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Local Libertarian Lawrence Samuels’ latest offering in the Monterey Herald opposing a public takeover of Cal Am raises at least two questions. The first is how far the Carmel Valleyite will go in creating awkward comparisons.

A few months back in the Herald, Samuels equated a negotiated public takeover of a public utility with the type of nationalism that occurred under the European Fascists of the previous century.

In April he wrote, “It is nothing new that the anti-water crusaders want to force the sale of a business concern via eminent domain. This type of government seizure occurred in the 1930s all over Europe. Mussolini nationalized three-fourths of his economy in 1934. The National Socialists of Germany did the same, confiscating over 500 large companies through Reichswerke Hermann Göring in an anti-capitalist bid to establish a command economy and to increase the redistribution of wealth.”

Jeepers.

Now, on Thursday’s opinion page in the Herald, he goes farther yet, farther even than the headline writer envisioned. The headline declared that “Using eminent domain against Cal Am is like stealing.” Samuels didn’t stop there. I’ll let him tell you in his own words:

“… (T)he ballot measure proposed by the pro-eminent domain ideologues to forcibly seize Cal Am is reminiscent of antebellum slavery.”

Slavery.

In a seemingly earnest attempt to back this up, Samuels tells us about the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who was well known for using the word “manstealing” in connection with slavery. Because a man’s life has value, enslaving that man amounts to stealing.

So how does Samuels link this to public ownership of Cal Am, the water company that serves most of the Monterey Peninsula?

Not well.

“Garrison was also a proponent of ‘self-ownership,’ meaning that people owned themselves and therefore cannot be stolen and enslaved. He worried that if government itself attained the authority to legally steal, it could take anything by force.” What that has to do with slavery isn’t clear, and that’s being charitable. And to get from there to a Cal Am takeover requires a leap of a length that would tax most imaginations, but apparently not Samuels’.

Eminent domain is a fancy term but it’s really pretty simple.  When the government, as a representative of the public, decides that it needs to aquire something to advance the public good, even something that is not for sale, the law allows it to apply the principle of eminent domain and require a sale. It is most commonly used to acquire land for roads or railroads, or such things as schools and post offices. Fortunately for landowners, but not for Samuels’ argument, the law does not allow the government to simply take the property in question. Instead, it requires the government to pay fair market value. Sometimes that price is arrived at through simple negotiation. Unwilling sellers tend to negotiate more vigorously than willing sellers.

Not always but often, the parties involved are unable to come to an agreement on the price. So they put on their better clothes and hop on down to the local courthouse to make their cases to a judge. This process is a lot like a trial, often involving accountants and expert witnesses paid to say things like “too low” or “that simply won’t cover it.”

In several recent cases of public takeovers of Cal Am water systems around the county, the court has awarded the company significantly more than the government agency had offered. Based on the stock price, it appears that Cal Am shareholders have not suffered.

While the use of eminent domain has accomplished much good over the decades, it has taken on a bad name, partly because government has done a lousy job of explaining it. Despite its obvious necessity at times, some politicians play to the crowd by vowing never to use it. Former Monterey Mayor Dan Albert Sr.  was wildly popular in part because he shunned eminent domain while carrying out the Windows on the Bay campaign, which opened the Monterey waterfront to the public. It took longer but the city simply waited until each property owner along the beach was ready and willing to sell.

Cal Am insists it is not a willing seller, but could that be a negotiating tactic? For years now, Cal Am officials have maintained that their Peninsula system is not for sale even though, they say, it is only marginally profitable despite its government-backed profit guarantees.  If statement B is true, doesn’t statement A become suspect?

Back to Samuels for a moment. After trying briefly and unsuccessfully to tell us how eminent domain is like slavery, he briefly revisits Germany of the 1920s before asking how the “pro-stealing cohorts” eyeing Cal Am would like it if someone came along and used eminent domain against them.

“If stealing becomes acceptable,” he asks, “should we eminent domain Public Water Now supporters, confiscate their homes and bank accounts for the common good, bulldoze their buildings for public parks? Wouldn’t this be the appropriate karma?”

How to answer that other than to call it what it is, an asinine question. How about this? Perhaps Lawrence and his buddies at the Libertarian Lodge can start a fund to buy the houses and other assets of every school board member who ever voted to use eminent domain in order to build a school, every senator who ever voted to build a highway, every city council member who ever voted to turn an eyesore into a park?

At the top of this essay, I noted that Samuels’ piece raised at least two questions. The second is simply why the Herald would print something like this. Is it as simple as my friend Dan Turner opined after the earlier Samuels piece: that it was free? Or has the newspaper adopted a position that nonsense is OK in defense of Cal Am?

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The Monterey Bay Partisan tries to tell you how to vote

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Back when I was editor of the Monterey Herald, I found it amusing to compare our political endorsements with those of the Monterey County Weekly. The Herald was, of course, the local headquarters of the mainstream media and the Weekly was the alternative.

