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In a way, it makes sense that in a column about the excesses of other journalists, mostly those who aren’t fond of Donald Trump, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. goes way overboard.

The columnist, distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group, has made a career out of being a relatively rare conservative Latino. His latest column this week was at least the third in which he criticizes pundit Mark Halperin for the manner in which he once interviewed Navarrette’s buddy, Ted Cruz. But that isn’t where Navarrette blew it.

The column starts by forgiving Halperin’s previous insensitivity because he had, in Navarrette’s words, a recent “epiphany” and has come to the realization that some journalists are overly aggressive in their coverage of the current president. That’s the theme of this Navarrette column, in which he writes that “media types” cozy with “Team Hillary” during the campaign “did everything from attending an off-the-record dinner at the home of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, to submitting their stories to Clinton officials before publication, to soliciting anti-Trump material from the Democratic National Committee.”

I put part of that quotation in italics because that is where he screwed up.

Submitting articles to the subjects of those articles is a big no-no in journalism, at least it is in traditional, mainstream journalism, which is the branch of the profession that Navarrette was writing about.

So who exactly submitted their stories to Clinton officials before publication? Navarrette strongly suggests that they included “reporters, anchors and columnists,” yet he doesn’t name any.

I looked at previous Navarrette columns to see if they were included there. Couldn’t find them. I checked national publications of various political leanings. Couldn’t find them there. It’s a pretty large accusation for a supposedly responsible national columnist to make. The way Navarrette put it, it sounds as though a wide swath of the national press corps was letting Clinton edit their campaign coverage, which is nonsense.

The one example I did find involved Politico reporter Ken Vogel’s decision last April to send a draft of an article about Clinton’s campaign fund-raising to Democratic National Committee officials for pre-publication review. Here’s a Washington Post column about it.

Politico later apologized and made it clear that Vogel had violated the organization’s policy.

“In this case, the reporter was attempting to check some very technical language and figures involving the DNC’s joint fundraising agreement with the Clinton campaign,” Politico said in a written statement.

“Checking the relevant passages for accuracy was responsible and consistent with our standards,” the statement continued. “Sharing the full piece was a mistake and not consistent with our policies. There were no substantive changes to the piece.”

Vogel’s piece, it turned out, was fairly critical of Clinton, stressing that she had received outsized benefits from a campaign contribution-sharing arrangement with the DNC.

Were there other examples? Perhaps, elusive as they may be, and if so, Navarrette should share the details. The result would be much more interesting than most of his columns.

Apparently unafraid of irony, Navarrette criticizes the unnamed media types for privately supping with Podesta but in the same column writes uncritically, even enviously, of Halperin having recently been invited to a private meal with Trump.

Navarrette concludes by applauding Halperin for saying, in a recent interview with The Hill, that since Trump took office, “too many people in the media have decided that we’re going to be warriors in some kind of hostile confrontation with the people we cover.”

“Halperin figured that out and blew the whistle,” writes Navarrette, apparently surprised by Halperin’s insights. “Many of his colleagues will hate him for it. But the rest of us should thank him.”

In my view, the rest should be asking how much the Post Writers Group is paying Navarrette.

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Something rather remarkable has happened. It was only a few months ago that the nightly news regularly featured another video of an unarmed person being shot to death by a police officer. Now, shootings like that seem to be a relatively rare occurrence.

It’s too soon to declare the epidemic over, but there has been a change. And how does the Trump administration respond? By proposing to eliminate consent decrees, those legal devices whereby the Justice Department monitors police agencies with more than their share of civil rights issues.

Did consent decrees in Baltimore and Chicago and elsewhere end the shootings? No. It’s more likely that it was simply the proliferation of phones with video capabilities and the increasing chance that violent confrontations would be filmed. Some law enforcement advocates suggest it’s because police officers have been intimidated and are policing the streets less aggressively and making fewer arrests. Others note that the bulk of the videotaped shooting deaths involved traffic stops or nuisance arrests, not armed robberies.

The Partisan would love to hear from those in law enforcement and others who care about public safety issues. Have there been changes in policies and practices? Are you concerned about the president’s pronouncements about getting tougher on crime and reviving the so-called War on Drugs? Can police departments be self-governing and self-monitoring or do they need civilian oversight?

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The possibility of another attempt to put Cal Am Water in public hands prompts reflection over the history of major Monterey County ballot measures in which money and the big-lie technique prevailed. The first in recent history was Measure M back in 2000.

It was initiated by the Pebble Beach Co. with the aim of forcing the county and the Coastal Commission to allow it to build another golf course at the famed resort, but that’s not how it was sold to the voting public. Instead, the commercials and four-color fliers promoted the false notion that Measure M would stop development in the Del Monte Forest that surrounds the existing golf courses.

Measure M did contain a provision limiting the company’s ability to develop 425 acres that previously had been zoned for housing, but the company hardly needed a ballot measure to protect the property. The Pebble Beach Co. offered to permanently fallow the land for ballot measure purposes only after it had already shelved any plans to develop it. We hear a lot about Fake News. This was a Fake Ballot Measure. The campaign featured TV ads with popular actor Clint Eastwood, a Pebble Beach Co. principal, strolling through the trees and saying something like “if you love these woods as much as I do, you’ll vote yes on Measure M.”

The measure passed easily, helped by voters in the far reaches of the county who had no idea they were really voting only to add a golf course. Though the golf course deal was later scuttled by the Coastal Commission, Measure M demonstrated how moneyed interests could manipulate voter initiatives. Until about that time, the side attracting the most money had prevailed in every statewide ballot measure in California. Monterey County would prove to be equally fertile ground for deceptive politicking.

