≡ Menu
Share

Sometimes there are newspaper pages that wouldn’t honorably wrap a dead fish. The Monterey Herald’s July 31 editorial on differing political views about climate change, taking up nearly a third of the Opinion Page, makes for such a sheet.

Now some fish mongers, newspaper pundits, climate-change warriors, petrochemical industry captains and vegans may beg to differ. Let’s take a closer look.

A discussion of differing opinions — particularly an unremarkable poll out this week that shows a majority of California Republicans disbelieve in climate change, and the unsurprising tendency that people enjoy the opinions of others who think like them — consumes much of the editorial.

The poll results for state Democrats are not given. But the editorial says 62 percent of state residents say global warming is having an impact, and 64 percent say it is contributing to the drought. Apparently, all state residents are filling in for Democrats for the purposes of this editorial. A minor quibble.

The poll results are unremarkable because GOP attitudes on climate change have been clear as a desert sky for several years.

An April Gallup poll found only 30 percent of moderate Republicans and 12 percent of conservative Republicans believe global warming is a serious threat to their way of life. A November 2013 Pew Research poll found 70 percent of Tea-Party Republicans believe there is no strong evidence of climate change. And so on.

The Herald editorial quotes the CEO of the firm that did this week’s poll as saying state Republicans are likely taking their cue from national party leaders. You think?

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, brands climate change as a hoax. “I’m not a scientist” is the default response for most GOP presidential aspirants asked about climate change. And every time there’s a snowstorm in February in New York City, the national conservative commentariat chuckles in unison about how chilly “that global warming” is making their world.

Any editorialist could safely conclude that national GOP leaders and the conservative commentariat are affecting the way Republicans think about climate science, without relying on a polling firm executive to say it.

In the next-to-last paragraph, the editorialist shows off a little by using the snappy phrase “cognitive bias,” and THEN reveals that “we … believe climate change is real.”

At last, a taste of meat. Alas, only a taste.

Instead of marching out the facts and logic behind that important conclusion — climate change is real — the editorial rushes to its next two points: climate change is probably not the sole cause of the current drought, and new state rules on greenhouse emissions likely won’t have much effect on the global problem.

On that last point, the Herald’s editorial board is probably proud that California is renowned for having the world’s eighth-largest economy. It would be interesting to see how it concludes that state actions on climate change by a global juggernaut would have minimal impact.

But many readers are probably still wondering about the conclusion that climate change is real. Was it because the great majority of climate scientists say it’s real? Or something the Pope or Gov. Jerry Brown said recently?

Laying out that argument, perhaps, could do something to help bridge the partisan divide that consumed the editorial. The last paragraph is a doozy. It says, in effect, it doesn’t matter what we say because we’re probably saying all this stuff just to be agreeable with the folks we agree with. After the obvious statement that some polls are good, it concludes with a wish that people of all partisan stripes keep in mind that what “their thought leaders say is not necessarily true.”

That’s an invitation to disagree with the thought leaders at The Herald, too. If only they had said something.

{ 9 comments }
Share

farmer spraying pesticide in the rice fieldDrift happens.  Highly hazardous agricultural pesticides–linked to cancer, birth defects and nervous system damage–drift in harmful concentrations far from their intended targets, even onto school grounds where vulnerable children breathe and ingest them.

How do we know?  While there’s an enormous amount of evidence all over the globe, we don’t need to look much further than the state air-monitoring reports of pesticides in Salinas and Watsonville and ongoing studies of Salinas Valley mothers and children.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports that the toxic air contaminant and carcinogen 1,3-dichloropropene exceeded state cancer risk regulatory levels in the Salinas air in 2011 and in Watsonville in 2012.  The Watsonville air monitor is on the grounds of Ohlone Elementary School.

Another toxic fumigant and lung damaging agent, chloropicrin, has been measured above or near regulatory levels of concern at the Salinas airport in the past two years.  The CHAMACOS study by UC Berkeley scientists found brain-harming chlorpyrifos dust in large proportions of Salinas Valley homes near fields applied with the pesticide.

This is no surprise to our state and county regulatory bodies.  It is illegal to expose people to drifting pesticides, yet our government agencies admit that drift is inevitable. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) says: “[D]rift into surrounding air is expected with all pesticide applications.”[1] But rather than prevent the crime of exposing us to toxic pesticides, the DPR and our county agricultural commissioners have chosen to “manage” the damage.

Sometimes the damage is in the form of dangerous, immediate, acute poisonings that make the news, like the 2009 drift incident at a local elementary school, described by the DPR:

In Monterey County, 940 feet north of an elementary school, a helicopter was spraying a spinach field with two fungicides, fenamidone and fosetyl-aluminum, when a physical education class came out into the school yard. When they saw the helicopter, the teacher brought the students back into the building and had them wash. Eleven of the thirty-two students and the teacher developed symptoms, which included eye irritation, nausea, headache, vomiting, and skin irritation. [2]

But the pesticide drift damage that is not so much in the headlines, the long-term illnesses that develop and manifest over time, may be an even greater pesticide danger. Damage to the brain, reproductive and respiratory systems, and cancer, among other documented pesticide-linked health threats, can take years or decades to be observable in individuals. At a Salinas news conference last year, teenage Alisal High student, Miguel Valdivia, expressed this concern when he observed, “If pesticides do have an effect on people, we’ll get to know.  But sadly, we’ll know once it’s too late; once people are already affected by them.”

It is also no surprise to our state and county regulatory bodies that pesticide damage is focused in Latino populations.  The state published data showing Latino children in Monterey County were 3.2 times more likely than white children to attend schools within a quarter mile of the heaviest use of the most highly hazardous pesticides.  The University of California’s CHAMACOS studies have found significantly higher amounts of harmful organophosphate pesticides in urine samples of Salinas Valley Latinas than in the general U.S. population.  As the executive director of the Center for Farmworker Families, Dr. Anne Lopez, has pointed out, the lack of protection from hazardous pesticide exposure for largely Latino populations is a form of environmental racism.

While a good deal of the rest of the world is moving away from—even banning—drift-prone fumigants, we have been much slower to take that responsibility in the United States and California.  One step in the right direction, however, is the DPR’s current exploration of a statewide policy toward regulating the use of agricultural pesticides near schools.  The state has not agreed to prevent drift from happening, but appears willing to address significant ways to reduce the likelihood children will be exposed to pesticides at school.

Among the most promising possibilities is the implementation of a significant protective zone where pesticides are not sprayed—a larger “buffer zone”—around all schools.  Because many pesticides, especially fumigants, blow in the wind and volatize and drift long after applications, the buffer zones need to be large to be protective.

Scientific research going back at least 20 years has found that the closer homes are to pesticide treated fields, the increasing likelihood of exposure to pesticides, as measured by house dust and levels of metabolites in children’s urine.[3]  Greater distances from these fields, like buffer zones, reduces the risk of threats from drift and pesticide exposure.

Current buffer zones around schools don’t work.  When cancer-risk levels of pesticides are measured in school grounds’ air, as the state found in 2012 at Ohlone Elementary, obviously the current buffer zones don’t work.  The biggest reason is they are way too small.  While Monterey County claims a “practice” of a 500-foot buffer around schools during schools hours, and Santa Cruz County has a 200-foot protective zone, a number of other counties have implemented buffer zones of a quarter mile for applications of restricted pesticides.  Imperial County permit conditions go further and specify buffer zones of one mile for aerial applications and soil injection applications, and a half mile for ground applications of restricted pesticides.

San Luis Obispo County requires half-mile protection zones for aerial applications of restricted pesticides. The San Bernardino County ordinance requires up to a quarter-mile[4] protection zone around schools for most applications of pesticide products labeled “Danger-Poison.”

While far larger than the buffer zones in the Monterey Bay area, these more expansive protective areas are still too short. The UC Davis MIND Institute study[5], the UC Berkeley CHAMACOS study[6], and the California Childhood Leukemia Study[7], all conducted in California, have shown that even quarter-mile buffer zones are insufficient to protect California’s children from unsafe pesticide exposures. The UC Davis MIND Institute study documented significantly increased rates of autism in children of mothers who lived up to one mile from fields. The CHAMACOS study has documented chlorpyrifos contamination in homes up to 1.8 miles from treated fields and the California Childhood Leukemia study found elevated concentrations of several pesticides in dust of homes up to three quarters of a mile from treated fields.

