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Hand holding out a stack of money tied to the end of a stick for bribery



Yes, I know. We’re all tired of politics. But I couldn’t pass this up because it’s about how things work behind the slick campaign brochures.

Alert readers may recall that back in April, the Monterey County Deputy Sheriffs Association contributed $5,000 to Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter and another $5,000 to supervisorial candidate Dennis Donohue. Nothing wrong with that. The association is the union that represents sheriff’s deputies and it’s only natural for it to cozy up to county supervisors who have the last word on wages and benefits. You may also remember that the head of the association, Dan Mitchell, filed a couple of specious election complaints against Potter’s opponent, Mary Adams, and Donohue’s opponent Jane Parker. The association even contributed $3,000 to one of Donohue’s campaign managers, Pivotal Campaign Services.

But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is that campaign disclosure forms show that the week before the Deputy Sheriffs Association started making those contributions, it received a $20,000 contribution from Chevron, the big oil company.

In other words, the money that found its way into the Potter and Donohue campaign treasuries apparently didn’t come from hard-working sheriff’s deputies. It came from one of the world’s largest oil companies, which has drilled a few holes in Monterey County and has visions of drilling a few more. (Association officer Scott Davis also appears to have benefited from the Chevron money with $1,000 contributed to his upcoming campaign for a Salinas City Council seat.)

During the just-ended supervisorial campaigns, the various candidates were watching closely to see if they could connect the opposition to oil-industry money, especially fracking money. That’s partly because an anti-fracking initiative will be on the November ballot in Monterey County and few politicians are willing to admit that they are fracking friendly. Potter, who lost his seat to Adams, returned a $2,000 contribution from an important fracking fellow a couple days after the Partisan wrote about it but held on to a contribution from a fracking lawyer in Wyoming.

There weren’t any obvious signs of oil money in the campaign reports filed by Donohue, who fell short in his attempt to unseat incumbent Jane Parker. Turns out it was there, it just wasn’t obvious.

UPDATED INFO HERE: After this story was posted this morning, an alert Partisan reader pointed out another back channel Chevron used to route a little help to the fellows. On April 11, right around the time it was writing a check to the deputy sheriffs group, Chevron sent a $30,000 check to the Monterey County Business PAC, which is made up of hospitality and ag interests. Four days later, the PAC contributed $20,000 to the Donohue campaign. Three days after that, the PAC sent $30,000 to District 1 Supervisor Fernando Armenta and a week later it gave $25,000 to the Potter campaign.

What this boils down to is that a little bit of legalized money laundering apparently enabled Potter and Donohue to pick up some extra campaign cash and to make it look like it represented union and law enforcement support when it really represented oil company support. Though that’s how things work in politics these days, with contributors hiding behind PACs and Super PACS, this was as slippery as an oil slick, never mind how the Chevron website goes on and on about good government and transparency.

Mitchell didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday. If he gets back to us, we’ll share what he has to say.


Runoff in Salinas still pivotal for Peninsula interests

Happy smiling beautiful young business woman showing two fingers or victory gesture, over gray backgroundOne of the Partisan’s defining traits is humility because we have so much to be humble about, but today we have developed a hint of a swagger because we didn’t come out on the wrong side of the election results.

I am kicking myself, gently, for not posting a prediction that Jane Parker and Mary Adams would prevail in Tuesday’s Monterey County supervisorial contests but if you work at it, you might be able to get one of the few people still talking to me to confirm that I had been making that prediction for weeks now.

There are votes left to be counted but not enough to change the order of finish. In District 5, where Dave Potter reigned for 20 years, long enough to be seduced by money and power many times over, Mary Adams won by what amounted to at least a minor landslide. See the results below for the actual numbers.

And in District 4, incumbent Jane Parker wiped the floor with Dennis Donohue, one of the most arrogant politicians I had ever encountered, a man who became so caught up in worst aspects of the campaign that he actually called exceedingly mild-mannered Parker a “bully.” No November runoff for Parker and Donohue because the vote for her was large enough to wipe out the potential impact of a minor third candidate.

As with most elections, there are things to be learned from Tuesday’s results. Let’s be optimistic about the first and say that the Parker victory tell us that deceptive advertising doesn’t work and that it might even backfire. The centerpiece of this contest was Donohue’s expensive attempt to persuade voters that Parker had disrespected our military veterans by opposing the Veterans Cemetery at Fort Ord and that she essentially doesn’t like veterans. The tactic exploded in Donohue’s face, however, when state Sen. Bill Monning pronounced Donohue’s assertions as flat-out wrong. She had supported the cemetery each step of the way and did not vote to move it somewhere as Donohue insisted. But Donohue’s big mistake was the advertising in which he said that Parker had actually blocked the project, causing great misery for our veterans, even though the project is well underway. Lesson two. If you’re going to lie, lie smart.

If the Partisan exists when other elections unfold, one message it is likely to harp on is that a key to understanding local elections is to expect the best-funded, best-connected candidate or measure to lie, cheat and steal if necessary to win. For evidence, look to how Cal Am was able to beat back a public-ownership measure and how the Monterey Downs people lied their way past a referendum to stop that silly project. Until not too many years ago, every statewide ballot measure in California was decided in favor of whichever side spent the most money. Scary when you think about it.

From the Adams-Potter race, the lessons are different. In this case, Adams was the underdog by virtue of Potter’s tenure and bank account, so she went after his record, hitting him hard for his promotion of the Monterey Downs horse-racing venture and his rotten record on the state Coastal Commission. Respected organizations like the Sierra Club and Surfrider ranked him close to last on their environmental scorecard, leading to his removal from the commission despite considerable effort by Potter and development interests to keep him on board.

In this campaign, Potter let the Carmel Pine Cone handle his counter-attack and it was a fail, largely because Adams was right about his removal and the weekly paper took up Potter’s cause in a shrill and repetitive fashion despite being armed with the flimsiest of arguments.

(Speaking of weekly newspapers, I stopped by Parker’s election night gathering at the Press Club, the lovely juice bar operated by Monterey County Weekly, and found myself in a spirited discussion with the newspaper’s owner, Bradley Zeve. Our focus was the Weekly’s endorsement of Potter over Adams and my published assertion that it had come over the objections of the newly departed editor, Mary Duan. Zeve insisted that I was wrong. I insisted that I was right, but I am forced to admit right here and now that he was there when it happened and I was not. I stand corrected. Reluctantly corrected and still hoping to find a way to prove myself right but with little hope.)

So where do we go from here?

To Salinas.

The other supervisorial race of the evening was one that barely captured the Peninsula’s attention and, unfortunately, a winner has not emerged. For the District 1 seat, it appears there will be a November runoff between state legislator Luis Alejo and Supervisor Fernando Armenta. I am not a fan of Alejo the way I am a fan of Adams or Parker, but I believe that Adams and Parker have the potential to reshape county policy only if Alejo wins in the fall.

Armenta is the ultimate old-school politician. Think Chicago alderman. He started as a passionate advocate for civil rights and other good causes but slowly turned into a ward politician who felt his job was to promote patronage and vote for anyone who contributed to his campaigns. He had proudly announced that he has never voted against a development project. Not a single leapfrog development with inadequate water supply has been bad enough to win a no vote from Armenta.

