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waving road 3d illustrationWith only a few days to go before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, it’s time for a serious talk about what Iowa does to the nation every four years and how these nefarious Iowans keep getting away with it.

For as long as I can remember, which for me, like for most history-hating Americans, is a week ago Tuesday, the political world has focused on what the upcoming caucuses in 99 counties in Iowa will mean for all the candidates who want to be president.

Jeb Bush doesn’t figure in the narrative because he is the only candidate who clearly doesn’t want to be president. His campaign has spent $40 million on television ads that have done absolutely nothing to persuade any gullible Republican voters to support a third Bush presidency. Americans don’t like to see such wasteful spending, unless they are defense contractors or the owners of TV stations running those boffo Bush ads.

A couple areas of inquiry immediately arise when one considers the Iowa caucuses.

First, why are they called caucuses anyway? Shouldn’t they be the cauci, like cactus and cacti? Don’t Iowans realize the word sounds too much like cockamamie, cockeyed, cockup or some bacteria carried on improperly prepared corn on the cob?

Second, why are there only 99 counties in Iowa? It seems that a somewhat rectangular state bearing the shortest name of any state in the union could squeeze out another county, for symmetry’s sake, from a few corn fields, hog farms and corn-dog factories.

The caucus process is far more complicated than the California primary voting system, which normally involves a silent prayer, a flip of the coin and a nervous shudder.

Iowa caucus participants attend two-hour meetings during which they may have to suffer through more speeches about the candidates before indicating their preferred candidates. How they withstand such an affront after months of ads, barnstorming campaigns and candidate swarms is a testament to the sturdy constitution of caucusites. Or to the February nightlife in 99 Iowa county seats.

The Republicans and Democrats, of course, have different methods for reporting their caucus results. The Democrats report only the percentage support received by each candidate. The Republicans report both percentages and total votes, though the vote count can by delayed for some time as it journeys through drifts of snow, icy sorghum ponds and frozen corn stubble.

Corn

In 2012, it was 17 days before former Sen. Rick Santorum could rightfully claim a 37-vote margin of victory in the final Iowa vote count. And all Americans know how that rocketed Santorum to where he is today.

Of course, winning in Iowa often means nothing in the long run. Among Republicans, Santorum won in 2012 and former Gov. Mike Huckabee won in 2008. But President Barack Obama beat former Sen. Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucus, giving his underdog campaign an immediate boost. Sen. Bernie Sanders hopes history will repeat itself next week.

The only practical impact of the Iowa results will be felt by the candidates, their donors and the political chatterboxes who will chatter about them nonstop until the next scene in the national nightmare unfolds Feb. 9 in the New Hampshire primary. Then, as the comics say, Iowa will be carefully forgotten until early 2020.

If Donald Trump wins in Iowa, he will not be content to simply chatter about it. He will shout about it, in huge monosyllables, as if it were the greatest moment in all American history. If Trump trails Canadian immigrant and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, he may just modify his stylish red campaign ball cap. “Make America Great Again — except Iowa, very third-rate.”

A second-place Trump would have to be dissuaded from a hasty announcement he will not participate in any further Iowa-related events, thereby depriving the hayseeds of any more of his mighty greatness.

“But, O, unparalleled Dealmaker, no one is going to Iowa anymore. The caucuses are over,” his minions would whisper.

“In that case, let’s buy the state and kick it out of the country. Tell ’em were taking the place condo.”

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Richard Rauschmeier of the PUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates addresses about 100 people at Cal Am’s rate hearing Wednesday. At the rear, left, is W. Anthony Colbert, administrative law judge for the PUC.E

EDITOR’S NOTE: Testimony at Wednesday’s PUC public hearing on Cal Am request for 40 percent rate increase indicates the company wants to charge its customers 8.4 percent interest to reimburse the company for loans that cost it 5.4 percent. See story below and additional information from Jane Haines in comment section below. Also, for a different take on the numbers, look for Ron Weitzman’s comments  below Jane’s.

 

 

Public hearings on utility rate increases usually are as predictable as Sandra Bullock movies. Alarmed residents stand up to complain that their rates are too high already and the hearing officer maintains a blank expression throughout.

The Wednesday afternoon hearing on Cal Am Water’s latest increase proved the exception when the hearing officer, a Public Utilities Commission judge, asked Cal Am officials a basic question they couldn’t answer.

Some background.

Cal Am proposes to raise residential water rates on the Monterey Peninsula by 40 percent to make up for money it lost out on over the past five years because its customers did such a good job conserving water. Its view is that its costs remained the same even as usage went down so it is essentially being punished for promoting conservation. Cal Am argues that it was  authorized by state regulators to collect $40.6 million more than it actually collected and it wants to start collecting that money now. It proposes to have its customers pay that off over the next 20 years, plus 8.4 percent interest, for a total of $80 million or so.

Speaking in between a long lineup of angry customers, Cal Am officials on Wednesday told PUC Administrative Law Judge W. Anthony Colbert that the company had been required to borrow money to finance its operations over the past five years because it had not collected the entirety of its “revenue entitlements.”

That’s when Colbert lost the blank expression. He had some questions. He presided over Cal Am’s last general rate case and he indicated that he was somewhat confused by the current request. First addressing Eric Sabolsice, Cal Am’s local operations manager. Colbert wanted to know what the interest rate was on the borrowed money. In a long and winding answer, Sabolsice suggested it was 6.6 percent, but he allowed that he wasn’t entirely sure.

He was quickly replaced at the podium by Jeff Linam, Cal Am’s director of rates. He, too, had a lot to say but none of it included the interest rate.

Colbert repeatedly asked Linam if he knew what the rate was. Linam, hemming and hawing more than a little, finally said he did not.

“We have another hearing at 7 o’clock tonight,” Colbert directed. “Make some calls.” It was not a suggestion.

(The Partisan wasn’t able to  attend the evening session but attorney Jane Haines provides detail on the interest rate in comment section below.)

Other than that, the afternoon session was a model of a public hearing on a utility rate except that the speakers were an unusually well informed group, conversant on the ratemaking process and many of the other water-related issues that have dominated public debate on the Peninsula for the last several years.

Charles Cech is the retired engineer who discovered a severe conflict of interest that forced Cal Am to postpone important testing related to its proposed desalination plant. He told the hearing officer that he had gone back through Cal Am’s filings with the PUC and determined that it had enjoyed a profit margin of roughly 30 percent over the past five years, a total of some $100 million.

Among those able to put the current rate issue in perspective was Melodie Chrislock. She lives on an acre in the Carmel Valley, and, therefore, is a relatively heavy water user. Cal Am’s rate structure is meant to promote conservation by charging significantly higher rates for heavy users. Cal Am says the average residential customer will see the monthly bill go from $45 to $63 if the request is granted in full. Chrislock is above average.

She said her highest bill in the summer of 2008 was $184. This past summer, she used considerably less water but was billed $784. Now, she faces a retroactive charge for the water she didn’t use.

Defenders of Cal Am have noted repeatedly that other water agencies throughout California are raising rates for the same reason but they fail to acknowledge that the rates in those other places are generally much lower. They are mostly silent, too, on whether the other agencies propose, as Cal Am does, to simultaneously reduce rates for commercial customers at the expense of residential customers.

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New plan emerges for homeless parking in Monterey

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Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.A new plan to provide safe overnight parking to six homeless women is to be presented at the Monterey City Council meeting at 4 p.m. today. The location — a city lot next to the Police Department.

