≡ Menu
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

ls‘WHARFLORDS’ MAKE THE RULES

This is a David and Goliath story. Actually, it’s one Goliath and one bully trying to crush one David.

Captain Dutch Meyer, founder and proprietor of Monterey Bay Sailing, likes to say that he was young when he started trying to elbow a place for himself among the wharflords at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. Now, after eight years battling the city property manager’s enforcement of the wharf members-only scheme, he’s no longer young.

It is also a story about unconstitutional waste of public funds. Not the millions of dollars given away by the Monterey City Council in 1991 with the ridiculous long-term ground leases on wharf space, but the thousands of dollars being given away now – yesterday, today, and tomorrow, by allowing profiteering to continue on expired wharf leases.

This saga of an anti-competitive cartel and monopoly came to the fore with another consent item, No. 12, on the July 21 City Council agenda. It was pulled off of the consent agenda at my request and became a nearly two-hour hearing that was continued to Sept. 1 for resolution. (Item 20 on the Sept. 1 council agenda involves a closely related item. See details below.) How it turns out will be a significant step toward determining whether the public will be able to regain some measure of control over our waterfront in Monterey.

To understand the current situation, we need to review the history of the space known as Concession #21, currently occupied by Monterey Bay Sailing (MBS). It is at the far northeast corner of Fisherman’s Wharf, and has been used for some type of maritime activity since before 1964.

Records show it was originally used for a “diving bell” for tourists to have an underwater experience, and then featured a glass-bottomed boat operated by Sea Life Tours. According to the 1958 Wharf Master Plan, Concession #21 is authorized to accommodate three boats and one water space. Tony Rappa is the master leaseholder on a lease in effect from 1964 to 2041. He paid nothing for the lease and has rarely if ever conducted any economic activity there himself and has almost never paid any percentage rent to the city.

In 2003, Rappa floated the idea of conducting an amphibious shuttle from #21, and received approval to construct a six-foot wide floating dock alongside the pilings for passenger boarding at water level. The shuttle was short-lived. Rappa then sublet the space to Monterey Bay Sailing in 2003 after the failure of the shuttle.

NO OTHER PLACE TO RENT A BOAT

Monterey Bay Sailing has continuously occupied #21 since then and eventually grew into an entrepreneurial success. MBS offered the unique services of sailing lessons, membership, bareboat rentals and overnights, as well as sailing excursions on the bay. In our whole National Marine Sanctuary, there had been no opportunity to sail a boat unless you owned it. Indeed, no other entity in the Monterey Harbor offers boat rentals of any type, a highly favored use in the Wharf Master Plan and Resolution 9000.

Picture2It seemed the perfect maritime activity for the Marine Sanctuary, with a fleet of six sailboats creating less pollution in a year than the fuel-guzzling whale-watching boats create in a single day. From a fledgling new business, MBS had grown to a customer count of nearly 4,000 by 2007.

The growing success prompted Dutch to inquire about expanding his use to match the growing interest in bareboat sailing. The Monterey harbormaster, Steve Scheiblauer, confirmed that Dutch Meyer had the right to conduct these activities from Concession #21 in a Sept. 10, 2004, letter. Responding to the possibility of expansion of MBS uses and the physical plant, Scheiblauer made the ominous comment that, “Some of these matters have a history with the council, and would require a substantial amount of work with individual councilmembers to have any chance of being passed.” He did not identify the members.

Things went along swimmingly from there until Dutch applied for an expanded water space in 2007 to permit the berthing of a third small sailboat at the north end of the pier. This attracted the attention of the city’s property manager, Rick Marvin, who apparently had not noticed that MBS had successfully been conducting sailing operations for nearly four years at Concession #21.

Marvin belatedly developed an interest in regulating MBS. The harbormaster and the property manager decided that MBS should pay Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) for the occasional overnight stays on MBS boats. Scheiblauer told Dutch that any opposition to paying TOT would have a negative impact on the proposed expansion. Then Marvin insisted that Dutch obtain a building permit for an under-deck storage shed that had been built around 1993, long before Dutch took possession.

The city’s formal response to the application was a letter from the mayor on Oct. 31, 2007, telling Dutch that his application could not be processed because the floating dock installed by Rappa in 2002 to accommodate the amphibious shuttle must be removed or re-authorized. This was nonsense. The properly authorized dock had been there for four years and was integral to sailing operations. Unlike the big tour/whale watching boats, much smaller sailboats had to be boarded at sea level, not wharf deck level, and the floating deck made that possible.

JOSEPH HELLER WOULD BE PROUD

The nonsense quickly multiplied when Dutch was told that he couldn’t get a building permit for the existing storage shed until the dock was removed. But he was also told that the dock could not be repurposed or removed until the building permit was issued.   Marvin had orchestrated a complete Catch-22, and used it to cast Meyer as a miscreant unwilling to follow the rules.

I got to know Dutch in the spring of 2008 as a student earning my bareboat captain’s license. He was then at a standstill with the city, hung on the horns of the Catch-22. I scoffed at his description of the dilemma. I had been a volunteer commissioner of one kind or another with the city for 20 years, and had known the city planning staff to be uncommonly cooperative and helpful to citizens seeking approval of legitimate projects. Thinking that this bottleneck was the result of misunderstanding or miscommunication, I agreed to act as his attorney in guiding this new use application to conclusion.

As it turned out, I could not have been more wrong. I have since discovered that the tour boat cartel, not the city staff, controlled that end of the wharf, as intended by the Wharf Master Plan and Resolution 9000, both of which were designed and intended to enforce the monopoly of the cartel. The cartel consisted of the original master leaseholders for whaling, fishing, and tour boat concessions at the northern end of the wharf – the Arcoleo, Bruno, and Shake families with sub-tenants such as the Ternullos and Blacks, who dated their “ownership” to 1964 and before. They are the reason no new boating activity had been allowed on the wharf in over 40 years.

Close up of male hand drawing way from A to B pointDuring our initial meeting with Marvin and Scheiblauer in August 2008 to develop a consensus for moving forward, Marvin for the first time wheeled out the Wharf Master Plan (1958) and Resolution 9000 (the Tree House Rules, 1957).   Having operated for four years, MBS was now discovered to have run afoul of these illegal documents. First Marvin told us that a “Minor Project/Change” application to wharf use was required. After submitting one in September 2008, Marvin told us “never mind,” that this has to be a “Major Project/Change” as he defined it. We submitted it in October 2008, even though it was exactly the same application as before but now was subject to Planning Commission review.

The “major use change” required was necessitated by the fact that Resolution 9000, while allowing “boat rentals,” did not mention sailboats, and the Wharf Master Plan did not allow Concession #21 to have six boats and two or three spaces like the other water concessions.

Marvin responded to the new application by still insisting on some form of overnight lodging tax, even though I had proven to him that extracting such a tax was illegal under the Monterey City Code. When I once again pointed that out to Marvin, he issued a Notice of Violation of the Wharf Master Plan on Nov. 13, 2008, stating that MBS had to cease and desist from operating as it had for 4 years.

The alleged violations were the subject of the pending application for a Major Use Change to the Wharf Master Plan. The only purpose for the Notice of Violation was to cast Dutch Meyer as an outlaw and to cloud his application with an “enforcement’ tag before the City Council.

TURNING A NON-ISSUE INTO AN ISSUE

The matter was then presented to the City Council in December 2008, with the discussion limited to a determination of whether overnight stays on the MBS sailboats (with showers) was an allowable use. Marvin’s recommendation was based solely on the point that overnight stays were not an allowable use because Resolution 9000 was silent on this point. Of course, it could have been said that whale watching was not mentioned and therefore was not allowed. But markets change, don’t they? The good ole boys in the cartel were permitted to adjust to changing markets, like whale-watching more than fishing, as they saw fit, just as long as newcomers like MBS were not given the same flexibility.

ls-1

A Monterey Bay Sailing boat at sunset

The council said “no overnights,” and referred the matter to the Planning Commission to review and recommend on the change/expansion of use.

Stated concisely, the MBS request was to be allowed to maintain the floating dock, berth two sailboats alongside, use a total of six boats, berth a third sailboat at the north end of the pier with a modest fend-off bar, and rebuild the storage shed in accordance with a building permit to be issued.

I should note that I discontinued my representation of MBS at this point due to failing health.

A word about the Wharf Master Plan is in order. It was first approved in 1958, soon after Resolution 9000. A complete copy of the plan maybe found at the city’s Planning Department website (under Waterfront Master Plan page). It is not as silly as the Resolution 9000, which I have dubbed the Tree House Rules, but it shares the same purpose – to restrict and define competition. Some benign features have been added over the years, such as sign and design guidelines, but its overriding feature is Appendix “C” – a list of tour/fishing boats by name for each water-related concession, and a limit of six boats per concession. Detailed rules are included for any changing of boats, which must be approved by the City Council. Why?

This is where the plan runs afoul of any legitimate governmental interest. What conceivable public interest does Monterey have in organizing a private business market and telling the tenants who could have which boats? Or approve one boat over another? What could be the reason to limit the numbers of boats that could use a concession? If one operator could profitably operate eight boats, why would the city limit the number of boats to six? The obvious answer is that the cartel wanted to limit competition among the cartel members to a maximum of six boats each.

According to its City Charter, Monterey should treat each lease as a separate transaction. That objective was ignored in its entirety on Fisherman’s Wharf, where all leases look very much the same and the city in effect negotiated with the Wharf Association for a blanket ground lease. Clearly, the city should not be negotiating with a cartel of six private businesses to define and limit the competition. But that’s what the wharflords wanted in 1958, and that is what the City Council gave them.