Other examples of dishonest but successful ballot measures include the 2016 ballot fight over the Monterey Downs horse race project and, of course, Measure 0 of 2014 in which California American Water twisted the truth to persuade voters not to move forward with a public takeover of the Monterey Peninsula’s privately held water system.

A giant anomaly, of course, was last year’s Measure Z, the anti-fracking measure approved by Monterey County voters despite a gusher of oil company money that paid for ads falsely charging that the initiative would shut down oil production in the area. But Measure Z’s success is no assurance that reality will trump money in the next big ballot showdown, which is likely to be another attempt to bring Cal Am under public ownership. If that ballot measure materializes in the coming, as expected, voters are likely to see another slick and misleading opposition campaign essentially paid for by the same ratepayers the measure would be designed to help.

Public Water Now, led by water activist George Riley, is believed to be on the verge of a decision to move ahead with a public takeover measure, which would be fueled in part by giant rate increases the company has imposed on its captive customers and the certainty that its struggling desalination project will lead to large additional increases.

The last time the issue made it to the ballot, in 2014, Cal Am prevailed by a count of 55 percent to 45 percent. But analysis of the vote showed that early, absentee voters who had been primarily exposed to Cal Am’s advertising voted against the measure while voters who waited for detailed information from the measure’s proponents voted for it. In other words, higher-information voters favored the ballot measure while those who were spun by Cal Am went the other way.

Cal Am’s anti-O campaign repeatedly described the takeover effort as a risky gamble. If O had passed, it would have required the Peninsula’s water management district to study the feasibility of a public takeover. The study wouldn’t have come cheap but it would have cost far less than Cal Am spent combating the ballot measure. Cal Am called Measure O “the risk we can’t afford.” What we can’t afford, Riley and a growing number of others believe, is Cal Am bills.

The Cal Am campaign also emphasized that negotiating a sale to the public would distract the company from developing a desalination plant – a plant that seems barely closer to reality even now, three years later. Cal Am also repeatedly mischaracterized attempts to takeover water systems elsewhere and the results of successful efforts.

A public takeover of Cal Am’s Peninsula water system would be an extremely difficult and expensive process and Cal Am can be expected to fight Public Water Now at every turn. The company has maintained through the years that the Peninsula system is barely profitable yet it has made it clear that it will fight any and all takeover efforts, which suggests the network of pumps and pipes is more profitable than the company lets on.

My own limited research  leads me to believe that in the short term, a public takeover would not result in lower water bills because a public agency would need to borrow sizable sums to complete the transaction. Dave Stoldt, manager of the water management district, once estimated that there would be no actual savings to the customers for as long as 30 years. Proponents disagree, saying savings would materialize much more quickly. Either way, I believe a takeover is worth pursuing because the savings to future customers, decades and decades of future savings, would make the effort worthwhile even if our bills didn’t immediately go down.

To me, the prospect of a takeover is an important public policy issue that should be decided by careful analysis and a considerable amount of professional cost accounting. The decision should not be based on a clever advertising campaign.

The way Cal Am conducted itself last time around was shameful but you didn’t hear a peep about it in polite Peninsula circles. As they did with the Monterey Downs ballot measures, pillars of the community knew that the side with the most money was cheating but they just looked the other way.

If Cal Am listens to anyone in public life on the Peninsula these days, those people should make it clear that the company should stick to the facts and the math and not create its own make-believe reality. The hospitality industry and other business interests have benefited in recent years from sweetheart rate arrangements with Cal Am. They should not let those short-term gains stop them from encouraging Cal Am to be the good corporate citizen it claims to be.

At the same time, Public Water Now and its supporters can and should be expected to play it straight. If buying out Cal Am is a good idea, the numbers should tell the story. If it doesn’t make financial sense, the idea probably isn’t worth pursuing no matter how much better off we would be with a water company run by an accountable local agency rather than for the benefit of distant shareholders.

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A monument to people who died crossing the border

If I keep doing this, Joe Heston over at KSBW-TV is going to start thinking I’m picking on him. I’m really not. It’s just that the station manager’s editorials, often wrongheaded in my humble opinion, are great conversation starters.

His latest editorial amounts to opposition to a proposed ordinance in Salinas that would enable non-citizens to serve on city commissions and boards. The idea was put forth by Councilman Tony Villegas and was headed for a City Council agenda, with some procedural help from Councilman Steve McShane, who attracted Heston’s wrath even though McShane says he is fully opposed to the idea. It didn’t make it onto last week’s agenda but it apparently isn’t dead yet.

Anyway, Heston said letting non-citizens serve could provide non-voters with “significant control over millions of voter-approved Measure-E and Measure-G dollars.” He asks, “Would this open the door to somehow requiring that they be allowed to run for City Council, too?” In Heston’s view, the measure would diminish the value of U.S. citizenship.

It should surprise no one that I feel differently. First off, I don’t have what some would consider proper respect for borders. I’m not a big believer in the idea that a poor person from Mexico or wherever can’t come here to survive because of an imaginary line in the sand. Does that make me a hopeless liberal? Probably so. Live with it.

Secondly, there’s that thing about taxation without representation. And don’t tell me that non-citizens don’t pay taxes. Those who work, and that’s most of them, have income taxes and Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks. I get a Social Security check now and then and it seems to me that if all those non-citizens eventually collected their due from the Social Security system, my checks would likely be smaller.

They pay sales tax and directly or indirectly they pay property taxes. Don’t tell me renters don’t pay property taxes. They might not make out the check to the county but I guarantee you the landlord includes the tax in the rental price.

