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Some scoffed back in January when the Partisan suggested there was a decent chance the next city attorney in Carmel could be one of Mayor Steve Dallas’ most ardent political backers, Carmel lawyer Glen Mozingo. Read it for yourself. Though it remains only a possibility, there is increasing evidence that the Partisan might have gotten one right, to the surprise even of those responsible for this periodic exercise in local observation and commentary.

Though Mozingo has relatively little government experience, the city initially hired the him to help negotiate a contract with the non-profit that operates the city-owned Sunset Center. Though Don Freeman hadn’t yet announced his pending departure from the city attorney’s post, Mozingo confirmed back then that that, why, yes, as a matter of fact, he might be interested in the job.

Since then, the city has scheduled a discussion of Freeman’s replacement for noon Tuesday and has hired Mozingo to help the city with its legal filings on the short-term rental issue and issues surrounding skin care businesses. City Administrator Chip Rerig said he signed the contracts with Mozingo, for $250 an hour, but it was actually Freeman who assigned the work.

Close observers of Carmel politics may remember Mozingo’s impassioned campaign kickoff speech on behalf of Dallas and his spirited resignation from the city Library Board a couple years earlier. Three years ago, Mozingo’s wife, Heidi Burch, resigned as city clerk and assistant administrator, saying she couldn’t work under then-City Administrator Jason Stilwell. Mozingo followed up a year later with a blast at Stilwell and even an accusation that Stilwell and former Mayor Jason Burnett would stoop to stealing newspapers from the racks in Carmel when they contained critical articles.

Mozingo has practiced primarily in Southern California as a partner in a firm that specializes in estate planning, business law and civil litigation. Though the firm’s website doesn’t mention government work, Mozingo says he has represented several government agencies, mostly as a litigator, and represented former LA Police Daryl Gates for 18 years.

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From Public Water Now:

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: THE BUSINESS COALITION HAS NOW INVITED SOME PUBLIC WATER REPRESENTATIVES TO ATTEND TUESDAY’S PRESENTATION BY WATER LAWYER JOE CONNER, SO THE DETAILS AND TONE OF THE PLANNED PROTEST RALLY HAVE BEEN AMENDED.

NEW INFORMATION HERE FROM GEORGE RILEY, FOLLOWED BY ORIGINAL NOTICE FOR THE SAKE OF CONTEXT

FROM GEORGE:
The Business Coalition called me this morning to invite some of our members to the presentation by American Water Works attorney Joe Conner on eminent domain.  And to participate in the Q&A as  appropriate.

Public Water Now promoted this protest because the BC invitation was ‘members only,’ the lack of transparency, and to the one-sided presentation.

Because of the offer to PWN to allow some of us to attend and participate in this ‘educational’ presentation, PWN requests that no signs be used that afternoon.  Instead, PWN requests that it be converted to a vigil, to appear in general silence, and to offer an ‘educational’ handout which PWN will provide.

This last minute change in PWN plans is to honor the Business Coalition changing its plans.

Thank you for honoring this new request.

George T. Riley
Public Water Now

ORIGINAL POST

Cal Am ratepayers and PWN members will gather at 3:30 on Tuesday, June 27 at the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row to protest the “invitation only” presentation “The True Cost of Condemnation”. The Coalition of Peninsula Businesses is hosting Joe Conner, American Water attorney, who will present his view of the costs and problems the Peninsula would face in an eminent domain takeover of California American Water.

George Riley, Public Water Now managing director, countered, “Joe Connor and his American Water legal team recently fought Missoula’s eminent domain action to take their water public and LOST the case. We want to make sure our business community knows both sides of the story.”

Connor did succeed in driving up the cost of the buyout, from $65 million to $88.4 million, but Missoula’s legal team WON. Missoula took their water system public and they will NOT have to raise rates to customers.

Missoula’s Mayor and two of the attorneys who litigated the case told their story at the PWN public forum in Carmel on June 5th. Watch their presentation here.

Melodie Chrislock, Communications Director
PUBLIC WATER NOW
831.624.2282
MWChrislock@redshift.com

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There is a good reason that local TV news seldom has anything to say about Monterey Peninsula water politics. It isn’t very visual and the sound bites tend to be a bit on the dry side.

The potential for something Action News-worthy looms, however, with the Coalition of Peninsula Businesses planning an event featuring a lawyer who specializes in combating public efforts to take over private water system. That session is set for 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday June 27 at the Monterey Plaza Hotel but is open only to coalition members – generally the hospitality and general commerce bigwigs of the rest of the business community.

The coalition isn’t expected to invite cameras, or the public, into the session. What creates the opportunity for some video is a low-key rally scheduled for outside the hotel at the same time. That event is being organized by Public Water Now, the group that is preparing to mount a Peninsula-wide ballot measure forcing a public takeover of California American Water.

The coalition’s speaker, attorney Joe Conner hails from Chattanooga, Tenn., and specializes in representing private water companies and other corporate interests facing takeover efforts. In scattered cases, he has managed to beat back municipilization efforts but the verbiage on his web site suggests his work mainly focuses on increasing the prices paid to the companies being acquired. He failed to stop a recent takeover effort in Missoula, Mont., but says he managed to have the offering price doubled. He tried and failed to thwart the community effort to acquire the Felton water system from California American Water Co. but he takes credit for increasing the cost to the customers.

