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A lawsuit filed today against the Monterey Bay region’s air pollution agency accuses it of systematically and illegally imposing excessive fees against large businesses such as the Moss Landing power plant, which pay annual assessments because they release emissions into the atmosphere.

The suit was filed in Monterey Superior Court on behalf of two longtime district employees and was prepared by two Ventura lawyers, including Jean Getchell, a former planning supervisor for the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District. Getchell’s contract was not renewed in 2011 after she told district officials that they were improperly co-mingling various funds.

That dispute and allegations of overbilling were first reported in 2012 by Monterey Herald reporter Virginia Hennessey.

The lawsuit says state law requires air pollution fees and fines to be based on actual costs without padding to cover unrelated expenses or create reserves. The district, however, despite repeated warnings, used excessive fees to build a large reserve fund and to provide additional compensation to top employees.

A study commissioned by the district in 2014 found that more than 2,000 relatively small entities, those emitting less than 8 tons of regulated pollutants annually, were not paying the full costs of monitoring but that the 84 largest sources in the district were subsidizing them through excessive fees. One of those, Dynegy Energy, operator of the Moss Landing power plant, recently negotiated a $450,000 annual fee reduction as a result of Getchell’s research. Also among those paying excessive fees is the Lhoist lime plant in Salinas. Getchell was not available to comment on the lawsuit but she has said in the past that other entities should be entitled to refunds as well.

According to the court filing, “The study documented the intentional omission of the revenues from the two largest sources of air pollution, which had paid $1,200,000-$1,300,000 in fee revenue annually. In so doing, MBUAPCD omitted approximately 44 percent of the (actual) revenues from the analysis. As a result, the study’s conclusion represents a disregard and contradiction of facts already known to” the district.

Getchell’s co-counsel, Richard L. Francis, said in a news release, “The board’s ongoing approval of … Richard Stedman’s fee recommendations has resulted in millions of dollars in overcharges to the business community. This is illegal and should end.”

The district enforces air quality laws in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. It is governed by an 11-member board of elected officials. Monterey County’s representatives are county supervisors Simon Salinas, Jane Parker and John Phillips, who recently replaced former Supervisor Lou Calcagno on the board. Other board members include Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane, Carmel City Councilman Ken Talmadge and Santa Cruz County supervisors Ryan Coonerty and Zach Friend.

The agency’s top administrator, Richard Stedman, has said in the past that the fees are properly set and that a reserve fund that reached more than $7 million was largely the result of fines imposed on polluting industries, mostly before he took over in 2010. He could not be reached to comment late Friday.

The lawsuit says air pollution districts can set fees above actual costs but only after a vote of the affected electorate, a procedure the district has not followed. It seeks a court order requiring the district to follow the applicable laws.

“For the past three years, the MBUAPCD and its Board of Directors have continued and still continue to allow regulatory fee revenue to be spent for purposed unrelated to the regulatory activities for which the fees are levied in contravention of (state law),” the suit contends.

Plaintiffs in the case are Michael and Teresa Sewell,  23-year district employees. Teresa Sewell is a supervising air quality c0mpliance inspector while her husband is an air quality engineer. The suit says they have standing to bring the lawsuit because they are taxpayers in the district.  For several years, Getchell and other district employees have been involved in grievance procedures and other actions over the district’s personnel policies

The lawsuit says that Stedman told the Herald in 2012 that he was about to perform a cost analysis and would be developing a “spend down” plan to essentially reimburse permit holders by capping or reducing their fees. Since then, however, the fees have increased, the lawsuit contends.

“By continuing to impose … permit fees in the manner it has for the past three fiscal years, wherein permit fee revenues have always surpassed the reasonable necessary costs of the regulatory program, the MBUAPCD through its Board of Directors has imposed regulatory fees that are revenue raising. The police power that authorizes public agencies to impose regulatory fees for legitimate regulation of health and welfare  does not authorize fees that are revenue raising without a vote of the relevant electorate,” the suit says.

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Witness swearing on the bible telling the truthI write this because while driving on Highway 68 recently with friends, I pointed out the location of the planned traffic signal at the Ferrini Ranch subdivision entrance.  They were sure that more hearings were planned.  Wrong!  The Ferrini Ranch subdivision has been approved!

Because of the 185-home project, the four-lane section of the highway will be extended to the curve just before the Toro Place Cafe and a new traffic signal will be added at the entrance to the new subdivision from this new four-lane section.

All procedures have been followed and this subdivision has been deemed to serve the “public good” by the professionals of the Planning Department of Monterey County and the elected Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

Now, the latest news is that the project is the target of two lawsuits.  Many people feel uncomfortable with litigation and in our society the term “lawsuit” is often preceded by the word “frivolous.”  These lawsuits, however, are anything but frivolous.  They allege that the county did not follow its own rules in approving this project.  Only a court can determine this, but many aspects of the approval were troubling.

What follows is merely a lay person’s comments after observing the approval process, but, remember, the Ferrini Ranch subdivision has been approved and can only be stopped by lawsuits.

I invite you consider these issues:

  •  This project was approved under the county’s 1982 general plan.  In 1982 there were no traffic signals on the rural portion of Highway 68.  Does any business, family or individual currently function with a detailed, un-updated action plan written in 1982?  Has Monterey County and the rest of the world changed since 1982?
  • Yes, the project has been under consideration for a very long time, but the final approval seemed hasty.  The supervisors endured one long session of public comment, discussed it for two more meetings, and approved it by 3-2 vote on the last meeting of the year which was also the last meeting of the board chairman, Lou Calcagno, prior to his retirement.  The chairman cast the deciding vote.
  • The supervisor for the district in which the project is located valiantly condemned the project and voted against it, but he did not, apparently, feel strongly enough to persuade any of the three supervisors who approved the project.
  • During the hearing process the changes to Highway 68 slowly came to be termed “improvements to Highway 68.”  Cal Trans was not present at any of the hearings and its views on these changes to an already “failing” traffic corridor were not heard.  Does anyone but the supervisors think that traffic on 68 will not be made worse by 185 new homes and another traffic signal?
  • Members of the public who did not have the time or patience to attend the public hearing should know that the public’s comments and objections were answered in subsequent hearings by County Planning Staff who in every instance appeared to advocate  for the developer.
  • The public also needs to learn a new planning term — “mitigation.”  Apparently, the county planning staff negotiated with the developer to “mitigate” the impact of unavoidable aspects of the development such as cutting down oak trees or making an already failed traffic situation even worse by making donations to projects not directly connected with the building project.  This is from the EIR, page 106: “Additional mitigation will be provided through a contribution to the Oaks Woodlands Conservation Fund.”  This is evidently a modern opportunity to atone for environmental sins by purchasing an “environmental indulgence.”
  • In the whole process there was never any discussion of the combined impact of several developments on the 68 corridor.  The supervisors have previously approved the “Corral de Tierra Shopping Center” and the smaller “Harper Canyon Subdivision” is working its way through the approval process.  This subdivision adjoins Ferrini and extends back to Harper Canyon Road. The combined impact of these two subdivisions was never discussed.