THE CARTEL MAKES THE RULES FOR THE CITY

So the game was stacked against a new entepreneur wo wanted to introduce a new and popular recreational activity to the closed wharf kingdom. When the six operators received notice of the pending MBS application, they met in November 2008 and unanimously voted to deny the MBS use/change in its entirety. Various inane reasons, including the absurd claim that there would not be enough parking for the new use, were cited. Now that Marvin’s notice had rattled their cage about the growing nuisance of a competitive sailboat rental business in their midst, the cartel began a full-court press to not only defeat the new application, but to eliminate this minor competitor entirely.

Richard Ternullo of Monterey Bay Whale Watching voiced strong opposition, saying any change to the Wharf Master Plan would cause him the others to “alter our schedules or inhibit us from safe and free access to our berths.”

Chris Arcoleo, longtime naster leaseholder of Concession #18, wrote:

“The Shake Family just purchased a 100ft boat for almost one million dollars to compete in whale watching; we definitely do not need more competition on the wharf. In these hard economic times we feel that there is enough competition. … No one from the city staff talked to us about the issues or how it would affect my business. …. Resolution 9000 was put into effect just for this reason.”

Bob Massaro, wharf administrator for the Fisherman’s Wharf Association, complained that the association should have been consulted as part of the process and said, “Clearly the suggestion from the city that ‘competition is good’ may read well in a book about marketing but does not apply in the current condition of the economy.”Winch and rope, yacht detail. Close up horizontal shot

Peter Bruno, master leaseholder for concessions 19 and 24–26, offered that “competition may be necessary, but this should be between existing businesses and not with an unrelated business.” Clearly “unrelated” meant not part of the original boating cartel on Fisherman’s Wharf.
Obviously, the wharflords had an expectation that Resolution 9000 and the Wharf Master Plan were designed to protect them from competition. No matter that MBS sailboats held just one to six passengers, versus 30 to 100 passengers in the big tour boats. MBS had grown its business to nearly 4,000 passengers in 2007, and the cartel was worried about this minor competition though MBS was in a very different business. In the cartel’s myopic view, every passenger who wanted the unique sailing experience in the Maritime Sanctuary was a sale lost to the cartel.

None of those letters said anything about safety. They focused on convenience and competition. Of course MBS had an impeccable safety record during the four years it had already operated at the wharf and no one had complained about safety.

At the Planning Commission hearing in February 2009, about 10 MBS customers or members spoke in support of MBS. Ternullo and a couple of other cartel members spoke against, and focused on a claim of unsafe maneuvering conditions during times of rough water and surges, rather than too much competition. However, Harbormaster Scheiblauer testified that the MBS plan, with the continued existence of the floating dock, would not cause safety problems, as indeed none had occurred during the four years of operations so far.

The staff report from the Planning Department, by Principal Planner Kim Cole, debunked the objections from the cartel members. The claims of increased competition were dismissed with “Staff recommends a competitive environment for its leaseholds.” She recommended approval of the changes requested by MBS and noted:

“The project is consistent with the Wharf Master Plan that encourages marine oriented uses. The proposal requires only minor changes to the Wharf Master Plan.”

161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6 2

Fisherman’s Wharf

Concession #21 occupies the most northeastern corner of the wharf by the inner harbor entrance with a small office at wharf deck level and a 20-foot by 50-foot water space alongside. Dutch proposed adding a berthing space at the north end of the pier in a water space of 15 by 45 feet, with a two-foot floating platform to fend the small sailboat off from the pilings. With a maximum 12-foot beam for the largest sailboat, MBS berthing arrangements are well within the 20 by 50 foot water space leased by Concession # 21.

On the other side of the inlet/bay is Concession #18, Monterey Bay Whale Watching, with its two 20-foot wide water spaces to berth two much larger tour boats. The SeaWolf (70’ long, 21’6” wide) is typically berthed in the forward water space and exceeds the width of its leased space by 18 inches and exceeds the length by six feet. It is not charged any extra rent for exceeding its leased water space.

PLANNING COMMISSION SIDES WITH MBS

The Planning Commission rejected the protestations of the cartel and unanimously approved the MBS plan, as recommended by staff and sent its recommendation on to the City Council. And that’s where things began to get a little bit weird. The tour boat cartel no doubt upped the effort in the back rooms to defeat the MBS plan. As a result, the Planning Commission recommendation was altered by Marvin in several important respects when it was finally presented to the City Council on May 5, 2009.

In a report prepared by Marvin and his boss, William Reichmuth, the classification for MBS was changed from “boats for hire” to “Sailing Activity Center,” with a definition that precluded Dutch from renting out his sailboats, a major feature of his business. In addition, the requested space at the north end of the pier was altered to a dimension unusable by MBS.

At the council hearing, the harbormaster (who is not a licensed Coast Guard captain) testified for the first time, directly contrary to his testimony before the Planning Commission, that he was very concerned about safety and the floating dock. Several licensed Coast Guard captains testified in rebuttal that the set-up was safe.

The members of the cartel raised their voices in front of the council, claiming they could not safely maneuver around #21 and that amateur bareboat captains who rented from time to time were creating hazards for collision. This was an entire fabrication, without even anecdotal evidence to support it. In over four years of operations, there was not one scintilla of evidence to substantiate a claim that the berthing and operation of sailboats off the floating dock at Concession #21 had created any safety hazard. Keep in mind that these much smaller, sailboats operated at 1 mph when leaving their berth.

When Dutch tried to correct the errors and deviations from the Planning Commission decision, Reichmuth abruptly but incorrectly claimed that Dutch was seeking a major change to the application and for that reason, the application should be referred back to the Planning Commission. What he must have meant was that the staff needed more time to devise a strategy for eliminating MBS as a competitor. Nonetheless, the council accepted his assessment and referred the matter back to the Planning Commission for further deliberations based upon the alleged “changes.”

Inexplicably, ten months went by before the matter was again presented to the Planning Commission in February 2010. During the year between the two Planning Commission hearings, the conclusion is inescapable that someone from the wharf got to the right city officials. Reichmuth, Marvin, and Scheiblauer presented a totally different report and recommendation than had been originally submitted and approved by the Planning Commission and again misrepresented the MBS application.

CITY OFFICIAL EMPOWERS HIMSELF TO KILL COMPETITION

Whereas the staff report in 2009 declared a city policy in favor of “a competitive environment for its leaseholds,” Marvin’s report in 2010 declared that his office was empowered to “address” issues such as “business competition and potential impact on long established wharf concessions.” No authority was cited for this policy (there is none), which is inimical to a landlord’s and the public’s best interests. Marvin’s report was, in effect, an admission that his primary purpose was to protect the monopoly of the cartel.

Next, Marvin proposed to eliminate the floating dock because the harbormaster now gave incorrect testimony to the effect that other boats needed #21’s water space in order to exit, and that the sailboats could be boarded from deck level without use of the floating dock. Marvin reduced the north water space to a size unusable by MBS. And he inserted a provision that Dutch could not mention whale watching or fishing in his advertising. Marvin now considered his portfolio of powers to include abridgement of free speech.

The Planning Commission saw this abuse of administrative power and rejected Marvin’s staff report and recommendation. Instead, it struck out most of Marvin’s language and reapproved substantially the same resolution that it had approved the previous year and sent it again to the City Council for final approval.

Once again, Marvin ignored the Planning Commission recommendation and rewrote Dutch’s application when he presented his own proposal to the council on April 6, 2010. Scheiblauer and Marvin presented the matter as a safety issue caused by MBS and succeeded in getting passed a resolution that ruined the MBS business for the benefit of the cartel.

Instead of a complete removal of the dock, the punitive conditions imposed at Marvin’s request allowed no berthing of boats at the dock, and only 30 minutes per boat to tie up for passenger boarding. No time was allowed at the dock for maintenance and upkeep of the boats. And Ternullo was allowed to exit through #21’s water space most of the time.

Picture1

This meant that Dutch, at times a one-man show, had to leave his office to pick up a boat at its mooring and then to return to the dock to board new passengers for no more than 30 minutes at a time. As many of his customers were walk-up, he would have to do this continuously during the day, with the attendant loss of walk-up passengers and horrible inefficiency in business operations.

IMAGINE IF THE CITY LET YOUR NEIGHBOR TAKE YOUR DRIVEWAY

The free speech prohibition was included, as was a provision that MBS was “not conferred the full rights of other concessions currently existing at the wharf” (welcome, stranger!). I will not describe the other silly and punitive provisions, other than that the MBS rent was increased even though it was prevented from reasonably using its water space.

To put this in perspective for the layman, imagine that your next-door neighbor buys a huge RV, which cannot be parked on the street. Since his driveway is already full with his family’s automobiles, and his double garage is full of junk, he goes down to talk to his buddies at City Hall for relief. Together they decide that they will fabricate a story that you are a lousy driver who should not be entitled to use your driveway except to drop off your elderly mother after church on Sunday. This allows them to confiscate your driveway and require that you can no longer park your cars there but, instead, must allow him to park his RV in your driveway.

MBS is required to pay full rent to the city for its water space, but isn’t allowed to use it. Ternullo gets to use it whenever he wants, and he pays nothing for it, to either MBS or the city (which wouldn’t dare ask for it).

Since that time, April 2010, Dutch Meyer has refused to sign a lease amendment setting forth those ruinous terms and conditions; and he has continued to operate as he did before the final council action. Marvin on several occasions threatened to sue and evict, and Dutch has responded by reminding Marvin where he may be found for service of process. It would be fairly safe to say that no court in this state would enforce such punitive and unlawful conditions, and Marvin knows it. Such a suit would also, not coincidently, open the city up to many defenses based upon the illegality of Resolution 9000 and the Wharf Master Plan and the voidable ground leases on the wharf. Blatant abuse of government power does not play well in front of juries.

The standoff of over five years now comes to another head in a context that proves that city officials held the best interests of the cartel paramount over the interest of the public.

