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I have a question for the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board and/or its staff or any of the many members of various FORA boards. Why did the agendas for two meetings coming up this week get sent out to the board, and the public, at midnight Friday?

The first agenda was for the administrative committee meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. That means that people who receive their agendas by email at the office likely won’t see it until Monday and that the many who are taking Monday off won’t see it until about the time the meeting starts.

The second agenda, sent out a minute later, 12:01 a.m. Saturday. It’s for the executive committee meeting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Technically, it’s legit. They met the 72-hour rule. But the spirit of the law was broken like last year’s resolutions. When the 72 hours happens to be a holiday weekend, you could hardly blame even a diligent member of the committee to miss the notice. And the public? It’s possible that some random members of the public might stumble upon the agendas for these meetings but some things simply can’t be avoided, right?

I sent an email to the FORA staff asking about the timing but haven’t heard back yet. If someone finds out before I do, please let us know.

Cheers.

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Abel Maldonado

Abel Maldonado’s like that piece of gum you just can’t get off your shoe no matter what you do. It seems like he was just running for governor or stepping down from something and here he is again, under consideration to be U.S. secretary of agriculture.

He was interviewed by Donald Trump on Wednesday and is said to be among the front-runners. And to that, we say good for him. All things considered, there are worse possibilities. In fact, if not for some of his associations among the GOP establishment in Monterey County, we could almost see our way to seconding the notion. He does have a farming background and, unlike a number of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks, there is no reason to think he would be out to destroy the agency or its subject, in this case agriculture. He would not be Trump’s worst pick.

It’s not that the Partisan has become a Maldonado fan. We’ve always considered him to be an opportunist, always looking for his next office without stopping to accomplish anything along the way. Partly on the strength of being a rare Republican Latino, he’s been a city councilman, a state senator, even a lieutenant governor. He’s in no position to say government is all bad even though he doesn’t have a lot to show for his efforts. He has crossed party lines on occasion, which is a good thing, but he acts as though that makes him a hero. Our standards are higher.

But he does have that farming background. His family grows a variety of crops near Santa Maria and, while he doesn’t have many calluses to show for it, he apparently has done actual work on the farm.

Our biggest problem with Maldonado are the kinds of campaigns he runs and the kind of people he has had running them.

Regular readers of the Partisan might remember that we have written about Brandon Gesicki and Paul Bruno in the past, not always favorably. They have played key roles in Maldonado campaigns and they haven’t always played fair.

Brandon Gesicki

It was Bruno a decade or so ago who posed as a Green Party official to approach a party member and encourage him to enter a state Senate race featuring Maldonado and Democratic candidate Peg Pinard. The idea was to draw votes away from Pinard. It was alleged that Bruno offered help with filing fees or somesuch but he denied it. He denies everything.

Bruno has been the Monterey County GOP secretary and spokesman, budget chairman for the state GOP, and Maldonado’s treasurer. Whenever the state finds problems with the accounting under his watch,  he invariably blames clerical errors.

Paul Bruno being told, no thanks, we’ll handle the protesters without you and your chains

Our  Maldonado campaign trick was the work of Gesicki. While his buddy Maldonado was running for Congress as a Republican, Gesicki advised him to run as a Democrat as well in order to help prevent a Democrat from making it onto the general election ballot. It was kind of a smart move, but Gesicki’s explanation wasn’t smart. In fact, it presumed that the rest of us are stupid. He insisted that Maldonado had put his name on the Democratic ballot only because his mother, a Democrat, had never been able to vote for her boy in a primary election. General elections, sure, she got to vote for him then, but apparently there is just something about a primary election to get that maternal pride flowing.

Gesicki is probably best known locally for running Steve Bernal’s successful campaign for sheriff. It was a typical Gesicki campaign in that it featured all sorts of dirty tricks and distortions. It was atypical in that his candidate won.

During that campaign, Gesicki told one important endorsing organization that Bernal’s opponent, then-Sheriff Scott Miller, was about to be charged with a crime and that the group would look bad if it had endorsed him. It was pure fiction but it worked.

Maldonado isn’t a lock for the job but he does have something else going him besides the muddy boots. When he became California’s lieutenant governor, it was at the invitation of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, as everyone knows by now, will be Trump’s stand-in on Celebrity Apprentice while Trump is learning the ropes of the precedency.

Bruno, meanwhile, when he isn’t busy watching the GOP’s ranks dwindle in Monterey County and the rest of California, runs Monterey Peninsula Engineering, which is making a fortune putting in pipelines for Cal Am.

He spends a lot of time on Facebook, posting pictures of Hillary Clinton in a jail jumpsuit and President Obama running from elephants. There are sore losers and then there are sore winners. Yes, he’s the guy the CHP stopped from going out onto Highway 1 with chains and a plan to drag protesters away.

Bruno once told the Monterey County Weekly that government “should act more like the mafia.” Maybe Maldonado will need an assistant and he can show us what he means.

This story initially reported that Bruno had been treasurer of the Monterey County GOP and the state GOP. It has been updated to contain the correct titles.

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A few decades ago while I worked for the Fresno newspaper, columnist Eli Setencich began writing an extremely localized and hokey version of The Night Before Christmas that featured the names of notable Fresnans. After never once making his list and moving, as a result, to the Central Coast, I stole the idea, first for the Monterey Herald and then for the Partisan. If you are so inclined, please feel encouraged to add a stanza or two of your own in the comment section. Cheers, etc.

It was the night before Christmas of 2016
After a year like none we had seen
Pops spent each day hunkered down in his chair
While Mom kept pronouncing that things just weren’t fair

“But it’s Christmas,” he said, “come on, just relax.”
But her replies left him wounded, they were mainly attacks.
“How can I prepare for the sound of hooves on the roof
When for our president we’ve elected such a goof?”

