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Your latest Big Sur damage update from Big Sur Kate

Photo courtesy Big Sur Kate website

Kate Novoa of Big Sur Kate website fame, posted the following in response to a previous Partisan post about the location of the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge. We’re reposting it here to give it wider audience:

That Pfeiffer Canyon bridge was built in 1967. Expectations are 1-2 years to rebuild it. There are also some major problem areas to the south, specifically Cow Cliffs, just north of Big Creek; Paul’s Slide, just south of Lucia, which will be completely closed for installation of a soil nail wall, which will take approximately 2 weeks (unknown start date); and finally the gift-that-keeps-giving, Mud Creek. In between these three major ones, are numerous others both north and south. One serious one to the north is between Hurricane Point and the Little Sur River. The pavement is cracking and giving way, as well as experiencing a slide. Numerous private roads: Clear Ridge, Apple Pie Ridge, North Coast Ridge Road, for example are non-existent in spots. Cachagua and Palo Colorado Canyon are just two of the county roads destroyed, both heavily impacted by their constant use by large and heavy equipment during the Soberanes Fire. Nacimiento-Fergusson Road closed to all but locals (between 6 PM and 7 AM) and emergency vehicles yesterday for 2-4 weeks for repairs. I can’t speak to other parts of the county, as these are the only areas I can keep up with, and that is not easy when it has been ever changing. We have 2 weeks of dry weather. Let’s make the most of it,

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The Partisan borrowed this Stan Russell photo from the Big Sur Kate blog.

So where is the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge that has failed in Big Sur? If I had the capability, I’d post a map, but I don’t. The newspapers have the capability but, well, well, … I’m not sure why they aren’t printing a map. You might want to ask them.

So here’s a word map and Michael DeLapa has posted a link to a map in the comments section below.  The failed bridge is about a mile south of Big Sur Station and several miles north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. So if you want to go from Carmel to the businesses and attractions on the north end of the community, like the River Inn and Fernwood,  you’re dependent on the status of various mudslides. As of late Saturday, things were pretty much closed down south of Palo Colorado but that could change. If you want to go to the Big Sur Bakery, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Nepenthe from the north, forget about it until the bridge is fixed.

The best source of information about Big Sur, weather conditions, road closures, etc., is the Big Sur Kate website.

When you can get there, you should go. Go see the sights and buy some stuff from the stores and food from the restaurants. They’re going to need your help. Just a couple months ago, the nice folks of Big Sur were complaining about crowds of tourists blocking the roads, especially on the weekends. Those crowds are looking kinda good at the moment.

Hope that helps. If I’m off at all, please someone correct me.  Kate?

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Proprietor’s note: The Monterey City Council on Tuesday reversed course on a plan to reform leasing policies for the city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf, where many long-term tenants have enjoyed sweetheart rates under agreements reached decades ago. Just last year, a council majority of Libby Downey, Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett revamped the leasing program to provide for shorter lease terms, market rates rather than inexplicable discounts, and other changes intended to break up the buddy system that have enriched a few. The reform effort essentially died, however, after Downey lost her seat in the November election, losing out to Dan Albert Jr., who had considerable support from wharf interests, and when Barrett flipped sides after receiving campaign contributions from wharf-related enterprises. By a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the council eliminated a long list of professional business practices for the wharf and replaced it with a general statement of intent that removes almost all objective standards from the city’s leasing policies. Among those urging the council to retain was Monterey resident and retired dentist Dan Turner. Here, slightly modified, is his statement to the council:
The current guidelines for city leases were approved just a short time ago after a long and exhaustive process that included discussions at least eight City Council meetings, input from all sorts of real estate professionals, attorneys specializing in real estate law and all sorts of other meetings and seminars, etc., etc. And now, all of a sudden, here it is on the council’s agenda again.

How could this happen? Were you all in a coma, or under the influence of something when you agreed to these guidelines and now that you’ve come to your senses you realize that you have to “revisit” them to correct your mistakes?

Of course not. There is only one reason for tonight’s “revisiting” and that is that money – and lots of it – has been applied to the political process here in the city of Monterey in just the right places. The effect has been to remove a councilwoman who was ferocious in her defense of the rights of the citizens of Monterey in assuring that they got fair prices for their rental property, the election of a new councilman who is in favor of trashing these laboriously developed and very fair leasing guidelines and the flipping of a sitting councilman who suddenly – after receiving campaign contributions from (wharf tenant Chris) Shake – decided that all these very fair and laboriously developed guidelines needed to be revisited.

No one is going to follow you guys around to see how often you have coffee with Chris Shake and (hotel manager) John Narigi but these sorts of political shenanigans represent the worst sort of political cronyism. Worse than that is the debasement of our local politics by our system of legalized bribery that we refer to as campaign contributions. Mr. Narigi seems to have taken a page from Don Chapin’s political handbook in organizing the business community to donate to local city council races. Mr. Chapin has been able to control the Salinas City Council by donating large amounts of money to pro-business candidates. Do you really want Monterey to become like Salinas in that regard?

