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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was taken aback reading a recent editorial in one of the Peninsula’s newspapers, which attacked a group of local individuals whose words and actions are not shared by the writer. The First Amendment clearly protects the publishing of differing opinions. But to see an experienced journalist paint those who disagree with him as “stupid” seems to me to be a mistake.

This unprofessional language targeted the group of Peninsula water activists who, literally alone, are concerned about the past, present and continuing rising cost of water. It is for that reason – to remove that incredible burden on all ratepayers – that they commit their time, money and actions in an effort to replace Cal Am with a public agency.

While I am offended by the writer of the editorial and disagree with his views, I would never call him “stupid.” In my experience, such terms are used publicly under two conditions: (1) the user is angered because someone else has the temerity to state a position that doesn’t agree with the user’s views; or(2) the user doesn’t really know what’s going on,. A preferable way to express one’s response would be to at least try to research the underlying factors before drawing conclusions. In any case, the use of unnecessary name-calling is little or no help to facilitate readers’ understanding of who is right and who is wrong.

Water activists have opposed Cal Am, but not for their own special interests. Peninsula ratepayers have been hit, time and time again, with major rate increases to the point that local water costs are now the highest in the country.  These hikes, bordering on outrageous, have caused the activists, most of whom could actually afford such increases, to fervently commit themselves to do something about it.

There are people, including the editorialist, who support Cal Am and are angry at the activists’ efforts to replace it with a public agency. But nobody else is working to change a system that doesn’t protect vulnerable ratepayers on the Peninsula – not the state (the California Public Utilities Commission or state legislators), not local politicians (e.g., the mayors), and certainly not Cal Am. The onlygroup is fighting unfair costs are the water activists. Without them, water will continue to be beyond some persons’ abilities to even pay for it. The combination of the CPUC and Cal Am, all supported by the powers-that-be, is the status quo that has to be changed.

The CPUC has five members – all appointed by the Governor, Unlike many other states, California does not require any specific background or expertise. This results in political appointees who may not be equipped to ensure that the agency protects both the utilities and their ratepayers. It is akin to a president appointing a big donor who has zero diplomatic experience to be the ambassador to a major country.

Consider, too, that the Peninsula mayors have just sent a letter to the leader of one of the activist groups warning that continued opposition to Cal Am will cause serious economic impacts on the Peninsula. Interestingly, the mayors make no reference to the cost of water.

Overburdened ratepayers cannot continue to function in such an environment. All journalists writing about local water issues should get the facts first and not ignored the financial burden endured by the ratepayers.

Hood is a former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He divides his time between Carmel and Columbus, Ohio. The editorial he refers to was in the Carmel Pine Cone on Friday.

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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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Thirsty bird.WATER RATES RISE WHILE WATCHDOG WHISTLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BILL HOOD: Game 7 was one for the ages

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I have to believe Andy Paflko is strolling around heaven today with the biggest smile on his face. The Cubs finally did it.

I had trouble watching Game 7 – it was a nail-biter, no matter which team you were rooting for. And, strangely, I knew I would feel badly no matter which team won, because history indicates that both teams would richly deserve to end their respective droughts. Of course, here in Columbus, almost all the fans are Indians supporters. Columbus’ really good AAA team, the Clippers, is the minor league team for the Indians and seven Clippers were called up in late October to go to the big team up north. There has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I remember the Pirates winning against the Yanks in 1960 (I grew up being a Pirates fan, and like the Indians and Cubs, they were not expected to actually be in  a World Series, much less toppling the titan of the ages), and the Cubs-Indians series was almost a carbon copy.

I can still remember the thrill of Game 7 when a Pirate home run by Bill Mazeroski in the ninth inning brought a World Series championship to Pittsburgh after years and years of “well, maybe next year”, much like the Cubs.

And, the most interesting part of the Cubs’ win is this:  my wife is a staunch non supporter of sports. She thinks they are a waste of time when there is an HGTV or Food Channel to be had.  But, last night, she was glued to the TV and she stayed up to the end – after 1 a.m. our time – and enthusiastically shouted out for “her” Cubbies  – something she had never done before in my presence. She also told me something that she had never told me before – that her Dad took her several times to Wrigley Field when she was a little girl!

Yes, it was an interesting night.

Now, if only Ohio State can right its ship and get back to the college championship game again.

Bill Hood divides his sporting seasons between Carmel and Columbus.

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Andy Pafko

I vividly recall back in the middle 1940s, when I was a youngster, listening to my first baseball game on the radio. It was the Cubs vs. the Tigers in the World Series, which the Cubs now return to  after 70 years.