The coalition’s invitation describes its event as a “special presentation on the costs and complications of using eminent domain to ‘condemn’ an investor owned utility, such as California American Water Co., for a public takeover.  This presentation by Joe Conner will be informative and educational; Mr. Conner is a real expert on these matters and his information will help counteract much of the recent misinformation floated by non-experts!  Please plan to attend this excellent presentation.   And please circulate this invitation again to your Boards of Directors, your members, your friends and associates – all are cordially invited. ”

Public Water Now’s George Riley asked the coalition if the “all are cordially invited” applied to him but was told it did not.

Riley said, “We believe the public and the attendees will get a one-sided perspective if they only hear from the American Water Works gun-slinger.”

“This private event is typical of corporate interests — not  transparent, and to set in motion forces that are moneyed and muscular,” Riley continued.  “We hope rational people will see this as strategy, not information.”

Corporate water systems now serve about 15 percent of households in the United States. Public Water Now plans a November 2018 ballot measure to reduce that percentage every so slightly.

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There is a good reason that local TV news seldom has anything to say about Monterey Peninsula water politics. It isn’t very visual and the sound bites tend to be a bit on the dry side.

The potential for something Action News-worthy looms, however, with the Coalition of Peninsula Businesses planning an event featuring a lawyer who specializes in combating public efforts to take over private water system. That session is set for Tuesday June 27 at the Monterey Plaza Hotel but is open only to coalition members – generally the hospitality and general commerce bigwigs of the rest of the business community.

The coalition isn’t expected to invite cameras, or the public, into the session. What creates the opportunity for some video is a low-key rally scheduled for outside the hotel at the same time. That event is being organized by Public Water Now, the group that is preparing to mount a Peninsula-wide ballot measure forcing a public takeover of California American Water.

The coalition’s speaker, attorney Joe Conner hails from Chattanooga, Tenn., and specializes in representing private water companies and other corporate interests facing takeover efforts. In scattered cases, he has managed to beat back municipilization efforts but the verbiage on his web site suggests his work mainly focuses on increasing the prices paid to the companies being acquired. He failed to stop a recent takeover effort in Missoula, Mont., but says he managed to have the offering price doubled. He tried and failed to thwart the community effort to acquire the Felton water system from California American Water Co. but he takes credit for increasing the cost to the customers.

Public Water Now’s George Riley asked the coalition if he or others were invited to the session with lawyer Conner. No invitation materialized.

Riley said, “We believe the public and the attendees will get a one-sided perspective if they only hear from the American Water Works gun-slinger.”

Stay tuned for details on the informational rally.

Corporate water systems now serve about 15 percent of households in the United States. Public Water Now plans a November 2018 ballot measure to reduce that percentage every so slightly.

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UPDATE: Monterey County Planning Commission unanimously overturns planning director’s administrative decision that would have allowed a proliferation of commercial event spaces in Carmel Valley and beyond. Here’s the Monterey Herald article on the vote. The original Partisan article on the issue follows:

 

The Hilltop Ranch vineyard sits above East Carmel Valley Road in a neighborhood of large lots and vineyards.

“The spectacular Hilltop Ranch & Vineyard where lush Pinot Noir is grown and educational tours, seminars, culinary experiences and more can be arranged. It is a wonderful setting for creating many special events with unlimited possibilities. The vistas are beyond belief!” – Cima Collina winery advertisement

So, you’re all set there in your little piece of paradise. Your place is on a hillside overlooking Carmel Valley, perhaps, or in one of the canyons of Corral de Tierra or out there along River Road or the North County hills. You’ve got an acre of unincorporated property, maybe more. Life is good.

And because you’re a smart one, you checked on the zoning before you bought. You were comforted to see that all the neighboring property is zoned “low-density residential.” That means large parcels, nice houses, maybe a few chickens or horses and a promise that none of your neighbors is going to open a store or a machine shop or a party barn where people hold weddings and the like. All is well.

Well, maybe not.

According to the paperwork and correspondence underlying a controversy winding through the hallways of the Monterey County planning bureaucracy, it appears that “low-density residential” means just that unless your neighbor is in the wine business and wants to be in the events business. Once upon a time, that exception wouldn’t have mattered much because not too many folks hereabouts were in the wine business. But the next time you drive down Carmel Valley Road, take a close look at the vines and the signs. You’ll see that it is becoming a little Napa Valley with wine shops and tasting rooms blooming like pinot vines in the spring.

At the center of this land-use fight is the Hilltop Ranch vineyard at 62 E. Carmel Valley Road. You may have noticed the little sign there on your left as you head east out of the village, just past Rippling River and Holman Ranch. Despite the Carmel Valley Road address, the entrance to the property is actually off a private road that branches to the north from the public thoroughfare. Monterey County’s chief planner, Carl Holm, decided without any open public input that although the vineyard is zoned for low-density residential, it would be OK for it to host special events such as commercial wine-tasting dinners, partly because the property is owned by the same people who own the Cima Collina tasting room in the village.

Holm opted to allow the traffic-including and noise-creating use, without any specific limits on frequency, without public notice or hearing, by issuing what he calls a director’s interpretation. That’s where he rather than the general plan or the county’s zoning ordinance decides how property can be used.

What it boils down to is that Holm believes it is OK for Hilltop to hold an unlimited number of events because vineyards are allowed in low-density residential neighborhoods, wine-tasting is closely associated with vineyards and gatherings, and wine-tasting sometimes leads to fairly large events.

