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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6Just in time to add to the confusion over the city of Monterey’s lease policies at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey Bay Views and News publication has been revived.

The centerpiece of the relaunched vehicle criticizes City Councilman Alan Haffa for sending a note to hospitality and chamber of commerce officials expressing his displeasure for their lobbying efforts on behalf of longtime leaseholders. The leaseholders, including Cannery Row Co. executive Ted Balestreri and the daughter of the late restaurateur Sal Cerrito are attempting to hold onto lease rates negotiated in 1964 so they can continue subleasing wharf properties to others at current rates.

The article, headlined “Monterey Council Member attempts to Silence Stakeholders,” says an email sent by Haffa contained a veiled threat but there is no indication of what the threat entailed.

Monterey Bay Views and News was started in 2012 by public relations specialist and former Watsonville journalist Jon Chown in partnership with Peninsula businessman Nader Agha, who is pursuing a desalination project at property he owns in Moss Landing. The print component of the publication ceased operations a year later and it apparently remains mothballed while Chown moves ahead with a digital version.

The article about the wharf quotes from city documents from 2011 when city officials met in closed session and decided not to attempt legal action against the leaseholders. At that time,  critics of the lease arrangements were contending that longtime leaseholders had received a sweetheart deal that amounted to a gift of public funds.

According to Monterey attorney and Planning Commissioner Willard McCrone (see his Partisan post below), many of the existing leaseholders are leasing space at the city-owned wharf for 61 cents per square foot per month and subleasing the same space to others for several times that amount. Supporters of the leaseholders have mounted a letter-writing campaign accusing city officials of mindlessly seeking to raise the rent without regard for consequences. Those behind that effort have provided virtually no information about lease rates, profit margins or other details but have made good use of the public’s discontent with government to spin public perception their way. With Chown’s return, they apparently have found another tool.

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  • Alan Haffa June 9, 2015, 5:33 am

    Here is the actual email to which I attached an editorial that was published in the Monterey Herald. I sent the same email to the Chamber and to the Property Owners Association. Neither organization spoke to me prior to making their public comments at the city council meeting and neither organization provided written or verbal input during the many meetings when the council deliberated and ultimately adopted the leasing policy. After the fact they publicly criticized the council and did so in a way that misrepresented the facts. I never tried to stop them from speaking, but did chastise them for not getting the facts straight before publicly addressing a public body. This letter does not threaten them but does express my displeasure with their failure to determine the facts of the matter.

    What follows is my email:

    Alan Haffa
    AttachmentsMay 30 (10 days ago)

    Please convey to your members my disappointment in their taking a political position on what is a well founded and researched policy by the city. They should know better. It makes me question how much I can trust the Chamber’s position on other issues. Basically, the chamber is taking a non-competitive, non-capitalistic approach to leasing. You want some businesses to be subsidized by government at the expense of other businesses and the public.

    Please see the following letter and share with your members. You are either being misled or again, do not understand market conditions. Our policy permits flexibility for each lease while giving some basic guidelines so that our leasing policy is not driven by politics and can provide certainty to vendors.

    Alan Haffa

    • Jon Chown June 9, 2015, 10:59 am

      As a member of a majority voting bloc, you publicly threatened to disregard all political opinions of a political organization in future matters because they questioned your policy. That’s a direct threat. Particularly because it is a deliberate attempt to undermine the organization’s value to its membership, which then threatens its very existence. I guarantee you that when constituents write letters to their representatives, they don’t get a reply that says “not only do I not agree, I am not going to even consider your opinion on other matters in the future.” Why? because it’s wrong. It shuts down debate, for one.