There is nothing wrong with listening to business owners and taking their desires into account. But if you decide to “revisit” these laboriously created and very fair guidelines for leasing city property and return to the policies of giving wharf leases at below fair market rents, not charging for the entire square footage, allowing lessees to sublet at many times the rent they pay to the city and letting them keep the difference between what they pay us and what they get from the sub-lessee, there will be no other reasonable conclusion than that the money applied by the business community did its job and that you guys have sold us out.

I hope I’ll have to return here at some point in the future to apologize to you for ever having thought that you’d do such a thing. Don’t disappoint me.

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Conservative columnist Victor Davis Hanson never quite comes out and says it but his message is clear anyway. His beloved California has been ruined by Mexicans. So his latest column isn’t a surprise. Although he is offended by Donald Trump’s style, he is in favor of the president’s ham-handed and heavy-handed approach to immigration, and he suggests that most people who feel otherwise have some sort of profit motive.

All of that is bad enough, but he takes it farther and puts words into the mouths of “most Americans,” words that I don’t think they have spoken.

“Most Americans want the border enforced. And, depending on how the question is worded, most voters likewise favor the completion of a wall on the southern border and an end to all illegal immigration.”

Most Americans think it is financially feasible and logical to build a wall?

He goes on.

“There is little public support for sanctuary cities. They are seen as a form of neo-Confederate nullification – insurrectionary and unsustainable in a republic of laws.”

I guess my question for Victor on this one is how do you define public? My second question: Do you know what a sanctuary city is?

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Here’s one serious traffic problem that we can fix

If they didn’t cause so much trouble, one might almost feel sorry for eucalyptus trees. They get so much bad press.

Just in the past several weeks we’ve seen headlines telling us “Massive eucalyptus tree crushes cars in Lafayette parking lot,” and “Eucalyptus tree falls at UCSD, smashing cars,” and “Massive eucalyptus tree falls, crushes car in Fremont,” and “Expert: Doubtful that drought felled eucalyptus tree at Whittier wedding.” That last falling eucalyptus, by the way, killed one and injured five.

So why are we talking about eucalyptus trees? Because fallen eucalyptus prevented me from making it to the Bay area in time to enjoy a concert with my daughter on Tuesday and I remembered two other times in the past two years when I missed something important because of that same damned grove of eucalyptus trees that straddle Highway 101 just north of Prunedale.

Look, I like trees as much as anyone. Even eucalyptus trees. I like the way they smell and they seem at home here in California despite their decidedly non-native status. But a couple of wayward eucalyptus trees managed to essentially close Highway 101 from shortly after noon until almost 5 p.m. where the highway meets Rocks Road not far from the San Juan Bautista turnoff. You know the place. The trees make for a pleasantly shady tunnel there. Do not be fooled.

It wasn’t only the fault of the trees, of course, though they are notorious fallers. The big-time rains have soaked the ground. There have been winds. Weather troubles abound. But there are other culprits, including the highway powers that be, and the public that supposedly provides direction to those powers. For they have decided that it’s just fine to have several hundred big eucalyptus trees doing their thing right alongside one of the most important highways in the western United States.

The trees were not my only problem Tuesday. They required me to spend 90 minutes in Prunedale staring at the back of a cattle truck. But if that had been the only delay, I might have made it to the show. I wasn’t counting on the highway being blocked by Coyote Creek overflow at the north end of Morgan Hill.

I knew the road was blocked but I stupidly figured there would be a simple and quick detour. Get off at one exit, take surface streets for 10 minutes and get back on. Nope. This was get off at one exit and then crawl along a crowded country road forever because the nearest freeway on ramp was about a thousand miles north. OK, it was five miles but it was the longest five miles I’ve ever seen. (This is where I would put in a kind word for the CHP if I had seen any during my eight-hour journey to Berkeley.)

I’m focusing instead on the trees because Coyote Creek isn’t a continuing problem and, if it was, it wouldn’t be as easily fixed.

So, back to the trees.

For anyone else was caught in the 101 meltdown Tuesday, were you surprised to learn that it involved the eucalyptus grove at Rocks Road? If you were surprised, have you lived here long?

No, I’m not suggesting that we clear-cut freeway frontage everywhere. I would miss the eucalyptus trees if they were turned into firewood. But even if all the eucalyptus trees within falling distance of the freeway were eliminated, there would still be a few thousand trees in the grove.

Responsible property owner trim their trees and cut down the ones most likely to snap power lines or block roads in a storm. Shouldn’t we expect as much from Caltrans?

Sure, there are more important things to worry about. That’s true for just about any issue you can come up with. The weather has pounded the region over the past several days and many people have suffered troubles far worse than missing a concert. I should be writing that or about how the Monterey City Council was getting buffaloed by the Wharf Lords while I was not enjoying the concert. But most of the bigger problems have either no solution or no easy solution. This one seems pretty simple.

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With so many grassroots organizations newly formed or revitalized in response to the new Republican order in Washington, debate over the best way to combat Donald Trump’s nonsense has become a huge deal. Vigils? Marches? Sit-ins? Letters to Congress? Active resistance? Passive resistance? Tax strikes? Strategies abound and agreement is hard to come by.