The City Council had voted 3-2 last week against a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street as part of the church’s One Starfish program. (See previous Partisan article here.) Supporters expected approval but Councilwoman Libby Downey decided at the last minute to vote against the plan because of strong opposition from church neighbors, who said they had already been dealing with negative interactions with homeless people.

Downey said afterward that it was a difficult decision that some had misinterpreted as a slap at the homeless and the One Starfish program. She said she remained fully supportive of the program and her only concern was the location. Since the vote, she has worked with city staff to come up with an solid alternative, and she said Tuesday morning that she believes they were successful.

With council members Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett strongly supporting programs to aid the homeless, look for approval of the new plan.

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cars lined up at a vintage car showCar Week on the Monterey Peninsula is a big deal. It affects everyone on the Peninsula to some extent. For some it is the highlight of their passion for classic automobiles. For some it means vital economic activity and income. For some it means amazing one-of-a-kind automobiles, fancy parties and celebrities. For some it means charitable contributions to address important community needs.

For everyone it means widespread significant traffic, crowds and noise, both during the events and the weeks needed to prepare for it and clean up after it. Residents and workers find it hard to get to home, work and school.  Normally quiet areas are full of cars, trucks and visitors. Formal and informal celebrations abound. Every space that can be rented to house a person or a car is full and overflowing.

Cars, trucks and pedestrians are everywhere.

After a careful search, I can find no permits in the Monterey County record for Car Week events. No public information exists about what events are allowed, how many people they can accommodate, or when and where they can be held. No analysis has been done nor any fees paid for the intensive use of roads fundamental to events centered on cars. Exhaustive research finds no record of any public hearings about any aspect of Car Week.

In other words, even though we live in a place famous for its stringent regulation of practically everything, we have never had an open public conversation of any sort about this phenomenon and its impacts on the community and the environment.

Before another year passes, let’s fix this. It is time to regulate Car Week. I call on the Board of Supervisors to take action now to make sure that from now on the impacts of Car Week are integrated into our community rather than imposed upon it.

Diehl is a retired ship captain living in Big Sur. She has served on the Monterey County Planning Commission since sometime around the turn of the century. Her recent experience spectacularly failing to get permission to operate a dog sports center on farmland in Carmel Valley provides her with further perspective on a number of public policy issues including this one.

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LARRY PARSONS: The art, and the arc, of the obituary

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Condolence or sympathy design with dandelion flowerThe first day of beginning reporting, the professor told us to write a story about our births.

I laid it on a bit thick, starting my pioneering effort at news writing with a dependent clause like this: “In an awesome event certain to shower countless blessings upon all humankind, …”

I couldn’t think of what to add about the blessed event in a second sentence after the ridiculous first one. I had a lot to learn about news writing. Humility, too.

The lessons quickly turned from birth to death. One of the basic and simplest story forms that news writers of my generation learned was the obituary.

A handful of recent “obits” got me thinking about those lessons, which are as useful today as learning how to operate a slide rule.

Here was the obit formula. Start with name, hometown, date and cause of death; then biographical details including birthplace, occupation, education, military service and memberships; list the names and hometowns of immediate survivors; wrap up time, date and place of public services.

The professor, a no-nonsense chain smoker of menthol 100s, drilled into our heads that only one verb was to be used in professional news copy to report that someone was no longer with us. That verb was “to die.” People died. They did not pass away, go on to their final reward or depart this vale of tears.

News writers don’t soft-pedal information with flowery euphemisms. Leave that stuff to the morticians, the professor would say. He may have called them undertakers. He would have bit a burning cigarette in half if he caught anyone referring to them as funeral directors.

We callow reporters went into the vale of small dailies or weekly newspapers and churned out these formulaic obits by the score. This was some time ago, when most newspapers treated the death of anyone in the community as news and deserving of a 4-to-8-inch “news” obit.

The duty to call family members to check the accuracy of information supplied by mortuaries or to fill in a blank or two in the obit formula most often fell to rookie reporters. So did working on the big holidays. I really made the grade that first Christmas morning I spent calling a series of mourning families to assemble the next day’s obits.

I’m not being ghoulish. Those contacts provided valuable lessons in how to deal with people, whose lives have taken a woeful turn, with respect, compassion and patience. I wish the cable-news and talk-radio brayers who masquerade today as journalists had started out working the obit desk for six months. Many would be less repellant people.

For new reporters, the laborious work of double-checking the spellings of survivors’ names revealed familial connections by blood and marriage — the basic DNA of a community — that would inform local knowledge and better reporting.

It’s a different world today. The only obits that news writers assemble are about notable persons — artists, entertainers, politicians, leading professionals or unfortunates who die in high-profile crimes or highway crashes.

Obits of other members of the community — longtime school administrators, former business owners or prominent attorneys — will cost by the inch, be written by family or friends, and likely will contain all the flowery usages of sympathy cards.

It’s been at least 20 years since the “obit page” in an average American newspaper changed from being a daily record of “who has died” to being a grid of paid advertisements announcing the deaths of those whose survivors are paying customers.

I won’t inveigh against the “monetization of death” by struggling newspapers or rhapsodize over the disappearance of communities in which the end of any life was worthy of community note. Facebook and other social media spread the word more efficiently among family, friends and acquaintances than old-fashioned obit pages ever did.

Should we fail to notice the death of our old fourth-grade teacher or the mechanic who fixed our cousin’s first car, does it mean our lives have been hollowed in some important way? Even if the local paper had dutifully carried a brief obit, we may not have noticed. We may have been too busy that day to glance at the paper. Or we long ago moved to some other town a thousand miles away.

To the dismay of local historians and keepers of community lore, obit pages of record are long gone. We are a people caught in the immediacy of now. To believe commentators on Election 2016, our current mood is suffused with anger, fear, resentment and tribal divisions.

Those passions played out in a few otherwise routine obits that recently drew notice on politics web sites. Two were for men whose last lines — in the obits, at least — were directives not to vote for Hillary. But the departed are just as polarized as those of us who carry on. There was another with a dying plea not to vote for Trump.

I thought, “Come on, give it a break. Rest in peace, and leave the restiveness to us.”

Sure they’re paid obits, but don’t make them paid political advertisements. We already have enough of those. But to each their own. Live and let die, I suppose.

I know how loudly my crusty old professor would have yelled, “Get rid of that!” had he seen such a line in an old-fashioned news obit.

Under the formula, a sentence could go near the bottom to inform people they could make memorial contributions to a charity of the decedent’s choice. If news writers still processed short obits, they could substitute a political campaign this year for a charity — if that’s what the family really wanted.

Knowing newsroom humor, I guarantee what a cheeky reporter would have exclaimed the first time he or she came across an obit suggesting a contribution to the Sanders campaign “in lieu of flowers.”

“Puts a different slant —  doesn’t it — on ‘Feel the Bern?'” Then the insouciant reporter would go back to triple-checking the tricky spelling of a small town in Washington where one of the surviving sisters lives. There was no greater need for accuracy in all of news writing than in what we called a routine obit.

PERSONAL POSTSCRIPT

My oldest sister, who I wrote about here died this week. Here is a brief obituary.

Marcia “Marcy” Saunders died Sunday at her home in Clovis, Calif., after being diagnosed with lung cancer last year. She was 72.

She grew up in Bakersfield and Fresno and graduated from Clovis High School and Fresno State College. She worked many years as a hospital lab technician for Fresno County.

Ms. Saunders is survived by two daughters, one son; five grandchildren, one great-grandchild and her sister and brother.

