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The young girl with the husband have a rest in a garden. California, CarmelI love Carmel. I was born in Carmel while it still had its own hospital and maternity ward. Carmel is in my blood, and like many people I never want it to change. Of course, over the last 56 years it has, in many ways, changed quite a bit, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Yet it is comforting that many of the village landmarks I grew up with, from the Pine Inn to Bruno’s Market, still look pretty much the same as they did in my earliest childhood memories.

For some strange reason a single building on the corner of 7th and Dolores seems to be the focal point for the local political drama over keeping Carmel Carmelish. Several years ago it was suggested that a Long’s Drug store might occupy the former bank building, but that was shot down by the anti-chain-store crowd whose short memory forgot that the townsfolk fought to preserve a similar chain store that closed its Ocean Avenue location just a decade earlier.

More recently there were arguments over whether the relatively new (1970s) building was architecturally significant and worthy of preservation or is a disposable piece of modern architecture improperly imposing itself on Carmel’s classic storybook charm. After that was settled in favor of keeping the building, there were more arguments about what sort of business should occupy the space.

Eventually it became an “event center” for special events. Then early this year the owner thought a market and deli would be a nice fit for the building, but the machete- and pitchfork-wielding townsfolk thought it looked too much like a dreaded fast food operation.

Now the owner wishes to open a restaurant there. A fairly large, but non-threatening restaurant. That should be fine, right?

Apparently not if it has a display case with two cash registers. According to competing restaurant owner Rich Pepe, that makes it not a restaurant but a “food court.” And because food courts are typically associated with big suburban shopping malls, a display case in a restaurant is a direct threat to Carmel’s way of life (Patisserie Boissiere excepted).

According to Pepe, “Many of us feel a very large, 100-seat cafeteria/food court operation in Carmel will only encourage day-trippers and damage Carmel’s fine reputation as a unique village.”

Putting aside the obvious snobbery, I think it’s safe to say that the duration of a visitor’s stay will never be influenced by the mode of food service offered on the SE corner of 7th and Dolores. The decision to come to Carmel for a day, a weekend, or a week is typically determined by such factors as personal schedules, how far they have to travel (someone from San Jose will likely return home in the evening while a visitor from Omaha would probably stay a night or two), and the purpose of their visit.

Personally, I think a food court would make a wonderful social hub well suited to the Carmel lifestyle. I’m not talking about the kind with cheap formula fast food, plastic chairs, Formica tables, and sporks, but rather a comfortable dining space surrounded by local vendors offering coffee, pastries, sandwiches, soups, and such. It could be a place where locals could stop for an easy lunch or snack en route to the post office or library. A place where friends and neighbors could run into each other by chance and enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed setting. In my vision it also has a fireplace.

But neither Pepe’s nightmarish day-tripper attractant nor my vision for a community social hub is what’s being proposed. It’s just a restaurant with a harmless display counter. The problem isn’t the display case. The problem is that Carmel’s regulations are so blasted rigid and formulaic now. Any deviation from what is legally considered Carmelish is treated as a crime. They have eliminated any possibility of creativity in business management or aesthetic design. The irony, of course, is that Carmel’s charm was developed by people who came here so they could be free to express their creativity in art, architecture, and business as they, not society, saw fit. I think they would be horrified by Carmel’s regulations today.

James Toy lives in Seaside and is a regular contributor to the Partisan. This first appeared on one of his blogsMr. Toy’s Mental Notes.

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No Vacancy sign hanging on yellow painted cedar siding.Wake up and smell the new economy. It’s here. It’s global at 2.25 million homes in 191 countries and it persists regardless of bans, restrictive ordinances, or claims of eroded neighborhood character. It is the capitalist-defying act of peers renting to peers. It is the demolition of the vertical landlord/renter relationship and the construction of a horizontal economy; it is a trust-dependent transaction shattering an economy based on fear. It is the close look at existing structures and a turning of our eyes away from new construction. It is the celebration of the middle class and the eventual burial of the 1%. It is Home Sharing on Airbnb.

There are 1,900 vacant homes in Pacific Grove and 210 short-term rentals. Carmel suffers 46% of its housing stock standing empty and yet they ban home shares because they would change neighborhood character. A neighborhood of ghosts? Carmel’s infamous Supreme Court ruling (Ewing vs Carmel-By-The-Sea) cites that ”Short-term tenants have little interest in public agencies or in the welfare of the citizenry. They do not participate in local government, coach little league, or join the hospital guild. They do not lead a scout troop, volunteer at the library, or keep an eye on an elderly neighbor. Literally, they are here today and gone tomorrow-without engaging in the sort of activities that weld and strengthen a community.”

The ruling even mentions that they do not utilize day cares. In fact, there are no Carmel Boy Scout troops or day care centers while in contrast, my short-term renters have been physicians here to train your doctors on how to better save your character-rich life; Girl Scouts here for their 50th annual reunion who have inspired more character in young girls than you can throw a badge at; judges and lawyers here for special cases brought on by the bad behavior of your character-building neighbors; eco-conference and eco-farm save-your-world heroes while you watch your neighbors spray Round-Up; and a handyman or two who have helped my neighbors with do-it-yourself projects that your neighbor didn’t-avail-himself-to-do-yourself.

To those who argue that we are doing business in a residential district, I will assert this — the only business-as-usual transaction in my home is between me and Wells Fargo. I agree to buy a home for $700,000 with 20% down and an interest rate of 5% for 30 years. What does Wells Fargo get? $1,220,160. That’s business. When I rent my house out for a third less than a hotel or Bed and Breakfast, complete with a fenced-in yard, a kitchen and bedrooms for all, it’s a bigger bang for your buck and it is practice in fair trade.

It’s the economy of the future, a future wherein it’s our civic responsibility to use existing resources. My houses are 110 years old. The lumber has been felled, the water-loving cement cured, the furniture built. They were retreat houses 110 years ago and thus remain historically accurate as home shares. What I want to ask those of you who are in love with outdated zoning ordinances and you historic-preservation devotees – who the hell let permanent residents set up camp and ruin the character of our Retreat Area?