Notwithstanding that my wife is from the Chicago area,  I have never been a Cubs fan, except for one magical afternoon when a Chicago attorney with whom I was working on litigation involving a Superfund site in downstate Illinois took me to Wrigley Field to see a game. While the field is not as stunning as AT&T Park, or the new Yankee Stadium or countless others designed and built with amazing views, seating, perks, etc., it is like no other in so many ways.  The only other field that comes close to Wrigley’s history and tradition is Fenway, where I saw Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams.   Then, a couple of months later, I was able to see Bob Cousy and the Celtics play at the old Boston Goden (as it is pronounced).

Along the way, I’ve been to Forbes Field, no longer there; Crosley Field, no longer there; the original Yankee Stadium, no longer there; the King Dome, no longer there; Candlestick Park, no longer there; and Griffith Stadium, no longer there.

It’s a wonder I am not no longer there.

There is much I don’t remember, but I do remember one name from the Cubbie’s Series of 1945 and the name has stuck with me for years–Andy Pafko.

Good luck to the Cubs, but as a current resident of Ohio, I might have to root for the Indians.

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????COMPANY HAS NO RIGHT TO SOME OF THE WATER

Back in July 2013, a settlement agreement was reached between California American Water, local water agencies, certain ag interests in the Salinas Valley and several non-profit agencies including the group now known as Public Water Now. The agreement related to Cal Am’s proposed water supply project that involves building and operating a desalination plant in the vicinity of Marina.

Public Water Now is headed by George Riley, a well-known leader in the ongoing effort to seek fair water rates for Peninsula residents. Public Water Now signed the agreement not because it was in full support of the project but because, as a party to the agreement, it would be entitled to participate in reviewing draft reports and other activities. It would be in the loop rather than on the outside.

The settlement agreement contains important language that gives the parties, including Public Water Now, the right to challenge the project’s source of water if it is shown to harm the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin or the Sand Dunes Aquifer in the Seaside-Marina area. It is unlawful to extract water from one groundwater basin and transfer it to another. Water taken from either or both of those sources and used by a desal plant would be unlawful. On top of that, Cal Am has no underlying legal right to either source.

Therefore, Cal Am turned to the idea of drilling slant wells under Monterey Bay in order to reach sea water for desalination. Drilling data, however, have clearly shown that significant amounts of fresh water, not totally saline water, is in the water pumped so far, meaning Cal Am is pumping water to which it has no legal rights. Further, in spite of Cal-Am’s continuing arguments that slant wells are a tried and true method of obtaining water for a desal plant, the company has provided no proof of that, and Public Water Now has determined that no ocean desal plant in the world is served by slant wells.

Given these facts, Riley sent two emails in 2015 and 2016 to all parties before the California Public Utilities Commission in connection with the continuing hearings on Cal Am’s project. He wrote that he and Public Water Now were exercising the right under the agreement to withdraw support for slant wells and to actively work for legal and reliable alternatives. He provided the necessary facts on the record to support his claim.

Neither email was incorporated into the record.

In response, Cal Am and its supporters had their lawyers submit a “Motion to Strike” Riley’s emails.

The motion asserts that the emails were sent “ex parte,” meaning sent without notice to other involved parties, including a decision-maker. Even though the other involved parties did indeed receive notice, the CPUC prohibits such communications if a decision-maker such as an administrative law judge is a recipient. The administrative law judge was, in fact, a recipient.

The underlying purpose of limiting ex parte communications in a judicial or quasi-judicial setting, such as the CPUC’s administrative action involving Cal Am, is to ensure that no party can gain an unfair advantage by communicating off-the-record with any decision-maker.

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George Riley

It is important to note that administrative law judges do not have decision-making authority on substantive matters. They make procedural decisions but their opinions on matters of substance are only recommendations to the commissioners. None of the five commissioners received the emails, so the integrity of the process was not compromised.

If Cal Am succeeds in having the emails stricken from the record, important facts will be kept out of the record upon which a final decision will be made on the desal project.

What are they afraid of?

If the information and facts offered by Riley and Public Water Now were faulty, why would Cal Am be so concerned about them and go to such effort to have them stricken from the record?  They are concerned about those facts because they are the basis for showing the world the mistakes, misleading statements and other errors that have increased the project costs that will probably be transferred to ratepayers.

The motion asserts that the time for “commenting on the agreement” had long passed when, in fact, the emails were not comments on the settlement agreement. The emails address issues that arose after the settlement agreement. Since the settlement, concerns about the slant wells have evolved, including conflicts of interest involving the man who designed the wells and the validity of the data collected from test wells.