Being a county supervisor is about a lot more than land use but that is the key issue for most Peninsula voters, that and related matters such as desalination. If Armenta remains on board, big decisions on major land use policy questions will be decided by Armenta and supervisors John Phillips and Simon Salinas, all big fans of big development. Alejo is not as easy to categorize on land-use issues because he has seldom dealt with them in Sacramento, but what everyone says about him is that he is a politician, a professional politician who would apply a meaningful or at least intelligent balancing test before making a decision. With Armenta on the board, the future of our farmland and forests looks a lot like pavement. With Alejo on board, along with Parker and Adams, the future of our resources is up for debate.

In other words, voters and campaign contributors of the Peninsula, your work is not done.

County Supervisor, District 4
39/39 100.00%
Vote Count Percent
DENNIS DONOHUE 3,416 36.11%
ALEX MILLER 616 6.51%
JANE PARKER 5,428 57.38%
Total 9,460 100.00%


County Supervisor, District 5
51/51 100.00%
Vote Count Percent
MARY L. ADAMS 9,734 56.35%
DAVE POTTER 7,541 43.65%
Total 17,275 100.00%


Mary Adams

Reflections on today’s elections:

I hesitate to write about politics on election day because it robs me of my sense of humor. There is nothing about Dave Potter, Dennis Donohue, or Donald Trump that lends itself to anything but stinging satire. I can’t muster a smile.

I am hoping that, in our own backyard, Parker and Adams win because of all the reasons the Partisan has enumerated in admirable detail.  (No other publication I know of here comes close to its investigative talent.)  Their adversaries have behaved execrably even while Parker and Adams have kept their cool. There is no telling what special interests or lack of voter enthusiasm or any other wild card will do, but let’s hope for the best.  They are the best.


clintonpodium_600_1As for Hillary vs. Bernie, I hope Hillary wins. Yes, Bernie has inspired thousands of fervent idealists, mostly white and mostly young, and as a committed progressive I admire many of his ideas.  I don’t think there is much difference in what Hillary wants to accomplish and what he has articulated, but there is no practical way much of what he wants can actually be achieved.  Among other unlikely events, we would need Congress to transform itself into Robin Hood and rob the rich to help the poor. No nonpartisan organization that has reviewed his ideas has given them any semblance of fiscal reality. I realize that idealism does not permit practicality to intervene. Bernie’s intentions are grand but his ability to achieve them just about zero.



And then there is the problem of his foreign policy creds.  Sanders has had a mostly undistinguished career in Congress. The international crises confronting the next president are daunting. They need to be handled by someone who has the chops to do it.  I don’t like Hillary’s past hawkish views and I hope she has been sobered by the horrible outcomes of our military exploits. Hillary has the experience on Day One to get in the game.  I have no idea what Bernie would do, and he hasn’t said.

Also, I wish Bernie had not crossed the line from evangelism to demagoguery. His followers look like they are about to burn down the barricades if he doesn’t get the nomination.  At this point, they have the affect of a cult. He has no chance of getting the nomination with the rules that he agreed to when he decided to run as a guest on the Democratic ticket, and he knows it.  His drive to the absolute finish line, with the crowds cheering him on, looks like someone who has finally tasted power and can’t give it up.

Yet, I am counting on him to beseech his followers to vote for Hillary, because we have to beat Trump. Bernie may leave the race a bitter man, but he cannot be so mad at Hillary that he would help Trump get in office.  If his supporters vote for a third party candidate as a protest, that is exactly what could happen. We cannot even contemplate handing over the future to one of the most racist ignoramuses ever to ascend to the head of a major political party. If Trump gets his hands on the Supreme Court, it will be far worse than not having Medicare for all, or not having free college for all.

This is why I have no sense of humor about these elections in particular. We have too many awful candidates running who need to be sent back to their lairs.  We have a lot riding on what happens today.

Here’s to Jane, Mary, and Hillary, who all happen to be women.  May they all win!

Meister is a writer who lives in Pebble Beach and who has contributed several pieces to the Partisan.


I posted an item Tuesday morning criticizing the Dennis Donohue campaign for sending out the following email on Monday, accusing Jane Parker of playing dirty politics and acting like a bully. A couple of Donohue partisans, Steve Emerson and Nancy Amadeo, deny that it came from the Donohue campaign. That might be true. Then again, the implication of that would be that someone else, likely the Parker campaign, fabricated it. Seems unlikely. Regardless, I won’t be able to resolve it today, but I thought I’d just share the email that was forwarded to me from Marina voters and let those who understand these technical things weigh in.

In the email I received, clicking on the Donohue logo (the blue box) takes me to the legitimate Donohue website and clicking on the volunteer and donate buttons takes me there as well.

The format is different than I received it via email because I had to copy it and paste it onto this WordPress site and the design changed in the process, but if you click on the link “view this email in your browser,” you can see the original format.

Election Day is tomorrow, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon recent ugliness the campaign has endured. It’s unfortunate how normal it has become for campaigns to go negative. Negativity distracts and muddies situations so it’s difficult to distinguish between a horrible personal attack (like being compared to Donald Trump) and a legitimate concern over a candidate’s ethics and moral compass.

You and your neighbors I am sure have received countless attack mailers from Jane Parker. These personal and schoolyard antics are similar to how a bully behaves. And like any bully Jane is using her attacks to hide and distract us from who she is. According to a recent complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, Parker has been misusing public funds for her own gain.

Something is wrong, but together we can fix it on election day.

We are living in times that call for true leadership. We need leaders who have morals, who know right from wrong. and that we can trust, . We can’t allow tricks and  feelings of distaste for current politics, choose for us.
Thanks for reading.



1188 Padre Dr., Suite 101 | FPPC# 1374894| Salinas, CA| 93901

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Vote today or the dirty tricksters win again

Dirty water in old concrete swimming pool

Here’s what I think of when I think about the Donohue campaign strategy: Dirty pool

This is for voters who need one last bit of motivation to get to the polls today and to remind your friends and neighbors to do the same. I’m  aiming it at Jane Parker supporters in District 4 but the message also works well for Mary Adams supporters in District 5.

On Monday, the Dennis Donohue campaign sent emails out to voters accusing Parker, the incumbent, of running an ugly campaign. Yes, she did go negative with critical, and accurate, mailers challenging his silly assertion that he was a successful crime fighter while he was mayor of Salinas. He did put considerable time and energy into Salinas’ crime issues but he certainly didn’t solve them as his campaign literature proclaims.

Parker was punching back, relatively gently and absolutely fairly, after Donohue had hit her with a barrage of false accusations to the effect that she had opposed the Veterans Cemetery at Fort Ord and is anti-veteran. It was one of the great local examples of deceptive, below-the-belt campaigning.

Yet on Monday, Donohue shared his reflections thusly:

“Election Day is tomorrow, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon recent ugliness the campaign has endured. It’s unfortunate how normal it has become for campaigns to go negative. Negativity distracts and muddies situations so it’s difficult to distinguish between a horrible personal attack (like being compared to Donald Trump) and a legitimate concern over a candidate’s ethics and moral compass.

“You and your neighbors I am sure have received countless attack mailers from Jane Parker. These personal and schoolyard antics are similar to how a bully behaves. And like any bully Jane is using her attacks to hide and distract us from who she is.”

Wow. I mean Wow! Dennis Donohue calling Jane Parker a bully! I guess that if you’re going to use the big lie technique, you take it all the way.