Joy Colangelo is a physical therapist and environmental activist who lives in Pacific Grove

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IMG_1837 (2)Even before he began his career as a Monterey County supervisor, Dave Potter has flirted with financial disaster, suffering through several lawsuits, liens against his construction company and foreclosures of two houses. For a time, his county wages were garnished to cover legal obligations and the county withdrew his government credit card.

But now, through a creative arrangement involving his mother’s trust, he has landed himself in a $1,695,000 million house in Carmel, a 4,000-square-footer with an upstairs view of the ocean.

The house on 7th Avenue was purchased last August by Monterey financial adviser and trust manager Liza Horvath on behalf of the Harbor View Trust. The deed remains in those names. To cover the purchase price, the Ruth Potter Trust came up with $1.7 million. Potter said Tuesday that he believed that assets of the trust, managed by Horvath, were used as collateral to borrow that amount from UBS, the Swiss bank.

Horvath also writes a Monterey Herald column on seniors and financial issues. She said she could not comment on the transaction because her firm has a policy of not discussing anything involving clients, even with their permission.

Potter and his second wife, hotel manager Janine Chicourrat, recently planned to host a fundraiser for Carmel mayoral candidate Ken Talmadge at the 7th Avenue home but the event was moved to the Little Napoli Cafe because of ongoing renovation work at the house, work that briefly landed the supervisor in some hot water with Carmel City Hall. On Jan. 26, Carmel building official Robert Villalobos red-tagged the project because Potter had not obtained a building permit.

Potter said this week that he didn’t believe a permit was needed until discovery of wood rot expanded the scope of the project, which involves replacement of a second-story deck, fencing and other odds and ends. He applied for a permit on Feb. 2, saying the work would be done by his company, Potter Construction, which has been an off-again, on-again concern over the years.

(In 2012, Potter said his company had not done business “in years” even though his financial disclosure forms indicated he had received more than $10,000 in income through the firm in the previous few years. Though the company’s contracting license had lapsed, Potter renewed it in January and his firm is currently doing cement work on another Carmel renovation project under a subcontract with architect and contractor Safwat Malek, a Potter campaign contributor.)

At least once before, Potter’s construction firm had failed to obtain a required building permit. That occurred a decade ago when his company was doing extensive cement work at the Pacific Grove home of San Joaquin Valley homebuilder John Bonadelle Jr.

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Potter

Potter has represented Supervisorial District 5 since 1996, and is facing a challenge from former United Way executive Mary Adams in the June election. District 5 takes in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Carmel, Carmel Valley and much of the Highway 68 corridor.

His financial troubles began before his first election when he and his first wife, Patricia, lost their house to foreclosure. In 1997, they bought another house on Alta Mesa Circle above Del Monte Center from the mother of attorney Tony Lombardo. At the time, Lombardo represented several of Monterey County’s largest land developers. More recently he has been representing Cal Am in some aspects of its desalination project.

For the Alta Mesa house, Lombardo’s mother, JoAnn, lent Potter money for the down payment, and Potter was to mail payments on that loan to Lombardo’s law office. Within a few months, Potter was delinquent on the first and second mortgages but said he remained current on his payments to JoAnn Lombardo.

Potter said the house was in serious disrepair when he bought it at the seeming bargain price of about $500,000. He said he put extensive work into the property. He also borrowed heavily against it.

In 2006, Potter used the Alta Mesa house as collateral to borrow $193,000 so he could repay three Santa Clara County men who had lent him money to cover business debts. Six years later, during divorce proceedings, Potter’s estranged wife, Patricia, alleged in court papers that he had forged her name to the paperwork in order to obtain that loan. After a Monterey Herald reporter began making inquiries into that, she retracted the allegation.

When the Bank of America foreclosed on the Alta Mesa house in December 2012, it was owed $1,798,224, according to county records. The house eventually sold in February 2015 for about $882,000.

According to the county salary schedule, Potter and the other county supervisors make $59.49 an hour, or about $124,739 annually.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to fix the name of the street where an earlier Potter home was located. It is Alta Mesa Circle, not Alta Vista Circle.

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Little happy cute boy catching sun in skyIt’s official. Those surveys about the best this or the worst that are nonsense. The final piece of evidence, the nail in the coffin, the dramatic confession, the incontrovertible evidence was the news today that Salinas is the second “healthiest and happiest city” in the United States.

Last week a heating company with the aid of a social scientist declared Salinas the third “coziest” city in the land. Perhaps, my daughter suggested, they were thinking about the crowded housing, especially in East Salinas, where a legitimate study years ago calculated the population density as comparable to Manhattan’s.

Now comes the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being: 2015 Community Rankings list released on Tuesday. It purportedly measures how residents of 190 U.S. cities feel about their physical health, social ties, financial security, community and sense of purpose.

 In first place, Naples, Fla., followed by Salinas, North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Barnstable Town, Mass.

In sixth place is Santa Cruz/Watsonville and in 10th place San Luis Obispo.

Based a national telephone survey, residents in these places are said to have the lowest levels of stress in the country, report little depression and eat healthy on a daily basis, the report found. Many of them like their daily activities and enjoy a sense of purpose.

Salinas ranked extremely high in the categories of purpose and physical, meaning the residents have a strong sense of purpose and feel they have the health and energy to pursue it.

So why can’t I just be happy for Salinas and let it go? Some will ask me “Don’t you like Salinas?” and my answer will be, “Of course I do.” I find it to be a fascinating and frustrating place with lots of strengths and interesting challenges.

Here’s why I can’t just let it go. The survey bothered me mostly because one must read the fine print to learn that when they’re talking about Salinas, they’re really talking about the Salinas Metropolitan Statistical Area, a Census Bureau designation that actually means Monterey County.

As the biggest city in the county, Salinas gets its name on the SMSA, which is fine for Census purposes but not for understanding results.  To portray the city of Salinas as one of the happiest and coziest places in the nation ignores the realities of gang violence, crowded housing and cultural segregation. Mix in Carmel and P.G. and Monterey and Del Rey Oaks and a very different picture emerges of Salinas, the Metropolitan Statistical Area, as opposed to Salinas, the city. Taken that way, the findings may be close to accurate.