Given these experiences and scientific studies of the dangers of pesticide drift exposure within one mile of applications, we are calling for our pesticide regulators to push the use of drift-prone pesticides to at least one mile away from school grounds.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation visited Salinas last June for a workshop to hear from the public about what we want in terms of pesticide use policy near schools.  The Cesar Chavez Library was packed, and the people were loud and clear: “One Mile Buffer! Our Children Shouldn’t Suffer!”  Some of the speakers envisioned pesticide-free farming “innovation zones” around schools.

If the state DPR won’t act—and they’ve thus far scheduled a justice-delayed timeline of spring 2017 for implementation of a new pesticides and schools policy—then our county ag commissioners can.  They have the authority to institute significant protective buffer zones any time they want. Let’s make sure they do.

Drift happens.  Drift is a crime.  Drift must end, and until then, schoolchildren at the very least should be protected from its dangers.

Want to join the fight against drift-prone pesticides and for sustainable farming? Safe Strawberry Monterey Bay Working Group meets every second Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council in Salinas, 931 E. Market St., and every fourth Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers in Watsonville. 734 E. Lake Ave.

Weller is organizer of Californians for Pesticide Reform for the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council. He can be reached at (831) 325-1681 or mark@pesticidereform.org

 

[1] http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/comguide/drift_excerpt.pdf

[2] http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/whs/pdf/hs1886.pdf

[3] Fenske RA, Lu C, Barr D, Needham L. Children’s exposure to chlorpyrifos and parathion in an agricultural community in central Washington state. Environ Health Perspect. 2002;110:549–553.

Simcox NJ, Fenske RA, Wolz SA, Lee IC, Kalman DA. Pesticides in household dust and soil: exposure pathways for children of agricultural families. Environ Health Perspect. 1995;103:1126–1134.

[4] The buffer zones in the San Bernardino ordinance apply only to properties adjacent to schools.

[5] Shelton, Janie F., et al. “Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study.” Environmental Health Perspectives, June 23, 2014. doi:10.1289/ehp.1307044.

[6] Harnly, ME, et. al. “Pesticides in dust from homes in an agricultural area” Environmental Science and Technology, 43:8767-8774. 2009.

[7] Gunier, RB, et. al. “Determinants of agricultural pesticide concentrations in carpet dust.” Environmental Health Perspectives, 119:970-976, 2011.

{ 15 comments }
Share

newsOpen letter to Sen. Bill Monning and Assemblyman Mark Stone

Re: Suggestions Regarding Changes to CPUC Composition and Process

 

Recently, I forwarded to each of you a copy of a letter that I wrote to Robert MacLean, president of California American Water Co. In that letter, I pointed out some of the serious issues that ratepayers have with the company, and I provided him some suggestions that, if adopted, could help both Cal Am and its Monterey Peninsula ratepayers.

However, there is another equation that, in my opinion, should be considered side-by-side with any analysis of Cal Am’s actions if one is to determine if there are fixes that could result in a future water supply for the Peninsula that would be reliable, affordable and acceptable from all regulatory standpoints. It involves the California Public Utilities Commission. I am sure you know of the problems that have surfaced recently with allegations of conflicts of interest and biases and the resulting great loss in the credibility of the commission and its system of regulating private utilities.

With respect to the CPUC and its relationship with Cal Am, the issues are more localized, but are every bit as concerning as the more global issues that have been making the news. The problem with the CPUC, as far as most Peninsula ratepayers will tell you, is that the agency tends to bend over backwards to approve rate increases for Cal Am, irrespective of certain facts that, on their face, would indicate the applications do not merit positive results for Cal Am.

In my letter to Mr. MacLean, I cite the San Clemente Dam rate case as a terrible example of how the commission disregarded the recommendation of its Division of Ratepayer Advocates, as well as the administrative law judge who actually heard the case, and voted instead for a recommended decision that, for all the world, looked like it was drafted by Cal Am itself.

So here is what I see. The CPUC and its process has several flaws. First, persons appointed as commissioners are not required to have any specific experience in areas that are critical to the making of decisions on complex issues that will come before them.

Second, ratepayers really have no agency or external group that has the power and authority to come to their aid when the commission has stepped over the line with respect to reasonableness and fairness. The Division of Ratepayers Advocates has a very competent and experienced staff, and they frequently analyze and point out many issues in rate cases that bear full attention. Unfortunately, they have no authority beyond making recommendations, and the full commission can accept or reject as it wishes, and it does.

Third, rate cases are most often heard in San Francisco, which does not provide significant access to and participation in the process for ordinary ratepayers. Most ratepayers are unable to participate as parties, which usually requires retention of legal counsel, time and travel costs to San Francisco and back to their homes. In addition, the three-minute rule, while I understand its adoption, works as a further limitation on the ability of most ratepayers to participate and have their serious concerns heard.

I am proposing a general outline of what would be a legislative, and regulatory fix for these issues, and am forwarding them to you in hopes you will give them serious consideration as to changes that should be pursued

In the State of Ohio, where my wife and I have a part-time home, a person appointed as a commissioner to the Public Utilities Commission must have experience in one or more of the following areas: economics, law, accounting, finance, natural and physical science, natural resources, or environmental studies. Presently, under California law, there are no such qualifications required and this should be changed.

An independent body, such as the Ohio Consumers Council, needs to be established, one that undertakes the same roles as the DRA, but one that has the ability to bring suit on behalf of ratepayers, not just one that can make recommendations that can be ignored. In Ohio, for example, the most comparable entity has a staff of about 15 professionals, including attorneys, analysts and public outreach specialists, and has an annual budget of $8.5 million.

If this option is not feasible, for whatever reason, I would recommend that the Commission, if voting to adopt a decision opposed by the DRA, must address each and every point of opposition expressed by the DRA.

With respect to access, I would recommend that a commissioner assigned to a rate case schedule several public meetings in a location that is most favorable for attendance by ratepayers potentially impacted by the outcome. The times would be also set reasonably to promote maximum attendance. In order to get around the three-minute rule, a process would be created whereby ratepayers could identify a limited number of representatives who would speak on behalf of those persons. Such named representatives would be identified to the CPUC and the sitting commissioner would grant such representatives up to 15 minutes to state their positions, plus reasonable time to respond to questions/comments that are raised. If time permitted, the commissioner could also allow individuals to speak, but they would be limited by the three-minute rule.

The ex parte rules currently in use by the CPUC probably present the most significant potential for abuse and the creation and continuation of the perception that regulated utilities have a path, hidden from view, to exert undue influence on the decisions of the commission. This is a sensitive subject, but recent disclosures surrounding the past chairman and his relationships with certain utilities strengthen the need for a close analysis and the implementation of changes that will bring the process more out in the open. If and when there would ever be an intent and agreement between a utility and a commissioner to abuse the system, the ratepayers who bear the brunt of such an action, under current ex parte rules, would have little or no access to protect themselves. So here are my suggestions.

1. Commissioners would not be allowed to meet privately with anyone representing a former employer or anyone with whom they had been associated with as a representative or consultant or anyone who had made contributions of more than $___ to any political campaigns engaged in by said commissioner.

2. In the event of any ex parte meetings, the commissioner shall be required to comply with the existing disclosure requirements and prepare a bullet summary of the key points that were discussed at the meeting for distribution to all parties to the case within three days. The petitioner shall agree to provide be cross-examined, under oath, with respect to the content and nature of the meeting if called for by any party to the case, and shall respond to all relevant questions that are not rejected for cause by the sitting ALJ.

My preference would be to ban all ex parte meetings in a rate case. In lieu of that, my preference would be that all communications between the parties and the commissioners be in writing and directly distributed or made available to all parties. A completely open process, while not infallible against those who want to circumvent it, still provides a stronger potential that behind-the-scenes communications will not be factors that wrongly influence the decisions of the commission in a rate case, where millions of dollars can be on the line.

This is not an indictment of the integrity of anyone. However, events of the past have led to a widely held belief that behind-the-scenes contacts have resulted in unfair results and have caused significant damage to the credibility of the CPUC.

It is clear to me that the CPUC needs to be reprogrammed in such a way that its deliberations and decisions are perceived as fact-based and fair and reasonable to both the utilities that they regulate and the public. Right now, that perception is almost entirely the opposite – that politics and back-door influences are involved, and, as a result, ratepayers cannot rely upon the agency to protect their interests.

