Click here unless you’re kind of squeamish.
The people of the Central Coast are an enlightened lot, but just how enlightened? To find out, we designed this quiz to test how well Partisan readers were paying attention in 2015. As always, go to the comment box at the end and let us know how you did.
A. Which of the following happened in 2015
- Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo retired
- The various Peninsula agencies agreed on a plan to increase groundwater storage and expand conservation efforts
- A sheriff’s deputy with no management experience became the head of the county’s largest law enforcement agency
- The Salinas murder rate went down
- None of the above (hint hint)
B. Cal Am continued to make progress on
- A test well
- Plans for a test well
- Plans to study a test well
- The hiring of consultants without conflicts of interest to study plans to study a test well
C. Which of these development projects continued to exist, at least on paper, despite demonstrably inadequate water supplies:
- Monterey Downs
- Ferrini Ranch
- Corral de Tierra shopping center
- All of the above
D. GOP political consultant Brandon Gesicki
- Changed his registration to Democrat
- Went into partnership with campaign manager Alex Hulanicki to form the Icki Group.
- Was elected to public office
- Started taking a correspondence course to become a bail bondsman
E. Which of the following comics attracted record crowds
- Don Rickles
- Don Knotts
- Don Trump
F. A sequel was produced for which of these movies
- The Graduate/The Retiree
- Star Wars: Luke Skywalker/Star Wars: Luke Buys a Walker
- The Godfather/The Great-Godfather
- Groundhog Day/Groundhog Day
G. The Pebble Beach Co.
- Announced plans for more gates with entrance fees on a sliding scale
- Banned American cars
- Bought Del Rey Oaks for employee housing
H. The Transportation Agency for Monterey County chose as its top 2016 priority
- Construction of a roundabout at Highway 1 and Holman Highway
- A study of roundabouts on Monterey-Salinas Highway because it has been free of construction delays for several weeks
- Approval of a sales tax measure to finance additional study into the need for an additional sales tax measure
I. The following decided to run for Sam Farr’s seat in Congress
- Jimmy Panetta
- Jimmy Panetta’s offspring
J. Howard Gustafson of the Marina Coast Water District said
- The Surfrider Foundation should “go F— yourselves.”
- He had once been engaged to Jane Fonda
- He gets all his information from the Partisan
- Voters would be better off replacing him randomly
K. Two homeless men apparently died of exposure in downtown Monterey, leading to
- A communitywide effort to build housing for the homless
- An outpouring of blankets and warm clothes
- Pretty much nothing
L. Officials at the Monterey County Weekly disclosed that the Squid Fry column
- Is written by Paul Miller
- Is edited by Dave Potter
- Is a repeat of the column from exactly a year earlier
M. Sand City officials announced plans to
- Rezone the beachfront light industrial
- Annex Seaside
- Eliminate sales taxes throughout the shopping district
- Cancel municipal elections
- The sale or marketing of necessities
- Any public references to Jason Stilwell or Sue McCloud
O. The city of Marina approved plans for
- A citywide no-parking zone
- A gluten-free, cheese-free, meat-free pizza truck
- Shrinking the city limits to cover two walkable square blocks
SCORING: Because we attended Christmas Eve services at a Unitarian church, we encourage you to decide for yourselves which answers are correct. If you answered all 15 questions correctly, you are a liar and a cheat and need to know that there is plenty of time to take out papers for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. If you correctly answered 10-14 questions, you are Mary Duan, editor of the Monterey County Weekly. If you got 6-9 questions right, you’re more than qualified to start your own blog or, at least, write your own editorials. Fewer than 6 right? You had help from either Howard Gustafson or Paul Bruno
Only eight calendar years separate me from my oldest sister. But it was a fundamental age difference when we were kids. She graduated from high school, went on to college, when I was still in grammar school. The distance between us grew as we became adults and, now, seniors in the twilight of our days.
Marcia — her nickname Marcie stuck for me — turned 72 nine days before Christmas.
In keeping with a family tradition that, at both a minimum and maximum, requires telephone calls on birthdays and Christmases, I rang her up last week at the ranch house on a few acres outside Clovis that her son bought a few years ago. It enabled her to move from the trailer park in a rough patch of north Fresno nearer to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada she loved.
I expected to catch up on the comings and goings of her grandchildren and her pets, hear about a bad hip and medicines that don’t work, and receive her take on the latest evidence of social decay visible from the crowded streets of our hometown.
I wasn’t ready to learn my sister is dealing with advanced lung cancer and resigned to surrender without availing herself of all the medical procedures to stretch out life.
“I made it to 72. This was the decade I was going to go,” she said. “I’ve had a good life.”
Honestly, our lives long ago veered off in such different directions I am at a loss to tick off the particulars that she added up in her good life. There were grandchildren along the way, great little dogs, favorite old movies on TV, trips to the mountains, and troubles to somehow pull through.
But if my sister says her life’s been good, I’m not about to argue — another of our family traditions. She told me her son was coming down for an extended stay to get her to appointments and gave a brief summation of her pain medicines. I asked if there was anything I could do. After a few seconds of silence, she said, “No.”
Then we said our usual terse goodbyes. I immediately kicked myself for not telling her I loved her. It’s not a phrase either of have used in our infrequent conversations. Perhaps, we grew so far apart over the years there was no common ground for true expressions of love.
Was it my failing, or just the way things go? It likely would have struck us both as forced and artificial, like a bouquet of plastic flowers or hollow orders to have a nice day.
What I should have told her — I realized after thinking throughout the holiday — was, “Thank you, sister.” I spent the first 11 years of my life close to her, and she gave me all sorts of gifts outside the strictures of birthdays or holidays.
Allow me to tell her about one before it’s too late.
Her best gift was what became my lifelong love of music. Marcie was the musical offspring in the family. She sang in the choir with my mother at the little Congregational church our family attended before the building was sold to make way for Fresno’s first big mall. I watched her sing in the Clovis High School chorus Christmas recital in 1961. I think she wore a white robe, and I fidgeted until I turned red. But I kept my eye on her, my sister in the lights, from my metal folding chair in the darkened auditorium.
She got music lessons, albeit on accordion, which for some polka-addled reason was the go-to instrument for kids her age before younger kids would discover guitars were far cooler.
Her accordion, which mystified me with its little keyboard and rows of black buttons, weighed a ton. But she’d gladly shoulder the burden when, late in his late, my father would demand that my sister drag the old accordion out of the closet. He smiled contentedly as she closed her eyes while playing.
“One of the keys is sticking,” she’d say after a few tunes. My father, blissful at hearing again the payoff from those long-ago music lessons, didn’t notice. Like me, he unsuccessfully carried tunes in a leaky bucket.
It must have been her birthday or Christmas 1959 — Marcy had the unfortunate fate of children whose birthdays press hard against Santa’s delivery date — when she got a little record player and her first 45. Amazingly, she never scolded me for spinning records on her player — the only music source in the house — or got bothered by a few brotherly scratches in the vinyl.