If Villegas’s idea was to become law, I don’t think there would be a flood of non-citizens applying for seats on the Planning Commission or the Recreation Commission. Most non-citizens I know aren’t about to raise their profiles in the Trump Era. But a few non-citizens helping the city mothers and fathers decide which service needs to fill or which neighborhoods need better policing, that doesn’t bother me a bit.

What do you think?

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Reading Supervisor Luis Alejo’s commentary in the Monterey Herald this morning, I was struck by the difference between politicians and the rest of us. They weigh the political ramifications of each decision while the rest of us expect decisions to be based on simple merit.

Alejo was explaining his objections to the structure of the Monterey Bay Community Power agency, a new government entity that will broker electricity for customers in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. The point is to encourage the use of renewable energy such as solar power while attempting to negotiate consumer prices below those of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Monterey County government signed onto the arrangement over the objections of Alejo, the former state assemblyman who is expected to return to the Legislature at some point. In his Herald piece, he explained that he feels Monterey County is being treated unfairly because it has 57 percent of the population in the three-county territory but does not control a majority of the votes on the governing board. The votes are apportioned to the cities and counties under a complicated formula. Alejo argues that if the Monterey County can’t have most of the seats, voting should be weighted by population.

“Why does all this matter?” he writes. “It matters because this new governing board will soon be making multimillion-dollar decisions, investments, purchases, local job creation and benefits, and potentially siting future solar or wind projects … . However, when those decisions get made, Monterey County governments will not have fair or equitable representation.”

The supervisor is correct that Monterey County’s population could warrant another vote or two on the governing board. I don’t share his concern about the ramifications, though, because I have more faith than he does on the people who will be casting the votes.

It is my expectation that the 11-member board will make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the people throughout the three counties and what is in the best interest of the agency and its goals. When the agency starts hiring people, I expect it to hire the most qualified people and people who are able to address the needs of a diverse district. I don’t figure that the board will try to hire more people from Santa Cruz than from Hollister just as I don’t figure that a larger group of Monterey County representatives would favor applicants from Monterey County.

I read the enabling legislation for new agencies of this type and I didn’t see the word patronage anywhere.

Alejo

If the agency becomes directly involved in creating energy, I expect it to put solar panel and windmills in the most efficient locations, not the spots with the greatest political benefit or the fewest political liabilities. Where should the agency’s office go? Probably in a fairly centralized location that offers the best possible lease terms.

Alejo has become a career politician and he’s good at it. Unfortunately, perhaps all that time in the arena of partisian politics, lobbyists and campaign contributions has caused him to see everything through a political prism. Call me naïve, but we have lots of joint powers agencies making decisions for us in the areas of water, bus transportation, sewage treatment and other facts of life and I would like to think that the decision-makers aren’t thinking parochially every time they make a decision.

If Alejo is right and this new agency is essentially an orchard for the growing of political plums, then we probably would be better off without it. For now, though, let’s just hope that each agency that appoints a representative makes it clear that the goal is to provide renewable energy at reasonable rates and not make political points.

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Will Trump now take credit for saving Obamacare?

OK, that’s not really a real question, but what do you think of all the happenings in Washington this week? One good thing, the level of public interest in government seems to be at all all-time high.

Chime in.

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I read with great interest Royal Calkins’ post summarizing the efforts of Public Water Now members and supporters to work for public water to replace private water historically provided by Cal Am.  The comments I have seen thus far in response are from regular commenters on the blog, so not much new interest seems to have been ignited.

I have been an avid supporter of prior and current efforts by many to accomplish the demise of Cal Am on the Peninsula. The ratepayers of the Monterey Peninsula do not deserve to be the receivers of what is now considered the most expensive water rate in the country.   They deserve to have a public agency, which would, in theory, provide much less costly rates, real accessibility to the decision-makers, and the ability to remove from office at the ballot box those officials who don’t live up to the ratepayers’ expectations.

Trouble is, in order to determine the potential for those lofty and necessary goals and dreams, it is more than necessary to consider the entire context of the ongoing war, which has spanned over several decades and has been fought so hard by the few but incredibly committed and knowledgeable men and women on behalf of all fellow Peninsula ratepayers.

But before discussing the hurdles, this point is important.  George Riley, head of PWN, Ron Weitzman of the Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula, Marc del Piero, and dozens of other activists already are fully aware of the challenges. They have toiled long and hard with their own money and time on behalf of all of you who are affected by exorbitant unfair rates. Many people know of them, have read their commentaries and understand that a few people are fighting for all of them.  But I bet very few people realize all the hurdles that must be overcome.  It is my hope that when the public becomes aware of the scope of the effort they will want to join in the fight.

The hurdles are all known:  politics; the difficulties inherent in the process of acquisition, with all of its legalities and uncertainties; timing; gaining the vocal and active major support across the board from a strong majority of affected ratepayers; and, last but not least, money. And there is another important hurdle, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.

It is already known that the mayors, as nominal leaders of their cities, have thrown their support to Cal Am from the very beginning, starting with the formation of a joint powers agreement they formed to work “fairly and openly” to bring the most “effective and cost-effective” water supply to their constituents.  That hasn’t worked out. I am not pointing a finger at any individual but am looking at the wide picture. People who seek public office want to stay there, usually for very good and ethical reasons.  However, they find out immediately that, in order to do so, they need the support of the people who have the influence, time and money to promote those influences. Therefore, the heads of cities financially dependent on the hospitality industry are less likely to take public stances that are not favored by those who have influence in that industry. The cost of water is not so concerning to the industry as it has the means to pass on additional costs to their customers.  As we all know, residential ratepayers do not have that option.  But, probably in the minds of the mayors, the ability to keep the Peninsula’s economy humming trumps their willingness to go to the mat against the California Public Utilities Commission and Cal Am. During the past Measure O effort to acquire Cal Am, guess who dumped lots of cash to defeat the measure. Cal Am with support from hospitality big-wigs. Not a surprise.