So it comes down to this. The emails were, by a strict definition, ex parte communications prohibited by the PUC. But at the same time, the substance of the emails had nothing to do with comments on the settlement agreement. Rather, they were direct communications necessary to notify all parties involved that Riley and Public Water Now had gathered sufficient evidence from the record to support the exercise of the right to challenge the source of water for the proposed desalination plant.

If the motion is adopted by the administrative law judge, facts that are not supportive of Cal Am would never see the light of day. The motion also threatens serious sanctions against Riley and Public Water Now.

The motion to strike is inappropriate and PWN’s emails should be incorporated into the record. Fairness and equity also demand that the final decisions in this case be determined on the basis of all the facts that should be contained in the entire record. As such, facts adverse to Cal-Am should be included as long as they are facts and can be supported as such. Riley has made that case. Justice demands that the motion fail. If it is adopted, the administrative law judge should direct Riley and Public Water Now to resubmit their materials in another format.

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

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BILL HOOD: Close encounters of the presidential sort

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240_f_50443256_vrgj8yxj98kqwi5ydamjb8cvqopx804tNowadays, you can’t get very close to a president without the big guys in suits, mostly bald with scary, grim looks on the face, and with buds in their ears keeping you at bay. It wasn’t always like that.

At one point in our lifetimes (and I am 79), there were a lot of chances to get really near the POTUS. Of course, assassinations and assassination attempts (Kennedy and Reagan), plus 9/11, have changed everything.  If you happen to watch Keifer Sutherland in the Wednesday series called “Designated Survivor”, you can really worry what some terrorists might have in mind for us in the future.

Anyway, it might be interesting to hear from Partisan readers about times when they might have met, or gotten very close to presidents either during or after their terms.

To get it started, here are a few instances where I or members of my family had close encounters.

The first for me was in 1958.  I was a civil engineering student at Purdue and accepted a summer job working for the FAA (then the CAA) at its training site for air traffic controllers at the airport for Atlantic City, located out in the pine barrens about 15 miles west of the city. I worked with construction workers, surveyors and engineers who were building improvements to the airport, including a new control tower and extended runways. I had a jeep at my disposal and drove all over the construction areas every day. (By the way, Boeing that summer used the airport to test fly the new four- engine 707s that were not yet in commercial airlines use. It was quite a sight to watch these huge jet planes come in for landings and takeoffs.

I heard one afternoon that President Eisenhower was flying into Atlantic City to give a speech that evening. We even heard what time Air Force 1 was to land.   So I drove my jeep out onto the tarmac and parked at a spot that ended up being about 10 yards from where the plane came to rest. The ramp was lowered and out he came, into a limo.

No one approached me, no one seemed to be concerned that I was there.

Then, in 1962, I was a Naval officer stationed at Newport, Rhode Island. President Kennedy’s wife had a large home there and he came up to see the yacht races there. I went out on a small Navy ship with others to see the races as well, and his private yacht went by very closely.  But, better than that, that weekend I attended mass at the small Catholic church in Newport. I didn’t know it beforehand, but Kennedy and his family attended the same mass. There were some Secret Service guys but they were very hard to spot. The pew directly behind me was roped off for his family and he sat directly behind me.

I dared not look around and, at the time, we didn’t offer the “handshake of peace” to those around us, as is commonly done now in the middle of the mass.  (My wife actually met Kennedy when she was a college student in 1960 when he was running for president and visited her university in Indiana).

I met Ronald Reagan when he was governor, as I worked in Sacramento and even wrote a speech for him on water issues in the Delta, which I am sure he never gave.  The home that he and Nancy rented was in East Sacramento where we also lived.  One day, I drove by his house on my way home with my 3-year-old daughter in the back seat.  Reagan was out in front throwing a football to Skipper and my daughter yelled out through the open window, “It’s the government!”  He smiled and waved at us.

Finally, when our daughter was a student in Carmel, she met President Ford when he came to the Peninsula and established a summer “home” of sorts. And later, my wife and our 9-year-old son were visiting Disney World and met Richard Nixon, who took a liking to them and spent over a half hour talking privately to them.   Believe it or not, both my wife and son came away liking him and feeling sorry for him.   He actually cried when my son asked him how his wife was (she was in the hospital at the time).  He was not the person we all came to know through TV and Watergate.

All of these just happened, and we can’t take credit for any of it.  But they did happen.  So what about you? If not presidents, any encounters with the current candidates?