I wore out the grooves on the little copy of “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, the ballad far better than any cowboy show on TV.
Soon came Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vee for my edification. Then it was the folk music revival with sanitized LPs by the Journeymen, the Four Freshmen and, the biggest of all, the Kingston Trio.
I didn’t know what a sloop was, or why it was named John B., but I took many spins on Marcie’s copy of the trio’s first record from the “Bay of Mexico” to that bar where there’s plenty of “Scotch and Soda.”
Marcie got her own Spanish guitar, a copy of the folkie bible — “The Joan Baez Songbook” — and soon was singing those songs as sweet as a lark herself, with brief delays on the tough chord changes.
But my favorites in her bag of musical magic were the soundtracks of great Broadway musicals. She had a bunch, and I heard them all over and over. “My Fair Lady,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific,” “Carousel,” “Gigi,” and “Oklahoma.”
I was little, but by George, I think I got parts of it.
Everything was up to date in Kansas City, Bali Hai was calling, and something very wonderful called champagne was invented in the middle of one special night. I didn’t understand why Marcie was gaga over a bald guy like Yul Brynner, even if he was king of Siam. But that’s older sisters for you.
Individual lines, half-remembered choruses from those show tunes crop up regularly from my memory banks to this day, a half-century later. On many of our recent chilly nights, I’ve built fires in our fireplace. Old words from my favorite of those songs, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady” are sure to rise up with the kindling smoke.
Eliza Doolittle’s lines are the perfect recipe for a good life. A room away from the cold night air, a big comfy chair, a warm coal stove, a special someone, and — this is what closed the deal for me at age 7 or 8 — “lots of chocolate for me to eat.”
Wouldn’t it be loverly?
Yes, quite loverly. Thank you, sister.
First of all it caught me unexpectedly. I went to work one day in mid-August, and when I looked at my watch it was December! No time to generate much enthusiasm for the logistics or sentiment of the season when it skulks up behind you.
As far as expendable income goes:
“The crows are in the kitchen,and
The wolf is at the door…” — Leaving Eden
Energy is mostly scattered into the random corners of displacement activities. My dear friend lies suffering uncertainty and pain in The Pavilion of Impermanence at Stanford Medical Center, but my bathroom is spotless, my ironing done.
Despite these grievous realities and my absurd response to them, there is a feeling of change nascent in the muddy ground of of this blessedly wet December.
The Lotus grows with its roots in the muck at the bottom of a pond. The stifling entropy of the mundane contains the seeds of aspiration for a little sunlight and star shine.
Impermanence applies to the ragged coattails of despair as well as to the coat of clay we wear. Both occur only to be exhausted: the way of the world.
If we keep heart we may see dark clouds parting more frequently than gathering.
The most unlikely smugglers of kindness and joy are those who perceive the reality of suffering and its causes with the highest resolution. I think that is an important fact of life that should be remembered.
In the cosmology of the Buddhist lineage I call home there are countless universes each with countless worlds. The name of the particular field of worldly phenomena we share is Endurance. Aptly named it seems.
Happiness accrues most to those who endure with the most impeccable grace. The rest of us are content to watch our lives in the reflected brilliance of their light.
Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Meher Baba, Ghandi, Guru Nanak, Pope Francis, The Dalai Lama, Dudjom Father and Son, Rumi, Black Elk, Imam Tariq …and numberless anonymous Bodhisattvas, (our animal and human neighbors), are continually Taking and Giving:
Taking on our suffering as their own.
Giving the radiance of Wisdom and Compassion,
Freely and without discrimination.
Perhaps that is the Spirit of Christmas for me this year.
May I endure with enough kindness in my heart to aspire to walk their path with impeccable Samaya.
Woods is a physician and therapist who has practiced in Watsonville for 25 years. He currently provides medical treatment and psychotherapy for children and adolescents.
So what am I reading, you ask yourself now
Is this all bad rhymes like the poem about the purple cow?
And the answer of course is that it actually is true
But if you’re truly lucky, some of the doggerel will be about you
It’s an annual tradition, this festival of bad taste
Of ill-fitting meter written in haste
But tradition is tradition, madams and monsieurs
So let’s get on with it before the spirit truly blurs
Happy holidays, dear Partisan readers, like Dan and Jeanne Turner
I heard your holiday party was a real barn burner
Seasons greetings, Larry Parsons, Paul Skolnick and smiley Tony Dann
Knowing you’re well is part of Santa’s grand plan
Morley Brown, Ron Weitzman, Ron Cohen, Jean Getchell,
If the weather has got you down, here’s hoping you get well
Eddie Rodriguez, Jan Shriner, David Brown even old Ken Nishi
may the sentiment make you fell all warm and squishy
Can’t forget the Bills, like Wiegel, Monning and Hood
On his way to school in Ohio he used to chop wood
Alan Haffa, Libby Downey, Clyde Roberson, Timothy Barrett,
Ken Talmadge, Jason B, Nader A and your cute Christmas ferret
We’re missing sweet Matt Genovese on our little country street
But know he’ll be back before the spring robins tweet
Greg Furey has had a pretty much horrible year
But he faced it like a trouper with only a slight trace of fear
Happy December, Mike and Molly, or is it Molly and MIke
The whole town wishes tough times would take a hike
A sip of egg nog to polo guy Gary Fig, swimmer Dan Kline, realtor Steve Hunt
Smart Lawton Dodd, sturdy Felix Cortez, and that proper Peter Funt
Vicki Dwyer, Marcos Cabrera, Jane Haines, Michelle Hill,
Borrow Chrismas sweaters from Loma L. to block the chill
Robert Powell, Jeff Dunn, Bill Leone and Richard Gunner
Deserve a season that could hardly be more funner
How about a blanket of reindeer fur for Mary Barker and the girls
and for Mary Adams a string of red and green victory pearls
The Gigers, the Adamses, the Trayford and the Mikas
Under the tree find model planes and big red bows on Schwinn bikas
Steve Packer, Cynthia Peck and the Clarks, Evi and John
deserve great gifts that won’t make them yawn
like higher reimbursement rates and swimming’s top medals
and lots of spare change for the Salvation Army kettles
Pam Dozier, Sygale Lomas, Marc del Pierro and that sweet Mary Duan
Like Beverly Bean, you rank high on our holiday plan
Karl Pallastrini, James Toy, Larry Parrish, Ron Chesshire
Please keep your chestnuts turned away from the fire
Ah, what’s that, a buzzer, a bell, the shot clock, a chime
telling me that that’s quite enough of this rhyme
Because no one can take much more of this mess
of tortured rhyming and the accompanying stress
So sign off we will now for another hopeful year
Forgetting for now the things we don’t want to hear
The bumps, Trumps and worries, the useless chatter
And praise everything at all that doesn’t make us fatter.