I’m generally in support of each approach, but another one came to me in a dream last night. And I feel like sharing.

How about this? All the progressives and other strong-minded people of this fine nation, we hold some bake sales, sell off some stock, cash in some 401Ks and raid the college fund and then we pool all that money together and offer it to Trump. Here’s, say, $100 million. Resign and it’s all yours.

There are downsides, of course. Some will argue that $100 million isn’t enough. Trump’s almost as rich as he thinks he is and doesn’t need the money. But hasn’t he done dirty rotten things to creditors and vendors for a lot less. Hasn’t he shown that he’ll do anything for a buck? Hmm. Step down? Let me think about it. Are we talking cash?

OK, maybe it’s illegal. Perhaps it could be interpreted as a bribe. So we launder the money. Through Mexico or Syria. Trump says it is easy to get anyone or anything over those borders. Or we don’t make it a direct tit for tat. We say the $100 million is salary for his new job as an inspirational speaker and, unfortunately, it’s a full-time gig, so goodbye White House. He’s not really comfortable there anyway. Not enough glitter.

Some will argue that the money would have been better spent on something else. I hate that argument because it could be made when money is spent on just about anything. What? You spent all that money fixing a dam?

One downside is that if Trump goes, we get Pence. Which is a real concern. But while Pence was a horrible governor of Indiana, he isn’t as sneaky as Trump and probably isn’t as dishonest. He certainly isn’t as creative, and, therefore, he isn’t as dangerous. Plus, if Pence needs to be impeached, it’s certain that he would be replaced by someone better than Pence. A few more impeachments and Elizabeth Warren would be president.

So is this suggestion serious? That’s certainly a good question, one that probably should be asked but only by someone friendly to the Monterey Bay Partisan and its mission to save ourselves from ourselves. I think the voting public is going to force Trump out of office well before his four years are up. All those GOP congressional types facing elections in two years will want him gone before then, and there’s a fine chance he will have or already has committed some high crime, the sort that gets one impeached. They tried to run Bill Clinton out of office for doing the kind of things Trump brags about. I also suspect Trump won’t be in office long after his tax returns see the light of day. The government has the originals and the Russians probably have copies.

But as backup plans go, mine isn’t the worst. The smart thing, of course, would be for the $100 million to be an illusion, bait, part of a con, so we could keep the money and use it for a national dose of Ativan. They say you can’t con an honest man, which suggests that Trump would be a particularly easy mark. Look at how Steve Bannon tricked him into naming that 31-year-old nut job from Santa Monica as special adviser. I suspect Bannon was just trying to see if Trump had any standards at all.

Either way, we’d have to cooperate, more than half the U.S. population pulling together to come up with $100 million, which is like 75 cents apiece. If the con doesn’t work, fine. Trump gets to keep the money but we’re rid of him and if Pence doesn’t work out any better, we should be able to buy him out for a lot less.

For now, we probably should keep this to ourselves. Then again, if the idea spreads, it could make it into the national press at some point, maybe even the New York Times or Washington Post, which guarantees that Trump will never see it coming.

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The Monterey County Board of Supervisors, on a 3-2 split, continued to press its case Tuesday for providing additional voting strength to the county and Salinas in the formation of a regional electrical power consortium.

The plan has been in the works for several years now, but with a formation deadline approaching next month, supervisors John Phillips, Luis Alejo and Simon Salinas are essentially saying that unless Monterey County gets an extra vote, they’ll pass on enabling Monterey County residents to reduce their reliance on carbon-heavy energy sources and replace them with power from renewable sources.

Here’s the Monterey Herald story on Tuesday’s action. Here’s our previous story.

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Gentle Partisan readers;

It occurs to me that the Partisan has offered up little about the Washington freak show, largely because it is just so hard to keep up. And that means we have done a poor job of providing you with space for your thoughts on the general and Conway and Bannon and, of course, the new guy, the self-parodying Stephen Miller.

So share away. Comments. Questions. Words of wisdom or pointless rambling. It’s up to you. Just click on a comment box below and have at it. Yes, there is some attempt at moderation here, so, no, you can’t just call each other names. This is supposed to be enlightening and maybe even useful.

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Board splits along gender lines

Monterey County’s effort to gain additional authority over a regional electrical power consortium seems to be coming up short, with most of the other 20 government partners unenthusiastic about awarding the county an extra vote on the governing body.

Monterey County staffers are scheduled Tuesday to brief a divided Board of Supervisors on their effort to persuade the other counties and cities involved to bestow additional voting rights on Monterey County. That item is on the board’s 1:30 p.m. agenda.

The proposed Monterey Bay Community Power agency is intended to be an alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., an energy brokerage of sorts dedicated to increasing the Central Coast’s use of renewable energy and potentially driving down the cost of electricity. It would be the seventh such “Community Choice Energy” agency in California.

It would be operated by a joint-powers agency made up of the governments of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties and the cities in those counties.