      • L. Parrish June 10, 2015, 12:40 am

        You’re a writer? Well, it looks like you went to the Paul Miller school of journalism – just manufacturing quotes out of thin air and attributing them (falsely) to someone. I don’t see anything in Haffa’s letter that says he is “not going to even consider your opinion on other matters in the future”. It appears you’ve taken license to sort of expand and exagerate what he actually said. Could that be why your paper vanished? And excuse my ignorance, but is the Chamber (and other business groups) a “political organization” as you say? Shame on me, I thought it was a business support group.
        The bottom line is, several of the wharf leaseholders have had a sweet (lucrative) deal for a long time and aren’t happy about it – and why would they be? There’s nothing quite like a govt. subsidized business – like a free lunch, it’s hard to give up.
        As for your paper, why don’t you do a little research piece? Find out what businesses in New Monterey or North Fremont are paying per sq. ft. for their leases, then compare that with what they’re paying on the wharf. Then, compare their profit margins and figure out who should pay the higher cost, and why? I think that would be a noteworthy piece of journalism.

        • Jon Chown June 10, 2015, 6:59 am

          Larry, apparently you’re not much of a reader and didn’t make it to the third sentence of Haffa’s email?

    • J Nep June 9, 2015, 12:25 pm

      Mr Haffa, we have confidence in your integrity and efforts to look out for the best interests of Monterey residents and taxpayers, not just the vociferous few with money to gain or lose.

      • Nancy Peden June 9, 2015, 6:03 pm

        Simply I agree. Haffa is protecting our wharf why would we try to turn Monterey into San Francisco?
        The many businesses there deserve a break..

  • Julie Engell June 9, 2015, 6:24 am

    Apparently it doesn’t take much to make the Chamber feel threatened, ‘cuz I can’t find a threat there. Oh, wait a minute. Maybe the “threat” is telling the Chamber that intentional distortion and misinformation on this issue may lead to a lack of trust in their positions on future issues? Perhaps pointing out the obvious is threatening.

    Well, Mr. Haffa, thank you (and Mr. Barrett, Ms. Downey and Planning Commissioner McCrone) for reining in these un-deserved public subsidies. Thank you for crafting policies that are responsive to market realities while protecting the public interest. Thank you for removing Monterey’s vulnerability to lawsuits regarding gifts of public funds. And thank you for doing all this in such a miserable political environment.

    • Jane sink June 11, 2015, 8:55 am

      Well said! You should post this as a comment.

  • Karl Pallastrini June 9, 2015, 7:34 am

    Somebody help me with this. Why would the Chamber weigh in on the politics of the Wharf leases? I would think their purpose is to support business and the city of Monterey, not to opine on the public policy and workings of the City Council. I would think they would support the business’ that are currently there, and those located on any City property, regardless of lease agreements and politics. There job is to promote the City of Monterey…not run it.

  • bill leone June 9, 2015, 9:32 am

    Karl, your question goes to the heart of the matter: The Chamber seeks to influence (control)
    the Council on behalf of the most “prominent,” & powerful business interests in town at Everyone Else’s expense. Councilmen Haffa & Barrett are speaking Truth to Power, hence the “threat.” We can repay them for their courage by voting the Chamber’s political cronies out of office, & speaking out (& writing) against the drivel & propaganda generated by such Clowns (& Chowns) at Monterey
    Views & News.
    The time to start campaigning against Roberson & Smith is Now.

  • Jon Chown June 9, 2015, 10:12 am

    Well, this post is certainly wrong on several counts. For one, I am not sure I consider myself a public relations specialist, having never worked for a public relations firm or held a public relations position before. I have worked as a journalist for more than 20 years and continue to do so, writing stories on the web for a variety of outlets. There are only two journalists in the county that regularly visit the Monterey Courthouse, myself and Kelly Nix of the Carmel Pinecone. That’s why the Pinecone beats the Herald to legal stories. I also do a number of printing and writing jobs for local nonprofits and a few businesses here and there. As for the history of the MBN&V, I was frustrated with corporate journalism after being told by my publisher in Watsonville that the city was an advertiser and I would not be allowed to print a story about grand jury investigations regarding Watsonville. In fact, if the city complained about anything in our paper, I would be fired. So, I began working on my own vision for a Monterey Bay wide newspaper, sort of like the Monterey Weekly, but accurate. I launched the Monterey Bay News and Views in 2012. Unfortunately, somebody put me in contact with Nader Agha an investor, and that proved to be disastrous in every regard. I have kept the website up so that I have some way to show my work for reference.

    • L. Parrish June 10, 2015, 12:44 am

      You DID go to the Paul Miller school of journalism! Also looks like you changed the subject here.
      Astute! Good job!