But wait a minute! What about Scott Miller, Gordon Smith, Nancy Selfridge, Lisa Watson, Bill Scott, Susan Meister, Robert Montgomery, Patty Lamar, Ann McGrath, Chuck Della Sala, Mike Hale, Jeff White, Chris Nelson, Mel Mason, Amy White, Chris Fitz, Jason Campbell, Alvin Edwards, Eduardo Ochoa and, and David Kellogg, and Jim Johnson, and Christy Hoffknecht, and Claudia Melendez, and Jeannie Evers, and James Herrera and Dennis Taylor, and John Devine and Sarah Rubin, and what’s his name, that guy from the gym and the Griffith-Ortizes and Shelby and Alice? What. What’s that? Next year, after we’ve learned some new rhyming words? OK, then.
In that case, Merry Christmas and/or anything else you might like to be merry about
A review of the Partisan’s posts of 2015 reveals that we did a reasonably good job of accentuating the positive and avoiding unnecessary criticism. In that spirit, we are taking this opportunity to distribute some presents of sorts with the barest amount of advice necessary to provide context.
City of Seaside: A gift bag filled with enough wisdom to realize that this horse-racing thing is never going to happen. You need to know this before you waste more time and money. It might have come to something if the centerpiece of this proposal was something other than a horse racing track, but that’s what it is. Horse racing was a dying enterprise even before the public started recognizing how many horses actually die at the tracks. On top of that, the location is wrong, the developers’ own financial forecasts don’t support the idea and the development team seems to think it can force it down the community’s throat.
Craig Malin: For the incoming Seaside city manager, a subscription to the Weekly and the Partisan because you’ve shown yourself to be a fan of good local journalism.
Sand City: Don’t be jealous about Seaside’s present. Here’s a box of reality for you, too. That hotel on the beach? It was a bureaucratic fluke that got the proposal this far but if you think the community is going to let you build a hotel on the sand, knowing what happens when buildings go up on the shore, you need to get out more.
City of Marina: Your gift is a back brace to help continue to build a people-friendly community rather than a conglomeration of shopping centers and parking lots. Yes, people want restaurants in their commercial districts but the City Council can and should set standards. Time will prove the council right.
The City of King City: A whole new start.
Salinas Police Department: May the big shiny box behind the tree be filled with at least a few months of peace. The way your officers stepped up to contribute money for the 9-year-old abuse victim in the recent child homicide case was truly heartwarming. They deserve something other than crime scene after crime scene.
Jane Parker: Here’s hoping Santa brings you two new colleagues this year. Imagine a board trying to work together to serve the public! Yes, it sounds crazy, but we’ve all heard of Christmas miracles, right?
Dennis Donohue: The former Salinas mayor won’t come right out and say he will run against Parker, though he’s already collecting campaign cash. Our gift is a simple reminder that to beat Parker, he’ll have to take loads of money from people he wouldn’t to have as neighbors. It’s about governance, Dennis, not commerce.
Pacific Grove: A city engineer who can figure out how to use the new hotel tax money to get the ancient sewer system fixed.
Carmel: A few dozen barbecue grills and a mural at the Post Office depicting the good old days of beach bonfires.
Sam Farr: Some fishing tackle.
Jimmy Panetta: A challenge from the left to keep you honest.
Casey Lucius: A professional campaign manager.
Monterey County Democratic Party: Leadership.
Monterey County Republican Party: New leadership.
Cal Am: A conscience.
Politics, naturally, are off limits. Our political and cultural dialogue is so polarized that any subject is certain to set off unsafe and insane fireworks. “Star Trek” nerds belittle “Star Wars” fans with phasers and light sabers set to kill.
No one agrees on anything, even the radiant shade of Donald Trump’s face. Some see it as rotten pumpkin; others insist it’s a tremendous tangerine. And Bernie Sanders supporters vow they’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton, even if she’s running against Attila the Hun or Ted Cruz in the general election. In their pure hearts they know they’re always right.
I scrapped the logical endpoint of such thoughts — 500 words proposing, for the sake of accuracy, renaming the United States of America simply the States of America. True, but too downbeat.
A saccharine piece with a message of joy and goodwill, in keeping with the season, was too dangerous. If I didn’t end by wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” and instead opted for a simple “Happy Holidays,” someone might follow the lead of Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller. Miller took to Facebook vowing to fight political correctitude by slapping anyone who wished him a happy holiday. The man deserves 10-gallon lumps of coal in his holiday stockings.
I considered a fallback “Best of 2015” piece, so I could wrap up early and begin careful tests of eggnog spirits. But I saw only two new movies and three new TV shows all year, and I was totally missing in action at the opera house.
The “Best Operas of 2015” will require another judge. I apologize, but I fully realize no opera buffs are reading this cockamamie yuletide ramble for guidance, unless they beat me to the 100-proof ‘nog fixings.
Scanning the far horizon for some bright star of a subject, I fell into the lowest place possible — social media postings of complete strangers. And, lo, there came upon my Twitter timeline a miracle — a tweet devoid of insult or tiny cartoon drawings of poop piles.
This tweet, by an otherwise sensible writer who’d obviously hit the ‘nog ingredients while still in line at BevMo, concerned the heinous crime of folding a small corner of a page in a library book to save one’s place.
The writer supplied a photo of a defaced book with a folded page corner and hit the standard, high-dudgeon rhetoric level favored by social media thinkers. “If it’s a library book, it’s not your page to dog-ear. A library card is supposed to vouch for your integrity.”
I recall obtaining many library cards without a battery of tests to ascertain whether I’m an ethical person. The requirements consisted of producing an ID and a local address, without any essay questions on the distinction, say, between deontology and consequentialism.
Nevertheless, this tiny cry from the heart is a perfect subject with which to issue my wish for good fellowship during the holidays. We can’t all get along, but, by gosh, we can all agree to use bookmarks to save our places.
This should be easy. Many Americans go their adult lives without reading a book. Many others prefer to own rather than borrow books, especially those by Ayn Rand, Rand Paul and E.L. (Fifty Shades) James.
Most contemporary library patrons are polite bibliophiles or street persons seeking asylum from the season’s harsh elements. They would sooner streak a performance of the Nutcracker ballet than fold a page corner.
(Note: I prefer the term “fold a page corner” to “dog-ear a page” for two reasons. First, it is unfair to dogs, who don’t care about books at all. Second, many dogs have pointy, upright ears and they should not be lumped together with this canine slur with droopy-eared cousins.)
I’ve witnessed a sharp decline in folded page corners in books I’ve checked out from libraries. A generation ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find library books with pages apparently used as: ashtrays, emergency wipes for runny noses and drip covers for juggling Spaghettios.
So take heart, there is at least one cause for optimism in our fearful, divided country. Make a difference, use a bookmark.