Five years into the process of creating the agency, most of the government agencies involved have formally approved the structure and the operating principles but three members of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors have thrown a wrench into the works by insisting that Monterey County receive an extra vote because it has the largest population of the three counties. As it stands, Monterey County and the cities in the county would have five of the 11 votes on the board, more than any other county, but supervisors Luis Alejo, Simon Salinas and John Phillips say Monterey County deserves a second vote of its own, giving the county and the cities in the county a total of six votes. As an alternative, they say they could support weighted voting,.

The issue has divided the board, with Chairwoman Mary Adams and Jane Parker supporting the original plan. Parker, in fact, is urging her constituents to attend today’s board meeting and be prepared to argue in favor of moving the venture along.

According to Parker’s office, the agency would:

  • More than double our use of renewable energy resources (from 27% renewables to 59% renewables)
  • Provide 70% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission free electricity
  • Provide annual surplus revenues of approximately $9 million dollars in funds that can will support our local regional goals
  • Help build local renewable energy projects, stimulate local economic reinvestment and support local green job creation.

Government staffers in Monterey and elsewhere say it is difficult to tell whether the Alejo-Salinas-Phillips triumvirate is simply seeking a stronger voice on the agency board or is attempting to scuttle the venture.

Alejo didn’t return a call or email requesting comment, but he reportedly has argued privately that he fears the agency could end up raising power bills for low-income residents. The person who has worked most closely with the venture says that simply isn’t true, as demonstrated by the agency’s voluminous technical studies.

That person is Virginia Johnson, an aide to Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, the former secretary of state and legislator who has led the formation process.

Johnson said Monday that some other community power agencies have succeeded in lowering overall electrical rates and that even if that did not prove to be the case on the Central Coast, current PG&E customers would be entitled to continue their PG&E service along with any low-income discounts.

“There is no way poor people are going to pay more,” Johnson said.

San Benito County officials originally expressed similar concerns but were won over by activists working closely with the Catholic Church, which has embraced the plan.

A popular feature of the new entity is that it would allow for relatively affluent households to pay a premium for power in order to be supplied entirely by relatively clean sources such as solar or wind.

The overall plan had been scheduled for final approval by the end of 2016 but was delayed until March because of Monterey County’s reservations, which, according to Johnson and others, have received scant support elsewhere.  Johnson said the other entities would much prefer that Monterey County stay with the plan, largely because additional population creates additional buying power when purchasing electricity, but she said the others are fully prepared to move ahead with or without Monterey County.

As it stands, Monterey County and jurisdictions in the county would have five votes on an 11-member board of directors. Those votes would be assigned to the county, Salinas, the Peninsula cities as a group, Seaside/Marina/Sand City/Del Rey Oaks as a group, and the South County cities.

Santa Cruz County and its jurisdictions would control four votes and San Benito County, with the smallest population of the three counties, would control two votes.

Under the alternative weighted voting proposal, Monterey County, Santa Cruz County and Salinas, the largest city in the region, would be apportioned extra voting power on some issues.

Monterey Bay Community Power would be a government-run non-profit operating under a 2002 state law that enables communities to choose to buy power from clean sources while contracting with PG&E to maintain power lines and provide customer service.

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Marlon Joel Rodas-Sanchez (left) poses with his mother, Lorena, in this undated photo

The mother of the 16-year-old Salinas boy killed by Salinas police last month says a witness told her the boy was unarmed when he was shot, having dropped the knife that he had been waving around outside his residence, but the Monterey County District Atttorney’s Office says the evidence contradicts her.

Lorena Rodas said a man who was at the Terrace Avenue residence when Marlon Rodas-Sanchez was killed said he had watched as fire fighters used a fire hose to try to dislodge the knife. She indicated he wasn’t sure whether the stream of water had knocked the weapon from the boy’s hand but the witness told her the boy was unarmed when he was shot after walking into the home.

“That’s what the man told me and he told the same thing to his father,” Rodas said. “The man said he didn’t have the knife when he went inside, because the knife was outside.”

Assistant District Attorney Berkley Brannon, however, said body camera footage from the event shows that the boy was armed when he was shot.

“There’s a lot of body cam footage, and I’ve seen enough to say that that (the mother’s account) is not true,” Brannon said Thursday.

Largely because of disputes over officer-involved shootings nationally, Salinas police like many of their counterparts now carry small video cameras on their uniforms. Most police agencies, Salinas included, have not settled on procedures on when and how footage from those cameras are to be made public. Salinas police spokesman Spencer Critchley suggested last month that the video from the Jan. 18 shooting will be made available at some point.

Marlon was shot to death Jan. 18 after officers were dispatched to the residence after being told he was carrying a butcher knife and acting irrationally. Deputy District Attorney Ed Hazel said earlier that 14 officers responded to the call. He said the boy was tased and shot with rubber bullets before the fire hose was turned on him.

A recording of the police dispatch tape indicates that officers repeatedly told the boy to drop the weapon and that he would not respond. Officers reported that he repeatedly appeared to be sharpening the knife on cement and talking to himself. A witness, believed to be the man Marlon’s mother spoke with, later said the boy was high on drugs of some sort.

Rodas, the mother, told a Spanish-language translator for the Partisan in a telephone interview that she had few details about the incident. She lives in the San Jose area and her husband, who lived with the boy, wasn’t home at the time of the shooting.