Arrangements are pending with the family. Her brother suggested a fitting memorial would be to love one another and thy neighbor

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On Wednesday the Pacific Grove City Council approved a special election, scheduled for April 19, asking the townsfolk to change the zoning of the American Tin Cannery site to allow for a new hotel on the property. The hotel, code-named “Project Bella,” is being billed as an economic necessity for PG, and a much better use of the site than the existing indoor retail mall that never lived up to expectations.

Project Bella may indeed be the best thing to happen to Pacific Grove since Holman’s department store, but why is a special election necessary when a regularly scheduled election will come just eight weeks later? The answer is simple. A special election favors the developer.

Special elections tend to attract fewer voters, those most interested in the subject, so the results may not reflect the town as a whole. Also, it gives voters less time to scrutinize and discuss the project, giving the developers more control over the information presented to voters. It therefore comes as no surprise that the developer, Domaine Hospitality Partners, is perfectly happy to pay the full cost of the election, about $40,000, according to KSBW News.

So far Domaine has had complete control over the messages to the community, and they’ve painted an awfully rosy picture of their hotel plan. They boast that Bella “will be designed, built, and furnished to the highest standards shared by only a very few of the world’s best hotels,” a tall claim considering even the local competition, much less the world. And, strangely enough, they expect to fulfill their promise of unparalleled luxury with an architectural design reminiscent of the industrial history of the cannery building that currently occupies the site.

Which brings me to my biggest concern. Both the developer and civic leaders who are supporting Project Bella have been pretty vague about the fate of the historic American Tin Cannery building, which turns 89 this year. It was the only Cannery Row cannery built in Pacific Grove, and arguably has the most attractive facade of any cannery on the row.

After the local sardine industry shriveled, the building was occupied by NAFI (National Automotive Fibers. Inc.), a division of Chris-Craft Industries. NAFI (pronounced “naffy”) manufactured carpeting for automobiles in the facility for many years. When I was third-grader at Carmel River School, locally made NAFI carpeting was installed in our classrooms. After NAFI went the way of the sardines, the American Tin Cannery entered its retail phase, first as a big box type store called Ardan and later the outlet mall we all know but rarely patronize.

I know this little bit of history because my dad was an accountant at NAFI in the 1960s. His office was  near the base of the smokestack a few steps from Eardley Avenue. One day he gave me and my mother a tour of the plant. I think it was just after quittin’ time because there were very few people there. I remember the cavernous space with north-facing windows built into the angled roof that provided a source of light. On the floor I saw rows and rows of industrial strength sewing machines, the kind you see today only in documentaries about Chinese textile mills. It made a strong impression on my 7-year old mind.

Descriptions of the proposed hotel in the local press have been hazy as to how much, if any, of the existing building would be incorporated into the new. Most reports ambiguously say the hotel will be built “at” the American Tin Cannery. Nowhere have I seen it stated explicitly that the American Tin Cannery will be demolished, but neither has it been said the building will be spared. One recent report suggested that the hotel will be an “homage” to the cannery. An artist’s rendering of the interior displayed on the developer’s website shows features that look similar to the existing structure, but the aerial site plan shows the hotel with a very different footprint, most of it set well back from the street. Curiously missing from the website are any street-views of Project Bella.

Put it all together and it becomes evident that the American Tin Cannery will be no more. Yet for some reason PG preservationists don’t seem to have picked up the signals yet. If the demolition of an old pump house could attract their attention, the destruction of the American Tin Cannery should raise alarms like mad, yet they haven’t said a word.

Do Pacific Grove voters really know what they’ll be getting on that property? I suspect Project Bella supporters don’t want Pagrovians to know too much just yet. It appears they want to lure voters to the special election with glowing promises of economic benefits and unsurpassed luxury before the townsfolk realize they must sacrifice a unique piece of the town’s heritage – hence the need to conduct the vote two months before the scheduled June 7 election.

James Toy lives in Seaside and is a regular contributor to the Partisan. This first appeared on one of his blogsMr. Toy’s Mental Notes.

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Red 3d 40% text on white background. See whole set for other numbers.Cal Am, as most Partisan readers know, is pushing for a huge rate increase to make up for money it “lost” over the last few years because of conservation.

Even though the Peninsula is under state mandate to use less water.

Even though the company installed a sharply tiered pricing scheme that charges heavy water users considerably more per unit than conscientious water users.

Even though Cal Am’s parent company has enjoyed very healthy stock growth over those same last few years.

There is opposition to the 40 percent rate increase from all the usual places. Water Plus and Public Water Now and the ratepayer advocacy arm of the state Public Utilities Commission. And now, opposition has surfaced from an unlikely quarter, which could be bad news for Cal Am.

KSBW, the dominant TV station in the region, editorialized this week against the rate increase. That’s significant because KSBW is not one of the usual subjects when it comes to rocking boats. Station manager Joe Heston is usually a cheerleader for the status quo, an eager booster of most development projects, a proud champion of much of what the Chamber of Commerce stands for. His objection to this rate increase should signal KSBW that it has pushed its rates as far as they can go, and then some. On this subject, the station breaks ranks with the larger business community, which is just fine with the proposed increase for residential customers because it is accompanied by a fee reduction for business customers.

Here’s the heart of his argument: “Never mind that Cal-Am has been a vigorous participant in efforts aimed at getting customers to conserve water. Its push for higher water rates, based on conservation success, seems – and we’re being kind here – disingenuous.”

To me, the KSBW editorial is a sign that opposition to this rate increase is not hopeless, despite the PUC’s continuing efforts to reward the utility at the expense of the company.

The PUC has two primary functions that amount to a balancing act. It is supposed to protect ratepayers from unfair pricing while also ensuring the economic viability of the monopolies that provide essential services such as water and power. It is the PUC’s mission to make sure the services continue to be provided and that the utilities can obtain reasonable interest rates when they need to finance system prevents. The commissioners need to learn, however, that ensuring economic vitality does not mean assuring maximum profitability. Cal Am got along just fine without the money it missed out on because it has such conscientious customers. The PUC has the responsibility of ensuring that Cal Am is sound, not that its shareholders get rich or richer.

Here’s a previous Partisan piece on the rate increase.

So what can you do about it? Letters to the editor and the PUC are good, and it would be a great idea if you and your neighbors would go to one or both public workshops about the rate increase, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 27  at the Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave., Seaside. Presiding over the sessions will be an administrative law judge for the PUC. 

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Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.City Council votes 3-2 not to offend the neighbors

Minnie Coyle, the late mayor of Monterey, was known for many things, but a single sentence published in the Monterey Peninsula Herald possibly best describes her legacy.

“Almost like Horatio at the Bridge,” the Herald declared, “Monterey Mayor Minnie D. Coyle symbolically stood at the city gates last night ready to protect the citizenry from the ‘flower children.’”

The issue, of course, was the city’s crossed-armed resistance to organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival.

Now enter our new Horatio and his small army — Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson and the council majority — to protect the citizens from six homeless women who are trying to make their way in this desperate world.

By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Monterey City Council denied a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep safely in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street.

Later in the evening, the council also rejected an ordinance that would give homeless people overnight shelter within the warm and sacred confines of local churches. This last ordinance was considered an “urgency” action, formally and morally, since the weather has been cold and inclement lately and there is significant fretting among those who possess a modicum of compassion that more homeless people might die without shelter.

The bodies of two homeless men were found across the street from Trader Joe’s last month, killed by their apparent inattentiveness and preparedness to prevailing weather conditions. By police accounts, they had earlier declined officers’ offer of help.