In my career, I have drafted proposed regulations and legislation and would be pleased to provide you with a working draft, should you have any interest in pursuing this matter.I can be reached by email at wshood37@yahoo.com.

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

{ 13 comments }
Share

Siluette di un uomo anonimo dubbio

Knowing full well the exercise is doomed to failure, I’d like to plea with political reporters and editors to cease pegging stories to anonymous sources.

The use of anonymous sources in news articles increases the closer the subject matter is to either any of the 50 state capitals, or Washington, D.C., the leak capital of the world.

I’m not talking about using information given to journalists in confidence — a situation that requires a solemn and professional promise to protect the source’s identity — as a wedge with which to ferret out important information about how the government or a business or a nonprofit is operating.

I am talking about the use of unnamed sources in print to spin, direct, influence and take cheap shots against one side or the the other in a political contest.

The practice last week led to an embarrassing debacle for the New York Times, when it had to slowly back-track, correct and then suffer damning criticism from its in-house public editor over a front-page story about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The story, of course, dealt with the ongoing hubbub over Clinton’s use of a private email account while she was secretary of state.

Initially, the top paragraph reported unnamed senior government officials as saying  the Justice Department had been asked to open a criminal investigation into Clinton’s use of personal email. The story became watered-down — turning into a nothing-burger, really — over the course of a couple days as corrections were made to the original report.

Here’s the Times’ public editor’s post-mortem on the “mess.”

A sharper, far more critical analysis of the story was made by former NYT reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who called for heads to roll at the national paper given the apparent ineptitude of reporting of the story.

Of course, there is a lot of complicated, bureaucratic process threaded through these exercises in Monday-morning quarterbacking.

But what raises my concern are those “senior government officials,” who either misunderstood or deliberately falsified the Department of Justice referrals from two inspectors general, and the credence given to their interpretations of the information by the Times reporters.

In my mind, senior government officials can be stretched to include everyone from the president to the head ranger on a national forest — depending on the context.

From the post-mortems, the Times apparently talked to sources on Capitol Hill (Congress) and the Department of Justice. But the senior Democrat on the House committee purportedly investigating the Benghazi attack, the most probable abode of those Capitol Hill sources, made it clear the Times never talked to him before publication.

I have nothing against persons working on political campaigns or who have favorite candidates informing journalists about what they consider to be negative information against an opponent. It happens all the time.

Those stories about employment discrimination complaints and personal financial setbacks last year involving the two candidates for Monterey County sheriff didn’t originate from lively brainstorming sessions by local journalists. They came from the other side.

What’s key for journalists is to check out such information for accuracy, to weigh its importance and to fairly let the chips fall where they may.

What’s patently irresponsible is to report what sources, who invariably have some kind of ax to grind, are saying as fact. Getting burned by sources of bogus information is no excuse for disseminating bogus information.

In the context of politico campaigns, the identity of sources included in news coverage is probably more important for readers to understand what’s going on than the opinion or “facts” they are allowed to whisper from behind the curtain.

Those senior government officials should have been named by the NYT from the get-go. They were not given the protection of anonymity for crucial information, nor were they in danger should their names be known. They were given license to spin a false story against a major presidential candidate from the security of private bunker.

Names makes news is a journalistic adage.

Senior government officials usually make propaganda.

Everyone says they are for transparency in government.

What is needed, especially in the post-Citizens United world of unlimited campaign cash, is more transparency in politics. Enough with the unnamed senior officials, campaign insiders, sources close to the candidate and national party leaders in campaign coverage.

Give us the names.

{ 4 comments }
Share

famous Mark Twain quote "When in doubt, tell the truth" on blackboardI read something the other day that reminded me of a very funny short story by Mark Twain. I first heard the Twain story years ago in a college journalism class. My professor guffawed so hard reading it aloud that his belly jiggled and his glasses fogged. It was a hilarious yarn. I promise to share it with you if you plow to the end of this column. There are quite a few rows, but the reward for finishing will be good.

As a tantalizer, Twain’s story instilled the phrase “gives me the fantods” in my lexicon for life. No one has ever understood me when I drop a fantod or two into a conversation. Their loss.

While almost everyone knows the letters “lmao” in text message-speak means “laughing my arse off” in English English, absolutely no one knows what a fantod is. Some figure it is a polite reference to what escapes from an overloaded diaper. I assure you, those aren’t fantods.

The 19th-century usage, which was spelled fan-tods before the great devaluation of the hyphen in punctuation power circles, means to feel a nervous apprehension, to have the fidgets, or, in short, to get the willies.

For example, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Occupied Texas, asserts that original “Star Trek” Capt. James T. Kirk would be a Republican. That gave Canadian-born actor William Shatner, who played Kirk, the fantods. In a tweet set to stun, Shatner called Cruz’s assignment of political preferences to “interstellar characters … silly.”

To return to the crux of this column, I was reading an old book with amusing nuggets from the media world. The book had to be old because there are no longer any amusing stories about the world of media — unless someone has pantsed a corporate bean counter, and we haven’t heard about it because of the paucity of reporters.

One anecdote concerned Joseph Pulitzer, the titan of American journalism who revolutionized newspapers, first in St. Louis, then in New York City, by making them crusading, entertaining, interesting, sensational and the domicile of color comics. I vaguely recalled Pulitzer from a journalism history class as one of many bearded men in stiff collars who did something way back when. But my current knowledge was limited to the Pulitzer awards given annually for excellence in journalism and in the arts and letters.

I never won a Pulitzer — despite a superb a story I did in 1983 about an A-list, gala ribbon-cutting and grand opening of a sewage transfer station in Marina. That story is still talked about today, if only by me. And I once shared a press table with an entrant for a Pulitzer, a status that requires a $50 entry fee and a patrician boss with a Hearst complex.

Excuse the digression. This piece is growing more twists than the Mississippi River, which is the setting for the Pulitzer anecdote that got me thinking about the Twain story. As I said this occurred recently, though it may seem like eons have passed. Don’t get the fantods.

The abridged anecdote: when Pulitzer was a young reporter in 1870 for a German-language newspaper in St. Louis, he shot a corrupt building contractor in the leg, paid a $400 fine and left town quickly.

Wow, I thought, this raises more questions than it answers. Why hadn’t we heard about this gunfight in my journalism history class? People may have stayed awake. A reporter shooting someone? That’s crazy. Reporters don’t shoot people: they cover shootings. The greatest prize in journalism is named for a gunman? And a poor shot, to boot?

My memory held only one Pulitzer detail. He would stride between rows of desks in his newsroom and loudly declaim, “Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!” to the staff. Nothing about him waving a gun, which doubtlessly would have swayed even the laziest reporters to quadruple-check spelling and hyphenation.

I hungered for more about the gun-wielding reporter. It cuts against the image of the contemporary, liberal, gun-control-loving journalist, who packs a smart phone, laptop and attitude rather than heat.

Side note: One source I found said Pulitzer strode through his newsroom shouting, “Accuracy, terseness, accuracy.” This could be suspect, since the second “accuracy” would seem to contradict the “terseness” mandate.

But let historians haggle. To the gunfight.

Pulitzer, a 17-year-old Hungarian Jew rejected by the Austrian and British armies as well as the French Foreign Legion, was recruited to America in 1864 to fight for the Union in the Civil War. He served with a German-speaking cavalry unit, saw little action, and, after the war, arrived penniless in St. Louis.

He taught himself English in the library, struggled for work and eventually landed a job as a reporter on a German-language paper. He worked his tail off, roaming 16 hours a day to collect bushels of stories that people actually enjoyed reading.

Pulitzer’s sympathy for the downtrodden and contempt for grafters was born out of his first story. Pulitzer and some companions were promised jobs at a Louisiana sugar plantation, but the promoters kicked them off the boat 30 miles down river and kept their $5 fees. Pulitzer hustled back to St. Louis and wrote an exposé.

By age 21, Pulitzer won a seat in the Missouri state legislature. Still an ace reporter, he worked to expose government fraud in both of his jobs. He was four years too young to be a legislator, but Pulitzer grew a beard and mustache rather than write an exposé about himself. A wise move. Pulitzer’s chief targets were corrupt St. Louis County politicians who controlled government jobs and public works contracts, and the crooked operators who helped them loot the treasury.