She winced and she worried, she knitted her brow
She neglected her chores, she forgot to milk the cow
She scanned Facebook and Twitter for word of rallies and such
Any kind of protest would make her feel better, much

But nothing was planned until inauguration day,
Which meant nothing was going to stop the GOP play
“Must we be resigned to just picketing and chanting,
When there are real seeds of change we need to be planting?”

“I hear you,” said Pops, as he looked for his checkbook
“At least we can contribute to those who will cook
for the homeless, the uninsured, all the victims of Trump,
until we figure out how to get over this bump.”

In the meantime, they decided to focus on the holidays
Wrapping of presents, dipping Dungeness into mayonnaise
To the dropping of coins in red Salvation kettles
To hearing sweet carols on clarinets and fiddles

So they settled back into their beds warm and fluffy
And tried to forget the things that made them gruffy
Visions of Obamacare, of unity, of Garland on the court
Danced through their heads as they snored with a snort

But then they were wakened by feet on the ceiling
Pops thought at first that the paint must be peeling
But then from the rooftop they heard some hearty chatter
And they raced outdoors to see what was the matter

They gasped as they saw an orange man in a black suit
That was made even blacker by all the chimney soot
He was climbing up the bricks, carrying our stuff behind him
He was stealing our treasures, taking our cheer and making it dim,

He jumped onto his sleigh and cracked his whip with a cackle
As his red-nosed mules attempted some magic to tackle
They lifted the sleigh and the coiffed man off into the night
And I heard him call the roll, one that gave me a fright.

“Now Gingrich, now Giuliani, now Carson and Bannon,
On Perry, On Tillerson, on every loose cannon…
To the top of the world, to claim most if not all
Dash their hopes, dash their hopes, we’re gonna have a ball.”

Right then, though, the alarm clock sounded its chime
And Pops and Mom awoke just in time
To discover it was only a Christmas eve dream
That there really was not any dystrumpian scheme

They turned to each other, they cuddled and cooed
We still have each other and that is quite good
And friends and family we have to spread holiday cheer
While we get shovels to clean up after those odd mangy deer

So happy holidays, we shout to the ones we adore
Like Aparna and David, Greg Furey and old Tom Moore
Merry Christmas Mari Lynch, Mary Adams, and Mary Barker too
Plus the S girls, and Phil Bowhay and Karen Ravn to name just a few

A giant holiday hug goes to smart and funny Liz Love
Who has been dealt a tough hand by forces above
And to husband Kim, the kids and friends at the Aquarium
Which rhymes with nothing except my charming aunt Miriam

New roller skate wheels for vivacious Erica Parker
A new shoulder for Steve Hunt, egg nog for Phil Bowhay, that sweet talker
Under the mistletoe, Celeste Akkad, Melissa Sanard, stern Vanessa Vallarta
Merideth C-N, Ann Hougham and Heather Stewart, don’t drift aparta.

Make a festival of light for George Riley, Janet Brennan and Molly and Mike,
John Berteaux, Portland Putnam, Nancy and Dan, each gets a bike
Jane Haines, Nancy Peden, Marcos and Ginger, Richard Rosen
With some elves or like that they each should be a-posing.

A holiday thumbs up to important import Anthony Dann
Who helps make the Partisan train run as fast as it can
A pinch of pumpkin pie for that cranky Crawford, Phil
And another for the best senator, the Monning one, Bill

To Jerry Loomis, Jamie Woods, Gordon Smith and Chris Cain
Here’s hoping that in 2017 we’ll see you again
Full stockings for Bob Shuler, Pete Poitras, Miles and Vinny,
And old Heraldites Joe Livernois and Virginia Hennessey

A bubbly toast to Michelle Young who keeps CHOMP on mission
And to Karl Pallastrini, who should be off somewhere fishin’
Bob Klevan and the Gigers deserve their own special stockings
Filled with candy and sprinkles and Christmas tree flocking

Gary Karnes, Bruce Delgado, Scotty Corner, Allysa Ferrell
Join Jimmy Panetta in a fun Christmas barrel
Along with Al Maldonado, Iris Brewster, Jason Campbell, Art and Ann
Who, we can hope, find perfection in their holiday plan

Yes we know these rhymes are hokey, the sentiments too mushy
But it’s how it goes at the Partisan, the holidays make us gushy
It’s a tradition, bad poetry and a cheap way of sharing
Some holiday sentiment for those about whom we’re a-caring.

Happy Christmas Davey Balch, Steve Goings, Jeanne and Dan Turner,
Sam Davidson, Bill Leone, all you trust funders and wage earners
Unwrap some cheer, Judy Archibald and, yes, you, Luke Coletti
While for Jeanne Marino and Burt Cutino we fix Christmas spaghetti

Break out the trumpets for Carl Christensen, Myrleen Fisher and sweet Alice Green
For Katherine Ball, may this be the best one you’ve seen
Victoria Manley Thompson and Denese Sanders should cuddle with Santa
While someone helps figure out a rhyme for Devin Podeszwa

Frank Emerson, Fred Hernandez, Jim Morton deserve something carved of wood
And so do Carol Voss, the Amadeos and Buckeye Billy Hood.
Bill Balester’s family deserves some holiday kindness, I suppose
I got fish for Frank Emerson but he already had some of those

Ring the bell, Belle Yang, and join her Miss Patterson, Lucy
May Gary Karnes’ Christmas pudding not turn out too juicy
Nancy Peden, Richard Rosen and let’s not forget Gillian Taylor
Here’s hoping their Xmas turkey isn’t a failure

So that’s it, I think, or else this will get too long
You have dishes to do and the kids need a song
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, groovy solstice or whatever
We hope the worst of this won’t stay with you forever

OK, your turn:

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The Partisan’s 2016 Christmas shopping list

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The holidays spark the giving spirit in some of us, but the Partisan remains a shoestring operation, so it’s the thought that counts. You won’t find any of these wrapped under anyone’s tree.

Donald Trump: A conscience, some filters and a guide to early retirement.

Bernie Sanders: A cabinet post.

Hillary Clinton: Some rest, then a cause.