Certainly Salinas is filled with purposeful and healthy people but way more than the average city? It would be nice to believe that, but the latest effort does not convince me.

The Salinas Police Department’s PR man put out a news release late in the day trumpeting the survey’s results and overlooking the reality that it isn’t really about Salinas.

Why do they do these surveys? For publicity, of course, and I have fallen into the trap. Newspapers and TV stations and pretentious little blogs all around the country are breathlessly reporting on the findings today, even the news outlets in the bottom-dwelling cities, the Toledos and the Newarks. Who is Healthways? They manage health plans for somesuch. I got bored with the web site before I could figure out exactly what they’re selling.

There was another ranking put out Tuesday, by Forbes magazine, which rated Sacramento the most miserable place in the United States. That’s a judgment call, I guess, but here’s my question for the Forbes people. Also ranked really high on the miserableness scale were Stockton, Modesto and Bakersfield, some of the garden spots of the San Joaquin Valley, but Fresno didn’t make it into that tier of the rankings. Maybe that could be Fresno’s new slogan: “We’ve always been better than Bakersfield but now we’re better than Sacramento, too.”

Bottom line. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And don’t take anything at face value, with the possible exception of what you see here.

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Charlie during his first and possibly last visit to Carmel Beach

We had not been to Carmel Beach in quite a while, not since Ruby the lab mix began the long sleep, but Wednesday was the right day to return. It was a weekday, relatively tourist free. The younger daughter would be gone again the next day and the pup, Charlie the Truth and Justice Dog, had been dropping hints about wanting to hobnob with some purebreds and take in some ocean air.

So we rounded up the leashes and some poop bags and headed off to dog heaven, Carmel Beach, one of the few places in civilized society where dogs are allowed to run around like the crazed creatures they are.

Zorro, the foster dog, seemed to understand where we were as we passed the boutiques of Ocean Avenue. He’s a Queensland healer, smarter than your average domestic dog. But Charlie was clueless, of course. He’s part American bulldog, not the most intellectual of breeds. He has chewed up several copies of the New Yorker magazine without ever once stopping to chuckle at the cartoons. (He also has chewed up three TV remote controls, but that is more a reflection of his owners’ intelligence.)

Charlie was baffled but pleased by the oceanside situation. New smells everywhere! He drooled with extra vigor as he scanned the sand, spotting little poodles and terriers and other potential chew toys. He couldn’t understand why Zorro was free to roam off leash while he remained tethered to the large bald fellow but how to explain that some people can be apprehensive when they and their lapdogs are approached by 100 pounds of something that looks suspiciously like a pit bull.

So Zorro ran and sniffed and, before we caught on, rolled on the rotting carcass of a sea lion while we, me and the daughter who routinely breaks my heart by driving back to school after the holidays, took turns trying not to be dragged in the sand by cheerful Charlie. We did a very good job of it, if we do say so ourselves, and managed to avoid all but one nasty look from the type of passing dog walkers who don’t understand that a proper dog should be larger than your average cat.

Anyway, we had been there about 30 relatively uneventful minutes before we spotted what would turn out to be the point of this story. She was a Carmel police officer, or at least that’s what her uniform indicated, and she was on beach patrol. Before we spoke with her she spent some time with some other dog lovers who were looking at the rotting sea lion remains and shaking their heads. Then she came over to us and laid down the law.

It turns out that bohemian Carmel, let-it-hang-loose Carmel, is a little more uptight than it lets on.

We all know that Carmel is going through all sorts of political gymnastics because some of its more sensitive residents, also known as grumps, want to ban beach fires. (I know I should not give them a hard time because, yes, smoke is a true pollutant and pollutants are bad, etc., etc., and because they went for so long allowing people like me to enjoy the ritual of oceanfront beach fires.) What I didn’t know is that Carmel apparently is also having some second thoughts about letting dogs run loose on the beach.

The police woman was very nice. (I think her nametag said C. Mitchell, but I might just be making that up.) She wanted us to know that, yes, it was OK for Zorro to run around sans leash but only if we could demonstrate that he would respond to voice commands and would stay within 25 feet of us, me and the daughter who insists on getting an education.

Oh, and another thing. If Zorro planned to approach any other people, that would be fine but only if we were within three feet of him, and presumably them.

I should have seen this coming. Carmel has always prided itself on its free-wheeling traditions but it does have its standards. “Libertarianism is one thing but anarchy is quite another” might make a good slogan to be carved onto a redwood plank and mounted on the side of the charming city hall.

I should have asked some questions of officer C. Mitchell or whoever she was. I should have asked if these are new dog rules, and if they are a step toward the day when whoever replaces Mayor Jason Burnett announces from the dais that he will entertain a motion to require leashes on all animals within charming Carmel. I didn’t make any inquiries, however, and I realize now it was partly because I wanted to avoid attracting any additional attention to Charlie and his decidedly inland roots. I can already picture it, a big sign at the foot of Ocean Avenue declaring “All Dogs Must Be Leashed!” and under that a picture of Charlie with a big red X over his jowly countenance.

Instead, I proudly held up my now-used poop bag in order to demonstrate that I am a fellow who understands and respects authority, and I dutifully called Zorro. He has never been good with distances and, therefore, was clearly in violation of the 25-foot rule but he came trotting back if for no other reason than to make Charlie feel even more picked on.

Officer C. Mitchell, possibly an alias, gave us a wink of approval and possibly even a thumbs up as she headed off in search of other potential scofflaws. We headed off as well, pleased to have been judged worthy and relieved that she hadn’t spent enough time with us to discover our other potential disqualifiers.

All in all, a fine day in Carmel. And as we passed the boutiques again, headed in the opposite direction, I asked the ambitious daughter whether she needed to stop for anything in Carmel. She chuckled, of course, and said, “Does anyone really need anything in Carmel?”

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The Partisan’s 2015 wish list, toward a better tomorrow

christmas tree lightA review of the Partisan’s posts of 2015 reveals that we did a reasonably good job of accentuating the positive and avoiding unnecessary criticism. In that spirit, we are taking this opportunity to distribute some presents of sorts with the barest amount of advice necessary to provide context.