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

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blah blah blahIn the space of about one week, both the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch in a mini-editorial and Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, either criticized or satirized (maybe both) the campaign emails and communications that have bombarded voters on both sides of the aisles with threats of a virtual doomsday if they do not respond as requested. I am glad to see this sad and most annoying face of current U.S. political election cycles brought to light.

I am sure I’m not alone, as a registered Democrat, from receiving emails from my dear friends “Barack,” “Joe,” “Nancy” and others at the top of my party’s food chain. I doubt Barack ever saw one of those, wrote one of those or knows me well enough to call me Bill.

It is true that during his initial run in 2008, Obama’s grassroots campaign made very effective use of the internet and social media, sending out very personalized and constant pleas to people of all ages, most of whom had not been even noticed, much less contacted, in prior national and state elections.  For a lot of reasons, mostly younger Democrats and those who were looking for a change were energized to vote for Barack.

Evidently based on the success of the campaigns that gave Barack Obama two terms, the same tactic has been adopted once again, but this time it’s way over the top.  Every day for the last several months, when I sit down to check email, I see words such as “Crisis”, “Trump Wins…,” “All is lost,” “Serious,” etc. as the titles of emails from not only Barack et al but also from the DCCC, the State Democratic Caucus, and even people down the street.

Although I wasn’t taken in in 2008 and 2012, I did at least feel that, for once, the powers that be were actually reaching out to the forgotten masses.  But this time, it’s different.  I am sick and tired of receiving phony emails threatening the end of the world if I don’t contribute my 5 bucks by midnight. Every email ends with a deadline that if met by me, the Democratic hopes dangling over a cliff or holding onto a very thin rope will be able to climb back up and beat those no-good Republicans.

That isn’t the only problem, of course. For example, here in Ohio, sitting Republican Sen. Rob Portman has not rejected TV ads that claim his opponent, former Gov. Ted Strickland, PERSONALLY caused the loss of 350,000 jobs in Ohio during his tenure.  Of course, that is a foolish statement. Economic upturns and downturns are seldom caused by the actions of a single individual, even the president.

And even the candidates run ads identifying policies they would implement, there’s often little substance. And none of the candidates, none, admit that they alone cannot implement great changes to make America great, or whatever, without working collaboratively with the opposition, e.g., “reaching across the aisle.”

So, for the rest of the campaign, I’d like to see candidates and their lackeys treat me like I have some little intelligence left. Don’t tell me you are Michelle Obama (a classy lady), or someone else that you are not, that the End is Near notmatter what the deadline may be, or that a certain opponent has brought the city, state or nation to its knees. Tell me about issues, not deadlines; policies, not personal failings of your opponents; clear description of how such policies will be implemented, not just hollow promises made up of political-speak. Invite serious questions to which you give serious answers. I might even be inspired to send some money your way.

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

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BILL HOOD: Ode to a Squid

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In commemoration of Mary Duan’s resignation as editor of the Monterey County Weekly

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Mary Duan, who does not always wear the hat

It seemed to be me to be quite odd
To call one’s self a cephalopod
You wonder about a person’s id
To see her call herself a Squid

You’d think the simple facts would teach her
Not to ape a deep-sea creature
A creature not known for its great knowledge,
And probably never went to college

So it’s hard to see how such a beast
Could so keenly on our pols feast
To tear them up and toss away
Their foibles for yet another day

But Squid Fry calls for us to credit
Her great insight, once we’ve read it
She’s taken on all pols in sight
Especially those who’re never right

And, in that regard, as it’s well known
Those types of pols aren’t overblown
It seems as if they’re all hell-bent
To not help those they represent

So, Squid, adieu, good luck to you
And with words that are strong and true
Remember -each political sinner
Who gave you food to eat for dinner

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

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Political Party AnimalsHave you ever sat through one of the many presidential debates, Republican or Democrat, and thought, “I could ask better questions than those moderators!”??

With a few exceptions, mostly on the Democratic side but also during the vaudeville act featuring the GOP candidates, the debates have been entertaining but not educational with respect to positions, policies, strategies, etc.  And even if the debates had been dreadfully dull but did focus solely on policies and positions, they still would have fallen short of real substance. I contend that’s because the moderators never ask the real questions that they should be asking.

Here’s the context.  Politics in the U.S. has degenerated into stubbornly held positions on the fringes of both conservatism and liberalism, with no middle ground. Democrats are against Republicans and vice versa just because the parties expect total loyalty, nothing less. There is collaboration on certain issues that can’t be ignored, such as negotiating an 11th-hour interim budget, or responding to a terrorist attack. But when dealing with other major issues such as affordable health care, immigration, or protecting and growing jobs, the parties and their candidates take the public position that they will oppose what their opponents propose — period.