In District 5, incumbent Dave Potter took a similar tack against Mary Adams, accusing her of lying about his removal from the Coastal Commission. He was, in fact, refused another term because of his repeatedly pro-development votes and his horrible standing with environmental groups but he claims that isn’t so. He had considerable help from Carmel Pine Cone Publisher Paul Miller, who produced two stories in the news section and two editorials calling Adams a liar based on manufactured evidence. It was a shameful performance politically and journalistically.

Unless Parker and Adams win today, the take-away will be another reminder that dirty pool pays off even in a place like Monterey County with an enlightened and engaged electorate. We learned that when Cal Am crafted a campaign of nonsense to beat back a public takeover vote and when the backers of Monterey Downs whipped up some deceptive nonsense of their own to prevail in a ballot measure intended to stop the misguided project. Money wins, especially when it is used to manufacture and distribute a bogus product.

Anyway, back to the point. Don’t believe a word from Donohue and Potter. Get out and vote and take your neighbors with you. Voters say that politics and elections should be about character. Let’s prove it.



IMG_8010 (2)My reaction to Jane Parker’s latest campaign mailer was, in order:

  • Yikes!
  • I hope it’s true because I would hate to have to write a post calling Parker an underhanded campaigner.
  • OK, it’s true, but I don’t feel all that good about it.

The piece in question is a Monterey County Supervisor Parker mailer in which she says that the homicide rate quadrupled in Salinas while her opponent, Dennis Donohue, was mayor.

It may seem like an odd thing to say about the District 4 challenger but Donohue has pushed his public safety credentials hard in this race and has talked endlessly about how he took on the gangs in Salinas, etc., etc. He’s pretty much inviting a hard look at the numbers.

So is it so what Parker says? Well, yes, pretty much. In 2006, the year Donohue was elected, Salinas recorded seven homicides. In 2009, the start of his second term, the number jumped to 29. So, quadrupled is correct.

What I don’t like about it is that the mayor of a city manager-run city can’t do a heck of a lot to affect the murder rate one way or the other. He has no direct control over the budget or police procedures or staffing levels. It can reasonably be argued that Donohue was the force between too much money being spent on less important things, money that should have been spent beefing up the police force. (See the Partisan’s piece of May 6 for an account of how he led the city to spend big money on marginal property to help finance a downtown card room.) But it isn’t as though Donohue ignored his city’s very real crime problem. He is all about economic development and he knows that Salinas’ reputation as a gang hub is never going to attract clean industry.

Also, the mailer doesn’t mention that the murder rate fell to 19 in each of the next two years before rising slightly again in Donohue’s final year in office.

I also found another part of the mailer to be a slight stretch. That’s where Parker says Donohue is bankrolled by a political action committee “funded by oil refineries and corporate special interests.” If she is talking about the Salinas Valley Leadership Group, the biggest contributor to the Donohue campaign, she is correct that is dominated by development and corporate interests but, from my reading of its large membership roster, oil industry influence doesn’t seem significant beyond one local distributor, Brian Hill of Toro Petroleum.

Compared to the shameful Donohue mailers falsely accusing Parker of trying to stop the Fort Ord veterans cemetery, Parker’s latest isn’t all that bad. But as a Parker fan (the Partisan endorses her with great enthusiasm), I expect better than that. That’s why I’m calling it a little cheesy and giving Parker a C-minus on this one.



This photo of Dave Potter comes from Mary Adams’ website, potterfacts.com

I’ve always greatly enjoyed Mary Duan’s columns in the Monterey County Weekly, and I enjoyed most of her farewell column this week. With her husband’s lottery winnings tucked into a mattress, she has stepped down as editor after a productive and sometimes grueling six years.

Thursday’s column was about politics and Mary’s decision to enjoy life for a while. The part I didn’t love was the little section where she sort of lost her way  while writing about Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter and his effort to fight off a challenge by a strong candidate, Mary Adams.

She wrote about how the Weekly had endorsed Potter, setting off some serious groaning from the left side of the political divide, which constitutes a good share of the paper’s readership. I have it on good authority that Duan argued mightily for an Adams endorsement but was outmuscled by her bosses, who got on the Potter train long ago and stayed onboard while others departed. (I’ve always suspected it has something to do with Potter being a good source, especially when he needs to divert the attention of journalists looking too closely at his affairs.) The result of the internal debate at the Weekly was an endorsement editorial that made note of Potter’s “integrity” issues. You won’t find that part quoted in Potter’s campaign mailers.

Here’s the portion of Duan column that I found, well, exasperating.

“There’s a heated level of vitriol being thrown our way because of the Potter endorsement – progressives, it turns out, can be a hostile bunch,” Duan wrote. “I don’t think we’ve been called stupid, but we have been called inept and corrupt.

“Potter gets called corrupt a lot, by the way. He’s done some dumb stuff, but in terms of outright corruption, I haven’t been able to prove it (and boy have I tried) and neither has anyone else. My message to the angry progressives is this: Prove it. Prove what you think you know.”

I would be surprised if I didn’t enter Duan’s thoughts at least fleetingly while she wrote that last paragraph. And here’s why. While I don’t have a file of documents that a prosecutor could take to a grand jury and get Potter thrown in jail, I have been involved in covering Potter for 16 years now and I believe it has been proved several times now that if not outright, damnably corrupt, he is ethically challenged to the point that he should not be in office. Corrupt is a pretty big word. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions is a good one, “Doing things that are dishonest or illegal in order to make money or to gain or keep power.” Ms. Duan, I think it has been proved that the definition applies to the fellow your former employer endorsed. (It should be noted that my former employer, the Herald, has endorsed him as well.)

The publisher of another weekly paper in the area, the Carmel Pine Cone, has accused me over the years of being out to get Potter, though he has never explained why. The truth is that, like most people who know Potter, I like the guy. He can be a real charmer and he knows more than anyone else about two of my favorite topics, local politics and governance. Even when he has been beyond irritated at something I had written about him, he and I have managed to have pleasant and even constructive conversations. For instance, he was the one who explained to me why former Supervisor Lou Calcagno is endorsing Supervisor Jane Parker instead of her challenger, Dennis Donohue. It’s because Donohue has signed onto a plan to let the city of Salinas spill over onto some of the wonderful farmland south and west of town.

So, back to the point. What has been proven about Potter, his method of operations and his integrity? I can only tell you what I know, which is a fair amount.

Two examples make my point about Potter’s integrity, and I’ll go into some detail about those. For now, let’s not worry about the house he bought from the land-use lawyer’s family, the building and coastal permits his construction company forgot to obtain before starting projects, the time he was using campaign money to pay his construction company rent, the time he bought a car from a dealer who was seeking a coastal permit while Potter was on the Coastal Commission or the time he tried to arrange free property at Fort Ord so his company could build a hockey rink there. The list of troubling but not indictable acts goes on.

Let’s focus instead on the Nader Agha campaign contribution and the forgery allegation.

Agha, of course, is the local developer and antique dealer who has been pursuing a desalination plant in competition with Cal Am’s. He is well known for his generosity, both to charities and to politicians.

You can read a Monterey Herald article about the issue here and get the details but I’ll summarize the key points.

In January 2004, Potter asked Agha for a $10,000 campaign contribution. But rather than have him make the check out to his campaign fund as legally required, he asked Agha to make the check out to a business associate, Russ Carter, one of a group of San Jose investors who have repeatedly lent money to Potter over the years.

Much later, then-county Supervisor Lou Calcagno told Agha that the money had gone toward a vacation rather than campaign expenses. To make a long story short, Agha then sued Potter for return of the money and – and this is key here – included a copy of the canceled check to Carter along with the legal filing.