City of Seaside: A gift bag filled with enough wisdom to realize that this horse-racing thing is never going to happen. You need to know this before you waste more time and money. It might have come to something if the centerpiece of this proposal was something other than a horse racing track, but that’s what it is. Horse racing was a dying enterprise even before the public started recognizing how many horses actually die at the tracks. On top of that, the location is wrong, the developers’ own financial forecasts don’t support the idea and the development team seems to think it can force it down the community’s throat.

Craig Malin: For the incoming Seaside city manager, a subscription to the Weekly and the Partisan because you’ve shown yourself to be a fan of good local journalism.

Sand City: Don’t be jealous about Seaside’s present. Here’s a box of reality for you, too. That hotel on the beach? It was a bureaucratic fluke that got the proposal this far but if you think the community is going to let you build a hotel on the sand, knowing what happens when buildings go up on the shore, you need to get out more.

City of Mared christmas backgroundrina: Your gift is a back brace to help continue to build a people-friendly community rather than a conglomeration of shopping centers and parking lots. Yes, people want restaurants in their commercial districts but the City Council can and should set standards. Time will prove the council right.

The City of King City: A whole new start.

Salinas Police Department: May the big shiny box behind the tree be filled with at least a few months of peace. The way your officers stepped up to contribute money for the 9-year-old abuse victim in the recent child homicide case was truly heartwarming. They deserve something other than crime scene after crime scene.

Jane Parker: Here’s hoping Santa brings you two new colleagues this year. Imagine a board trying to work together to serve the public! Yes, it sounds crazy, but we’ve all heard of Christmas miracles, right?

Dennis DonohuBirch forest in wintere: The former Salinas mayor won’t come right out and say he will run against Parker, though he’s already collecting campaign cash. Our gift is a simple reminder that to beat Parker, he’ll have to take loads of money from people he wouldn’t to have as neighbors. It’s about governance, Dennis, not commerce.

Pacific Grove: A city engineer who can figure out how to use the new hotel tax money to get the ancient sewer system fixed.

Carmel: A few dozen barbecue grills and a mural at the Post Office depicting the good old days of beach bonfires.

Sam Farr: Some fishing tackle.

Jimmy Panetta: A challenge from the left to keep you honest.

Casey Lucius: A professional campaign manager.

Monterey County Democratic Party: Leadership.

Monterey County Republican Party: New leadership.

Cal Am: A conscience.

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Beach campfire on lake with sand shore. burning wood on white sand in daytimeWhat’s up with Carmel these days? The City Council has engaged in some very un-Carmelish behavior of late.

About this time last year the council began a six-month experiment with parking meters, devices long considered to be the ultimate insult to the dignity of the village. The council hoped to demonstrate that meters would solve a long-standing problem of too many cars and not enough parking spaces.

Parking “kiosks” (single meters designed to serve an entire block) were installed up and down Ocean Avenue to see what would happen. As I expected, locals avoided them by parking on every other street where parking was still free, while tourists, who didn’t know any better, paid up. But city officials didn’t interpret the results that way. They saw that Ocean Avenue parking spaces opened up more often and, based on that criteria alone, they declared the experiment a success. When almost nobody else agreed with that two-dimensional analysis, the city removed the meters. End of story.

This past week the council ventured down a similarly dubious path. By a slim 3-2 majority they approved the first reading of a controversial ordinance to declare beach fires a “public nuisance,” which would bring an abrupt end to a century-old social tradition. With a single vote on a simple subject, the council has set a course destined to leave a lot of their constituents very upset.  Unless at least one of the three shows a willingness to compromise, the ship called City Hall is going to run aground on Carmel Beach as early as next month.

Beach fires have become a bit of a problem mainly due to their increasing numbers. Carmel is one of the few places left on the California coast where your family and friends can still gather around a fire to toast hot dogs and marshmallows on a foggy summer evening. For that reason people flock to Carmel beach to enjoy this simple social ritual that humans have engaged in since caveman times. Lots of people mean lots of fires. Lots of fires mean lots of smoke and lots of black ashes discoloring Carmel’s famous white sand. Too much of a good thing has gotten very messy.

Earlier this year the city had a plan to manage fires by placing 26 fire rings along the beach between 10th and 13th Avenues. The rings would contain the filthy ashes, and the number of fires allowed at any one time would be limited. Still, I thought 26 was too many. After all we’re still talking about eight to nine fires per block. In years past a busy night might see maybe a dozen fires, so 26 seemed overly generous. Unfortunately, some folks took the opposite view and decided 26 was too restrictive. They appealed the plan to the California Coastal Commission hoping to get a better deal. The CCC will consider the appeal next week.

Meanwhile, the city council grew concerned that the smoke from so many fires might get the city in trouble with state and regional air quality bureaucrats. Last summer an air quality monitor placed at a nearby residence detected unhealthy levels of smoke on just two nights, once in June and again on the 4th of July. Apparently something in that smoke made city officials go batshit crazy and they abruptly changed course.

The city passed a temporary emergency ordinance banning fires on weekends until proper studies could be done to find the best solution. But the Coastal Commission didn’t think two nights of bad air over three months was sufficient justification to declare an emergency. They told the city not to enforce the ban. Miffed city officials essentially said “screw you” to the Coastal Commission and escalated the conflict beyond reason. They decided they could make an end run around the Coastal Commission ruling by declaring beach fires a “public nuisance.” With Mayor Jason Burnett leading the charge, they drafted the ordinance to permanently ban all fires. This may have satisfied their egos, but it has ignited the anger of beachgoers.

It’s troubling enough to see the council so willing to dismantle an important component of Carmel’s unique social culture. Even more disturbing is how they are doing it, effectively bypassing the normal avenues of forming public policy. The proper course, which the city was following until recently, is to gather public input, study various alternatives, find ways to mitigate potential problems, and develop a plan. It’s a somewhat tedious process, but it usually works out for most of us. The 26 fire ring proposal grew out of that process. Now, it has all been chucked out the window and a total ban is being imposed on the community with minimal debate. In fact Mayor Burnett has made it clear he is not open to alternatives. In Wednesday’s Herald he was quoted “For me it comes down to the health impact of the smoke, for me, it’s an area where I can’t compromise.”