Having completed this holiday column, I sit in our living room before a nice fire reading the new Elvis Costello memoir I checked out from the Salinas library. Christmas lights dot the mantel along with green and red candles and holiday cards. Max the Dachshund dozes against my leg, one black ear stretched against my knee. His ear is smooth, soft and warm. I knead it gently, and Max snorts in his sleep. What a peaceful scene.
As I get up to refresh a glass of merlot, I give momentary thought to tucking Max’s ear into my book to save my place — a real dog ear. But he wouldn’t like it, and he would follow me into the kitchen in any event on the chance some secret Santa left the floor covered with treats and greasy meat scraps — his kind of sugarplums.
I take one of the cards off the mantel to mark my page. It says, “Joy to the World.” Max awakes, shakes his ears — a joyful flapping sound — and trots eagerly toward the kitchen.
UPDATE WITH INFO ON FUND FOR SURVIVING CHILD
Salinas, CA — The Salinas Police Officers Association today announced the launch of a fundraising campaign for the three children who suffered severe abuse while in the custody of Tami Huntsman and Huntsman’s 17-year-old male companion. Officers have started donating to the account and invite members of the public to join in.
Huntsman and the young man were arrested on Friday, Dec. 11 in Quincy, California, after a nine-year-old girl was discovered suffering from serious injuries. On Monday, two other children who had been in their care were found dead in a storage unit in Redding, California.
The nine-year-old girl is being treated in a hospital and is in protective custody.
The SPOA has set up an account for the victims at the Central Coast Federal Credit Union in Seaside, California. The organization is consulting with charitable giving experts to ensure that funds raised will be used in the most beneficial way for the surviving girl and the two deceased children.
“This is the worst case of child abuse we’ve ever seen,” said Officer Jeff Munoz, an SPOA board member. “We know there are a lot of people who feel like we do, and want to do what they can to reduce at least some of the suffering.”
People who want to contribute can do so by check, cash or bank transfer, to the “SPOA Victims Fund.” The SPOA hopes to be able to set up an online donation form, and will announce that when it’s available.
Checks can be mailed to:
Central Coast Federal Credit Union
4242 Gigling Rd.
Seaside, CA 93955-6300
Donors can also make a deposit in person at the Salinas Police Department at 222 Lincoln Ave., Salinas, or any of the four Central Coast Federal Credit Union locations in Seaside, Salinas, Soledad and King City.
ORIGINAL STORY STARTS HERE
HOLES IN THE SAFETY NET WERE TOO BIG FOR THESE BABIES
Early in my previous life as a police reporter, I learned that the interests of the media and law enforcement diverge rather dramatically in the wake of a big crime, one such as the recent horrendous murders of two Salinas children.
A wise police lieutenant explained it well. He said “you guys,” meaning reporters, want to know why something happened. What was the motive? What were the bad guys thinking? Did they plan this thing or did it just happen? How do they know each other? And, often, could this have been prevented? The police, on the other hand, are most likely overwhelmed with figuring out what happened and won’t worry about the why or the what ifs until much later, if ever.
Reporters want to tell a story. The cops want to arrest and convict somebody. Sometimes the agendas overlap but not by design.
The divergence was clear Thursday as Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin and Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo held a news conference to update the press on what is beginning to be known, if only for the sake of simplicity, as the Tami Huntsman murder case.
McMillin provided a timeline in an attempt to shorthand what is turning out to be a remarkably complicated, multi-jurisdictional case that resulted in the deaths of two little battered children and the near death of a third. For law enforcement’s initial purposes, it started Dec. 11, a week ago, when a sheriff’s deputy in the Northern California foothill community of Quincy discovered a 9-year-old girl, believed to be Huntsman’s niece, who had been abused and neglected to the point that she weighed just 40 pounds.
Though signs of abuse had alarmed neighbors and relatives for months or longer, discovery of the emaciated girl required some solid police work by a young deputy, said McMillin.
Huntsman, 39, and her 17-year-old boyfriend, Gonzalo Curiel, were arrested that day in Quincy. They had been living in Salinas until days before their arrests. Two days later, acting on a tip from Salinas, authorities found the abused bodies of two other children, 3-year-old Delylah Tara and 6-year-old Shaun Tara, in a Redding storage locker. They are believed to be a niece and nephew of Huntsman. Some information has come out about the condition of their bodies. You don’t want to know. The 17-year-old boyfriend apparently told the cops where to look.
There are other children. Twelve-year-old twins, probably Huntman’s by an ex-husband, a hip hop BMX bike guy, and there’s probably an older one as well. Detectives are using pencil to draw the family tree. Erasures are likely.
The main bit of news arising from Thursday’s news conference was that the autopsy Wednesday in Redding concluded that the cause of death was a “pattern of abuse” that had occurred over more than a few days, apparently starting in Salinas. Flippo also announced that his office plans to charge Huntsman and Curiel with murder with special circumstances, including multiple murder and torture, that could qualify them for the death penalty. Other charges are likely as well. Authorities in the other counties have turned over the prosecution to Flippo.
Beyond that, there was not a lot of information though there were a lot of questions from reporters. In some cases, the chief and the DA knew the answers but couldn’t provide them for fear of messing up the investigation. In other cases, they simply didn’t know. The two dead children are believed to have been from San Bernardino, where their mother was killed in a traffic accident. According to press accounts, their father handed them over to Huntsman for safekeeping when he went to prison. Are the dead children siblings? Maybe, said the chief. Is the 9-year-old girl their sister? Hard to say. When people go to prison, who decides where their children go? No one seemed to have that answer Thursday.
In all, the Salinas Police Department has about a dozen detectives on the case and the DA’s Office has about the same number of investigators. Add in the investigators from Plumas and Shasta counties and there are more than 30 investigators assigned. Most of their reports haven’t been written yet. At this point there probably is no one person who knows most of what the investigators have turned up.
Want to know more? Go to Facebook. Apparently there’s quite a bit about this case there and some of it might even be accurate.
Twice, Salinas police officers had gone to Huntman’s Fremont Avenue apartment to check on the children’s welfare. Once everything seemed fine. The other time no one was home. Four times, case workers from Monterey County Child Protective Services went to the home. Details of those visits aren’t available because records of CPS are confidential. When investigators went to the apartment after the bodies were found, they found it hard to believe people could have been living in such conditions, Flippo said. He didn’t elaborate.
The Sacramento Bee reported late Thursday that Tami Huntsman’s mother, Joy, said she had called CPS several times to report unsafe living conditions at her daughter’s apartment, near her own apartment. She referred to her daughter as a “monster.”
Will the DA’s Office investigate whether CPS should have done more? Huntsman was prosecuted a decade ago in Santa Cruz County for child neglect. Obviously authorities should have taken the kids away from her at some point but did the authorities ever have the evidence needed to do so? Macmillan said some of the complaints were anonymous so authorities had no where to turn when an abuse or negligence case didn’t pan out instantly.