The time is past for letter writing,  petitions, demonstrations, and campaign contributions.  Your public employees in charge of planning and your elected officials have determined that the “public good” is served by this project.

The only thing standing in the way now are two lawsuits.  One has been filed by LandWatch Monterey County.  If you find that this approval process does not pass the smell test, go to their web site www.landwatch.org and make a donation to their litigation fund.

This is the ONLY avenue left for voicing your opposition to this development.

Carl Christensen recently retired after teaching music for 31 years at Hartnell College. Previously he lived in Mexico City, where he was the principal trombone for the Mexico Philharmonic.  He and his wife have two daughters, one who lives in Europe where she performs on the baroque trombone and one who lives in New York City where she mostly leaves her trumpet in her apartment while she practices law.

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Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch was the broken record of this week’s pre-Super Bowl media day, telling the assemblage, “i’m just here so I won’t get fined” and responding to each question with just those words.

Bro, I’m just here because I’m retired.

Like I said I’m just here because I’m retired, dawg.

As you can tell, this column about the upcoming  Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots was getting off to a splendid start.

But the teleprompter in my brain has gone on the Fritz, which happens to be the first name of at least three of the 22,000 members of the lamestream sports media who have descended on the site of Sunday’s colossal contest.

So I’m afraid I’ll have to play it by ear and do some fancy free-associating, as I endeavor to add more ignorance to the monumental amount of blather being produced about Super Bowl 49. This year’s pile is already visible from space and still growing.

  • Note: No Roman numerals in the name game for me. Don’t people know what happened to the Roman Empire? I’m pretty sure Rome fell because of government handouts, carnal decadence and the San Francisco 49ers’ lousy offensive coordinator. It’s time to use American numbers, or emojis, to delineate the advancing  age of the NFL’s annual pageant.
  • I think this year’s game is in Arizona, either at the O.K Corral, the Grand Canyon or in some desert suburb where a publicly financed stadium affords easy access to affluent fans and stunning fade-to-commercial shots of cactuses. Or is it cacti? Who cares? This is football, not botany class.
  • My impact player is Marshawn Lynch, fearsome running back with the Seahawks, who under threat of a $500,000 fine from NFL commissars was ordered to utter sounds before the media bloodsuckers on National Media Day. (Note to Hallmark, where is your line of Nationial Media Day greeting cards? Surely the Don Lemon ones would by ginormous sellers.)

Remember, Marshawn, the Man can only bring you down if your back is bent from being buried under tons of stale Skittles. Great answers, by the way, at your show trial of a media availability session.

Don’t retreat, just reload that amazing answer again and again. By the way, I’m just here, bruh, because I’m retired.

  • I will not be saying anything more about testing, handling, rubbing, throwing, squeezing, engorging, outgorging or gripping balls that hasn’t already been said by tabloid headline writers, red-faced local sports anchors and the high percentage of the population with minds of 12-year-olds.

The story, which I call the Credit Mobilier Ball Contretemps because I like railroads in my corruption metaphors, has been beaten into the next stage of samsara. Enough already!

The whole thing may cause Mike Huckabee, already upset by female work colleagues using locker-room language, more prudish discomfort and derail his exploratory bid to become the first bass player to occupy the White House since George Washington, who was the father of the country, and Daddy did play bass.

  • I hope they don’t broadcast that beer commercial with the adorable puppy and frisky Clydesdale colt again during this year’s game. Last year, it left me reduced to such a puddle of happy tears that I missed the entire third quarter. I am worried if their friendship endured, or if the dog met a sad fate while frolicking with the massive and childishly clumsy equine.
  • Finally, I am fed up to my eyebrows by how this year’s Super Bowl has been politicized like so many other things — Chick-fil-A sandwiches, kale and 30-round magazines — in our contemporary culture. Right-wingers, from Rupert Murdoch to the Daily Caller, have leaped to the defense of the Patriots, accusing left-wingers of attacking the epitome of American exceptionalism by impugning the rectitude of the New Englanders in the Credit Mobilier Ball Contretemps.

Don’t they know liberals don’t care about the Super Bowl, which they view as a bacchanalia of corporate excess and a fat-cat orgy? They only care about that silly game played in circles on the beach with a different kind of ball, you know, a happy sack, or something like that.

Hey bro, did I mention I’m only here because I’ve retired? With absolutely no chance of being rehired to be sure.

Seahawks by 10.

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A Jan. 19 article in the Monterey Herald focused on the Salinas church appearance of a well-traveled lecturer who says he became a Christian after 20 years as an Islamic terrorist. I figured the piece would not land with a thud. The good-vs.-evil story had some rough edges, to say the least.

I knew, as did the Herald reporter, there is long-running controversy about the sensational autobiography of the speaker, Kalam Saleem, who appeared at the First Presbyterian Church as a former “jihad terrorist, raised an Islamic radical, taught to hate Jews & Christians by his parents.”

Here’s the article.

In the online version of his story, Herald reporter Phillip Molnar provided links to several of the articles questioning Saleem’s personal story, articles that I found in about 45 minutes of Googling. I also found plenty of links to conservative Christian and patriot sites trumpeting Saleem’s message and videos of his anti-Islam lectures.

Unfortunately the documentary links in the Herald online story — because of the disparate nature of the media — disappeared in the print version in the next day’s paper.

Still, I thought there would be a strong reaction to the front-page story, which hit the issue about Saleem’s unusual credentials very hard. But the online story attracted only a half dozen comments, and I couldn’t find many more than that on the church’s Facebook page. I didn’t see any letters to the editor, either.

Thud.

Go figure, I thought.

Then on Sunday, the Herald ran an opinion piece by Mike Ladra, senior pastor at the Salinas church, that ripped the story as one-sided, inaccurate and focused more on “various unproven accusations” against Saleem than what he and Saleem had to say to the congregants about “radical Islam.”

Here’s Ladra’s piece.

As far as I can tell, the “accusations” remain unrefuted by Saleem, other than his blaming them on the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a 20-year-old Muslim advocacy group that critics view as extreme.

Like Ladra, I would have liked to read more of what Saleem had to say in Salinas, because one quote in the Herald story cried out for more context. Or it was spoken in a context devoid of reason.

“Islam is the only religion today that asks for a blood sacrifice before Allah. You cannot worship Allah without blood,” (Saleem) said. “… You must offer yourself by killing yourself, or killing others.”

It’s obvious that all 1.6 billion Muslims living in 49 countries don’t follow that recipe to live their faith. Or there would be millions of murders and suicides going uncounted among adherents of the world’s second-largest religion, to whom Saleem broadly ascribes staggering barbarity.