One foe was burly building contractor Capt. Edward Augustine. Pulitzer sniffed out a far-too-lucrative contract Augustine got to build a new county insane asylum. One January night at the Schmidt Hotel, a press-politico hangout, Augustine bulled his way to Pulitzer’s table and shouted, “You called me a crook. You’re a damned liar.”

Living in a country saturated by violence and repugnant public rhetoric, Augustine’s words may seem tame to contemporary Americans. But that era, too, was violent, marked by fierce partisanship, and scores often were settled by blood. The Civil War had ended just five years earlier.

Pulitzer told Augustine to watch the language, went to his nearby room and grabbed his old war pistol. Ever the newsman, Pulitzer ran into a reporter on his way back to the hotel and advised him to stick around for “an item.”

Whether Augustine — who had a reputation for packing a pistol and brass knuckles — was armed that night remains in dispute. After the two men tossed more insults back and forth, there was a tussle to the floor. Pulitzer shot twice, and one round hit Augustine in the lower leg. Pulitzer was cut when Augustine bashed his head, perhaps with a small pistol.

Immediate press accounts varied. In those days, many newspapers — particularly those in rural and regional areas — stuck to party lines more than the facts, like Fox News. Some stories made light of the donnybrook, while others called for Pulitzer’s bloodied head.

Remarkably, Pulitzer never spent any time in jail. He was fined $5 the next day for disturbing the peace, and fined $405 months later on a charge of having “murder in mind.” A few prominent politicians quietly paid the fine. To add insult to Augustine’s leg injury, Pulitzer’s bill to end corruption in St. Louis County passed the legislature.

Pulitzer actually didn’t leave town quickly. In 1879, he bought the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and by 1883, he was rich enough to buy the New York World and lock horns with William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal to define the era of mass-circulation … and the rest of that journalism history stuff. Years later, Pulitzer called plugging the crooked contractor, “The first hit I ever made.”

My Google search turned up no later information on Augustine. He was last reported to be sitting in the hotel parlor, smoking a big cigar and trying not to show any pain.

Thanks for you attention. As promised, here’s that Twain story, written a year after “Joey” Pulitzer tried to cap Capt. Augustine. It’s a sketch of a time in American journalism, which publishers like Pulitzer would leave far behind, when politics were fought with splendid invective and a touch of gunpowder, too. Watch for the fantods.

{ 10 comments }
Share

????Two items in the Pine Cone today could not help but pique my curiosity. Perhaps the Partisan readers can join me in asking the Mayors’ Authority and the Pine Cone a few questions to ask their interviewees the next time they discuss water projects with them:

1. Cal Am will now miss the August Coastal Commission meeting, and is shooting for September. Fair enough, but how does the conflict of interest investigation by the Public Utilities Commission enter into the discussion regarding restarting a well that relies upon audit results of the person being investigated?

2. Deep Water Desal has announced that it can have desalinated water produced for distribution by Fall 2017. They have not yet even started the EIR process, in fact, their public partner, the California Lands Commission, has not even started the process of obtaining a consultant. The Moss Landing Harbor District has been very clear that Deep Water’s plan to punch a hole under Highway 1 and under the Harbor District’s property is a non-starter. So, Deep Water, how do you plan such an aggressive schedule when you do not currently possess an intake option for your 25 MGD (25 million gallons per day) plant?

Steve Collins is an accountant and former chairman of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency board of directors. He helped lead the county’s efforts to develop a desalination plant in partnership with Cal Am and was prosecuted for a conflict of interest that he maintains was encouraged and approved by top county officials. He has worked as a consultant for Nader Agha, who is pursuing a separate desalination project.

{ 5 comments }
Share

Closeup portrait unhappy, angry, mad, pissed off woman, giving thumb down gesture with hand looking with negative facial expression, disapproval, isolated orange background. Human emotion attitudeRMC Water and Environment, the company that was Cal Am’s project manager for the first attempted desalination project, has found itself in hot water again in San Jose.

Two recent news reports focus on a $4 million contract that was awarded to the San Jose company without competitive bidding by the Santa Clara County Water District even though one of the district’s top officials is married to one of RMC’s owners.

The new reports, on the San Jose Inside website and on NBC Bay Area, said the district’s board wasn’t aware of the relationship when it approved the contract on a 5-2 vote. The dissenting voters, including the board chairman, have called for a formal outside investigation.

The contract is one of several the district has awarded to RMC over the past several years. It calls for the company to draw up plans for a water-recycling project.

In Monterey County, RMC was accused in 2011 of making $160,000 in under the table payments to county water official Steve Collins while he and the company were working on Cal Am’s first effort at a desalination plant for the Peninsula. Collins pleaded no contest to conflict charges but RMC was never charged. The criminal case played an important role in ending the project, but Cal Am is attempting to move forward with a different plan. The current project has stalled, also because of conflict of interest concerns, this time involving a hydrologist who had been retained by the water company and the Public Utilities Commission to analyze water well technology for which he holds the patent.

According to the news reports, Melanie Richardson, deputy director of the Santa Clara water district, reported in a statement of economic interests filed in 2010 that she held stock in RMC worth between $100,000 and $1 million through her husband, RMC principal Tom Richardson.

Melanie Richardson and RMC have denied any wrongdoing. The district’s top official, Beau Goldie, told NBC Bay Area that the district had looked into the relationship several years ago and determined there was no conflict. He said Melanie Richardson has no role in awarding contracts to RMC.

The contract awarded to RMC without competition involves design work for a recycling plant that could cost as much as $800 million. District insiders told reporters they feared that RMC would have an inside track for that contract as well. Goldie said it was decided to hire RMC without seeking bids in order to expedite the process in response to the drought, but district critics said it would be at least four years before the plant could be operational.

{ 9 comments }
Share
Platypus duck-billed animal. On white background with drop shadow.

Larry Parsons suggests that if you think you might encounter a platypus on a trail in Garland Ranch or Fort Ord, consider having a mountain lion with you for protection

By now everyone has seen the chilling footage of champion surfer Mick Fanning being hassled by a great white shark while participating in a South African surf contest. It was wonderful that Fanning managed to escape because live television of bloody human dismemberment hardly makes for a smooth segue into the next commercial.

Like many upon watching the footage, I had two immediate questions: What are you supposed to do if a shark attacks? And why isn’t there an app for this?

Upon reading some advice for dealing with shark attacks, I figured my strategy. Stay out of the water.

One of the knuckleheads at “Fox and Friends” suggested we should clear sharks out of the water. This strategy seems to be unnecessarily big-government in nature, not to mention the stupidest thing ever suggested.

De-shark-ination of sea water would be far more complex than desalination of the stuff. And long-suffering predator victims on the Monterey Peninsula know the huge toll that desalination schemes can exact over the years (Cue the comments!).

The shark episode — and recent photos of mountain lions in Gilroy yards — got me thinking about a dozen stories I wrote over the years about what to do if a mountain lion and you should meet in the woods, when one of you should be at a coffee shop eating a huge cinnamon roll. Hint: Mountain lions may not like cinnamon. It probably makes them sneeze. Research is needed.

Though I reported many times what the experts say you should do in a mountain lion confrontation, I couldn’t recall a single suggestion. For some reason, I thought a loud recording of marching band music would be effective, but I may have confused mountain lions with unwanted hipsters.

As a public service of the Monterey Bay Partisan, I decided to make a handy cheat sheet of recommended techniques to escape encounters with dangerous animals. All you have to do is bring this blog along on your favorite electronic device for emergency use in the field.

CAUTION (Inserted here at the insistence of the Partisan’s cadre of nervous insurance lawyers): Do not power up any electronic device when facing the dangerous platypus. These aquatic beasts have venomous spurs on their back feet, and, if hungry, can rend a human being within minutes. Also, they are sensitive to electrical charges and may already have you at their mercy before you manage to download anything on your phone.

My only advice on platypuses is to stay the hell out of lakes and streams in the Australian Outback, especially when using your phone to check your Aussie Rules fantasy football team. Better yet, stay out of Australia altogether. There is a certain cachet to being attacked by a shark or a bear, but none whatsoever to being victimized by a platypus. The beast’s name connotes a house cat with a cartographic flair.

