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Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Natural wonders aren’t yet in jeopardy as Delaware North claims trademark rights over Yosemite landmarks, but might there be a chance that this beauty eventually will become Buck and a Half Dome?

Encouraged by the best picture award for “Spotlight,” a movie about real-world investigative reporting, I thought this might be a good week to share what I find to be a highly interesting piece of investigative reporting trivia. It is also good timing because of this week’s forced renaming of some of our favorite Yosemite landmarks. Yes, there is a connection.

On a hot day in June 1976, Don Bolles started his Datsun in the parking lot of a Phoenix hotel only to have it explode. Bolles, 47, was an investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic and he had done as well as one man could at finding the links between organized crime, Arizona race tracks and corrupt public officials.

His last words, according to those who rushed to his aid, were “Telephone my wife. They finally got me. The Mafia. Emprise. Find John Adamson.”

Adamson, a petty thug, was tried and convicted for his part in arranging Bolles’ death but the murder was never directly tied to Emprise, which had been a focus of Bolles’ reporting largely because of its organized crime connections and its major role in the world of sport, both in Arizona and well beyond.

Forgive yourself if little of this rings a bell. It wasn’t long after Bolles’ death that Emprise changed its name to Delaware North. That should be more familiar because it’s the company that has claimed ownership of the names of various Yosemite landmarks, resulting in the loss of longstanding monikers such as the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village and Wawona Hotel as of today.

After losing the concession to run the money-making operations at Yosemite, such as the hotels and ice cream sales, Delaware North demanded the National Park Service fork over $51 million for the intellectual property attached to the place names, on the theory that it had marketed and enhanced the names during its 23-year management of the facilities. Unfortunately, there is some precedent because an earlier concessionaire long ago had been allowed to sell what should have been publicly owned trademarks.

The old signs come down Tuesday, though litigation could prevent the Ahwahnee from permanently becoming The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. There also is legislation that seeks to prevent something like this from happening again, before someone changes the name of the Big Sur Lodge to Just Another Lodge or something like that.

But prevention is not the point of this piece. The point is historical, an effort to make sure that when people consider the Yosemite naming controversy they also remember who is involved. This is not the case of some little company from Delaware trying to stand up to the big, bad National Park Service.

What today is known as Delaware North began as a partnership known as Jacobs Brothers and formed to operate theater concessions in Buffalo, N.Y. The operation quickly grew, however, with the three Jacobs brothers taking over concessions at baseball stadiums, first in New York, then in Cleveland and then just about everywhere baseball is played for money.

They moved into racetrack ownership and operations in the 1930s and into airport concessions in the 1940s.

The company became notorious in the 1970s when Sports Illustrated and congressional investigators linked it to a number of well known mobsters. In 1972 the company was convicted on federal racketeering charges for its role in a mob takeover of the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. It was still known as Emprise at that time.

Despite the tarnish, the company continued to grow, still under Jacobs family control, taking over ownership of the Boston Bruins NHL hockey franchise, Boston Garden and additional concession contracts nationwide as well as in England and Ireland.

When it won the concession at Yosemite in 1993, it was the largest national park concession in the nation. It later took over concessions at the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and continued to expand its holdings in horse and dog racing.

Despite the high profile dispute over the Yosemite names, Delaware North remains best known as the operator of concessions at major league ballparks nationwide and as the operator of slot machines in five states.

Though company officials seldom comment directly at times of controversy, the company does defend its name by offering statements such as this response to a critical piece in a Boston magazine:

Delaware North Companies is regarded as one of the most admired family owned companies in the world. This is reputation that they earned through integrity in business dealings for nearly 100 years. The company has operations on four continents and 55,000 employees and operates at locations ranging from Kennedy Space Center to national parks. Delaware North is a partner with more than fifty professional sports teams and the Jacobs family is highly regarded for their reputation in the sports and hospitality industry. The Jacobs family is also one of the most philanthropic families in the United States. In fact, last year they were named Philanthropist of the Year and Philanthropic Family of the Year. While I know it won’t sell as many magazines, that might have been a nice story to tell. But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story.
”

 So there you have it.

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I have not followed the medical marijuana saga very closely, mainly because I have felt for quite a while now that it is merely a stepping stone toward full legalization. Why get all wonky on the details? I guess I was forgetting that the intersection of money and government always merits attention.

The latest twist is, at the least, amusing. While the Monterey County Board of Supervisors are contemplating the rules for medical marijuana operations hereabouts, the supes the other day indicated they need more time to sort things out. At the moment, there is a temporary ordinance that bans the sales and cultivation of medicinal pot in unincorporated sections of the county. The supes are thinking about extending that ban for another year while the sorting of things continues.

aged and worn vintage photo of medical marijuana signBut, and here’s the fun part, but if someone had made substantial progress on establishing a cultivation operation before last July 7, when the temporary ban was enacted, the supervisors could be persuaded to let those operations move forward, ban or no ban.