There is more than one option for the acquisition process but only one is capable of success. California law gives the authority to local governments to acquire land and assets from private utilities, primarily by simple purchase of through eminent domain. The problem is Cal Am will not sell any of its land or assets. it will not be a friendly negotiator in the eminent domain process and it has publicly stated that it does not fear litigation. So, if even the new measure passes, the cost of acquisition would need to be studied, at a rather hefty price. If it clearly concludes that acquisition is feasible and will ultimately lead to a lesser burden on ratepayers, it could then lead to an acquisition process filled with hurdles.

Timing is critical.  If the process of retaining counsel, etc., is stretched out, the first election date might not be until next spring when other local issues and re-elections take place. That might work for the proponents, but any distraction is a problem.  The campaign needs to attract motivated and committed members of the public who will spend their time and money in full support of the measure. Working against that is the fact that the previous measure fell short in each city on the Peninsula.

Aiding the effort, Cal Am has shot itself in the foot with its outrageous rate increases. More and more people are expressing their anger for having to put up with rates that make water almost an unaffordable necessity.  But even so, a critical mass has not yet coalesced to provide PWN and its fellow activists necessary to make a much stronger statement at the polls. I am not sure if the response to Royal’s piece is indicative of that, but the commenters who posted were persons who regularly do so, and didn’t include any or many new names who are coming on board with their anger and concern.   More work needs to be done and it takes time AND money to do so – both hurdles in themselves.

Money. Cal Am has access to as much money as it needs to fight off its opposition.

Finally, there is the water district. There has been talk of creating a new joint powers agency to take up the mantle and provide public water once Cal Am is defeated.  That option is a hurdle by its very nature – joint powers agencies are formed by two or more local jurisdictions.  Given the political bent of current local jurisdictions (e.g., the cities), there is not much reason to believe that a new combination of the same parties would not end up same old same old.   A better choice is the MPWMD. After all, it is a water district with jurisdiction over the entire Peninsula. It has a large and capable staff and a proven leader in its general manager.  However, the district is not clean of internal hurdles either.  It has been incapable of implementing a solution to the long-standing water supply problem (although the voters rejected some options sought by the District). The makeup of its board and how it is selected need a new look.  Five members of the board represent five districts and are directly elected, and that is good.  However, two members are appointed, one by the county Board of Supervisors and other by a city committee.  The problem is that the statute does not dictate that the supervisor must be from a supervisorial district that represents at least part of the water district’s area of responsibility, and the method of appointing a city representative is completely inconsistent with the actual language of the statute.  More importantly, a supervisor from a district other than supervisorial districts 5 and 2 (the ones that cover part of the Peninsula) has never been appointed, but the statute allows for that not to happen.  And, with respect to city reps, while the illegality of the history of appointing a city rep (which nobody really cares about), there should be a separate agreement that the rep chosen should rotate on a regular basis among all of the six Peninsula cities.  As it has stood, one man, the mayor of the smallest city on the Peninsula, has represented all of the cities for decades. Those with more at risk should have the greater opportunity to sit in that seat.

No matter if the new measure is passed and the water district is named to succeed Cal Am, there are some procedural issues that need to be addressed if the public is going to have its expected access. The district board rigidly follows the three-minute speaking rule for public comment. Perhaps members of the public could petition for spots on the regular agenda rather than having to make a point in three minutes.

Further, no one should expect that a public agency would not raise rates. It would when necessary. Hopefully, that would only occur after hearings in which groups ratepayers with similar points to make could be agendized.

The bottom line is, for public water to really work, the board of the district has to be in full support of the effort and the process has to be transparent and accessible with real, not symbolic,  input from the public.

Bill Hood is the former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He is also a retired water lawyer and engineer who divides his time between Ohio and Carmel.

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Dear Friends of Monterey County:

You’ve probably heard about the America First federal budget that was recently released by the 45th president of the United States. This blueprint of a budget, known as the Skinny budget, suggests that the funding Meals on Wheels receives from the Housing and Urban Development agency be eliminated.

Budget director Mick Mulvaney said A program like Meals on Wheels sounds great…but it’s not showing any results…we can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good…”

Really? Perhaps this is another alternative fact coming out of this administration. As executive directors for non-profits, we must deal with the hard cold facts daily;

  • The fact that our funding continues to decline annually while the demand rises
  • The fact that 1 in every 6 seniors experiences food insecurity
  • The reality that many of our clients struggle to live on an income of less than $1000 per month.
  • The fact that many of our clients are isolated and without family or friends to help them.
  • The fact that many of our clients are unable to shop or cook for themselves due to a variety of reasons, be it physical, lack of transportation, medical issues, etc.

These are the facts. There are no alternatives.

Yes, our programs sound good, because they are good. We see the results of our efforts every day. If you need support of this fact, just ask one of our hundreds of clients, or one of our kind and dedicated volunteers. Ask a local elected official such as Mayor Joe Gunther of Salinas or Mayor Bill Kampe of Pacific Grove who have actually gone out with our volunteers to deliver meals to our clients. Our services transcend just meal delivery, in the words of a volunteer driver:  “I deliver meals and smiles and so much more. I invite any doubters to ride along with me as I give counsel, intervene in neighbor disputes, report medical emergencies, contact authorities when elder abuse is suspected, listen to their stories, and join with families at end of life. Meals On Wheels is a lifeline for our seniors in need.”