“The truth is I don’t know how to explain it very well because I wasn’t there. His dad wasn’t there either. He was working, but just before this happened, (Marlon) was with me. He left on Monday and I didn’t see him again until he was in a box. And they wouldn’t let me even identify him at the morgue. That seems very strange to me because as his parents, we would recognize him. I didn’t see him until he was at the funeral home.”

Rodas said the funeral home told her that Marlon had been shot eight times, once in the heart. Authorities said earlier that he was shot six times by an automatic rifle and twice by a handgun.

She said most of her information came from the man who was at the house at the time. She said he told her he didn’t see officers using a taser or rubber bullets but did see the fire hose.

“He said that was the only thing he saw that they used. My son was very thin and small, just a child. If you saw his picture you’d see.”

On the dispatch tape, officers can be heard saying a taser had been used but that it was ineffective.

Rodas said she feels she disrespected by authorities.

“They left everything destroyed (in the house), the blood and all. It’s not right to leave things like that. It’s been 19 days now and we are all destroyed. We’re so sad. What I want is to have justice. They haven’t even given me his clothes that he wore.

“The funeral home gave me his rosary. And two little earrings. The funeral home gave me that. The police still have his phone and his clothes. I don’t know why they won’t give them to me.”

She continued, in Spanish, “The police didn’t say anything. Only that they are investigating. The officer said the investigation could take months or years. That’s what he told me.”

She said she has an appointment with a lawyer next month.

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Bill McCrone has a question for the folks at City Hall, and it’s a simple one: What’s the hurry?

Specifically, why are city officials renegotiating lease terms with Chris Shake for the Fisherman’s Grotto on Fisherman’s Wharf, where the city lease doesn’t expire until 2021. And why are they renegotiating lease terms with the Surfside entity for the London Bridge Pub property at the foot of the wharf, where the current lease still has 20 months to run.

Those renegotiations are the topic of a closed-door meeting of the council tonight.

McCrone is a former planning commissioner and longtime critic of the city’s leasing practices at the wharf, which he has researched extensively. In a letter to the city, he notes that the City Charter requires the city to collect fair market value on its properties. He asks how the city can calculate fair market value so far in advance.

“The California Constitution and numerous other state and federal laws prohibit government officials, elected or appointed or employed, from giving away public property for less than adequate compensation to the public.  If you extend these two outrageous ‘ground’ leases or enter into new leases at less than FMR (market value), you will be defrauding the public and giving public property to private persons for free,” McCrone wrote.

McCrone, a retired lawyer, also argues that Surfside holds the master lease on the pub property and profits handsomely by subleasing the property, performing little or no service of value in the process. He says that’s a violation of city regulations.

Surfside, headed by the Cannery Row Co.’s Ted Balestreri,  “is doing nothing more than managing a well seasoned property but receives 60% to 70% of the rent for management.  Five % to 10% is the market rate for commercial property management.  No matter how you paper it, extending Surfside’s management for more than 10% of gross rents is a fraud on the public,” McCrone wrote.

“The good ole boys are at it again.  The dust has hardly settled on the recent election before they have once again forced their noses under the tent to reap enormous public subsidy for their commercial operations.  The reasons to refuse this premature negotiation are now more numerous than they have been the past two or three times the Council has refused their requests.”

The Partisan emailed various city officials this morning to ask why the city would consider renegotiating the leases early. City Manager Mike McCarthy replied only that that was something under consideration. The Partisan could not determine late Tuesday what if any action the council had taken.

The City Council two years ago began efforts to reform leasing practices at the city-owned wharf, largely because several longtime leaseholders were operating at sweetheart rates bestowed on them decades ago. In some cases, those leaseholders are profiting handsomely by subleasing the properties, with none of the profit going to the city.

Wharf tenants responded with a public relations campaign accusing City Hall of seeing to out local businesses and replacing them with chain operations able to pay more. The businesses also complained that the city was seeking the shorten the length of the leases, making it difficult for the tenants to obtain financing. A handful of leases have expired during the debate and the city is negotiating with Bay Area firms to fill a couple of the spaces, but city officials maintain they recognize the value of unique, local operations.

The merchants’ resistance to various reform measures was fortified in November when longtime Councilmember Libby Downey, a leader of the reform effort, lost her re-election bid. She was ousted by Dan Albert Jr., the former school official who received considerable financial support from wharf interests. For practical purposes, the wharf interest generally enjoy support from a council majority.

In his letter, McCrone argues that any council member who has received more than $500 from wharf interests should recuse themselves.

“You ought to pass an ordinance to limit campaign contributions,” McCrone wrote. “Your self-serving failure to do so has initiated a strong sentiment among citizens to take this issue to the polls with a charter amendment.”

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“Best blog” is among the categories in the contest,  Unfortunately for us, Big Sur Kate is also a nominee.

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NEWS FLASH: Monterey County Board of Supervisors votes unanimously to send the letter explained below.

 

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors is being asked Tuesday to send a letter to state regulators asking them not to allow oil producers to sidestep state and local regulations intended to prevent contamination of potable water supplies in southern Monterey County.

