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If you’re any kind of student of government – and many Partisan readers are – you should find Tuesday’s meeting of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to be loaded with fascinating little subplots. It will be the last meeting for longtime supervisors Dave Potter and Fernando Armenta.

The big agenda item is the planned approval of the long-debated Rancho Canada development at the mouth of Carmel Valley, which Potter has helped keep alive for most of his two decades on the board. With Potter politically indebted to project proponents Tony Lombardo and Alan Williams, with Armenta a proud supporter of every development proposal ever placed before him and with Supervisor John Phillips clearly on board, this one appears to be a lock.

Also interesting but well below the radar, the supes are scheduled as part of their consent calendar to grant County Counsel Charles McKee another four-year contract extension even though he got a four-year contract extension just two years ago.

Here’s what that means. The current board, including lame ducks Potter and Armenta, are hoping to lock the new board, featuring newcomers Mary Adams and Luis Alejo, into four more years of McKee whether they want him or not. Yes, the new board would be able to send him off to another county somewhere but only if the county paid for the full four years or was able to fire him for demonstrably poor performance.


McKee is a key figure in county government, helping to provide the supervisors with political and administrative strategies above and beyond his work as the county’s chief lawyer. He is considered an able lawyer but critics of the county’s role in the long-running desalination saga say McKee’s advice created huge legal bills for the county and prolonged the region’s search for solutions to its water problems.

The departure of Potter and Armenta creates real potential for a power shift on the board and the end of smooth sailing for even the most ill-considered development proposals. McKee clearly is astute enough to tailor his advice to new thinking at the board level, but the decision about the length of his tenure should be up to the new board, not the old one.


Also Tuesday, the board is scheduled to be lobbied on an important legal matter – whether the county will step up and defend the successful Measure Z anti-fracking referendum, and it is scheduled to give its stamp of approval to the farmer-heavy makeup of the new agency that will oversee the Salinas Valley groundwater supply.

California’s counties are under a new state mandate to create local agencies charged with monitoring and sustaining groundwater for the first time in state history, and each county is taking a different approach. Under bylaws written by McKee’s office, Monterey County plans to create the Salinas Valley Groundwater Sustainability agency with one person representing the environmental community and four members appointed by agricultural interests. The bylaws don’t give any particular weight to expertise.

What gets approved Thursday, and what gets postponed, would be considerably more significant than the ceremony honoring the outgoing supes for their service.


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The Bernals, father and son, from Facebook

Monterey County’s personnel policies are pretty clear on the subject of nepotism.

“A county elected officer shall not employ his/her father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, or child, or the spouse of such relative within the department of such officer.”

Sheriff Steve Bernal, however, thinks an exception should be made for his family, specifically his son, who has completed police academy training and wants to be a deputy. A Monterey County deputy.

According to others in county government, Bernal began the process to hire his son only to be told by county personnel officials that it couldn’t be done because of the policy. He pushed for an exception, noting that county personnel rules do allow for relatives to be hired within departments headed by appointed officials. In those departments, relatives can be hired with the expressed permission of the Board of Supervisors.

“I’m not sure why the rules are different in different departments,” said one longtime county official who asked not to be identified because Bernal’s requests could be construed as confidential personnel matters. “But I do know that the board would never let an elected official go around hiring his family. And that’s probably especially true in the Sheriff’s Department.”

So here’s the upshot. After discussing the issue last week in executive session, the supervisors have asked the County Counsel’s Office to work on language that would prohibit nepotism across the board.

“The consideration right now is a uniform ban,” County Counsel Charles McKee said by email Tuesday.

Bernal has not responded to a request for comment.


Illustration depicting a large number of directional roadsigns in a chaotic arrangement. White  background.After careful contemplation and the expenditure of countless hours of staff time and other resources, I have come to the conclusion that the two biggest problems facing the Monterey Peninsula are quite closely related.

Problem No. 1, of course, is the declining water supply, which should have been addressed decades ago before we decided that strawberries and grapes were good choices for desert cultivation. The leading proposed solution at the moment involves a possible desalination plant near Marina and an assortment of smaller efforts involving conservation and recycling.