Holm says he hasn’t done anything unusual, even though he granted approval for the special events after the vineyard had been denied permits for such uses on three occasions. In one of those applications, the vineyard operators proposed entertaining 250 guests at a wedding.

Under Holm’s ruling, the crowd would be limited to 75 at a time but there would be no set limit on how often events could be held. Attorney Tony Lombardo, representing a dozen or so Hilltop neighbors, notes in his appeal letter that 75 people can easily become 90 or more.

In another appeal to the county, a lawyer representing the Carmel Valley Association argues that Holm’s ruling essentially rezones the property without public hearing and allows a list of allowable uses far more generous than what is spelled out in the county codes — all because the 20-acre Hilltop property includes some four acres of grapes.

Entrance to the vineyard is along a road shared by neighbors who don’t seem eager for company

Holm maintains he acted within his authority.

“Staff interprets codes every day with every customer and every project,” he told the Partisan in an exchange of emails. “Codes cannot be completely exhaustive since new ideas present new challenges not addressed in the code.”

Holm noted the low-density residential designation, LDR, allows for farming as well as “stands for the sale of ag products,” which presumably means those little structures from which family farmers sometimes sell cherries and apples.

He said he also determined that some type of marketing events were typically held in vineyards and that he reported that to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors last winter. It wasn’t clear whether he mentioned during that report that most of the vineyards that hold marketing events are in agricultural zones, which accommodate more commercial uses than what are contemplated in residential zones.

Lombardo wrote that Holm grants Hillside too much leeway. He noted that the zoning ordinance allows “viticulture” in residential zones, which means the cultivation of grapes, but it does not allow for wine production or commercial wine tasting.

Lombardo also noted that the county’s painstakingly constructed 2010 general plan allows for a “wine corridor” of wineries and tasting rooms along River Road overlooking the Salinas Valley but conspicuously does not create such a corridor along Carmel Valley Road.

Late last year, Holm told the Board of Supervisors that his staff is working on a new set of policies to regulate event spaces in unincorporated areas, language that would clarify to what extent commercial gatherings would be allowed in residential and other limited-use zones. It is a growing issue countywide but particularly in Carmel Valley with its abundance of commercial and backyard vineyards. Holm said last week, however, that the board later instructed him to focus first on completing policy language on short-term rentals in the county.

Holm’s stance is being challenged separately by Lombardo’s clients and the Carmel Valley Association, represented by attorney Molly Erickson.

In a note to its membership, the Carmel Valley Association argued that Holm’s interpretation violates state law and county code.

“It provides an incentive for everybody in the low-density residential zone to plant a vineyard so they can have special events. It corrupts the public process,” the association offered. “If allowed to stand, the Holm Letter will cause serious long-term land use and environmental effects and will harm the public’s trust in Monterey County government.”

In the association’s appeal to the Planning Commission, Erickson suggests Holm provided special treatment to Hilltop by providing significant guidance to the vineyard’s lawyer, John Bridges. (The Partisan invited a response from Bridges early this month but has not received one.)

Erickson noted that Holm had sent three emails offering advice to Bridges and his decision ultimately “rewards the applicant for private lobbying and private meetings with Mr. Holm.”

“The applicant’s representatives repeatedly peppered Mr. Holm with various arguments and claims as to why the proposed special events use at the Hilltop Ranch site should be approved. Mr. Holm repeatedly communicated directly with the applicant representatives, attorney John Bridges, land use consultant Joel Panzer, and Cima Collina events coordinator Michele Gogliucci. Mr. Holm communicated privately with them to come to a private agreement as to special events uses at the site. Mr. Holm did not inform the public or the Planning Commission of the private communications.”

Erickson continued, “On February 11, 2016, Mr. Holm wrote to Mr. Bridges giving ‘guidelines’ for special events on which Hilltop Ranch LLC could rely ‘until we get to the commission.’ Mr. Holm’s ‘guidelines’ recommended a limit of 20 visitors at a time, allowed the use of a shuttle to bring visitors to the site, and stated ‘no weddings,’ ‘no advertised events’ and ‘no portable toilets.’ He recommended that the property owner not make long term investment plans, and suggested that Hilltop Ranch amend its application to include any issues Hilltop wanted to include in its special event operations. Mr. Holm promised that if Hilltop operated within the ‘guidelines,’ the county ‘will not view it as a violation (even if we receive a complaint) and the current [code violation] case will be placed on hold until the permit process has been completed.’”

Despite the cautions from Holm, Hilltop “did hold weddings and publish advertisements for special events as shown in the county files, including mass emails inviting the public and county employees to events,” Erickson wrote.

According to Erickson, Holm repeatedly urged the applicant to make a request for a “private administrative interpretation instead of going through the public review process. Mr. Holm wanted to accommodate the special events use and proposed to go about giving permission in a nonpublic forum.”

Allowing Holm’s directive to stand, Lombardo wrote, would set a precedent allowing an unlimited number of vineyards to become commercial events spaces without consideration for the neighbors or the impacts on traffic, water and other resources.

Hilltop seeks “to create highly intensive commercial uses in a residential neighborhood,” Lombardo wrote. “If allowed to proceed, any resident could most likely justify becoming an ‘event center’ so that they too could make money from their property investment no matter how large or small. The serene rural nature of particularly Carmel Valley would be permanently destroyed. Therefore, to maintain the serene rural nature of Carmel Valley’s and Monterey County’s residential areas, the interpretation should be vacated.”