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, commonly known as DOGGER, is considering a proposal to expand exemptions for two of the San Ardo-area oilfields, which would allow additional use of injection techniques and underground disposal of wastewater from those processes.

Protect Monterey County, the organizers of the Measure Z anti-fracking initiative passed in November, has been lobbying the supervisors to enforce that measure and take other steps to protect the water and resist the oil industry’s attempt to pressure the county to disregard the letter and intent of the ballot measure.

Oil pump jacks at sunset sky background. Toned.

The letter being considered Tuesday was drafted for the county by the County Counsel’s Office, which earlier worked with the oil companies to delay implementation of Measure Z until the industry’s legal challenges have been adjudicated.

The matter is scheduled for sometime shortly after 10 p.m. at the supervisors’ chambers, 186 W. Alisal St. in Salinas.

The draft letter follows:

To Whom it May Concern:

The County of Monterey (“County”) submits these comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Aquifer Exemption (“Notice”) published by the California Department of Conversation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“Division”) on January 11, 2017. According to the Notice, the Division is considering a proposal (“Proposal”) “to expand the current aquifer exemption designation for the Lombardi and Aurignac Sands of the Monterey Formation to the geologic limits of each unit in and around the San Ardo and McCool Ranch Oil Fields located about 2 miles southeast of the town of San Ardo, CA along Highway 101 at Alvarado Rd.” If the Division and other regulatory agencies approve the Proposal, the resulting exemption “would allow the State, in compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, to approve Class II injection into the identified area for enhanced oil recovery or for injection disposal of fluids associated with oil and gas production.”

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act and state law require the protection of underground sources of drinking water. Underground sources of drinking water are defined broadly in federal regulations to include any aquifer that supplies or contains a sufficient quantity of groundwater to supply a public water system and that has a total dissolved solids composition of less than 10,000 mg/l. (40 C.F.R. § 144.3). As the Division’s Statement of Basis concludes, the area subject to the Proposal meets this definition of an underground source of drinking water that is required to protection.

If certain criteria are met, underground sources of drinking water may be exempted from protection such that Class II injection into the underground source may be permitted. Among other criteria, the underground source must not currently serve as a source of drinking water or cannot now and will not in the future serve as a source of drinking water for specified reasons. (40 C.F.R. § 146.4). In addition, injection into the source must not affect the quality of water that is, or may reasonably be, used for any beneficial use. (Public Resources Code § 3131.)

The County requests that the Division carefully consider whether the Proposal satisfies the requirements for an exemption and whether this is an appropriate instance in which the Division should use its discretion to permit the disposal of fluids associated with oil and gas production into this particular underground source. Citizens of Monterey County have long expressed concern about the public health and safety issues associated with the injection of fluids into the County’s groundwater. In November of 2016, the voters in Monterey County approved Measure Z, an initiative that amends the County’s General Plan and related land use documents to create land use prohibitions associated with oil and gas land uses. Measure Z contains several findings that address the relationship between Class II injections and groundwater quality in the County, including, but not limited to, impacts to beneficial uses. These findings suggest that the criteria for an exemption from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act’s protection of this underground source of drinking water may not be warranted. The Division should carefully consider these findings as part of its assessment of the Proposal.

On behalf of its residents, the County is concerned that the Proposal may negatively impact public health and safety as expressed in Measure Z. The County believes that the Division should not approve the Proposal unless it can demonstrate to the residents of the County that these public health and safety impacts, including impacts to beneficial uses, will not occur.

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Hotel project is confusing mess

Until last week, I did not realize the extent to which it’s possible to tell the truth while at the same time mislead the public and the press. However, as a Pacific Grove resident following the city’s handling of Project Bella issues, I got a good lesson in omitting material facts during the hearing in which the City Council decided not to pursue reimbursement of costs from Project Bella’s developer.

Project Bella is the upscale hotel proposed to replace the current American Tin Cannery and parking lot — ATC for short —  a block from the aquarium. The 4.88-acre parcel was to become a 160-suite “world-class destination and innovative leader in conservation and sustainability,” with “state-of-the art design recycling vast amounts of water and energy,” including a “museum celebrating Pacific Grove’s extraordinary culture,” and providing “three hundred permanent high quality hotel jobs.” At least, that’s what the official Voter Guide said last spring in its “Argument In Favor of Measure X,” signed by two past mayors and the current PG mayor. Along with others who voted for Measure X, I was enthusiastic about this project and the revenue it would generate.

On April 19, 2016, PG residents voted 3,016 to 2,111 for Measure X, thereby rezoning the ATC property to allow hotel use. A city-commissioned fiscal report estimates an additional $3 million to $4 million revenue annually to city coffers. The ATC site is owned by an entity related to the Cannery Row Co. and is under an option to be leased for 99 years to a limited liability company with “Domaine” as part of its name.

The obfuscation begins with three limited liability companies (LLC), each with “Domaine” as part of their name.