Potter denied everything and insisted that he had been exonerated through an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission. It’s true that the FPPC didn’t take any action. It seldom does. But Potter was never able to explain why Agha had written a $10,000 check out to a close Potter associate with whom he had no connection of his own.

Agha at one point said he would pursue the lawsuit vigorously to prove that Potter was lying. Unfortunately for those of us who care about facts, Potter did everything he could to keep the matter out of public scrutiny. Monterey public relations man David Armanasco went to Agha on Potter’s behalf and arranged a settlement. Rather than pursue the litigation, Agha agreed to settle out of court for an unreported amount and agreed with Potter’s request to have the settlement details sealed.

“I’m kicking myself,” Agha said later.

It is true that Agha’s assertions were never proved in court and that the FPPC didn’t charge Potter. But in the court of public opinion, the one in which Potter and Mary Duan and the Partisan reside, the canceled check to Carter is both persuasive and damning.

The forgery matter also made it into the courthouse but, like the Agha matter, was not resolved there. Still, in the court of common sense, Potter loses.

Again, there is a long Monterey Herald story that spells it all out, so we’ll only summarize here.

In 2012, Potter’s ex-wife, Patricia, said in court papers that Potter had forged her name on home loan documents after their estrangement so he could take out another mortgage on their Monterey home.

(The home, by the way, was one Potter had bought from the mother of land-use lawyer Tony Lombardo, with partial financing from the mother, but that’s another tale.)

Anyway, in court papers, Patricia Potter alleged that her former husband surreptitiously signed her name to the paperwork so he could obtain a second mortgage of $193,000. She said that $168,000 of that went to pay off loans that Potter had received from three San Jose investors, including Russ Carter (the fellow who had earlier cashed the $10,000 check from Agha.)

The paperwork was processed in San Jose, at a meeting Patricia Potter did not attend, and the signatures were notarized by a Silicon Valley real estate agent who is a business partner of the investors who received the $168,000.  Patricia Potter alleged that her ex-husband then recorded the documents without her knowledge, something that her ex-husband’s lawyer actually verified in court papers.

The allegations went away without landing Potter in any real trouble. That’s because Herald reporter Jim Johnson, who wrote the story on the allegations, called Dave and Patricia Potter for comment and they got their heads together before returning his calls.  By then, before the story came out, they had come to terms about disputed spousal support and agreed to say that the forgery allegation was the result of a simple misunderstanding.

The headline on the resulting Herald article said Patricia Potter had retracted the allegation. The last time I checked the court record, she had not done so in court papers.

To my way of thinking, Potter could have been prosecuted but the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office concluded that there was no case since Patricia Potter had changed her story. Some tough questioning of the real estate agent who notarized the signature might have produced a different result, but who knows.

Does this prove Potter is corrupt? His supporters won’t think so but many of those supporting Mary Adams will argue that the case has been made. That’s how it goes in politics. Those folks over at the other local weekly, the Pine Cone, are so blind to Potter’s failings that they may try to hold Adams accountable for the words on these pages. The ferocity of the Pine Cone’s repeated attacks on Adams, combined with its historic unwillingness to examine Potter’s record, suggests another form of misfeasance.

As I wrote above, Potter is an exceedingly knowledgeable politician. His understanding of the ins and outs of local governance is without parallel. He has done some good things and I do not believe that, deep down, he is an evil fellow. I believe that he has struggled financially at times, for reasons I do not understand, and that he has routinely cut corners and done worse to get by. Corrupt? You be the judge.

The Potter strategy in the current campaign is to portray Adams as inexperienced, incapable of stepping in to deal with the difficult realities of county government. My counter is that she is highly experienced in the equally complicated world of non-profit social services, that she is smart and quick, and that she carries absolutely none of the type of ethical baggage that causes even neutral observers of Dave Potter to question his sincerity in almost everything he does.

The election is June 7.


I was talking to a friend the other day, a former journalist who has covered lots of political campaigns. We were talking about the current races for Monterey County supervisor, particularly the contest between incumbent Jane Parker and former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue.

Over the past week or so, the news coverage has been filled with criticism of Donohue’s over-the-top accusations against Parker. Below-the-belt might be a better description. He alleged that she has something against military veterans and had voted against establishing the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord. He falsely asserted that she had somehow delayed the cemetery project, costing Monterey County lots of money and lots of job.

Donohue had “gone negative,” which most candidates do these days. Parker has come out with some ads critical of his source of campaign money. That’s going negative. But Donohue had gone farther, all the way to dirty. Going negative is when you criticize your opponent’s record. Going dirty is when you make stuff up.

Fortunately for the voters, state Sen. Bill Monning jumped into the fray and made it clear that Parker had actually supported the cemetery each step of the way and that, despite the impression Donohue tried to make, the cemetery is actually nearing completion at the former Army base. From the tone of the resulting discussion, it appears that Donohue’s strategy backfired badly. The conversation now begins, “I always liked Dennis, but … .”

During my talk with my friend the other day, I mentioned how how much big money had been injected into the Donohue campaign. Big for a local election. Lots of checks for $20,000, $40,000, even $50,000, mostly from growers and other business interests. And my friend had something interesting to say about that. He said that the big contributions had backed Donohue into a corner of sorts, essentially forcing him go dirty.

I scratched my head. He explained that the big contributions had put Donohue in the position of needing to win, no matter how.

His thinking went like this. When people contribute $100 or $500 to a City Council or supervisorial campaign, they’re doing so because they know the candidate and/or appreciate the candidate’s position on the issues. But when a business contributes $20,000 or more to a campaign, it’s an investment. The money isn’t being spent in support of friendship or good government. It’s an investment and the investor expects a return. The recipient is expected to win and to make sure the investor receives something in return, something worth at least the amount invested.

In one sense, my friend was cutting Donohue a little slack. His internal polling likely told him he was trailing Parker in the District 4 race, and he knew that campaign brochures showing him posting with farmers and cops and such wasn’t going to do it. To win, he’d have to go after Parker, and what was there to say?

Donohue could have said, as he has, that Parker has some strong environmentalist leanings and is receiving lots of support from environmentalists. But he likely realized that such an approach was just as likely to help her as hurt her.

He could have kept stressing in his campaign literature that he has received the endorsements from most of the mayors in the district. But most people in the district don’t know who the mayors are and those who do know might not be really impressed by their views.

So, my friend suggested, Donohue was left with little else but to play the veteran card. It had worked before. Developers of the hugely controversial Monterey Downs horse racing/commercial/residential development at Fort Ord had done everything possible to link the fate of their project to the veterans cemetery project and, in the process, they had tricked some representatives of veterans group into loudly supporting the horse racing venture. A couple of ballot measures related to the horse racing project were decided by the nonsensical argument that a vote against horse racing was a vote against veterans. It was dirty pool but it worked, though the  developers still haven’t come up with enough money or water to make their venture go.

Still, the veterans gambit confused voters once, so the Donohue people apparently figured it was worth another try. What else were they going to do? Win by running a campaign of ideas? Win by pointing to Donohue’s successes as mayor? Win by knocking on doors and answering questions? Clearly that wasn’t working so they made the choice to go negative, to go dirty, to go nasty or go home. As my friend said, with all those investors behind them, excuse me, contributors, what choice did they have?

I’ve always been a cynical sort. I long ago realized that our political system is as much about business as it is about government. But I hadn’t ever looked at things quite the way my friend does. I almost wish we hadn’t had the conversation.