NO ROOM FOR SAILBOAT BUT ROOM FOR 65-FOOTER

The subject of Item #12 on the City Council consent agenda of July 21 was a staff recommendation that the council approve and authorize a huge, new twin-hulled 65-foot long, 27-foot wide whale-watching tour boat at the east side of Concession #18, which would more than double the passenger capacity of Monterey Bay Whale Watching. The staff report prepared by the city property manager is the usual model of obfuscation, intended to inform the council of as little as possible. No alternatives to the property manager’s recommendation are presented and the only rationale provided is that the Wharf Master Plan allows six boats at Concession #18 and this increase of capacity is going to increase the gross percentage rent paid by the concession (4%?).

Knowing that this council has four new members unfamiliar with the safety issues presented by the confiscation of MBS water space, and unfamiliar with the meaningless and all but abandoned Wharf Master Plan, the property manager glosses over the fact that this heavy steel double-wide boat is five feet wider than any other boat utilizing the northeast berthing space, and is seven feet wider than the 20-foot water space rented by Concession #18. Having spent the past four years trying to squeeze Monterey Bay Sailing out if its rented water space and its business under the guise of safety claims, he does a 180-degree turnabout from 2010 with the mendacious claim that the small sailboats, while a continuing safety problem, would be unaffected by the huge boat addition.

After the item was pulled off the consent agenda, a spirited exchange of viewpoints ensued. Ten to 12 supporters and users of MBS spoke to the safety issue and the misrepresentations of staff and cartel supporters who said safety was not an issue with this much bigger boat. Funny how what goes around, comes around, isn’t it? Either the cartel and the harbormaster were wrong in 2010, or they are wrong now.

Several alternatives to Marvin’s proposal easily present themselves. First and foremost would be to deny the request. This behemoth does not come close to fitting within the boundaries of the water space rented by Monterey Bay Whale Watching. Presumably there is a reason the water spaces in this bay are limited to 20 by 50 feet. It is to allow the rear water space boats to get out. The width of the Blackfin prevents that.

Other alternatives that preserve #21’s water space would include a condition that the Blackfin be required to move out any time Ternullo’s rear boat needed to exit the bay. Another solution would require the Blackfin to moor on the west side of concession #18.

All of those are sensible responses to Ternullo’s request to squeeze the Blackfin into a space that is too small. Instead, Marvin again chooses to usurp MBS water space rather than instruct Ternullo to eliminate the impact of Blackfin.

ls-1WHO’S RUNNING THIS CITY ANYWAY?

When the City Council decided to continue the matter to a later date, it ordered that MBS and the cartel engage in mediation to resolve the dispute. But the dispute is entirely of Marvin’s and Ternullo’s making, in that they intend to continue the taking of MBS property. I can’t imagine what MBS could want from mediation other than to be permitted to earn a living by conducting business as requested five years ago and as is Dutch’s right. Why should Dutch be required to change his use of his driveway when the problem is entirely of Ternullo’s making in buying a boat that doesn’t fit in his own?

Since it is obvious that the cartel, rather than the city, controls Concession #21, perhaps this finally puts the onus on the cartel to discontinue its efforts to put MBS out of business. I’m sure that if the cartel tells Marvin to do so, the city will be only too happy to give Dutch what he needs to run a successful business.

So will David overcome Goliath and the bully? It could happen with this mediation. But the backroom control of Fisherman’s Wharf will not end until the new council leasing policies are fully implemented. That could begin to happen tomorrow with the advertising of the Concession #18 space for offers by qualified bidders. The only way that does not happen is if the “fix” is still in to reward the longtime tenants and profiteers with the largesse of the city through backroom politics.

It is one thing to bemoan the outrageous profiteering that past improvident Council policies and decisions have wrought and quite another to stand by cluelessly to stop it when that right to profiteering has ended. Fifty years of feeding from the public trough is quite enough, thank you.

By Marvin’s actions, the city and the public treasury have lost an estimated $100,000 (best guess) in sub-lease rent that the public has been entitled to since Sept, 30, 2014. That is a waste of public money, an unconstitutional giveaway of public property to private persons. Does it require a lawsuit to see that city officials serve the public interest by taking this cash into the public treasury?

I hope not.

McCrone is a retired lawyer and, until recently, a member of the Monterey Planning Commission. His research and writings led the City Council to start reforming leasing practices at city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf, where numerous longtime leaseholders have reaped large profits by subleasing wharf space with no benefit accruing to the city.

{ 8 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

Painting a fresh red apple with paintbrushThere it is again. A post-game interview in which a Big League ball player describes his emotional state during a key point in the game as having been “definitely surreal.”

I’ve noticed a lot athletes, particularly members of the San Francisco Giants, because I watch their games more than others, are using “surreal” these days as a go-to adjective to describe what older players may have called “amazing,” “fantastic,” or “unreal.”

Those words are all acceptable synonyms for the non-art-world meaning of surreal, though they give no hint of the other-worldly, hallucinatory sense at the core of things properly called surreal.

While it’s no reason to send a player back to the minors for more practice on interview phrases, I wish ball players would excise surreal from their bat rack of handy cliches. It makes them sound as if they had spent the previous four hours at a Phish concert rather than on a baseball diamond.

Just the other day, grinning Giants rookie Kelby Tomlinson said the experience of hitting a grand slam as his first home run in the Major Leagues was, you got it, surreal.

I’m the first to give the kid a break since he’s probably heard plenty of other ball players this season describing other key hits, outstanding plays, dugout pranks or standing ovations as surreal. But an intervention is needed.

It’s become so widespread a usage that even players who speak through translators are using surreal in their native tongue like so many dazed Phish heads or art history minors. I fear by next season, players will be describing their emotional highs as “definitely post-impressionistic” or “downright Dadaesque.”

To clear the air, I offer a few baseball scenarios that would truly warrant being described as surreal:

— If Hunter Pence, the free-spirited Giants outfielder, walks his pet lobster on a leash — Salvador Dali-style — to the batting cage in advance of taking his pre-game rips.

— If hundreds of black-suited umpires wearing bowler hats descend slowly through the stadium air with rolled up umbrellas, jewel-studded chest protectors and featureless faces.

— If Los Angeles Dodgers players run forever toward first base with heavy bags of money encumbering their legs, but never reach base, while packs of vicious gulls befoul their tidy white uniforms with gallons of guano. (This is a hallucinatory dream enjoyed, perhaps, by many Giants fans.)

— If Giants manager Bruce Bochy speaks ancient Etruscan during his post game press conference and all the media people understand perfectly as he explains how shortstop Brandon Crawford “ground out a good at-bat” despite how his long hair was transformed into a tangle of hissing serpents.

Sea. Creative.Don’t get me wrong. Many unusual things can happen during a baseball game. It’s true one can go to the park or tune in a game on any given day and stand a very good chance of witnessing something never seen before.

Still, nothing truly surreal happens, unless you mistakenly count the August 1951 game when the St. Louis Browns used 3-foot-7-inch Eddie Gaedel as a first-inning pinch hitter. Gaedel, who wore the number 1/8, drew a four-pitch walk.

There was nothing surreal about this episode, which was cooked up by Bill Veeck, the Browns’ shameless publicity hound of an owner. Veeck reportedly threatened to shoot Gaedel if the wee man dared swing at a pitch.

Now had Gaedel blasted the first pitch over the center-field wall, causing all the time pieces in the stadium to slowly melt while the fielders’ mitts overflowed with milk and radishes, there would have been only one way to accurately call the play: definitely surreal.

{ 6 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

As we again enter the season for political campaigning, I find myself asking if there is better prism through which to view the candidates running for office?  Are we once again fated to cast our votes on the basis of each candidate’s unsubstantiated claims, meaningless platitudes and ambiguous promises, only to find a year or two later that those we elected are less interested in addressing our community’s major problems than in finding ways to reward their campaign contributors? We know a lot more about who they are since reading the list in the Partisan.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could begin shifting the campaign debate to the concrete proposals by the challengers and the actual results achieved by incumbents?

Hand Writing Time for Change Phrase Isolated on Gary Background.I was inspired to think about this when I read about the Social Project Index (SPI). The SPI was established in 2013 on the principle that economic development is necessary, but not sufficient, for social progress. The SPI’s originators focused on those metrics that best describe the values on which quality of life, not economic success, depend. As they are described in the SPI, these include

  1. Basic Human Needs, such as nutrition and medical care, shelter, personal safety
  2. Foundations of Well Being, such as access to basic knowledge and ecosystem sustainability, and
  3. Opportunity, such as personal freedom, tolerance, and access to advanced education.

Since the SPI is an international index that covers 133 countries, some of these would not apply to most of the U.S., but many do. It’s a matter of interest that of the North American countries in the group, the U.S. and Canada, Canada ranks sixth in the world on the totality of these components; the U.S. ranks 16th.

What is important about the Index – and what got me thinking about it – is that it measures outcomes, not inputs. Governments often put huge resources into programs that yield little for their citizens, yet claim credit for the mere fact of investing in them. The SPI doesn’t let them get away with that.

Here’s a very revealing outcome measurement: The U.S. spends far more than any other developed country on health care, but its health outcome in one key parameter, infant mortality, is well below that in many other countries, including Korea, Hungary, and Poland, and in fact has slipped over recent years, despite increasing investment. The obvious question is: what are our elected officials doing to adopt or adjust our policies so that our huge investment produces better outcomes?

To bring this concept to the local level, it has been announced that Monterey County will launch a pilot program to cover the gap in health services for the uninsured. Although at the moment uninsured patients can see doctors at health clinics on a sliding scale, their prescriptions or lab work or radiology needs are not covered. The pilot program would be funded by a $500,000 grant from the county, which would cover most of the currently uncovered services, although with some co-pay and some very expensive medications not covered. The services would continue until the grant runs out, and then the data will be analyzed to see if there are better clinical outcomes and more cost-effective care. That sounds like a great approach. It’s dependent upon the Board of Supervisors approving the $500,000. We’ll know on Sept. 15 if it is, and who on the board votes for or against it.

