Partisan, especially if you have other income.

If you got more than six questions right, you’re a true newshound. You probably borrow your neighbor’s Herald occasionally and pick up the Weekly once in a while.

If you got two to five right, you probably know what comes on right after the KSBW news.

If you got none or one right, Peter Newman’s team at the local GOP would like to talk to you about running for office.


mixed dog sleeping on bed at homeOne year ends, another one starts, and despite a natural desire for a one- or two-day waiting period to ease into things, it never happens.

Traditionally, it’s the only time of the year when being two-faced is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Remember, Janus the ancient deity of beginnings and transitions was depicted as having two faces. One looks backward, the other forward.

It’s a time for reflection on the lessons of the year gone by and for hopes for the new year.

This time of the year presents challenges for journalists who lost the office raffle to take the holidays off.

I used to write those wrap-up stories of the top stories of the old year, which did little but fill space during a slow news period when schools, public offices and the gears of government are shut down. Those stories provided room for good photos, which ran in only two columns the first time around, to be printed much larger. So they make photographers a little happier, but do nothing more than stir cool ashes of past controversies, crimes, tragedies and a few dollops of good news.

One year, I tried to interview local fortune tellers and psychics about their predictions for the new year. But they were less interested in publicity than carrying more cash into the new year. And my expense account for the story was roughly zero.

Besides, anyone with any inkling of local events can make safe predictions for 2015 without benefit of crystal ball, palm-reading or bird entrails. I’ll demonstrate:

  • In Monterey County, water and development will be major issues. The much-delayed EIR commissioned by Seaside for the Monterey Downs project will be roundly condemned.
  • Things will improve at Carmel City Hall. After last August’s bagpiper-led protest march in Carmel, nothing could get worse. The city likely is still fighting damage claims spurred by the horrible sound of the pipes.
  • Any month now, the District Attorney’s Office will at last wrap up its reports on four fatal police-involved shootings in Salinas. And the DA will find no criminal wrongdoing by police, as his office always does. This will tick some people off, and civil suits will percolate along.
  • Marina citizens, with the opening of a long-sought cinema, will discover the joy of driving eight miles less to go to overrated releases from Hollywood, while continuing to drive to the Osio in Monterey to see movies that really matter, if movies really do matter.

Another option for palaver during this news dead zone is to write about new year resolutions. I resolved many years ago never to write about new year resolutions.

It is the only resolution I ever kept. I resolve to keep keeping it, but also to eat more healthily, get more exercise, stop smoking and quit trolling on Twitter with photos of my cute dachshunds. Excepting the first goal, more worthless words have never been written. My dogs are too darn cute to not tweet about.

So I’ve got nothing to add about looking both ways before crossing into the new calendar –just stay warm, stay safe and stay kind. If you’re not going to be kind, you will have a wretched new year. So says world-famous psychic.


P.S. I should resolve to conduct myself in the new year in a way as to prevent anyone — such as the proprietor of this blog — from having the urge to call me a “weenie butt.” But freedom of speech is for fools, too, and I am truly sorry to have carried on this long about resolutions. Now they’re all broken. Weenie butt resolutions!


While I was editor at the daily newspaper in town, I was relieved to learn that the bosses on high seldom read what we produced, because if they had seen my annual Christmas “poem,” they surely would have run me off sooner. It was something I lifted from a previous employer, the Fresno Bee, where longtime columnist Eli Setencich managed to elevate seasonal doggerel to an art form. Eli died this year, so I felt compelled to continue the tradition here. I could never fill Eli’s shoes, but I do know a bad rhyme when I see one. Cheers and apologies to all involved:

Night before Christmas

It was the night before Christmas of Twenty Fourteen
It was a peaceful, quiet time like you’ve never seen
The children were wrapped up tight against the fog
On the streets of Pacific Grove there was nary a dog

red christmas background

I was in my L.L. Bean fleece, she was in her softest pajamas
We were both dreaming of a trip to the Bahamas
The children were all curled up with Iphones and Ipads,
The stepkids were divided up between their various dads

It was a Peninsula Christmas and the drought had abated
There were no test wells or subdivisions being debated
Visions of sugar plums and Sweet Elena’s danced in our heads
As we snuggled down deep into our memory foam beds

Vintage Christmas peace dove greeting card

When up on the roof there arose such a clatter
That I flew to the window to see what was the matter
There was a crew from AT&T on the roof with a tower
So the strength of our cell service would have much more power

But the tech looked strange with his apple red cheeks
And a giant bag filled with circuits, trinkets and leeks
I shouted up to him, hey, you’re looking quite fancy
He said all the gear was for that councilwoman, Nancy

Christmas tree background

I replied well I hope you’ve got a lot more stuff
Because everyone we know should get quite enough
He looked in his bag and his face made a frown
I don’t have adequate amounts for everyone in this town.

So he offered an option, he proposed a quick deal
He asked if I would respond with a yes to his appeal
Could you send Christmas greetings to all on my list
Something simple, poetic, enough so they’ll get the gist


I agreed, of course, as you surely can tell
I’ve thought of everyone I know and their names how to spell
I wish I had presents for everyone in Monterey County
But that would require a big sack and more bounty

So accept these verbal greetings, you Scrooges and Grinches
Or I’ll have to turn you all into goblins and finches
Let the spirit run through these holiday greetings
And last until Monday when we return to the meetings

Winter portrait  blowing snowflakes

So Merry Holidays to Libby Downey and Nancy Ausonio
To the jet skiers on my list I wish a full Lake San Antonio
Boiled chestnuts to Steve Collins, Ron Weitzman, Nader Agha
Put a smile on your face, Spencher Critchley, or I’ll just have to flog ya.

Alan Haffa, Tim and Jane Sanders, Michael Stamp, Caroline Hardy
Pick up Loma Livernois and Carol Reeb on your way to the party
Tie a bow for Mary Adams, Brian Baughn and writer Lisa Watson
Bake a Christmas pie for Tony Dann, Amy White Christmas and banjo Bill Rawson

christmas tree light

Since the holidays are here instead of somewhere more tropical
I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if this doggerel was more topical
So good Christmas luck to old John Phillips and young Stevie Bernal
Just don’t approve every plan, don’t promote every pal

A partridge in a cypress to Ed Mitchell, Phil Butler, crusty Karl Pallastrini
Under the mistletoe, Marc Cabrera, Jane Haines and of course the Schiavones
David Duke and the Butzlaffs deserve some treats under the tree
So do Sue Meister, Luana Conley, Michael Salerno and helpful Greg Furey

Birch forest in winter

Though the season should be bright for nearly everyone around
There are some who deserve some coal, too, for making us frown
But forgiveness is better, sometimes we just should chill
So a toast to sneaky Brandon, Paul Bruno and that sweet Plasha Will