Chris Christie: An orange jumpsuit.

Rudy Giuliani: A muzzle.

Jimmy Panetta: An opportunity to practice prosecutorial skills in D.C.

Casey Lucius: A ticket to some place with a GOP majority.

Sen. Bill Monning: A plan to make California sovereign.

Supervisor Mary Adams: Keys to Dave Potter’s skeleton closet.

Ex-Supervisor Dave Potter: Amnesty.

Supervisor Luis Alejo: A permanent address.

Supervisor Jane Parker: Three gold rings symbolizing three votes.

Monterey City Councilman Alan Haffa: A megaphone.

The rest of the Monterey City Council: Hearing aids to help hear Alan when he can’t find the megaphone.

Libby Downey: A foot massage.

Seaside City Councilman Dave Pacheco, who has taken considerable grief for his principled opposition to Monterey Downs: A  hug.

Paul Bruno: A clue.

Cal Am Water: A conscience.

Cal Am customers: A break

George Riley: A seat at the table.

Alisal High School soccer team: A fair shake.

County Counsel Charles McKee: A good  lawyer.

Larry Parsons: Inspiration.

The young: Hope.

The old: A sense of humor.

The poor: A fair shake.

Monterey County Weekly: A bigger staff.

Monterey Herald staff: Holiday bonuses for pulling double duty.

Mary Duan: A smile.

Carmel Pine Cone: A code of ethics.

Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane: Something to wipe that silly grin off your face.

Salinas: A ceasefire.

Artist Joaquin Turner: A burst of fame.

Marina High School students: A respectable campus.

Monterey High School basketball star Kobe Ordornio: A few more inches.

Osio Cinema: More customers.

Fishermans Wharf businesses: Good weather and more customers.

Partisan readers: A hearty handshake.

Partisan non-readers: A subscription. (It’s free. Just go to the subscription button top right and type in your email address.)

For the many among us who are filled with worry over the political situation, we wish you the comfort of knowing you are not alone and the knowledge that if enough people stand up for what is right, we can overcome anything. Merry Christmas, etc., etc.

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I would have told you first but I wanted someone else to know first, OK?

That’s the thrust of a note from Carmel City Administrator Chip Rerig to the City Hall staff after they read Friday in the weekly Carmel Pine Cone that Cmdr. Paul Tomasi will succeed Mike Calhoun as the city’s police chief.

His note went a lot like this:

“I was remiss in not sending you the news of Paul’s appointment to the entire staff team earlier. You shouldn’t have learned of my decision through our local media outlets, and I apologize for this oversight. My only defense is that I wanted to insure that the story was not first reported by a news group other than The Pine Cone. I’ll do better in the future.”

Here’s an idea. He could time release of important information to coincide with the Pine Cone’s deadline. Or, better yet, make the announcement when the decision is made and not play games with it.

By the way, the Partisan reported last week that Tomasi was about be named police chief. I’m not sure whether the folks at the Pine Cone subscribe to the Partisan but I’ll start emailing our posts there anyway if it will make anyone feel better.

P.S. I got a nasty note from a longtime Carmel activist last week, a very nasty note, excoriating me for reporting on Tomasi’s pending appointment before the staff had been told. If she sends similar notes to Rerig and the Pine Cone now, I’m hoping someone will send me a copy. The Partisan also reported on another pending promotion but we haven’t heard any more on that yet. Maybe next Friday.

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UPDATE: SORRY THIS DIDN’T GET POSTED EARLIER. MEETING WENT AS EXPECTED. SUPES APPROVED RANCHO CANADA PROJECT 4-0 WHILE SUPERVISOR PARKER WAS BUSY. THEY GAVE COUNTY COUNSEL CHARLES MCKEE AN EXTRA TWO YEARS ON HIS CONTRACT, MEANING IT WILL COST TAXPAYERS MORE IF THE NEW BOARD MAJORITY DECIDES TO GO A DIFFERENT DIRECTION WITH LEGAL COUNSEL. AND THE BOARD ALSO APPROVED THE MAKEUP OF A NEW SALINAS VALLEY GROUNDWATER COMMISSION HEAVILY DOMINATED BY FARMERS.

COUNTY COUNSEL COULD GET  EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFT

If you’re any kind of student of government – and many Partisan readers are – you should find Tuesday’s meeting of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to be loaded with fascinating little subplots. It will be the last meeting for longtime supervisors Dave Potter and Fernando Armenta.

The big agenda item is the planned approval of the long-debated Rancho Canada development at the mouth of Carmel Valley, which Potter has helped keep alive for most of his two decades on the board. With Potter politically indebted to project proponents Tony Lombardo and Alan Williams, with Armenta a proud supporter of every development proposal ever placed before him and with Supervisor John Phillips clearly on board, this one appears to be a lock.

Also interesting but well below the radar, the supes are scheduled as part of their consent calendar to grant County Counsel Charles McKee another four-year contract extension even though he got a four-year contract extension just two years ago.

Here’s what that means. The current board, including lame ducks Potter and Armenta, are hoping to lock the new board, featuring newcomers Mary Adams and Luis Alejo, into four more years of McKee whether they want him or not. Yes, the new board would be able to send him off to another county somewhere but only if the county paid for the full four years or was able to fire him for demonstrably poor performance.

Armenta

McKee is a key figure in county government, helping to provide the supervisors with political and administrative strategies above and beyond his work as the county’s chief lawyer. He is considered an able lawyer but critics of the county’s role in the long-running desalination saga say McKee’s advice created huge legal bills for the county and prolonged the region’s search for solutions to its water problems.

The departure of Potter and Armenta creates real potential for a power shift on the board and the end of smooth sailing for even the most ill-considered development proposals. McKee clearly is astute enough to tailor his advice to new thinking at the board level, but the decision about the length of his tenure should be up to the new board, not the old one.