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The Lawrence Samuels commentary in Sunday’s Monterey Herald wouldn’t really have bothered me if they had done a decent job of explaining who he is. The piece was bunk, a layman’s attack on the fact of climate change and global warming, but if the paper had described him a rabid practitioner of libertarianism, readers would have known that little or no science was committed in the production of his essay.

Instead, Samuels was described as “author of the 2013 book ‘In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action.’” In case you didn’t know, chaology is the study of chaos, something that Samuels seemingly supports. The tagline went on to acknowledge that he lives in Carmel Valley.

To my mind, that isn’t enough context to explain what qualifies Samuels to opine publicly that global warming is a hoax partly because “all the computer power in the world could not provide a perfectly accurate picture of impending weather a week from now.” Good to know. Samuels in recent times has also written in the Herald that the proposed public takeover of California American Water smacks of 20th century European fascism.

Other than the somewhat cryptic title of Samuels’ book, the only hint that his writing is shaped by politics rather than meteorology or some other form of research is in the final paragraph in the Sunday piece: “I believe it (the quite solid notion of climate change being driven by human causation) is just political. Some people want more political control and money. An epidemic of fear can rack up a lot of political points … . Some (climate change scientists) are just ideological determinists who oppose the right of people to make free choices.” As opposed to ideological determinists who have won awards for promotion of libertarianism. (See Samuels’ self-written Wikipedia entry for details.)

Samuels finally does, in the very last sentence of his Herald piece, write something that is likely true: “Whatever the case, the laws of science will eventually trump the absurdities of politics.”

Years ago when I was responsible for the content of the Herald’s opinion pages, I had a guideline. With some exceptions, local guest commentaries should only be written by people with some special connection to or expertise in the issue at hand. Without such a rule, relatively savvy Herald readers such as Samuels were likely to write about any old nonsense and call it a commentary when something they had written turned longer than a letter to the editor.

In some cases, there is nothing wrong with someone from the community writing about whatever topic strikes their fancy. Some nice essays can emerge from such a situation. But readers of the Herald would be better served if the editors would not provide significant space for people who can only pretend to bring some sort of expertise to their topic and who may seek to obscure their agendas.

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Monday June 12 marks the anniversary of the Orlando massacre that killed 49 queer people of color. A year ago, prominent local gay cleric Father Jon Perez hosted a vigil in which speakers emphasized that our LGBTQ+ community would not be driven back into the closet by this act of terrorism.

A family-friendly LGBTQ+ Peninsula Pride Parade that starts at Broadway and Noche Buena in Seaside, 11 a.m. on Saturday June 17, is one way our community seeks to protect against that.  Admittedly, “family friendly” is not the image most associate with Gay Pride parades. But, the modern era of same-sex marriage and LGBT-affirming churches demands the rise of small-town family-friendly Pride alternatives to their more provocative big-city counterparts. Seaside is ready to be a part of this change.

The fee waiver requested by the National Coalition Building Institute for the parade passed on a vote of 3-2 by the Seaside City Council.  As its name implies, NCBI is a non-profit that builds diverse community coalitions for the purpose of eliminating every form of oppression. Achieving this requires acknowledging not only the differences between groups, but the diversity within groups as well.  It is fitting that the most universally recognizable symbol associated with the LGBTQ+ community is the rainbow.  Our members constitute a rainbow of ethnicities, genders, sexualities, faiths, lifestyles — and children.

Yes, children. Undoubtedly, most of those slain at the Orlando nightclub became aware of their minority gender or sexual orientation by mid-adolescence in households whose chief aim was to ensure that they would grow up to conform to cultural gender and heterosexual norms.  This puts enormous strain on our LGBTQ+ children. LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than other youth and LGB youth raised in households that reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than those raised in accepting households. Seven percent of youth are LGBTQ+; but they make up 40 percent of homeless youth. It is not hard to understand why.

Marriage equality was not the end of the “gay agenda.” There is no more important work left undone in our rainbow community than making this world, country and county a safer place for LGBTQ+ kids!   That means instilling in them a sense of self esteem. Our Peninsula Pride Parade means to do just that. We want parents to bring their kids to the parade, because we want our LGBTQ+ kids to grow up in a world where they feel safe, loved and accepted. Where they will have no need to run away from home or try to kill themselves. And we want straight kids there too; because we don’t want another Orlando.

A program at Oldeymeyer Center follows the parade at noon. Please join us. It’s family-friendly.

Steven Goings, a resident of Seaside, is the coordinator of NCBI@CSUMB, a Peninsula Pride Parade committee member, and life-member of the NAACP.

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Last week’s decision by the California Senate to approve a single-payer health care bill (SB 562) was ridiculed by our local daily newspaper, which editorialized on June 6 that “Single-payer health vote just a political stunt.” The editorial concluded SB 562 “is a glorified political stunt which, if it proceeds with the same thoughtlessness shown to date, could do real harm to the state of California.”

That’s a bit insulting to Mark Stone, our local Assembly member who is co-sponsoring SB 562, and to Bill Monning, our local Senator who voted in favor. Furthermore, it’s contrary to the only comprehensive economic analysis of SB 562 available so far, the 82-page economic analysis by Robert Pollin, cistinguished professor of economics at University of Massachusetts/Amherst, who was economic spokesperson in Jerry Brown’s 1992 campaign for U.S. President. Pollin’s analysis concludes “establishment of the Healthy California single-payer system [SB 562] will generate financial benefits for both families and businesses at all levels of the California economy.”