Yet the smoke reached unhealthy levels on only two evenings. Two. In fact, the proposed ordinance doesn’t cite fires as the problem per se, only the “excessive number of beach fires during peak use periods” such as Independence Day festivities. The key to a fair and reasonable solution, then, is not a complete ban but a limit on the number of fires allowed at any given time.

I think limiting fires to about 10 or 12 fire rings is a fair number, especially if they must be confined to the three-block segment of the beach where fires are currently allowed. Some experimentation with their placement might further reduce smoke drift into the surrounding neighborhood. These steps should limit smoke to historical levels, which folks seemed comfortable with in the past. The rings would confine coals and ashes to keep the beach clean and safe. To keep things simple, fire rings would be available on a first-come first-served basis, much as with picnic tables in parks. though a reservation system might be helpful for busy holiday weekends. I think this is a reasonable compromise, and should be satisfactory to almost everyone.

The question is whether Carmelites can convince at least one more council member that compromise is reasonable. I fear the mayor is a lost cause. That leaves Victoria Beach and Ken Talmage, but they’re coming across as more fearful of what the air quality bureaucrats might do than they are of the townsfolk they supposedly represent. As with the parking meter program, the council majority seems primarily interested in the technical aspects of the issue while disregarding the social and cultural implications of their actions. In a tightly knit community like Carmel, with deep-rooted social traditions, that is a huge political mistake.

James Toy lives in Seaside. This first appeared on one of his  blogsMr. Toy’s Mental Notes.

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Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal

If there is an uptick in crime in the unincorporated territory around Carmel, it won’t be a result of Sheriff Steve Bernal taking 18 deputies off the streets, or at least not in the sheriff’s opinion. Nope. It will be the fault of Carmel city administrator Doug Schmitz for alerting the criminal element, or at least that’s what the sheriff is suggesting.

That’s what the young sheriff had to say in an email (see below) responding to an email (see below) in which Schmitz raised his concerns about how the sheriff’s redeployment of resources could leave parts of the Carmel area unprotected, requiring Carmel police officers to drive into county territory at times in the wee hours. Some 18 deputies were reassigned to jail duty, largely to reduce overtime expenses in the crowded facility, leaving an early morning void in unincorporated Carmel as well as Pebble Beach and Carmel Highlands.

The exchange between Schmitz and Bernal was first reported in the Carmel Pine Cone but it bears repeating here because it provides a fresh clue about how Bernal responds to criticism. He has had a bit of a honeymoon since taking office at the start of the year but criticism comes with the job and it’s worrisome to consider how he might react when the going gets tougher.

The dust-up with Carmel comes as Bernal is still under the spotlight for inviting immigration officials to set up shop at the jail in August. He provided assurances that his office is interested only in assisting in the deportation of serious criminals but other officials say there are signs that minor offenders have been turned over to the feds in violation of state law.

As for the email exchange, if Bernal was hoping to find common ground with the Carmel administrator, he got off to a shaky start: “After receiving your correspondence dated October 15, 2015, I felt I should respond in order to educate you on common police procedure and protocol.” He then went on to tell the veteran city official nothing he didn’t already know about how police agencies routinely assist one another when their jurisdictions abut.

“When we instituted the current staffing reductions (or new scheme in your words) my office did not at ANY TIME ask your agency to backfill any of our gaps in patrol coverage,” Bernal wrote, forgetting for the moment that his office had not even notified Peninsula officials about the change.

After that weak start, Bernal stumbled some more.

“On another note, I would like to thank you for getting word out to the entire peninsula that we were deploying reduced resources in the area on a temporary basis.  What this managed to do was spread rumor based half-truths, which in turn has caused trepidation for many people. We tried to minimize publicity about the staffing changes so the criminal element would not be tempted to concentrate their efforts in areas with reduced patrol coverage.  Unfortunately, that plan has now been thwarted since you chose to address this issue by sending out your correspondence, rather than picking up the phone and calling me.”

HERE ARE THE EMAILS. FIRST, SCHMITZ’S:

15 October 2015

Sheriff Bernal,

It has come to my attention that earlier this month a new deputy allocation plan was put in place, moving eighteen (18) officers from patrol to jail duty. I have heard from my Police managers that the impact from this plan is that unincorporated areas in the Carmel region usually have no patrolling Sheriff Deputies between approximately 2 am to 7 am. Any responding deputies to the Carmel unincorporated region originate from either Salinas or Castroville. Thus, as has happened three times during early mornings since the new plan became operative, the Sheriff’s Office is relying on the Carmel by the Sea Police Department to be the first responder to calls for service in unincorporated areas. There have also been several calls for the City Police to respond during afternoon hours because Sheriff Deputies were not in the area. Thus, City resources have been allocated to respond outside of our jurisdiction because of an insufficient Sheriff’s patrol presence in these areas.

Early on the morning of 9 October, the Carmel by the Sea dispatch center was asked to send an officer to a reported prowler on Rio Vista, located off Carmel Valley Road. This is outside of our jurisdiction. Carmel by the Sea deploys two Police officers during those early morning hours. For officer safety, both of our on-duty personnel were sent to the Rio Vista residence, leaving our community without law enforcement coverage.

We are not staffed to handle our city AND the unincorporated areas around Carmel by the Sea. I am convinced that our residents would be outraged if they knew they and their properties were not protected because we were having to cover for your Department’s new scheme regarding patrol reduction.

Do not expect or count on the Carmel by the Sea Police Department to backfill for your Department in calls to the unincorporated areas.

Douglas J. Schmitz

City Administrator

Carmel by the Sea

 

HERE IS BERNAL’S REPLY:

After receiving your correspondence dated October 15, 2015, I felt I should respond in order to educate you on common police procedure and protocol.

Over the years the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office has enjoyed a very professional and cooperative relationship with the Carmel by the Sea Police Department. Once in a while, a call for service is received and units are dispatched and the responding agency may not have an available unit, or the responding unit has an extended response time.   A watch commander may ask a neighboring agency to send a unit to assist until a unit is free to respond. This is common practice throughout the county.  There is no expectation assistance will be rendered.  The decision to respond rests solely with the respective agency.  Again, we do not expect, nor rely on your officers to respond to our calls for service.