Before ruling in the Methodist Church case Tuesday night, the council heard from a long line of neighbors with legitimate complaints about the headaches caused by encampments of homeless people in and around their neighborhood. In particularly, vagrants, beggars and homeless haunt the gullies and backwoods near Del Monte Shopping Center and many of them make the nearby Union Bank property their toilet.

The neighbors described a long list of the bad behavior they must endure, and for that they deserve our pity.

But then they argued that allowing the Methodist Church to use six spaces in its parking lot so that homeless women in cars can sleep comfortably and safely will further degrade the neighborhood.

Each neighbor agreed that the Methodist Church program, called One Starfish, is righteous and beneficial and deserves our support. Many of the neighbors felt compelled to preface their public testimony with statements asserting that they are compassionate and giving people who would give the shirts off their backs to homeless people, as long as said homeless people are situated somewhere other than their general vicinity.

They pointed out that many other parking lots are better suited for such activity. Indeed, there exists a quiet and functional parking lot, away from the madding crowd, behind City Hall and Colton Hall that might be used. And they do have a valid point. A Capitol Idea, one might say.

And, ultimately, it’s one of many other sites the council might consider now that it rejected the Methodist Church parking lot.

Still, even after the council voted against the Methodist site as a safe parking place for harmless homeless women, the neighbors’ problems haven’t been solved. The council action Tuesday did not a thing to remedy the vagrancy problem in that neighborhood.

For the record, councilmen Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett cast votes in support of One Starfish.

While the One Starfish issue was a localized rejection, the council’s action on church shelters was more of a citywide rebuff of compassionate treatment of folks who are down on their luck.

This was an outright rejection of the I-Help model of grace and humanity, egged on by homeowners who declared that offering those who are less fortunate than the rest of us a dry, warm place for the night only encourages them.

Almost 50 years ago, the Herald scribe who covered Mayor Minnie Coyle was not the only bemused observer of her brigade of finger-waggers. Also on the scene was Jann Wenner, founder and publisher of an upstart magazine called Rolling Stone.

Wenner’s account of the unfolding drama, published in 1968, feels appropriate today: “And so it began to happen in Monterey: a bizarre enactment of the entire American tragedy.”

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Crime SceneThe word from the Salinas Police Department is that the record number of homicides in the city last year was not  linked to any particular trend or even for the most part linked to gangs. The total topped 40 by the end of the year, easily bettering the previous record of 29 homicides, but police officials said they were at a loss to explain much of it.

Former Monterey Herald reporter Julia Reynolds, a true expert on Central Coast gangs, wrote in late December that the authorities felt this was not a sign of gangs out of control.

“… (I)n setting a new record, 2015 has been a year of outliers,” Reynolds wrote. “While gang rivalries and vendettas are likely responsible for more than half of this year’s homicides, a significant percentage of the violence appears to be the kind cities everywhere else deal with most of the time — the kinds of killings common everywhere but Salinas.

“These slayings stem from personal disputes, escalating arguments at parties or in the streets, quarrels that end with gunshots and sirens. They are family feuds and drug-dealing beefs that are settled by drawing a gun or pulling a knife. In rarer cases, they’re settled with a killer’s bare hands.”

I can’t prove it, but I think officials may have painted her a misleading picture. Since I can’t prove it, what I’m really saying is that I have a hunch, and that is that the rash of murders that continues into this year absolutely could be the result of gang violence of the worst kind. Based principally on the brief description of the crime that accompanies each news release about the latest murder, I suspect that Salinas gang members, Nortenos mostly, could be systematically executing young men that they suspect to be members of the rival Surenos – or that they are executing young men who happen to look like relatively recent immigrants who fit the profile of Sureno recruits. By my count, that would explain more than a dozen killings last year and several of the shootings, fatal and not, this year.

I’ve spoken to a couple of former gang members, not the most reliable of sources, and they agree with my thinking. One of them said he moved from Salinas to Greenfield because of the violence. But I also have talked to Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin about this a couple of times and he disputes my theory, though without the level of certitude that persuades me I’m wrong. He acknowledges that quite a few victims fit the profile that my theory encompasses but he says his detectives don’t believe a single explanation fits a large percentage of these cases.

The most recent homicide occurred Saturday night in the 1000 block of Atlantic Street. That’s in East Salinas, about a half block from Acosta Plaza, a housing project that has seen more than its share of gang violence. A 23-year-old man had been shot several times “by unknown persons” while walking on the sidewalk. Motive unknown, no known witnesses.

The circumstances were somewhat similar in at least four non-fatal shootings in the last 10 days. Young man shot by a young Latino man dressed all in black. Young couple shot by unknown man. Young man shot after being confronted by another young man who asked his gang affiliation.

Again and again last year the shooters in fatal and non-fatal attacks alike were described as young men dressed black, often wearing hoods. Sometimes one young man. Often two.

As Reynolds wrote, those could be the result of arguments at parties, of domestic disputes or neighborhood beefs, but in such cases, the police usually have a relatively easy time figuring out who pulled the trigger — and the shooter isn’t all that likely to be outfitted in black, with a hood.

Gang-related cases are much harder, for several reasons. Most obviously, there’s the fear factor. Victims and witnesses alike aren’t eager to put themselves in continuing conflict with gang bangers. Less obviously, victims of gang violence may suspect or believe it had to do with gangs but they’re not likely to be able to name names. Members of rival gangs don’t hang out together. And the type of victims being targeted, recent arrivals in Salinas, are even less likely to know the identities of their attackers.

Another factor adds to the challenge for detectives. Executions often are attempted from some distance, often from a passing car. That makes identifications even more difficult.

Maybe I’m wrong. There’s an excellent chance that I am. But if I’m right, I think it is time, past time, for the authorities to put out some meaningful alerts, to warn people who fit the profile that they may want to keep a very low profile for until things quiet down.

It is just as likely that I am being naïve, that the message has already been sent and received through informal channels and that there really isn’t anything more that can be done about this. That could be.

But here’s my hope. My hopes, actually. I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m right and there is some reason the authorities don’t want to cop to it, I hope they think it over and do the right thing

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Caution Sign - Donal Trump AheadI greeted the news that December afternoon in 2008, a week before Christmas, with a very big sigh of relief. It was a huge sigh. The very hugest.

For weeks, the grist for the local media had been that Donald Trump’s Trump Organization was in line to buy the financially troubled Pasadera golf course development off Highway 68 between Salinas and Monterey.

The possibility of a local Trump beachhead had twisted me into a state of foreboding. I feared I would have to cover future stories in which the cult of personality that is Trump would figure. I saw myself waiting in a media scrum for hours near some dusty helicopter pad for the moment Trump would descend from the heavens, explain why he is the greatest and declare anyone who thought otherwise a pathetic loser.

Trump’s weather-vane politics weren’t off-putting. This was so long ago that Trump may have been a registered Democrat singing the praises of Hillary, Bill or even then-Senator Barack Obama. No, my image of Trump was of a real estate developer with the sharp elbows and in-your-face style of a stereotypical New York City big shot.

I wanted no tussles with the tassels on Trump’s loafers.

I preferred dealing with Monterey County developers, who stay out of the limelight and let the usual courtiers of land-use attorneys and PR guys do their talking. It is a much more genteel manner of throwing one’s weight around than Trump’s scorched-earth bombast.

So I exhaled with relief when news broke that deal-maker Trump had passed on the deal, citing too many potential costs with the golf resort. I saw it as a big win for locals, who would be spared the inevitable battle over a 50-foot high, golden Trump sign shining over the scenic highway.

Little did I realize that eight years later Trump would be the leading Republican candidate for president, captivating crowds with his freestyle pitches of vilification, self-adoration and iron-fisted tycoonism.