By the way, here’s Parker’s latest mailer, Jane Parker May 14 2016 mailer, which goes after Donohue for his campaign contributions. And expect District 5 supervisorial candidate Mary Adams to go after incumbent Dave Potter‘s voting record in the next week or so. It’s fair game, in both cases, but if anyone spots any truth bending, shout it out. In the same vein, a group of local Adams supporters has just put out a flyer going after Potter’s support for the Monterey Downs project, focusing on a laudatory letter he sent to the mayor of Seaside. And here it is:


Set of wooden pinocchio puppet dolls

Fourth District Supervisorial candidate Dennis Donohue, center, and his campaign advisers discussing what to say next about Jane Parker

For those of you who haven’t read enough yet about Dennis Donohue’s attempt to portray Jane Parker as an unpatriotic, veteran-hating lefty, here’s a little more.

The very short version is that in a news release on Tuesday, former Salinas mayor Donohue struggled mightily to back up his previous assertions that Supervisor Parker, his opponent in the June 7 election, has done her darnedest to mess up the redevelopment of Fort Ord, even going so far as to oppose the veterans cemetery. He even argued in one of his mailings that Parker had managed to block construction of the cemetery despite these two facts. A. Parker never voted against the cemetery in any fashion and B. Construction of the cemetery is well under away and the first phase is expected to be completed in late summer. He said her votes against the cemetery and rebuilding the fort had cost the county millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

In his news release, Donohue stuck by his allegations, though they have been thoroughly discredited by, among others, state Sen. Bill Monning, who sponsored the successful legislation creating and funding the cemetery.

You can read his news release here. His evidence, his only evidence, in it was his assertion that in two meetings of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, Sept. 14, 2012, and Oct. 12, 2012, Parker had voted to change the location of the cemetery, a location that hasn’t been changed.

Here is what Donohue said: “The facts are extremely clear as in consecutive Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) meetings (September 14 and October 12, 2012) that were attended by Senator Monning, Ms. Parker and myself, Ms. Parker voted to request the FORA staff to recommend a new location for the Veteran’s Cemetery, needlessly delaying the project.”

“Furthermore,” continued Donohue, “October 12, 2012 meeting, she voted again to direct staff to look for additional locations and that motion was defeated 12-1.”

Unfortunately for Donohue, there is a record of what occurred at those meetings. It isn’t what he says. Not even close.

According to the staff report and the minutes of those two meetings, there was NO board discussion of relocating the cemetery.

Here’s what it was about, but first a warning. FORA meetings are all about process, not actually doing things: The issue was the fact that the 1996 Base Reuse Plan did not include the Veterans Cemetery as a project. At the request of Seaside City Councilman Ian Oglesby, the staff asked the FORA board how it wished to add the cemetery to the plan and to consider whether the so-called endowment parcel next to the cemetery should be labeled residential rather than open space/recreation. The endowment parcel was created as a potential way to finance the cemetery.

The board was presented with three procedural options. Option 1 involved waiting until Seaside brought forth an entire project proposal for the area. Option 2 was to include these changes in the list of changes being compiled as part of the Base Plan Reassessment Process, since there were other additions and edits needed to the document. Option 3 allowed the board to vote right then and there on changes. There were questions about whether Option 3 would be legally effective.

There also was discussion about why the board would want to make changes to the endowment parcel when other buyers may be available to move more quickly than Monterey Downs, so it could be wise to leave the uses open rather than tailored to one buyer.

On a motion by then-Carmel Mayor Burnett, seconded by Parker, the board voted 7-4 at the Sept. 14 meeting to direct staff to return to the board with an option that allowed the board to move ahead with the cemetery as quickly as could be done legally, and leave the endowment parcel to be addressed through Option 1 if and when Seaside had a project for the site. Since the action was not unanimous, it required a second vote.

That second vote took place at the October meeting. Supervisor Parker voted yes again, but the rest of the board voted no, apparently because Burnett alluded to having talked to the city of Seaside and finding there apparently was some agreement to proceed with all the changes under the Option 2 method in another six to 12 months, which never occurred. Supervisor Parker’s vote for the original motion would have resulted in the cemetery being added to the base plan earlier. A videotape of the meetings shows that neither Parker nor any of the board members discussed the location of the cemetery.

Don’t take my word for it. You can read the staff report and the minutes simply by clicking the links below.

VC Staff Report 10.12.12

FORA 10.12.12BrdMin

FORA 09.14.12 Brd Min


idea concept with light bulbs on a blue backgroundWhile not the brightest bulb in the box, or whatever, I do know that politics can be, and generally is, a dirty game. It probably always was like that, but the recent postings regarding Dennis Donohue and the mayor of Watsonville, plus knowing a bit about the shenanigans of other local pols such as Dave Potter and Jose Castenada, I have to say that, in the day, local politics were a lot more civil.

Nationally, I think most people would agree with me that the cream of the crop in both parties has not risen to be the presidential candidates. While I am a Democrat and personally don’t dislike Hillary, she has so much baggage that even Southwest Airlines would think twice about taking on her suitcases and she is so establishment as to suggest she won’t be as creative and out of the box as she indicates, if elected. And while Bernie has some ideas worth considering, how do you think he would do trying to get a Congress behind him to actually pass some legislation that would be good for America?

I don’t know what others think of Trump, on the GOP side, but there are some stellar Republicans as well who could have served the country as president by actually listening to and working with those elements who would not be died-in-the-wool, extreme conservatives, in order to get something actually done.

But the above observations don’t relate to the dirty aspect of today’s politics – now clearly at all levels.

The dirtiest aspect involves the money spent and where it comes from. There should be limits on what individuals and corporations can contribute that would apply to PACs as well. The average Joe should be able to be somewhat on par with the Kochs and the other deep pockets who find ways to spend zillions. Unfortunately, attack ads funded by the big rollers and PACs seem to be the major source of information upon which way too many voters base their decisions.

The second dirtiest aspect involves time. It makes no sense to have a presidential and congressional election cycle that can last for two years, which in turn, requires more and more money, the major source of “dirtiness.” The states insist on having their own caucuses and primaries, with their own inconsistent rules. As a result of events from January to June, many delegates who will vote at the conventions for a candidate are selected by less than democratic values. Then, from June to November, another six months, more millions are spent, more attack ads are aired, and in the end, the voters have to make a decision, based mostly on allegations of wrongdoing, mishandlings and other mistakes of the other candidate, as opposed to clear and substantive debates and discussions about global and collaborative plans for the future.

Why can’t there be a consistent plan imposed on all states to have a period of 90 days max when candidates seeking the office can argue, debate, discuss, etc. their qualifications and plans if elected, followed by a national primary date – all on the same day? And, by the way, the delegates selected would be all determined on a single, consistent basis? Yes, I know, it won’t happen — but the process has worked pretty well in other democratic states, with less money spent and with generally OK results. I add that nothing is perfect. But, the present system in the U.S. is so far less than perfect, almost any positive change would be welcomed.

Back in the day, I remember the conventions as the place where decisions were made on presidential candidates. Yes, there were backroom deals, and money was a factor, but not like right now. There was a real sense of importance that captured the strong interest of the entire country. Recall Dewey vs Truman, and Ike running for the first time. Those were heady days, when most of the adults I was around were glued to their TVs and actually cared about the results, not having been reduced to glazed-eye robots from months of TV interviews, attack ads, etc.