Potter

Also Tuesday, the board is scheduled to be lobbied on an important legal matter – whether the county will step up and defend the successful Measure Z anti-fracking referendum, and it is scheduled to give its stamp of approval to the farmer-heavy makeup of the new agency that will oversee the Salinas Valley groundwater supply.

California’s counties are under a new state mandate to create local agencies charged with monitoring and sustaining groundwater for the first time in state history, and each county is taking a different approach. Under bylaws written by McKee’s office, Monterey County plans to create the Salinas Valley Groundwater Sustainability agency with one person representing the environmental community and four members appointed by agricultural interests. The bylaws don’t give any particular weight to expertise.

What gets approved Thursday, and what gets postponed, would be considerably more significant than the ceremony honoring the outgoing supes for their service.

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TIME FOR WEEKLY TO PICK UP THE PACE

With the Trump administration looming like greedy locusts, much is being written about what the media can and should do to help limit the destruction nationally. Simultaneously it will be a great and horrible time to be a journalist covering a president who thinks he’s king.

In his war with the press and other modern realities, Trump has enlisted legions of foot soldiers who believe the New York Times is the ultimate enemy though many of them have never read it. We are entering a time of the new regime communicating with its subjects via Twitter and expecting them to get the rest of the story from the Russians via Facebook.

It’s an upside world, with the traditional media mortally wounded though they have never been more important. Though the right and much of the left dismiss the media, we remain dependent on the newspapers and the networks to deliver most of what we know about this new order.

But what about the local situation? Does the quality of local news matter in this time of national calamity? I say yes, of course, but there is no denying that, overall, much of local journalism seems to be slipping toward irrelevance.

If Medicare and Social Security are diminished, we may know the national ramifications but who will tell us about the impact at home? If Trump tries to punish California for voting intelligently on Nov. 8, who will tell us about grants that have gone missing or field offices being closing? Of friends being loaded into trains? If you think we can count on KSBW and the Monterey Herald to keep us up to speed, you’ve been away for a while.

Just as numerous advocacy organizations are regrouping, news organizations nationally are reconsidering their missions, and it certainly is not too soon for a community conversation about the state of the local media. Consider this a status report and a call to action. A diminished news corps plays into the hands of the Trumpistas nationally and also makes it much harder for the public to follow along as corrupting influences chart the course for our institutions locally.

The one bright spot, the only bright spot locally, has been the success of the Monterey County Weekly in filling in some of the gaps created by the erosion at the Herald and the Salinas Californian. At the end of this report, look for some thoughts about what the community can do to encourage the Weekly – and possibly others — to take on a larger load.

As some of you know, I was an editor at the Monterey Herald for more than a dozen years and then the chief editor for a couple of years until the bosses there became tired of my ways. (Cost-cutting played a role.) I still have friends at the paper and at other media outlets that I will be mentioning. Media people tend to look at media critics the same way police officers look at Internal Affairs and I’m hoping they won’t take my analysis too personally.

For decades, and longer, the Herald was the dominant news organization of Monterey County. Arguably, it now shares that distinction with the Weekly and KSBW. How times have changed.

THE HERALD

The Herald was founded in 1922 by Col. Allen Griffin, a real-life Army colonel with a distinguished military career both before and after becoming a newspaperman. Newspapers back then were different. They were solidly black and white and equally stodgy but they took stands. They pointed out problems in their communities and campaigned for solutions. Griffin fought, with some notable success, for preservation of historic buildings, especially Monterey’s Colton Hall, elimination of coastal blight, eradication of billboards, and for trees. He had some influence on how Highway 1 was configured as it snaked through the Peninsula.

The colonel was a Republican but Democratic administrations repeatedly tapped him for trade missions. He was a member of every important organization in town and he was eager to share his opinions, either in conversation or in print.

Unfortunately, 14 years before his death, the colonel sold the Herald in 1967 to the Block family of Ohio, which operated it as part of a small chain. In a trade of assets, the Herald was then acquired in 1992 by a larger chain, the E.W. Scripps Co. It was traded again in 1997 to the Knight Ridder chain, which made it part of bigger and better brand name after a rocky beginning.

The Knight Ridder chain began its Peninsula tenure by firing the news staff and forcing the employees to apply for their old jobs. It was an unsuccessful attempt at union-busting and it cost the Herald much goodwill in the community. Some strong people were lost in the process.

The good news was that Knight Ridder was one of the largest and most prestigious newspaper chains in the country and the Herald, for a period, had the resources it needed to serve the community adequately.

I joined the paper in 2000 as city editor, heading the local news operation. Many have grown weary of my recitation of how many people worked for the Herald when I started and how many remain, but the information remains informative.

The newsroom back then employed almost 50 ink-stained wretches. The “cityside” news operation, producing the local report on courts, crime, politics and the like, amounted to 24 people. Today, the entire newsroom staff numbers about a dozen and the volume of local news has declined almost as dramatically. Good public officials like seeing a reporter in the room when the council or commission meets. Bad public officials prefer to work in the dark.

While the end of the 20th century had been fat years for the newspaper industry – with annual returns for individual properties often exceeding 20 percent and even 30 percent – the new century was not quite as kind. Contrary to the impression you may have, the high profits continued at many newspapers but only because managers were forced to trim costs so dramatically. Initially, it amounted to mere belt-tightening. Eventually, it would become a case of self-destruction, selling of the seed corn.

Under pressure from investors used to fabulous profits, Knight Ridder put itself on the auction block in 2006 and was sold to McClatchy Newspapers, a smaller but relatively prestigious chain based in Sacramento. Unfortunately for the staff and the readers, McClatchy spun off the Herald and several other KR properties to MediaNews Group, William Dean Singleton’s chain of bargain-basement, cost-cutting newspapers.

DIGITAL FIRST

There were some twists and turns after that and each brought expense cuts and layoffs mirroring national trends. Eventually, the MediaNews Group morphed into something called Digital First Media, which tried to revitalize its holdings by putting greater emphasis on breaking news online rather than in print. It was a sound idea but it was executed slowly and the ownership, a New York-based hedge fund, lost interest.