In other words, entrepreneurs who know how to read tea leaves as well as marijuana leaves just might able to enjoy a sizable head start that just might render the extended ordinance academic.

A wise old cop once told me that if you wanted to understand how things work in your community, pay attention to the gambling. Figure out why some gambling operations prosper where others fail and you’ll gain some real insight into the power structure.   If my wise old cop friend were alive today, I think he might recommend paying attention to the new world of marijuana.

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Museum of Monterey scores big on the surrealism front

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Tapping deeply into the Peninsula’s art history and the art collection of a flamboyant Pebble Beach resident, the Museum of Monterey later this year will unveil a permanent Salvador Dali collection.

Officials of the Monterey History and Art Association, which operates the museum at Custom House Plaza near Fishermans Wharf, announced the agreement Tuesday involving more than 500 etchings, lithographs and sculptures produced by the Spanish surrealist.

The works are owned by Dmitry Piterman, a Ukrainian-American businessman best known for his ownership of Spanish soccer teams. His is said to be the second largest private Dali collection in the United States.

Speaking in front of a sample of the works, Piterman and museum officials said they hope to launch the exhibition within a couple of months but first need to spruce up the museum and possibly add space to accommodate the collection.

Association official Marc Del Piero said the collaboration was a natural in that Dali lived in the Monterey area in the 1930s and 1940s, spending much of the time at the old Del Monte Hotel, site of several celebrity-studded events hosted by the artist. He was a founding member of the Carmel Art Association and a judge of the group’s annual competition for area high school students.
Museum officials said many of the works to be featured here have never been seen outside Spain and Belgium. Del Piero and others said their expectation is that the exhibit here will become a significant tourist draw and breathe new life into the local museum.

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Art collector/entrepreneur Dmitry Piterman and Marc Del Piero announce local exhibition of the works of Salvador Dali

Despite considerable fame, even notoriety, in Europe, Piterman and his Dali at 17 Mile Drive partnership are relatively unknown here.

When he was contemplating a move into professional soccer in this country, the New York Times said Piterman had been born in Ukraine but moved the United States to attend Cal. He qualified for the Olympic trials in 1992 and 1996 as a triple jumper but failed to land a spot on the team.

The Times said Piterman saved the struggling Spanish soccer club Racing Santander by becoming president, coach, photographer and equipment manager but Spanish authorities upended the arrangement because he did hold a coaching license. He later sold his stake in the team and bought a controlling interest in another  Spanish team, Alaves.

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175158_600I have some advice for my Republican friends who avidly follow my occasional punditry. I know this because they invariably take time to colorfully express all the faults in my logic and their dismay that I remain alive and still have access to the powerful media organ that is the Monterey Bay Partisan.

Many of them may be feeling disoriented, if not downright depressed, by the apparent inevitability that Comandante Combover, El Trump, will be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee this fall.

This is a whopping surprise for many of the GOP faithful, who entered the 2016 election season many years ago confident in the boast that the Republican Party would have the deepest bench of highly qualified candidates ever to put before voters this year.

And every one of them — except Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — have fallen by the wayside, reduced to mere road kill by the mighty Trumpzilla. Even this week, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said it may not be his “purpose” to be president after his plucky effort to revive the notion of compassionate conservative was rewarded with shrinking single digits.

Remember Govs. Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal, fresh faces of a new GOP generation who turned Wisconsin and Louisiana into living proof of the efficacy of conservative governance.

Gov. Chris Christie, the man who made “Sit down and shut up” the state motto of New Jersey, wonderfully bullied Rubio, but even he couldn’t dim the blazing ball of anger that Trump has used to incinerate his rivals.

It’s obvious that Cruz and Rubio waited too long to try to stop Trump’s escalator ride to the nomination. They just don’t have the gumption to go toe-to-toe with the Insulter in Chief. All of God’s plans for them don’t include a White House residency.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has a big problem, too. Senate Republicans are vowing not only to block any presidential nominee to the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Scalia’s death, but to cover their eyes and ears and to scream so loudly they don’t notice whom the president chooses.

There is an easy way out of this pickle. The president just has to nominate Trump to the high court. The Republican-controlled Senate would confirm the real estate billionaire in a heartbeat to clear the field for establishment darling Rubio to take the nomination.

I believe Trump would jump at the chance to sit on the Supreme Court. It’s a lifetime gig with shorter work hours than being president. Clerks do most of the research and writing. And the man lives for oral argument.

The only lasting mark a showman like Trump would bring to the court would be to finally bring television cameras into chambers as the court hears cases. He lives for the camera.

Wait a minute, you say, why would the president, who Trump maintains is very possibly a Kenyan-born imposter, nominate Trump to the key swing position on court?

Trump’s fondness for all the latest poll numbers would tilt the divided court back toward the moderate middle. After all, most Americans, according to polls, support reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, campaign-finance reform, clean air, climate-change efforts and limits on gun rights. Trump craves adoration. He clearly would get huge numbers by crafting legal decisions as the polls dictate.