Ladra also wields a broad brush in his piece, which accuses the Herald story of giving readers an impression the church program on “radical Islam” bad-mouthed “Muslims in general.”

He says he spent three summers studying in Jerusalem and sipped Arabic tea with Muslims — he calls them “my new friends — while discussing America, Europe, Jews, Christians and jihad.

“Without exception,” Ladra says, “I was told that I am an infidel and that the world must worship Allah voluntarily or involuntarily. I heard repeatedly from my new friends, “’Today Islam is our religion; tomorrow it will be your religion.’” Radical Islam up close and personal.”

In closing, Ladra suggests Islam can’t be a peaceful religion because the prophet Muhammad, late in life, taught jihad. (The Arabic noun, translated as “struggle”or “striving,” has various spiritual and historical interpretations for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  Today it is used by Muslim extremists to mean armed aggression against enemies.)

Ladra credits TV stations KION and KSBW with covering Saleem’s appearance “very positively.” The KION story identifies Saleem just as he portrays himself without a hint of the controversy about his credentials as a born-again ex-terrorist.  That’s nice, but it’s not as informative as the Herald story, which actually pulled its punches on one of Saleem’s associates on the conservative speaker circuit.

Saleem recently co-wrote a novel, “The Coalition,” about a battle against global jihad with retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a controversial former Delta Force commander and undersecretary for defense for President George W. Bush. Today, Boykin is a conservative Christian activist and executive vice president of the Family Research Council. Like Saleem, he provides frequent fodder for liberal groups like Media Matters and Right Wing Watch.

A Boykin sampling: He was rebuked twice by President Bush in 2003 for saying Muslims worship an idol and false god. He has said Islam shouldn’t be a constitutionally protected religion because it is a “totalitarian way of life.” He has said President Obama is leading the country like a Marxist revolutionary and has called for his impeachment for the Benghazi consulate attack. He also accused Gov. Chris Christie of appointing a Muslim man linked to Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, as a New Jersey judge.

Of course, there is a need to understand radical Islam and to challenge it savagery, as this writer in the New York Times says:

Or as former basketball star and scholar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in Time:

But reliance on dubious, if not false voices — Saleem last year reputedly claimed President Obama worshipped at a Washington, D.C., mosque on a Christmas Day when he was in Hawaii — is a poor way to muster the informed resolve to meet the challenge.

(Full disclosure: I worked with Molnar at the Herald for nearly two years. I consider him a scrupulous reporter and a friend.)

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Relative newcomers to Monterey might think the city’s new mayor is a newcomer to politics. Good thing we’re here  to set you straight. Retired elementary school teacher Clyde Roberson actually in his third term, a few decades separated from the first two. Without opposition, he was elected in November to succeed Chuck Dela Salla, who chose not to go for a third term of his home. To help reintroduce Clyde, the Partisan put a few questions to him.

Q. You were out of city politics for several years. Why did you decide to get back in?

A. I have been in city government for 35 years, startng in 1980 as an officer in my neighborhood association. I spent 20 years on the City Council, including two terms as mayor in the 1980s, and four years on the Library Board after that, so I was never completely out of politics. “Let’s keep Monterey a special place to live, work, and visit” is my motto.

Our natural beauty and pristine bay, historical attractions, and a safe and scenic city, all make Monterey special. When our residents in their neighborhoods are cared for, then Monterey automatically remains a wonderful place to work and visit. Serving the residents in their neighborhoods and protecting our quality of life is my number one priority.

Q. Who encouraged you to run for mayor this time around?

A. At the urging of many local businesses, business associations, residents, and neighborhoods, I agreed to come back. Citizens must be listened to before, not after, decisions are made. The residents are experts in their neighborhoods. City Hall must be a trusted place where they are heard.

Q. How has city government changed in the interim?

A. When I was mayor 30 years ago, there was no Internet, thus no emails or social media. That tells it all. It is much more complicated today with the regional issues of water, Base Realignment and Closure, and recessionary cycles. I still see a hard working staff and caring community who want to make Monterey even better.

Q. How does the current City Council compare to those say, 25 years ago?

A. All of them share a deep desire to serve the public.

Q. This is probably the most progressive council in Monterey history. What challenges and opportunities does that present?

A. The mayor and City Council are non-partisan offices. My good friend and 20-year council member Ruth Vreeland was very “progressive,” so the jury will have to be out on this council being the most progressive in Monterey history. Whatever labels we use, serving the public is what we were elected to do

Q. Given the makeup of the council, it seems like a good time to take a serious stab at addressing the issue of homelessness, not by enacting new regulations but by working to solve the problem. What’s your thinking?

A. I see the City playing a role in helping with financial support to all the wonderful agencies providing services to the homeless, providing and finding homes, and letting those experts continue to do what they do best. Working together, we can help people who want the help and have zero tolerance for illegal behavior to keep our city safe.

Q. There is a fairly deep divide these days between the environmentalist camp, which largely supports you, and the hospitality industry, Cal Am, chamber of commerce camp. Can the two groups get along while you’re in office?

A. I feel there is an awareness right now that we all have to work together to meet the challenges facing us. In the 1980s, with Monterey 2, rampant hotel building, and before the Neighborhood Improvement Program, there was a divide. As I said previously, we all have a stake in preserving our natural beauty and quality of life.

Q. Do you believe salaries for top city employees are too high?

A. We will be looking at our entire budget during mid-year review, and in preparation for our next year’s budget.

Q. What do you think the city should do about short staffing at the Police Department?

A. The City is actively recruiting and hiring new police staff. Short staffing is a national issue, not singular to Monterey. Our Security Ambassador program is successful in our commercial areas, freeing sworn officers to work in neighborhoods and on other top priorities. The department is also recruiting interns and community resource officers.

Q. What is your top goal as mayor?

A. “Let’s keep our small town feeling,” by forming more public/private partnerships to meet common challenges, by fixing our streets, sidewalks, storm drains, and sewers, and by working together. Let’s preserve Monterey now and for the future.

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Over the past several years of closely following the Peninsula water crisis, I have concluded, along with many others, that the collective elective leadership on the Peninsula and in Monterey County has failed its constituency in many ways. The most obvious, I suppose, is the fact that, over the several decades, not a single additional drop of new water has been added to the available water supply serving the Peninsula.

To be fair, the absence of progress is partly due to the electorate’s rejection of new dams and to the election to office of individuals who, for one reason or another, have not worked together to fashion something, just anything, that could be described as “new water.”

Also, to be fair, many special interests are quick to protect their own turf without any incentive to sit down and try to bridge the gaps that separate them from their targeted opponents. The result: many lawsuits, highly polarized factions, and no progress. Several lawyers that I know congratulate themselves on such results.