Problem No. 2, almost as obviously, is that just about every element of Problem No. 1 seems so complicated, complex and confounding that there are only a handful of people who understand any of it. On top of that, most of those who do understand it don’t care that you don’t. In fact, some are glad you don’t and there are even those who are being paid to make sure you don’t.

Why so complicated?

First, complexity makes things more expensive,  and when you’re on the receiving side of “cost plus,” there’s a lot to be said for expensive. Second, with all of that cost plus to be spread around, there are many players willing to participate in the search for solutions. Too many.

That starts with the misleadingly named California American Water Co., which has as much to do with California as the autobahn. It is supposed to be playing a lead role in solving Problem 1 but it spends most of its time wading around in the swamps of Problem 2, creating complications and looking for trouble. The company likes to portray itself as a helpful fellow in boots going out into the community, patching leaks and coaching Little League teams when the truth is that the bean counters in the home office depend on those very leaks in order to keep the bottom line above water. Way above water.

Then there’s the Public Utilities Commission, which technically is in charge of solving Problem No. 1 even though it has absolutely no experience in problem solving and even less in desalination. The Public Utilities Commission apparently was put in charge of this process because our state legislators wanted to keep it away from all aspects of gas pipeline safety. You might say that the PUC is Problem No. 3.

A key concern of those involved in the effort locally is that if the PUC ever approves a timeline and a production schedule, it might as a matter of routine order them confidential and put them under seal, effectively killing the venture.

Then there are the local agencies. For instance, the mayors’ authority, a quasi-government agency made up of the mayors of the Peninsula cities. It was set up because the first local agency given an oversight role, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, couldn’t figure out how to convert desalination progress into campaign contributions. The supervisors are hoping to get involved again when construction seems imminent and quite a few construction contracts will need to be awarded.

The mayors’ committee was hoping to jumpstart the process because the hospitality industry pretty much decides who gets to be mayor in these parts and it needs water for hotel rooms occupied by tourists who won’t have to pay for the project. The mayors have gotten off to a slow start, however, because the Del Rey Oaks mayor is busy building ammunition bunkers throughout his community and the Sand City mayor is napping.

A water district in Marina has some role in all of this, but for now its leadership seems to be in a sort of bureaucratic penalty box and won’t be allowed back into the game until the second overtime period. It is a shame because some of the district’s leadership has demonstrated to interested members of the public that you don’t have to have a clue to get involved.

Part of the problem has to do with the news coverage but it isn’t what you might expect. In this age of shrinking newspapers, it hasn’t been a lack of coverage. Just the opposite. In the last decade, the Herald has published nearly 173,500 articles mentioning Cal Am, 62,600 articles containing acronyms for non-existent water agencies, the same number of articles in which Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Steadman says, “We’ll get back to you about that,” and some 20,000 articles in which County Counsel Charles McKee says documents are being sealed in the interest of full disclosure.

Some of the confusion is, of course, the public’s owned damned fault. For instance, believe it or not, there are those in the community who can’t seem to grasp why   a desalination plant designed to take water from the ocean and convert it into drinkable fresh water needs to drill a series of inland wells in order to take already fresh water from Salinas farmers and, through a process invented by the Coastal Commission, convert it into cash to be used to pay consultants to declare the existing water supply more than adequate as an effective hedge against the 180-foot aquatard. Do the math, people. Sheesh.

Cal Am isn’t the only game in town, of course, which makes things that much more complicated.

Peninsula wheeler-dealer Nader Agha has the property and the plans to build a better and cheaper desalination plant in Moss Landing but Cal Am keeps telling people that Agha and former county Supervisor Marc del Piero are the same person, which violates a county ordinance requiring desalination operators to front only for seated supervisors.

Then there’s Deepwater Desal, a creation of Monterey PR man David Armanasco, who has been sidelined because his core clients have hired him to paint murals of wharf pilings to installed over the actual pilings at Fisherman’s Wharf.