Affordable housing is another matter. Although in this county it is often mentioned as a critical need, and there are literally pages of programs to address it, what have those programs actually accomplished? Is there anyone here who believes that Monterey County has affordable housing?

There is a litany of other components that we might wish to include in our own Social Progress Index. Water is the hot one, but there are also education, personal safety, land use, criminal justice, as examples. Having decided on what components to use, we can then take a hard look at the results our elected officials have achieved in the time they have been in charge of their management. What haven’t they done that they had the power to do? And what concrete proposals are aspiring candidates offering to achieve better results?

Holding them to the Monterey County SPI index would eliminate support for campaign positions such as, “I will represent all the people of Monterey County,” or “I will work everyday on behalf of the people,” or “I will create good paying jobs through my economic policies.” Those are platitudes that the SPI abjures.

My proposed list of Monterey Social Progress Index parameters may be incomplete or even in some cases irrelevant. Thus I invite other readers to contribute—either by proposing additions or deletions from my list, or by initiating a dialogue on a specific issue (similar to that which has been occurring on the desal project in recent months), designed to develop a factual basis on which voters can make an informed decision in the 2016 county supervisorial election. I invite experts in these areas, once the parameters have been agreed upon, to submit views and information on which they would base their own outcome assessments. They have access to data that regular citizens don’t have, and having a forum in which to present their analysis will be invaluable.

Let’s use the Partisan for a community dialogue, something it has excelled in, and create a fully developed, fact-based analysis of competing claims and proposals on each of the issues to be measured in our local SPI. If we wait for the Herald or the Pine Cone and the candidates’ fliers to enlighten us, we will be blinded by claims versus fact.

It is at the ballot box that we have our most powerful say, so this time, let’s demand fact-based outcome assessment for those who have occupied the office of supervisor, and fact-based analysis of the claims of those who aspire to it. Then let’s continue our vigilance and make the fact-based assessment of outcomes the standard for all current elected officials to meet.

Meister is a journalist who lives in Pebble Beach. She is a regular contributor to the Partisan.

{ 12 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

A former colleague now lives in a sizable city where the daily newspaper became a three-days-a-week paper a couple years ago.“It’s dreadful,” she says. “We still get the printed paper, but so much of it is old news by the time it arrives. It’s a shambles. I hate what has happened to a good newspaper. The community has lost the common voice, and that bodes ill in so many ways.”

Now it’s the Salinas Californian’s turn to go from daily to three days – Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a sad thing, a very sad thing for a paper that launched shortly after the Civil War, but it isn’t the newspaper or even its staff that I worry about. I worry about the community, one that has already lost much of its cohesion because of the newspaper’s slow but steady decline in recent years.

newsWednesday’s announcement had been expected for quite some as circulation tanked like it has at so many papers.

As usual, management at the newspaper felt compelled to search for a positive spin. Editor Pete Wevurski’s column about the changes wasn’t as fatuous as it might have been but the headline was the worst: “You’ll still see all your favorites … and more.”

The “more” promised in the headline apparently is additional commentary provided by you, the readers, on those days when there are enough pages to accommodate anything more than the essentials.

Publisher Paula Goudreau put her true feelings in a box and hid them beneath her desk before writing her column, which told us, “Today I am excited to announce a significant change that is an important step to assuring The Californian will continue to build on its first 144 years for many decades to come.”

“This shift – driven by our consumers and advertisers – enables us to invest in a new way of doing business and better position ourselves for the future. Salinas has evolved into one of California’s youngest markets, and research tells us that a decidedly large portion of that key younger demographic clearly prefers to get their news on mobile devices, rather than print.

“The Californian has recognized the digital opportunity these past few years and has focused on local breaking news and local content that appeals to the changing marketplace in Salinas. Its mobile apps for smart phones and tablets were upgraded early in 2014 and the mobile version of TheCalifornian.com web site is robust. And more improvements related to new kinds of content, video and advertising opportunities on the mobile platform are in development. We’ll be telling you about these in the coming weeks.

“Blah, blah, blah….”

In other words, not to worry. We’re excited to tell you that less is more.

I’m not trying to be mean here or pick on anyone at the Californian. Though it was a key component of the competition while I was at the Monterey Herald, newspaper people love newspapers and other newspaper people. It’s just that I’ve been through my own share of belt-tightening and cutbacks in the industry and I’ve heard too many people at the top of the food chain tell us that the readers would still love us no matter how thin the gruel became.

Fortunately, cutting back on production should not require any cuts to the production staff in Salinas because the paper, for the most part, is edited and put together at a sister paper in Visalia, another outpost in the huge Gannett chain.

My biggest fear now is that some bean counter at corporate will calculate that a three-day-a-week newspaper doesn’t need as many reporters as a daily. One might look at it that way, I suppose, but not after being reminded that most journalism of real value takes longer than a day to produce. In other words, there’s nothing at all wrong if a reporter working on Monday also spends Tuesday working on a story for the Wednesday paper instead of a Twitter blurb about a fender bender.

Goudreau tells us that this is not a cutback, not a retreat, but simply a change in direction, a change in platform, away from the old days of print and toward the exciting new world of digital. That is, of course, exactly what is happening at newspapers everywhere, which promote the concept of instant news on readers’ phones and laptops. Which would be a good thing if it was in addition to what we used to get in print and not a replacement.

The Herald is owned, for now, by a company known as Digital First Media, a name that included the mission statement. Unfortunately, news distributed digitally is not as lucrative as news delivered to your porch, and the company is now for sale.

Fortunately for readers on the Peninsula, Monterey County Weekly has done an excellent job supplementing the news supply as the Herald has trimmed staff and pages. For better or worse, the Weekly also has devoted considerable resources into its Web product, which unavoidably takes resources away from the print product. Still, all in all, the Peninsula is relatively well served by a combination of the Herald, the Weekly and the Pine Cone with an intermittent assist from the Partisan.

The case is not at all similar in Salinas. There isn’t a weekly. There isn’t a Salinas Partisan or, for better or worse, anything resembling the Pine Cone.

The loss of the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday Californian won’t have a dramatic impact immediately. People will get used to not having the paper every day and not knowing as much about civic affairs. The process will be gradual, like the community’s adjustment to the slippage of recent years. For now, perhaps we should take a clue from Goudreau and Wevurski and express some optimism, real or imagined.

Perhaps Gannett will discover that the old way was more profitable.

Perhaps someone will start a good weekly or a Partisan or two will spring up.

Maybe someone with more money than sense will buy the Californian and turn it into what it once was.

Or maybe, just maybe, someone at the paper will read the promises that Goudreau and Wevurski made about commitment to the news and the community and actually try to make good on them.

Wish them luck. Wish us all luck.

{ 18 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

Peace symbol word cloud for Iran nuclear dealAssemblyman Luis Alejo was busy this week in King City, seeking a district-election process to elect council members and a state audit of the city’s trouble-plagued police force.

Alejo, a three-term Watsonville Democrat and chairman of the Latino Caucus in the state Legislature, also quietly put down a marker in the country’s top foreign policy debate — the proposed Iranian nuclear agreement.

Alejo and fellow Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, issued a statement Tuesday, declaring themselves on the same ground as almost every Republican in Congress and the 17 GOP presidential candidates — against the Iran nuclear agreement backed by President Barack Obama.

The two Assembly Democrats said the agreement negotiated with Iran by the U.S. along with Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union “falls short” of putting limits on Iran’s nuclear program to ensure peace.

Echoing language by fervent opponents of the Iran deal from former Vice President Dick Cheney to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the legislators declare Iran “an extraordinary threat to the United States and our allies” and a supporter of terrorist groups that have killed Americans over the past 30 years from Lebanon to Iraq.

In opposing the Iran deal, Alejo puts himself at odds with both California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Central Coast Congressman Sam Farr, D-Carmel, all previously announced supporters of the agreement.

Why Alejo, a liberal on immigrant rights issues and author of a bill against the term “Redskins” for school mascots, has sided with conservatives on the Iran deal wasn’t clear. Questions put to him Wednesday were answered with a written statement:

Flags of United States and Iran with Nuclear icon on Yin and Yang symbol“This is not a partisan issue, it’s about what is best for the United States and our allies.  Secretary of State Kerry and the president should be commended for all their hard work and effort they put into these negotiations.  But when the security of one of our country’s most loyal allies is at stake, we cannot settle for an agreement that is ‘good enough.’  In 2012 I traveled to Israel and learned an incredible amount about the U.S.-Israel relationship, including the Israeli perspectives on global issues. This included an exploration of major policy issues including the Arab-Israeli conflict, peace process, global terrorism, Iranian nuclear policy, and U.S.-Israel relations.  During my time there I also gained a better understanding of the religious, historical and strategic flashpoints associated with the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Alejo’s trip to Israel was a  six-day “educational tour” courtesy of the American Israel Education Foundation, according to his 2012 economic interests report on file with the state.

The foundation is a charitable group affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the strongest pro-Israel lobby in the United States. The charity group says it makes annual grants to Aipac and pays for “educational seminars to Israel” for members of Congress and “other political influentials.”
Aipac is lobbying hard against the proposed Iran nuclear deal, as Bloomberg reported this month. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-08-21/iran-deal-puts-aipac-at-risk-of-losing-to-obama-in-biggest-fight
The Aipac-affiliated foundation picked up $8,926 to cover Alejo’s travel, lodging and meals for the 2011 visit, state records say. Alejo reported he made a speech and took part in a panel during the tour.

The initial statement by the two legislators was mentioned on Twitter by a few Sacramento capital reporters. Alejo’s official web site didn’t mention it and there was no immediate media coverage.