Unfortunately, a major portion of the faithful on both sides of the aisle want their elected officials to follow the script — fight against big government if you’re a conservative, increase governmental benefits if you’re a liberal, and promise to recall any official who shows a weakness by even thinking of compromise.

Most of us complain nothin’ gets done in Washington, but, by God, none of us are going to waive our righteous rights on the big issues, the Second Amendment, for instance. So, where’s the incentive to change the system, as bad and sad as it really is?

Polarized politics is a reality at every level, starting with the counties. Look around. Who is supporting whom for supervisor?  Who is supporting whom for the state Legislature?  Who is supporting whom for Congress?   Is it any surprise that the Democratic candidate for president will win the popular vote in Monterey County no matter who it turns out to be?

With partisanship so pervasive, debate moderators need to follow up with the necessary questions that take that fact of life into account. Here’s what needs to be asked:

You have said you are for X and you will bring the experience and commitment to get X done.  However, unless you have a Congress that is controlled by your party, what makes you think you can actually do what you promise? Tell us how you specifically would reach across the aisle to obtain the necessary amount of support. What is your experience in fashioning successful political compromises on major and controversial issues? Do you think that, as a conservative or as a liberal you must adhere to that political philosophy in everything you would do if elected, or would you be willing to listen to and incorporate useful and appropriate ideas generated by the opposition?

If you can’t tell us how you will successfully navigate the process, why are you so certain that your promises to the electorate would ever be realized? Finally, to what extent are you willing to accept a compromise that falls fairly short of the promises you made time after time at rally after rally?

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

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The word "THANKS" written in rusty metal letterpress type on an old aged leather background.Once again, Thanksgiving is upon us. We are supposed to think and then give thanks for our many blessings. I have a few.

I am thankful:

That I was not a native American in eastern Massachusetts when the Pilgrims landed.

That I was not a Pilgrim who survived eating who knows what while transiting the Atlantic in the not-cruise ship luxury of the Mayflower.

That I didn’t grow up above the Arctic Circle, or on the Equator

That I didn’t grow up eating raw fish and have to hunt, kill, gut, cut up and burn my meat over a fire that I had to start with two sticks.

That I did grow up with indoor plumbing.

That I didn’t wear a 49ers sweatshirt the last time I went to a Raiders game.

That I wasn’t in downtown Hollister when the motorcycle gangs came to town and to take it over.

That TV news can be found on channels other than Fox or MSNBC.

That presidential campaigns don’t happen every year.

That I didn’t ever get kicked out of school for bad behavior and especially that I was never caught.

That the fact I didn’t go to kindergarten is a big deal only to my wife (a former kindergarten teacher).

That I didn’t freeze and forget my notes when I played a solo piano piece in a high school concert.

That I passed the State Bar exam even though I froze and forgot everything I learned in law school when confronted with the first question.

That no gentleman nor gentle lady heard me exclaim my discomfort when  dropping a sledge hammer on my foot.

That I have friends on the Peninsula who think they know me.

That no mayor has hired a hit man to take me out because of my constant criticisms.

That Salinas Valley produce can somehow get all the way to my part-time home in Ohio without turning brown.

That my children are good people and so much smarter than I am.

That my wife puts up with me in spite of my desire to be a water hero.  What?

That Royal Calkins created a location where less than well-written pieces can be published (referring to me, with apologies to Larry Parsons, Joe Livernois, etc.)

That I didn’t grow up to be a reporter or an editor.

That I was nice to Sam Farr when he was on my board of directors at AMBAG. Congressmen never forget.

That I prayed to Junipero Serra before he became a saint.  Saints never forget.

That I am truly blessed, even with what seems to be a very spotty record.

Your turn:

 Hood is a water lawyer and engineer who lives in Carmel and Ohio.

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Businessman chained to a large ballMany knowledgeable people on the Peninsula, including friends and others whose opinions I respect, believe the tarot cards are slowly but surely pointing to an eventual Cal Am demise.   I am reading the cards differently and here is why:

  • There aren’t enough people rising up against Cal Am. Some point to the recent parade of angry ratepayers who spoke publicly before the Cal Am board as a sign of a developing groundswell. That may be true, but in the near and long term, will there ever be the critical mass necessary to accomplish major change? There were people who were angry with the water bill spikes, but that seems now to be ancient history.  A respectable 45 percent of those who voted on Measure O, the Cal Am takeover initiative, clearly opposed Cal Am.  But 45 percent of what number? I recall that the turnout was less than 25 percent of registered voters eligible to vote.  In some cities (e.g., Seaside) the turnout was even smaller. About 11,000 people voted for th measure but Cal Am’s customer base, homes and businesses, numbers some 40,000.