VICIOUS HOUSE CATS — Don’t use your hands to play with your cats. Don’t look directly into the eyes of a cat that wants to play or is hopped up on medicinal catnip. Keep tuna grenades on hand so you can momentarily divert a cat bent on sharpening claws in your flesh.

MEAN DOGS — Don’t yell, don’t bark. In short, don’t treat a menacing dog as if you’re Donald Trump. Don’t look directly at the dog. Do stand sideways (smaller target), and claim your bigger space, say with an umbrella.

Of course, carrying an umbrella in the midst of the current biblical drought may convince the menacing dog you are the really crazy one and best avoided.

If the dog attacks, let it take a loose sweater, sweatshirt, or a shoe. Protect your face, chest, throat, and fingers by making fists. If bitten, don’t pull away and aggravate the wound. Fight, wrestle, use your weight to your advantage (very sound strategy with Chihuahuas and miniature poodles). Walk away slowly, bloody but unbowed.

MOUNTAIN LIONS — If the cat is 50 yards or closer, things could get hairy. Do not pace off the distance, in any case. And don’t make dated jokes about the difference between mountain lions and cougars.

Seek cover slowly while watching the cat, make menacing sounds and throw things if you can hit the beast. If you can’t, blame your Dad for never playing enough catch with you in the backyard when there were no mountain lions around and not so much pressure.

If the cat is within 25 yards, twitching its tail, flexing its hind legs and lowering its head, attack may be imminent. Say your prayers, grab any available weapon and prepare for the fight of your life.

By the way, the NRA, in all cases of animal attack from guppies to velociraptors, recommends the Second Amendment defense. Use caution to avoid shooting yourself, your companions, other wildlife lovers or unwitting plein-air artists.

HIPPOS — If you somehow have upset the karmic balance of your world so badly that you find yourself up against a hippopotamus, prepare to meet your maker or his close cousin. I’ve got nothing for you.

Hippos are ranked fourth among land animals most likely to win going “mano a mano” against a human. While it’s true that hippos don’t have “manos,” that’s of no consequence. They still have the upper paw or hoof or whatever’s fastened the end of a hippo’s leg.

Be aware of the others in the Top Ten along with the hippo: gorilla, tiger, rhinoceros, elephant, lion, saltwater crocodile, polar bear, Cape buffalo and grizzly bear. If you find yourself alone with one of these fellows on a gloomy day, don’t say the Monterey Bay Partisan didn’t warn you. As last words, those would be awfully silly and hollow.

SQUIRRELS — Staff members at a British hospital recently were advised to walk in pairs after a visiting nurse was attacked by aggressive squirrels throwing things from above. Hats and umbrellas were suggested, as well as shouting and clapping hands.  This advice strikes me as as typically British.

In the U.S., experts funded by the NRA recommend arming oneself to the teeth before entering squirrel territory. All it takes is one good person with multiple firearms to take out several thuggish squirrels. If anyone is nicked by an errant round, there may be two visiting English nurses nearby, carrying bumbershoots and bandages.

TASMANIAN DEVILS: See platypus instructions above. Tasmania is an island, but it’s still part of Australia. Actually, the creatures are not dangerous to humans, Tasmanian park officials say.

But they still recommend not leaving a small child with a Tasmanian devil, just as they counsel you shouldn’t use a large kangaroo or large wombat as a babysitter. Come on, let’s get real. How many parents would leave their children with any-sized wombat, even in a pinch?

CAUTION: (Another notice required by the fretful Partisan legal staff). The above discussion of animal-human interactions is not meant to offer any sound advice, rational recommendations, intelligent guidelines or useful instruction. Except for the platypus stuff. That you can take it to the bank.

{ 12 comments }
Share

Vote no campaign and protest signs for a political or social issue in an election resulting in a group demonstration protesting to stop a law  or policy made by a politician on an isolated white background.BILLS FOR SOME HOMES WOULD JUMP 43 PERCENT

Public Water Now is launching a protest to Cal Am’s recent request for a rate increase. Although Cal Am may feel under-funded, we ratepayers are under-represented and under-appreciated.

Public Water Now has settled into the role of watchdog, but now feels the need to pursue action with a stronger and stronger voice. Because we were relentless in seeking a review of the water rate structure, Cal Am recently acquiesced.  Our main interest was to compare and understand the significant differences between residential and commercial rates. We are not convinced that things are fair. And so far, neither Cal Am, nor the commercial interests, has been able to explain how the stark differences are fair.

We did get a meeting with Cal Am officials a few weeks ago on the new rate design. We were told to expect 1) removal of the allotment system, 2) a compressed rate structure, and 3) a shift of costs to the fixed meter charge and away from volume and usage charges. The community’s success at conservation has Cal Am in a tizzy. When the Herald carried the news of the specifics, I was stunned because only days earlier Cal Am had not shared with us the size of the increase (averaging 29% for residential), nor the commercial decrease (averaging 14%), nor the short time period for protest, ending on Aug. 12.

I remember a California Public Utilities Commission workshop in 2012 where Cal Am proudly announced its research showed that higher rates would not cause reduced use. The Peninsula was different, Cal Am said. Cal Am’s view of price elasticity was the opposite of other research Cal Am shared that was unanimous in concluding that the higher the price, the lower the demand. I remember calling Cal Am out on this, in front of about 25 interested and mainly local parties, about its counter-intuitive statement. I was criticized by Cal Am for doing so. It seemed wrong then, and it surely has proven that Cal Am’s research expert was totally wrong.

Cal Am has a serious under-collection of revenue because it misjudged the elasticity of demand. For a protected utility without competition, it has no experience in the business of economic dynamics. Why so many seemingly savvy local business people support Cal Am is mysterious. It boggles the mind to witness such corporate incompetence.

Cal Am’s current rate request is on this link.

My conclusions and the points of protest are these.

  1. Cal Am is using conservation, and the cease-and-desist order and drought crises, to piggyback its under-collection performance. The underlying pitch is to shore up its revenue stream. Guaranteed revenue is the point. This is an inappropriate rationale, timing and method to restructure Cal Am’s entire revenue picture.
  1. The proposed protest period is excessively short, ending Aug. 12
  1. Cal Am has called for workshops, but none has been scheduled by Cal Am or the water management district. This shortcoming undermines the deadline.
  1. The residential rate for Tier 1 users goes up 43%, far exceeding the reported average of 29%. This is where the main water conservers have ended up, so now Cal Am will get its piece of gold from them. It is also where most voters will begin to feel the heat of Cal Am costs. The more we conserve in the public interest, the more we serve the corporate interest.
  1. The commercial rate decrease is not explained, which calls into question if the commercial rates still create an incentive for conservation as advertised.
  1. The fact of under-collections proves Cal Am has not had a rational revenue structure, or it proves Cal Am is inefficient in its management.  Both should be evaluated.
  1. Cal Am revenue reports, contained in its application (link) shows plenty of income after expenses.  Where and how is Cal Am under-financed?
  1. Cal Am claims, but does not explain, how it is less costly to have these new rates.

Protests can be filed by email (below).  In correspondent to the PUC and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, you should refer to the case number, which for now is  A.15-07-?  (The question mark is correct for now)

Public Utilities Commission: public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov

Office of Ratepayer Advocates: richard.rauschmeier@cpuc.ca.gov

Monterey Peninsula Water Management District: arlene@mpwmd.net

Monterey Herald: mheditor@montereyherald.com

Monterey County Weekly: mail@mcweekly.com

Monterey Bay Partisan: calkinsroyal@gmail.com

Riley is managing director of Public Water Now.

{ 8 comments }
Share

shutterstock_185810549-2 2HUG: The agribusiness giant Tanimura & Antle deserves thanks from the entire community for its plan to build a farmworker housing complex on its Spreckels property. The plan isn’t popular just across the road in the postcard community of Spreckels, which got its start as a company town. That’s understandable because the labor camp would house some 800 people, close to the number who already call Spreckels home. But T&A is helping the larger community by providing decent housing for the men and women who tend the crops, taking some of the pressure off already crowded neighborhoods in Salinas and other places in the Salinas Valley. Some of the company’s labor practices in the past have been less than sterling but it is a solid business in most respects and can be expected to be a good job with this venture. Let’s hope the Board of Supes agrees.