The editorial argues the approval vote “was a proposal lacking crucial details without which a responsible vote in favor is impossible.” That’s correct on the minor point that SB 562 does not lay out the specific tax structure it would establish nor does it offer supporting calculations about how that structure would fund its implementation. However, the major point is that SB 562 commits California to a single-payer system that will provide coverage to all Californians at a lower total cost than what we pay now. Pollin’s study explains specifically how SB 562 would reduce California’s total health care costs while expanding coverage (9% increase in costs to cover uninsured and underinsured, 19% reduction in health care costs due to a variety of savings measures such as lower cost prescription drugs by negotiating directly with Rx companies) equals 10% net savings.

Thus, SB 562 meets the financial test (we would get more for less) and the moral test (we would cover all of California’s citizens regardless of income). Moreover, the exact funding structure must be established before the system becomes operational (SB 562 states it will not become operative until the secretary of California Health and Human Services certifies there is revenue to fund costs of implementation).

The major point is that health care costs would go down by 10% even after moving to universal coverage; the minor point is that the exact details of the funding mechanism have not been determined at this stage.

The editorial also argues SB 562 should be voted down because it will raise taxes. However, the issue is total health care costs, not labels for how these costs are paid. California businesses and citizens currently pay roughly $200 billion per year for health care. They pay this through something called “premiums” and “out of pocket costs,” and in return for these payments they cover 90% of the state’s population. Under SB 562, California businesses and citizens will pay less than what they pay now through something called a “tax” and for this they will get 100% of the state’s population covered. In other words, Californians will get more for less because we can either pay something called a “premium”’ and “out of pocket,” or we can pay something called a “tax.”’ The important point is not what you call it; what’s important is how much you pay and what you get for that.

The editorial overlooks some of SB 562’s honest-to-goodness problems. For example, before SB 562 becomes operational, it must still must be approved by the California Assembly and, eventually, by Governor Brown and ultimately by the voters, because it would need to be exempted from spending limits and budget formulas in the state Constitution. Additionally, the Trump administration would need to allow federal funding currently directed to Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare (among others) to be re directed in California. Significant transitional issues will occur as California moves to this new system, and details about deductibles, copays and similar cost sharing measures must be worked out, as must the final payment/contribution structure for businesses and individuals, plus near-term health costs are likely to surge as the uninsured and under insured immediately receive care they have delayed.

However, those real problems are minor points compared to the major point that by passing SB 562, California will commit itself to a path where it receives more for less. The editorial’s concerns are akin to objecting to JFK’s first call for the U.S. to put a man on the moon by saying “that is just a political stunt, he has not even figured out how phase three, sub procedure six of the re entry procedure will work.” It is true that phase three, sub point six had not been worked out at that time, but that was a minor point that paled in comparison to the major point of whether the U.S. should commit to send a man to the moon.

I am not proposing we send a man to the moon; I am proposing Partisan readers not be fooled by one-liners and take seriously that SB 562 is California’s chance to provide health coverage to all Californians at a lower total cost than what we pay now.

Jane Haines is a retired lawyer who lives in Pacific Grove. She has previously written for the Partisan on housing issues and development issues.

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I can’t stay up as late at night as I used to, so it has taken me until now to finish watching season 5 of House of Cards. While I didn’t find it as compelling as the first season, the one in which President Frank Underwood began his side job as a serial killer, it did have its moments, most of which were fleshed out well enough for me to finally decide whether I would rather see Underwood or Donald Trump in the White House. I have chosen Underwood because although he is vile and amoral, he is competent. He understands how things work, how government and politics happen. Though he could be capable of destroying the world in season 6, at least it wouldn’t be by accident.

I am surprised that I have not seen much about the parallels between the fictitious Underwood White House and the very real Trump White House. Parallels abound in season 5. There are NSA leaks and Russian intervention in a U.S. election. There are congressional hearings, some led by a character that looks and acts like Devin Nunes.

There was a horrific chemical attack on civilians in Syria, a segment filmed before the real thing happened. There was a botched election, actually more like the Bush-Gore affair than the Trump-Clinton debacle, but it wasn’t hard to imagine Trump following Underwood’s lead by establishing “voting centers” in order to suppress turnout in key states and then manufacturing a terror crisis to keep those voting centers empty.

The public reaction to an Underwood presidency mirrors the actual reaction to the Trump presidency, with protesters chanting that he is not their president and the vanquished opponent noting that the winner had received less than majority support.

It is reassuring, I suppose, that there is no visible evidence that Trump’s vice president has ever killed anyone, and certainly not in the midst of extramarital relations. But Mike Pence does sometimes come across as just as stiff Claire Underwood and just as willing to do anything for a vote.

One thing missing from the Netflix series is presidential tweeting, but it occurred to me during the season’s final episode that the directors accomplished the same thing by having Frank Underwood go out of character and speak directly to the viewers. Fortunately for Frank, his sorta sotto voce lines are scripted. If he were to speak into the camera during the Comey testimony Thursday, it is unlikely that he would be reduced to Trumpian language. While we can fully expect to see Trump tweeting out something like “Comey’s a total loser” tomorrow, or “Pants on fire!!,” it is more likely that Frank watching similar testimony would turn to the camera to say something like, “I should have known when I let him stay on that he never really saw the big picture.”