But, as I pointed out in a recent commentary in the Herald, the Peninsula water issues are complex. I criticize the mayors for supporting Cal Am and for not opposing the California Public Utilities Commission’s decision to approve outrageous rate increases for Cal Am, such as they did regarding the taking down the San Clemente Dam.

I sort of understand the political reasons the mayors have for taking their positions, flying in the face of facts and reason that would argue against them. One is the business leaders supporting the mayors’ campaigns who need the water, at any price, and can pass rate increases on to their customers. Also none of the water-producing alternatives to desalination has proved to be permittable and fundable.

So, the reality is, sad as it may be, the politicos are not likely to jump off the Cal Am bandwagon.  Every time Cal Am falters, takes a backward step, or stumbles over its own incompetence, one or more of the mayors come up with some strategy to ease the pain for Cal Am without anything to ease the ratepayers’ pain. Two supervisors are in position to exercise some leadership with respect to Peninsula water issues, but they are mostly AWOL.

The other reality is that the small group of activists who are working diligently to protect ratepayers – such as Public Water Now and Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula (the reinvented Water Plus) – has not yet been able to effect any real change in the status quo, but not for lack of trying very hard. Influence requires a certain critical mass and lots of money – and, right now, both have eluded the activists.

And, finally, the agency that is supposed to be regulating private utilities like Cal Am on behalf of the public good, the CPUC, has failed miserably.  Interestingly, that is largely because the legislation that created the agency, found in the California Public Resources Code, lacks limitations on the agency, allowing a liberal interpretation that leads helps the utilities and harms the ratepayers.

A history of approved rate increases for Cal Am reveals that it has been allowed to recover litigation costs for projects that failed because of negligence and lack of transparency. Just one example is the incredible San Clemente Dam saga, in which Cal Am was awarded more than $100 million over the amount determined by the judge who presided at the rate increase hearing. Now, Cal Am’s settlement of almost $2 million for the failed regional desal plant is in the pipeline for CPUC approval. The ratepayers have had little or no representation by their local elected officials at those hearings. The CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates argued strongly against many of these requested rate increases, but its recommendations are frequently ignored.

We also know we can’t rely on the governor’s office to appoint commission members who are knowledgeable, fair-minded and committed to the public trust.

Given all this, I believe that amendments to the PUC Code are absolutely necessary to rein in the agency so that it is required to actually regulate, and not befriend, the companies over which it has authority.

That is a tall order, for sure. Even if state Sen. Bill Monning and Assemblyman Mark Stone were to support such legislative action, it would clearly take a much larger critical mass of support in the Assembly and Senate, bolstered by lobbyists and experts to neutralize the expected millions of dollars from PG&E, SoCalEdison, Cal Am and others that be used to would hire teams of lawyers and lobbyist to work against the legislation. There is also, of course, the option of a statewide ballot measure to accomplish the same result, though the hurdles again would be major.

Still, that does not prevent thinking about what such legislation might include.  Here are some suggested changes that I would like to see:

(1)  Ideally, the Division of Ratepayer Advocates would be split into an independent agency. It would have the authority to bring suit on behalf of ratepayers.

(2) As an alternative, in cases in which the DRA’s recommendations were in support of the hearing officer’s findings, the utility would have the burden of proof to prevail over those findings.

(3)  The governor would be required to appoint only commissioners with education and/or experience in one of the areas that the CPUC regulates:  transportation, water, energy or telecommunications.  Also, commissioners would be required to recuse themselves when direct or indirect conflicts of interest arose.

(4)  When the commission is asked to decide between contrary proposed decisions, such as in the San Clemente Dam rate case, the decision would be required to clearly rebut the elements of the contrary opinion.

(5)  All ex parte meetings between parties and commissioners must be duly recorded by a certified court reporter and such recording shall become part of the public record in the matter.  This would reduce the potential for out-of-the-public-eye agreements. At the first public meeting on the subject, the chairman would require each commissioner to publicly state the details of any ex parte meetings.

There are undoubtedly other changes that could be made. I would hope that ratepayers in Southern California, the Bay Area and Sacramento might join an effort by Central Coast ratepayers to curb the CPUC and to create a more level playing field.

 

Hood is a retired water resources lawyer and engineer and former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.

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injection I hope responsible measles people take the advice about Disneyland to heart.

State health officials, in the wake of an outbreak of 70 cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease, asked that people avoid California’s Magic Kingdom if they have not received the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine. For their own safety—and think of the poor characters.

Please, I do not want to see Donald Duck’s ivory-white feathers marred by red measles spots. And poor Goofy, he’s the poster pup for every creature great, small and perpetually at-risk. Have mercy!

Personally, I think people who don’t get themselves or their loved ones vaccinated for the three childhood diseases should be quarantined at home where they can indulge in their favorite pastime — watching conspiratorial, non-scientist celebrity experts spin webs of danger involving big Pharma, evil people with needles and the children, always, the children.

Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, the result of vaccines developed in the late 1960s. But the so-called “anti-vaxxer” movement — which is especially strong in wealthy enclaves in Southern and Northern California — arose to cast fear about supposed links between childhood MMR vaccinations and autism.

Though the 1998 British research paper that was the genesis for anti-vaxxer thought has been discredited as the worst medical hoax in 100 years, all the publicity and word-of-celebrity-mouth news about the bogus dangers have kept the movement alive.

In an age where the words “I’m not a scientist” are fit to be etched on our nationally currency, this should hardly come as a surprise. But now it’s the joy of Disneyland — and standing in ride lines for hours in close quarters with sniffling tykes — that is under threat. Who wants to go up the Matterhorn and come down with measles?

I think back to my own childhood encounters with vaccines and Disneyland.

I was born too early for the MMR vaccine and I spent weeks away from grammar school in bed with the mumps and what we called the German or three-day measles, or rubella. I fell desperately behind in my short-division lesson, thereby forever blocking the door to my entry into the sciences.

Thus scarred, I had to pursue a liberal arts education where I was dangerously led one day to the cacophonous typing room of a college journalism department. But that is another sad story for another day.

I was of an age to benefit from the wondrous anti-polio vaccine and a March of Dimes mass immunization campaign that started in 1955.

I still recall standing in a long, snaking line in a grassy Bakersfield park waiting to get my first polio shot. The hot breeze carried serious fumes of antiseptic alcohol bathing trays of what I imagined were the largest needles known to man. No one was demonstrating. No one was spouting off on television about the dangers of the vaccine.

Around the same time, my family took what turned out to be my first and only trip to a very-young Disneyland. Frontiertown seemed to bear a striking resemblance to our family’s rural neighborhood outside Bakersfield. An aged Tom Sawyer was still alive providing finishing tips on Tom Sawyer Island, and Tomorrowland was under construction.

The monorail was still being built, and there was nary a bump on the ground where the Matterhorn would soon soar. Still, I got a lot of Fritos to eat and enjoyed a pulse-raising spin on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Loved the day.