There was a fair amount of character assassination back in the day, but not nearly as much as today. At the local level, and I was involved with local politicians on the Peninsula back in the 1970s, people running for office did so in a civil way, proclaiming their qualifications and what should and could be done without calling an opponent a jerk, loser, or incompetent. I remember one of the Monterey County supervisors who didn’t like me and my work at AMBAG. But we met over a drink at Tom Hudson’s law office and worked out our differences and drank to it. Try that today.

Back in the day, politics was entertaining as a relatively civil and high-level enterprise. Local politicians were accessible for the most part and actually took their responsibility to represent the best interests of their constituents. Today, some do, but too many don’t. The 40-year water crisis, particularly over the past five years, is a good example of the “don’t” variety.

Back in the day, even state politicians were different. I recall Jesse Unruh, who was an icon for many years as speaker of the Assembly. He could play politics with the best of them, and did so – but he did it, for the most part, in a public way. Even Jerry Brown and Ronald Reagan were mostly open and accessible back then. I lived only about two blocks from Reagan in Sacramento, and he could be approached without a lot of difficulty. Of course 9/11 changed all that, but how easy is it for the average California voter to write his/her rep in Sacramento or the governor’s office and receive prompt and helpful responses? Good luck with that.

So, I leave it with this: Donohue is a bad guy; Parker is a good woman; Monning stood up against Donohue so he must be a good guy; Stone has been quiet, but he is a nice and therefor a good guy; Jimmy Panetta has to win because his dad is a respected good guy, and by the way, he has received a lot of money for his campaign; and Mary Adams must beat Dave Potter because he’s been there way too long.

Without any reference to what I might actually know, I could conclude all the above, right or wrong, by just reading what others are saying about our local pols. In the day, opinions seemed to be based more upon actual exposure to the actors themselves, one way or another.

Back in the day is past. Today needs help.

Hood is a retired water lawyer and engineer and former head of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He lives in Carmel and Ohio.


DSCN0366Below, in italics, is a news release issued by the Dennis Donohue for supervisor campaign on Tuesday. Below that, a couple of questions and comments:


Campaign Questions Motives of Monning Press Release

 SALINAS, CA – Dennis Donohue, candidate for District 4 Supervisor of Monterey County clarified and defended the content of a recent campaign mailer focused on the public voting record of his opponent in the upcoming June primary.

“While I respect and admire the hard work and leadership of Senator Monning on the Monterey County Veteran’s Cemetery Project, his press release indicates that literature sent out by my campaign was misleading and false and that is simply not true,” commented Donohue. “The facts are extremely clear as in consecutive Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) meetings (September 14 and October 12, 2012) that were attended by Senator Monning, Ms. Parker and myself, Ms. Parker voted to request the FORA staff to recommend a new location for the Veteran’s Cemetery, needlessly delaying the project” 

“Furthermore,” continued Donohue, “October 12, 2012 meeting, she voted again to direct staff to look for additional locations and that motion was defeated 12-1. A pattern has emerged where progress on items such as this, the Eastside Parkway and already approved development designed to give Seaside and Marina back the economic engine lost due to Fort Ord’s closure have been delayed and blocked and the residents of the 4th District deserve better.” 

Donohue Campaign Manager Steve Thomas stated, “It’s not the literature that is calling into question Ms. Parker’s true intentions regarding this issue, it’s the Veterans themselves. There is still a lot of work to be done to make the cemetery a reality and the community would like to see their elected officials making every effort to get these projects completed for the betterment of all of Monterey County.” 

“Additionally, for Senator Monning to comment on a “Campaign based on lies and deception” as indicated in his release, he has to look no further than Ms. Parker’s own campaign literature of elections past and her irresponsible public comments regarding Dennis Donohue’s record as the three term mayor of Salinas. We stand behind the pieces 100% as fact-based campaign literature based on the public voting record of our opponent.” 

For more information, visit www.dennisfordistrict4.com and follow the campaign on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and Instagram.

Donahue’s comments here only hint at the accusations his campaign tossed at the Parker campaign, which include voting against redevelopment of Fort Ord and costing the community millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. You can read the earlier Partisan stories here and here, so no need to go into detail here.

My main question is this: Donohue now accuses Parker of a “campaign based on lies and deception” and cites “Ms. Parker’s own campaign literature of elections past and her irresponsible public comments regarding Dennis Donohue’s record as the three term mayor of Salinas.” I would ask, and I would hope others, including Donohue supporters, will ask that he cite some specifics. He is calling her a liar and a deceiver but backs that up not at all. Strong words. Let’s see some examples.



Supervisorial candidate Dennis Donohue has sent a batch of mailers to Peninsula voters that are variations of the mailers that drew serious heat from state Sen. Bill Monning last week. The new ones are toned down to a degree but still twist Parker’s record on the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord.

The Salinas mailers essentially accused Parker of blocking the cemetery, even though it is already under construction, said Parker opposed the cemetery, which she didn’t, and made the false claim that it would take Donohue’s election to the Board of Supervisors to get the cemetery project started. back


The latest missive says Parker “was the ONLY member of the FORA (Fort Ord Reuse Authority) board to vote against (the cemetery’s) location, siding with her special interest friends. She needlessly delayed the project, denying Monterey County veterans the honorable resting place they deserve.”

Despite what Donohue says, nothing Parker did delayed the cemetery project or denied anyone a resting place, according to Monning, who sponsored the legislation creating and financing the cemetery. The new Donohue mailer attributes those claims to two articles in the Monterey County Weekly from July 14 and July 21, 2011.

The first article doesn’t get into the cemetery but does address the somewhat related Whispering Oaks business park at Fort Ord. That’s where Monterey-Salinas Transit wanted to build a bus yard, near where the cemetery is being built and near the proposed Monterey Downs horse park project. Parker did indeed vote against the Whispering Oak project, largely because it would have required removal of tens of thousands of oaks. The Board of Supervisors approved the project, which led to 18,000 signatures of voters demanding a ballot measure on the project. At that point, Supervisor Dave Potter publicly acknowledged that the original vote was a big mistake and that the supervisors had learned their lesson. The board then voted 4-1 to kill the project, an action that had no impact on the cemetery.

In order to gain veterans’ support for the Monterey Downs venture, the developers attempted to link the fate of the Whispering Oaks and cemetery projects to Monterey Downs but officials on the various elective bodies involved managed to untangle the issues. Parker’s vote had nothing to do with the cemetery and did nothing to delay it.

The July 21, 2001, article cited by the Donohue campaign focuses on the issue of the artificial mingling of the cemetery and horse park ventures. Parker is quoted as saying she thought it was a bad idea to make the cemetery’s fate dependent on the horse park. The first phase of the cemetery is expected to be completed this summer. The Monterey Downs venture remains months or longer away from initial approvals and its backers still have not secured all the land or the water rights they need. The article does nothing to support Donohue’s claim.

Elsewhere in the same flyer, Donohue says, “On the Board of Supervisors, Parker voted against the redevelopment of Fort Ord thanks to pressure from her special interest campaign contributors. It cost the county millions of dollars, hundreds of jobs and new life to blighted properties.”

Let’s take the second sentence first. Parker has voted against redevelopment of Fort Ord, and Donohue is the only one who knows this? And her lone vote on a five-member board, which never actually happened, cost Monterey County millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs?