There’s too much turmoil around here at times
With the Republicans taking over by spending all their dimes
The homeless are neglected while the water lawyers get fatter
Billable hours are the point, the results just don’t matter

The newspapers still functioned despite Craigslist and recession
Those deserving Herald raises would be a quite a procession
Julie Reynolds, Claudia Melendez, Sygale Lomas, their work is so fine
Bonuses, please, for Tommy Wright, Christy Hoffknecht and Johnny Devine

red christmas background

Dennis Taylor and Jim Johnson deserve a carriage and some horses
And an exemption from the next reduction of forces
James Herrera, Jeannie Evers, even grumpy Vern Fisher
David Royal and his lovely wife Aparna should get big gifts this year

Ana Ceballos, Bill Wiegle, Jane Haines and especially Julie Engell
Should look for hot chocolate and a jingling silver bell
Bill Monning, Mike Salerno, Don Miller,  tall Larry Parrish
Should get in line with Sarah Rubin for gifts they will cherish

Birch forest in winter

Paul Hersh, of course, Lane Wallace, hard-working Dave Kellogg
Should find chipper Don Miller and light the Yule log
A nod to Mary Duan, Gary Karnes and historian Michael Hemp
When I think of them this year I get all verklempt

Mustn’t forget one who left us too soon, that special Rock Scully
Tis good that he lived life so fully
Ron Cohen, George Riley, Jeanne Turner worked hard for the folks
The campaign against their Measure O was really a hoax

Downtown Salinas prospered nicely this year, ho ho ho
While downtown Monterey’s status was mostly quo
Monterey Downs seems to be running an awfully long race
Its EIR games are truly a disgrace

Christmas tree background

Janet Brennan, Tom Moore, Eric Peterson and of course, Mike and Mollie
If there were more like them we would all be so jolly
Evi Clark, Steve Hunt, all those important Panettas
Go out to your porch and find your poinsettias

Did you think Santa would forget Phil Molnar and Mary Papenfien,
Or Terry Spitz, Chris Fitz, Scott Miller or little Beverly Bean
Heck, Santa might have something for the hospitality-hyrology complex
The big guys downtown with all that muscle to flex

War horse Margaret Davis, Tom Moore, Jan Shriner
Jason Campbell, Bill Monning, no one else could be finer
Gordon Smith, Clyde Roberson, Robert Powell, Geoffrey Dunn,
If more were like you, life would be even more fun

christmas tree light

To everyone, actually, the rich and the poor
Those who hoe the fields, heal the sick or work at the store
To everyone in Seaside, Del Rey Oaks, Chualar and Spreckels
Here’s hoping next year provides you more shekels

From Carmel Valley to Moss Landing and Aromas
Where our kids work so hard for their diplomas
To everyone who tries and everyone who cares
To everyone who needs help and everyone who shares

It’s the holiday season, a pause, a timeout no matter your thinking
We’re reminded this year to enjoy the lights a’blinking
To enjoy what life gives us, to soak in all the sights
To pray for peace on earth and to all equal rights

2015 New Year and Happy Christmas background


baby_daddy_removal_team_t_shirt_dark-r9c684e3da8e84702aa28c60cce1187cf_va6lr_512When I was in college, shortly after the event that caused dinosaurs to throw in their very large towels, I wrote a research paper on bumper stickers.

I didn’t find a lot of empirical evidence back then, aside from a study circa 1970 in Southern California that found cars with bumper stickers supporting the Black Panthers seemed to get pulled over by police far more often than cars with naked bumpers. Imagine that!

My conclusion was bumper stickers evolved from political campaign buttons as our society became one in which traffic jams made it far more likely someone would see our immobile motor vehicles than they would notice our actual selves.

After those early campaigns, we removed “AuH2O” and “McGovern” bumper stickers because they communicated to the world, “Caution, Losers on Board.”

Within a few years, bumper stickers became a year-round phenomenon, announcing to the world, and that tailgating Toyota driver on your ass, that you supported anything and everything from guns, peace, whales and free-range chickens to “Unexpected Stops to Experience Random Moments of Bliss.”

Today, some are forever. I still see “Bush-Cheney 2000” ones on old SUVs, whose drivers evidently missed the past 14 years of news about Iraq, the Great Recession, Enron, deficits, torture and Brownie’s heckuva job. And every now and then, an ancient Volvo passes by on the Monterey Peninsula with a bumper sticker declaring no damn dam on the Carmel River. You want to pull them over and write a citation for being hopelessly out of date.

Today, of course, we have social media that provide readier platforms to vent, rant, spew, pontificate and judge. One of the beauties of Twitter — follow me @LParsons69, if you have more idle time to fritter — is it affords the same opportunity as a bumper sticker to beat your drum, and its 140-character limit allows tweets to be like “War and Peace” compared to simple slogans on a bumper sticker.

But between the ur-social media of bumper stickers and today’s many platforms of Babel lies another canvas on which to fashion advertisements for ourselves — the once prosaic T-shirt. Man, I can remember those wild days when the first non-white T-shirts came out. Even crazier, some had pockets. If only the evolution of T-shirts had stopped then,

But no. There came T-shirts for every hobby, commercial outlet, rock band, political slogan, rock band tour, vocation (“Journalists do it daily,” I sadly recall one) cartoon and comic characters, and every type of snark, sass and plain meaness. Everyone who wears an “I’m with Stupid” T-shirt should shunned, by the way.

And T-shirts, which you once only worried about washing with non-fast colors, have caused no shortage of controversy. It was 25 years ago when kids were being sent home from school because of their Bart Simpson T-shirts.

They’ve been in the news again as protesters question why young black males die at the hands of police at wildly disproportionate numbers compared with young white men.

Many pro athletes donned “I can’t breathe” T-shirts — referring to the chokehold death of suspected cigarette salesman Eric Garner by New York police — in support of the national movement demanding equal justice in criminal justice.

President Obama even thanked basketball great LeBron James for wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt like so many of the protesters.

There has been a backlash, of course, in police circles where us-against-them T-shirts bearing such popular messages as “Baby Daddy Removal Team” and “U Raise Them, We Cage Them” have been offered during the past few years by police equipment suppliers.

An Indiana police officer just stirred the controversy pot by coming out with a “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law” T-shirt.

But Fox News personalities Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly won the insensitivity sweepstakes with their ideas for T-shirts for protesters and their pro athlete supporters.

Rivera patronizingly suggested James should have worn a “Be a Better Father” T-shirt.  O’Reilly cranked up the stereotype machine to 10, saying “Don’t Get Pregnant at 14” would be a better slogan for black protesters.

Two of those “I’m with Stupid” T-shirts would be ideal for the next tete-a-tete between these two deep thinkers.