Imagine what would have happened to Monterey County public affairs had Trump brought the same flair for getting his way to the local scene eight years ago. No doubt, the Peninsula’s water crisis would be over, thanks to Trump delivering on his promise to build classy new dams on the Carmel, Salinas and Arroyo Seco rivers and make — oh, crafty Orange One — the fish pay for it. Very classy fish.

Trump also would have struck gold by accusing local county supervisors and city councilors of being a collection of low-energy hacks hesitant to unnecessarily insult whole groups of people for fear of being ticketed by the “politically correct” police. Anyone who’s attended one of their meetings knows the vast majority of local “elected” display more Jebbish, nebbish or adult manners in public. Weak sauce, Trump would say. Boring. Very boring.

Trump’s local honeymoon would have begun to sour when he dismissed the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium as a prison for captured fish and “some other things that aren’t fish.” He would try to explain — in a foreshadowing of his dismissal last year of ex-POW Senator John McCain’s harrowing captivity during the Vietnam War — that real heroes are not taken prisoner. His kind of fish are free, energetic and willing to pay for new dams.

His clumsy, face-saving offer to build a very spectacular white shark and baby otter exhibit tank would be met with howls of disgust and babies sobbing.

Then Trump would have dug himself deeper with several classy rebranding suggestions for Monterey County landmarks.

“What’s with this Big Sur? Why not the Biggest Sur?” he’d reason. “I want the Sur to be the greatest. And what’s with Sur, anyway? This is America. It should be South. The Biggest and Best South. You’re welcome.”

Up the coast, Trump would find another failure in branding. “Come on — Pebble Beach? Pebbles are puny. Small. Very small. Why not Rock Beach? Some rocks are big. Very big.

“Or better yet — Big Stones Beach! Strong. Very Strong. Very Virile.”

One can imagine how that would have flown among buttoned-down residents of The Forest. Quickly, a community campaign to pay Trump to take his exuberance elsewhere would have coalesced and raised an appropriate eight-figure, go-away-now fee.

Trump would go on to bigger things. Ball caps and a spectacular bid for the White House. The greatest White House. A Very White. House.

Monterey County’s loss would be America’s gain. An America still waiting to exhale.

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Charlie during his first and possibly last visit to Carmel Beach

We had not been to Carmel Beach in quite a while, not since Ruby the lab mix began the long sleep, but Wednesday was the right day to return. It was a weekday, relatively tourist free. The younger daughter would be gone again the next day and the pup, Charlie the Truth and Justice Dog, had been dropping hints about wanting to hobnob with some purebreds and take in some ocean air.

So we rounded up the leashes and some poop bags and headed off to dog heaven, Carmel Beach, one of the few places in civilized society where dogs are allowed to run around like the crazed creatures they are.

Zorro, the foster dog, seemed to understand where we were as we passed the boutiques of Ocean Avenue. He’s a Queensland healer, smarter than your average domestic dog. But Charlie was clueless, of course. He’s part American bulldog, not the most intellectual of breeds. He has chewed up several copies of the New Yorker magazine without ever once stopping to chuckle at the cartoons. (He also has chewed up three TV remote controls, but that is more a reflection of his owners’ intelligence.)

Charlie was baffled but pleased by the oceanside situation. New smells everywhere! He drooled with extra vigor as he scanned the sand, spotting little poodles and terriers and other potential chew toys. He couldn’t understand why Zorro was free to roam off leash while he remained tethered to the large bald fellow but how to explain that some people can be apprehensive when they and their lapdogs are approached by 100 pounds of something that looks suspiciously like a pit bull.

So Zorro ran and sniffed and, before we caught on, rolled on the rotting carcass of a sea lion while we, me and the daughter who routinely breaks my heart by driving back to school after the holidays, took turns trying not to be dragged in the sand by cheerful Charlie. We did a very good job of it, if we do say so ourselves, and managed to avoid all but one nasty look from the type of passing dog walkers who don’t understand that a proper dog should be larger than your average cat.

Anyway, we had been there about 30 relatively uneventful minutes before we spotted what would turn out to be the point of this story. She was a Carmel police officer, or at least that’s what her uniform indicated, and she was on beach patrol. Before we spoke with her she spent some time with some other dog lovers who were looking at the rotting sea lion remains and shaking their heads. Then she came over to us and laid down the law.

It turns out that bohemian Carmel, let-it-hang-loose Carmel, is a little more uptight than it lets on.

We all know that Carmel is going through all sorts of political gymnastics because some of its more sensitive residents, also known as grumps, want to ban beach fires. (I know I should not give them a hard time because, yes, smoke is a true pollutant and pollutants are bad, etc., etc., and because they went for so long allowing people like me to enjoy the ritual of oceanfront beach fires.) What I didn’t know is that Carmel apparently is also having some second thoughts about letting dogs run loose on the beach.

The police woman was very nice. (I think her nametag said C. Mitchell, but I might just be making that up.) She wanted us to know that, yes, it was OK for Zorro to run around sans leash but only if we could demonstrate that he would respond to voice commands and would stay within 25 feet of us, me and the daughter who insists on getting an education.

Oh, and another thing. If Zorro planned to approach any other people, that would be fine but only if we were within three feet of him, and presumably them.

I should have seen this coming. Carmel has always prided itself on its free-wheeling traditions but it does have its standards. “Libertarianism is one thing but anarchy is quite another” might make a good slogan to be carved onto a redwood plank and mounted on the side of the charming city hall.

I should have asked some questions of officer C. Mitchell or whoever she was. I should have asked if these are new dog rules, and if they are a step toward the day when whoever replaces Mayor Jason Burnett announces from the dais that he will entertain a motion to require leashes on all animals within charming Carmel. I didn’t make any inquiries, however, and I realize now it was partly because I wanted to avoid attracting any additional attention to Charlie and his decidedly inland roots. I can already picture it, a big sign at the foot of Ocean Avenue declaring “All Dogs Must Be Leashed!” and under that a picture of Charlie with a big red X over his jowly countenance.

Instead, I proudly held up my now-used poop bag in order to demonstrate that I am a fellow who understands and respects authority, and I dutifully called Zorro. He has never been good with distances and, therefore, was clearly in violation of the 25-foot rule but he came trotting back if for no other reason than to make Charlie feel even more picked on.

Officer C. Mitchell, possibly an alias, gave us a wink of approval and possibly even a thumbs up as she headed off in search of other potential scofflaws. We headed off as well, pleased to have been judged worthy and relieved that she hadn’t spent enough time with us to discover our other potential disqualifiers.

All in all, a fine day in Carmel. And as we passed the boutiques again, headed in the opposite direction, I asked the ambitious daughter whether she needed to stop for anything in Carmel. She chuckled, of course, and said, “Does anyone really need anything in Carmel?”

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????They once promised to be the solution to one of desalination’s biggest drawbacks. Most of the world’s 14,000 desalination plants draw seawater directly from the ocean, sucking in varying amounts of sea life. But slant wells, sharply angled in order to pump water from below the ocean floor, would use the sea bed as a natural filter, leaving all the aquatic critters where they belong.

That idea turned into a noble but failed experiment as California American Water began the long and expensive process of building a desalination plant to solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water problem. At the direction of state regulators, including the California Coastal Commission, Cal Am adopted slant wells into the design and for the past several months has been testing one such well at the plant site next to the Cemex facility on the Monterey Bay shore north of Marina.