Of significance locally, Digital First also acquired the Santa Cruz Sentinel in 2013, presenting the opportunity for cost-cutting through consolidation. Early on, the publisher and ad director of the Herald were assigned to the same duties at the Sentinel and soon after the editor of the Sentinel, Don Miller, was assigned the same role at the Herald, displacing me.

There were and are obvious opportunities for the two papers to share some of their journalistic roles as well but they have been slow to take advantage of the geographic closeness, seemingly intent more on controlling costs than on increasing reach. Recently, the features pages of both papers have been produced by the Sentinel and the two papers help each other out with some sports coverage, but otherwise there has been little overlap.

Since 2013, copy editing and page layout for the Herald, the Sentinel and several other Digital First papers have been handled by a crew based at Digital First’s paper in Chico. That enabled the coastal papers to lay off several copy editors. The only remnant of the old copy-editing staff in Monterey is workhorse wordsmith Christy Hoffknecht, who is responsible for coordinating matters with the Chico desk.

In charge of the news operation is Miller, who spends more than half his time in Santa Cruz and who had been expected to have retired by now. He was the longtime No. 2 editor in Santa Cruz, working for many years under the now retired executive editor of the Sentinel, Tom Honig. Honig now works part time writing editorials for the Herald and the Sentinel. (After leaving the Sentinel, Honig worked briefly for the David Armanasco PR operation in Monterey and for the Panetta Institute.)

In some ways, Miller and Honig are more at home in Monterey than in Santa Cruz. The Sentinel for decades was a sharply conservative voice in an increasingly liberal community. (I worked there, too, for a couple of years before moving to the Herald.) In private and in editorials, they were openly hostile to the city’s left-wing politicos, though the tone has moderated in recent years. For years, before taking on their Peninsula responsibilities, they regularly attended the Panetta lecture series and became fairly chummy with former Monterey Mayor Dan Albert, the Cannery Row fellows and others from the Peninsula power structure.

EDITORIALS

Honig may not be a registered Libertarian but he should be. Miller’s political leanings are not as clear as Honig’s but he is no rocker of boats. They are joined on the editorial board by Publisher Gary Omernick and Phyllis Meurer, the former Salinas City Council member and wife of former Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer, who now works for the Panetta Institute. Together, they have supported most development projects, including the ill-considered Monterey Downs, and all pro-development candidates. Phyllis Meurer, in fact, played a leadership role in a ballot measure campaign intended to advance the Monterey Downs project, which has since died a natural death.

To some extent, most daily newspapers attempt to reflect their communities editorially. In much the same way that the Sentinel was never in tune with Santa Cruz, the current Herald leadership seems to have misread the Peninsula and the rest of Monterey County, which is a deep shade of blue. It may not be as liberal as Santa Cruz, but few places are. The paper has become a constant champion of Cal Am Water and seldom misses an opportunity to dismiss environmentalists as nettlesome obstacles to progress.

Under Miller is City Editor Dave Kellogg, a veteran editor who spent much of his career with the sports staff at the San Jose Mercury before becoming sports editor at the Herald. Few editors anywhere work harder under more trying circumstances. Having too few reporters to supervise does not make the job easier.

Many recognizable names are gone from the cityside news operation. Larry Parsons, Virginia Hennessey, Julia Reynolds, Dennis Taylor, all departed. Significantly, they were among the strongest writers ever to work for the Herald, and Hennessey and Reynolds were two of the strongest investigative reporters. What remains is a small reporting crew with a big heart but limited range.

The only survivor in the sports section is John Devine, who has covered high school sports in Monterey County longer than anyone. Few reporters anywhere work harder.

Covering county government and the all-important water beat is Jim Johnson, who is remarkably thorough and accurate but who seldom endeavors to dig beyond Cal Am Water’s official line even though water and Cal Am’s role in delivering it amount to the most important local stories of the time. You may have noticed that when something big happens in the water world, such as another setback for the deslination project or another Cal Am rate increase, the Herald quotes Cal Am’s spokeswoman at length but seldom seeks input from the company’s highly visible critics such as George Riley and Ron Weitzman.

Claudia Melendez Salinas covers education, social services and immigration-related issues while sharing Salinas coverage with Johnson. Melendez is a champion of the underdog, which helps her stand up to the challenge of being responsible for covering a dozen or more school districts, several colleges and other important topics. She is responsible for some the paper’s most ambitious reporting of the past couple years.

James Herrera was the Herald’s longtime graphic artist when he was pressed into service as a reporter, mostly covering Seaside and Marina. He has done an admirable job of mastering the basics but lacks the experience to dig much beyond the official agendas. He is doing a job that two reporters once handled.

Carly Mayberry’s experience is mostly in the entertainment industry. She has done solid work covering the city of Monterey and other lighter assignments but, like Herrera, isn’t generally equipped to push officialdom for details beyond what it wants to give up.

Tommy Wright was a young and ambitious sportswriter when he was reassigned to cover courts and cops for the Herald. Again, he has done an admirable job under difficult circumstances but it would take many years of experience and strong supervision before he could be expected to produce work like court reporter Virginia Hennessey put out on a regular basis.

I don’t mean to criticize any individuals here. Blame for the Herald’s deficiencies rests squarely with the ownership. But no matter where the fault rests, what the community is left with is an inadequate daily report from an overburdened news staff and superficial analysis by an opinion staff with little local foundation. Yes, this is the opinion of a disgruntled former employee, but that does not mean it is wrong.

Once there were separate news, sports and features staffs. Now the sports staff is one person and there is no features staff. Two photographers remain, solid professionals Vern Fisher and David Royal. I’m betting one will be gone within a year.

Over the past year or so, Melendez has produced some strong work on school-related topics and on a troubling rape case but the others have had virtually no time to address anything beyond the daily grind. Investigative reporting, or the euphemistically named enterprise reporting, takes time and time is money. The shareholders don’t like to share.