Trump’s presence on the court may even get a rise out of Justice Clarence Thomas, who this month marked his 10th year of silence during court hearings. It is impossible to remain silent when Trump enters the room. In a year, it could be illegal.

So Republicans, let Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell know the nation needs a new Supreme Court justice and the nation really doesn’t need President Trump.

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Little happy cute boy catching sun in skyIt’s official. Those surveys about the best this or the worst that are nonsense. The final piece of evidence, the nail in the coffin, the dramatic confession, the incontrovertible evidence was the news today that Salinas is the second “healthiest and happiest city” in the United States.

Last week a heating company with the aid of a social scientist declared Salinas the third “coziest” city in the land. Perhaps, my daughter suggested, they were thinking about the crowded housing, especially in East Salinas, where a legitimate study years ago calculated the population density as comparable to Manhattan’s.

Now comes the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being: 2015 Community Rankings list released on Tuesday. It purportedly measures how residents of 190 U.S. cities feel about their physical health, social ties, financial security, community and sense of purpose.

 In first place, Naples, Fla., followed by Salinas, North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Barnstable Town, Mass.

In sixth place is Santa Cruz/Watsonville and in 10th place San Luis Obispo.

Based a national telephone survey, residents in these places are said to have the lowest levels of stress in the country, report little depression and eat healthy on a daily basis, the report found. Many of them like their daily activities and enjoy a sense of purpose.

Salinas ranked extremely high in the categories of purpose and physical, meaning the residents have a strong sense of purpose and feel they have the health and energy to pursue it.

So why can’t I just be happy for Salinas and let it go? Some will ask me “Don’t you like Salinas?” and my answer will be, “Of course I do.” I find it to be a fascinating and frustrating place with lots of strengths and interesting challenges.

Here’s why I can’t just let it go. The survey bothered me mostly because one must read the fine print to learn that when they’re talking about Salinas, they’re really talking about the Salinas Metropolitan Statistical Area, a Census Bureau designation that actually means Monterey County.

As the biggest city in the county, Salinas gets its name on the SMSA, which is fine for Census purposes but not for understanding results.  To portray the city of Salinas as one of the happiest and coziest places in the nation ignores the realities of gang violence, crowded housing and cultural segregation. Mix in Carmel and P.G. and Monterey and Del Rey Oaks and a very different picture emerges of Salinas, the Metropolitan Statistical Area, as opposed to Salinas, the city. Taken that way, the findings may be close to accurate.

Certainly Salinas is filled with purposeful and healthy people but way more than the average city? It would be nice to believe that, but the latest effort does not convince me.

The Salinas Police Department’s PR man put out a news release late in the day trumpeting the survey’s results and overlooking the reality that it isn’t really about Salinas.

Why do they do these surveys? For publicity, of course, and I have fallen into the trap. Newspapers and TV stations and pretentious little blogs all around the country are breathlessly reporting on the findings today, even the news outlets in the bottom-dwelling cities, the Toledos and the Newarks. Who is Healthways? They manage health plans for somesuch. I got bored with the web site before I could figure out exactly what they’re selling.

There was another ranking put out Tuesday, by Forbes magazine, which rated Sacramento the most miserable place in the United States. That’s a judgment call, I guess, but here’s my question for the Forbes people. Also ranked really high on the miserableness scale were Stockton, Modesto and Bakersfield, some of the garden spots of the San Joaquin Valley, but Fresno didn’t make it into that tier of the rankings. Maybe that could be Fresno’s new slogan: “We’ve always been better than Bakersfield but now we’re better than Sacramento, too.”

Bottom line. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And don’t take anything at face value, with the possible exception of what you see here.

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best-of-2016-300x300-finalsThere’s still time to cast your votes in the Weekly’s Best of Monterey County contest, which means you still can make the Partisan the official best local blog and that’s only partly because you can’t think of another local blog.

The deadline is end of day Feb. 24, which means you haven’t yet carried out your “I’ll try to get to it later, maybe Sunday” thing quite yet, but nice try.

What’s the point? For us, it is, of course, a stab at gathering some free publicity and look what free publicity has done for Donald Trump. Then again, maybe don’t look.

When you do click, plan on spending some time. The Weekly has included a gazillion categories, including Least Irritating Weather Personality on Local TV and Best Restaurant Restroom at Marina Dunes.

To make this something more than a pathetic cry for attention, we will try to add some value here and suggest some categories for next year that the Weekly apparently hasn’t thought of.

Best Reason for a Cal Am Rate Increase:

  • They’re not making water anymore.
  • If we don’t charge you more, we’ll have to charge the orphans more.
  • The cities and counties eliminated the limits on campaign contributions

Best Local Choice to be Donald Trump’s running mate

  • Howard Gustafson
  • Jerry Edelent
  • Paul Bruno

Biggest Eyesore

  • The red fence along Highway 68

Best Dog on Harper Canyon Road

  • Harper
  • Zorro
  • Charlie the Truth and Justice Dog

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Capt. Hipolyte Bouchard

Pirates are fascinating subjects for movies, books, kids and for everyone who enjoys a splash of history with barrels of rum and outlaw sailors falling upon Spanish galleons laden with tons of gold and jewels.