Will the DA’s Office investigate whether CPS should have done more? That’s not our role, said Flippo, clearly not eager to wade not wade too deeply into the world of CPS workers, a world where damned if you do, damned if you don’t is the daily reality. At times like these, the confidentiality of CPS work is called into question but ultimately it is decided that putting it under a spotlight could do as much harm as good. It may be time to reconsider that conclusion.
In any event, will anyone in a position of authority ever be able to assure the public that someone has patched the cracks that these babies slipped through? McMillin didn’t have an answer to that, though he did say that his office would share all the appropriate information with CPS officials for that purpose.
One fellow at the news conference, the one who spent his previous life as a police reporter, pressed this concern to the point that the real reporters in the room started giving him funny looks. Isn’t anyone going to try to find out how the system failed these children, he asked. It wasn’t the system, McMillin said. It was Huntsman.
“Can you describe the injuries in any detail?” someone else asked.
McMillin has been a cop for 30 years or so and had never seen anything like this.
“It was terrible,” he said. I didn’t get the whole comment, but Ana Ceballos over at the Weekly did: “This is certainly, in my 32-year law enforcement career, the most egregious child abuse-homicide case I’ve ever seen.”
By the way, the Salinas Police Officers Association will be taking up a collection for the benefit of the 9-year-old. We’ll let you know the details as soon as they’re available.
Q: How many fellows representing the Public Utilities Commission does it take to look at a well?
A: Four, if this week’s visit to the Ag Land Trust well is an indication. One to say, “Look, there it is.” Another to say, “Yup, that is a well, isn’t it?” A third to say, “Looks like a well to me.” And the fourth to say, “Hmm.”
Readers who pay close attention to water issues locally may remember the stories in May about how the people preparing an environmental impact report on the Cal Am desalination project had reported that there were no wells on the Ag Land Trust property adjacent to the Cemex plant where Cal Am plans to located its desal facility.
Attorney Marc Del Piero of the Ag Land Trust argues that the pumping at the desalination plant would infringe on the groundwater rights of other property owners in the area and would accelerate seawater intrusion, threatening farms in the area.
Although there are two wells on the Ag Land Trust property, the consulting firm Environmental Science Associates wrote in the draft environmental impact report that such concerns were invalid and, as to support that position, declared that there are no such wells.
In response, Del Piero switched on the pump at one of the wells, producing a cascade of water that made for a terribly amateurish but relatively interesting video clip on the Partisan website.
You can see the clip and read the history here.
Tuesday, ESA representatives and others got a guided tour of the wells as they work on an environmental impact report to replace the original version. Draft No. 1 wasn’t tossed out because of the missing wells but because one of the key hydrologists working on the first study turned out to have a sizable conflict of interest. He was being paid to assess the type of wells Cal Am intends to use even though he holds patents on the technology.
Among those getting his feet muddy at the Ag Land Trust property on Tuesday was Chuck Cech, the retired engineer who first spotted that conflict. He mentioned that he has some new concerns about the methodology being used to test the water being pumped by the Cal Am test well at the Cemex property.
The fellow heading the EIR process for ESA, Eriz Zigas, was one of those who was nodding Tuesday about the existence of the wells. He wrote a nice note Wednesday to Del Piero and the Ag Land Trust’s Sherwood Darrington:
“I wanted to thank you both for taking the time yesterday, to escort me and members of the MPWSP (Monterey Peninsjla Water Supply Project) CEQA (California Enviromental Quality Act) Team onto your property in Marina, for the expressed purpose of viewing the Big Well and the small well. It was a useful and helpful visit. It was important for us to learn about your preservation and restoration activities, and it certainly was a surprise to see so many other interested parties at the walk through!”
You’ll notice he said “surprise” but not “pleasant surprise.”
After seeing the journalism procedural “Spotlight” in Monterey, I want more than two thumbs to thrust upward in ringing endorsement.
I was glued to the seat as the film tautly demonstrates how a Boston Globe 2002 investigation by four reporters unfolded. It shows them working their tails off to reveal the Catholic Church’s systemic cover-up of scores of sexually abusive priests and hundreds of their victims.
“Spotlight” is the better of the two great U.S. journalism films of the past 40 years. The other is 1976’s “All the President’s Men.”
The movie about the Washington Post’s Woodward-Bernstein reporting team and Watergate was a Washington, D.C., movie — secret sources, timely leaks, the reluctant but ultimately grinding strength of the capital’s machinery of political power.
“Spotlight,” though based on what happened in Boston and how a Boston paper finally told its Boston readers what happened, is really about good, below-the-surface journalism in any community.
That’s apparent from three screens (using very small type) that appear before the final credits. They compose a long list of other cities around the country and world where cover-ups of Catholic clergy abuse were brought to light after the Globe’s example.
Monterey, of course, was on the list, as someone in the row behind me said aloud as the names quickly scrolled before the lights came up.
Former colleagues of mine at the Monterey Herald had worked those local stories about abusive priests in the Monterey Diocese. And local media still work the story, as evidenced by the Monterey County Weekly’s Oct. 29 cover report on unsealed court records in a case involving alleged sexual abuse by a priest in Salinas.
Much commentary about “Spotlight” has focused on the question of whether the shrinking staffs and resources of American newspapers — especially regional papers and those in smaller cities — will support the commitment to time-consuming investigative reporting like the Globe did 14 years ago.
I’m hopeful important journalism about stories that mean something has a future because I see the evidence every day. That said, the media in Monterey County — home to two daily papers in thrall more to financial returns than community service — have an uphill battle to go beyond the daily blotter into the heart of matters. But there are good journalists here, new tools to gather information, new ways to tell stories, and the old fire that has always begged for “more reporters” and “more time.”
What made “Spotlight” so good were little details the film’s makers got so right about the work reporters do and the buildings where they work. It’s true there is a certain nostalgia for a very recent past at play here.
My heart raced with joy at the scene where one of the Globe reporters asks the paper’s library to pull all the clips — the paper’s previous stories — on clergy sexual abuse.
I loved rifling through those little manila envelopes stuffed with yellowed, but date-stamped clips. When the paper’s own library collected, copied and collated them, I felt bliss. Those were the days.
(Rule of thumb in working a big story: Check all the clips at the get-go.)
Other parts of “Spotlight” had me chuckling to myself. Small details in the film deftly captured so much of newsroom life.
— A farewell party in an opening scene with newsroom staffers holding small paper plates and little squares of frosted white cake. My teeth still ache with the molar memory of so many similar newsroom occasions.
In earlier days, they were usually to honor colleagues moving on to bigger papers, better jobs or family moves. Toward the end of my career, more cake breaks marked simple retirements, buyout retirements or colleagues moving into –gasp — better-paying public relations jobs. The ones who left via layoffs didn’t get to break cake at all with the shrinking pool of survivors.