And it was probably just as well there was no Tomorrowland to visit because what kind of future is a future in which measles are back posing a threat to Mickey and all his friends? Especially poor Goofy.

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Changes ahead daily newspaper headlineCity council members in the Southern California city of Carson are considering cancellation of the city’s subscriptions to a local newspaper and inviting city residents to boycott the paper. According to a councilman leading the effort, the Daily Breeze newspaper “over-reports the negatives and under-reports the positives.”

The approach is a mistake. City officials should be thanking the Daily Breeze for covering things in Carson, even if the paper doesn’t always get it right. It should be encouraging people in the city to subscribe to and advertise in the Daily Breeze, and any other publication that even occasionally sends a reporter to sit in on a City Council meeting.

Perhaps the Carson City Council hasn’t noticed that newspapers are having a tough time. Most papers are so understaffed that they seldom cover city council meetings in their own cities these days and are much less likely to cover a meeting in a suburb. The Daily Breeze was once known as the Torrance Daily Breeze and at one time it did a bang-up job covering Torrance. Nowadays, not so much. Other cities in the area, really not so much.

The Daily Breeze recently published a fairly detailed account of political maneuvering in nearby Carson, something that Editor Mike Anastasi says might have had something to do with the unrest within council chambers. But while the editor insists otherwise, Carson receives little day-to-day coverage from the Daily Breeze and much of it is crime news. Worse, council members said, the paper is quick to report that a crime occurred in Carson when it was actually outside the city.

City officials have some valid gripes. Just about anyone who deals with a newspaper more than occasionally has some valid gripes. They are imperfect enterprises. But the Carson City Council, and even more so the people of Carson, should consider themselves fortunate that a newspaper of any sort pays them any attention at all. Most small-city governments receive almost no coverage, so there is less and less likelihood that anyone will notice when the mayor does something stupid, the council makes a giant mistake or the city manager uses his city credit card to buy a set of golf clubs.

Carson isn’t far from the city of Bell, home to one of the messiest and juiciest municipal corruption cases of the past decade. The city manager was slipping himself taxpayer money at every opportunity and the City Council members didn’t care because he was taking care of them as well. It was a situation that would not have occurred, could not have occurred, 20 years ago when the Los Angeles Times semi-regularly attended Bell Council meetings and routinely scrutinized the city budget. By the time the city manager’s greed got the best of him, no news outlets of any sort were covering much of anything in Bell.

Carson officials have every right to be upset with the Daily Breeze if the newspaper has been sloppy about pinpointing crime scenes or generally badmouthing the city. The way to fix that is to make a few phone calls. Not a big deal. But inviting the paper to stay away, canceling subscriptions and urging advertisers to go elsewhere, isn’t going to make anything better and it almost assuredly will make things worse. My advice to the council is to invite Daily Breeze reporters in to talk, to cover meetings, to take a tour of the city, even to do an expose’ on whatever issues ail Carson. True, the council members might bring unwanted attention to themselves, but their job is to serve their cities and their constituents. The people of Carson are not served by being ignored.

Many Partisan readers have probably also seen references to troubles in the daily newspaper scene locally  in the past couple of weeks, and some have responded much like the Carson folks, negatively.

It came out last week that reporters and others at the Salinas Californian are having to reapply for their jobs, under different job titles, and that they’re likely to be playing a game of musical chairs, journalism style. There won’t be quite as many jobs as there are applicants.

Also flirting with death spiral status, Monterey Herald Publisher Gary Omernick told his staff Tuesday night that another round of layoffs approaches. First word was one or two people. According to an account in the Californian, the layoffs could come from any of four departments, not all from the newsroom. The publisher said the paper wasn’t making its financial goals. It has been widely reported that the Herald is for sale, along with the Daily Breeze and some 70 other papers in the Digital First Media group. Boosting the bottom line, through layoffs or other means, could boost the sales price

One potential buyer, of course, is the giant Gannett newspaper chain, which owns the Californian. There are better options. Much, much better, but cancelling your subscription won’t do anything to advance them.

There also has been talk of Google buying the newspapers, which certainly seems odd at first glance in that the rise of the Internet has played a significant role in the decline of newspapers. Google executives have said they don’t want to see newspapers dry up and blow away because most of the news you see when you sign onto a Google page comes from newspapers. Without newspapers, where does Google get news items for your edification and amusement? From City Hall press releases?

Hardly a day goes by that some Partisan reader doesn’t mentioned cancelling a Herald subscription. One reader commented on one of my Facebook postings that she gets all the news she needs from free sources. Because I formerly worked at the Herald and left without a parade, some people seem to think I like hearing these things. Not at all.

In fact, I hate hearing about cancelled subscription and newspaper boycotts I am glad that readers care enough about newspapers and local news to get angry when they feel they are not being served properly, but I urge Monterey County residents, and Carson residents, to cling to their subscriptions as long as possible, or to pop a few quarters into the machine from time to time. (Now if the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents Herald employees, calls for a boycott in response to the new layoffs, my tune will change.)

I have worked for newspapers all my adult life, so I undoubtedly have an inflated view of their value, but I’ll share it with you anyway. A community of any size isn’t really a community unless it has a newspaper, be it printed or digitized. Many folks know I like the Carmel Pine Cone about as much as I like Dick Cheney, but I will freely admit that the Pine Cone makes Carmel a better place and provides the community with a common language, even if they use it to argue.

Many if not most newspapers are shells of what they once were, but I would much rather see continued support while people in the news biz search for salvation in the form of a new business model or even some miracle. As newspapers go, the Herald is rather expensive, but most of you reading this can afford the price. What you can’t afford is letting City Hall, whether in Monterey, Salinas or Carson, decide what you need to know about what is going on in City Hall. What you can’t afford is letting Cal Am just go about its business without anyone paying attention except Ron Weitzman, George Riley and the Partisan.

Renewing your subscription is not the same as signaling satisfaction with the downsized product you’re receiving today. Renewing your subscription is a way to signal your hope for a better product, and for stronger coverage, as soon as someone figures out how to bring it about.

EDITOR’S NOTE: AS ALWAYS, PLEASE FEEL ENCOURAGED TO SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK, TO LIKE US ON FACEBOOK AND TO CLICK ON THE ADS.

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1782068_751687911586152_8569243377802927373_n 2In the new world of rapid-fire, damn-the-facts journalism, Jeffrey Hunter Phillips got a scoop of sorts this week. He got it wrong but he was close, and that’s what matters in the new world of journalism.

Phillips, one of new Sheriff Steve Bernal’s more shadowy supporters, is best known for his You Tube videos that tend to relate to crime and punishment, though it isn’t always entirely clear. (For the entire series, entertaining if slightly ominous, go to You Tube and search for TheKeffeeKlatsch.com.)

His scooplet consisted of messages to various news outlets this week informing them that former Sheriff Scott Miller had filed a worker compensation claim for stress. Miller confirms he did indeed file a comp claim before leaving office but for repetitive strain injury, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome. He says it may require surgery.