HISS: I was disappointed not to see any new news in the papers or on TV so far this week on Friday’s shooting of Naval Postgraduate School police officer Eric Glazier.He was shot by two Seaside Police Officers when he walked out of his house holding a gun while the officers were returning his wife home after a disturbance elsewhere? A tease on one local TV station (not KSBW) said he had aimed his gun at the officers but the subsequent newscast had nothing to back that up. Lack of follow-up since the weekend reflects a couple of things. The Police Department hasn’t issued another news release, the lifeblood of local journalism these days. And the various news staffs were too busy with the rodeo, motorcycle racing and the weather to go out and knock on doors. Now if anyone wants to criticize the Partisan for its failure to haul itself out to Glazier’s neighborhood, we wouldn’t be able to put up much of an argument but the size of our staff makes the Herald look like a real newspaper.

HUG: Someone posted some Facebook photos of the interior of the new Taylor building in downtown Salinas, and it looks pretty darned spectacular. I love downtowns and I’m hoping this is a catalyst for the rebirth of downtown Salinas, which, by the way, really isn’t bad at all. You Peninsula types who haven’t tried the Patria restaurant are missing something special.

HISS: The Osio Cinema closes its doors, without warning, leaving Peninsula residents with nowhere to go out to a movie except for the big theaters that play the same movies that all the other big theaters are playing. The reaction is strong but will it be enough to convince the owners that there are enough customers willing to give up Netflix and Amazon for the evening and venture out into the wilds of downtown Monterey? There is talk about some sort of crowdsourcing or subsidy to save the theater. More practical, it seems to us, would be for the Lighthouse theater in P.G. to play around with an art house approach. If it does, you all need to get out of the sweats, put some shoes on and put your money where your mouth is. It also occurs to us that the Golden State is empty most nights. Hint, hint.

HISS: Local radio personality Mark Carbonaro was the latest to weigh in with the nonsense that candidate X is more qualified to be president than Hillary Clinton. Does she lose experience points because of her gender or what? In Carbonaro’s case, he said the candidate with the superior qualifications is, who else, Donald Trump? If we need a president who is good at setting up shell companies and playing the bankruptcy system, Trump could be our guy. After all, what’s Hillary got going for her other than having be a senator for eight years, secretary of state and essentially assistant president for two terms?

HISS: Now, for what might be the most inconsequential Hiss published so far. Bet you haven’t noticed something that the Partisan has, but you’ll notice it hereafter. As you’re tooling down the highway, pay attention to the color of the cars going the other way. What you’ll find is a remarkable absence of color. Black, grey, silver, white, two more black cars, silver, beige, silver, grey, black, black, white. Often, you’ll see as many as 30 or more cars whiz by the other way before you’ll see a red one or a blue one. Why is this a Hiss? People who have an opportunity to put some color in their lives but go for grey, there are too many of them and we’d like to see something done about that.

{ 15 comments }

All good things must pass. Bye bye, Osio

Share

This probably will hit the Monterey Bay Partisan crowd rather hard, closing of the Osio. 

{ 10 comments }
Share

love profitOpen Letter to Cal Am President Rob MacLean:

During my active professional career, I worked for several major international and national corporations, including ExxonMobil, Ashland Chemical (a division of Ashland Oil) and Valero Energy. I fully understand that the focus of management in such organizations is to create equity, reduce debt and keep shareholders happy. So I am not surprised that Cal Am takes every effort available to it as a CPUC-regulated private utility to accomplish those same goals.

As I am sure you know, your company is not popular, except with the hospitality industry and the elected officials who walk in lock step with the industry, and has lost credibility.

The latest news is that, because of less than expected infusion of payments, due primarily to the ratepayers’ herculean efforts on conservation, Cal Am is seeking new rate increases. Your spokeswoman explains that the rate increases are intended to “simplify” water bills, and, in the long run, save ratepayers “millions of dollars.” As usual, her comments contain threads of truth but without a full explanation. As such, they come across as political spin, putting the best face forward on a negative proposal by careful choice of certain words and the careful avoidance of others. The result: unacceptable.

It is one thing to seek rate increases that cover deficits in reasonably expected and justifiable income projections. It is entirely another thing to seek rate increases to cover deficits caused by your own failed strategies, litigation costs that could have been avoided, and other examples of mismanagement or negligence. It is also another thing to rely upon the historical fact that the CPUC will grant most, if not all, of the rate increases for which you have applied.

An egregious example proving that last point is the fairly recent circumstance, regarding the San Clemente Dam, where a CPUC administrative law judge who tried the rate case, heard all the evidence and read all the briefs had his recommended decision ignored by the full commission. Instead, an alternative decision that handed Cal Am an additional $150 million was adopted, and now your ratepayers will be paying your company that extra amount for the next several decades. What’s worse, no one stood up on the ratepayers’ behalf other than the CPUC’s own Ratepayers Advocates Division, whose recommendations can be ignored.

The Peninsula community finally rose up in arms and, in a major show of dissatisfaction with what your company has done, placed Measure O on the ballot, calling for the acquisition of Cal Am by a public agency. The measure came very close to being successful, but those supporting it could not compete with the amount of money raised by your company and its supporters, and so it lost. Regardless of the outcome, the extent of anger and the near success of the measure should have been a very big wake-up call to you and your company. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Since then, you have sought to drill wells with an unproven technology in a location where you have no water rights, all with the expectation that those sunk costs can be recovered easily from ratepayers. No lessons learned there, although the CPUC’s recent actions might dictate a future change of course that might end up to be a lesson learned.

Another lesson that you could have learned is that being truthful, transparent and responsive while showing ratepayers the respect they deserve might actually benefit your company in the long run. If you personally have made attempts to undertake any of those actions, they have been blurred and nullified by the propensity of your political and economic supporters to obfuscate and their refusal to be open and truthful about why and what they are supporting.

So here are some suggestions:

First, replace your spokesperson. I have nothing personal against her, but she is not effective, is prone to generic platitudes that don’t educate and are not responsive. I would much rather see a person in that role who can tell it like it is, even if the “it” is something completely favorable to Cal Am and not to the ratepayers.

Second, do not seek rate increases for costs that are directly the result of mistakes that the company makes. That would include any fines imposed for failure to meet the Carmel River cease and desist order, costs involved in pursuing technical and engineering strategies that common sense, known research and history tell you have little chance of success, and litigation that evolves from such actions.

Third, respect ratepayers’ efforts in conservation without punishing them. The state should create a mechanism to cover reasonable losses that a utility incurs under such circumstances, because the state is mandating the conservation.

I write this not because I am an enemy of Cal Am. If Cal Am were to do an about-face, take a measure of responsibility for the mess we now have, commit and pledge to work with the people (not just through elected officials who have already failed the test) and also commit to seeking only righteous and justifiable rate increases, it might be possible to develop a collaborative system that will ensure your company fiscal soundness, ensure real access by the people, fair and reasonable water rates, and communications between both that are clear and truthful.. That is a lot to ask and I have no basis to believe you and your senior company management will listen and consider them. At the very least, however, positive responses to the first three suggestions are, in the minds of those who pay your bills, absolutely required, no matter what else be accomplished.

Hood is a retired lawyer and engineer who once headed the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He is a frequent contributor to the Partisan on water issues.

{ 11 comments }
Share

????

STATE HAS MADE CAL AM DESAL PROJECT A TEST CASE

OFFICIAL IN CHARGE OF EIR WAS PROJECT’S FIRST CHEERLEADER

TIME PRESSURE GIVES OFFICIALS EXCUSE TO CUT CORNERS

To hear some people tell it, one of the big problems facing Cal Am’s desalination project in Marina is criticism from those concerned about the environmental and economic impacts. Project supporters go so far as to blame the critics for the various delays that have forced repeated changes in the pre-construction timetable.

But after following the process closely for a decade now, after being counseled interminably by project proponents and reading environmental impact reports, feasibility studies and all manner of other paperwork, I have come to the opposite conclusion. I believe one of the venture’s biggest problems is that it has too much support. By that, I mean that agencies that should be honestly evaluating the project are advocating for it instead, leading to lapses in judgment and errors in execution. Peninsula business interests, meanwhile, panicked by the threat of water cutbacks, have taken a full-speed-ahead posture that could help produce a flawed and incredibly expensive answer to a problem that has other solutions.