Or better yet, someone should secretly slap a couple bumper stickers — like the parking lot brigade does so well at the Mystery Spot near Santa Cruz — saying “Support the Black Panthers” on O’Reilly’s limo. Hilarity would certainly ensue.


If you know anything at all about architecture, anything, you know more than I do. In journalism school, my professors told us not to become expert, even adequate, at anything because it would only confuse us later. I took the advice to heart particularly when it came to architecture. You could say I’m the Sgt. Schultz of architecture.

What I do know is that most buildings probably should have some architecture and it is probably better if it is not the result of committee action or popular vote. I understand there are examples of excellent architecture in the world, mostly in other countries these days, and that Mr. and Mrs. Average Person in Barcelona or Tokyo or Sydney might have vetoed the designs if they could.


Having said all that, let me just go out on a skinny limb to say I’m not so sure about the design for the makeover of the Monterey Conference Center. That’s that big space next to the Portola Plaza Hotel. Several floors tall. Panetta Lectures. First Night shows. You know the place.

I know enough about architecture to know that the firm that drew up the initial drawings, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is a big name in architecture, as in the new World Trade Center building. I recognize the Skidmore name and I think the only other name in architecture that would ring a bell is I.M. Pei. I’m not sure if that is a person or a company. Oh, yeah, there’s Skadden Arps. Oops, wait a minute. That’s a law firm.

My initial reaction to seeing the drawing above in the Monterey Herald was that it was a throwback, something from the Herald’s archives, perhaps the unveiling of drawings for a post office in Marina, circa 1972.

I mean, it looks fine. It looks like a place where medical device salesman from throughout the tri-state region could hold a fine conference and/or convention. There is nothing about the look that would prevent any of the attendees from pinning on their nametags and walking right on in. I have been to quite a few conferences in important places like Indianapolis and Dallas, even Phoenix, and I must admit I remember much more about the hotel bars than I do about how the convention center looked.

Phil Molnar, the Herald reporter who wrote about the design’s debut, shared on his blog that he has been getting some heat from people who thought he shouldn’t have given so much space to those who were less than delighted with the look.

“It’s going to have to look way different or I’m going to hear about it,” said Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson, who never struck me as a troublemaker. Sounds like fair comment. It’s not as though he had compared it to a slaughterhouse or said the architects should be arrested.

You know a design debut isn’t going well when the response to the response is that it’s a work in progress, it’s a first draft, nothing’s set in stone. Oh, this? It’s just some concepts we were tossing around.

That’s probably a good approach whenever the audience gets its first look and grimaces. But there is a body of thought that in architecture, unlike in writing, first drafts should be discarded, not reworked or merely edited. “All the revision in the world will not save a bad first draft, for the architecture of the thing comes, or fails to come, in the first conception, and revision only affects the detail and ornament, alas!” Who said that? T.E. Lawrence, alias Lawrence of Arabia, who was not an architect. At least he wasn’t in the movie.

In fairness, it should be noted that this is a makeover, a remodeling, not a start from scratch, reach for the stars design. This is like plastic surgery on an older person. If people don’t point at the result and whisper, “Look like it’s had some work,” the designers can claim some measure of success.

Also, it’s not like the city and Monterey’s hospitality-hydrology complex are rolling in dough, even though they just may be. This is quasi-government stuff. There is a budget, dammit, and someone is going to get some pretty stern looks from someone if it is broken.

The Partisan is hoping, of course, to hear from Partisan supporters about what you think of the one and only picture we were able to get showing how this thing might look. Heck, we’d even like to hear from non-supporters, those of you who only read the Partisan in order to find out what “those people” are up to.

Chime in. The comment section starts just a couple of inches below here.




Unknown-1I barely remember a time when North County dairy owner Lou Calcagno wasn’t a member of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. That changes this week with his last Tuesday board meeting after 16 years as a supervisor.

Part of my confusion, surely (an homage to Calcagno’s regular verbal tic that often brought whispered jocularity as the press corps said in unison, “Don’t call me Shirley”) was caused by Calcagno’s 18 years as a county planning commissioner before his 1998 election to the first of four terms as supervisor.

For more than 30 years, Calcagno cut a rotund figure around the county courthouse and was steeped in major land-use battles from Las Palmas Ranch to the Ferrini Ranch along with the labored turnaround of Natividad Medical Center and scads of other issues, both minor and major.

I leave it to others to write the definitive book on Calcagno’s place in Monterey County history. Without access to the newspaper “clips,” I’m hard-pressed to recall all the things he did that pleased or ticked off constituents.

His overall style was to work out sometimes tortured compromises — what foes would blast as backroom deals — rather than flailing away from a hard-fast ideological position.

Calcagno was a moderate conservative, more pro-development than not, and a good friend of the agricultural industry. But he still was mindful of environmental concerns, especially the Elkhorn Slough estuary in North County and gravel mining on the Arroyo Seco River. And he helped his neighbors get much-needed safety projects on the existing Highway 101 through Prunedale after the wretched Eastside Bypass — an invitation to leapfrog development if there ever was one — was abandoned by state highway planners.

Calcagno leaves the board with two of his top issues still unresolved — solutions to water woes on the Monterey Peninsula and North County, and eliminating regular weekend gridlock on Highway 156 between Prunedale and Castroville.

His questionable role in the meltdown of the still-litigious regional desalination project partnership among the county, Marina Coast Water District and California American Water was far from Calcagno’s finest hour.

But I am left with a few impressions of Calcagno from over the years.

For years, I tracked the financial reports of county officials and regularly reported that Calcagno was the wealthiest supervisor. He had several real estate holdings and a healthy stock portfolio. He didn’t put on any airs of wealth. He favored jeans and open-collar shirts on days when there weren’t meetings. His speech was anything but polished, but its occasional malapropisms and farm tropes couldn’t conceal his quick mind.

One year, just about the time Krispy Kreme doughnuts were becoming a rage, I noticed Calcagno had recently purchased stock in the Krispy Kreme company. I assume Calcagno eventually sold and made a sweet profit.

One warm afternoon in Salinas, I ran into Calcagno and his wife parked in their pickup outside a South Main Street fast-food joint. He was eating a chocolate-covered ice cream cone and seemed happier in that moment than I had ever seen him at a Tuesday board meeting.

At a former Monterey Herald bureau on Capitol Street in Salinas, I first interviewed Calcagno in 1998 about his first run for supervisor. How much more can you take of county politics after 18 years on the Planning Commission? I must have asked.

He told me he planned to serve just long enough — one term, most likely — to straighten out the supervisorial district map after it was redrawn based on the 1990 Census.

That remapping, under federal oversight to protect minority voting rights, had left District 2 stretching from the Santa Cruz County line to San Luis Obispo County. Calcagno put a lot of miles on his truck during his first term attending to business from Pajaro to San Ardo.