Our jobs have not been political, until now. There has been much talk about making America great again. We have to ask “Is this how we start.” with the defunding of programs that feed and nurture frail homebound senior members of our communities?

Many may not realize there are two Meals on Wheels programs in our county, Meals on Wheels of the Monterey Peninsula and Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley. Both have similar missions and are completely separate non-profits. Together, on a typical non-profit shoestring budget, we serve homebound seniors throughout Monterey County, from Bradley and Arroyo Seco in South County to Big Sur and Carmel Valley on the Peninsula.

For both programs, our job is to feed and nurture some of the most vulnerable and isolated members of our community; seniors, 60 and older who can no longer shop and/or cook for themselves. Both programs have had this job since 1972.   Our agencies are incredibly efficient and effective in operations. On a relatively small budget and with the leverage and power of volunteers, we serve hundreds of people weekly!

Both programs receive approximately $330,000 in governmental funds, through CDBG and Title III Older Americans Act funding. Without these funds our services would be drastically compromised.

We are dedicated to continuing to serve the seniors of our community but we need your help.

How?

There are several ways:

  1. Donate as generously as you can to each Meals on Wheels in Monterey County
  2. Call Congressman Jimmy Panetta to show your support for these 2 agencies
  3. Volunteer as a driver either in Monterey or Salinas.

We do not know what the future holds for our programs but we know there will be a major struggle ahead. We’re ready! Are you?

This piece was written by Regina Gage, executive director for Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley and Viveca Lohr, executive director for Meals on Wheels of the Monterey Peninsula

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It took forever for the state to get its act together on groundwater, but it finally did. The Legislature agreed in 2014 that the groundwater that supports agriculture and other life forms cannot continued to be mined without concern for the future, that some sort of management structure must be put in place to assure that the underground water not be pumped for profits without a mechanism to make sure that it be maintained, if not for all time, at least another century or two.

Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to create rules. And to craft and regulate those rules, bureaucracy must be created. Again unfortunately, the state left that task to the local governmental jurisdictions, many of which have spent decades or more proving their inability to manage resources. The biggest groundwater basin hereabouts is the Salinas Valley basin and it is in serious decline although a Farm Bureau leader optimistically describes it as “almost in sustainability.”

That means we pump more out of it than rain and runoff put back into it. That means we, or actually the agency created for this task, need to figure out how to take less water out or put more water in. As the escalating water woes of the Monterey Peninsula make expensively obvious, creating water is a steep challenge.

Faced with rapidly approaching deadlines, Monterey County officials have begun the task of creating the structure to manage the water of the Salinas Valley basin. They may not be off to a strong start.

As ordered by the state, there is a new Salinas Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Its 11-member board was sworn in earlier this month, heavy with agricultural and governmental interests and painfully short on the environmental side despite the seemingly environmental bent of the assignment. Remarkably, the one seat reserved for a representative of the public went to Lou Calcagno, the former Monterey County supervisor who served almost as an unpaid lobbyist for agribusiness and development interests during his 16 years in office.

He was appointed by the current Board of Supervisors on a motion by Supervisor John Phillips from a field of three applicants. The others submitted lengthy applications with essays about their thoughts on groundwater management and made presentations to the board. Calcagno provided 20 words in writing and made no presentation.

Calcagno, a dairy operator when he isn’t politicking, is the prototypical backroom dealmaker, the ultimate good-ol-boy of Monterey County politics. He does have something of an environmentalist streak but he has been involved in so many deals over the years and has received so many campaign contributions that it becomes impossible to know whose voice you’re hearing when he speaks.

I called Phillips to ask why wanted Calcagno on board. He didn’t return the call. That’s the way he is. I didn’t call Calcagno for comment because he made it clear last time that he’s never going to return my call.

The county gets another seat as well, filled by Supervisor Luis Alejo, representing something known as GSA-eligible agencies. When I find out what that means, I will let you know.

The environment, big as it is, is represented on the 11-member board by one member and only one member. Fortunately, she’s a good one — Janet Brennan, the tireless League of Women Voters leader. She has worked as a land-use planner and is skilled in water quality issues. Probably as much as anyone in the county, she speaks with authority on environmental matters.

Things could change, possibly even for the better,  because the board is an interim creation, formed to meet some deadlines and potentially subject to wholesale revision in the fall. If that occurs, and if the board is serious about fulfilling its mission, it would be wise for it to be less weighted toward ag and politics.

The farmers will tell you, and it is true, that they are great stewards of the land and that they have led the way on water conservation. It is very true that they have altered irrigation techniques and have aggressively pursued other means to cut back on water use. But one grower engaging in all the best practices doesn’t stop the landowner next door from drilling a deeper well and putting another 100 acres, 1,000 acres into production.

Of course ag must be well represented on this board. It is the biggest user of the basin and what it produces from that water sustains most of the economy of the Salinas Valley, and more. After a year or so of government-financed start up, much of the expense of running the agency will fall to agriculture, which is not necessarily a winning formula because it solidifies the notion that ag interests are fully in control. Most of the start-up money will come from Monterey County and the city of Salinas, on about a 66 percent/33 percent split with the smaller cities responsible for another $130,000 or so.

The structure, created by a working group appointed mostly by government and ag interests, calls for four members to be appointed directly by agricultural interests and for those four to maintain special voting powers at times. Those four are  Colby Pereira of Costa Farms,  Adam Secondo of Secondo Farms, Steve McIntyre of Monterey Pacific Growers and Bill Lip, formerly of NH3 Service Co.

Pereira is president of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, which has been heavily engaged in the process. However, its  executive director, Norm Groot, indicated this week that its involvement is somewhat begrudging.