There’s even a “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” observed in mid-September, when it’s socially acceptable to caper about with an imaginary parrot on your shoulder while punctuating every sentence with a lusty “Arrrgh.”

A warning shot across the bow to the people of Monterey. A big birthday for one special pirate — or corsair, which is a what you call a pirate who has a crack PR team — is coming in two years.

The city has designated November 2018 as the bicentennial of the Battle of Monterey led by Capt. Hipolyte Bouchard, the French-born commander of two pirate ships whose crews fell upon Monterey 202 years ago and gave it a good whacking in the name of Argentinian independence.

Unsurprisingly for Monterey, a city steeped in early California history, the six-day, November 1818 ransacking of the Spanish capital of Alta California represented a whole bunch of historic firsts.

— The one-sided battle, in which Capt. Bouchard exercised his standing commission to harass and vex imperial Spain anywhere in the name of “libertad,” stands as the only land-sea battle ever fought on the Pacific coast of today’s continental United States.

— The pirate raid, which set Spanish soldiers, families and padres fleeing inland to the Carmel and Salinas valleys, was the first classic pirate raid in California (to be distinguished from this century’s relatively drab software and financial industry pirates.)

After leaving Monterey, Bouchard’s buccaneers went south and stirred up more vexations for Spaniards in Santa Barbara and San Juan Capistrano before heading home to South America to complete a ’round-the-world, two-year tour of piracy.

— While In Monterey, Bouchard’s privateers raised the flag of independent Argentina for the first time — and perhaps only time — over the Spanish capital city. In Argentina, Bouchard is remembered as a national hero and not some free-booting pirate without a cause.

No one was killed during the Battle of Monterey, and local Americans’ property was spared the pirates’ sacking, burning and plunder of all stuff belonging to the Spanish crown.

To prepare for the two-year pirate party, which Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson has decreed starts this November, check out the Wikipedia bio on Bouchard  or this Monterey County Historical Society account of the 1818 battle.

Some Monterey residents already have a big head-start, judging from a Feb. 22 report to the city’s museum commission. The report says Commissioner Mike Sovereign outlined the bicentennial preparations while wearing pirate headgear and vocalizing “several well-placed Arrrghs.”

There likely are many more Arrrghs ahead. Time to teach parrots to squawk like a pirate in French, Spanish and English. Or just practice making fancy rum drinks with little pirate flags instead of little umbrellas.

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share red glossy circle modern web icon on white backgroundAbove these words is a little row of colorful boxes. There’s blue, darker blue, grey, grey and orange. For now, let’s just worry about the blue ones.

If you are one of the 12 gazillion Facebook users in this country, you can share this article, or other Partisan articles, simply by clicking on the second blue button. If you are a Twitterer, and who isn’t, you can share the piece with all your followers simply by clicking on the first blue button.

You also can share the Partisan’s Facebook post right there on Facebook. You can and you should if you care about saving the world and that sort of thing.

Here’s what’s in it for you. Your Uncle Harry in Cedar Rapids might be annoyed but you will be doing yourself and your local friends a favor because now you’ll have something to talk about while waiting for your Zoomba class or tasting wine in the valley or shopping for home decor at Last Chance Mercantile.

Y0u may have noticed that the daily newspapers continue to lose weight, that the Weekly has picked up only some of the slack and that the local TV stations seem to cover only the stories you already know about. So what do you have to talk about at the Sports Center or Goodwill? How long does it take to agree that Ted Cruz is icky? Sure, you could talk about Bernie v. Hillary, but that’s dangerous ground. Better to talk about the latest Partisan scoop by Royal Calkins or the latest essays from Larry Parsons or Joe Livernois, veteran Monterey County journalists with great insight.

If you read the Partisan, and your friends do, too, you’ll be able to have deep conversations about the insidious nature of Cal Am’s accounting practices, about the sheriff’s latest attempt to mask his shortcomings by wearing larger and larger hats, about the ag industry’s plan to hypnotize the community to forget Jane Parker’s name. If you don’t share these stories, you’ll be the only one at your book club who knows whether Dave Potter plans to plant spies in the Mary Adams camp.

What’s in it for us if you hit those buttons and share the wealth? Fame, power and prestige, mostly, but it also could provide just enough advertising income to fix the printer and even someday, dream of dreams, be able to pay beyond a pittance for content.

The Partisan does have a few supporters who sometimes click on the Pay Pal button to the right to send us some other their hard-earned trust fund money, and there are a couple of wonderful folks who send checks now and then (84 Harper Canyon, Salinas, 93908, in case you’ve forgotten.) But we’re ambitious, greedy even, and we want more attention because we feel that we can be of greater service when more people know about us.