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It was somewhat encouraging watching the National Geographic documentary, “Water and Power: A California Heist,” and that’s because it showed that water politics throughout California are as messy as they are right here on the Monterey Peninsula. What with the decades of unproductive sparring over solving our water supply problem and with the rapidly escalating cost of tap water hereabouts, I had started thinking that maybe we were alone in our inability to fix anything.  I was thinking maybe it was something in the water.

The focus of the documentary, produced by Marina Zenovich with able assistance from author and investigative reporter Mark Arax, was the manipulation of groundwater rights and some remarkable profiteering that is going on, principally in the San Joaquin Valley but also just down the coast in San Luis Obispo County.

Which points me toward the purpose of this piece, a June 3 forum on new groundwater rules and what they mean to us in Monterey County. More specifically, it will focus on California’s long-delayed but hugely important effort to begin actually regulating groundwater instead of simply letting the fellow with the deepest well call the shots.

The speakers will be Tom Moore, vice president of the Marina Coast Water District board of directors, and Keith Van Der Maaten, general manager of the district. It’s not just an academic topic for these two because the desalination plant that California American Water plans to build would draw some of its water from underground supplies theoretically controlled by Marina Coast.

The terribly long title of the forum is “To learn how the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act may affect your water bill, your access to water and what groundwater sustainability agencies mean to us locally.” Under state mandate, Monterey County has formed a groundwater sustainability agency, which naturally is dominated by agribusiness interests.

In previous Partisan posts, I have labeled Moore as my favorite local politician, largely because of his incredibly deep knowledge of the subject matter and his ability to explain it all to folks like you and me.

The forum is set for 7 p.m. Saturday June 3 at the Marina Public Library, 190 Seaside Ave., in Marina. It is sponsored by the Marina Democratic Club, the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee and Citizens for Just Water.

In case you’d like to printout a reminder, here’s the flyer for the event.

BTW, the National Geographic special is available for rent on Netflix.

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Baseball teams wear khaki and camouflage hats and jerseys today. Sunny beaches are packed with “summer’s-here” crowds. Newspaper columns chew over the serious meaning of the day.

In every town, cemetery lanes are lined with flags. Alongside weather-beaten markers and others engraved far too recently, eyes fill with tears, chests heave with sobs and trembling hands reach to hold ghosts in the living air.

Fallen U.S. service members are to be remembered this Memorial Day for doing their duty and the ultimate sacrifice it exacted from them. As a people, we must cherish those who give of themselves for a greater good. Sincere prayers of gratitude are deserved, but they are not enough.

As a people in a country in its 16th year of an ever-shifting war on terror, we must also pray for wise citizens and wise leaders who truly understand the greater good before — as politicians are wont to say — “sending our troops into harm’s way.”

In recent weeks, American servicemen have died in Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Since 1945, when World War II ended, tens of thousands of U.S. troops have died in wars and military incursions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama and other “hot spots.”

What were the national goals, the greater goods served by their deaths? In many cases, these questions are still debated by historians and veterans alike.

Fifty years ago, the question that tore through American society was, “Why are we in Vietnam?”

Today almost no one outside professional military ranks and national security symposia wonders: “What are we doing in Yemen?” or “Why remain in Afghanistan?”

In 1968, Richard Nixon won the presidency running, in part, on a promise of “a secret plan” to bring American troops home from Vietnam. Last year, President Donald Trump boasted at campaign rallies of his “secret plan” to defeat the extremist Islamic State.

While under increasing political fire over the Russia scandal, the president has quietly increased the number of U.S. troops in Syria by several hundred and intensified air attacks on Syrian and Iraq fronts against ISIS. He will soon decide whether to give his generals more troops to battle the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan. His bellicose words grow against Iran.

Unlike the widespread outcries over the Vietnam and Iraq wars, the American public seems largely mute or plain disinterested as the metastasizing war on terror keeps growing into a third presidency.

If we as a people do not understand why we send our sons and daughters to war, we fail our most important civic duty. We will not be worthy to stand at their graves on future Memorial Days.

In early June 1969, my father received a letter from one of his younger brothers, a conservative Southern California businessman who likely had voted for Nixon the previous year. That month, 1,254 U.S. troops died in Vietnam; 2,954 more were seriously wounded.

Between  tidbits about family and friends, my uncle wrote:

“This war situation pains me greatly. It seems so utterly useless. I had hoped Nixon would do something — but then, I knew down deep it would be more of the same. You cannot help but wonder how God in Heaven can let such a horrible thing go on and on and on. I just can’t understand why it has to be this way.”

Today, as always, we must add understanding to our prayers, memories and paeans to the fallen if we are to make proper memorials for their lives.

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The news this week out of Missoula, where a congressional candidate let his fist do the talking after he ran out of words, caused me to reflect on the times when I, too, was on the receiving end of a overly vigorous response during my journalistic career.

There are only two occasions I can recall, if you don’t count the time a steelworker poked a gun in my ribs and suggested I stop poking into a deeply flawed construction project. Unfortunately, neither of my encounters was witnessed by FOX news, so I never received either the acclaim or derision I deserved.

The first occurred while I was working on a long and involved story about the since-departed Vang Pao, the Hmong general who had worked for the CIA during the Vietnam war. After the war, the general had settled in California and was running a giant scam, telling the Hmong refugee community that he would lead them back to Laos if they would send him money each month. If they paid enough, they could make the trip. Their money, however, was paying for Vang Pao’s fancy living and gambling debts, not for the resistance army he claimed to be forming.