“What has astounded us is how expensive this all is, and that it is really coming down to an unfunded mandate that the state is imposing on all of the counties,” Groot told AgAlert. “It’s almost staggering how much they’ve put on us and in the end, for a basin like ours that is almost in sustainability anyway, we’re going to be spending millions and millions on this and the solution is probably far less costly.”

Other board members are:

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Public Water Now, the activist group that has been pushing for a public takeover of Cal Am Water, is asking the various regulatory agencies to put the company’s desalination project on hold until it addresses two sticky and expensive issues.

And if the agencies, particularly the California Public Utilities Commission, do agree to a timeout, look for Public Water Now to use some of that time to launch a renewed effort toward a public takeover of the privately owned utility.

In its campaign against the Measure O takeover initiative in 2014, Cal Am argued that it could not move ahead with the complex desalination project while also having to combat a takeover campaign.

Public Water Now leader George Riley would not comment on that possibility this week though there has been talk of a new ballot measure at the group’s most recent meetings. Others involved in the group have hinted at another takeover measure and have said a decision should occur within months.

In a statement attached to the letter to the public agencies, Riley wrote, “Public Water Now continues to focus on the high cost of a new water supply. PWN knows from experience that ratepayers will pay for Cal Am success, delay or failure. PWN continues to believe there will be litigation on Cal Am’s desal proposal. PWN hopes that public officials will pay astute attention to the potential for delay, and possibly failure, from litigation.

“Meantime, the need for a reliable water supply continues. And Cal Am costs continue to pile up. PWN believes that the potential for complete financial disaster to ratepayers can be reduced, if not avoided altogether, if two important issues were addressed soon: 1. the weak science surrounding the test slant well. 2. the lack of water rights.”

Cal Am’s long-delayed desalination project depends on slant-well technology that aims to reduce the impact on aquatic life. For various reasons, including conflicts of interest involving experts involved in the testing, the company has had difficulty demonstrating that planned technology can work here. In its letter, Public Water Now notes that the technology is not in use anywhere.

The letter also points out that as part of its project, Cal Am intends to use water from the Salinas Valley aquifer though it has no rights to the water.

A Cal Am takeover has been the subject of two previous ballot measures, which both went down to defeat. The first was simply advisory. The second, in 2014, would have required the Peninsula water management district to conduct a feasibility study and then to proceed with a takeover if it was deemed feasible.

The measure received 45 percent of the vote, short of a majority. Cal Am hailed that as proof of public indifference to a takeover but supporters of Public Water Now argued that it was a strong showing considering that the water utility had spent millions of dollars on deceptive advertising to combat the effort. The group’s polling showed that absentee voters who voted early, at the height of the Cal Am advertising blitz, favored Cal Am’s position while those who waited to hear response to the advertising heavily favored the takeover.

Likely a significant factor in Public Water Now’s thinking is the fact that Cal Am’s rates have risen dramatically in recent months, in large part because the state Public Utilities Commission is allowing water agencies to charge customers now for water that wasn’t used because of conservation measures during the recently ended drought.

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Gowdy

Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Benghazi-hearing fame got it wrong shortly before noon our time today when he said during the Intelligence Committee hearing that a newspaper article would “never ever” be admitted as evidence in a trial.

In fact, newspaper articles are routinely admitted as evidence. I know this because over the course of my newspaper career, I was subpoenaed to court several times to certify that an article about to be admitted into evidence was an accurate representation of the article as I had written it.

[click to continue…]

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Carmel’s quick fix for its spending problem

Carmel’s Sunset Center

In recent weeks the Carmel City Council has complained about the costs of various city maintenance projects, including a $5,000 contract to oversee painting at the city library and a $50,000 contract with Monterey Peninsula Engineering for a new railing at Sunset Center. Last month the council called a timeout on the contract with the engineering outfit.

Deservedly or not, the city’s public works director, Rob Mullane, is out of a job effective Friday. The council’s inquiry into the contracts likely will end with that personnel move, which was announced to Mullane’s staff on Wednesday.

Monterey Peninsula Engineering won the Sunset Center contract through a competitive bidding process involving one other company, DMC. Incidentally, MPE and principal Paul Bruno have been significant contributors to Republican politicians, including at the City Council level, but the city apparently doesn’t consider that to be a disqualifier.

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What was wrong with the two energy-related commentaries in Sunday’s Monterey Herald? It’s hard to know where to start, so let’s just go with the first headline.

Both pieces were objections to the planned Monterey Bay Community Power project, a three-county, government-led consortium that would compete with Pacifc Gas & Electric Co. One piece was one written by Pacific Grove businessman Jeff Gorman and the other by Libertarian Party stalwart Lawrence Samuels, who seems to be opposed to just about everything.

The headline on Gorman’s piece, reflecting a theme also picked up by Samuels, reads “Monopoly on power not the answer.” OK, as I pointed out a jillion times in my reporting days, the headline is not written by the author. It is written by a copy editor, who, in the case of The Herald, probably lives somewhere near Chico.

Regardless, it’s an airball of a headline even if it isn’t entirely Gorman’s fault. The three-county MBCP entity would be an alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a true monopoly. As a competitor of PG&E, the new entity would, by definition, not be a monopoly. PG&E would remain in business. And here’s a point not made in Gorman’s piece, residents of the three counties involved – Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito – would be allowed to opt out of the new power structure and stay with PG&E at a cost of $10 a month.

Gorman writes that state law “allows these new government entities to convert PG&E customers into government customers without customer approval.” That simply is not so. Rather than be a monopoly, MBCP would eliminate a monopoly and customers would have a choice.