SALINAS

The situation at the Salinas Californian is even more dire. It is owned by Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, which has contented itself over the years with watching its products deteriorate in order to keep the cash flowing in the corporate direction.

Forever, the Californian was a six-day weekly but it now publishes only three times a week. Its Alisal Street headquarters was recently sold and the staff soon will move to smaller quarters. A short-term rental would seem prudent.

With the looming retirement of veteran journalist Roberto Robledo, who has handled just about every newsroom task, the news staff will be down to two reporters and there is an open question about whether it will remain that way. Columnist and City Hall reporter Jeff Mitchell once covered the Salinas hospital’s troubles well and he has produced significant City Hall coverage but he now works principally on health issues under a special grant, so his voice is usually missing from the daily report.

The newspaper offices close at 5 p.m. and so does the search for news. Salinas is better off with the Californian than without it, but that’s the about best that can be said of the situation.

THE WEEKLY

Fortunately, there is the Monterey County Weekly. Usually, weekly papers in communities with dailies are called alternative papers, but the Weekly has become required reading.

Originally known as Coast Weekly, the paper was formed in 1988 by Bradley Zeve of Carmel Valleyy, who has become an active figure in alternative press organizations. While most papers of its type focus largely on entertainment and food, the Weekly has put greater energy into coverage of government, politics and the environment.

For much of the time I worked at the Herald, I found that the Weekly covered pretty much the same topics and, with a weekly deadline instead of daily deadlines, often did a better job explaining the fine points. I was surprised, and still am, that it didn’t adopt a flashier strategy but it has worked out well for the community.

In my humble opinion, the Weekly has unnecessarily expended much of its energy in recent years with its online effort, breaking daily news on its website, often interesting crime news of relatively low importance. With the recent departure of Editor Mary Duan, a true newshound, that seems to have fallen off, which will be a good thing if it results in more time for more thoughtful journalism.

The editorship of the Weekly has been a bit of a revolving door in recent years, in large part because of short-staffing in the management ranks and a grueling workload. Veteran reporter Sara Rubin is the interim editor and, by all appearances, has earned the permanent title but I’m hoping she can negotiate for some additional help with production duties.

There is little to fault with the Weekly’s news coverage — except for volume. The reporters have been breaking stories with some regularity, much more often than their counterparts at the dailies or the TV stations, and they weigh in frequently with solid explainers on long-running stories or environmental issues. They have done well with the Monterey Downs saga and the continuing story of severe erosion issues surrounding the Cemex plant in Marina.

My first suggestion for the Weekly – and I’m hoping for some community support here – is that it step things up.

The Weekly’s news staff numbers about eight plus the occasional intern. I don’t have any real numbers, but it appears to grown little if any over the last decade. True, most papers have lost staff; some have lost most of their staffs because of tight times. But the status quo isn’t going to position the Weekly to take a bigger role in protecting the community from the bad guys nationally and locally.

The paper is thick with ads, so I feel comfortable guessing that Zeve has the assets needed to greatly expand the news staff and the space to be filled with news. If he’s waiting for encouragement, here it is.

My second suggestion is in the same vein. It’s also about stepping up.

Back when I used to hire talented young reporters, one of the first pieces of advice I gave was to think big. Don’t try to be one of the better reporters on this staff, Be the best and then be better. If you didn’t have the ability to succeed here, I wouldn’t have hired you. Think bigger.

I have similar advice for the Weekly. Don’t settle. I’ll use this as an example, but don’t think I’m picking on you, David Schmalz.

Schmalz has done a lovely job covering the Cemex issue and several others in his relatively brief time at the Weekly, but he received perhaps the most attention for his recent piece on financial issues surrounding the family of Monterey Downs promoter Brian Boudreau.

It was a fine account, well researched and well packaged, but the information had been sitting around for a while and didn’t really connect significantly with the Monterey Downs controversy. People acted as if Schmalz had a Pulitzer on his hands. The community is starved for investigative reporting and anything that hints of it is likely to received outsized appreciation.

The point is simply this. Good work needs to become routine and truly special work is needed with some regularity unless we’re willing to concede victory to the dark forces. There is plenty of trouble to be explored in Monterey County and, given what’s happening in the rest of the county, the list of topics will only grow.

I could go on and on about the important local topics that have received no or little attention from the local media, including, in some cases, the Partisan. The Herald and the Weekly have written about the controversy over city rental practices at the Wharf but neither has provided anywhere near the depth that Willard McCrone has in the Partisan. Schmalz has written some interesting pieces about some funny real estate transactions involving developer Nader Agha and his downtown headquarters, but no one else has followed up.

The county Board of Supervisors is putting growers in charge of monitoring groundwater in the Salinas Valley, all but ignoring the interests of environmentalists and the general public, but the topic hasn’t made print.

There’s funny business afoot at Carmel’s City Hall but no one including the Carmel Pine Cone is picking up on it and the Pine Cone probably won’t bother with it until someone manages to offend the publisher.

ELECTRONICS

Oh, TV. Almost forgot.

KSBW does one thing exceedingly well. With a small news crew, it manages to cover almost every significant piece of breaking news in not one county but three – Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito. The news director, the assignment editor, someone there is a magician.

Beyond that, KSBW and, to an even greater extent, KION, shouldn’t even be mentioned in a discussion of news involving process, procedure or politics. In fact, it should be discouraged from covering topics such as Fisherman’s Wharf leasing policies or desalination because the staff has neither the time nor the expertise to cover them well. A bad news story is probably worse than no story at all.

So where does that leave us? Here’s where.

Under the current ownership, the Herald is almost a lost cause. Unless the entire news business goes through a dramatic turnaround, the staff will continue to shrink and the quality will continue to slide. The Herald has one of the most expensive subscription rates in the nation. I’m not recommending that anyone stop reading it or stop advertising in it, but I wouldn’t suggest anyone put a lot of energy into trying to fix that situation.