Further, the number of persons who are knowledgeable and willing to be real activists has grown over the past two years, but I would doubt if they currently number more than 500. People join groups like Public Water Now and the Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula but only a very few are truly active and committed on a scale necessary to effect change.

Cal Am has conducted polls and surveys that indicate, according to the company’s vice president for communications, most younger people who have been on the Peninsula for five years or less typically rent and have no serious issues with the company.  And while the older “more conservative” long-term locals (his words) are more concerned, he still maintains that the poll/survey results indicate that the number truly opposed and angry is minimal.

A local water activist has stated that future water rates will have a greater impact on ratepayers so that more and more persons will join the fight to oust Cal Am.  Once again, I am not sure.   After the Herald wrote a good article on the “spanking” that the Cal Am board received from so many citizens at its recent public meeting, I contacted Cal Am’s VP and asked for his take.  He said there were definitely things to learn and Cal Am needs to be more intelligent about rate applications and rate structures. Cal Am and this gentleman are not stupid. I interpret his statement as an indication that Cal Am may revise the way it seeks rates, fees and other costs, and may redesign the tier structure in a way that lightens the future impact on the greatest number of ratepayers. If I were a Cal Am senior officer, I would certainly consider such changes

Cal Am’s communications officer also indicated that the company’s overall PR program needs revitalizing – I don’t know what that would include, but it might include greater transparency and more detailed information on current and future plans, which, like it or not, would also tend to simmer down potential opposition.

  • Unless the California Public Utilities Commission process is statutorily corrected to protect ratepayers, Cal Am may well be able to continue as is as long as it can count on three votes on the commission. Correcting the CPUC process is a longshot, because it would be so politically sensitive that few politicians at the state level could be counted on to become involved. I sent a letter to the area’s state legislators and the governor suggesting changes.  I received a response from Assemblyman Mark Stone but no one else, as I expected. Ratepayers will always be on the losing side as long as any utility can put together at least three commissioners on its side in a rate case, and as long as the CPUC’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates is not recreated as an independent state agency with the authority to sue the CPUC on behalf of ratepayers.   Since commissioners are appointed, effecting change in that regard is almost beyond the ken of anyone on the Monterey Peninsula.  Likewise, without the leadership of your elected officials, you won’t get an independent ORA either.   The likely result:  Cal Am will succeed in its rate cases no matter how many people don’t like it.
  • For the sake of argument, assume that a critical mass does exist and there is another Measure O. What then? This is the area in which think not enough analysis and discussion and/or debate has taken place.  If another Measure O were to pass, perhaps a stronger measure calling not only for a study but the outright acquisition of Cal Am, what agency would do it and how? How much would it cost?  Would the new entity’s ratepayers be protected from future rate hikes?  Would they be assured that their input would be heeded?  Would Cal Am give up and sell out?

A simple review of existing public agencies does not result in terribly positive answers to those questions.

There is some thought that some Peninsula cities would form a joint powers agency to take over Cal Am. But this isn’t small-town Felton, where a takeover did occur. There are six cities on the Peninsula, with no real history of working together for a common goal. Who would be on the board of such a partnership?  Some of the same people who have turned the mayor’s joint powers agency into a money-spending waste of time?

Some say the water district could take the lead. It has the statutory authority and perhaps even the staff to undertake the responsibilities of Cal Am (and could presumably hire ex-Cal Am employees to bolster its capabilities).  However, as we all know the district has not been successful on many fronts, even when it did take the initiative to increase the Peninsula’s water supply. A further problem is that the board’s membership includes two appointed officials, one from the cities, and one from the county. Those individuals, no matter how good-hearted and well-intentioned, come to the board with built-in conflicts and with other issues to distract them from solely water issues.   In order for the district to actually perform in the best possible manner, both of those appointees would have to be replaced by two additional electees, from two newly formed districts. Of course, this couldn’t be accomplished without statutory correction, and the same hurdles against changing the CPUC are in place against reforming the district.

So what is left?  Create a new JPA? JPAs in Monterey County (e.g., FORA) are rife with dissension. Name me a JPA that would clearly be successful.

Consider other agencies, such as the Moss Landing Harbor District or the Marina Coast Water District. Think of the difficulties in bringing together Marina and Peninsula interests that have never been in sync.   Another suggested option would be public ownership contracting out to a private enterprise to build, operate and deliver water to the Peninsula.  Problem is: what agency or what entity could or would represent the public and who would own the water system?   Further, such a contract would require policy decisions, oversight and funding on behalf of the public owners. That brings us back to reviewing the possible government agencies that could do it, which already seems to lead to the end of a cul-de-sac.