When a previous incarnation of the desal project fell apart, it wasn’t because naysayers had put up too many obstacles. Key factors in its demise were a politically awkward management structure and the fact that money was being passed under the table in an effort to advance the project, not destroy it.

Now, proponents and participants in the project have proved again to be their own worst enemies, first by making overly optimistic projections about the composition of the water to be desalted and by ignoring glaring conflicts of interest built into the process of testing the water at the plant site north of Marina.

In defense, those in charge cite the heavy deadline pressure, with the state threatening to force untenable cuts in the Peninsula’s use of Carmel River water. They say time is so tight that they must push on or else the Peninsula’s economic well being will be in grave danger. Such thinking plays right into the hands of Cal Am, of course, which makes its money no matter how many times it has to start over.

When I was opinion page editor of the Monterey Herald, we came out in favor of desalination because of the shortage of practical alternatives. We were one of the first entities in the community to voice support. I now feel that the alternatives are becoming more attractive and that the project in its current configuration presents even graver danger to the well being of Cal Am customers on the Peninsula, who will be forced to pay for it no matter how expensive it becomes—even if it never produces a drop of drinkable water.

PENINSULA PLANT COULD BE A MODEL, FOR A PRICE

Creating additional pressures and costs, the state is using the project to test its preferred water-intake technology with minimal compensation to the Peninsula. As it stands, Peninsula water customers will be required to cover millions and millions of dollars in expenses regardless of whether the test is a success. Remember when Cal Am and its supporters were breathlessly arguing that testing of the intake method needed to begin as soon as possible, and that anyone who said otherwise was an obstructionist? That testing is on hold now for reasons that informed and objective observers could have seen coming, and the money meter continues to spin.

Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, an almost full-time participant in the desalination process as chair of the Peninsula mayors’ water authority, agrees that the financial burden created by the experiment should be shared by state taxpayers, and he indicated he is working on it.

Tap drippingEven now, while the testing and environmental impact review are both stalled, Cal Am is going after yet another set of rate increases to help pay for the plant that may never be built and to offset income it has lost because its Peninsula customers have done such a good job of conserving water. Residential customers, who already consume and conserve some of the most expensive water in the state, would see rates increase by 29 percent under a request Cal Am filed last week with the Public Utilities Commission. At the same time, businesses would see a rate reduction of some 14 percent even though some business interests already pay discounted rates in what amounts to a reward for supporting the desal project.

Cal Am’s ability to obtain rate increase after increase from the PUC helps explain why the utility is comfortable doing whatever the state wants, no matter how illogical or expensive. In the cost-plus world of utility accounting, bigger expenses mean bigger profits.

PENINSULA IS A DESAL GUINEA PIG IN A COSTLY EXPERIMENT

Few people quarrel with the need for a desalination plant or some other means of stretching the Peninsula’s water supply. We have nearly destroyed the Carmel River, our primary water source. State officials were correct to issue a cease and desist order that will require Cal Am to greatly reduce pumping from the river in stages, which local officials are desperately attempting to postpone until the plant comes online.

Compounding the challenge significantly, the project has become an important test case that will help decide what type of water intake should be employed by other desalination facilities now on the drawing boards up and down the state.

They make it sound super complicated. It isn’t. It is worth your attention if only because it will help you understand the latest conflict of interest issue that has thrown a wrench into the process.

The easiest and least expensive intake is known as open ocean, which means pumping water straight from the ocean. The problem is that all manner of marine life is pumped into the plant along with the salty water.

Environmental groups and the various regulatory agencies greatly prefer the idea of subsurface intake, which involves pumping from below the ocean floor, using the sand and other sediment as filters to protect aquatic life. In the best case from an environmental standpoint, the wells would be drilled some distance from the shore and slanted so that their intakes would extend below the ocean floor.

Unfortunately, there is some guesswork involved in deciding exactly where to drill the so-called slant wells and there are few successful examples.  Cal Am’s project presents the state with one of the largest and most meaningful tests of the slant well technology so far.

Racks of filters in a desalination plantAlso unfortunately, not everyone involved in the project has the same agenda, and the state apparently ignored some well-established principles of how public works projects should be organized and assessed.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate that is to examine the shifting roles of the man now in charge of preparing the all-important environmental impact report for the current project. That’s Eric Zigas of the San Francisco firm of Environmental Science Associates.

Zigas may be a familiar name to those who have followed the desalination follies from the start. He also one of the architects of the previous incarnation of the desalination project–the version that devolved into a web of litigation. Before that he was a key part of the Public Utilities Commission team that decided desalination was the best solution to the Peninsula’s water problem.

PROJECT’S CHIEF ENVIRONMENTAL MONITOR STARTED WITH A VERY DIFFERENT ROLE

The current desalination proposal grew out of what became known as Plan B after plans for a dam on the Carmel River fell apart. The Legislature put the Public Utilities Commission in charge of finding an alternative and Zigas was hired to help draft the plan. He teamed with officials at UC Santa Cruz and various state and local agencies to help craft an ambitious scheme for a desalination plant at Moss Landing with a long list of environmental amenities such as a garbage-powered energy supply. The PUC then assigned Zigas to tout the plan to various Peninsula business groups, service clubs, news outlets and others. He effectively helped sell the community on desalination.

But for various reasons, most of the bells and whistles were later removed from the plan, and the project became a cumbersome joint venture between Cal Am, Monterey County and the Marina Coast Water District. Despite Zigas’ earlier role as the official cheerleader for the project, his firm was hired by the PUC to prepare the environmental impact report on that proposal before other factors caused it to be shelved.

Today, Zigas leads the environmental analysis of the process he helped initiate. Those who have worked with him say his experience on the Peninsula gives him unmatched knowledge of the issues involved, which are many. The project is complex, including a plant processing countless gallons of sea water, disposing tons of brine, and dispatching fresh water through a new network of pipelines. The expectation, of course, is that the analysis will be scientific and unbiased. A draft of the EIR is now circulating and the technical community now examining the document will determine whether has Zigas successfully switched hats. Considering how much controversy the process has created, the final EIR is very likely to be tested in court.

(When the first draft of the official environmental impact report incorrectly concluded that there were no functional agricultural wells near the plant site, Zigas briefly defended his team’s work before adopting a no-comment stance. )

eric-zigas

Eric Zigas

Zigas isn’t talking to the press, at least not to the Partisan, and he hasn’t publicly addressed his role in the latest delays.

The EIR process has been pushed back a few months because of a conflict created by the involvement of a firm that holds a patent on the slant-well technology. To help assess the test well, Zigas’ firm had brought in a company called Geoscience, headed by noted hydrologist Dennis Williams. In addition to the potential conflict presented by his patent, Williams also was working for Cal Am on the same project.

The PUC’s project manager, Andrew Barnsdale, was reassigned last week because of the revelations, which were brought to light by project critics. At the same time, a PUC administrative law judge, Gary Weatherford, issued a lengthy order requiring ESA and Cal Am to provide the contracts of everyone involved and to explain the degree to which the testing process may have been tainted.

It should not be forgotten that the Geoscience situation surfaced after the Coastal Commission suspended pumping at the test site last month because the well apparently was taking in more fresh water than anticipated. After the testing began, the groundwater table started dropping, which Cal Am blamed on agricultural pumping though it had insisted previously that there was no agricultural pumping in the area. Critics of the project had nothing to do with that.

GEORGE AND JASON LOOK AT PROJECT FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECRTIVES

George Riley has followed the project’s process as closely as anyone, and has a unique perspective. While he is an activist and head of a group that advocates public takeover of Cal Am, he also has been an accredited participant in the PUC processes as well as a member of a technical advisory committee advising Peninsula mayors on desal matters.

He agrees that the process has been marred by inter-connections.

“A quiet alliance of advocates, appearing as specialists, has emerged,” he said by email. “All are also quietly supported by the ruling state agencies. The ruling water elites at the state level have a greater role here, and has not been discussed.  And Monterey Peninsula as guinea pig is useful for them.”

Riley said Zigas and Environmental Science Associates do deserve credit, both for helping get the well testing process on track after Cal Am’s dawdling had worsened the time crunch and for pushing for well testing data to be included in the environmental impact report. The idea, Riley said, is for the final EIR to become “the vehicle for tooting the horns for slant wells” strongly favored by the various state agencies.