The testing was delayed because of political opposition, concerns about feasibility and questions about whether the environmental impact of the testing itself had been fully considered. Once it started, it encountered additional delays for technical reasons and the discovery of a glaring conflict of interest. One of key hydrologists involved in the design and execution of the testing turned out to be a patent holder on the technology being tested, calling into question the advice he was giving his employers, both Cal Am and Cal Am’s chief regulator, the Public Utilities Commission, a compound relationship that created yet another conflict.

At one point, the testing was halted because a monitoring well showed that groundwater in the area was dropping significantly. Among the factors being tested is the desalination plant’s impact on area groundwater and, most specifically, an underlying aquifer that extends all the way to the Salinas Valley and supplies much of the water that sustains Salinas Valley agriculture. Though the intent is to draw seawater exclusively, the test well in fact draws a significant amount of its water from the brackish oceanside edge of the aquifer. If the desalination process draws too much water from the aquifer or aggravates the existing issue of seawater intrusion into the fresh water aquifer, the desalination plant’s design and/or location seemingly would be doomed, absent a purely political solution.

According to Cal Am’s declarations to state officials, the testing remains highly inconclusive but the company says it has learned enough from the exercise to plunge ahead into the overall plant approval process and then into the construction phase, which would result in the drilling of an additional nine slant wells. According to water activist George Riley, the company has already started awarding well-drilling contracts despite the absence of any data supporting that decision.

If the plans continue on that track, the Marina plant would be the first in the world to use slant wells. Recent tests of the same technology at a proposed Dana Point plant failed dramatically, taking in as much fresh water as salt water, and operators of a proposed plant at Huntington Beach, also under state pressure to use slant wells, recently announced the technology there to be unfeasible.

Against that backdrop, an array of speakers at a forum sponsored by Public Water Now lined up Tuesday night in Carmel to explain why the slant-well plan should be abandoned in the name of maintaining some semblance of control over the desal costs.

Public Water Now founder George Riley ran out of descriptors as he labeled the slant-well approach “a sham, a hoax, a fraud” because it provides none of the benefits that its supporters promised and carries with it unacceptable costs and complications. The most recent cost estimates show that water from the proposed Cal Am plant would cost more than double the costs expected in either Dana Point or Huntington Beach.

Public Water Now was formed to pursue public ownership of Cal Am, an idea that Monterey voters narrowly rejected a year ago. Riley and the organization support desalination as a solution to the region’s water-supply problem but they argue that the state Public Utilities Commission will be making a huge and expensive mistake if it does not order serious study of alternate, cheaper proposals, the People’s Project and Deepwater Desal, or does not toss out the slant-well approach on grounds of inefficiency and expense.

A partial solution to one of the slant-well technology deficiencies was announced Tuesday, when Cal Am revealed a plan to sell fresh water to the Castroville area. The fresh water to be sold is same fresh water that the slant wells will draw into the desal plant, where it will be processed along with the sea water. That agreement settles one of several potential water rights disputes that Cal Am faces but it is an imperfect solution to a problem that would not exist if the slant wells worked as intended. The volume of freshwater pumped from the aquifer essentially increases the size and cost of the desal plant, an expense borne by Cal Am customers, but Castroville is not expected to pay a commensurate amount.

Among the revealing presentations Tuesday was one by retired mathematician and computer language expert David Beech. He demonstrated how Cal Am has misled the public and even the Coastal Commission by repeatedly suggesting that the test well would extend 1,000 feet into the sand below Monterey Bay. In fact, Beech showed, the drilling angle and the location of the inland wellhead reduce the overall length to just 724 feet and the net effect is that only the final 35 feet of the well are in contact with ocean water.

Most of the water pumped into the desal plant under the current design would come from the freshwater aquifer, Beech and others concluded, which strongly suggests that there is no reason to use expensive slant-well techniques when vertical wells drilled directly into the aquifer would produce approximately the same result. The idea of switching to vertical wells was even endorsed Tuesday night by Paul Bruno, president of Monterey Peninsula Engineering, an aggressive backer of Cal Am’s desalination project. EDITOR’S NOTE: Bruno now denies having said this. He said his comment was that vertical wells would be less expensive than slant wells. 

Another speaker, water activist and retired teacher Michael Baer, complained that Cal Am and its contractors still have not fully tested the potential ramifications on the groundwater despite repeated urging from a hydrologist working for Salinas Valley ag interests.

Ron Weitzman of the Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula, another proponent of public ownership and alternate proposals, used computer modeling to demonstrate his assertion that Cal Am has intentionally manipulated its measurements of sea level and groundwater levels in order to make its plans appear logical.

Riley noted that the cost of the testing has risen steadily, adding additional costs to a project that will result in astronomical water bills throughout Cal Am’s local service area. The initial estimate for the testing was $4 million, which rose to $7 million as a result of both avoidable and unavoidable delays. It rose next to $10 million, which doesn’t include the costs of special review by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The overall cost of the plant is now estimated at more than $300 million.

If Cal Am shareholders were responsible for the costs, they would have ended the slant-well experiment long ago in favor of something more efficient and less expensive, Riley insisted. Unfortunately, though, common sense does not prevail when the regulators and the utility know that the costs of every misstep will be passed directly to the water ratepayers.

Riley said there is no longer any question that a desalination plant will be built. A looming cease-and-desist order on the overuse of Carmel River water has created enormous political pressure to find a solution and nothing on the horizon presents meaningful competition to desalination, Riley acknowledged. It is entirely likely, he said, that the various state agencies will approve the overall project even before the environmental impact study for the plant has been completed and before various other water rights issues have been adjudicated.

What is important now, he said, is for Cal Am customers and their elected leaders to persuade state officials to stand up to the momentum and take a long and deep look at the costs of staying on the current path. Both the alternate plant proposals and simpler well technology promise lower costs for the ratepayers, he said, and it is the responsibility of officialdom at the local and state levels to do everything they can to take the sting out of future water bills.

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Mexico refugee illegal immigration border migrant crisis economy finance war business.According to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, Brigido Hernandez was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on charges of disorderly conduct and drug possession last Sept. 7.

But not really.

Upon further reflection, the Sheriff’s Department says Brigido Hernandez is not Brigido Hernandez, but instead is Nazario Arguello Rodriguez, who was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on Sept. 28 on charges of manufacturing counterfeit goods.

But, strike that. The Sheriff’s Department says Nazario Arguello Rodriguez is really Juan Tentle Ortiz, who wasn’t arrested by sheriff’s deputies. Instead, he made it to the Monterey County Jail by way of the Los Angeles County Jail for reasons apparently unknown, at least unknown to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department.

What is known about Brigido Hernandez/Juan Tentle Ortiz is that he/they was/were turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials late last year after Sheriff Steve Bernal reversed longstanding county policy and invited immigration authorities to set up shop in the jail.

The identities of Hernandez and Ortiz, and numerous others, became an issue after the Partisan made a public records request for information on him/them and a number of other former Monterey County Jail inmates who had been turned over to ICE for deportation.

The public information request was prompted by a Nov. 29 opinion piece written for the Monterey Herald by Michael Moore, chief deputy of the sheriff’s corrections bureau. In his column, Moore wrote that between Aug. 14 and late November 140 jail inmates had been found to have had previous convictions that qualified them for deportation via ICE.

He elaborated somewhat, saying they all met the federal criteria under Priority 1 status, meaning they had prior felony convictions and street gang affiliation, or Priority 2 status, meaning they had at least one serious misdemeanor conviction or three less significant misdemeanor convictions.