Alejo will be termed out of the Assembly in 2016 and reportedly has been eyeing possible runs for the state Senate and Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

{ 11 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word
delayed flight

delayed flight

The decision by Monterey Regional Airport officials to not notify passengers and potential passengers of the problems that caused some 50 flights to be canceled over the past week was irresponsible and inexcusable. From all appearances, it was a decision made with the airport’s bottom line in mind and with total disregard for the people that the airport is supposed to serve.

Though airport officials are blaming the problem on the Federal Aviation Administration, they acknowledge that they knew a week ago that there was a strong likelihood that flights in and out of the airport would be canceled. So what did they do? Did they alert the newspapers and TV stations? Did they suggest that the airlines notify passengers with reservations during the affected period?

Instead, they posted an understated notice on the airport’s Facebook page, which no one I know had ever looked at since the beginning of recorded history. They didn’t even provide the airlines with a complete picture of what was going on, so people returning here from all over the country booked flights that never had a chance of heading this way.

The problem was this. The airport is nearing the end of a major construction project that involves installation of concrete pads at the ends of the runways that are designed to stop aircraft that have overshot the landing strips. That project also involves adding and moving landing lights. While the lights were being worked on last week, the FAA ruled that the electronic navigational aids should be turned off until the safety of the remaining directional system could be tested. The FAA had previously said the electronic aids could remain in service, but it changed its mind. The testing didn’t occur until Monday and regular service was reinstated.

Did the FAA mess up? Maybe so. It certainly contributed to a terrible situation for many travelers. But it is the airport, and perhaps the airlines as well, that deserve the largest measure of blame for not letting people know.

It’s hard to come to any conclusion other than airport officials didn’t want to make a general announcement because many passengers would have changed their flight plans and flown in or out of San Jose or San Francisco. The airlines would have been upset. The airport would lose out on landing fees and possibly other revenue. That might have been a blow financially. But the inconvenience created for hundreds and hundreds of people completely trumps any other concerns.
Perhaps airport officials were banking on good weather. If there had been no clouds or fog, more flights would have been able to get in and out even without the electronic navigational aids. But anyone betting that there won’t be clouds or fog in August on the Peninsula is betting on a helluva longshot.

The airport tries its best year around to compete with metropolitan airports but it has driven a significant share of its clientele away with this stunt.

What needs to happen now is this. Airport officials need to apologize to those it so seriously inconvenienced and it should look for ways to compensate them in some fashion. The elected board of directors needs to conduct an inquiry into the situation and present a complete report to the public. And if the decision turns out to have been as calculating and boneheaded as it appears from the outside, those responsible should be provided with a one-way ticket out of town.

{ 5 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

MoneyADDITIONAL INFO IN POTTER SECTION BELOW

While so much attention is focused already on next year’s presidential election, a local campaign is quietly underway locally, the race for campaign money in Monterey County’s 4th Supervisorial District even though the primary is still nine months away.

In first place so far is the incumbent, Jane Parker, who had taken in $112,000 as of June 30, the end of the latest reporting period, but former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue’s campaign treasury stood at a healthy $65,000 thanks to hefty contributions from the Salinas Valley ag industry.

Donohue, who works in produce, received $5,000 contributions from Fresh Foods of King City, Newstar Fresh Foods, Mann Packing, D’Arrigo Brothers, Gowan Seed Co., American Farms and other ag-related entities, the Nunes Co., A.C. Smith and Massa Trucking.

Donohue received a $1,000 contribution from his treasurer, accountant Warren Wayland, who serves as treasurer for many Republicans.

The ex-mayor’s largest contribution, $10,000, came from Taylor Fresh Foods. A related entity, Taylor Fresh Farms, just opened its headquarters building in downtown Salinas and is reported to have purchased several other buildings downtown with plans to renovate. While he was mayor, Donohue pressed for a downtown makeover. Expect him to criticize Parker for supporting a county decision to buy an office building on the outskirts and move some county workers outside the city center.

Parker’s largest contribution in the first half of the year, $20,000, came from Nancy Burnett, who is the mother of Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett and daughter of computer baron David Packard.

Parker received $10,500 from Brigitte Wasserman of Carmel, $9,748 from Constance Murray of Carmel Valley, $6,500 from Edwina Bent of Monterey, $6,000 from the Babcock Family Trust, $5,250 from Shirley Devol of Carmel Valley and Gordon Kauhenen of Union, Wash., $2,500 from Lisa Hoivik of Monterey and numerous smaller contributions.

While Parker’s district covers Marina, Seaside and a portion of Salinas, she receives considerable support from elsewhere because of her reputation as the lone progressive on the five-member board. She is routinely on the losing side of major development issues.

She did receive some significant contributions from ag interests, picking up $5,000 from Dennis Caprara of R.C. Farms and $5,000 more from Sea Mist Farms of Castroville.

In District 5, incumbent Dave Potter took in $54,000 in the first half of the year, and spent $21,000.

Potter is expected to receive a strong challenge from former United Way executive Mary Adams, who plans to announce her candidacy this fall. Former supervisor Marc Del Piero, who challenged Potter four years ago, also is believed to be considering another run. The district generally covers the Peninsula south of Seaside, Carmel Valley and much of the Highway 68 corridor.

Potter’s contributions came from several directions, including Pebble Beach homeowners, investors, and resort operators.

Potter played a key role in bringing the controversial Monterey Downs horse racing and development proposal to the Peninsula, but there were few obvious signs of support from the horse racing industry. He did pick up $1,000 from Chris Bardis, a key figure in the harness racing industry. Bardis once owned a share of the Los Alamitos racetrack and sat on the state racing commission. He reported receiving $1,000 from Double S.L. Ranch of Lafayette but little information is available about that entity.

Potter received $5,000 from Shanna Fineberg, an interior decorator from Dallas, and the same amount from venture capitalist Jon Q. Reynolds of Piedmont. He received $1,000 contributions from the owners of Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley Ranch, Bernardus Lodge, Folktale Winery and Old Fisherman’s Grotto.

Steve Foster, owner of the Lucky Strike chain of bowling alley/nightclub operations gave $2,000 and the Monterey County Hospitality Association gave $500.

One $1,000 contribution of interest came from Sanford Edward, whose large Dana Point Headlands project went before the Coastal Commission while Potter was a member. The highly controversial Orange County project was approved by the commission on a 7-5 vote with Potter on the dissenting side.

Potter received a contribution of $1,000 from cotton tycoon Sam Reeves, who is fighting an application by a Pebble Beach neighbor to enlarge his home, a decision that will be made by county officials.

In the other district with an election next year, District 1 in Salinas, incumbent Fernando Armenta and his expected challenger, Salinas City Councilman Tony Barrera, haven’t reported any contributions so far.

{ 18 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word
delayed flight

delayed flight

Flight service in and out of the Monterey Regional Airport continued to be spotty Monday because of a decision last week by the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down the airport’s radio navigation system because of ongoing construction work.

The airport’s executive director, Mike La Pier, said it was not true as earlier reported that the disruption was caused by an inadvertent shutdown or the lack of technical help. Instead, he said, the FAA suddenly reversed itself last Wednesday on allowing the instrument landing system to remain in operation while the runway lighting system is being reconfigured in connection with a runway safety improvement project.

“We had an agreement but the FAA decided it would not leave the system on until they test it,” La Pier said early Monday. He said he expected the testing, involving an FAA aircraft, to occur sometime today, Monday, but that was not definite.

Numerous flights in and out of Monterey were canceled starting Wednesday and through the weekend but La Pier said he was not prepared to estimate the number or the percentage. He said some commercial flights that needed no navigational assistance were able to use the runway.

The construction work, highly visible because of the huge wall that has been erected between the airport and Tarpey’s restaurant, involves installation of a series of soft concrete pads intended to slow down any aircraft that overshoots the runways. As part of that project, some of the runway lights are now being moved, which concerned the FAA, La Pier said.

The Partisan’s attempts to reach the FAA have so far been unsuccessful.

A first-person article written by a frustrated traveler and related comments from Partisan readers can be found here.

{ 10 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

Zen waterWith an assist from the legislation’s co-author, Sen. Bill Monning, George Skelton of the LA Times does a great job here of explaining how the End of Life Option Act was revived and why that’s a good thing, even for the Catholic hierarchy that opposes it.

{ 9 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

delayed flightI am one of what I believe to be hundreds of ticketed passengers who were prevented from flying into or out of Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) for several days beginning on Wednesday. I believe these disruptive, costly and aggravating cancellations were inexcusable, demonstrating a shocking disregard for passenger needs on the part of MRY management, the airlines and the FAA.

In my case, a trip home from Austin, Tex. took 13 hours and ended at 4 a.m. Saturday with a $173 Uber ride from San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which had become the substitute destination airport. As I write this on Saturday night, I have just heard of yet another unfortunate air traveler stranded in Phoenix after having a ticketed flight to Monterey cancelled. That makes four days and counting of cancelled MRY flights.

According to an article in the Monterey Herald on Friday, the cause of the disruption was a switch on a communication device that links aircraft to MRY. Apparently the switch was inadvertently turned off during construction work on Wednesday. It seems there was a miscommunication of some sort with the Federal Aviation Administration, whose action was required to get the switch turned on. And somehow this miscommunication dragged on day after day. The Monterey airport director is quoted in the Herald as saying he hoped the switch would be back on Saturday but he sounded neither confident of success nor very concerned that flight after flight was being scrubbed.

Is no one paying attention when hundreds of passengers are having their travel plans wrecked by what appears to be a straightforward technical problem at MRY? Is it impossible to find an FAA technician among the thousands of FAA employees who can be bothered to come to Monterey and flip a switch? Where are our Monterey Airport commissioners, who we elected to represent the interests of passengers at MRY?

I can hear the response: This is much more complicated than flipping a switch. To which I say: I cannot imagine this happening at SFO or LAX. A critical system failure like this would either get a crisis-style response and be restored ASAP or else there would be a backup system. If LAX were effectively shut down for days because no one could be bothered to flip a switch, there would be open revolt at the airport. At MRY no one seems bothered in the least. Where is the sense of urgency here? Is MRY really this much of a backwater?