With another reporter, I had gone to a social service agency catering to Hmong folks in Fresno to ask the director, Tony Vang, what he knew about the payments. He said he knew nothing. I said sure you do. He said no I don’t. It went on like that for a while until I looked down at my notebook and he let go with a karate-style jab that landed squarely on my chin.

I saw stars but didn’t fall. I said something witty like “What the hell?” and a couple of Vang’s associates rushed out of their nearby office and led me away into a hot Fresno afternoon.

The other reporter, well, what can I say? She said she was looking in another direction and didn’t see anything. I don’t know why.

Our story about Vang Pao came out a few months later. It was pretty much ignored by the authorities until several years later when the feds charged him with extorting money from his followers, the same scheme we had written about. But because of his old CIA ties, Vang Pao had some hardcore connections in the U.S. government. The charges were eventually dropped. Now there’s a Vang Pao Elementary School in Fresno.

The other encounter also occurred while I was a reporter for the Fresno Bee. Election time was approaching and I was working on a story about how a serious candidate for the Fresno County Board of Supervisors had run an insurance scheme years earlier. He was an insurance agent specializing in crop insurance, especially for raisins.

Here’s what he did. When a freeze hit the San Joaquin Valley, he declared that some of his customers had lost their crops even when they had not. So the insurance company he worked with paid for their losses. He then took the perfectly good raisins and sold them on the black market. These were raisins, not peanuts. There was some serious money involved.

Anyway, it was a hard story to put together and we didn’t have anything ready until very close to the election. It is considered bad form journalistically to raise new allegations very near an election but we broke the rule because we felt what we had uncovered was compelling. We published on the Friday four days before the Tuesday election. It ran across the top of page 1. The candidate’s name wasn’t Smith but let’s just call him that. The headline read “Smith implicated in raisin scam.”

Smith was not pleased, so not pleased that he called me up that night and said he wanted to tell his side of the story, which he had repeatedly declined to do before the story ran. So on that Saturday, we met at his campaign headquarters. His lawyer, Brian Tatarian, was there and so was my city editor, Dana Heupel.

We sat on opposite sides of a table. I was on about the third question when Smith snapped. Although he was slightly smaller than I was, he was one of the strongest Smiths I have known. He jumped up, grabbed me by my shirt and arms and essentially dragged me across the table. It was a fairly impressive move given that I carried around a few extra pounds, even then.

Judo-style, he then tried to flip me up against, or through, a floor-to-ceiling window but by then the observers had stopped merely observing. Dana grabbed Smith’s left foot while Brian grabbed the right. Dana and Brian both ended up on the floor, still holding feet, and Smith and I soon joined them there.

By the time we were standing again, there seemed to be consensus that the interview was over. Dana and I went to a bar. Later, we took pictures of the bruises on my arms and shoulders but nothing ever came from any of it.

I believe Smith was the favorite before our story ran but he went on to lose to the incumbent on Tuesday, which was a good thing. I never directly encountered him again but I heard from numerous others about the speech he gave some time later. He was receiving a big award for sports boosterism. He told the assembled crowd how it was one of the great moments in his life and that the only thing that could have made it better would have been for me to have succumbed to a painful disease on the same day.

Overall, the journalistic life isn’t particularly dangerous in the United States, at least not compared to the way things are in many other countries, Mexico in particular. As far as I know, none of the many reporters I worked with over the years was ever attacked but we have all seen stories of reporters and photographers being assaulted at crime scenes or other newsworthy events. I don’t know whether any arrests ever resulted but obviously such occurrences should be taken seriously.

I am writing this, I suppose, as a reminder to folks that it isn’t easy being a reporter but it ridiculously easy to be critical of reporters, to diminish them and their work. I get a little tired of the way reporters are portrayed on TV and in popular literature. Even Michael Connelly, the extremely popular crime novelist who worked at the Los Angeles Times, depicts many of them as the sort who might warrant a poke in the chin or a toss through a window. The truth is, there are times when I probably deserved worse because I could be more than a little pushy, a little obnoxious in my righteousness, but for the most part, reporters are only doing what they do so you won’t have to. Cut ’em some slack.

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Ratepayers, let’s make this plain and simple: Cal Am has got to go and public water has to replace it.

“Where should Cal Am go?” Away from the Monterey Peninsula for good, that’s where.

“Why should it go?” The answer is simple and obvious. They’ve increased rates and fees, not only to cover water delivery costs but also costs arising out of their bad decisions and negligence. Those costs should not have been placed solely on your shoulder. Instead, Cal-Am should have borne their fair and equitable share, to say nothing about the almost 10% profit that is guaranteed by California regulation. The result is you, a customer innocent of any wrongdoing, has become the pot of gold at the end of Cal Am’s rainbow, to the tune of being hit with the highest cost of water in the entire country. If you are still asking if Cal Am should be be made to go away, consider:

Will Cal Am ever change colors like a salamander and rebate past unfair rate hikes back to you?

Second, will the local commercial customers who benefit from favorable rates not available to you change their colors, find a little equity and reason, and offer to use their influence to help you out of the deep rate abyss into which you have fallen?   I am not kidding, but I might as well be. It ain’t gonna happen.

Third, will your elected representatives, including city councils, mayors, supervisors and  those in Sacramento, come to their senses to understand they were elected to see the light and aggressively  protect your interests? Hasn’t happened yet, and such a sea change not likely in the cards.

“Why then, don’t our politicians understand the burden of very high and uncontrolled rate hikes on the average guy/gal?” Go figure – they don’t

“So what’s left? What WILL cause Cal-Am to leave town?”