When we instituted the current staffing reductions (or new scheme in your words) my office did not at ANY TIME ask your agency to backfill any of our gaps in patrol coverage. The two agencies continue to assist each other as we have always done, no more, no less.

Considering that the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office operates countywide, we are asked to assist other agencies within the county on a daily basis, which we continue to do. It is disturbing, for example, that you are not aware or fail to acknowledge that my deputies have assisted your department approximately 28 times over the last several months. In April of this year, we had a sergeant and several deputies on standby (on overtime) to assist your agency with an anticipated protest at the Carmel Mission. My Sheriff’s Emergency Assistance Team (S.E.A.T) assists your agency many times throughout the year.  Our K-9 units, Bomb Squad, Search and Rescue and SWAT teams are available to assist your agency at a moment’s notice.

I have a very good working relationship with your Police Chief, Mike Calhoun.  My Coastal Station Commander, Keith Wingo, has a healthy working relationship with Commander Tomasi. I believe members from both agencies from the top to bottom enjoy a very professional working relationship.

On another note, I would like to thank you for getting word out to the entire peninsula that we were deploying reduced resources in the area on a temporary basis.  What this managed to do was spread rumor based half-truths, which in turn has caused trepidation for many people. We tried to minimize publicityabout the staffing changes so the criminal element would not be tempted to concentrate their efforts in areas with reduced patrol coverage.  Unfortunately, that plan has now been thwarted since you chose to address this issue by sending out your correspondence, rather than picking up the phone and calling me.

In closing, I would like to thank members of your police department for their continued professional conduct and cooperation.

Sincerely,

Steve Bernal

Sheriff-Coroner

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Wooden mallet and diary on a white backgroundNEWSPAPER’S RESPONSES HAVE BEEN INAPPROPRIATE

This past June, the Monterey County civil grand jury published an investigative report regarding the management and governance of the city of Carmel. A recent editorial in the Carmel Pine Cone by publisher Paul Miller exudes strong disrespect for the grand jury. This is the second editorial penned by Mr. Miller making a personal affront to individuals participating in grand jury service. His June 26, 2015, writing described the grand jury’s work as stupid and worthy of contempt. Last week, he stated that “the grand jury set out to try to make things worse, instead of helping … Farewell, grand jury, and same thing to the horse you rode in on.” It’s apparent that Mr. Miller was hoping for an indictment of the former city administrators. He also took issue with the finding that the Pine Cone influenced the city’s governance. When the report didn’t meet his expectations, he chose to belittle the jury members instead of focusing on his opinion.

In America, we don’t serve the government, the government serves us. There are a number of ways that we have to ensure that this arrangement continues. I’m certain that Mr. Miller is familiar with freedom of the press. There are other ways, too—separation of powers, the right to vote, freedom of information, and yes, civil grand juries. Civil grand juries are mandated by the California Penal Code. The code grants powers to the grand jury to examine local governments, commissions and agencies, special districts, elected officials, etc. The grand jury does not have the authority to enforce its recommendations, but it does report its findings to the citizens. The citizens can then act as they see fit.

I fully respect Mr. Miller’s views regarding the city matters addressed in the grand jury report and his disagreement. I welcome his alternative suggestions to improve the city’s governance. His personal attacks on the jury members, however, are an affront to the democratic process. The 2014/15 civil grand jury was comprised of 19 educated and committed members. It included Ph.Ds, attorneys, CEOs, business school professors, and independent business owners. The members worked diligently to develop information that informs the public and effects sound choice. The grand jury did not choose to investigate Carmel. Carmel residents and the City Council made that decision. The work of the panel was performed honestly, competently, completely within the law, and with integrity. Whether Mr. Miller and the public agree with the findings or not, the panel members were honored to serve and continue to hold their heads high.

Panetta is a faculty member in the School of Business at California State University Monterey Bay and an adjunct faculty member at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He was a member of the grand jury committee that examined Carmel City Hall during the period leading up to the departure of City Administrator Jason Stilwell. Among other things, it concluded that his departure was sparked in large part by highly slanted reporting by the Pine Cone and the City Council’s failure to back him up.

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I recently took out two books from the Steinbeck Library in Salinas. Now that I’ve secured your full attention with a riveting opening sentence, let me tell you what I’m hear to talk about: Carmel, the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, whether Robert Frost was a good neighbor and, should the need arise for serious column padding, the latest ultra-cute hijinks of my two cats, Gracie and Lucy.

It happened that both books cite Carmel, or as it is officially known as California’s most hyphen-rich municipality, Carmel-by-the-Sea.

In a previous column, I analyzed how Carmel (shortened form is preferred here because of threat of Typing Fatigue Syndrome) is treated in one of the books. Those of you who didn’t see it, don’t know what you’re missing. By the way, I’m sorry for the condescending snootiness of the preceding sentence. It just slips out with some subjects. Obviously, you don’t know what you missed if you missed it. My bad.

The other book is the new memoir by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann entitled “Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Dead.” I am a sucker for memoirs of old rock musicians. By the way, if you don’t know what the Grateful Dead is, you don’t know what you’re missing, or you were seriously dosed a long time ago.

Kreutzmann’s tale is one of the better books of the genre. Perhaps, it’s because drummers don’t beat around bushes. It’s a ratta-tat-tat tale of music, drugs, guns, dynamite, multiple marriages, multiple rehabs, pyramids, band dysfunction, softball losses, scuba diving, funerals and knocks on Bob Weir’s cowboy songs.

Amid this chronicle of the iconic group now reassembled, after a fashion, for a golden anniversary tour, Kreutzmann notes that his attorney father, upon retirement, lived awhile in Carmel with his second wife.

In Carmel, the elder Kreutzmann kept a daily ritual of blasting a very loud train whistle out of doors. As his proud, Pranksterish son reports, “He did this thing where he used to blow his train whistle as loud as he could, intentionally disrupting the neighborhood.”