But for a brief period, I was able to drag the Herald’s endorsements a little to the left, far enough that the choices of the daily and once-a-week publications became a rather close match. I imagined the ink-stained wretches at the Weekly gnashing their teeth, at least a little. Part of the job description at alternative papers everywhere is to huff and puff about those corporate suits over at the daily.

I suspect the fine folks at the Weekly don’t mind at all that the Herald in my absence has done a much better job of being the voice of the establishment. For proof of that, look no farther than its support for the Monterey Downs horse-racing, home-building venture despite flaws such as no water and no financing. Or its upcoming endorsements in the local political races. Last time around, the Herald even endorsed Marina water board member Howard Gustafson, the Donald Trump of Peninsula politics.

Today, I set out the Partisan’s endorsements in the local political races and I am afraid that close observers will notice a strong resemblance to the choices made this week by the Weekly. In my decidedly subjective view, the Weekly made some wise choices and I found the presentation to be excellent as well. Short, to the point, easy to follow and filled with entertaining tidbits.

I’m afraid that this exercise will accomplish little except to reinforce the choices in the latest Weekly. I’ll flag any variations.

CONGRESS: Jimmy Panetta

I don’t care for political dynasties either, but being Leon’s son should give Jimmy a big head start in Washington. While his GOP opponent, Casey Lucius, would be one of many new faces in Congress, Jimmy’s Rolodex will be overflowing with the names of ready-made allies.

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Panetta

Panetta is the smart, engaging former prosecutor who served in Afghanistan and never did anything wrong. Lucius may be right when she says he wouldn’t be on the verge of congressional office if he was, say Jimmy Williams or Jimmy Smith, but, then again, he just might be.

Lucius has gained excellent name recognition and a crowd of admirers. She’d be wise to put that into a race for state office, but because of her military and other federal experience, she seems interested only in Washington. I imagine the 20th Congressional District seat will be Panetta’s for as long as he wants it. If Lucius really has her heart set, she’d be wise to make a run at the Assembly in a few years. Her politics are a bit conservative for the region but she has already shown an ability to win people over.

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Lucius

Lucius constantly makes the point that she deserves the job because she has worked hard for it and really, really wants it, and that Panetta is the favorite in part because of his lineage. That resonates with voters who are tired of what Washington has become. But elections aren’t about being fair to underdogs or rewarding earnestness. Panetta brings everything that Lucius brings to the job and he will be a particularly able representative from day one.

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 17: Bill Monning, no matter who might be running against him.

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 29: Mark Stone, no matter who might be running against him.

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 30: Anna Caballero. This one gives me pause. She’s not in the same realm as Monning and Stone. While they are true public servants, she is more of a career politician/bureaucrat. She had no problem accepting tons of money from wherever, especially the charter school movement, which is a thinly veiled attempt to weaken the teachers union.

Despite some drawbacks, Caballero still inspires more confidence than her opponent, Karina Cervantez Alejo, the former Watsonville mayor and wife of soon-to-be Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, the former assemblyman. There seems to be a tag team approach to the Alejo campaigns and at least some element of mystery to their agendas.

Monterey City Council: Incumbents Libby Downey and Alan Haffa

This is about balance of power on the council, old school vs. new school.

Representing the old school is challenger Dan Albert Jr., son of the former longtime mayor. To a large degree, he is the candidate of the longtime Fishermans Wharf interests, Cannery Row and the closely related hospitality industry.

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Downey

Downey, a retired school nurse, and Haffa, a Monterey Peninsula College, are running as an unofficial slate. Though they have had their differences, they are united by their effort to reform the city’s leasing practices at the wharf, where businesses that signed leases decades ago are living off sub-leases costing the tenants many times more. Albert’s father was a major player in adopting the old order on the wharf. While the elder Albert deserves credit for major accomplishments, including the Monterey Sports Center and the fantastically successful Windows on the Bay initiative, he also remained a close ally of the corporate interests that have pulled the strings at City Hall for decades.

By electing Albert over either of the incumbents, voters would be tipping the scales to the corporate side and away from the reform side.

Albert was a long time teacher and principal in the Monterey Peninsula school system. He recently retired as assistant superintendent of the district, a position in which he did not distinguish himself. He turned much of the district’s bond financing work over to a Clovis-based consultant who has since been fined by the Securities & Exchange Commission for conflicts of interests and who is currently embroiled in an FBI investigation in Fresno that focuses on a school contractor that also did considerable work here under Albert’s watch. I will be surprised if some of the Monterey district’s bonding troubles aren’t incorporated into the Fresno investigation.

The $100 million bond measure that Albert oversaw for the Monterey schools began with a political campaign financed largely by the same bonding companies that later received contracts to execute the bond. The state Treasurers Office has since banned such arrangements, something that should have happened decades ago.