A spreadsheet provided by the Sheriff’s Department listed 160 arrests. In 42 of those cases, the only charge listed was drunken driving. In several other cases, men arrested for drunken driving also were accused of violating probation, an indication of at least some criminal history. There were, of course, numerous arrests on more serious charges including domestic violation, battery and hit and run but there also were arrests in which the only recorded charges were prostitution and providing false information to authorities. In most cases, the inmates turned over to ICE had been arrested but not convicted of any current charges.

In his Herald article, Moore mentioned that one inmate turned over to ICE was a Castroville gang member who had been arrested for murder and drunken driving. The Partisan made inquiry into details on that suspect, largely because it seemed odd that someone wanted on a murder charge would have been turned over to immigration officials rather than to authorities where the murder charge had been filed. It turned out to be another case of mistaken identity. The fellow was facing a drunken driving charge but not a murder charge.  Both his nationality and immigration status could not be determined this week.

In most cases, it is impossible for someone outside law enforcement to verify whether someone qualifies for either Priority 1 or 2 status because arrest records for previous incarcerations are considered confidential in California. Public court records would provide answers in some cases but that would require person-by-person searches in dozens or hundreds of courthouses.

“Verifying identities is one of the biggest challenges we face, every day,” said a local police official who asked not to be identified for fear of alienating the Sheriff’s Department. “But you would think they would get the names and basic data right before handing over information like that. I hope that they got the info right before they handed the people over, but I presume they did.”

A spot check of other inmates turned up discrepancies in the dates of arrest but no obvious mix-ups of identities.

The arrest that put Joel Dorante Cruz into the hands of immigration officials involved public drunkenness in a Seaside alley in September.

Ricardo Lopez’s arrest by Sand City police was for vandalism, loitering and being under the influence.

Maria Ortiz Cortez was arrested by Salinas police for shoplifting. The arrest was either Sept. 30 or several weeks earlier, depending on which department you talk to.

The Partisan’s inquiry hardly amounts to a scientific sampling but it did turn up  a string of discrepancies serious enough to suggest additional attention should be put into an examination of how the Sheriff’s Department is processing inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Immigration activists and others criticize law enforcement agencies such as the Sheriff’s Department that routinely provide ICE with access to inmates. They and some law enforcement officials maintain that fear of deportation prevents many undocumented aliens from cooperating with law enforcement, testifying in court or even reporting crimes. On Jan. 5, the Partisan requested a copy of the sheriff’s written policies on immigration holds and its interaction with ICE but there has been no response.

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JAMES WOODS: Teenage suicide is everyone’s business

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Young man sitting on a floo with hands on head. Plenty of copy spaceWhile writing this column on teenage depression, I mentioned it to a friend, who happens to be a retired journalist (they seem to be thick as ticks around here). He said, “If you’re writing for the Partisan, you’ll be writing for the teenagers’ grandparents.”

Picturing my own grandchildren, recently visited, I thought to myself, “This scruffy ex-agent of the Fourth Estate is annoyingly accurate.”

So be it. Apart from teenagers themselves, grandparents are well suited to detect and intervene in cases of adolescent depression.

Here’s a depressing statistic: Suicide is the second leading cause of death of 15-24 year olds.

These young adults are healthy critters. They have survived infancy with its genetic and infectious uncertainties. They have not yet gotten to the age when bodies give out and hot cocoa in bed at 8:30 sounds like a great way to spend New Year’s Eve. Not surprisingly, unintended death is the number one cause. I never knew anyone who intended their death except a couple of unfortunate people in the Second Cause group. In third place is Homicide.

Tragic as these numbers sound, only a little over 4,000 folks between the ages of 15-24 lost their lives to suicide in 2013. I say “lost their lives” instead of “took their lives”, because no one in their right mind commits suicide. People kill themselves because they are not in their right minds. Depression usually calls the shots, twisting perspective and eroding self-esteem, until killing yourself looks like a reasonable option. When depression is combined with alcohol or drug use, self-medicating or binging, it is a particularly deadly disease.

But like the tip of any iceberg, suicide is only the most dramatic symptom of depression. The symptoms, which usually persist for years before before they escalate to this point, can be spotted by a caring grandparent. Learn the signs, and more importantly, get to know your grandkids, nieces and nephews. Family and friends prevent more suicides that all therapists and physicians combined.

These are some of the signs parents may notice. If they last for at least two weeks, and they are present on most days for most of the day, what you are seeing may be depression:

An irritable, sad, or cranky mood, most days and for most of the day.

Loss of interest in sports or activities they used to enjoy.

Withdrawal from friends and family, pervasive trouble in relationships.

Changes in appetite, significant weight gain or loss.

Disturbance of normal sleep patterns, insomnia, hypersomnia, (or just hiding in bed).

Physical agitation or slowness, pacing back and forth and/or excessive, or repetitive behaviors.

Making critical comments about themselves, overly sensitive to rejection, tearful.

Poor performance in school, a drop in grades, or frequent absences.

Frequent complaints of physical pain (headaches, stomach), frequent visits to school nurse.

Writing about death, giving away favorite belongings, comments like “You’ve be better off without me.”

I am very frustrated when I read in the medical literature that “these symptoms may be difficult to detect because they are often part of adolescence itself.” I cannot buy that statement. It implies that being cripplingly sad or anxious, feeling absolutely alone and helpless and losing all joy life has to offer is similar to a normal emotional growth pattern. The difference in degree between normal emotional growing pains and the signs of major depressive disorder is similar to the difference between heartburn after pizza and a bleeding ulcer.

I use a physical example because depression is a physical disorder with behavioral symptoms. We aren’t used to diseases that alter our mood and perspective; we are used to diseases that make us vomit or cause a rash. In order to detect and prevent depression we have to think about it in a different way. We have to change our idea that there is a brain/body duality at work here: health versus mental health. That is like thinking that there is a pancreas/body duality at work in diabetes. Serotonin concentrations and activity are the primary targets of the most widely used anti-depressant medications. But there are more serotonin receptors in our GI tract than our brain!

We also have to change our idea of the brain itself. When I was in medical school, 30 years ago, we were instructed that the brain was, for all intents and purposes, a three-pound lump of tofu like material that is oddly static: No new nerve cells grow, we can only lose brain cells to drugs, sex and rock-and-roll, (and aging!). Thank God we’ve got way more than we need and we can spare a few hundred thousand.

That was the party line until neuroscientists got a bunch of great new toys and several boxcar loads of cash to run programs that purchase and use them. The current view is “evolving.”

We now think we know that the brain is dynamic in structure as well as function.

Read and memorize this statement:

“Cal Am Water is competent to solve the Peninsula’s water shortage problems.”

(Special exercise for Partisan regulars).

To memorize anything new ,neural connections must be grown. This requires physical changes of the brain itself. To memorize this particular statement about Cal Am is likely to cause growth of new neurons in the amygdyla as well until there is a detectable change in its volume. The amygdyla is part of the brain associated with anger and with fear responses. Piss off or frustrate someone to the point of rage or despair over time and you measurably increase the size and activity of the amygdyla.

Having exercised your amygdyla until it resembles Mark McGuire’s biceps, try this for two weeks:

For ten seconds every hour, (for 80 seconds out of the 57,600 seconds of an average waking day), generate thoughts of loving kindness toward some being nearby, or even someone in your imagination.

Within two weeks, studies show, your amygdyla may be detectably diminished in size and activity. You might feel less anxious and judgmental. This malleability of the brain is called neuroplasticity.

Talk-Therapy, mind training and meditation can make amazing positive changes in the brain of a person suffering from depression via neuroplasticity.