  • What about the possibilities of a current private desal project encouraging a local city to form a JPA which, in turn, would acquire the project’s assets and hire private firms to build and operate the desal plant?   In fact, local water activists are in the process of encouraging the city of Monterey to create a new JPA to acquire Nader Agha’s Peoples’ Desal Project at Moss Landing, which is actually ahead of Cal Am in a schedule to obtain permitting and begin construction. Once created, the JPA, representing public ownership, would hire consultants to build and operate the system.  The question remains, however:  a “JPA (Joint Powers Authority)” by its very nature, is a collaboration created by an agreement between two or more government agencies. So, what “other agencies” would agree to participate, and what are the realistic expectations that such an animal, if ever created, would be any different than what we have historically seen?   I hope it can happen, but a seachange in local political collaboration, creativity, initiative and commitment would have to arise where it never has before.  I know and admire my friends who are involved in this effort, and if anyone can, they can.  So God bless – prayers will be required.
  •   Finally, Cal-Am has a lot of money, is determined to remain on the Peninsula because it has been an outstanding revenue source. What does that mean?   For one, the company will almost certainly fight an eminent domain action.  They will not sell. They are not afraid of litigation. They say they care about ratepayer’s concerns, and they will probably take steps to actually go in that direction, but in the end, a good ROI (Return on Investment) trumps everything.

I am running out of options.   I have always supported public water as a concept, but have never had to sit down and figure out if it were handed to me how would I implement it in the best interests of the public. It is not necessarily as inevitable nor as straightforward as some would make out. In spite of all the delays, mismanagement, conflict of interests, data manipulation (as alleged), and so on, Cal Am is still afloat, the CPUC and Coastal Commission have not kicked them out and have barely slapped their hands. My take is a gloomy, negative one, for sure.   But even though I am a public water advocate, I have come to believe that facts and history unfortunately suggest that any grass-root attempt to right all the wrongs is facing great odds.

Bill Hood is a retired water resources engineer and attorney and executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He lives in Carmel and Columbus, Ohio.

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IMG_0825 2Both the Herald and the Pine Cone ran articles this week on Carmel’s response to the county grand jury’s report of its investigation of specific City Hall actions and procedures. The response was a letter drafted by the city administrator, approved without change by the City Council, and signed and sent to the grand jury. I have read the letter and the memorandum from the administrator to the council recommending approval and have a number of issues with the entire process.

Some of the key issues identified by the grand jury include problems with the issuance and oversight of contracts and the well-known outrage that evolved from hiring and termination actions taken during the prior city administrator’s tenure.

In essence, the letter describes some procedural and hiring changes that the council evidently concludes completely addresses those concerns and issues identified by the grand jury. In part, they include (1) requiring council approval of any contract in excess of $24,999; (2) training staff and producing a manual on purchasing procedures and the issuance of purchase orders, plus the creation of a ledger that tracks contracts and purchase orders; and (3) a proposal to hire additional staff to presumably bolster the ability of the city to manage contracts and avoid future employment-related gaffes.

I believe the proposed changes are probably long overdue, but they don’t go nearly far enough. In other words, in spite of how the city characterizes them, they do not totally address the underlying causes that led to the investigation in the first place.

My biggest concern is that the role of the city attorney is not specifically included nor necessarily implied. For example, the letter states that a contract review form will be circulated and must be signed off by “numerous city officials” before the contract can be presumably approved and executed. Those “city officials” are not specifically designated, which makes no sense if the city is attempting to convince both the jury and its citizens that it has truly committed to doing the process as effectively and efficiently as possible.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that I say the city attorney is the person who should play the most important and key role in determining whether a proposed contract provides for the most efficient and cost-savings result, while fully protecting the interests of the city and its residents. This role is crucial and in every venue of which I have worked, both governmental and private, contracts are not executed without the full involvement and recommendations of in-house or outside counsel. Contract managers are a good thing, but when it comes to legalities, liabilities and commitments, only a legally trained person’s recommendations should be sought.

The Carmel city attorney, Don Freeman, is not mentioned as having a role in any of the procedural and hiring changes proposed by the city in its response. And, even more telling, the letter states that outside counsel had to be retained (at what cost?) to assist the city attorney in reviewing suspicious contracts that helped trigger the investigation. That means that the city’s own in-house attorney, on retainer for $7,500/month, either never insisted or was never tasked to review those contracts in the first place. What was he being paid for? Reviewing legal documents would seem to be a natural part of his responsibility, and certainly one that he must have recognized, but evidently did not ask or push for. If he was actually directed not to be involved, that would have been an unbelievable, negligent act, putting public money at great risk.