To make matters worse, I found, as I am sure others did, that my carrier, United Airlines, was indifferent to the problem or to my plight. There was no advance warning or indication that Monterey was having days of cancellations. In fact, several United agents told me they had no idea why my connecting flight from LAX to MRY on Friday night was at first delayed or why it was ultimately cancelled, even though the problem had been festering for days. Finally, the fifth agent, after considerable computer-assisted research, discovered the problem and noted with some satisfaction that the cancellation was not the fault of United. So there were no offers of hotel or ground transportation vouchers or any other assistance. I was welcome to take the next available seat to Monterey, which would be 24 hours later. That flight might avoid the epidemic of cancellations. Or not, in which case I guess I could hang around L.A. and try again the next day and then perhaps the next. I suppose the game plan by United was that someday I would get booked on a scheduled flight from LAX to Monterey that would actually fly there. I ended up taking a midnight standby seat to SFO and getting myself home from there. “Friendly Skies of United” indeed.

I related my experience and the underlying problem at MRY to a Monterey County resident who flies frequently, and who immediately replied, “This is why I NEVER fly out of Monterey.” Until now I have not shared this view and in fact have often touted flying out of MRY for the convenience. Recent events have prompted me to reconsider heeding the call of “Fly Monterey.” What kind of airport urges passengers to fly there and then idly stands by when their tickets become worthless?

I would suggest that the airport and its commissioners immediately investigate what has just transpired at the airport and take swift and decisive action that not only resolves the problem but also demonstrates a genuine commitment to passenger interests beyond the bland advertising slogan. If not, Monterey travelers may adopt a slogan of their own: “Don’t Fly Monterey. Ever.”

Speizer lives on the Peninsula.

{ 13 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

Drowning Piggy

About three years ago I posted a “Pocket Guide to Local Water Politics” to help poor confused people like me sort out the crazy quilt of interlaced complexities of competing interests. A lot has changed since then, so I thought an updated guide would be in order. Unfortunately, things have become so insanely complex that I must increase the guide to briefcase size.

Background:

In the mid 1970s California experienced a severe drought. Here on the Monterey Peninsula, residential water users were rationed to 50 gallons per person per day, a huge inconvenience in the days of 3-gallon-per-flush toilets and 5-gallon- per-minute shower heads.

In 1978 the state Legislature created the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, commonly known as the “Water Board,” to spearhead conservation efforts and find and construct a new water supply so we would never have to go through that again. Nearly 40 years and three droughts later, almost nothing has been done. Despite the cries of “not me” echoing throughout the region, pretty much everyone is to blame.

Here are the players. Their specific names have been removed to protect me from the guilty:

  1. Monterey Peninsula Voters who, in the mid 1990s, voted down two perfectly good water supply projects that would have solved our problems long ago.

Important details:

  • The projects were a modest desalination plant in Sand City and a New Los Padres Dam on the Carmel River.
  • The desal plant would have provided us with a drought-proof supplement to sporadic rainfall. It was rejected by voters in 1993 on the grounds that it would cost much more per unit of water than a new dam, which they said was just around the corner.
  • The dam would have provided ample storage to serve the population and help the poor fish by restoring year-round flows to the overdrawn Carmel River. It was rejected in 1995 because voters perceived it as too expensive, growth-inducing, and environmentally damaging.
  • Had local voters approved both of these projects, we would not be in the legal mess we are in today and the current drought would be just a minor inconvenience.
  • What in blazes were they thinking?!?!?!?
  • For the record: I voted for both projects.
  1. A state water board that determined that the local private water company (see below) was legally entitled to only one third of the water it was pumping out of the ground in Carmel Valley, the Peninsula’s primary source of water for over 100 years. The board issued a cease and desist order (CDO) to take effect at the end of 2016.

Points to ponder:

  • Everyone on the Peninsula is desperate to find a new water supply.
  • There is a general consensus that a desalination plant is the best option.
  • If we don’t meet the deadline, the private water company will be forced to pay huge fines, or limit water deliveries, or some combination thereof. Nobody knows how the state will enforce the order.
  • Oh crap: We’re not going to meet the deadline.
  1. The county, which arbitrarily passed an ordinance saying that any desalination plants built in Monterey County must be publicly owned.

But wait:

  • There is some question as to whether the county has legal jurisdiction over utility companies. Some say that is purely the domain of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). If that is true, the county’s ordinance is probably not enforceable.
  • The county doesn’t seem to have a problem with private ownership of the Carmel Valley dams (see below), so why does it care if the same company owns a desal plant?
  • And why single out water? If the same logic applied to other utilities, then electrical generation plants should also be publicly owned, right?  But that’s a topic for another day.
  1. The local water board, which devised and presented two water supply projects to Peninsula voters for their approval.

The results:

  • Voters rejected both projects (see above).
  • After voters rejected the two projects, the water board could find no credible alternatives and has basically been adrift ever since.
  • The water board has since developed a reputation, not fully deserved, as a do-nothing agency.
  • Throughout its history, the water board has been accused of abusing its authority over new water uses to control development on the Monterey Peninsula.
  • Its reputation was so bad that in 2002 Monterey Peninsula voters passed an advisory measure asking the state Legislature to dissolve it. Presumably, had the Legislature complied – which it didn’t – that would have left the private water company (see below) on its own to develop a water supply.

5.    The private water company, which has been the Monterey Peninsula’s water provider for as long as water has been needed here.

Some facts:

  • Although The company has “California” and “American” in its name, the parent company is actually based in Germany. (CORRECTION: That is no longer true. It was reorganized as a U.S. company.)
  • In the first half of the 20th Century, the private water company built two dams on the Carmel River called San Clemente and Los Padres.
  • The company has been criticized for not dredging the two reservoirs periodically, instead letting sediment build up, which significantly reduced their capacity.
  • The San Clemente reservoir filled almost completely with sediment. The dam is currently being dismantled at customer expense.
  • For over three decades the company let the local water board take the lead in finding a new water supply project.
  • When the local water board failed to deliver, and with the cease-and-desist order deadline fast approaching, the company entered into a complex agreement with a neighboring water district (see below) to build a Regional Desalination Project (RDP) outside the neighboring private water company’s service area.
  • After the agreement with the neighboring water district collapsed (see below), and with the cease-and-desist order deadline imminent, the private water company understandably gave up on working with incompetent public bureaucracies and decided to build a desal plant on its own. Plans call for it to be built within the boundaries of the neighboring water district, which has generated considerable friction between the company and the neighboring water district.
  • The most optimistic construction schedule shows the company’s desal plant won’t be operational until 2020, thus missing the deadline by about four years.
  • The company has skirted the county requirement that desal plants be publicly owned through some sort of agreement that resolved whatever disputes arose between the company and the county during the failure of the Regional Desalination Project.
  • The company hopes to employ “slant well” technology to draw ocean water into the desal plant. Slant wells are drilled near the shore at an angle (as opposed to straight down) so that the intakes are located in the soggy sand just below the ocean floor.
  • Slant wells are preferred over “open ocean” intakes by environmental groups and regulatory agencies because they will not suck up ocean life along with the seawater. However, critics in the neighboring water district believe the slant wells will also draw some fresh water from the neighboring district’s groundwater supplies, and they, along with a neighboring property owner, are accusing the private water company of stealing their water.
  • Earlier this year the company drilled a slant well for testing purposes to determine if the technology will work as expected. The test well was challenged in court by the neighboring water district, but a judge allowed the test to proceed.
  • The slant well testing is so far inconclusive. The company discovered a drop in groundwater levels in the neighborhood of the test well. It is not yet known if the drop was caused by the slant well or nearby agricultural wells. The company says it is the latter while the neighboring water district says “Nya, nya, we told you so!” The test well is currently shut down pending further analysis by actual scientists.
  • Egg on their faces: It turns out that one of the consultants hired by the company to analyze the test well results has a conflict of interest in that he also holds some patents on slant well technology.
  1. The neighboring water district came into the picture a few years ago with a proposal to save the private water company from the ineffective water board. It was called the Regional Desalination Project (RDP).

Here’s where everything went completely bonkers:

  • The RDP plan involved three public agencies. 1. The neighboring water district, which would own the desal plant, 2. A county water agency, which would own the pipes to get ocean water into the plant, and 3. A regional wastewater agency, which would be in charge of the salty residue discharged back into the ocean.
  • The private water company would be the plant’s primary customer. The neighboring water district would also use some of the water produced for its own needs.
  • The neighboring water district would have control over the plant management and operations.
  • The private water company’s customers would pay for the plant, but have no significant influence over its management. This raised alarm bells among Monterey Peninsula residents who felt that they would be at the mercy of the neighboring water district, which at the time was widely regarded as so dysfunctional that the Peninsula’s useless water board looked like King Solomon by comparison.
  • The California PUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates had similar concerns.
  • Due to the sheer complexity of the plan and the distrust it generated among Peninsula residents, the project probably would have collapsed under its own weight eventually. Its demise was mercifully hastened when it was discovered that a key player in the project’s development had a serious conflict of interest in that he was working for both a public agency and a private contractor advising the same agency.
  • As I predicted in 2010 the RDP players are now suing each other, trying to recover the money they spent on this unworkable scheme. Each side claims the others were at fault, and nobody is taking responsibility themselves.
  • Meanwhile, the neighboring water district, being no longer on speaking terms with the private water company, is trying every legal trick in the book to stop the private water company from building its own desal plant within the boundaries of the neighboring water district.
  • Last May the local Congressman actually suggested that the neighboring water district be disbanded because “They just haven’t conducted themselves in a very professional way. They’ve been fighting everybody else, and they’ve been sort of selfish and arrogant.”
  • Isn’t this fun???
  • Only if you can watch it from a safe distance!
  1. After the RDP collapsed it became evident that none of the relevant public agencies was competent enough to find a new water supply. So the six mayors of the six Monterey Peninsula cities got together and formed a plan: Create a new public agency! They call it the water authority, and the mayors put themselves in charge.