So warm up those clicking fingers. Click on this one today and, if  only for practice, go back to earlier stories and click there too if you see anything you like. You’ll be glad you did and we’ll be even gladder.

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Drowning PiggyIt was mostly California American Water’s own fault that it failed to scoop up every dollar it was entitled to collect from Monterey Peninsula customers in recent drought years, according to state consumer protection officials who also found that some customers contributed somewhat to the under-collection by overstating the number of people in their homes.

Under Cal Am’s current rate structure, the per-gallon price of water declines as the number of people in a household increases. For water billing purposes, a state watchdog agency calculated that the number of residents claimed by Peninsula customers is some 15,000 greater than the actual population. The Office of Ratepayer Advocates, an arm of the California Public Utilities Commission, concluded that Cal Am could have and should have spotted the inflated numbers but cannot even reconstruct its own numbers from as recently as 2013.

The Office of Ratepayer Advocates recommends that Cal Am be allowed roughly half the rate increase it is currently seeking but only if it makes several procedural changes and equalizes rates between residential and non-residential customers on the Peninsula.

Cal Am’s  rate application is a complicated affair, seeking several modifications to the way rates are calculated, but the heart of the application is Cal Am’s hope to raise rates about 43 percent for residential customers to make up for some $44.2 million that the company was entitled to but missed out on because of conservation measures. (The company has said publicly that the figure was $40.6 million but state officials say their calculations put the figure at $44.2 million.)

One customer was billed on the basis of having 999 full-time residents in the home while another was recorded as having 900 residents.

Cal Am and water agencies throughout the state are arguing that they have unfairly watched their revenue decline as water use declined. The natural response from customers, of course, is that they should not have to pay for water they didn’t use.

In a deeply detailed report completed this week, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates recommends that Cal Am absorb $17.4 million of the requested $40.6 million “as this portion of the current balance is reasonably attributable to lack of adequate management oversight” over the company’s water allotment system.

Cal Am proposes to collect the $40.6 million over the next 20 years, at 8.4 percent interest. The Office of Ratepayer Advocates recommends instead that Cal Am collect $23 million of that over the next five years with no interest.

Allowing Cal Am to stretch the collections out over 20 years at the stated interest rate would require Monterey district customers to pay roughly $91.3 million in total surcharges, including $47.2 million in interest alone, ORA calculated.

If Cal Am’s request is granted, the Public Utilities Commission would be allowing it to charge interest on an amount that already  includes the company’s guaranteed rate of return. In other words, the company would be calculating the total amount of uncollected revenue, adding its profit margin to that number and adding 8.4 percent interest on top of that, creating a double recovery.

Cal Am may have created the impression that the uncollected revenue is a debt that must be paid back. ORA says that there’s no truth to that — it is simply money over and above the amount of revenue that Cal Am collected during a period of healthy profit-taking.

The ORA report also focuses on discrepancies in Cal Am’s rate structures for residential and non-residential customers. While Cal Am was angling for the business community’s support for its desalination project, it created a rate structure that provides discounts for businesses that claim to be following sound conservation practices, a structure that does not include the type of tiered pricing that punishes residential customers who use large amounts of water.

ORA found that the disparity between residential and non-residential rates is slight at the moment but will grow rapidly when Cal Am starts collecting millions in uncollected revenue from residential customers. For 2014, ORA calculated that residential customers used 65.3 percent of the available water and provided 66.2 percent of Cal Am’s local revenue.

To help cure the looming disparity, ORA proposes to shift about 8 percent of the residential customers’ current burden, about $3 million annually, to Cal Am’s commercial customers.

ORA faulted Cal Am for not maintaining accurate records of household sizes, an important consideration because under the company’s longstanding approach to setting rates, larger households have paid less per gallon of water.

The watchdog agency used a simple approach, comparing Cal Am’s records to census data. The numbers didn’t come close. In 2014, for instance, Cal Am’s records indicated there were 115,148 full-time residents in the core of its Monterey district while the census put the number at 99,396.

(The ORA report mentioned in passing that Cal Am can’t find population data from before 2014 because of a change in its record-keeping system.)

Some of the improperly rewarded discounts are likely to have contributed to the uncollected income that Cal Am seeks to recover in the future, ORA reported.

In some cases, Cal Am calculated the fee structure for homes based on wildly inaccurate numbers. One customer was billed on the basis of having 999 full-time residents in the home while another was recorded as having 900 residents. In four other cases, Cal Am apparently took the homeowners’ words for it and set prices as though more than 50 people lived at each residence. From the report, it appears that those discrepancies were discovered by ORA. ORA also reported that an unusual number of customers reported that their lots had grown significantly, apparently in another effort to receive discounted rates.

“ORA agrees with Cal Am that the current rate design is overly complex, susceptible to abuse and can present challenges for the stable collection of authorized revenues,” the report sayd. The agency said it therefore supports a system with standardized block rates and one that strongly rewards conservation while promoting revenue stability.