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Haffa

Despite being past retirement age, Downey is a tireless representative of the city at various other agencies and a voice of reason on transportation and water issues. She is more of a moderate than the aggressively progressive Haffa, who was active in the Occupy Wall Street movement and who was a Sanders delegate. He brings political passion to the council task but he also has shown a pragmatic side when necessary.

Marina mayor: Bruce Delgado

Delgado is a true believer in environmental causes and the inherent goodness of people. He is an idealist who has learned to support intelligent economic development for the good of his constituency. He is an effective mayor and a truly nice guy in a city that doesn’t always play nice. His opponent, Kevin Saunders, is all about medical marijuana and creating a fuss.

Pacific Grove mayor: Bill Kampe

Kampe is so solid as to be downright boring. He’s good with the administrative aspects of the job and he has dived into the technical aspects, including the water issues that dominate local governance. In my view, he’s been too friendly with Cal Am and other corporate interests, but he can back up his positions with a reasonable amount of logic.

His opponent, Councilman Dan Miller, loves his city but he simply doesn’t have the temperament for the job. His friends say he has been getting calmer over time but it could be a while before he’s ready to pick up the gavel.

Salinas mayor: No endorsement

Incumbent Joe Gunter, the former police detective, is a throwback to simpler times in a city that faces every type of big city problems, including heavy duty crime and homelessness. His support for law enforcement hasn’t translated into putting more cops on the street, though, and remarkably the Police Department has even had to close its narcotics bureau simply to keep the numbers up on the streets.

Gunter runs an OK meeting but he has shown little of the leadership that the city needs to build its economy, reverse some of its blight and quiet the gangs. The previous mayor, Dennis Donohue, was too much of a dreamer, a big spender chasing elusive rewards. Gunter is too much the opposite.

Unfortunately, his opponent, auto repair shop owner Amit Pandya, has a somewhat sketchy reputation in business circles and he hasn’t been able to demonstrate where he would find the money to finance his big promise to add lots of officers to the force. The Weekly endorsed Gunter.

Salinas City Council District 1: Brian Contreras

For as long as I can remember, Contreras has been the talking head that media types turn to for comment whenever gang activity spikes in Salinas, which is often. He founded the Second Chance Family and Youth Services organization, and he does know as much as anyone about the gang problem. He stands out in a weak field.

Incumbent Jose Castaneda mouths the type of politics that the Partisan embraces, seriously progressive and inclusive, but it’s all for show. His pouty opposition to everything has become an obstacle and a distraction. He needs to go away. Sheriff’s union leader Scott Davis is a creation of contractor Don Chapin’s pro-development political machine and a shill for Sheriff Steve Bernal.

Salinas City Council District 4: Virginia Mendoza

I don’t know much about her but I’m at a loss to think of a reason to vote for De La Rosa. The Weekly gave her a thumbs up.

Salinas City Council District 6: Incumbent Jyl Lutes

She has a long record of public service, representing progressive views for the most part, and her opponent, Tony Villegas, hasn’t give any good reason to support him.

Seaside mayor: Kay Cline

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Cline

Cline started as a one-issue candidate, but it’s the biggest issue in town. Monterey Downs. She has been an active opponent of the misbegotten project along with her husband, retired meteorology professor Bill Weigle. Though there is some support for the big racetrack/housing project in Seaside, it’s mostly the short-term variety bought and paid for by the would-be developer. The project is a fiasco and incumbent Ralph Rubio’s support for it is one reason he should go. Rubio has been a solid mayor but it was often difficult to tell if he was wearing his mayoral hat or his Carpenters Union hat.

Cline has been a leader of the Sustainable Seaside environmental group for a decade now and she is on the side of transparency and economic development that enhances the city without simply enriching the developers.

Former Mayor Felix Bachofner is making another run at the office and he also represents a decent choice. The downside is that he mostly a budget wonk and, well, he’s already had his chance. Newcomer Gertrude Smith could make a great councilmember and/or mayor someday.

Seaside City Council: Kayla Jones and Dave Pacheco

I was impressed by Ian Oglesby when I met him a decade ago. Mature, articulate, he was like a reborn Jerry Smith with additional skills. But he has been a major disappointment on the council, showing himself to be a follower instead of any kind of a leader.

Jones is the freshest of fresh faces, just 23 years old, but articulate beyond her years. She comes from a political family and already understands city politics, and its needs, as well as Oglesby.

Incumbent Dave Pacheco is the nice guy that every council needs. He is the former city recreation leader and he oozes concern for youth. For him, this is about service, not politics.

That’s it, folks. I’d like to make recommendations in the Pacific Grove and Del Rey Oaks city council races, but I don’t know enough about the candidates to make intelligence choices. For the PG council, the Weekly went with Cynthia Garfield, Robert Huitt and Jenny McAdams. In Del Rey Oaks, the Weekly went with Mike Ventimiglia and Kristin Clark.

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