I suggest that people who don’t read the Weekly start reading it. (It’s free and you can find it in news boxes all over the county). And when you see something you like, let them know. And when you see something you don’t like, let them know. If you know of news, call ‘em up. If you think they are missing the news, call ‘em up.

If you advertise, advertise with the Weekly. Don’t cancel your Herald or KSBW ads but increase your budget and get your face in the Weekly.

No, I’m not getting a commission. My relationship with that publication has been a rocky affair. I thought its endorsement of Dave Potter in the last election was absolutely indefensible. Some onlookers at one recent event thought Zeve and I might have been on the verge of actually scuffling over something I had written. But it is locally owned, clearly headed in the right direction and obviously has the potential to help fix some of the things that need fixing around here if Bradley is willing to spend a buck or two.

Finally, the community should also look for other opportunities to increase the amount of time, energy and space committed to uncovering and solving the community’s problems and trumpeting its achievements. To that end, the Partisan and some of its supporters are contemplating an effort to expand our range and upgrade our offerings with a structure that involves more than a couple of old guys popping off now and then. Yes, we would be in competition with the Weekly and the rest, but competition’s a good thing.

We’re thinking a Web production with more features, wider participation, and a more sustainable financial structure. The plan isn’t even a plan yet, it’s that amorphous, but you will be hearing more about it. If you have encouragement or support to offer, if you’d like to be part of it, chime in below or send me your thoughts at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

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A little personnel news dribbles out of Carmel City Hall

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SEE UPDATE BELOW:

Maybe this only amounts to trial ballooning, but look for a couple of significant promotions at City Hall in the very near future.

Watch for police Commander Paul Tomasi to be named chief to succeed the about-to-retire Chief Mike Calhoun and for city public works chief Rob Mullane to be named assistant city administrator. At least that’s what Mullane told his staff this week.

Calhoun had temporarily worked as city administrator before Chip Rerig’s hiring, and even managed to hold onto the extra pay after Rerig came on board.

Mullane, a geologist by training, had worked for city governments in Goleta and Ojai before coming to Carmel as planning director in 2013. Some ruffling of features in the business community led to a reassignment to public works but things seem to have calmed down.

UPDATE: Mullane says via email that he did not tell his staff he was being promoted to assistant city administrator and that the article should be retracted.

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The collapse of the huge Monterey Downs project is good news for those of us who support sound land-use planning. It is also a personal defeat for outgoing Supervisor Dave Potter, who was a critical “mover and shaker” for the project, mostly behind the scenes.

Will we see a similar defeat for Potter’s other big project, before he is shown the door at the end of the month? Probably not, at least not next week when it comes before the Board of Supervisors. Potter has put the Rancho Canada subdivision proposal for the mouth of Carmel Valley on a fast track for approval before he leaves office, and has made sure to line up the votes to get it done. By a 4-3 vote, the project cleared the Planning Commission, “bypassing any substantive discussion” as Jim Johnson in the Herald aptly described the proceedings.

The rush to push the project through to the Board of Supervisors was most clearly seen in the treatment of the “draft” final environmental impact report, which was distributed to planning commissioners less than a week before the hearing. Martha Diehl’s common sense motion to delay the hearing until January to give the commissioners a chance to read the report and the various new conditions of approval was defeated. Commissioners had even less time to digest other important elements of the proposal, which were presented the day of the hearing.

Diehl subsequently wrote to the Partisan that “the first time I saw some 55 or so of the 119 proposed Conditions of Approval was at the hearing, and I for one had no opportunity whatsoever to read them, much less review them.”

Is this any way to deliberate over important land use decisions?

An earlier article I wrote on the Rancho Canada subdivision prior to the Planning Commission hearing stated that the application was being considered in part under the old 1982 general plan. This claim is true, although county staff specifically (albeit falsely) maintains that the application is consistent with the current 2010 general plan. Specifically, the county maintains (Planning Commission staff report page 3, and Board of Supervisors report Exhibit A, page 1) that a 2004 application “deemed complete” in 2005 under the old plan is still acceptable. Thus, it would seem applications made years or decades ago under a long expired general plan may be resurrected instead of requiring a new application and a new process. In the words of the county, an application more than a decade old was simply “put on hold” and evidently may be considered at any time in the future with no expiration date.

That said, county staff’s assertion that Rancho Canada is consistent with the 2010 general plan is false. As the staff reports to both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors make clear, the application from 2004 was for 281 housing units and that has not changed. Yet, a legal settlement with the Carmel Valley Association, reflected as an amendment in the general plan — and noted in the staff reports – caps development in the Carmel Valley Master Plan to 190 units. So county staff is trying to say with a straight face that 281 units somehow fits into a 190-unit cap.

This is the purpose of allowing the application to be considered just “on hold” from the old general plan rules because the application obviously is not consistent with the new general plan’s cap of 190-units. Without that sleight of hand to maintain that an application may be revived decades later instead of needing to be resubmitted in conformance with the new general plan, this application would have been rejected a priori (or, at least, should have been). As I argued before, the Lazarus-like revival of the 281-unit subdivision from 2004 is in reality a Trojan horse to get a 130-unit “alternative” subdivision approved.

Richard Stott gave a thoughtful response to my earlier article that essentially argued that the flood control elements to the Rancho Canada subdivision application are worth the price of the subdivision itself. I thank Dick for his considered response. Allow me to respond in two ways. First, reasonable flood control measures ought to be undertaken to protect citizens regardless of consideration of this or that subdivision. Good land-use planning would consider responsible flood control projects on their own merits.

Second, and to put it bluntly, be careful what you wish for: flood control in the hands of the Rancho Canada subdivision developers has a tainted history. Please recall the former “blister” along the south side of the Carmel River, the removal of which was considered important for flood control purposes. The blister was an illegal dump for rubble from an old hotel in Monterey demolished decades ago. Over the decades, others added lord-knows-what to this illegal dump. Several years back, in preparation for the subdivision, the Rancho Canada developers applied for a permit to build an “agricultural road” on other lands they owned, specifically on the nearby Odello East artichoke fields. Like bridges in Alaska, this was a “road to nowhere” that served no obvious purpose.