“I have never filed a job-related stress claim nor do I have any plans to do so,” Miller said. “The only injury-related claim I have filed in the past twenty years is related to a right wrist and shoulder injury apparently related to a repetitive motion injury that may require treatment.

“Information related to worker compensation claims becomes public record at some point in the process, however I don’t believe this information is publicly available yet. Regardless, any assertion that I have filed a stress-related claim is unfounded and slanderous.”

Stress or carpal tunnel? In the new world of journalism, details don’t much matter.Still, it is newsworthy, at least to some degree, which is why this is being written. Miller’s predecessor, Mike Kanalakis, filed a worker compensation claim shortly after being defeated by Miller, and it received a fair amount of news coverage. At the time, Kanalakis said he always encouraged his staff to file any legitimate claims. Kanalakis’ predecessor, Gordon Sonne, filed several. It is common practice within law enforcement, and it probably should not be, or at least it should not be significantly easier for law enforcement types to obtain worker comp benefits than it is for regular folks to obtain the same benefits.

Jeffrey Hunter Phillips, who sometimes uses other names, suggested it was only fair to publicize Miller’s claim because Kanalakis’ claim had been publicized. He mistakenly added that Miller had illegally alerted the media to the Kanalakis claim four years ago. It actually was a public record, but, again, details, schmetails.

In Kanalakis’ case, he claimed that during his last year as sheriff he was in so much pain from old injuries that he should not have been working. So apparently he was paid both for working and paid again for working in pain. The system does not make sense. Unless you’re an officer of the law, or a fire fighter.

By the way, journalists apparently were competing Tuesday to be the first to verify Jeffrey Hunter Phillips’ missive and it appears that KSBW’s Felix Cortez was the first to tweet the corrected info. The Partisan may or may not have been the first to blog about it. Weekly Editor Mary Duan said she would buy Felix a donut and coffee as a prize. We don’t expect a prize of any sort. We’re satisfied knowing that the public knows as much as Jeffrey Hunter Phillips and a fair bit more.

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For once, Fox News admits to fudging the facts

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Fox News, to its credit, issued an apology over the weekend to the people of England and France.

Everyone who has toiled in the news business knows the embarrassment of making errors in news reports and being forced to say “oops” to entire nations.

One minor factual error in an otherwise rock-solid tour de force of journalism undermines the entire edifice of infallibility. The goof can make good people choke on their porridge, as British Prime Minister David Cameron said his reaction was to a Fox News guest expert on terrorism.

Caught up in the natural excitement of assigning the blame for the recent murderous Paris rampage by jihadi terrorists on all Muslims, the expert asserted the British city of Birmingham was totally Muslim and a place where non-Muslims don’t go. Only off by 80 percent of the city’s population, which is non-Muslim.

Cameron, a leader of the UK’s Conservative Party (roughly equivalent to a flaming liberal in the U.S.), called the author of the Birmingham expose “a complete idiot,” an estimate only off by 0 percent.

Then a smarty-pants French television show actually sent reporters to places that Fox News routinely claimed were no-go zones for non-Muslims and, voila, showed this, too, was faux.

The back-to-back boo-boos caused quite a stir among Fox schadenfreude-istas on Twitter, where #foxnewsfacts attracted a weeklong torrent of japery and memes of cute Birmingham kittens forced to wear full-face Muslim veils.

As I said, everyone in the news business knows the chagrin the Fox folks must feel.

I recall the time I reported Pebble Beach had become a no-go zone with high gates and uniformed guards who held unwitting visitors upside down until money fell from their pockets.

Or when I reported Pacific Grove was overrun by hordes of zombie raccoons bent on destroying the last vestiges of the last Hometown, along with the town’s unsecured trash bins.

And there was the traveler’s alert I once prepared about the grave damage caused to car tires by spiny outer leaves of giant artichokes taking control of the streets of Castroville.

Fortunately my slight inaccuracies were caught before publication by steely-eyed copy editors, a stern but vanishing species in many journalistic realms.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/world/europe/fox-news-apologizes-for-false-claims-of-muslim-only-areas-in-england-and-france.html?_r=1

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Angry boy displaying loser sign isolated on grey wall background

I understand that not everyone who reads the Partisan also reads the Herald, so here by special request is a link to Bill Hood’s strong commentary. I’ll summarize his main point: Whenever the powers that be have to choose between the interests of Cal Am or its customers, the customers don’t stand much of a chance.

http://www.montereyherald.com/opinion/20150117/bill-hood-cal-am-ratepayers-shoulder-the-burden

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New House BuildingMonterey County officials did the Ferrini Ranch developers a favor by allowing them to rely on the county’s 1982 general plan rather than the stronger 2010 plan, but they managed to fumble the process anyway by allowing the project to skirt even the less stringent provisions of the old plan. That is a key contention of a lawsuit filed Friday by LandWatch Monterey County, legal action that complements a suit filed the day before by the Highway 68 Coalition.

Seeking to block the Highway 68 development, the new suit faults the county on numerous fronts, saying the environmental impact report on the project failed to properly consider impacts and mitigations on traffic, sensitive habitat, visual impact, water supply and other areas.

The EIR couldn’t properly address many of those issues because the design of the project, including the location of lots and various traffic features continued to change even after the county Planning Commission had approved the venture, according to the litigation. It was filed on LandWatch’s behalf by San Francisco environmental lawyers Mark R. Wolfe and John H. Farrow.

It challenges the county’s decision to get around the law requiring developers to present proof of a long-term water supply. Instead, county officials simply declared that the existence of the Salinas Valley Water Project constitutes such proof even though has no concrete plans in place to augment the valley’s dwindling water supply.

Supervisor Lou Calcagno, in one of his last official acts, voted for the project but only after announcing a public relations gesture. Though there had been no public discussion, Calcagno announced that the developers, the Kelton family of Southern California, had agreed to contribute money toward a possible wastewater recycling facility, which theoretically would help address the Salinas Valley groundwater shortage.

Later, in an end-of-term interview with the Monterey County Weekly, Calcagno said he took pride in how he had handled negotiations over the Ferrini venture – negotiations that the public was not privy to until they were a done deal.

The project consists of 185 lots on 870 acres along Highway 68 on both sides of the Toro Regional Park entrance. The development would run from near San Benancio Road to near River Road. It would require removal of 921 oak trees and would see construction of houses on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. Each of the supervisors who voted for the project—Calcagno, Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas—had received campaign contributions from the developers.

 A sidenote about an email, snarky but inconsequential:

After the supervisors approved the Ferrini Ranch project, the Partisan filed a public records request with the county, seeking access to any emails between the developers and the supervisors. County officials responded this week, saying they had found only a handful of emails.One of the more interesting communications, at least in the Partisan’s view, was a copy of a Partisan article about the approval along with comments from numerous Partisan readers attached.