Current conventional scientific opinion states that for depression of mild to moderate severity it is possible, almost always with the help of a mental health professional, to change your mind,(and thereby your brain), regarding the challenges in your life. You can develop new coping skills and ditch old outmoded ones. For those whose disease is in the high moderate to severe range, multiple studies have shown that combination therapy, (talk/insight+medication), is the optimal approach.

Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Listen Up!

1. Get to know the young adults in your life. It’s worth the time and effort.

2. Be familiar with the signs of adolescent depression.

3. Talk to your grandkids if they seem unhappy or isolated.

4. Tell the parents if you suspect a problem. Parents are often to enmeshed in the problem to see it clearly.

5. If the person’s parents won’t listen to you talk to their teacher, minister, friends, principal, and the kids themselves

6. If you suspect suicide, go quickly to # 4. If no time: call 911! (I’d rather undergo the discomfort of being seen as a busybody, than the grief of a funeral.)

Families can conquer depression together. Let’s move suicide out of the Top Ten in 2016!

For a Great Depression assessment tool designed for ages 11-25 go to Link to Columbia Depression Screen, teen and parent versions with interpretations of scores

And here is a list of Mental Health Services in Monterey County.

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Cal Am rate increases, all lined up as far as you can see

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Red 3d 40% text on white background. See whole set for other numbers.

Your Cal Am bill is going to be going up again. If you’re thinking 30 percent, you’re getting warm. Thirty-five? Warmer. Forty? Good guess

RATES UP FOR MOST BUT DOWN FOR COMMERCIAL USERS

When I received my most recent letter from Cal Am, I knew it wasn’t a late Christmas card. The first thing I noticed was the little blue box in the lower corner. “See inside for important information about your rates.”

Based on experience, I was pretty sure this was not signal of lower rates. I was right, but only half right.  More on that in a bit.

The mailing announced a Jan. 27 workshop on California American Water’s application to modify some of the conservation and rationing rules that affect most of the company’s customers in Monterey County, and to make some changes in the “rate design.”

On the last page I discovered that this means an increase in my water rates. As a somewhat typical water customer in a single-family home, I can expect to see my bill go up by about 40 percent. I should count myself lucky that I don’t live in an apartment because if I did, my bill would be going up about 43 percent.

Why is this happening? Didn’t Cal Am get a rate increase like 20 minutes ago?

I read the whole thing rather thoroughly and couldn’t find anything about improvements to the system or to service, fixing leaky pipes, or solving the water supply problem or saving fish in the Carmel River. None of that frivolous stuff. I didn’t see any talk about the rising cost of taking Public Utility Commissioners to dinner. As far as I can tell from the four-page letter, my bill is likely to go up because Cal Am wants to change the way it calculates bills, the way it applies conservation rates and how it does other things that have no impact on me other than increasing my bill.

Cal Am says, without explanation, that it wants to charge increase “the service charge to recover 30 percent of residential fixed costs, compared to a 15 percent recovery currently.”

Perhaps we should be relieved. What if Cal Am had picked 40 percent or 50 percent instead of 30 percent?

According to the letter, Cal Am also wants to charge me more by collecting money in the future that it should have collected from someone, who knows who, in the past. In other words, someone slipped up and failed to wring every dollar out of us at some point and the company thinks it should be able to remedy that. I have to presume that I was not the person or persons who should have paid more in the past because I am fairly certain that Cal Am has never missed an opportunity to get every possible nickel from me.

This is not a done deal, of course. It is part of an application before the Public Utilities Commission, which, if the past is a good predictor, will likely approve the requested increase and present Cal Am with an award for creativity and accounting prowess. This also is not a full reflection of what is likely to happen to your water bill in the near future. Cal Am rate increases are a lot like El Nino storms. Right behind this one, there’s another one taking shape.

But what of the lucky others whose rates aren’t going up? Those would be the Cal Am customers in the commercial category. They apparently aren’t being affected by most of the changed accounting procedures Cal Am wants to implement but they would be impacted by the effort to collect money that previously uncollected. On account of that, commercial ratepayers can expect to see their bills go down by about 9 percent.

If this is explained in any meaningful way in the letter, it is written in invisible ink.

It is difficult to see why commercial rates are to go down. Based on the information at hand, it could be that Cal Am thinks the uncollected money in past years should have been collected from residential customers and that commercial customers overpaid.

Or it could be that Cal Am just likes commercial customers than it likes the rest of us, or that it is more interested in keeping commercial customers happy.

You may recall that is was just a couple of years ago that Cal Am dramatically cut rates for commercial customers, or at least any commercial customers who were willing to sign a paper certifying that they really into conserving water whenever possible. They did that for various reasons, some of them sound. But I and a few other cynical types suspect that it was part of a deal. Something like this: Back us up on our desalination plans, the rate scheme for the San Clemente Dam removal and on other issues as needed, and we’ll lower your rates, and lower them again at the next opportunity.

Can I prove that? Heck no. In the byzantine world of utility accounting, it becomes ridiculously difficult to prove much of anything.

Now before someone gets all doesn’t-he-understand-that-what’s-good-for-business-is-good-for-everyone on me, I get it, I get it. What I don’t like is that decisions on such things are being made in places where I’m not normally invited and are being reached by people who don’t live anywhere near my neighborhood.

Which takes us to my final point. While there are some good Cal Am watchdogs already – people like George Riley and Ron Weitzman and Charles Cech as well as the fine people at the PUC’S Division of Ratepayer Advocates – I submit that they cannot possibly keep up with the all the rate storms lining up in the Pacific and heading our way.

Cal Am is regulated, and its rated set, by the state Public Utilities Commission, but that body in recent years has been preoccupied with keeping PG&E shareholders happy and overwhelmed by the need to monitor each public utility in this huge state.

Here’s what I think. We need someone in Monterey County, some highly credible person with great accounting skills, to take on the task of analyzing and reporting on all Cal Am rate increase requests and analyzing the company “rate design” and everything else it has or does that impacts our water rates.

Once upon a time, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District had some role in regulating Cal Am. That function has mostly gone away, but it seems entirely reasonable that the district hire someone to perform the function I propose.

Another possibility is the mayors’ water authority. Its primary function is to advance the Cal Am desalination project, the biggest storm of all, and to provide some level of public scrutiny over that venture. Seems to me it would be well equipped to take on the task.

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors could make it work as well if the members really wanted to, though the county wouldn’t be my first choice.

I see this person issuing public reports on Cal Am rate proposals and representing area residents at rate hearings before the PUC. A key function: educating Cal Am customers to the point that we could represent ourselves at rate hearings.

Some of the work would duplicate work already being done by the Division of Ratepayer Advocates. The difference is that the division is responsible for the entire state and must constantly change its focus. This person would have one mission – making whatever Cal Am is up to make sense.

There are those out there doing some of this work now. The George Rileys and Ron Weitzmans. But they cannot keep up with the volume it on their own, without someone able to devote full time to the effort. Rate applications consume hundreds of pages of fine print and tie into previously approved side deals, surcharges and recalculations. Only someone devoting full time to the challenge has any hope of ever understanding all of it.

Expensive? Kind of. What isn’t? an energized and effective person in this role could save Cal Am customers, including businesses and government bodies, more than enough to cover expenses, more than enough many times over.

Right now, Cal Am has us right where it wants us. Divided. Confused. Overwhelmed. The PUC has no motive to fix that and neither does anyone else. We need to create our own seat at the table.

About that workshop, it’s at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 27 at the Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave., Seaside. Presiding over the sessions will be an administrative law judge for the PUC. 

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