— Near the end of the film, the top Globe editor scratches out something in a final draft of the first big story in the paper’s investigation. The reporters, who can’t see which of their words are being scrubbed, gasp as if their first-born children are being wrested from their arms.
“Just another adjective,” the editor explains without lifting his eyes.
That’s good editing, what every reporter needs. Nouns and strong verbs tell stories best. Adjectives and adverbs are weaker words, and too often inject a writer’s editorial opinion. Cut them away.
— In a short scene, Rachel McAdams (playing reporter Sacha Pffeifer) demonstrates what a good reporter does best: listen to what people say and ask logical follow-up questions. McAdams’ character actually spends much of her screen time doing what reporters do: knock on doors, interview people and take notes.
In this scene, she confronts a retired priest about his abuse of children. Her expression is neutral as the old man offers a sickening alibi. It wasn’t really sexual abuse, he reasons, because he derived no pleasure. Like myself, I’m sure many viewers felt like slapping the old man silly.
But McAdams’ expression remains unchanged. She hurriedly asks more questions without being judgmental. Keep people talking. That’s what reporters do.
Of course, the scene ends when the old man’s sister appears, tells the reporter to go away and slams the door. McAdams is still writing in her notebook as she goes down the steps, getting all the details of the brief exchange down in the record. She doesn’t react in any way to the door being shut in her face. That’s just part of the job.
As the end of the year approaches, I am still working on my “best of” collection for 2015. Categories are likely to include Best Howard Gustafson quote, Best Excuse for Lack of Progress on Desalination, Best Peninsula Performance by a Twangy Musician and Best Case of Misdirection on a Planning Matter by the Board of Supervisors.
My “worst of” collection is coming along more quickly, though, and I recognize now that if I don’t get started, I’ll never make it through a whole year’s worth of clunkers.
So here we go. The choice of Worst Opinion Column of 2015: National, goes to National Review columnist Victor Davis Hanson for his Dec. 3 offering in which he tries to tell us that Barack Obama and those who don’t hate him are responsible for the the rise of Donald Trump.
He doesn’t exactly defend Trump but says essentially that America deserves his demagoguery for not rising up in full rebellion against the president and the oppression of political correctness. In other words, the epidemic of mindless support for mindless pronouncements? It’s Obama’s fault.
“Trump’s vague ‘make America great again’ was the natural bookend to Barack Obama’s even more vacuous ‘hope and change.’”
If you’re looking for some explanation, this is the best you’ll get:
“The public no longer respects U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the IRS, the VA, or the GSA. Even the once-hallowed Secret Service has become a near laughingstock of incompetency, corruption, and politicization.”
Which is why Trump’s campaign has blossomed, Hanson tells us, despite the billionaire’s “verbal sloppiness” and “ridiculousness.”
“The world that we are told about by our government bears no resemblance to what we see and hear every day,” Hanson writes. “President Obama has exacerbated this current disconnect between the public and its officials. In unserious fashion, he shares his selfies, parades his annual Final Four picks, and jets off to Los Angeles to appear on late-night talk shows, even as he hectors Americans in sermons about their Islamophobia, their carbon footprints, their immigration xenophobia, and their gun obsessions.”
So in Hanson’s view, it is inevitable that the leading Republican contender to replace Obama is a proud Islamaphobe who attacks his critics as stupid and whose campaign consists of sound bites, staged rallies and mid-day talk shows.
“It may or may not have been wise for the Supreme Court to sanction gay marriage, or for the Pentagon to allow women in the military to join all combat units, or for the president to tacitly end border enforcement. But these changes were not made by majority legislative decision. And they have come thick and fast without time for the public to digest their consequences.
“Instead, if a new idea or agenda lacks majority support, then activists can confidently look for a court or bureaucracy to implement change by top-down order. … They feel threatened by radical Islamic terrorism. They sense that cultural and social stability has disappeared. And they know that expression of these worries can be a thought crime — hounded down by politicians, media, universities, and cultural institutions that do not enjoy broad public support and are not subject to the direct consequences of their own ideologies.”
Every president has opposition and by the end of a second term, the nation is usually ready for change, if only for the sake of change. But Hanson uses the lack of unanimity and the unpopularity of some of the president’s positions to justify racist and dangerous posturing by one of the least qualified presidential candidates of our time . Hanson clearly is angry with Obama — Obama’s successes as well as his failures — so he allows himself to be aligned with Trump’s irrationality.
In Hanson’s world, today’s political debate amounts to a class war. Here he is again in a recent radio interview:
“Who is the guy that Obama hates the most? It’s the upper middle-class, middle-class guy who’s got a Winnebago and he’s trying to save up for an SUV. All those things don’t fit the cultural elite’s idea of taste. In their way of thinking they’ve romanticized the poor because they’re distant, and they have enough money to satisfy their own cultural benchmarks, but they hate the middle class because the middle class doesn’t have the romance of the poor and doesn’t have the money to go to the Ivy League or go to Malibu.”
There are other columnists whose work capably competes with Hanson’s worst. Charles Krauthammer had another absolutely awful year and Thomas Sowell, who shares space with Hanson at the Hoover Institute, swung and missed with remarkable regularity this year. But it is Hanson who swings the hardest and falls the flattest.
It’s time for a good dose of Trump trutherism.
I had vowed to hold off any political punditry until the size of the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination dropped below the average number of jackals in a pack. But these candidates — I’m talking about the likes of Pataki, Santorum, Gilmore and Jeb! — are more difficult to erase from the race than uninvited party guests when there’s still froth in the final keg.
But with Donald Trump sucking all the oxygen out of the room in the GOP primary, along with the methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and other toxic gases, I cannot wait until February when the Iowa party caucuses begin to cull the herd.
Trump’s call for banning Muslims from the country has Republican elites and GOP base voters at odds over “Il Trump’s” impact on the race. The Trump Effect can be summed up thusly: It has produced a record number of Americans aware of the term “xenophobia,” and left many of them locked, loaded and looking out for any swarthy strangers named Xeno.
It’s only fitting to engage in some trutherism since “El Commandante Combover” began his latest bid for president as an Obama birth truther. Trump still refuses to disclose what his 2012 posse of private detectives discovered in Hawaii about Obama’s secret Muslim Kenyan past. This ongoing cover-up got me thinking, like any self-respecting truther who sees conspiracies everywhere.
Once I had the tin foil properly calibrated, the truth came like a bolt of lightning that seared the back of my eyelids.
Sure, the unprecedented Trump campaign has legions of serious pundits triangulating exactly how far Il Donald is from dipping his classy toe into the deep end of the fascism pool. Hah! It’s a massive con job designed to make the rest of the GOP field appear palatable and sane.
Most of his opponents are condemning Trump as being out of step with the country, the party and the civilized world. Don’t be fooled. That’s just for the yokels and soccer grandmothers who’d be nervous about voting for Trump. He’s been saying the same kind of stuff for months and kicking ass. Why are they dumping on Trump now?