  1. Domaine Hospitality Partners, LLC, is the Delaware company that proposed Project Bella and which sponsors the fancy Project Bella website. Domaine Hospitality Partners enchanted me, others, and the City Council with its promises for an upscale hotel. On February 17, 2016, the City Council voted unanimously to authorize the city manager to negotiate a master reimbursement agreement with Domaine Hospitality Partners, LLC to cover the city’s cost for more consultants, to accelerate completion of the city’s Local Coastal Plan (hereafter “the February agreement”). The February agreement was authorized but never signed.
  2. Domaine Pacific Grove, LLC, is also a Delaware company, reportedly owned by Domaine Hospitality Partners, LLC. Domaine Pacific Grove, LLC signed a reimbursement agreement with the city in June (hereafter “the June agreement”) but the City Council never authorized it and the only way to get a copy is to make a public records request. The June agreement differs from the February agreement in two material ways: [a] it does not require Domaine to pay for LCP acceleration costs, and [b] it is an agreement with Domaine Pacific Grove, LLC, instead of Domaine Hospitality Partners, LLC.
  3. Domaine Hospitality Partners, LLC is a recently formed California company. Except for having the same name, it appears unrelated to the Delaware Domaine Hospitality Partners, LLC and irrelevant to ongoing Project Bella issues.

Now let’s look at “omitting material facts.” The City Council agenda report for Feb. 1, 2017 states: “While City staff twice amended its agreement with EMC Planning [a private land use planning consulting business] to reflect the additional professional services required for the LCP effort, a reimbursement agreement for LCP costs was never reached with Domaine Hospitality.” That’s completely true. What the agenda report doesn’t disclose is that PG’s mayor signed the June agreement instead of the February agreement, although the City Council never authorized him to do so. The February agreement was authorized by the City Council, was with Domaine Hospitality Partners, LLC, and would have required Domaine to reimburse the city for LCP acceleration costs.

The June agreement was not authorized by the City Council, does not require reimbursement of LCP acceleration costs, and is with Domaine Pacific Grove, LLC. Because only the June agreement got signed, the agenda report can accurately state, “a reimbursement agreement for LCP costs was never reached with Domaine Hospitality.” Accurate, but omitting significant material facts.

The Feb. 1 agenda report recommends the council “direct staff not to pursue reimbursement from Domaine Hospitality for costs associated with the Local Coastal Plan.” Four reasons are given:

  1. “A reimbursement agreement for LCP costs was never reached with Domaine Hospitality.” As discussed above, this reason for not pursuing costs is misleading because the unauthorized June agreement was substituted for the authorized February agreement. The June agreement omitted the reimbursement requirement, and it was an agreement with Domaine Pacific Grove instead of Domaine Hospitality.
  2. Public policy: “Consideration should be given to the prudence of accepting 3rd-party contributions, particularly those from project applicants, to fund City efforts that create regulatory review policies/procedures such as the LCP.” This public policy reason for not pursuing reimbursement is contradicted by the February 17, 2016, agenda report, which states: “The proposed agreement is structured to ensure City independence throughout the effort, as the City alone decides on the scope of activities to be undertaken and the discretion to be exercised. The City shall be reimbursed for its effort, but has not delegated or impaired its judgment.” Last week’s agenda report does not explain why pursuing reimbursement from the project applicant didn’t pose a public policy issue in February 2016, but now it does.
  3. Consultant EMC did not accelerate the LCP and therefore should not be compensated for acceleration. The agenda report itself seems to contradict that rationale by stating the work EMC did in 2016 “would have occurred over a longer period of time spreading the expense over two fiscal years.” Consultant work that would otherwise take two years is clearly “accelerated” if completed in a few months. Moreover, the city paid EMC $163,000 for acceleration costs. This rationale for not seeking reimbursement is illogical.
  4. “A project application for Project Bella has not been submitted to the City.” That statement is true only if it refers to a “complete” project application. An incomplete project application was submitted in 2015. The city sent Domaine Pacific Grove, LLC a notice of incomplete application dated November 9, 2015. It informs Domaine that if the city “does not receive revised plans within 180 days from the date of this letter, the project will be considered withdrawn.” The language used, “will be considered withdrawn,” is mandatory language under legal construction theories. No revised plans were submitted, so the city deemed the project withdrawn in May 2016 (180 days after November 9). Therefore, it appears the June agreement was moot when signed.

Next, let’s look at implications for the city of Pacific Grove. Domaine Hospitality, Partners, LLC, the Delaware company, is said to hold the option for a 99-year lease on the ATC site. However, because it is not registered to do business in California, the city needs legal review to determine whether Domaine’s option for the 99-year lease is valid. If it’s not, Cannery Row or whoever owns the site and granted the lease, by virtue of Measure X passing, now enjoys a great increase in its commercial value. It can be leased to any hotel developer. We have no guarantee at all of a LEED Platinum hotel or even one in good taste.

There is also the matter of fairness to PG voters. City leaders signed the Voter Guide argument for Measure X describing a “world-class destination and innovative leader in conservation and sustainability.” It’s not the city leaders’ fault that such a project now seems unlikely, but I think voters should be given a second chance to vote now that the rezoning could result in a very different type of hotel. The voters could force a new election by gathering a sufficient number of signatures. Measure X was put on the ballot with 1,326 signatures. A subsequent ballot measure will require a similar number of signatures.