After the 2000 Census, District 2 was reconfigured to take in all of North County and part of Salinas. But Calcagno wasn’t done.

Perhaps he hadn’t meant that one-term line all along. What politician would? I think I mentioned it to him once, and he told me he didn’t recall saying that. He said it with his friendly, tight-lipped grin. And I thought, “Forgetful as a fox.”


Big News ConceptA couple of long years ago while I was editor of the Monterey Herald, there was some pressure on the newspaper to endorse the proposed Monterey Downs horse track/housing/hotel complex on Seaside’s portion of former Fort Ord property. I opined internally that significant development projects should not be considered for endorsement until they have been subjected to the formal environmental impact process. How can you proclaim that a project is worthwhile when full nature of its impacts is unknown? I was outvoted, however, so endorse we did.

Now many months later the environmental impact report for Monterey Downs has become the “long-delayed environmental impact report for Monterey Downs,” and a column in the Monterey County Weekly today tells us why. I’ll summarize it, but you should read it yourself.

It seems that a bureaucratic mistake led to the accidental release of a letter to the city by a firm that had been hired to review the environmental impact study. It found, as many others have argued, that there is no adequate water supply for Monterey Downs. Not now and not in the foreseeable future.

The bottom line, and this is from lawyers working for the city and not for LandWatch or anyone else, is this: “The EIR acknowledges that the project does not have sufficient water supplies to serve all phases of the development. The EIR should include a statement that the project has a potentially significant impact on water supplies without mitigation,”

So read it and weep, developers Brian Boudreau and Beth Palmer. Read it and weep those of you who mounted a dishonest but successful campaign to ward off a citizens’ initiative that would have stopped this unsustainable project many months and dollars ago. The truth was the truth before this paperwork got out, but it becomes so much harder for the truth to be bent when it is right there for everyone to see.


images-1After watching the final episode of “The Newsroom” Sunday night, I did a Google search for the title and learned that many, many people write an awful lot about TV shows: critics and viewers, brilliant people and not so brilliant people. I had no idea.

I found that regular people into “The Newsroom” write about the characters and the subplots, the emotions, the romances and the burned out romances. The critics write more about the plots, the implausibility of some of the dialog, examples of writer Aaron Sorkin’s preachiness and how he marginalized female characters in the first of the HBO show’s three seasons.

The things I read were fine, even the critical reviews of the excellent finale, but it bothered me that most of the verbiage was about everything except the point of the series. Journalism.

The critics for the most part treated “The Newsroom” as just another series, another “The Wire” or “NCIS” that just happened to be set in a television newsroom. Many of them acted as though the show was about banter and relationships and could just as well have been set in a surgical suite or a law firm.

“Despite the virtuosity of the dialogue and the charm of the cast, ‘The Newsroom’ was quickly eclipsed by more knowing, acerbic dramas like ‘House of Cards’ and even ‘Scandal.’ ‘The Newsroom’ re-enacted the real-life battle between old media and new, and didn’t seem to interest either. It had an ardent cult following, but no matter how idealistic and cleverly written, the series shimmered outside the dome of relevance.”

As demonstrated above, even the New York Times never got the point. “The Newsroom” wasn’t about old media vs. new media. It was about good journalism vs. B.S. journalism in which celebrity breakups are treated as breaking news and tax legislation is ignored. It wasn’t just a dramatic turn for Jeff Daniels or another writing exercise for Mr. West Wing. It was Sorkin’s take on journalism, his well-researched and fully considered criticism of cable, the traditional networks and, by extension, the rest of the leading practitioners of national and international journalism as it exists in the United States today.

Over at Vanity Fair, Richard Larson says “The Newsroom” was merely about cable TV news. Who knows why he couldn’t see  that Sorkin’s aim was broader, including the networks, print and even some magazines?

Some critics  faulted Sorkin for focusing on real events, as covered by the staff of his fictional newsroom and others. They suggested he should made up some news events for better dramatic effect. I suppose that’s so, but I’m glad he instead focused on the superficiality of the real reporting of real events rather than the fictitious reporting of fictitious events. He could have created more “powerful TV” but I believe that what he was after was powerful criticism of the journalistic status quo, which needs a lot more of it.


Olivia Munn portrayed Sloan Sabbith, hired for her looks back in the day, but she was the smartest one in the room after everyone pointed out the error of Sorkin’s ways

A common topic, running through numerous shows, was the economy and how most real networks treated the collapse of the financial system and the pillaging of your bank account as too complex for significant coverage. How even the high-minded “Newsroom” newsroom had trouble figuring out how to cover a topic that didn’t bleed, that didn’t offer palm trees bending in a storm.

Sorkin, through anchor Will McAvoy, chided the national media for treating climate change as an open question and for taking seriously anything the Bush White House said about WMDs. It was a form of Monday-morning quarterbacking but on a subject much more important than the latest 49ers fiasco.


Aaron Sorkin with a couple of the actors from “The Network”

He didn’t always get it right. The episode before the finale was about a big current topic, campus rape, but it was almost as flawed as the Rolling Stone takeout on rape at the University of Virginia. Still it was a serious attempt at analysis and even in failure it didn’t embarrass itself like today’s Huffington Post piece on the Three Things You Need to Know about the Finale: That Will and MacKenzie are having a baby and that Jim Loves Maggie. I couldn’t read past the top two.

Sorkin attempted to demonstrate through flawed but idealistic characters that solid journalism is more important than ratings. He reflected reality by having the fake TV network fall in the ratings even as its work excelled. I wish he had gone the other direction and had let the network owner, craftily portrayed by Jane Fonda, prosper handsomely because of her support for journalism as art, a calling rather than an industry. The critics, however, would have correctly described that as fantasy.

I have a theory about the difficulties that have been encountered by journalism as an industry, particularly local franchises, but it also extends to the national level at times.

The conventional wisdom is that the Internet is what is killing newspapers and, more slowly, TV newscasts.People can get their news on the Internet, which also has pretty much eliminated one of print journalism’s traditional profit centers, classified advertising. (Local TV stations at the same time suffered from declines in advertising by car dealerships, certainly not because of any increases in aggressive reporting.)

The Internet surely is a significant part of the equation. (Some add to it the nonsense theory that newspapers undermined themselves financially by being “too liberal.”)

But the truth of it, at least to my mind, is that newspapers did undermine themselves but not by pledging allegiance to the Democrats. They did it when they decided sometime in the 1970s or 1980s that the way to protect their flanks and their insanely high profit margins was to play it safe. To dumb it down. To stir no pots. To practice he said/she said journalism that upset no one.


Jane Fonda played the network owner, rich and mean at first, rich and less mean at the end.

Newspaper executives knew as early as the 1970s that the computer age was upon them and that the means of distributing the news was about to change dramatically. Their reaction was to do nothing. As the technological and journalistic challenges mounted, they played more golf.