On articles of this type, the Partisan attempts to maintain some detachment and let the facts speak from themselves but this one causes us to conclude that Donohue must truly think the voters of District 4 are idiots.

Now let’s turn to the first sentence. The flyer attributes that one, about voting against “the redevelopment of Fort Ord,” to the minutes of a Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 22, 2009. There were, in fact, two Fort Ord-related matters on the agenda that day, both involving Whispering Oaks, proposed bus yard.

Here is everything the minutes have to say about those matters:

Acting as the Board of Directors of the Redevelopment Agency of the County of Monterey: Agreement No. A-11544

  1. Approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the RedevelopmentAgency of the County of Monterey and Monterey Salinas Transit for the MST Operations and Maintenance Facility within the proposed Fort Ord Whispering Oaks Business Park; and
  2. Directed the Auditor-Controller to amend the Fiscal Year 2009-10 Budget to increase revenues and appropriations by $575,000 in Fund 173, Unit 8213 – Fort Ord Capital. (4/5th vote required)

It was not about “the redevelopment of Fort Ord.” It was about one project and it was initially approved by the supervisors. Zero millions of dollars were lost. Zero jobs were lost.

Donohue has not responded to press inquiries about the flyers. If and when he does, he likely will blame it all on his campaign staff. He needs, instead, to apologize.

Here is the Partisan’s report on the earlier mailers and Sen. Monning’s reaction.


Falsely states that cemetery has been blocked by Supervisor Jane Parker

DSCN0380 (1)Politicians rarely weigh in on campaigns other than their own but a new mailing by Monterey County supervisorial candidate Dennis Donohue strayed so far from the facts that it provoked a strong denunciation from state Sen. Bill Monning.

“I just saw the Donohue hit piece against Supervisor Parker,” said Monning. “This is so erroneous and inaccurate that I hardly know where to start. ”

The mailer claims that Parker, the 4th District incumbent, somehow is blocking the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord even though it is already under construction.

“The California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery is already under construction and scheduled for opening in August or September this year – well before this candidate could even take office,” Monning said Saturday.

A headline in the mailer says, “Jane Parker says ‘No’ to Veterans and Monterey County,” and the text says, “Only one vote on the Board of Supervisors stands between Monterey County veterans and a long-awaiting military cemetery at Fort Ord. Dennis Donohue strongly supports the plan and will stand with veterans to get it done.”

Monning, D-Carmel, has been heavily involved in  the cemetery project, working closely with the Board of Supervisors, area legislators, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority and veterans organizations. He sponsored legislation establishing the cemetery and securing more than $2 million for the project. He said Saturday that Parker had supported the cemetery “every step of the way.”


Former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue

“For Donohue to suggest that establishment of the veterans cemetery only awaits his affirmative vote to come to fruition is not only false, it is disrespectful and dismissive of all of us who have worked to establish the cemetery,” the senator said.

“For Dennis Donohue to vilify Jane as somehow not supporting the veterans cemetery is false and misleading and intentionally designed to deceive the voters. I am disappointed to see a candidate initiate a campaign based on lies and deception instead of advancing an honest portrayal of what he might aspire to do as a supervisor,” said Monning.”If this is how Donohue runs his campaign, would he also throw truth and ethics to the winds if elected?”

The mailer also attacks Parker for her opposition to a related venture, the failed plan by Monterey-Salinas Transit to build a transit center near the cemetery site at Fort Ord. The initial Board of Supervisors’ approval of that project led to a referendum measure motivated mostly by plans to cut down thousands of trees. The referendum led to another vote by the supervisors during which Supervisor Dave Potter acknowledged that the original vote was a mistake and Supervisor Lou Calcagno praised the protesters as being “right on.”

Unfortunately for voters attempting to follow the status of the cemetery project, the developers behind the proposed Monterey Downs horse racing and housing venture initially linked their venture’s approval to the cemetery and the transit yard, an attempt to artificially create political pressure on officials opposed to the Monterey Downs effort. That enabled the developers to enlist some local veterans to criticize politicians who expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the large Monterey Downs venture, which has not acquired the necessary property, approvals or water rights it needs to advance.


Redevelopment money helped build a cardroom but little else


The city of Salinas bought this property for $850,000 nine years ago. It is being used now to stockpile fill dirt and paving material. 

When he was mayor of Salinas, Dennis Donohue was a big-picture guy, a politician with big ideas and a vision of his city as a leader in agriculture-related technology, a peaceful city with a reinvigorated downtown.

He swung for the fences. In tough economic times, he helped lead two successful tax measures to maintain and even expand city services before and after holding office. But he also swung and missed. His best-known strikeouts included the ill-fated Renaissance Partners plan for downtown, which spun itself into a web of expensive litigation, and the Green Vehicles investment fiasco of 2009, which cost the city at least $500,000.

It turns out, however, that an obscure East Salinas redevelopment venture supported if not orchestrated by Donohue cost the city significantly more money, as much as $4.5 million, while helping finance a controversial downtown cardroom and leaving the city holding a vacant swath of problematic property and a boarded-up church.

Nearly nine years after the first properties were purchased by the city, they all sit idle while city officials contemplate what they might do with them.

“I love Dennis, I do,” said veteran City Councilwoman Jyl Lutes, “but we’re still cleaning up the messes of Dennis and we will be cleaning up those messes for a long time.”

Former City Councilman Steve Villegas said Donohue “always maintained the philosophy of spend, spend, and spend, and worry later about how to pay for everything. He handled the city budget like an open checkbook.”

“Remember, we were just entering into a recession and we had to be careful on how the city was spending money,” said Villegas, who served on the council with Donohue for four years. “Dennis didn’t care how much we spent on the assumption that we would borrow from Paul to pay Peter. It would drive the rest of the council nuts.”

Dan Ortega, who was police chief at the time, told others as it happened that he suspected Donohue and others supported the redevelopment plan partly as a way to provide city money to help start the Bankers Casino cardroom venture downtown, which Ortega strenuously opposed.


Supervisorial candidate Dennis Donohue

City officials had been considering the redevelopment purchase as early as 2005 but the effort didn’t become serious until Donohue was elected. Months after he took office in 2007, the city redevelopment agency bought three parcels along Division Street from restaurant owner Hector Campos, who would help open Bankers Casino a year later. Campos had purchased the undeveloped 1.3 acres seven years earlier for $150,000 and sold it to the city in the same shape for $850,000.

Campos’ nephew and partner in the Bankers Casino venture, Sal Jimenez, acknowledged this week that the profit provided a significant portion of the cardroom financing, but he insisted Donohue was not key to the deal.

“Hell no, Dennis didn’t put that together. It was all the redevelopment guy, Alan Stumpf,” said Jimenez. Jimenez said Campos was approached by Stumpf, the city redevelopment director at the time, who made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“We put two and two together and said we can sell this and put it into the casino,” said Jimenez.

Stumpf, now retired, said it didn’t happen that way, though his predecessor as redevelopment chief, Larry Bussard, might have approached Campos. Bussard noted Thursday, however, that he had retired in 2004 and had nothing to do with the Division Street transactions.

Stumpf said he didn’t know how involved Donohue might have been in initiating the process, but he said the purchase and related expenditures  were part of a sincere  redevelopment effort that could make a major difference in East Salinas eventually. He said the plan received significant early support from several council members in addition to Donohue.

Donohue  did not respond to an email and call earlier this week seeking comment on the subject.  After a campaign forum Thursday night in Salinas, he told the Partisan he had received the messages but did not wish to comment.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said three times before walking away.