Organizers of the MBCP, led by former Republican state senator and California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, say the goal is to provide cheaper power than the power we are forced to buy from PG&E and to promote the use of sustainable power supplies such as solar and wind-generated energy. Low-income households now receiving discounts from PG&E would be able to retain the discounts.

Each of the three county governments and most of the cities in those counties have signed onto the plan.

The headline on Samuels’ piece declares “Rates will zoom with new agency.” Which might be true but a more accurate headline would have been “Rates will zoom with new agency or they might actually go down.” A similar setup in Sonoma County led to lower rates while the other consortiums in California are still pursuing that goal.

Samuels, like Gorman, gets lost in the monopoly thing. “As any first-year student of economics can attest, government monopoly and state ownership is far less efficient and greatly more expensive than the private sector …. “ He mentions “backward incentives.” But quite a few first-semester students of economics would remind Gorman that there is a worse creature out there, generally less efficient and more expensive than the others, and that is the government-regulated monopoly. If PG&E isn’t proof of that, just think about California American Water, which pretty much invented backward incentives. Enough said.

Samuels wasn’t finished, though, having still another foot to shoot. After his wayward lecture on monopolies, he tells us “no private sector utility is able to compete with a government agency swimming in taxpayer-provided state subsidies.” In other words, he seems to be saying MBCP’s prices would likely be lower than PG&E’s, which maybe should have been his point in the first place.

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Those of you who subject yourself to Facebook have probably noticed the “Your Memories on Facebook” feature, which reminds you of  nonsense you participated in on this date some years ago. I got one of those pokes today, a reprint of something I had written while I was at the Monterey Herald six years ago. Apparently it was a slow news day. Cal Am must not have applied for a rate increase.  For subject matter, I was left with whatever was rolling around in my head. It’s about things that age had taught me. I share it here because it’s Monday and, as far as I know, Cal am has not applied for a rate increase yet this week. Please feel encouraged to add on:

The aging process brings so many unwanted things, like wrinkles and sags, creakiness and crankiness, that we tend to forget that some of the baggage it creates is actually worth carrying around.

There is no direct correlation between baldness and wisdom, between age spots and insight, but time is a fine teacher if we pay attention to what’s going on instead of worrying about what we might have missed. Contemplation can be more useful than speed. Sometimes the very best course is to find a comfortable seat.

To illustrate the point, here’s a list, close to complete, of the things I know now that I didn’t know back when I still owned a comb. Back when I thought the world was a meritocracy and that a pretty woman and a little whiskey could improve any situation.

· Nothing is more important than family, but good friends and good neighbors come close.

· To maintain good relations with family, friends and neighbors, you must forgive.

· If you need help, ask a poor person.

· Old people aren’t nicer than young people. They’re just slower to react.

· I should have gone to work for the government.

· The country is divided culturally more than politically. Liberals tend to like Priuses and tofu. Conservatives tend to like NASCAR and cheeseburgers. Swing voters haven’t given it a lot of thought.

· Banjos, vehicular subwoofers and discipline should be used sparingly.

· The stock market gives us a system that worships short-term profit-taking and punishes planning, maintenance, reinvestment and humanity.

· People who say they don’t like children haven’t spent much time with children or, if they have, it was with the wrong children.

· The teacher is as important as the lesson.

· Opera, especially the women, can be wonderful.

· Tomato juice does no good when a dog gets skunked, but baking power, detergent and hydrogen peroxide do help.

· One lazy person in an organization can drag the entire organization down.

· Black shoe polish, the pasty kind in a can, should be used on dark brown shoes. Really.

· If you buy a second diesel-powered vehicle, the cost of diesel will rise beyond all reason.

· WD-40 is not a lubricant.

· An oil leak is no substitute for an oil change.

· A good tomato is best eaten outdoors.

· My dad was right when he said, “Do something even if it’s wrong.”

· Those in power cannot be persuaded to do the right thing unless it directly benefits them. Power is never given away.

· Governments, like unions, can be effective, but only if the people involved insist on it.

· When a woman cries, there is a good chance she is angry, not sad.

And that’s it. There may be others, but I have forgotten them. Circumstances might shake some of the other things loose at the appropriate times, but I don’t count on it. Time taught me long ago that the right answers usually arise well after the question has become moot.

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Sometimes even the Partisan isn’t exactly sure what to make of things. For instance, the city of Salinas’ announcement Tuesday that it will sue President Trump in an attempt to stop him from withholding federal dollars from sanctuary cities. Bold and brave stroke? Symbolic gesture? Attempt to divert attention from the city’s failure to give itself sanctuary status? Who knows? But our uncertainty doesn’t stop us from providing at least some elaboration, so here is the city’s news release on the topic:

City of Salinas to Sue Administration Over Sanctuary Cities Executive Order
Salinas, CA — The Salinas City Council today voted to take action in federal court against President Trump and the executive branch to prevent their implementation of the executive order against sanctuary cities.

The vote, taken in closed session to direct the City Attorney to initiate legal action, was unanimous. (Councilman Steve McShane was away on his honeymoon, however.)

At a press conference following the vote, City Attorney Chris Callihan explained the reason for the suit:

“It is my opinion that any attempt by the federal government to withhold federal funding from Salinas should it become a sanctuary city would be an unconstitutional act. Certainly, the federal government would disagree with that, which would likely result in the City losing federal funding while the City fought to protect itself and its residents, who have come to rely on that funding for essential programs, including programs for street and road repairs and firefighter positions. If the funding is lost, those programs are lost and all of Salinas’s residents end up suffering.

“Some Salinans and City Council members supported the idea of declaring Salinas a sanctuary city. I understand their position, but legally it would have no real effect in terms of protecting anyone in the community from the enforcement of federal immigration law by the federal government. The resolution would not prevent ICE, for example, from coming into Salinas and enforcing federal immigration law.