Any realistic solution to  Cal Am must replace it with a workable public agency. You deserve an agency that represents all of you, not just some, that knows what it is doing, is transparent, is committed to working for you and that will deliver cheaper water.

Only one existing agency fills the bill — the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. It far from perfect, but it’s the ONLY one with all the elements necessary to actually manage a water supply system.   Creating a new agency would be time consuming, and a waste of time without an assurance that what you need will be what you get. If you are unhappy with the decisions made by the district board, remember they are elected by you and if they can’t get their individual or collective acts together, you could vote them out and replace them with persons who will.

It may take time, but don’t minimize the importance of getting educated, and actually voting. A landswell of public support for public water can make it happen. It has happened elsewhere. No alternative option can realistically provide you the representation and accessibility and ensure your ability to be running the show with your votes. Strong and unyielding public pressure can turn the district around and it’s more than worth the effort.

Your last question should be “Where and how can I get on board?” Call Public Water Now. The first step toward success is that group’s effort to pass a ballot referendum to initiate the process. They need you and your support. If costs are a concern for you, PWN is your best option. Get going, get educated and get involved!

Hood, former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, divides his time between Carmel and Columbus, Ohio.

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After a flood of inquiries, four or even five, I have decided it is best to share with Partisan readers the explanation for the recently slow flow of mirth and enlightenment from those who have brought you the Monterey Bay Partisan for close to three years now. It is a simple ankle injury. Well, not so simple, perhaps. It is a major sprain and a break of a sort that required surgery a week ago. The culprit was a car that opted to enter the crosswalk while it was already occupied by me and my wife, whose injury has caused her just as much pain and suffering without resulting in as much complaint.

Never fear, or do fear. We will return. We are currently on assignment, probing the vagaries of Monterey County planning policy and in the not too distant future there will be other works to entertain or confound. It’s just that, well, we were never particularly quick or agile,  and time we might have spent poring over campaign expense reports is now spent studying precautions against deep vein thrombosis.

In the meantime, please feel encouraged, as always, to submit your own writings, particularly those about local affairs, and we will see what we can do to keep this operation hobbling forward. calkinsroyal@gmail.com is the place to send them.

Cheers

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A 31-unit subdivision proposal going before the Monterey County Planning Commission this week carries a sizable load of controversies. The lots are too small, the location is too rural, the neighbors don’t like the idea at all and the county would have to bend various planning rules to make it work. There are water and traffic issues and more.

The property is along Val Verde Avenue on a pretty stretch of farmland just east of the Crossroads shopping center. The neighbors have hired lawyer Molly Erickson to combat the proposal and she has responded with considerable evidence of the project’s inadvisability. (Click the link for Erickson’s letter to the county planners in advance of Wednesday’s public hearing on the project. The county staff, by the way, recommends approval, largely because the project would add some units of affordable housing albeit on substandard lots)

But what is unusually interesting about this venture is the ownership. The property owner and applicant is  Carmel Rio Road LLC, a limited partnership headed by Ray Wirta, who is the CEO of international real estate giant CBRE and president of the Irvine Company, the real estate behemoth that made Orange County what it is today.

The names of CBRE and the Irvine Company don’t’ show up in the thick county file on the project, which, in slightly larger form, was turned down by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in 2012. But Wirta’s name on the application creates speculation that it may represent an unlikely attempt by the Irvine Company to dip a toe into Monterey County’s development waters to find out how accommodating they may be to Irvine Company-style mega development.

A call to Wirta’s office in Orange County went unreturned Monday, but the project’s local representative, Brian Clark of Sand City, answered a few questions about the venture. He said Wirta’s involvement is simply that of an owner  and that it amounts to a personal investment unrelated to the Irvine Company. Clark, who is in the loan business, said he has known Wirta for 30 years and persuaded him to invest. When the venture went before the county five years ago, noted Big Sur builder Bill Mcleod of Post Ranch fame was listed as a partner and he remains involved in some capacity.

The Central Coast would not seem to be fertile ground for an operation as big and aggressive as the Irvine Company, but land anywhere near the California coast has proved to be an irresistible investment lure for those who prefer subdivisions to sand dunes.

Raymond Wirta

The Irvine Company practically invented Orange County, which grew from 220 residents in 1950 to more than 700,000 in 1960. Worth more than $15 billion, the Irvine Company’s principal owner, Donald Bren, is the nation’s richest real estate investor. According to Forbes, he owns 57,000 apartment units, mostly in California, along with 500 office buildings and more than 40 shopping centers, including the sprawling Fashion Island in Newport Beach. From its Orange County base, the Irvine Company has expanded into major real estate markets across the country, including Silicon Valley in the past couple of years.

Unlike Donald Bren, whose name has been attached to numerous of his ventures and philanthropies, Wirta is largely unknown outside real estate circles – but he is a giant within them.

For the last several years he has simultaneously been CEO of CBRE, the world’s largest real estate investment conglomerate, CEO of The Koll Company and managing partner of at least two other real estate enterprises. At the same time, he is president of investment properties for the Irvine Company. He previously served as CEO of the Bolsa Chica Company, which for decades pursued one of the the most controversial real estate ventures in California history. Several years ago, he formed an entity known as Rich Uncles REIT to solicit small investors into the real estate investment trust market.

LandWatch Monterey County and the Carmel Valley Association also have written letters of opposition to the project.

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