In the 1980s, the “libel chill” played a part of the decline. It became fashionable to sue the local rag when it dared to report that you had been caught bribing a judge or pilfering your employees’ pension fund. The timing was important because that was when the powers that be within the industry were starting to think about how to respond to the Internet threat. It helped persuade them to hunker down and plan for retirement rather than invest in the product.

In the newsrooms where I toiled in a previous life, investigative reporting was viewed as a dangerous subset of journalism, something for risky characters to practice in dark alleys while the regular reporters sharpened their stenographic skills at zoning board meetings.

Investigative reporters, the few of them, were always being called into the bosses’ offices, where yelling often ensued. Fledgling journalists got the message.

Sometime in the last half century, I’m not sure exactly when, it became the industry standard to cover “controversial” topics by giving voice to representatives of “both sides,” which usually meant someone who was being paid to present a position. The theory was that somehow the truth would emerge from such an exchange, but we all knew that we got dueling bromides rather than enlightenment. Everyone covered abortion issues by interviewing the heads of right to life and abortion rights groups and dutifully reporting their talking points. It would have been more revealing to interview physicians and pregnant women.


Sam Waterson portrayed Charlie Skinner, the gruff but noble news director, who, ironically, died of a heart attack he suffered while arguing for something he didn’t believe in

I watched for decades as young journalists took jobs with newspapers and assumed, right from the start, that the editors wanted safe stories, tepid journalism. We heard that a generation of activists journalists inspired by Watergate coverage had stormed the newsrooms intent on ripping the cover off corruption and chicanery wherever they existed. It turned out that it wasn’t a generation of activist journalists. It was a couple of years worth of journalism-school graduates who lost their fire the first time their work led to a retraction demand.

To this day, the best stories in most newsrooms are the ones the reporters tell each other when they return from an assignment. These are not the things they write about. They are the stories about which government official they saw going into a bar with a lobbyist, or the politician who bought a new house even though he was broke. Those stories aren’t written. For the most part, they’re not even pursued. “Too hard,” or “they’d never print it.”

I once covered the arrest of a fellow who had been planting pipe bombs around federal buildings. I talked to his neighbors and learned that they all feared him, that the kids called him “Mean Dean” and that he flipped everyone off when he took out the garbage. That’s what I wrote. My editor hated it. This is a true story. He wanted the stereotypical story of the suspect being “a quiet man” who kept to himself. He wanted me to have essentially failed in my effort to find out about the fellow because that would have been the safe story, the one that doesn’t get anyone sued or subpoenaed.

Why has newspaper circulation declined so dramatically? Not because you can place classified ads online for free. Not because newspapers are too liberal. It’s because they allowed themselves to become dull purveyors of yesterday’s news, chroniclers of predictable events that you already knew about anyway. When is the last time your local paper really surprised you?

To survive beyond this decade, newspapers and other forms of local journalism must start telling readers why things happen and what they mean. They need to share the intriguing but problematic information that reporters and editors pick up on their rounds.

Recently when incoming sheriff Steve Bernal agreed to have Monterey PR man David Armanasco give him public relations advice through the transition, I wrote about who Armanasco is, about his connections to the community power structure. Some suggested I was somehow “going after” Armanasco and writing things that everyone already knew. I wasn’t going after anyone. I was simply trying to take information that government and business insiders know all about and share it with everyone else so they would have a better understanding of subsequent events. It isn’t only government and business insiders who need to understand how things work. Connecting the dots has become rare in journalism outside the big metro papers. It needs to be the norm.


Allison Pill played Maggie, the ditzy intern of Season 1 who grew into the smart and tough producer by Season 3 despite the best efforts of the boys in the newsroom

Can newspapers be saved or, better question, can local journalism be saved? As ad revenues and circulation have declined, newspaper owners have done the worst and easiest thing. Rather than rise to the fight, they have routinely and systematically cut expenses in order to artificially keep profit margins high. For much of the last half century, small to medium newspapers have enjoyed returns on investment of over 20 percent. In the last half decade, they have maintained such margins by cutting staffs and making papers smaller. In a system that rewards quarterly profit increases and provides little incentive for re-investment or long-term thinking, they started eating the seed corn.

I’m afraid I’m beginning to sound more than a little preachy, too Sorkinesque, and I apologize. But I am passionate about journalism and I applaud Sorkin for taking all sorts of creative risks and bringing an inside baseball approach to a topic that has received far too little examination. Mass journalism’s acceptance of the official line, its reliance on spokespeople rather than facts, has shortchanged the public even as it has diminished the industry’s bottom line. I join Sorkin and a frustrated collection of risky characters in believing that journalists need to shrug off the last half century of complacency and dig for hidden truths while there is some chance of becoming relevant again.

I guess, bottom line, that this is what the Monterey Bay Partisan is about here in the bargain basement of journalism’s boondocks. It’s a clumsy attempt to cover the news, or at least augment the daily report, without worrying about offending advertisers or hearing that the Chamber of Commerce and Cal Am want a word with the publisher. When I watched “The Newsroom,” it wasn’t just for entertainment. I did care a little about Maggie’s latest crush, but I watched for the encouragement. I wanted to be reminded that what we’re used to is not the right way to go about this and that it is worth searching for, even fighting for, a better way.



????Cal Am’s pursuit of a desalination plant in Marina will likely face a pivotal court test this week as the Ag Land Trust has joined the Marina Coast Water District in challenging the legality of the water company’s proposed test well.

Cal Am officials have said that the project timeline could be pushed back a year or more if it can’t drill by the end of the coming week, but it remains to be seen if the stated deadline is real or part of an effort to put pressure on the various agencies involved in the process. Cal Am has said it has drills and other equipment ready to roll.

The Ag Land Trust filed suit  late Friday in Monterey County Superior Court, contending that Cal Am, also known as California American Water, simply doesn’t have rights to the water it intends to pump. It also contends that the California Coastal Commission acted illegally when it ruled last month that the test well could proceed.  (Click here for copy of lawsuit.)

Marina Coast originally filed its action in Sacramento Superior Court because the Coastal Commission is a state body, but a judge in the capital ruled last week that the matter should be heard in Monterey. Ag Land Trust officials may attempt to move the case elsewhere but elected to pursue their challenge in Monterey in the meantime.

“Cal Am has no groundwater rights in the over-drafted Salinas River groundwater basin and cannot acquire any in an over-drafted basin,” said the Ag Land Trust petition. The action was filed on the Ag Land Trust’s behalf by William Parkin. He is a partner in the Santa Cruz law firm of Wittwer Parkin, where Gary Patton, the founding executive of LandWatch, was a partner until 2013. Cal Am’s lawyer, Tony Lombardo, couldn’t be reached on Saturday.