  • Royal Calkins June 9, 2015, 11:25 am

    Here’s the link to Jon Chown’s Linked-in page in which the first shingle he hangs is as a PR man


    He writes above that the Partisan post “is certainly wrong on several counts.” The only “wrong” he cites, however, is the one about PR, though he proclaims himself to be a PR specialist on his Linked-In post. He also goes on to say that he does printing and writing jobs for a “few businesses here and there.” Sounds like PR to me. Apropos of nothing, he says he goes to the courthouse pretty often. Good deal.
    I sent Jon a message yesterday asking if he has a business relationship with any of the wharf interests. No response yet.

  • bill leone June 9, 2015, 3:09 pm

    Yes, Jon Chown & Carlos Ramos two of the very best community activists money can buy.
    ….no charge for the drama & trauma

  • Jean Getchell June 9, 2015, 3:33 pm

    I’ve began visiting Monterey and Cannery Row in 1973. Cannery Row was fairly desolate except for the Sardine Factory (wonderful) and several others.
    I don’t remember much about the Monterey waterfront. Historic downtown, I remember as charming and interesting.
    Since then, Cannery Row has boomed. Historic Monterey has only improved in many ways.
    Wharf #1 strikes me as shabby and seedy, hardly a complement to what’s been accomplished in Monterey.
    While Cannery Row appears to flourish, the wharf – from outward appearances – seems to be languishing. Perhaps the City should take a look at what’s been accomplished in Avila Beach, Santa Barbara harbor and Ventura Harbor – to cite a few.
    What opportunities is Monterey losing by remaining as is? It’s more than lease payments from wharf businesses.

    • Jon Chown June 10, 2015, 7:04 am

      That’s funny. It’s all in perception. I often see empty storefronts and revolving short-time businesses on Cannery Row and I think that is what some of us are hoping doesn’t happen to the Wharf.

  • Alan Haffa June 9, 2015, 9:09 pm

    Dear Jean,

    You make a good point about the Wharf appearing run down in contrast to Cannery Row, but lease structure does have something to do with it–as do other factors. When a few lease owners have such good terms that they don’t need to run a business themselves to make a large profit, then they don’t need to take much interest in ensuring that the business looks good and has a vibrant business model. Artificially low rent promotes poor business practices because you don’t need a great business model to make large profits if you own the master lease (and can sublease). Secondly, there are a couple families who own the vast majority of the space–that doesn’t promote competition. Competition promotes business vibrancy because competition forces a business to stay on top of what customers want. We haven’t had much change there either–because of the exceedingly long leases–and change can be good by bringing fresh and hungry entrepreneurs into the space. Finally, the long lease terms (50 years plus) did not promote business investment in the building. Master leasees knew they had the lease no matter what and didn’t need to invest to make a good profit (some did; but many have not). Another factor is lack of active property management–the city simply was not staffed to do this. A property manager would work with leasees to make sure they have what they need, but also to make sure that they maintain the property according to terms of lease. Shorter leases allow the property manager and property owner to assess whether or not a business is doing a good job, improving the property, and staying on top of business. We have not done a good job of property management, which is why I have proposed we hire a private firm to do so and pay them a property management fee of 5-10% of the revenue. This way they have a profit motive to make sure that the businesses are run well and do proper maintenance, etc. Instead, we have used “Master Leasees” to do this–and they are making 50 to 70% of rental revenue and are not doing a very good job either in many cases.

  • Jean June 10, 2015, 8:48 am

    Dear Mr. Haffa,

    I fully agree with your comments. My prior comment about creating a City policy that would not allow subletting but allowed assignment with City approval, would be a step in the right direction.
    In the late 1990s, I served as a Port Commissioner at Ventura Harbor. It created leases with hotels, boat marinas, restaurants, et al. A property manager operated the visitor-serving properties and the leases required lessee investment in CAM and upkeep of the premises. Harbor Village survived the recession and has never looked better. Unlike Monterey, it is not part of a downtown magnet, but has thrived anyway. District Counsel always looked after the best interests of the District – here’s one for good lawyers!