In Riley’s view, the fumbles that have marred the process would not be so worrisome if the state was helping to pay for the slant well testing and if the state would do more to encourage competing proposals that possibly could address the Peninsula’s water needs more quickly and less expensively.

Burnett, in a telephone interview Saturday, said he supports the PUC’s decision to call a brief timeout over the patent issue and examine where things went wrong with the test well team. He said it is important now to view Geoscience as a “proponent” rather than an arms-length analyst.

But Burnett disagrees that the process is fundamentally flawed or that the project’s management structure should be overhauled. He said he has great faith in Weatherford, the administrative law judge who is reviewing the testing conflicts.

(Burnett, by the way, has taken quite a beating politically in some quarters for his role as a leading advocate for such a controversial project. His detractors should be reminded that he helped  create a financing package for the plant that should save ratepayers millions of dollars over time and managed almost single-handedly to impose some level of public oversight over the project despite serious resistance from Cal Am.)

Antique water fountain, detail of a source for drinking water, drinking waterSUCCESS SHOULDN’T REQUIRE SETTLING FOR SECOND-RATE

From where I sit, it seems clear that the PUC needs to do more than study the known conflicts and then continue on the same course if this project is to be salvaged. Soonest, it needs to join with local politicians and work with the State Water Resources Control Board to eliminate the artificial pressure caused by the cease-and-desist order deadlines before they result in a hopelessly flawed and expensive project.

Barnsdale, the now departed PUC project manager, is a bureaucrat, a permit processor, not a construction or desalination expert. His replacement needs to be someone with real world experience rather than a purely regulatory background.

The PUC also needs to do what it can to support alternative measures such as wastewater recycling and stepped up conservation and to take a closer look at the competing proposals, the Moss Landing plans being pursued by Nader Agha and the DeepWater group, to see if they could effectively supplant some or all of the Cal Am project.

Obviously, the PUC also needs to take a long look at Cal Am’s rate structure for the Peninsula and drill into the company’s argument for two classes of rates, one set for the relatively helpless residential customers and a discounted set for the more politically powerful business class.

Finally, Cal Am and its supporters need to stop attempting to vilify anyone who raises questions about the process. All major public works projects encounter problems and this one is  more complex than most. Clearly, outside scrutiny will make it stronger, not weaker. As a community, there is strong agreement that we are obligated to stop abusing the Carmel River and unless someone works some magic and soon, we seem to be stuck with desal as the solution. That does not mean, however, that we must accept a project that carries a bloated pricetag and creates as many problems as it solves.

{ 14 comments }
Share

image copy 2

The Monterey County Republican Party persists in circulating web memes intended to deceive those who know very little history. It’s likely insulting even to many local Republicans.

I wrote about one a few weeks back but another, courtesy the aptly named outfit Right Wing News, was reposted on social media last week by a wag (or intern) with the local party. Over a smiling portrait of Ronald Reagan, it says if the Gipper were in the White House, “ISIS would be WASWAS.”

So clever. So simple.

Of course, if Reagan were president today, he would be 105 years old. Whether he could operate a smart phone, let alone oversee a military campaign against ISIS, is nothing but wistful thinking. The world has changed a lot since Reagan was elected in 1980.

But in GOP land, the Reagan years of 1981-88 are a golden era frozen in time, and he is the supreme founding father. His actual record in the Middle East is, however, far from golden, militarily and diplomatically.

His predecessor, Jimmy Carter, worked his tail off to achieve what no president has done — hammer out a peace treaty between an Arab state and Israel. Pick up the riveting history  Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright to learn what Carter, with his Christian faith and encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, accomplished at Camp David with the reluctant leaders of Egypt and Israel.

Reagan used direct military force three times in the Middle East — in Libya, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf, fewer times than his successors, both Presidents Bush and Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Reagan launched an air raid on Libya in April 1986 as payback for a terror bombing at a West Berlin discotheque popular with American soldiers that killed three, including two U.S. servicemen. Two U.S. airmen died in the Libya raid.

Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi survived; whether he was an intended target is still debated. Gaddafi went on to mock the Reagan administration and to support acts of terror for years, including the horrific mid-air bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in the waning days of Reagan’s presidency.

Twice in the early 1980s, Reagan sent troops into Lebanon after Israel invaded the chaotic country. First, U.S. troops helped with the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization from Beirut. Secondly, and tragically, 1,800 Marines returned to Lebanon as part of a peace-keeping mission after Israeli-allied Lebanese militias massacred hundreds of unarmed Palestinians in two refugee camps.

The Marine barracks was attacked Oct. 23, 1983, by a suicide truck bomber, killing 241 Marines. It was the Corp’s single deadliest day since the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima. The Marines were withdrawn — the president said redeployed — four months later, before their presence would become an issue in the 1984 campaign.

Two days after the barracks bombing, Reagan launched a military invasion with 5,000 troops of the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada, population 91,000 with an army of 600. It was over in days, and was the only U.S. land war of Reagan’s presidency.

Reagan preferred Cold War proxy wars in Central America, Africa and Asia to sending U.S troops into battle. This greatly dismayed conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley and Norman Podhoretz.

Multiple hijackings, bombings and kidnappings in the Middle East during the 1980s show that Reagan (or any other president, to be fair) never found a magic solution to conflict and terrorism in the region.

To boast that Reagan could easily dispatch the “caliphate” of ISIS today, presumably by walking tall, talking tough or reinvading Iraq, based on his Mideast record begs the question: what the heck are you smoking?

A nice guy at heart, Reagan’s sympathy for families of American hostages taken in Lebanon caused his off-the-books national security staff to illegally sell missiles to Iran, funnel some profits to the Nicaraguan Contras and, in the end, consume the final years of his presidency in scandal.

An irony to the Iran arms sales is that the United States was simultaneously backing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the long war (1980-1988) it started by invading Iran. The U.S. ensured Baghdad got billions of dollars in credits, weapons and intelligence, precursors for biological and chemical weapons, and a 1983 visit from special envoy Donald Rumsfeld. We joined the rest of the world in largely ignoring Saddam’s widespread use of chemical weapons during the war to kill thousands of Iranians and Kurds.

In the final two years of the Iran-Iraq war, U.S. Navy ships mounted the largest convoy since World War II to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attack. That the waters were a tinderbox was evidenced by the accidental May 1987 Iraqi air attack on the frigate USS Stark that killed 37 American sailors.

The stalemated Iraq-Iran war, which cost a million lives, finally ended in August 1988. But a month earlier, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, killing 290 passengers and crew, after mistaking it for an Iranian warplane. The tragic error is largely forgotten by Americans. But it remains an open wound for Iranians.

In another anti-Soviet proxy war in another Muslim country, Reagan’s CIA lavished weapons, equipment and praise on jihadists who flocked to fight the occupying Soviet army in Afghanistan. To be fair, Carter started supporting the mujahideen before Reagan greatly expanded the operation.

Guided by Cold War thinking, Reagan didn’t appreciate the potential danger of radical Islamic fundamentalism. The Soviets’ 1987-89 exit from Afghanistan gave rise to the Taliban, the first-generation of al-Qaeda, and, ultimately, the 2001 ground war mounted by the United States that grinds on today.

There are reasons to admire Reagan. Late in his presidency, he rejected hardliners in his administration and conservative circles to work with the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to reduce the threat of nuclear war, the specter of which truly haunted Reagan. Gorbachev rebuffed his own hardliners and refused to order Soviet troops to put down popular uprisings in East Germany, Poland and other Eastern bloc countries. Both men deserve praise for doing much to end decades of Cold War tension in Europe.

But the Mideast was a different story. The Reagan administration even publicly rebuked Israel over the Lebanon invasion and its expansionist settlement program, actions that would incense prominent Republicans today.

A writer last year for the conservative Cato Institute drew a lesson from the Reagan record in the Middle East that could be summed up: use caution and keep boots off the ground.

If memes devoid from reality are necessary, here’s a tip. Use a picture of Donald Trump saying he would just fire ISIS, or kick its ass, or make them build a wall around themselves and pay for it. Problem solved fabulously.

{ 20 comments }

Good stuff you may not have seen

Share

Some cool new postings are available at Monterey Bay Partisan but you probably didn’t get the usual email notification because of technical issues. I’m thinking of blaming Obama.

You can still go to the website by Googling Monterey Bay Partisan and, there you are, back in the know.

Sorry for the inconvenience

{ 0 comments }