Because the real overlords who control everything — the Trilateral United Nations CIA Climate Controllers at the IRS, Fed and CNBC — have ordered Trump and his putative opponents to act out their pathetic puppet show. That’s why.
“Donald,” they say, “Turn up the lunacy to 10. And start wearing your ridiculous ball cap sideways.”
Just wait for the cap to turn. Any day now.
In the long run, Trump’s orchestrated flameout from the race will reassure many voters who prefer their bellicosity and bigotry with a more practiced nuance. They’d flock to any other candidate, certain he or she would be smarter and stronger than Trump. Well, maybe not Jeb! but everyone else.
Even Ted Cruz, who vows to make the sands of the Middle East glow to vanquish evil Muslims (evidently with nukes or Day-Glo paint bombs), would seem less erratic than Trump. And the decent people still hope to draft the decent Mitt Romney for another decent run.
Get a clue, sheeple!
It’s all part of the scheme. Their endgame goes thusly: Hillary gets the White House. Donald pockets all the profits from his ball cap sales. And the One Worlders remain in control.
Agenda 22 is next. All you have to do is count to figure that one out, for god sakes.
It’s clearly written in the contrails. Here’s what they tell me …
Sorry, lost the connection. At this point I’m having second thoughts about doing any punditry until after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The landscape and my thoughts should be clearer by then. And just maybe by then, everyone will have gotten a grip and what they wanted for Christmas.
You remember: peace on earth, goodwill to all
If you get all your local political news from the papers or TV, you can be forgiven for not knowing that Tony Barrera, a Salinas City Councilman, is running for Monterey County supervisor.
That’s because he wasn’t mentioned in one paper’s account of Assemblyman Luis Alejo’s decision to run for the District 1 supervisorial seat held by Fernando Armenta or in a TV station’s report on Alejo’s announcement. The newspaper at least mentioned Armenta. The KSBW report mentioned no one other than Alejo.
Alejo’s entry into the race likely makes Barrera even more of an underdog. Armenta, who hasn’t yet announced whether he will run again, would be able to raise far more campaign money than Barrera and so will Alejo, of course. The district takes in most of Salinas but you can expect to see most of the campaign money coming from elsewhere.
And why does this matter to you if, like most Partisan readers, you live somewhere between Salinas and the Pacific? Here’s why. Armenta is a fairly conscientious fellow when it comes to representing his district, but when it comes to important matters outside the district, especially development issues, it’s all about campaign contributions.
Armenta is a sure vote for development, good development, bad development, he doesn’t really care. His mind is made up. And if it’s a traffic-clogging project proposed for the Corral de Tierra area, a subdivision at the mouth of the valley, a model of leapfrog development in north county, his vote is just as important as that of the supervisor representing that district. If you don’t think more strip malls and cookie-cutter subdivisions would enhance the Peninsula, you want someone more thoughtful than Armenta on the board.
As it stands, the only consistent board vote for good planning is Jane Parker. She represents Seaside, Marina and a small part of Salinas. She’s up for re-election and is being challenged by former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue. Donohue will get considerable help from the business community and development interests.
The other seat up for grabs in the coming year is held by Dave Potter, who is not quite the sure development vote that Armenta is but only because he is cagy enough to oppose developments when he knows they’ll get approved anyway. In a district that takes in Monterey, PG, Carmel, Carmel Valley and Big Sur, he is being challenged by Mary Adams, the retired United Way exec, who is receiving support from slow-growthers, progressives in general and some quarters of agriculture.
Which takes us back to Armenta’s district. If the white hats manage to re-elect Parker and elect Adams, Armenta’s re-election would mean that logic-defying developments would still have three nearly automatic votes, those of Armenta, John Phillips and Simon Salinas. Like Armenta, Salinas apparently has never met subdivision he couldn’t support.
But with Barrera or Alejo in office instead of Armenta, development proposals would be the subject of healthy examination and debate. Developments that create housing and jobs without aggravating traffic and water problems would be considered on their merits. The size of the proponents’ campaign contributions would be less likely to be the deciding factor.
In the coming months, voters countywide should study Barrera and Alejo. Barrera is the rough-and-tumble type. He has a somewhat checkered past but is trying to get people to forget it by working hard to represent everyone in his district, not just the players. Alejo is smoother, the career politician type who has wisely weighed in regularly on issues of importance in the Salinas Valley. He is moving to Salinas from Watsonville because he is being termed out of his Assembly post and needs a job. (His wife, Watsonville City Councilwoman Karina Cervantez, is running for his Assembly seat in a race that includes former Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero.)
So here’s the bottom line.
If you live on the Peninsula and prefer trees over asphalt, you can’t afford to focus only on your own backyard. You should pay attention to Parker and Adams and you also should consider getting involved in the race shaping up in Salinas. It’s either that or watching a lot of 3-2 votes in the wrong direction.
It’s been over a year since I hung up my notepad, my rat-a-tat-tat prose and exasperation with public officials and other gasbags who refused to even take my phone calls to personally tell me to go fly a kite.
Occasionally, I run into people who inquire whether I’m retired and how I like it. I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer.
Part of the problem is that I take such questions as earnest inquiries seeking a thoughtful response. I’ve never been comfortable with polite chit-chat. I fail to notice that most of these rate-your-retirement questions are on par with other small-talk conversation starters like the weather, recent movies and Donald Trump’s latest outrage against all things fair.
I’ve grappled with awkward explanations that retirement has its ups and downs just like the rest of life. I offered examples of these peak-and-valley parallels.
Take your 20s, I might say. Plenty of time for partying, dating, rock-climbing and going on crazy road trips. But even the young, single life grows wearisome. Just like being retired in your mid-60s and having plenty of time to garden. Some days you just get tired of muddy shoes and dirty hands and can’t face another crazy road trip to the garden shop in search of the ultimate thrill in gardening gloves.
Invariably, by this time, my interlocutor has moved on to another small talker and can be overheard idly wondering, “Was that Trump’s first or his third wife?”
Consequently, I’ve fashioned a few glib responses for these retirement questions for which my responses matter not a whit. I’m afraid they’re not the sharpest examples of wit, but they’ll have to do.
“Oh, how are you finding retirement?”
“Wonderful, because I can wear white socks all the time!”
Or, “I am saving tons of money on razors. Nothing says freedom like not shaving every day.”
Or, “How am I finding retirement? It’s easy, I just look in bed every morning when I wake up when I want to, and there it is.”
Realize there is a large grain of self-deprecation in these responses, which aren’t likely to register, in any event. I’m truly not the crusty layabout they would imply. I’m generally out of my sweatpants and into a freshly laundered pair of Dockers by noon — on most days.