Previous Partisan pieces on the rate hike:

Cal Am’s Monterey Peninsula rate hike is so outrageous that even KSBW opposes it

UPDATED: Some of the numbers elude Cal Am officials at PUC hearing on rate increase

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A piggy bank with the retirement fund theme on the sideUPDATED WITH INFO ON NEW UNDERSHERIFF

When Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal hired his friend Galen Bohner as his undersheriff a year ago, he said he knew he was the right guy because of his long resume’ and some intangibles.

“I know I can trust and count on him to get the job done — and he’ll be honest with me,” Bernal said at the time. He was so taken with Bohner that he persuaded the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to re-establish the long-vacant undersheriff position to accommodate the hire and to allow him to bring Bohner in at the top of the scale, some $208,000 in annual salary, plus benefits.

Never mind that Bohner was nearing retirement age for law enforcement officials in California, 50, or that as a lieutenant in his previous job with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department he was skipping over several links on the chain of command.

How did it work out? OK for as long as it lasted. Bohner’s gone now, retired after less than a year in Monterey County. His retirement was announced last month along with the second retirement of Chief Deputy Tracy Brown. Brown had retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2011 but was named to the department’s No. 3 spot shortly after  Bernal’s upset election of incumbent Scott Miller.

Though Bohner’s replacement, Michael Moore, won’t be retirement eligible until 2020, it appears that some key positions  in the Sheriff’s Department may have become essentially temporary jobs to be filled by those wishing to boost their pensions. It is a common practice in California and it’s known as pension spiking. Significant pay raises in the employee’s final three years of work can dramatically increase pension benefits and so can allowing the employee to receive credit for unused vacation or sick leave. The state Controller’s Office calculated in 2014 that the practice could cost state taxpayers just under $800 million over the next 20 years. Efforts to reform the system to prevent spiking have been underway for several years but most reform measures are being applied only to public employees just joining the work force.

Under San Bernardino County’s salary schedule, the most Bohner could have been making as a lieutenant was $127,000.  A spokesman for CalPERS,  the state retirement system, said his actual retirement benefit has not been calculated yet but he estimated that by retiring as undersheriff rather than lieutenant, Bohner would likely receive at least an additional $20,000-$30,000  in retirement pay annually.

Attempts to reach Bohner for comment have been unsuccessful and both Brown and Bernal have failed to respond to requests for comment.

The Partisan’s question for Bernal was, and is, whether he plans to do anything in the future to ensure that top positions in his administration will not be used as pension-spiking tools. Will he ask his appointees to formally or informally agree to remain on board for two years, three years or more?

We did not ask but perhaps should have how he feels about what he said a year ago: “I know I can trust and count on him to get the job done.”

Bohner and Bernal didn’t invent pension spiking, of course. It is a common problem throughout the state, especially in law enforcement ranks, where employees are able to retire at age 50 and receive 3 percent of their final salary for each year employed. Someone making $200,000 after 25 years service, for instance, would receive an annual pension of $150,000. You may have noticed how many California cities seem to be hiring new fire chiefs every year or so. That’s all about pension spiking.

In my email to Bernal seeking comment, I mentioned an old friend of mine, a high-ranking official in the sheriff’s department in another California county. Under California’s retirement system, he could have retired at more than 90 percent of his salary 20 years ago, but he’s still working. He once explained that he had worked hard and long to get to the position he is in, one that enables him to help protect the public, and he couldn’t imagine leaving for financial reasons. I wanted to know if Bernal might want to look for more people like that.

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firefighters with the fire extinguisher during a practice session at Fire StationI had just gotten off Highway 101 at John Street in Salinas about 3 p.m. Saturday when the afternoon wind carried a blast of super-heated air and the pungent smell of fresh smoke through my driver-side window.

That’s a building burning, I immediately thought, but I didn’t see any smoke rising.

By the time I got to the traffic light at Pajaro Street, a big fire truck with blaring siren and booming horn had stopped traffic to clear its path to Main Street. Then I saw smoke rising over the modest skyline of downtown Salinas — lots of churning, black smoke.

Old reportorial instincts almost made me follow the fire truck because I knew one of the older downtown buildings was on fire, and I could tell it was a big one.

But I was tired, having spent much of the previous 24 hours with relatives and friends of my late sister who’d gathered in Clovis for a memorial service. Besides, I thought, I’m no reporter anymore. I would just be another sidewalk gawker behind the barricades. I silently hoped that no one got hurt and turned away from the billowing smoke toward home.

Today, I learned firefighters have remained at the scene of the fire-gutted Bruhn Building at Main and Alisal streets for two days to keep an eye out for smoldering debris.

I’ve read news stories in which longtime Salinas residents recalled shopping at the store that was the anchor of a small chain of stores operated for years by clothier Dick Bruhn. They rented tuxes for proms, picked up holiday gifts for mom and dad. Police and firefighters bought their uniforms up on the second floor. Then the longtime fixture in the city center closed in 2007 as the shrunken Bruhn group of stores went into bankruptcy. The big brick building, shuttered and empty, became a different kind a landmark at the north end of Main Street’s 300 block.