“The City Council has unanimously directed me to take action in federal court against the President and against the executive branch to prevent their implementation of the executive order against sanctuary cities.

“That is why we are taking direct action to protect the City of Salinas and all other cities from the unconstitutional acts of the President and his executive branch.

“Over the next few weeks we will prepare the appropriate papers and have them filed in the United States Federal District Court in San Jose. Salinas will lead the region on this issue and will stand up for all its residents. Salinas will join other cities and counties taking a stand on behalf of their residents, including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara County.

“This will be a significant undertaking for the City of Salinas and for my office, but it is one that we think is critical for the safety and the security of Salinas and all its residents.”

Mayor Joe Gunter also spoke at the press conference. Full remarks as prepared for delivery by the Mayor and the City Attorney follow.

Remarks by City Attorney Chris Callihan

Thank you all for coming. To my knowledge, this is the first time the Salinas City Attorney’s Office has called a press conference, so that should give you some indication that this is a matter of some significance for the City.

Before I get started, I want to be sure to acknowledge Mayor Joe Gunter and City Manager Ray Corpuz. Everything we do at the City of Salinas is a team effort and I want to be sure to thank everyone their support. We have a solid team of leaders at the City of Salinas and today is a major expression of that leadership.

For several weeks now we have been discussing and debating the issue of sanctuary cities and the City of Salinas’s status as a sanctuary city. Most recently, the City Council considered the issue and heard from members of the public concerning the issue.

As you all know, the City Council-by a 4 to 3 vote-decided not to approve a Resolution that would have made Salinas a sanctuary city. That decision was not made lightly and occurred in the context of a concern over the risk that the City would lose federal funding, which amounts to an average of approximately $10 million per year. While we ultimately do not know what the federal government will do in response to sanctuary cities, the rhetoric has been clear and the executive order is clear.

As I indicated during the City Council’s discussion and consideration of the proposed Resolution, it is my opinion that any attempt by the federal government to withhold federal funding from Salinas should it become a sanctuary city would be an unconstitutional act. Certainly, the federal government would disagree with that, which would likely result in the City losing federal funding while the City fought to protect itself and its residents, who have come to rely on that funding for essential programs, including programs for street and road repairs and firefighter positions. If the funding is lost, those programs are lost and all of Salinas’s residents end up suffering.

Some Salinans and City Council members supported the idea of declaring Salinas a sanctuary city. I understand their position, but legally it would have no real effect in terms of protecting anyone in the community from the enforcement of federal immigration law by the federal government. The resolution would not prevent ICE, for example, from coming into Salinas and enforcing federal immigration law.

The City Council has directed me to take more substantial and meaningful action to protect not only the City’s federal funding, but to protect all the City’s residents.

The City Council has unanimously directed me to take action in federal court against the President and against the executive branch to prevent their implementation of the executive order against sanctuary cities.

That is why we are taking direct action to protect the City of Salinas and all other cities from the unconstitutional acts of the President and his executive branch.

Over the next few weeks we will prepare the appropriate papers and have them filed in the United States Federal District Court in San Jose. Salinas will lead the region on this issue and will stand up for all its residents. Salinas will join other cities and counties taking a stand on behalf of their residents, including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara County.

This will be a significant undertaking for the City of Salinas and for my office, but it is one that we think is critical for the safety and the security of Salinas and all its residents.

I am proud to be standing alongside the City Council and the City Manager as we take this next step for the City of Salinas.

Before we open up for questions, I will turn over the podium to Mayor Gunter who has a few things to say on behalf of the City Council.

Remarks by Mayor Joe Gunter

Thank you everyone for attending.

As the City Attorney has said, the City Council has directed him and his team to take action in federal court against the President and his executive branch to protect the City of Salinas and its residents and its families.

The City Council did not take this issue lightly. There was a lot of discussion about the matter and the significance of this act.

And there has been a lot of discussion across the community about sanctuary cities. I understand and respect the opinion and depth of feeling of those who believe Salinas should declare sanctuary city status. And I share the desire to show our hard-working, law-abiding immigrant population that we support and value them. But in my opinion, approving a resolution declaring the City a sanctuary city would have only symbolic value… It would do nothing to protect the City’s residents or keep families together.

Directing the City Attorney to take legal action to protect the City’s right to be a sanctuary city and not risk its federal funding is more than symbolic. And it is supported by all of the City Council members. Councilmember McShane was unable to participate in the discussion because he is off on his honeymoon, but I know he was in support of this act and is standing by his colleagues on the City Council in taking it.

By this act, the City is seeking to protect not only the tens of millions of dollars in federal funding the City receives each year, but also to protect all its residents, regardless of their immigration status.

Salinas, like most of Monterey County, is dependent on the agricultural economy. That economy is supported by immigrant workers who may or may not be in this country legally. The City should not get into the middle of that discussion, since that is a matter for the federal government to handle. If those hard-working families are ripped apart and deported, not only will they suffer, but the local economy will suffer – all of us will suffer.

Three times now the City Council has requested the federal government take action to implement comprehensive immigration reform. We continue to believe that a hard look at this problem needs to be taken and long-term solutions to the immigration problem need to be determined. Anything short of that will not solve the problem.

The City of Salinas is and has been the regional leader in Monterey County and this is another example of the City of Salinas and the City Council stepping up and showing the City’s residents, and all of Monterey County, that Salinas will take action and will lead… lead to protect Salinas’ residents and Salinas’ families and Salinas’ funding and the economy that supports all of Monterey County.

Thank you.

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