In truth, my jumping from the leaking galleon of American newspapering couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous time. The timing coincided with the best sports story going in Northern California — last year’s NBA championship by the Golden State Warriors and this year’s record-shattering season start by the Warriors, who take a 22-0 record into Indianapolis on Tuesday.
Since I was a kid pretending to be Bob Cousy or Elgin Baylor in the driveway of my Fresno home, I have been an aficionado of professional basketball. The simplest explanation is a comparison to music.
If baseball is a slow movement in a pastoral symphony and football is the brass-and-drums of a martial band, NBA basketball is the improvisatory chops of cool jazz quartets or hirsute jam bands. And there is no soloist playing finer these days than Warriors’ point guard Stephen Curry.
Without going all fanboy on the Warriors, I’ll just leave it by saying their current artistry in blue and gold uniforms (except for those horrid slate gray jerseys) are to basketball what Miles Davis’ groundbreaking “Kind of Blue” album was to modern jazz.
Having suffered most of the past 40 years chained both to a desk and abominable Warriors’ teams, many of my misgivings about retired life have been pushed aside, at least temporarily, during the past 15 months by being able to drink in most of the court action without interruption.
I tried to watch my Warriors while at work, of course. That frequently led to afternoon battles between myself and Herald city editor Dave Kellogg, one of the gentlest and most understanding persons I ever met in newspapers.
If the Warriors were playing an early game on the East Coast, he and I would bicker over the remote for the newsroom TV. I wanted to see basketball, and Kellogg, silly man, wanted to monitor the local TV news. Invariably, devotion to news would win, and the Warriors would lose.
But no more. The Warriors are the hottest ticket in sports, and Curry is the most famous world athlete who doesn’t play soccer or cricket.
So if you ask me these days how retirement is going, I’ll just say, “Hey, the Warriors are on tomorrow. And I’m already wearing my white socks.”
About this time last year the council began a six-month experiment with parking meters, devices long considered to be the ultimate insult to the dignity of the village. The council hoped to demonstrate that meters would solve a long-standing problem of too many cars and not enough parking spaces.
Parking “kiosks” (single meters designed to serve an entire block) were installed up and down Ocean Avenue to see what would happen. As I expected, locals avoided them by parking on every other street where parking was still free, while tourists, who didn’t know any better, paid up. But city officials didn’t interpret the results that way. They saw that Ocean Avenue parking spaces opened up more often and, based on that criteria alone, they declared the experiment a success. When almost nobody else agreed with that two-dimensional analysis, the city removed the meters. End of story.
This past week the council ventured down a similarly dubious path. By a slim 3-2 majority they approved the first reading of a controversial ordinance to declare beach fires a “public nuisance,” which would bring an abrupt end to a century-old social tradition. With a single vote on a simple subject, the council has set a course destined to leave a lot of their constituents very upset. Unless at least one of the three shows a willingness to compromise, the ship called City Hall is going to run aground on Carmel Beach as early as next month.
Beach fires have become a bit of a problem mainly due to their increasing numbers. Carmel is one of the few places left on the California coast where your family and friends can still gather around a fire to toast hot dogs and marshmallows on a foggy summer evening. For that reason people flock to Carmel beach to enjoy this simple social ritual that humans have engaged in since caveman times. Lots of people mean lots of fires. Lots of fires mean lots of smoke and lots of black ashes discoloring Carmel’s famous white sand. Too much of a good thing has gotten very messy.
Earlier this year the city had a plan to manage fires by placing 26 fire rings along the beach between 10th and 13th Avenues. The rings would contain the filthy ashes, and the number of fires allowed at any one time would be limited. Still, I thought 26 was too many. After all we’re still talking about eight to nine fires per block. In years past a busy night might see maybe a dozen fires, so 26 seemed overly generous. Unfortunately, some folks took the opposite view and decided 26 was too restrictive. They appealed the plan to the California Coastal Commission hoping to get a better deal. The CCC will consider the appeal next week.
Meanwhile, the city council grew concerned that the smoke from so many fires might get the city in trouble with state and regional air quality bureaucrats. Last summer an air quality monitor placed at a nearby residence detected unhealthy levels of smoke on just two nights, once in June and again on the 4th of July. Apparently something in that smoke made city officials go batshit crazy and they abruptly changed course.
The city passed a temporary emergency ordinance banning fires on weekends until proper studies could be done to find the best solution. But the Coastal Commission didn’t think two nights of bad air over three months was sufficient justification to declare an emergency. They told the city not to enforce the ban. Miffed city officials essentially said “screw you” to the Coastal Commission and escalated the conflict beyond reason. They decided they could make an end run around the Coastal Commission ruling by declaring beach fires a “public nuisance.” With Mayor Jason Burnett leading the charge, they drafted the ordinance to permanently ban all fires. This may have satisfied their egos, but it has ignited the anger of beachgoers.
It’s troubling enough to see the council so willing to dismantle an important component of Carmel’s unique social culture. Even more disturbing is how they are doing it, effectively bypassing the normal avenues of forming public policy. The proper course, which the city was following until recently, is to gather public input, study various alternatives, find ways to mitigate potential problems, and develop a plan. It’s a somewhat tedious process, but it usually works out for most of us. The 26 fire ring proposal grew out of that process. Now, it has all been chucked out the window and a total ban is being imposed on the community with minimal debate. In fact Mayor Burnett has made it clear he is not open to alternatives. In Wednesday’s Herald he was quoted “For me it comes down to the health impact of the smoke, for me, it’s an area where I can’t compromise.”
Yet the smoke reached unhealthy levels on only two evenings. Two. In fact, the proposed ordinance doesn’t cite fires as the problem per se, only the “excessive number of beach fires during peak use periods” such as Independence Day festivities. The key to a fair and reasonable solution, then, is not a complete ban but a limit on the number of fires allowed at any given time.
I think limiting fires to about 10 or 12 fire rings is a fair number, especially if they must be confined to the three-block segment of the beach where fires are currently allowed. Some experimentation with their placement might further reduce smoke drift into the surrounding neighborhood. These steps should limit smoke to historical levels, which folks seemed comfortable with in the past. The rings would confine coals and ashes to keep the beach clean and safe. To keep things simple, fire rings would be available on a first-come first-served basis, much as with picnic tables in parks. though a reservation system might be helpful for busy holiday weekends. I think this is a reasonable compromise, and should be satisfactory to almost everyone.
The question is whether Carmelites can convince at least one more council member that compromise is reasonable. I fear the mayor is a lost cause. That leaves Victoria Beach and Ken Talmage, but they’re coming across as more fearful of what the air quality bureaucrats might do than they are of the townsfolk they supposedly represent. As with the parking meter program, the council majority seems primarily interested in the technical aspects of the issue while disregarding the social and cultural implications of their actions. In a tightly knit community like Carmel, with deep-rooted social traditions, that is a huge political mistake.
James Toy lives in Seaside. This first appeared on one of his blogs, Mr. Toy’s Mental Notes.