For more than 20 years, I bought some of my clothes at “Dick Bruhn, A Man’s Store,” and probably a few gifts at the M’Lady Bruhn women’s wear section of the big store. As soon as you walked in, one or two dapper-dressed salesmen moved quickly to intercept your steps.

I didn’t have to walk up the stairs to the police and fire uniform shop, but I did my shopping at Bruhn’s — which offered a fairly staid selection of good-quality menswear — for a different kind of uniform.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, the dress rules for male reporters still called for sport coats, decent slacks and a fashionable tie or two. I probably bought three or four sport coats, several expensive pairs of slacks and some understated ties at Bruhn’s over the years, whenever my work uniform needed augmentation. I took a couple tweedy sport coats to the store for patches when the elbows gave out.

My biggest purchase — which will sound silly to any serious clothes horse — occurred the day I finally went to Bruhn’s to buy my first and, as it turned out, only tailored blazer. I think I’d read somewhere that any well-dressed man owned a classic blazer or two.

The red and green ones, naturally, were out. Bruhn’s also had tan and pink ones, but come on!

The earnest salesman alternately held up both a black and dark blue blazer until I finally made the conservative choice — the blue one. The tailor came over, took my measurements, and I picked up my classic blue blazer a few days later.

Aside from sporting its shiny brass buttons at the occasional wedding or semi-formal gathering, I used my blazer as a different reporting uniform option. It felt more appropriate to wear than a frazzled old sports coat with elbow patches when covering speakers at the Carmel Republican Women’s Club or a reception for some dignitary at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Somehow I wore it out over the years. One of the brass buttons fell off and got lost. The blue cloth wore down until it shone in especially thin spots.

I put the old blazer in a bag bound for Goodwill several years ago, about the same time big-box clothing stores wore out out the patrician charm of stores like Bruhn’s, which had helped dress generations of Salinas men in old-line uniforms.

It’s been years since male reporters were expected to wear coats and ties on the job. That’s good. It’s probably been years since most of them got a raise in pay to afford those kinds of clothes. Or enough extra dough, say, to decide on a whim one day to go to a store like the old Bruhn’s and buy a classic blue blazer.

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What’s cozier than Carmel and closer than you think?

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Here’s the photo Country Living used to illustrate the third coziest place in the U.S.

Do you put much faith into those lists that keep popping up on social media – best private colleges, most easily trained dog, top hamburger in each state in the union?

If so, you should be pleased to know that there is a good chance you live near one of the “Coziest Towns in America,” as selected by Honeywell Heaters with the help of environmental scientist Ted Myatt.

In the No. 1 spot this year, Asheville, N.C.

In second place, slipping slightly from its 2015 ranking, Boston.

And number 3? Wait for it  ….. Salinas.

Country Living magazine, which publishes the list each year, explains that the ratings are based primarily on the number of restaurants, coffee shops, museums, florists, museums and B&Bs.

A count of those establishments put Salinas ahead of:

  1. Portland, Oregon
  2. Portland, Maine
  3. Santa Rosa
  4. Providence
  5. Spokane
  6. Provo
  7. Chattanooga

Writes Country Living: “2016 is the first time this charming California town has made its appearance on Honeywell’s list, but its mild climate, as well as its abundance of bakeries and specialty stores could make it a mainstay.”

If you’re expecting me to quibble with any of that, you’re in for another surprise. I’m not about to argue with a ranking that shines a positive light on one of my favorite places in the northern Salinas Valley. Instead, I’m going to try to beat the rush and book a nice B&B room with a view for Rodeo Week. See you there.

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best-of-2016-300x300-finalsI always used to harrumph at the Weekly’s Best of Monterey County contest because I harrumph at many things. But my attitude was quickly adjusted when I learned the Partisan is a finalist in the best local blog category.

Since I immediately voted, I apparently am not able to revisit the Weekly’s online ballot to confirm the identities of the other finalists, but I recall some:

I considered voting for Cal Am’s desalination blog but I checked and there have been no updates since 2013.

The graphics are good on the Monterey Downs blog but I have to wonder why there are all those pictures of Supervisor Dave Potter being wined and dined by race horse owners in Ireland. I doubt they’re supposed to be there. (UPDATE: As of Thursday, Feb. 11, the Monterey Downs website appears to be defunct,)

I’m not sure you could consider the Salinas Police Department’s website a blog, but it might be a contender if not for all the repetition. The description of each homicide case is just like the last — young guy walking down the street is gunned down for unknown by another guy in a black hoodie.

The Carmel Pine Cone’s editor and publisher has been putting out his blog of sorts for quite a while now but it’s like the Cal Am blog in that it hasn’t had anything new since 2013. Coincidence? You decide. I enjoyed one of the more recent entries: “We’re the only publication that cares about Carmel but seeing as how we’re based in P.G., I guess maybe we don’t care all that much either.”