On Sundays, Mr. Kreutzmann (use of courtesy title here to differentiate from the younger Kreutzmann) would boom recordings of train whistles and chugging steam engines “into the ears of neighbors who were not thrilled.”

I was surprised to read that these sonic assaults allegedly happened weekly in a Carmel neighborhood in the 1980s, having not heard about them back then when I was in the news business fulltime. I recall earnest debates in the village about T-shirt shops and ice-cream sales at that time. And there was a publicity-hound health inspector’s ballyhooed raid on a steakhouse then owned by once and future Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood. More recently, a large statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a Carmel front yard caused a kerfuffle, and the city has vowed to crack down on dog droppings at the beach. Yet, somehow the Wall of Sound renditions of train racket apparently didn’t ruffle a feather or pop a blazer button.

I suspect:

  • A. Mr. Kreutzmann’s neighbors were nostalgic, too, for times and trains past, or
  • B. His neighbors had very good sound insulation in their homes, or
  • C. His neighbors, like many absentee getaway homeowners, weren’t around to hear the darn whistle, or
  • D. the local media missed the story or saw it as undignified and beneath mention.

The anecdote brought to mind the twice-stated rule from the stern neighbor in Frost’s famous “Mending Wall” poem: “Good fences make good neighbors.” In the modern world that could be restated as, “Good sound-proofing makes good neighbors.”

But that attitude of lonely detachment causes Frost’s narrator to think the good-fence rule makes sense only if either he or his insular neighbor has cows.

Then the poem’s narrator playfully imagines — like a typical Deadhead — the fence is really meant to keep the elves out. Frigging elves! Trippy!

Maybe none of Mr. Kreutzmann’s neighbors, after all, minded the thunderclaps of train noise. Even in buttoned-down Carmel, there’s room for an elf or two.

Come to think of it, there are plenty of playful folks who, no doubt, would enjoy hearing a bone-shaking shriek on an old train whistle from time to time. Which explains, as well as anything, the long, not-so-strange run of Kreutzmann’s truly American band.

(OPTIONAL MATERIAL BELOW. TRIM IF YOU ARE A CAT-LOATHING LOUT)

Meanwhile, Gracie and Lucy are doing what cats do best, fast asleep like a pair of coiled pastries. Neither is a Cheshire, but give them a lace bandanna to mess with, and you’ve got cats under the playful guise of video stars.

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sunset, carmelBest-selling espionage novelist Olen Steinhauer sets his newest spy thriller in Carmel. Or as the dust jacket blurb identifies the city —  “the idyllic town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.”

It’s always idyllic, quaint or charming when you choose an adjective to place before Carmel. I understand that and have no large quarrel with the easy ritual. But the city’s cloying full name with its by-the-sea suffix is too much.

For one thing, Carmel sits by an ocean, not a sea. Why would the charming citizens of the idyllic town want a quaint yet erroneous name for their community? And what if the marketing practice spreads? Could we soon have Monterey-by-the-Bay, Pacific Grove-by-the-Bay-and-the-Sea or Prunedale-by-the-Highway?

I say nip it in the bud, and make it simply Carmel. The tourists — I mean visitors — would still come and eventually wander down to the water — I mean famed white-sand beach — and realize they were by the ocean — I mean sea.

I’m less than 50 pages into Steinhauer’s book, “All the Old Knives,” so be assured there won’t be any plot spoilers here. All I know is that it involves two old hands from the CIA’s Vienna station who are former lovers. He is still with the Company; she is retired from the CIA and has been living the past five years in Carmel with her two young children and her rich, retired business executive husband. The two spies do what everyone does in Carmel, meet for dinner over which the story unfolds.
Setting an espionage yarn in Carmel doesn’t strain belief. After all, one of the city’s former mayors, Sue McCloud, was a CIA hand. And no self-respecting spy novelist would set a story in Seaside-by-the-Seaside unless, and until, Seaside becomes home to a horse-racing track, an oft-used setting in crime, thriller and personal-finance-ruination novels.

I’m guessing the plot involves terrorists or parking-meter hackers and a diabolical plan to shove street addresses down the throats of Carmel residents. But I have no actionable intelligence about the story because, like I said, I’ve only read 50 pages.

But those introductory pages contain plenty of Steinhauer’s observations about contemporary life in Carmel, which left me wondering if the author did his own field work or relied on Google searches.

Some of his words about Carmel ring true, some seem hollow and others — city image spoiler alert — are downright unflattering. Celia, the ex-CIA agent, has moved to the city, “this leafy utopian outpost,” to get away from the tension and grind of the war on terror. So far, so good. There are many leaves, indeed, in Carmel.

Steinhauer gives a quick gloss on the city’s early days as a bohemian artist colony whose growth was pushed by the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But then he gets a little hard-boiled.

“The town’s history is associated with famous writers — Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Robinson Jeffers — but I doubt those old artists would be able to afford a meal in the town it’s become.”

Snap!

Celia’s quotidian life amid Carmel’s leafiness isn’t a bed of roses, either. She’s undergoing weekly psychotherapy and working part-time at the Stevenson School. To keep busy, she volunteers at the Sunset Center, which Steinhauer simply describes as a venue for “traveling musicians, most long past their prime (who) play mid-century hits for the retirees.”

Ouch! This strikes me as lazy Google research. Every local knows Bach never has played the center’s world-renowned Bach Festival.

Celia also lands a part-time photographer job at the Carmel Pine Cone, which the author simply dismisses as “the local rag.”

Having worked in newspapers most of my adult life I recognize the right of residents of any community to call their local newspaper the local rag — no matter its merits or lack thereof. In some cases, the authors are right and do not need literary license for the judgment.

Carmel’s 25-mph speed limit, profuse stop signs and “brief views of small homes through the trees” lead the main character, Henry, down Ocean Avenue to downtown and the beach.

Henry’s take on the air outside his rental car is a civic booster’s dream. “It’s the freshest air I’ve breathed in my life.”

Wow! That’s some fine air. But it’s hardly confined to Carmel’s square mile. Ask anyone from, say, Pacific Grove, and they’ll put their airs against Carmel’s any day.