Their mission:

  • Get all the players, the public water agencies, the private water company, the business association, and the citizen groups into one room and hash out a solution agreeable to everyone. It’s sorta like herding cats, and has turned out to be just as effective.
  • The authority analyzed three competing desal plant proposals (see above for one and look below for the other two) and voted the private water company’s project as Most Likely To Succeed. This pleased the private water company (see above) and local business association (see below), and really upset the citizen groups (see below) and the neighboring water district (see above).
  • Just to be safe, the authority declared the Deep Water project (see below) as its second favorite. The mayors directed the water board to oversee the Deep Water project on a parallel track as a “Plan B” in case the private water company’s project fell apart. Good idea.
  • The authority is also exploring the best ways to grovel before the state sater board to request an extension of the CDO deadline.
  1. A prominent local businessman who, for several years now, has claimed to have the perfect desal plant idea called he People’s Project.

All you need to know:

  • It would be built on property he owns adjacent to the Moss Landing power plant.
  • It would use existing seawater intakes (built in the 1940s) used by a previous business on the same site. The prominent local businessman theorizes that using existing intakes will be okey-dokey with the ocean protection people.
  • One problem: His property is currently under threat of foreclosure.
  1. Deep Water Desal is the “Plan B” of the water authority.

The basics:

  • That’s actually its real name. I couldn’t come up with a generic pseudonym.
  • It is so named because the ocean intakes would be located in a deep part of the ocean where fewer critters live to get sucked into the pipes. Its proponents believe that this will be acceptable to the ocean protection people, but nobody knows for sure.
  • According to recent news reports, the project directors claim that they can get the plant up and running sometime in 2017, missing the CDO deadline, but only by a few months instead of several years. However, their website does not show a timetable, not even on their “Costs & Timeline” page, which only mentions costs and financing. The project does not yet have an environmental impact report (EIR), which will take the better part of a year to prepare. Construction can’t begin without it.
  • … 2017 is only 16 months away!
  1. A handful of citizen groups are also in the mix. Their favorite activity is writing mind-numbing guest commentaries in the local newspaper, almost every week for the past few years.

What they say and do:

  • They say the private water company is a greedy, heartless corporation that is only interested in profits and doesn’t care about its customers.
  • They blame the private water company for all of our water problems. To justify that conclusion they have implied that Peninsula voters, the water board, and the neighboring water district are all perfectly angelic innocent victims of the company.
  • They are absolutely convinced, and believe it should be obvious to everyone, that only thing that will save us from the private water company is a public takeover of the private water company.
  • Twice in the last ten years they have put measures before voters to study the feasibility of having the local water board take over the private water company. Yup, we’re talking about the same local water board the voters voted to remove from the face of the Earth (see above). Needless to say, both ballot measures failed.
  • Members of these groups reluctantly admit that they underestimated the depth of public animosity towards the local water board, but they still insist that the measures would have passed if the private water company hadn’t spent so much money on the NO side of the campaign.
  • Golly, they’re so cute when they fantasize.
  • They oppose the private water company’s desal plant, and support the other two (see above).
  • They declared that the private water company’s slant well test would be a failure even before the test well was drilled. They have even accused the private water company of knowing it would fail before it was drilled. When asked for evidence they tend to get unusually quiet.
  • To their credit they have rightly questioned why businesses pay lower water rates than residential customers.
  • But they’re into conspiracy theories. For example, because the mayors’ water authority supports the private water company’s desal plant, they say that the authority is in cahoots with the company to keep business rates low and residential rates high.
  • They’re really into conspiracy theories. They say the conflict of interest problem that killed the neighboring water district’s Regional Desal Project was deliberately manufactured by the private water company to kill the RDP and leave the company free to build its own plant so it could keep all of the profits. Problem with the theory: The company was free to join or not join the RDP agreement, so there was no need to resort to devious means to get out of it.
  • They insist that if the state Water Board imposes fines on the private water company for failing to meet the CDO deadline, then the company’s stockholders should pay the fines, not water customers. Their reasoning: We all know that the private water company is to blame for everything, and the voters and local water board are completely innocent. Right? Right?
  1. Finally, there is a business association, which is solidly backing whatever water project looks most promising at any given point in time.

More details:

  • Their spokesperson is a well known general manager of a prominent Monterey hotel.
  • The association is scared to death of the CDO because if water deliveries are forcibly curtailed, then many, many businesses would be forced to cut back services and eliminate jobs. Hotels and restaurants would be especially hard hit. It’s a legitimate concern.
  • Even if the state Water Board imposes fines instead of water cutbacks, the cost of water would increase the cost of doing business, costs which may have to be passed onto customers.

So there it is, the whole situation in a nutshell. No, that’s wrong. It’s a freakin’ nuthouse! Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand it. It is all quite incomprehensible to any sane person. If, by chance, you think you do understand it you are advised to seek psychiatric help as soon as possible.

This first appeared on one of James Toy’s blogs, Mr. Toy’s Mental Notes.

{ 35 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

Closeup portrait Angry young Boy, Blowing Steam coming out of ears, about have Nervous atomic breakdown, isolated grey background. Negative human emotions, Facial Expression, feeling attitude reactionWHEN YOU’RE ANGRY, THEY’VE GOT YOU RIGHT WHERE THEY WANT YOU

If I had a nickel for every election we’re told by experts that American voters are angry, ‘d have a whole bunch more nickels to go with the ones I already have in a bulging change basket on my dresser.

I’m angry a nickel doesn’t buy what it used to buy. I’ve been angry about that for a long time, since the disappearance of the five-cent candy bar. American voters have been angry for at least as long, probably longer.

All this talk about seething voters prepared to go to the polls in 2016 is so much twaddle. I can’t recall a single election that didn’t involve people teed off at one candidate or another.

My earliest recollection of a presidential race is the 1960 showdown between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. I recall my father, who grew more liberal as the 1960s went on, expressing doubt about whether Kennedy, a Catholic, would owe more allegiance to the United States or to the Vatican. I’m certain there were louder, angrier voices out there spouting the same nonsense.

Of course, ghost voters in Chicago, which the Democratic machine called from the dead on Election Day,  pushed Kennedy to victory in Illinois and the White House. So the conspiracists argued. Plenty of Nixon supporters were angry their candidate declined to formally challenge the Illinois results.

The Vietnam War, civil rights movements, assassinations and segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace — a demagogue so divisive and hateful that he makes the likes of Buchanan, Trump and Limbaugh seem pale imitations — kept the American electorate at a boil in elections from 1964 to 1972.

Oil boycotts, lines at the pump, the Nixon pardon, the final loss in Vietnam and the rise of Mideast terrorism kept voters riled up in 1976, when they chose Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter over Washington, D.C., insider President Gerald Ford.

Perhaps, the experts forget that voters were angry at the nation’s 200th anniversary because all they remember about the flailing Ford presidency are the pratfalls by the caricature played by a young Chevy Chase on that then-new show “Saturday Night Live.” Good old goofball Jerry; he should have worn his football helmet more often.

NECESSARY ASIDE: Like many Americans I am saddened by this week’s news about President Carter’s serious health problem. Say what you will about his presidency — for many Republicans, it has been nearly four decades of nasty, undeserved scorn — but Carter is the most successful former president of our times. His career after leaving the White House defines public service.

In 1980, there were plenty of voters who had been whipped into a froth by the Panama Canal Treaty. Who can forget Gov. Ronald Reagan’s stirring line, “We built it, we paid for it, it’s ours, we’re going to keep it?” Well, pretty much everyone today but tweedy historians.

By the early 1980s, conservative talk radio was blooming, and by 1996, the Fox News Channel was on the air. The old Fairness Doctrine, which had required broadcast licensees to balance their public affairs programming, was kicked into the dustbin of history. Another pesky government regulation to bite the dust.

Since then, there has been a 24/7 chorus of vituperation, falsity and character assassination heard in every corner of the land to stir constant outrage and anger in the minds of voters. In the past decade, social media have ensured that rumor and lies fly around the world before truth can even buy traveling shoes.

Anyone who says American voters are angry this summer of 2015 is merely stating the obvious. Our electorate — or at least a good part of it — is perpetually angry. More useful insights would be to explain what’s behind this season’s anger and whether it’s justified. Or are politicians just poking sticks to find a timely hornet’s nest and a sure winner like the old missile gap, Iranian hostage crisis or Willie Horton?

{ 8 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word
GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

Brandon Gesicki

Four years ago, campaign manager Brandon Gesicki ran for political office himself, taking a shot at a seat on the Cypress Fire Protection District board of directors. As usual when Gesicki’s involved in a campaign, it was an exceedingly disputatious affair and, when it was over, he had not won.

Now, he’s going for a board seat again and is breaking with Gesicki tradition. This time there will be no name-calling or backbiting. This time, he will prevail. That’s because this time, there are only three seats open in the district, which operates the Rio Road and Carmel Hill fire stations, and only three candidates.

There is a twist, however. One of the other three candidates is Andrea Borchard, Gesicki’s longtime girlfriend and his sometimes partner in the business of running campaigns and creating non-existent political organizations for the purposes of producing misleading campaign mailers and hit pieces. For details, contact the Fair Political Practices Commission.

The good news is that with no opposition, Gesicki shouldn’t need to dish out any dirt, but old habits die hard. When he filed his candidacy papers with the elections office, he described himself as a “small business owner.” That he is. It would have been more accurate, however, if he had put down “campaign manager” or “political consultant,” for that is what he does.