Ag Land Trust President Aaron Johnson

For more background on the test well and related issues, see this Partisan story from last month.

The Ag Land Trust is a non-profit land conservancy that has protected some 25,000 acres of farmland in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties through conservation easements. It owns property adjoining the site of the test well, the Cemex industrial site, and has two wells in the area. The president of the Ag Land Trust is lawyer Aaron Johnson and other key board members include grower David Gill, Kellie Morgantini of Legal Services for Seniors, managing director Stewart Darlington, former county ag director Richard Nutter, and lawyer Marc del Piero, a former Monterey County supervisor and frequent critic of Cal Am. To a large degree, the trust represents the interests of both environmentalists and Salinas Valley agriculture, which is opposed to any infringement on its right to water from the Salinas Valley aquifer. Reconciling the needs of the water-short Peninsula with Salinas Valley interests has been a balancing act that Cal Am hasn’t yet accomplished.


Cal Am lawyer Anthony Lombardo

The test well would be drilled at the Cemex property and slanted toward the ocean so it would draw in a mixture of sea water and fresh water to help determine the desalination plant’s potential impact of marine life, area groundwater and seawater intrusion. If the plant proceeds at that location, the well would become one of the main intakes.

Though a test well might seem to be a minor part of a large endeavor, the $400 million-plus desalination project, getting it approved has proved to be a major obstacle for Cal Am.

For political purposes, the location is an unfortunate one for Cal Am. While Cal Am serves most of the Monterey Peninsula, the Marina area is served by the Marina Coast Water District. Not only does Marina Coast have little to gain from a desalination plant in it jurisdiction, it was a partner with Cal Am and Monterey County in the storied failure of a previous attempt to build a desalination plant. Marina Coast is now locked in litigation with Cal Am and the county over millions in unrecovered costs from the earlier project and the responsibility for millions of dollars in unpaid bills. Trial testimony in that litigation ended earlier this month and the parties are awaiting an initial ruling. Cal Am supporters have suggested privately that Marina Coast filed the action over the test well to help pressure Cal Am to settle the financial litigation.

In pursuit of the test well, Cal Am originally sought a permit from the city of Marina but the City Council, closely allied with the Marina Coast Water District’s board of directors, turned it down on grounds that it had not been subjected to a required environmental impact study.

Cal Am appealed the denial to the Coastal Commission, which overturned the Marina council.

Friday’s filing by the Ag Land Trust contends the Coastal Commission did not perform a satisfactory environmental review and did not consider the potential impacts on the groundwater or other wells in the area.


close-up making sausages automatic processAs Central Coast residents and media folks rushed Thursday to deal with the buckets of rain brought by “Hellastorm,'” another hellastorm played out in Congress.

It featured “Cromnibus” — which isn’t a Hollywood monster or an old “Seinfeld” holiday — but last-ditch legislation to keep the federal government from being shut down at midnight.

Eleventh-hour legislation to avert government shutdowns is becoming as much a holiday tradition as trimming the tree, shopping for presents and Fox News coverage of the 30-year War on Christmas.

Passage of Cromnibus — a semantic salad mixing “continuing resolution” and “omnibus appropriations measure” — was going to be tight.

Right-wing Republicans didn’t like it because it actually paid for federal operations that they would just as soon see nullified.

Left-wing Democrats didn’t like it, particularly because of a last-minute provision that no one would publicly cop to supporting, which will use tax dollars to insure risky swap investments by big banks. One reform measure passed in the wake of the 2008 economic crash had removed federal insurance from this high-roller action by the big investment banks.

Those fancy financial instruments were instrumental in the 2008 meltdown and subsequent, highly popular bailout of bonus-earning Wall Streeters.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged House Democrats to reject this crummy feature of Cromnibus. The drama increased as President Obama and Vice President Biden personally pitched in to help House Speaker John Boehner round up yes votes. Even JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon was working the phones. And he probably got right through to many of those of Congress critters who answer average constituents with snappy form letter thank yous.

In the end, 57 House Democrats joined all but 67 Republicans to pass the spending bill, including Central Coast Congressman Sam Farr. He must have bought the White House arguments for Cromnibus more than he bought those from Pelosi and Warren.

Why isn’t exactly clear.

Farr’s last tweet on the subject urged Central Coast residents to stay dry while Stormulus lashed his home turf as he remained in the capital for the big budget showdown.

The Associated Press quoted Farr as telling colleagues to “Hold your nose and make this a better world.” There was too much good stuff in Cromnibus to risk getting a worse deal once Republicans take control of both houses of Congress next year. Those goodies include money to fund nearly every Cabinet agency through September 2015, increases for health research, securities regulation, processing of a backlog of rape kits, and foreign aid.

In a press release Tuesday, Farr had glowingly said the spending bill would have an amendment he co-authored to prevent the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana patients.

That’s what legislators call compromise.

Bankers will get full house backing on their high-risk investment gambles. And medical marijuana patients won’t have to fear the federal kick on the door.

And the rest of us, the next time the economy crashes, may need some hellagood recreational pot.

UPDATE (2:10 pm)
Here’s a statement Farr posted on Facebook explaining why be voted for Cromnibus.

“Last night was a tough vote. Before us was a bill to avoid a government shutdown and keep the government open through September. The bill contained a lot of good things: increased funding for federal agencies, provisions to help our local ag industry, protections for medical marijuana patients, and it saved healthy school lunches to name just a few. It also contained some bad things the Republicans added at the last minute. I felt the good outweighed the bad and voted for it. The alternative was to allow the government to shut down or to only fund it for a short term until the Republicans take control of the Senate, leaving the Democrats with even less negotiating power. In both of those situations we would have lost all of the good this bill accomplished.”


Rain totals for past 24 hours, big numbers


Some rain totals




New labor contract reached at the Monterey Herald

Herald Guild

Herald union activists celebrate after signing a new labor contract this week. From left, they are crime reporter Ana Ceballos, photographer David Royal, reporter Dennis Taylor, graphics editor/night editor James Herrera, sportswriter/editor Tommy Wright, business writer and Guild unit Chairman Phil Molnar, and reporters Julia Reynolds and Claudia Melendez Salinas. Union members at the Monterey Herald

Union members at the Monterey Herald announced Thursday that they had signed a new labor contract providing them with one extra paid holiday annually  a cap on health care costs and increased cell phone reimbursements but no raises.

Business writer and Newspaper Guild unit Chairman Phil Molnar said, “We would have liked a raise but we are glad to have finally reached an agreement after more than a year of hard work by Guild members.”