But then things turn grayer, a fictional foreshadowing of more dramatic events to come than simply taking a few whiffs of air-by-the-sea.

Is Henry’s aside on a “smattering of locals and tourists, each one his own particular shade of white” a smart comment on the hermetic life of spies? Or simply more Google research about Carmel’s monochromatic population — 95 percent white?

Henry sees the town center as “cinematic version of a quaint English village.”

“I’m in the middle of an idealized vision of a seaside village,” he thinks, “rather than the real thing.”  A perfect place for Celia to forget her past life.

And a nice place to live, I might add,  if you’ve got the dough, for folks who never were spies and who don’t mind tight building codes to protect property values. And who enjoy lots of leaves and visitors who spend plenty of money without making much racket to shake all the leaves.

But that’s a humdrum story better suited for the local rag, not a snappy spy novel.

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500_F_53293135_27J85jZn71YPw8YyiI93FVhmRFHQ1gFuThe following is a letter from Bill Hood to the Monterey County grand jury, which is looking into the personnel actions and other issues that have rocked Carmel City Hall in recent months. Hood lives in Carmel and is a former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.

I am a former full-time resident of Carmel, and currently live on the Peninsula as a part-time resident.  I am a semi-retired member of the California Bar and follow closely the actions of local government agencies, including the city of Carmel.   I have spoken out, both personally and in the media, about issues relating to lack of leadership relative to realization of a reliable water supply, transparency in decision-making, and prudent management of public funds.

This past week, an article appeared in the Carmel Pine Cone calling for an immediate response to the grand jury, given the fact that the above-referenced investigation is currently underway.   I respectfully request that this letter be distributed to the jury members and staff, and that it be incorporated as part of the record that is being compiled during the investigation.

The Pine Cone article states that Mayor Jason Burnett sent a letter in November  2014 requesting the grand jury to “review our organization, our corrective action and make any additional recommendations.”   While his request, taken out of context, would seem to be a prudent action, when considered within the context of the history of Jason Stilwell’s time as city administrator, it is very telling, indeed.

Mr. Burnett’s letter and the request therein can only be interpreted as a too-late attempt to cover the fact of his and his council members’ continuing failure to exercise any reasonable level of oversight in the face of numerous actions taken by Stilwell and his senior staff that would have raised red flags to even the casual observer.

While I am focusing on the belief that those involved negligently failed in their official responsibilities, the possibility exists that the actions of Stilwell and some of his staff were actually in response to direct orders to do so.  If that is found to be the case, then negligence, while still unacceptable, would  not be involved, and the level of breach of the public trust would become more serious.

Interestingly, when the string of Stilwell decisions first became public knowledge, and in spite of the immediate concern and indignation that arose in the community, Mr. Burnett’s first reaction was to praise Stilwell.   And, importantly, the mayor’s request, in looking to the future by asking for “recommendations,” ignores the past.   Past failures in responsibility that actually caused harm to others, and which are proven by your investigation, clearly cannot be overlooked.   Such failures demand appropriate and relevant responses that are not confined to “Yes, you made a mistake; we are not going to punish you, but will simply tell you what not to do in the future.”

Recommendations for future corrective action are necessary, but it would be a whitewash to completely allow harmful actions already taken to get by with a slap-on-the wrist and no more.  The “corrective actions” to which Mr. Burnett refers are a valid request, but, once again, on their face they ignore any responsibility for all of the time in which prior harmful actions took place, but no “corrective actions” (“oversight,”  from my perspective) were to be found.

For example, Burnett, the council and the city attorney apparently sat idly by while undeserving staffers were fired by Stilwell’s assistants, out-of-area consultants were hired and paid exorbitant amounts, rubber-stamped by those who were elected or appointed to protect the public trust.  To the extent they looked the other way or asked no questions regarding Mr. Stilwell’s questionable actions and the results that flowed from them during the time when they took place, the mayor, council members, and even the city attorney abdicated their responsibilities, and by doing so, violated that trust.

Some have told me that the city attorney was deliberately kept out of the loop with respect to much of what Stilwell did.   That may be true.  But, in his capacity as city attorney, I would have hoped that person would have immediately realized that reality, and spoken up as to what his position should expect of him.

As an attorney who has served as in-house counsel for several major corporations and government agencies, I did not need to be told that my responsibilities included primary involvement in the careful selection and ongoing management of outside counsel.   And, with respect to both lawyers and other consultants, I routinely reviewed contracts and other legal documents binding my clients for legal accuracy and to ensure that questionable or detrimental provisions were properly addressed.

Under Stilwell’s tenure, available information seems to indicate that the city attorney was not asked to undertake that important role or that he did not exercise his own initiative to demand that he do so.  It is once again very telling that, this late in the game, he has been asked to go back and review and evaluate contracts entered into by Stilwell with respect to consultants and law firms.   A normal and necessary procedure would be for an in-house counsel (which the city attorney is for the city) to review communications and billing documents from outside counsel on a regular basis as part of hands-on oversight.  If the city attorney failed to do so, for reasons not his fault, then the mayor and council should assume responsibility for their failure in not requiring him and Stilwell to follow that procedure on every occasion.

Their collective failure to do this has, in part, led to the situation that has triggered your investigation.

Therefore, I respectfully request that your investigation:

  1. identify all  persons within the city’s governmental structure who had any element of responsibility for Stilwell and/or his staff’s actions that resulted in harm, but failed to do anything about them; or, in the alternative, specifically directed Stilwell and/or his staff to undertake those same actions;
  2. describe, to the greatest extent possible, the harm suffered by individuals targeted by the foregoing actions that caused the harm;
  3. take into account the harm caused to the greater Carmel community and to the city’s reputation as a result of the foregoing actions; and
  4. recommend corrective actions not only to prevent future recurrence of such failures, but also as to appropriate sanctions that should be levied upon those found guilty of any failures so identified.

In addition, in order for the investigation and its conclusions and recommendation to be acceptable and relevant, it must be undertaken in a completely objective and fair manner, with respect not only to those who may be targets of the investigation, but also to the public, which has already suffered harm as a result of the events that transpired.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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