And speaking of the wharf, let’s not forget the lawyers. Every lawyer in California who ever lived in a house with a low-flow shower has been declared a water expert for purposes of this feeding frenzy. For convenience and efficiency, each seems to have brought on Tony Lombardo as local counsel. Those who have been around a while will remember him. He wrote the previous general plan while representing most of the supervisors and many of the businesses at Fisherman’s Wharf, including the two warring fish houses that both claim to have invented cioppino Monterey, which consists of a handful of saltwater taffy, samples of five kinds of clam chowder, a couple of restaurant pagers, Sal Cerrito’s will, a half loaf of Armenian pita bread and a half pound of Bubba Gump shrimp but, alas, no sardines.

And let’s not forget the environmentalists, the “no-growthers” who, we are constantly told, are busily working against the interests of the community to reverse all the  progress on the desal front.

Next: Sheriff Bernal’s plan to patrol the waterfront.


If not for mom, I might have called him Gov. Crisco


imagesMy mom, as did many well-meaning parents, instructed me repeatedly, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything.”

Adhering to this advice would have stopped dead my dreams of someday being an unpaid crank writing for blogs. If there is one thing we can say for certainty about the world of infotainment today it is that it is no place for niceties.

If bile and vilification were off-limits, Fox News, which went on the air in 1996, would have gone off the air in 1996.

And, yes, Rachel Maddow, over at MSNBC, gets sarcastic and a tad mean when she doggedly reports her latest withering account of how the Republic is under assault by the forces of billionaires, crony capitalists and men who proudly remain ignorant about the facts of human reproduction.
Mean sells. 
Rush Limbaugh has spent a very profitable 30 years imitating a boil about to burst.

Still, I planned to break from the pack of attack dogs, in memory of my mom’s advice, and offer some kindness in place of crudeness.

I was going to mention how swell it is that Monterey County’s top lawyer, Charles McKee, has taken over the duties of being the face of the county administration from County Administrative Officer Lew What’s His Name. 

Of course, I would tip my nice-guy hat to Supervisor Fernando Armenta for his occasional mangulations of the spoken language that so succinctly and originally drive home his point from Napa.

And what to say about Supervisor Dave Potter, other than he is a constant source of inspiration for little people with big dreams. His legs may not be long, but they reach the ground upon which he treads.

You get the drift. I also was going to say nice things about Cal Am, Monterey Downs and the Monterey Herald’s splendid editorial line of late. But something very big stopped me and made me realize that sometimes you can’t say something that is nice.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the large impediment.

No, I’m not going to cover the well-trodden trail of Bridgegate, despite the recent plea deal and two indictments of three former top aides to the larger-than-life governor of the Garden State for the spiteful traffic mess cooked up as weird political payback.

And I’m not going to get mean about how Christie has shoveled $100 million worth of fees to Wall Street buddies for their management of state pension funds that produced only mediocre returns for the funds. That stuff is still under investigation, and it would be premature to lob full-fledged stink bombs at Gov. Orb.

I would have complimented Gov. Planetoid for his blue-ribbon bullying of critics because he certainly gives 100 percent while hectoring. In this department, Gov. Eclipse can be said to consistently raise the bar and bitch at it, too.

Then I saw how one of those good-government, number-crunching outfits had gone through Gov. Globe’s billings to his state for personal items. The results were startling. During the 2010 and 2011 National Football League seasons, Gov. Moon of Jupiter spent $82,594 on food and drinks at MetLife Stadium. That works out to about $1,500 a game.

Gov. MetLife Blimp is a huge NFL fan.

While it has been a few years since the Jets played NFL football, this blogger believes the taxpayers of New Jersey have been forced to pay far too much for beer, hot dogs and other comfort food consumed by Gov. Celestial Body during those down years.

Christie should heed the advice he might give a critic: “Hey buddy, why don’t you watch the game and keep your mouth shut.” That would reduce the tab for taxpayer-funded snacks, unless the governor has a drip tube setup for nachos, soda and pretzels. Hmm, that’s a nice idea.

I did say something nice. Thanks, Mom.