Two Carmel Valley residents happened to stumble on the real purpose of the “agricultural road:” a huge elongated pit into which the contents of the “blister” were being dumped. Alerted, the county immediately issued a red tag to cease the activity, but ultimately allowed the developers to finish covering the rubble with dirt. County staff told the Carmel Valley Association that there was nothing they could do to prevent the construction of such an agricultural road, as if the illegal disposal of construction waste was a normal part of dirt road construction. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Mr. Potter twisted some arms to make sure the red tag was lifted and the disposal proceeded.

I shudder to think of what might be percolating into the Odello East artichoke fields these days, and what future floods might bring to the whole of the flood plain and residents nearby. Some of those Odello lands were donated to the Big Sur Land Trust earlier this year.

That is the track record of the Rancho Canada developers when it comes to flood control.

There is no compelling argument to approve the Rancho Canada subdivision and to allocate virtually all remaining units in the general plan. It is just more leapfrog, sprawl development in an environmentally sensitive location, not to mention a looming eyesore in a beautiful area dependent, in part, on eco- and recreational tourism. The 130-unit alternative loses the only positive element in the old application: reserving 50% for affordable and workforce housing (as called for in the general plan); the developers are proposing the bare-minimum 20% required by the county on all big subdivisions.

The subdivision violates numerous other provisions of the current general plan, and will create unmitigated traffic congestion. Indeed, Rancho Canada will undo Dave Potter’s only real accomplishment as supervisor: getting the climbing lane built on northbound Highway 1 over Carmel Hill to relieve traffic congestion at the mouth of Carmel Valley. We will be “back to the future” when it comes to traffic congestion.

Like Monterey Downs, the Rancho Canada subdivision is a pet project of Dave Potter, and like Monterey Downs, Rancho Canada will collapse at some point given its obvious defects. But that has not prevented Potter from trying to rush the project through to approval by the Board of Supervisors before he leaves office. Potter will likely get his way next week, but his victory will certainly be ephemeral. Before wasting taxpayer dollars defending this poor project, the supervisors would be wise to slow down Potter’s train.

Robinson is a professor who has long been active in Carmel Valley land use issues.

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Thirsty bird.WATER RATES RISE WHILE WATCHDOG WHISTLES

An open letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, Cal Am Water and those who support Cal-Am:

The CPUC, according to Commissioner Mike Florio, has approved a rate increase for Cal Am to make up for revenue lost due to herculean conservation efforts on behalf of the utility’s Monterey Peninsula ratepayers, revenue that he characterizes as “equity” for ratepayers as well as for the utility. Really?

Cal Am’s local manager is also quoted as saying that, in essence, we’ve still gotta maintain our pipeline system regardless of whether we’re pumping more or less water through it.  Sweet.

I understand that maintenance costs are constant, but I would not have a problem with reimbursing Cal Am for those costs  only if the following information was made known.

(1)  To what extent is the money funds sought by Cal Am and approved by the CPUC needed to cover on-oing and past operational and maintenance costs?

(2) To what extent are those same funds dedicated to the historic profit margin Cal Am has gained through several years of CPUC approvals?

(3) Did the CPUC rely upon a full and complete audit of the bases claimed by Cal Am in order to ensure they were accurate and legitimate, or were they supported by clear facts on the record?

The answers to the above questions are important and not covered in any way by the Monterey Herald’s article on this matter and by any public statement by Commissioner Florio.

No matter, those areas of inquiry are complicated and unfortunately have the potential for even more unfair treatment of ratepayers.   Remember, the CPUC has a legislative mandate to protect the interests of both its regulated utilities and their ratepayers.

So, unless clarified and corrected by information not publicly stated, we could conclude as follows:

(1) It is no secret that Cal Am has not always had  a sterling record of maintaining its infrastructure in sound and working condition.  Failure to keep up usually results in higher costs in the long run.

(2) Seeking reimbursement for maintenance costs is meritorious but only to the extent that the costs involved are meritorious themselves, as to amount and necessity and so long as they are not being incurred because of prior failures or negligence.

(3) If an audit was undertaken by the CPUC, why wasn’t that information made public so the public can fully understand the relative elements of the claimed reimbursements?

The conclusion is this:  If, in fact, the rate increase approved by the CPUC includes costs that are not clear or fully fact-supported and, if, in fact, the increase includes the profit historically obtained by Cal Am in prior rate cases, then there is no equity whatsoever in the decision characterized by Commissioner Florio.

In fact, that would mean that Peninsula ratepayers who suffered by undertaking significant conservation efforts will have to suffer for their honorable actions by paying higher rates.   At the same time, Cal Am will come out at least even – costs covered, profits ensured.  One party wins, one party loses. Is that equity in action?

It’s time to take a closer look at the CPUC.  It would seem to not be living up to its mandate.

Hood is a retired water lawyer and engineer who divides his time between Carmel and Ohio.

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The Partisan is under the weather …

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boy wipes his nose with a tissue… but will return soon ready to fight the good fight.

BTW, funny cartoon in latest New Yorker. Folks descending to hell are concerned that it might include a comment section.

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Monterey Downs is gone but the stake remains to be driven

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Business people horse racingThe death of the Monterey Downs project has been slow in coming. Unfortunately it did not pass peacefully in its sleep but has held on for all of us to watch the sad spectacle. Now we are told that, for all practical purposes, the project is kaput, finished, over and done but a formalirty remains before we can finally declare that the witch is dead. If all goes as planned, look for the death certificate to be signed at the Seaside City Council meeting this evening.

It should be interesting to watch the city change roles, from being a promoter of the project to becoming an adversary attempting to collect unpaid bills owed by the developer.

Here is the funeral notice from the city and the letter of surrender from the developer

161130-monterey-downs-llc-press-release-2

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