The city attorney also should have insisted on the selection and management of all outside counsel. A seasoned attorney, presumably, would have relevant knowledge as to the appropriate counsel for the need, to direct counsel as to strategy, to review costs and statements for appropriateness, and to even participate in some legal actions such as preparing or reviewing of briefs, motions, etc. It does not appear that the city attorney was tasked to do any of those roles, all of which could have saved the city both money and grief.

The next biggest concern I have doesn’t relate directly to the letter to the grand jury. It is the fact that the city council has seen fit, in the wake of all the mismanagement and failure to use the expertise of the city attorney in ways that were crucial, to give that person an almost 50 percent raise. On top of that, the resolution to do so states that if the city attorney is confronted with complex litigation or issues, he can bill the city for extra time, plus all of his costs. So here is a very experienced person, now earning $10,500/month representing a village of 4,000 persons, and his job description is so loose that he can, if he wishes to do so, take great advantage of the city.

None of this makes sense. and I don’t think the city should be applauded for making changes, long late in coming, and in overlooking the key elements of what went wrong in the first place.

Bill Hood is a retired water lawyer and engineer and former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He lives part-time in Carmel.

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????In recent months, an argument over the future of California American Water as the Peninsula’s primary water supplier has taken a new turn. Those who oppose Cal Am and support a publicly owned alternative now believe that the utility is on the ropes, primarily due to its own incompetence. Those who support Cal Am, including the company itself, scoff at such statements, and firmly believe that it ain’t going nowhere. So what’s the truth?

For years now, water activists have expended much energy, money and time to educate the general public on their belief that water developed and delivered by a public agency would save ratepayers significant costs while providing direct access to the policy makers whose decisions will affect those costs. These efforts go way back in time, and there are some noteworthy veterans, such as Ron Weitzman and George Riley, who have tirelessly toiled to realize that goal. That effort came to a head in 2014, when Measure O, which provided for a process leading to public acquisition of Cal Am, qualified for the ballot. At the polls, the measure, which was strongly supported by the Peninsula mayors and the hospitality industry, was defeated by a 55-45 vote.

While defeat was inevitable, the activists did not throw in the towel and go home. Quite to the contrary, they continued to publicly comment and criticize Cal Am’s actions, participate in ongoing CPUC rate hearings involving Cal-Am, and also appeared before the California Coastal Commission regarding critical permits that Cal Am would need in order to nail down intake water for its proposed desal plant in the Marina area.

Those kinds of efforts in the past typically bore no fruit. But then Cal Am gave them a gift that, in the eyes of the activists, was a game-changer. That was the ongoing attempt by Cal Am to use a slant well technology to extract saline water from the edge of the ocean for its desal plant. As that attempt evolved, it has been embroiled in delays, arguments over the technology itself, and then – the real kicker here – a really stupid decision by Cal Am, its contractor and the CPUC, to become involved in a three-way conflict of interest. Add in further delays, the impending cease and desist order and Cal Am’s feeble responses to everything and, voila! A wounded Cal Am. Let’s strike while the iron’s hot. We got ’em where want ’em. Or so think the activists.

So what do Cal Am and its supporters think? “Hey, things couldn’t be better.” Regular polls and surveys conducted by the utility have told company officials that most ratepayers are satisfied with the service they receive and aren’t apoplectic about the rates. Further, Cal Am knows that it has resources far beyond any group that might want to sue them or pass another Measure O, and thus they are not worried about loss, either in a courtroom or at the ballot box. In addition, the company’s business model is working well on the Peninsula, so any thought that they will tuck in their tail and go home is nonsense.
Cal Am also has a “Plan B” should the slant well and Marina not turn out to work. The company knows that it still has the support of the mayors, the hospitality industry, Congressman Sam Farr and the Herald. And, although the CPUC and the CCC may be reconsidering their liberal regulation of the company, Cal Am figures it still has the basis for a hefty return on equity for its shareholders in spite of all of these recent events.

It’s still somewhat of a stalemate. What will it take for one side to ultimately prevail over the other? History tells me the following: (1) wishes don’t always come true; (2) where politics and money are involved, you can often throw facts and reason out the window; (3) sometimes the expected doesn’t actually happen because not everyone is willing to sit back and accept it.
Right now, I don’t have a vision of the future and would not bet my meager fortune on one outcome or the other, despite of my own strong feelings in favor of one.

Hood is a retired water lawyer and engineer and former director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.

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