Builder Ray Harrod of the development team had emailed the article to project spokeswoman Candy Ingram, developer Mark Kelton and project attorneys Tony Lombardo and Brian Finnegan. Harrod mentioned in the email that one of the original reader comments had been deleted. He added, “Guess Royal (Partisan proprietor Royal Calkins) does not want anyone to see what type of followers he has.”

I’m not sure, but I think I’ve been insulted, at least a little. And if you’re reading this, you might have been as well.

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Oscar - trofeo doratoIt was impossible to dip into the muddy waters of current events this week without being socked in the jaw by the realization that plenty of people, once again, are hopping mad about the Oscar nominations.

This year’s anger centered on the complete absence of actors of color from the nominees for the top acting awards, a phenomenon not seen since 1998.

I forget why everyone was ticked off last year when the Academy of Whatever announced the Oscar-worthy films and film people.

But I have no doubt there was great debate about how blind the academy voters — whoever they are — were by snubbing this or that film, actor or sound editor (not really, there is never the slightest kerfuffle over sound editing nominees, an ironic zone of silence amid the annual Oscar shout-fest.)

I have two theories about why Oscar nominations spur more vein-popping debate every year than, say, weightier issues like the widening income gap, state-sanctioned torture or the ethical considerations of buying Cuban cigars under the Obama administration’s new namby-bamby policy toward Castro’s Communist Cuba.

  1. A terrific outcry about who makes and who doesn’t make the coveted Oscar ballot generates more free buzz about more movies than if everyone were happy with the nominees. This is probably deliberate, a clever tactic devised by an industry that has cooked up nearly every trick in the heavy footlocker of press agentry.
  2. An abiding division among film cognoscenti set in motion by Marlon Brando in 1973 when, to demonstrate his solidarity with the American Indian Movement, he dispatched Salinas-born Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to the awards ceremony to make the acceptance speech in his place for Brando’s magnificent mumbling in “The Godfather.”

This “right on” moment didn’t sit well with all the folks in tuxes and fancy dresses instead of buckskin and feathers and forever politicized all things Oscar.

Personally, I care very little about the Oscars, the awards ceremony, the beautiful people on the red carpet, or the tendentious acceptance speeches by the winners. I have never clipped out an Oscars ballot from a newspaper features section nor have I attended an Oscar party to watch the televised ceremony with a bunch of overdressed movie buffs.

I blame my overall grumpy attitude about the Academy Awards on Country Joe, lead singer for the Berkeley-based psychedelic band Country Joe and the Fish, one of those no-hit groups from the 1960s whose ridiculous claim to fame was to lead audiences to spell out the F-word at the tops of their cannabanoid-soaked lungs. Right on.

When I was young and impressionable, I caught CJ and the Fish at the Santa Cruz Civic auditorium in a concert one night in the early 1970s right after that distant year’s Academy Awards show.

Between songs, as he attempted to discern the tuning pegs on his guitar from the chemically induced waves of energy flashing around the stage, Country Joe rasped into the microphone,

“Did you see all those Hollywood sleazoids on television last night?”

Well, no I hadn’t. But I caught C. Joe’s disdainful drift. And ever since I’ve shied away from all things Oscar because of that long-ago insinuation that the whole deal is loaded with sleazoid cooties. Silly, yes, but true.

That is not to say I don’t enjoy some of the movies “honored” by the academy. In the past few years, I have seen and enjoyed the films “Nebraska,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Lincoln,” “Argo,” and, yes, even 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love.”

But I don’t make a point of seeing all the “best pictures” to personally judge my taste against the taste of the academy voters. It would be an exercise in self-reinforcement. Like most people, particularly movie buffs, I know I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

I still think 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” got shafted by winning only four Oscars, and none of them in major categories. Those darn sleazoids. They’ll always put a good rabbit down.

I intend the see “Selma,” one this year’s best picture nominees about Martin Luther King Jr. and the battle to ensure voting rights for black Americans. Lots of folks are mad because its director and star were snubbed by the academy voters. There are others ticked by its portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson.

I just want to see “Selma” for its portrayal of a great American story of courage, faith and daring. Who knows, what with Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act and many states giddily restricting voters’ enfranchisement anew, there may well be room for what Hollywood likes best: the sequel.

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Sheriff badgeIt took no time at all for Sheriff Steve Bernal’s fledgling administration to provide the Scott Miller camp with its first “I told you so” moment. In fact, Bernal hadn’t actually started when he declared that he would reverse six promotions that Miller had approved in his final week as Monterey County sheriff.

It turned out, as most knew it would, that the promotions of six deputies to sergeant had been handled appropriately and that Bernal had no authority to simply declare the six unpromoted. The are rules governing such things. It was a small victory for Miller and his supporters who had argued vigorously but vainly that Bernal simply doesn’t have the experience needed to lead a department of 400-plus law enforcement professionals.

But rather than hope for additional opportunities to be proved right, the Partisan is hoping that Bernal has learned some important lessons here and that this humbling experience has put in a new frame of mind. We’re hoping that he realizes soon that the people who got him where he is today will now be seeking their rewards, to the benefit of themselves and not the sheriff or his department.

Bernal’s decision to declare the promotions invalid was encouraged by the Deputy Sheriffs Association, the union that had worked tirelessly in support of his candidacy. If it did not occur to the new sheriff that leaders of the DSA wanted some of those promotions for themselves, let us hope that a lightbulb went off when the county personnel experts told Bernal he couldn’t do what he tried to do.

From within the department and without, Bernal surely is being peppered with suggestions and advice, and some of it is probably worthwhile. But he needs to know that most of the advice will come with a price and the suggestions will, for the most part, be self-serving. Because he had never been a manager before, he might not know that many subordinates who smile at the boss are not as kindly when the boss isn’t around. He may not know that all those invitations he receives these days are not a sign that he has suddenly become cool or popular.

Bernal will have the opportunity to appoint community members to advisory committees and such things as search and rescue squads, both real and honorary. He would be ill-advised to simply hand out appointments to those who contributed to his campaign. There are highly qualified people in the large group that did not contribute. He will be asked again and again to put his thumb on the process of approving concealed weapons. It is safe to say that a significant percentage of the South County ag types who supported his campaign would love to have licenses to carry the handguns they keep in their glove compartments. He will be told that the company that supplies linens or whatever to the jail supported Miller and needs to be replaced by a company headed by Republicans. The input will be voluminous and might seem helpful initially.

Bernal isn’t likely to see this article on his own. He isn’t yet a subscriber to the Partisan and we are not Facebook friends. But perhaps a mutual friend somewhere in the community will bring it to his attention. If so, we’ll capsulize the message here because we know he’s busy.  Steve: Don’t do anything without talking to the county personnel office first. Also, tell the County Counsel’s Office that you want the sharpest attorney there to be your legal adviser.