Last week’s 7-0 vote by the Pacific Grove City Council to accept the city manager’s recommendation “not to pursue reimbursement from Domaine Hospitality for costs associated with the Local Coastal Plan” makes no sense to me. It eliminates any possibility the city might recover those costs through future negotiation, even though it can’t recover the costs through the June agreement. More basically, the motion was not to pursue reimbursement from “Domaine Hospitality.” The costs were incurred for Domaine Pacific Grove, LLC, which is the applicant for Project Bella, not Domaine Hospitality

I believe all seven Pacific Grove City Council members are honest and none expects to benefit financially from the city paying $163,000 of public funds for expenses the public was told would be reimbursed by Domaine. However, it appears to me that city leaders are not getting accurate direction and advice from the city attorney. With the confusion over which entity the city has been dealing with, the altered and unauthorized June agreement that the mayor signed (with the city attorney’s approval for form), and the circumstances that have changed since the voters approved the rezoning, I recommend the city retain independent legal counsel. We need to sort out the various Domaine entities, the status of the lease on the now rezoned ATC parcel, the city’s obligation to voters who were misled, and ways to remedy the situation the city now finds itself in.

Jane Haines is a retired lawyer who lives in Pacific Grove.

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In the past six months, at least six U.S. universities have canceled scheduled appearances by white supremacist agitator Milo Yiannopoulis. In most cases, the Steve Bannon protégé had been invited by campus Republican groups. The University of Miami was one of the first to cancel, based on security concerns. That speech would have been in June.

NYU canceled a talk set for November. According to the Inside Higher Ed website, Florida Atlantic University canceled a talk that would have occurred in September. At Villanova, a campus group announced Yiannopoulis was coming but the university put out a statement say that wasn’t going to happen.

Yiannopoulis made an appearance at DePaul in May, provoking some fairly strong protest, strong enough that the university nixed a repeat performance planned for the fall.

But UC Berkeley, the campus joined at the hip with free speech, expended considerable time, money and energy to try to accommodate a Yiannopoulis talk on Wednesday and is now being denounced as the campus that killed free speech. (The same thing happened, in less dramatic fashion, at UC Davis earlier, but Davis never had Berkeley’s special reputation.)

Amid a peaceful protest by some 2,000, many of them students, an estimated 150 militants from off campus invaded the campus a couple of hours before the scheduled talk. They broke windows, set fires, set off firecrackers, and hooted and hollered to the point that the university, in consultation with its highly experienced police department, canceled the talk. And across this seemingly intelligent land, conservatives and liberals alike fell for the cheap narrative, taking to social media, letters to the editor and any other forums they could find to denounce UC Berkeley for embracing or even promoting intolerance.

If the university administration had simply wanted to muzzle obnoxious opinion, it could have said no from the start, like so many others had done. There would have been a couple of news stories and our charming new president, the boss of Yiannopoulis’ boss, might have tweeted out something about those hippies out in California. But there would have been no dramatic footage, no fireworks, no visuals to coax poorly informed people to lash out at pointy-headed university types without a moment’s thought to all the places that had simply told Milo to stay away.

This provocation by a man who makes his living by promoting misogyny and racism worked as planned, even prompting Trump to hint at ending federal aid to the UC system.

The propagandists even have some people believing that some rich liberals paid the protesters to disrupt the speech. Try to imagine George Soros handing out cash to the anarchists of the East Bay with instructions to go nuts. People with some semblance of common sense in their day-to-day lives are “liking” Facebook posts with that message and retweeting similar nonsense, without giving any thought at all to NYU or the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic, Villanova or DePaul. Maybe Soros dropped off some cash at those campuses.

Am I saying those other schools should have provided a forum for such a creepy character? In truth, that’s a tough question but here’s the way I lean. When it becomes obvious that the intent of the speaker is to irritate rather than inform, to provoke rather than prod, and it is obvious that someone is going to get hurt, I might unhappily fall into the camp that says that while the First Amendment protects your right to say whatever it is you want to say, it doesn’t require me to give you a forum.

I’m glad the Berkeley brass tried to accommodate the fellow but it should be recognized that keeping him away would not have prevented anyone from receiving his hateful message. Any young person receptive to his world view has received it or could fill the void by clicking on You Tube. The earnest young Republicans at Berkeley and NYU and DePaul who invited Milo, I’m guessing they had more on their minds than enriching the academic experience by bringing in a thought-provoking speaker. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that some of them were happy when the events were canceled. Point made. Those liberals are just soooo intolerant.

A final point. While I’m disappointed by those who have attacked the university without thinking it through, I’ve also been disappointed by the news coverage. KSBW’s 11 o’clock newscast last night was a fine example. The story line went like this. Controversial speaker was going to talk at Berkeley but the students rioted so it didn’t happen and the president might cut off federal funding and here’s some film. But mind you, this was the newcast Thursday night, not Wednesday night. There was time to gather an interview or two, some information about the identities of the violent protesters and maybe some context about what had happened elsewhere, but, hey, that might have interfered with our wakeup forecast.

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