Thirty-eight Herald employees had signed a position asking Herald Publisher Gary Omernick to agree to the first increase in base pay in four years. During that period, employees were required to take unpaid weeklong furloughs. Union members had conducted a campaign that included rallies and participation in a national campaign urging Digital First Media to find new ownership for the Herald and other papers in the national chain.


earthmover operator giving thumb upI tried to let it pass. I really did. The Herald editorial Thursday morning about the Ferrini Ranch project caused me to grit my teeth harder than my dentist recommends. Among several things,  it leaned a little to the tacky side. It’s one thing to endorse a project but to come back with a “good job, supervisors” editorial afterward might seem a little insensitive to the many project opponents.  Is “gloaty” a word?

But as I said, I tried to just take a breath and move on. It’s over. I told myself to just turn to the sports page and enjoy the story about the Warriors’ big victory over Houston last night. That would make me feel better.

I checked the front of the sports section. There was a silly story about the 49ers and their hopes of beating Seattle, which is as likely as me beating Steph Curry in a three-point shooting contest. But no Warriors story. I turned to the inside pages. Still no Warriors.

I thought back to last night. Was it a late game? No. As I recall, it ended with plenty of time for me to check my Paypal account for Partisan contributions before Chicago P.D. aired at 10 p.m. So, no, it wasn’t late.

Maybe they just forgot about it, I thought. After all, the Herald staff may report to soulless, bean-counting corporate masters but the worker bees are earnest humans. Finally, I found something, a little blurb at the bottom of the page suggesting I go online for a story about the game. At least I knew I had not dreamt of the Warriors’ record rising to 18-2. It wasn’t an oversight. It was an understaff. It was something, but it did not scratch my basketball itch.

It takes a lot to move me to action, but by then I was irritated enough to flip back to the editorial page. This time I read the whole piece. My course was set, though I admit to a brief moment of hesitation because I once edited the Herald and wrote its editorials. I worried that some folks might be bothered by the idea of me writing a piece criticizing the work of my former employer. I realized it might edge toward the inappropriate, but no more so than a crowing editorial while so many people are so upset.

I’ll go through the Herald piece slowly.

“Critics cited the development’s impact on traffic and the area’s water supply as reasons to turn down the project. We’re not so sure.”

If there is a worse traffic issue anywhere in Monterey County, we have not heard of it. The morning rush hour backup can put traffic at a standstill from Ryan Ranch in Monterey to beyond Reservation Road on the outskirts of Salinas. The nightly rush hour backup turns a 10-minute commute into a 45-minute festival of rear-end collisions. The Ferrini Ranch development will add 2,000-plus cars a day to Highway 68, and that’s according to the county planning staff that had been manipulated into essentially lobbying for the project.

“Opponents have commented that the development would only make traffic snarls worse. We’re not so sure. Developers will be required to provide for one additional mile of four lanes, and a new signaled intersection. These improvements and rights-of-way have been part of adopted local and state transportation plans for years, but had no funding. Ferrini will pay for these improvements.”

Imagine a long pipe an inch in diameter and imagine you’re trying to get a lot of water through it quickly. Imagine that in the middle of the pipe you can splice another piece of pipe, say three inches in diameter, but you still have one-inch pipe at both ends. Is the water going to get through any faster? Now imagine that in middle of the length of pipe you install a valve that shuts the water off briefly every few minutes. Is the water going to move faster now? If you think so, you don’t understand the question.

Speaking of water, the Herald goes on to say that Ferrini Ranch will use an exceptionally small percentage of the water in the Salinas Valley aquifer. That is quite true. But there is already more water coming out of the aquifer than going in. Which means that someday there won’t be any more water unless officialdom comes up with some big ideas, and we’ve all seen how well officialdom does with such things hereabouts. Until then,  salt water from Monterey Bay will continue to fill the void created by the subsiding aquifer, making groundwater near the coast too saline for irrigation purposes. The opponents of Ferrini Ranch are not making this up.

“The reality is that most opponents just don’t like the development and they’re citing infrastructure limits as a reason for denial. We expect that the infrastructure issue will be raised again as those against the project prepare to do battle in court.”

You think?

The Herald likes the idea of the developer putting up $425,000 toward creation of a community services district so that wastewater eventually will be treated and potentially used to combat seawater intrusion. That’s a condition imposed by lame duck Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who, by the way, was the largest recipient of campaign contributions from the developer, more than any other supervisor. By the way, the community services district idea obviously was the result of a negotiation between Calcagno and the developers. It was sprung on the public, with no chance for anyone to press for details, suggest alternatives or simply raise questions. If it doesn’t work out, is the project dead? Will this be like the community services district, and related infrastructure, that the supervisors gave to Cal Am?

Actually, the community services district may be a good idea and it may even help combat seawater intrusion. But here’s an even better idea. Let’s postpone the project and begin construction after the district is created and the recycling is well under way and seawater has stopped intruding.  At Tuesday’s supervisorial meeting, the best thing the county planners could say about the Salinas Valley Water Project is that it has slowed groundwater over-drafting to an unknown degree and seawater intrusion to an equally unknown degree. They’ll know more after a study is completed. In about five years.

Says the Herald: “We’re old-fashioned enough to believe that land owners have some rights, too, and that the county has its duty to observe those rights even while balancing the impact of development on the area.”

Hmm, I didn’t really notice much balancing going on, and are we forgetting the rights of the other land owners in the area? Let’s start with those who have been paying into the Salinas Valley Water Project only to be told they can’t build on their property because there isn’t enough water. How about the rights of the thousands of property owners who live in Toro Park, San Benancio Canyon and Corral de Tierra who want to be able to get home from work at night without having to detour through Marina. (In the interest of disclosure, I must admit that I live in San Benancio Canyon and was a victim of the Highway 68 commute while I worked for the Herald. One member of the Herald editorial board also lives in the canyon. One lives in Monterey and the others live in Santa Cruz County.)

And how about the rights of a few people who don’t own land? If people were to complain about how hard it is to commute from Salinas to Pebble Beach jobs n the morning, I’m thinking the Herald might suggest they move closer to their work. Carmel maybe.

The Herald asks, “Will there be an impact? Certainly, as Supervisor Jane Parker pointed out at the hearing. But we’re satisfied the impact will not be severe.”

This is a cute oneWill there be an impact? Why, yes, come to think of it, there could be. But why no mention of everyone else who pointed out the same thing, including Supervisor Dave Potter, who represents the area affected by the project and who pointed out that the traffic and water issues are symptoms of the “most blatant examples of bad planning.” Is the Herald trying to make it seem like only one official was bothered by the project, Parker, coincidentally the only one of the five supervisors who didn’t receive campaign contributions from the property owners? Heck, even Supervisor Fernando Armenta, every developer’s best friend, said he feared that the traffic impact could be severe.