1393709_10200498200051538_1727030142_n

Andrea Borchard

Borchard listed herself as a marketing consultant. She has also been a member of the Monterey County GOP Central Committee and a member of the county fair board, an Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee.

Gesicki says there’s nothing up their sleeves, that they’re running for the best of reasons.

“We are both looking forward to giving back in the form of public service to the area we have lived in most of our lives,” he said Thursday. “Our top priorities are making sure Carmel has first class fire and ambulance services.”

When Gesicki ran for a Cypress seat four years ago, charges and counter-charges flew, most of them involving statements or misstatements from Gesicki. There was something about him graduating from college and his declaration that the district was considering cutting back on its ambulance service though it doesn’t provide ambulance service.

More of you will remember Gesicki from last year’s Monterey County sheriff’s race, in which he used every trick in the playbook to help Deputy Steve Bernal unseat Sheriff Scott Miller. He’s the one who told one group that it shouldn’t endorse the incumbent because he was about to be indicted for a sex crime. There was no truth to the assertion but it worked. The group chose not to endorse.

Gesicki’s the guy who keeps running campaigns for Abel Maldonado, who was briefly lieutenant governor. It was Gesicki who cooked up the idea to have Republican Maldonado run in both a GOP and Democratic primary and then insisted it wasn’t a strategy. He maintained that Maldonado’s mother was a Democrat and therefore had never had the chance to vote for her son in a primary election. Really. That’s what he said.

We could go on and on about Gesicki’s history, but you get the idea.

Good luck, Brandon. Good luck, Andrea. Good luck, Cypress.

{ 12 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

I scrolled past the bottom of a piece I was skimming about 10 possible names for the hue of Donald Trump’s hair when I spotted several similar pieces of quality web journalism.

There were click boxes to “10 Fat Celebrities Who are Fatter Than We Think,” “12 Celebrity Chefs Who Actually Survive on Pop Tarts and Mountain Dew,” and others of equal intellectual heft.  Dismayed, I closed the screen but not before catching a fleeting glimpse of a box promising a handy list of “12 Things Humans Do That Drive Dogs Crazy.”

That intrigued me. As the owner of two middle-aged, miniature dachshunds, I was interested in knowing more about what disturbs a canine’s sense of well-being. My dogs, as anyone familiar with the stubborn and daffy dachshund breed knows well, take offense at everything I do except for feeding them and doling out treats.

image

I returned to the story about the fabulous hair-color names, but the click-bait boxes had been replaced by several others. They now offered such valuable insight as “11 Wrinkled Celebrities Who Are Far More Wrinkled Than We Think,” and “Seven Major Mistakes Made By Punic Wars Reenactors.”

I Googled and found links to several lists of definite dog don’ts. I read a few and report my findings from memory.

Don’t yell at your dogs; they’ll think you are barking at them and that you resemble a very ugly Mediocre Dane.

Don’t hug dogs; dogs aren’t huggers. Trees know this well.

Don’t stare at dogs; they will interpret this as aggression or be crushed by knowing they can’t slip away unnoticed and knock over the waste basket beside your desk.

And so on.

From my 22 years of experience with Max and Minnie, I can confidently add a few more examples of human behavior guaranteed to tick off the free-spirited badger hound (dachshund, per the German.)

  1. Don’t expect a dachshund to sit still in your car. They naturally enjoy clambering on and off every seat and your lap 15 or 20 times during a five-minute drive. Allow them to freely streak every side window with a wet nose. Otherwise, they may grow morose and wipe their noses on your clothes.
  1. Don’t use a loud voice to tell your dachshunds to stop barking at every living thing on the front sidewalk or piece of paper that happens past your yard. They will look back disapprovingly and wonder why you don’t treasure their home-security efforts
  1. But don’t expect them to raise any ruckus if a stranger in a hockey mask slashes through the front door with a chainsaw. Chainsaws sound a bit like vacuum cleaners, and small dogs like dachshunds are terrified of vacuum cleaners. Ditto for leaf blowers.
  1. Don’t suspend every waste basket in the house six feet off the floor when you leave home to prevent dachshunds from knocking them over as soon as you drive off. This may make them moody and prone to bad habits like knocking over waste baskets. Just empty the baskets often.
  1. Don’t expect dachshunds to sleep on the floor or in a dog crate. They only sleep in human beds, though they will allow humans to sleep on floors or in crates.
  1. Don’t dress dachshunds in silly costumes, especially large hot dog buns. It only adds insult to a noble breed that every one already calls weenie dogs. Besides, a dachshund in the nude already looks pretty silly from any canine engineering standpoint.
  1. Don’t dye your dachshund the color of Donald Trump’s hair. When someone asks what color your dog is, you will not have a satisfactory answer. Your interrogator will feel like kicking over your waste baskets.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I realize regular readers of the MB Partisan expect and deserve harder-hitting essays than the one above. However, I’ve vowed to remain outside the political pundit pack until the GOP candidate field is trimmed to a more manageable number than 17, or until Mr. Trump is coronated and everyone gets a helicopter ride.

But if I uncover evidence that Cal Am has historically disparaged dachshunds along with Monterey Peninsula ratepayers, be certain I will unleash thunderbolts of damnation at the utility. Or, at least, kick over a waste basket or two in rage. Max and Minnie would enjoy my reinforcement of their normal behavior.

{ 6 comments }
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneSpread the word

Viral communication marketing and propoganda concept as a paper plane burning in flames as an audience group of human heads made of crumpled office papers.OK, I know, you’re tired of reading about Donald Trump. But although he plays a role in this offering, it’s not really about him. It’s about a piece by the syndicated columnist Victor Davis Hanson, a neocon academic who was and is a staunch defender of President George W. Bush, who awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2007.

I’m writing about the column, Hanson’s latest, because I believe it marks his descent to the bottom rung of the conservative commentariat.

It’s not that Hanson defends Trump. He doesn’t. He goes after him with as much vigor as a National Review conservative can muster. He starts out well:

“The coarser and cruder Donald Trump becomes, and the more ill-informed on the issues he sounds, the more he coasts in the polls. Apparently, a few of his targets must be regarded as unsympathetically as their defamer.”

It’s a steep downhill slide from there, however. What Hanson does next is to list some of The Donald’s failings and compare them to what he views as bigger failings by the U.S. government and those on the other side of the political divide.

Like this: “Some of Trump’s companies may have declared bankruptcy. But if that is so bad, why is the U.S. government running up $18 trillion in national debt?”

OK.

And this: “Trump is uncouth and reckless in his language. But former Attorney General Eric Holder disparaged Americans as ‘cowards.’ President Barack Obama all but called his Republican critics kindred souls to Iranian hardliners. Did Trump make fun of the Special Olympics the way the president once did when referring to his own poor bowling form?”

Get the idea? Trump has done some bad things but some Democrats have done bad things, too, so Trump deserves a break. Back when Hanson was cheerleading Bush’s decision to start a pointless war in Iraq, he undoubtedly argued that it wasn’t as bad as the Democrats’ decision to go into Vietnam as though what happened in the 1960s is germane to what happened in this century. As arguments go, that’s a little like a shoplifter arguing that at least he never held up a bank.

There are names for the logical fallacies Hanson practices here. I probably should not go there because he is a scholar, a Latin whiz, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute while I am a lowly blogger who sometimes works in pajamas. But I’ll go ahead and bravely list a few that I sort of remember from my rhetoric class at Fresno State, where he once taught. There’s false equivalence, of course. And argumentum ad hominem, which means to evade the topic at hand by instead attacking the opposition. Don’t forget appeal to spite. Or two wrongs make a right and my favorite, the closely related tu quoque, meaning “you too.”

Sure, Trump is “crass and in your face,” Hanson tells us. But what about Harry Reid, whose foul mouth is seldom mentioned in the press? It would be a semi-apt comparison, perhaps, if Reid was campaigning for national office.

“The grandees of Planned Parenthood talk of their abstract compassion,” Hanson continues. “But in secret videos, they boast of trafficking in human body parts, which is as macabre as anything out of Dickensian London. Do Trump’s wheeler-dealer businesses peddle fetal arms and legs on the side?” If Planned Parenthood officials were criticizing Trump, Hanson might be onto something. But they haven’t, so he isn’t.

All in all, Hanson’s methodology borders on pathetic.

“Mexico published a didactic comic book to advise its own citizens how to illegally cross the border . … It is certainly crude of Trump to stereotype Mexico as an enemy of the U.S. But does Mexico not sometimes connive against its northern neighbor?”

He’s hard on Trump, but only as an excuse to be harder on just about everyone and anyone else. He could have kept going. Why didn’t he say, for instance, that Trump is a sexist but Hollywood makes a sexist movies and the movie industry contributes to the Democrats. Maybe Hanson considered arguing that while Trump may be guilty of spousal abuse, lots of others are too. Maybe, this time, he thought better of it.

This is, in my humble opinion, the worst column Hanson has written, and that is saying something. His previous worst was the one about the silly course offerings at CSU Monterey Bay. What made is so bad was that he didn’t mention the great number of even sillier course offerings at the two colleges where he has taught, Fresno State and Stanford. And that he didn’t mention or even seem to realize that George Will had written virtually the same column, also about CSUMB, years earlier.

In the Right Wing News website’s most recent rankings of the top 50 conservative columnists, Hanson was ranked 16th, below Charles Krauthammer in 12th place and Ann Coulter in the ninth spot. Holding down the top spot was Thomas Sowell, who has made a career out of having little to say.

Hanson’s best showing on that list was late in the previous decade, in which he twice made it to No. 6, behind Coulter in first place but well ahead last place finisher Chuck Norris, the movie guy. Based on the Trump column, I hereby nominate Hanson for the bottom spot but I won’t call for a vote until we get a chance to study recent offerings from Norris or David Limbaugh, Rush’s little brother, who comes in three spots ahead of Hanson in the latest ratings.

{ 7 comments }