So I guess that leaves the Partisan, your portal to many things you’d really rather not know about local politics and governance.

You can vote by clicking on the link above, or this one right here, but, no, your work will not be done at that point. You still have to sign into the contest site, but won’t it be worth it when  you’re sitting at your favorite coffee shop and someone reading the results asks, “What in the hell is the Monterey Bay Partisan?” As you’re ordering another low-fat latte, you’ll be able to smile that knowing smile and for once be the one with all the answers.

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Close up of a laughing clown at the fairgroundSuper Bowl 50 was boring. The commercials were so-so, the halftime music OK, though I didn’t catch all the words to Beyoncé’s new political song. Consequently all the yammer about a Beyoncé backlash is over my head. I’m happy about that. But not as happy as I am about the freaking circus the 2016 presidential race is turning out to be.

I admit there have been nervous moments when I’ve considered exploring how difficult it would be to emigrate to Australia, Canada or New Zealand should any number of the candidates somehow win enough Electoral College votes to be our next president.

This gloom passes quickly. I realize the loony primary contests being waged by both parties are simply the latest iterations of what’s always a messy, cantankerous and thoroughly democratic slog through a farrago of lies, vainglory and snake oil toward the final November winnowing.

The nation has survived 44 presidents, and we will survive the 45th.

That said, I can’t help but sympathize with many of my fellow citizens who seem scared out of their wits by what passes for presidential decorum in the second decade of the 21st century. The low level of intellect and inspiration in much of the cheap patter in the primary races and debates is chilling.

Sorry, Democrats, it’s not just the off-the-cuff rantings of Donald Trump or glitches in Marco Rubio’s memory card that is dragging down the ideas and visions offered by the candidates. Hillary Clinton’s “artful smear” brigade and Bernie Sanders’ incessant call for revolution — as if a majority of Americans are ready to take to the barricades over campaign finance reform — has the party of grown-ups bickering like a vast left-wing conspiracy against a cabal of warmongering neo-liberals.

The delightful infighting, after the snow settled in New Hampshire, will go on for many more weeks. Most likely without Chris Christie, soon to be forgotten as the Jersey Boy who froze Rubio’s brain. That’s the only clarity achieved in this week’s primary. On to the very different states of Nevada and South Carolina on Feb. 20. There’s plenty of drama to come.

— Who will be the last Republican establishment candidate  — Jeb Bush or John Kasich — left standing to be insulted as a weakling and walked over by Trump?

— Who will be the last Cuban-American authentic conservative — Ted Cruz or Rubio — left standing to be insulted as a weakling and walked over by Trump?

— What will be the next vulgarity Trump employs on the stump, having already freed shit, fuck and pussy from the shackles of political correctness? Who, in the self-proclaimed party of family values and biblical rectitude, will give a shit?

—  Will Michael Bloomberg run as an independent and restore the field to its rightful level of having two Manhattan billionaires?

— Will Sanders, millennial heartthrob, go on making history and become the first Jew to win multiple presidential primaries? Will his average campaign contribution rise from $27 to real money like $28?

— Will Clinton, the woman who would be president, suffer the indignity of having that last glass ceiling be made impregnable again by a change candidate from her party’s left wing?

The answers to these and many more questions will play out over the next few months in a spirited presidential contest that is proving America has never stopped being great.

And while he’s promising the moon, stars, great walls, mass deportations, guillotines and so much winning we’ll grow weary of ceaseless victory, maybe Trump can promise to make Super Bowls great again. Could help him in North Carolina.

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Dale Hekhuis: 1925-2016

DaleHekhuis-400x268Dale Hekhuis of Carmel, an early chairman of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board, died Monday at age 90.

Mr. Hekhuis was an avid nature photographer and an activist in local water issues, writing often on the subject for the Herald and the Partisan. He advocated for public ownership of the Peninsula water system, taking a professional approach that was long on research and short on contentiousness.

On his photography web site, he wrote, “I’d walk ten miles for a good wildflower image. Places like Glacier National Park, the Tasmanian Wilderness, the Sydney Botanical Garden, the Berkeley Botanical Garden, Point Lobos, Figueroa Mtn. (near Santa Barbara) and the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, are where I like to be.”

He graduated from high school in 1943 and immediately enlisted in the Marines, which put him through a college training program at Cornell. After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, a master’s from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate from Carnegie Tech, where he was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. He was sent to Georgetown University to study the Russian language. One of his daily duties while serving in the agency’s Russia bureau was to digest each edition of the Russian newspaper Pravda.

Mr. Hekhuis later worked for the World Bank in New Delhi, India, where he was involved in financing railroads. He next worked for General Electric, where he rose to a vice presidency. He had lived in Carmel for 30 years.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Janet. He is survived by three sons, Stephen and Peter of Carmel and David of Santa Barbara, and four grandchildren.

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