Having written editorials myself for several years, I thought the Herald’s piece might offer an olive branch to the project opponents. Its original editorial endorsing the project had said that the opponents’ concerns should be dismissed because some of them had opposed a project in Spreckels some years ago, though almost none of those speaking out against the Ferrini Ranch project had ever expressed any opinion about the Spreckels venture. The Herald also had said the opposition’s concerns should be ignored because some opponents purportedly had said something untrue about the Ferrini venture. That was a difficult one to respond to in that the people purportedly making the untrue statements weren’t identified and the purportedly untrue statements went unidentified as well. Tuesday’s editorial, it would have seemed, might have been a time for some fence mending but, no, apparently it was time for the opposite.

One last point. Two, actually. The Warriors game next Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder is a big one. There should be coverage and if there is, I’m sure I will be more forgiving of the Herald’s foibles for ever more. It shouldn’t be hard for them to meet the challenge because it’s an away game and should be over by 9 p.m. at the latest. And if the  bean counters have moved the deadlines up so early to make that impossible, it’s game over anyway. For the paper, not the Warriors.

That other point is this. I watched the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday and was struck by the degree to which the county planning staff had been put in the position of being advocates for the projects. Not arbiters but champions. It isn’t supposed to be like that. On a large and fairly complex project such as Ferrini Ranch, it is necessary for the county staff to work closely with the developers on numerous issues, boundaries, lot sizes, setbacks, visual aspects, traffic flow, drainage, etc., etc. But working with the developers does not mean removing all obstacles on their behalf or automatically taking their side when challenges arise.

Much of Tuesday’s session was devoted to having the county staff address questions that had been raised by project critics during a public hearing the week before. There were pointed questions and some more general. The answers to most were not helpful. Did the staff consider this factor or this one? The answer. Yes we did. No elaboration, no explanation. Just a meaningless yes. Yes, we thought about the impact on wildlife and vegetation. Since the public hearing had been closed, there was no one to ask the follow-up: So what were your thoughts?

The county planning staff should be working for everyone, the supervisors, developers and the public. It should be a credible source of accurate information on the design and potential impacts of projects. It should not be part of the development team. As the result showed, the supervisors are capable of tipping the scales far enough all by themselves.


Man with tied handsPerhaps it’s a personal failing. But here it is, just after 4 a.m. two weeks before Christmas 2014, and I wake up thinking about torture. And it strikes me the whole thing is horribly old-fashioned, almost grotesquely nostalgic.

We’ve been talking, and talking past each other, about torture for a very long time. Right now, in my half-asleep haze, it feels like my anger about how our government set up a systematic torture program in secret prisons around the globe arose shortly after I stopped being a kid who believed in Santa Claus.

The reason, of course, is this week’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of a 525-page executive summary of a five-year study of the “detention and interrogation program” run by the CIA on orders of the Bush administration as part of the War on Terror after the 9/11 attacks.

Within hours, as reporters dug into the document, web sites were trumpeting stomach-churning snippets from the report. One of the first I saw offered seven; a few hours later there were 20 for the taking. Guests were being booked for the morning shows. Jon Stewart was readying a fake news report that hit both the Bush White House for acts of moral depravity outlined in the report and the Obama White House for delaying the release of the congressional study.

Leaders of the Democrats and Republicans were trotting out well-worn lines: This is not who we are. Never again. These people are patriots who protected your families. We’re still at war.

The Twitterverse was less restrained. Critics of torture made in the USA remarked on new phrases from the expanding dictionary of horror — walling, rectal rehydration. Defenders offered to bring buckets to the next water boarding and rhetorically asked what’s wrong with torturing terrorists?

Well, not all of the “detainees” subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” — a banal euphemism now a decade old — were terrorists. And torture is illegal under the law in this nation of laws. But why quibble?

One of the last talking heads I saw before going to bed advised if you don’t want to read the whole report — a summary of a 6,700-page one that remains classified — at least read the high points in the first 20 pages. Spoiler alert. The first one says the torture program didn’t work. Not much return for pawning your national soul out of blind fear. But why quibble?

I’ll read those 20 pages, probably more. But what has me awake now, struck by how familiar it all seems, is what I’ve been reading for years on now-yellowed magazine pages or books that hit remainder bins more than a few seasons back.

I read how CIA and military interrogators used brutal techniques under a regime crafted by a couple psychologists who’d never conducted an interrogation. I read expert after expert say torture produces bogus information.

I read fawning profiles of the producers of the TV show 24, in which intrepid and torture-friendly super agent Jack Bauer dealt harshly with eight seasons of ticking time bombs. Wow, it works. I saw it on TV.

I read how Japanese military leaders were tried and executed after World War II for acts of torture that included water boarding. Hell, Sen. John McCain, the only member of Congress with actual scars from torture, pointed that out in 2007.

I read how a band of brothers with law degrees in the Bush administration made torture legal under their “unitary executive” theory that gives the president authority to do anything to fight an enemy during wartime. I read how one of the lawyers said that power — speaking hypothetically, of course, in 2006 — could include ordering the crushing of a child’s testicles, if need be.

I read all the back-and-forth in 2012, with the release of the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” about whether a key clue to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden came out of a water boarding session. Not true, I read on Page 378 of this week’s report. But I had read that before.

I read about the dismay of liberals and other Americans who don’t fancy the idea of secret prisons and torture when President Obama ruled out any prosecutions, choosing to go forward and not dwell on the past.

I heard his vice president say this week how the report from the Senate committee represents a noble leveling with the public, something no other nation but the USA would do with such shameful secrets.

But it seems to me I’ve read about truth commissions in other countries, from Argentina to South Africa, after they awoke from long, dark periods of their histories and refused to go back to sleep again.


Board of Supervisors approves Ferrini Project


By a predictable vote of 3-2 Tuesday evening, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved the 180-lot Ferrini Ranch subdivision along Highway 68 near Toro Park.

Voting no were supervisors Jane Parker and Dave Potter, who said that two issues, traffic and water, make this project “a blatant example of bad planning.”

Supervisors Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas voted for the project, despite Armenta’s expressed concerns about near gridlock traffic conditions at rush hour.

The swing vote was lame duck Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who called for creation of a community service district that could use wastewater in the Toro Park area for recycling into potable water, helping to alleviate the project’s impact on the already overdrawn Salinas Valley aquifer.

Each of the three supervisors voting for the project had received campaign contributions from the developers, the Kelton family of Southern California. Potter also had received contributions from the Keltons but the project is in his supervisorial district, so he had the choice of alienating a contributor or his constituents.

The board majority ignored emotional pleas from area residents, including one woman who cried as she told the board that she had been in three increasingly serious traffic accidents on Highway 68 in the past three years. Representatives of the Toro Park neighborhood also called for the supervisors to eliminate a plan to widen the highway near their homes and to eliminate an additional traffic signal now planned in reaction to the Ferrini Ranch project. The supervisors ignored those requests.