Bernal’s successful campaign against Sheriff Scott Miller was quite a scrap and there are many of us who remain irritated, or worse, by  the campaign techniques executed on Bernal’s behalf by his campaign management and the local Republican Party cabal. But the losing camp cannot claim any higher ground if we spend the next several months or longer simply sitting back and enjoying the gaffes. The Sheriff’s Department is a huge part of the local law enforcement establishment and bad or overly political decisions at the top can be dangerous for the community and everyone under Bernal’s command. If he listens too often to those whose goal is simply to get Republicans in office or who want to pass out get-out-of-jail cards to their friends, disasters loom.

Immediately upon Bernal’s victory, Monterey’s leading public relations practitioner, David Armanasco, volunteered his services to help the new sheriff with the transition. It may have been a nice thing to do but Bernal shouldn’t keep that relationship going any longer than necessary. The public information function for law enforcement agencies needs to be in-house and should be handled by sworn officers, the higher the rank the better. Having an outside consultant handle information or interview requests makes the process far too political.

Bernal quickly made several key appointments to his upper ranks and, to his credit, some of the chosen came from outside the department. That could prove wise because the appointees have significant experience. But if Bernal had appointed from within the department, he would have created several additional opportunities for promotion. Grumbling over that has already begun within the ranks and Bernal will learn soon that those who were quick to support his candidacy will be just as quick to turn on him when they feel they have been unfairly denied a chance to move up. He will learn soon, if he hasn’t already, that he can’t depend on political connections and friendships to help him sort out his complicated task. He has a big job to do and he needs the best help he can get.

The new sheriff in town also will have to break some of his campaign promises because if he doesn’t, the Sheriff’s Department will all but disintegrate. He promised deputies that there would be no change in overall scheduling practices without unanimous consent. In almost any organization, unanimity is an impossibility. He said deputies would be asked to volunteer for training opportunities but would not be forced into any. What if there are not enough volunteers for a specialized task. Will the task simply be abandoned?

Bernal has a big job. A week or so in, he may have some idea of just how big. Those who supported him during the race, and those who did not, should do what they can to help him succeed. The energy that people might have been put into undermining him would be put to better use wishing him well and working to convert the sheriff’s job into an appointive rather than an elected position.

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Let’s have that talk about guns. Here are some facts…

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contentEvery year during the holidays, I catch delightful snippets of the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” about a family celebrating back in the era when I was a small boy like the film’s narrator, Ralphie.

There are lots of great bits about families, childhood, parenting, but the main plot revolves around Ralphie’s burning desire for a Red Ryder BB gun, which his mother tells him would only serve to shoot his eyes out.

I wanted a BB gun, too, when I was Ralphie’s age. My buddies Kurt and Danny had theirs. Whenever I joined them on safari through fields and orchards on the outskirts of northeast Fresno, I waited impatiently to take a shot until one of them would hand me his air gun.

My adamant father declared our household gun-free, including BB guns. He said he was following the advice of his father, a tough, cigar-chomping Los Angeles police sergeant who kept no guns at home. The cop patriarch saw too much tragedy on the job from the household interplay of booze, depression, anger or despair with easily available guns.

It was as if the playwright’s rule — a gun introduced in the first act must be fired with tragic consequences by the final act — applied in real life.

Today, there are multiple reports of violence involving firearms every day somewhere in America. These are punctuated with chilling regularity with firearms massacres at a Virginia college, a Colorado movie theater, a Connecticut elementary school, an Arizona shopping center, a Wisconsin Sikh temple and on and on.

Each one is followed by demands to tighten our national gun laws and counter-demands not to tread on the 2nd Amendment’s ambiguous, but seemingly anything-goes language on the right to bear arms.

At least, pundits say, let’s have a conversation about why the United States leads the world in gun deaths, having lapped the rest of the world many times over with the carnage.

So I invite Monterey Bay Partisan readers to comment on the subject. To help start the dialogue, I’ve collected some of the latest news from the gun front.

Ground rule: Spare me the fantasies of guns in the hands of the true patriots being the last bulwark against a tyrannical government imposed by communists or health-care bureaucrats. If saving America takes an armed militia insurrection — or a military coup, which is more the modern model for violent regime change — then I want no part of such salvation.

  • One of the saddest recent gun stories was the mom accidentally shot to death in an Idaho Walmart after her 2-year-old son found her handgun in her purse. I don’t know how any law could prevent what appears to have been a tragic personal lapse in the handling of a deadly weapon, reduced in daily routine to an object on par with the car keys, cell phone and pocketbook.
  • Federal health officials say death by motor vehicles is on pace to drop below death by firearms for the first time for Americans under 25. Horrifying, but partially explained by vehicle-safety advances and crackdowns on dangerous drivers in recent years.
  • Since the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there has been no federal legislation on guns — such as limiting magazine sizes, a national registry or better background checks on secondary — online and private — firearms sellers. Most recently passed state laws have expanded gun rights.
  • While the number of private firearms in the U.S. is roughly the same as the population, 320 million, there are 50 million gun owners, and the percentage of ownership is going down. People choosing not to buy arms may recognize, as my grandfather did, the chances of suicide and homicide increase in homes with firearms.
  • Suicide accounted for 64 percent of gun deaths in 2012, up from 57 percent in 2006, indicating self-annihilation may increasingly be the ultimate use of firearms initially acquired for self-defense.
  • There are about 30,000 firearms deaths a year and 86 a day in the United States. Still, efforts to study this area of mortality from a public health perspective are routinely blocked by the firearms industry and gun rights advocates.
  • Gun advocates argue — most recently with the Charlie Hebdo slayings in Paris — that gun-free zones prevent private persons with firearms from more quickly stopping or reducing levels of violence in mass shootings. But gun-control advocates say there are very few — or no — examples of such actions being performed by armed civilians.
  • Recent polling, for the first time, shows more Americans support gun rights than gun control. People believe, by a 63-30 percent margin, they would be safer in a home with guns. Still, only 42 percent of Americans have guns at home.
  • The number of concealed weapon permits in the country has grown from a few hundred thousand 15 years ago to 10 million today. Gun-rights advocates say this may partially explain drops in rates of violent crimes.
  • Mental-health systems in America are on par with those in other industrialized nations, but gun violence is 20 times more prevalent here than abroad.

Some gun-rights advocates say other factors may be at play, including poor economic conditions, less-educated people and opposition to organized religions, like Christianity, that instill self-worth, love and sacrifice. Following that logic, the gun-rights crowd should be behind such things as minimum-wage increases, free community colleges and other “liberal” issues. But I think there is plenty of overlap between the pro-gun and anti-big-government crowds.

As gun zealots have been preaching since the early 1960s, the government is coming to take our guns away. Hasn’t happened yet, but any day now.

All 320 million of them.

Right.

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