Donahue’s six-year tenure as mayor ended in 2012 and he is now a candidate to represent the 4th District on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. Running against the board’s leading environmentalist, Marina resident Jane Parker, Donohue is campaigning on a platform of progress, growth and commerce. He has built a campaign treasury of more than a half million dollars, mostly from Salinas Valley ag interests and the Peninsula hotel industry. Throughout his campaign, he has argued that redevelopment of the former Fort Ord Army base should be expanded and accelerated.

(A constant theme of Donohue’s campaign has been that Parker has not worked closely enough with the cities in District 4 — Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Del Rey Oaks and Salinas — to promote development at Fort Ord. At campaign forums and in his biography on his website, he does not mention that he served four years on the board of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority.)

When Donohue became mayor, the city administration was led by veteran City Manager Dave Mora, but he retired a year into Donohue’s tenure. His replacement, Artie Fields, had significantly less experience and Donohue stepped into the vacuum to operate almost as though the city had a strong-mayor system.

“Dennis oftentimes said ‘trust me’ and we didn’t know what he was doing,” said Lutes. “Everything was done behind closed doors and it was a real problem. We had no idea what was going on. We were often duped.”

Donohue soon became a highly visible figure in Salinas, showing up regularly at everything from neighborhood meetings to high school banquets to crime scenes. Despite a regular job as a produce executive, he worked tirelessly on city business, seldom turning down any opportunity to share his goals for the city. Lutes recalled recently that former City Attorney Vanessa Vallarta once remarked “that Dennis’ biggest problem is that he loves Salinas too much.”

Technically part of the Sunset Avenue Redevelopment Plan, the Division Street effort began in earnest just months after he took office in 2007. It mostly involves property along Division Street, a stub of an unpaved roadway near the busy intersection of Market Street and Sanborn Avenue in East Salinas.

According to city documents, the redevelopment effort was pursued and promoted by the Salinas United Business Association while Jimenez the cardroom operator was its president and an active board member. According to city redevelopment documents, the association, best known as SUBA, urged the city and its redevelopment agency to buy the property from Campos as part of an effort to revitalize the larger blighted neighborhood, a mix of houses, apartments, storefronts, a juvenile detention facility, a mortuary and health clinics. Donohue and Jimenez had served together on the Planning Commission before Donohue was elected mayor.

Over the years, the cardroom operators have contributed modestly to Donohue political campaigns. They gave $500 during his last year as mayor and $1,000 to his supervisorial campaign this spring. Jimenez contributed $110 in 2010. (Incidentally, the Parker campaign contributed $1,500 to Donohue’s first re-election campaign in 2008.)

A 2005 appraisal by a third party put the value of Campos’ land at $670,00 and noted, incorrectly, that the property had not been subject to a sale in the previous decade. Another appraisal by the same firm in 2007 put the value at $850,000, which was to be the purchase price. It said it would have been worth more but has no utilities and is in a flood plain that would require fill before any construction. It also noted that a potential obstacle to development is the adjoining Monterey County Youth Center, a juvenile hall for relatively low-risk offenders, and the towering lights that surround that property.

County property records show that Campos had purchased the property for $150,000 from O’Neil and Lois Eastin in 2000. Jimenez said his uncle saw the potential for developing the property and bought it largely because he got a good price and Eastin was willing to finance the purchase.

division street parcels

The parcels outlined in red were purchased by the city of Salinas and the profit was used to help create the Bankers Casino cardroom downtown. The other properties in yellow also were purchased by the city redevelopment agency. Most of the property across Division Street is owned by the Teamsters Union. Parcel 60 to the right of the yellow parcels is the Monterey County Youth Center detention facility.

The next year, in the summer of 2008, Jimenez and Campos succeeded in opening their Bankers Casino in the former Moose Lodge building on Monterey Street near the Steinbeck Center downtown. News reports at the time said that partners invested more than $2 million to renovate the building, which has since expanded as the operation has grown to include off-track betting and entertainment space.

Ortega, while he was police chief, unsuccessfully lobbied against the operation for fear it would attract a criminal element and require a significant investment of time from his department. Ortega had been involved in several cardroom-related investigations while he was with the San Jose Police Department before coming to Salinas. City officials say that, for the most part, the casino has been less problematic than Ortega feared.

The cardroom did add a sizable business to the downtown, contributing to the continuing revival of the central business district. It has provided the city with around $10,000 in property taxes annually along with a confidential amount of sales tax revenue. Unlike cardrooms in other California cities that pay taxes of 10 percent and more on gaming income, the Bankers operation pays only about $5,000 in gaming fees annually because Donohoe and the City Council agreed to levy only a token gaming tax.

Following the purchase of the Campos property, the city bought three adjacent parcels from other sellers, including a ramshackle building at 923 E. Market. The city paid former Salinas schools Superintendent Jim Earhart $520,000 for that 16,835-square-foot parcel, which has potential commercial uses, and $335,000 and $300,000 for two similarly sized but undeveloped properties nearby on Division. No use has been found for any of it.

According to city redevelopment documents, the city at one point hoped to work with the non-profit housing developer CHISPA to put affordable housing on the properties and at other times intended to seek some other non-profit organization that would be willing to develop the land, possibly tying it into the nearby Cesar Chavez Park, two Clinica de Salud health centers or possibly a Boys and Girls Club to be created at the former Nazarene Church property at 331 N. Sanborn, one parcel removed from the Campos property.

As part of the redevelopment effort, the city bought the church in August 2008 for $2.6 million and later offered to lease it to the Boys and Girls Club for a token amount. Club officials decided, however, that the structure was unusable and opted to build a facility elsewhere. The church structure remains in place, windows and doors boarded. Signs warn visitors that it is city property, that it is unstable and that they should “Keep Out.”

“To purchase the additional adjoining property and the Nazerene Church was a crazy thing to do,” said Villegas, the former councilman and retired sheriff’s lieutenant. “Yes, the intent of what we wanted to refurbish the property into was good, but we had no money to complete the projects. Money was very tight but Dennis felt redevelopment would pay for the project itself. Purchasing these properties, the city got itself in a no-win situation. Dennis didn’t look down the long road and had no plan on how these properties were going to be redeveloped.  Now the city is still stuck with these go-nowhere properties. This is what he will do to the county if elected supervisor.”

Salinas officials have been in discussion with Monterey County officials for months or longer about a possible land swap that could result in the church property becoming a county health clinic.

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The city of Salinas paid $2.6 million for the former Nazarene Church at 331 N. Sanborn, near Market, and hopes someday to find a use for it, possibly as a county health clinic.

Lutes, the city councilwoman, says she supported the Campos land purchase and the cardroom venture but finds it troublesome in retrospect.

“It does look funny and now I feel culpable,” said Lutes. She says she finds it “ridiculous” that property that cost the city so much is still sitting vacant nine years later. “I feel sick about this.”

Lutes also mentioned the Renaissance Partners deal for a downtown makeover, which led to expensive litigation, and the Green Vehicles venture in 2009. Under Donohue’s leadership, the city invested $540,000 in a plan to manufacture electric cars in the city. The operation folded before any cars were produced.

“He (Donohue) promised us, guaranteed us, that we would never lose any money,” said Lutes.

At the campaign forum Thursday, Donohue said the city’s pursuit of an electric-car plant had been a worthy effort and he emphasized that the city’s investment had received the council’s unanimous blessing.

City Councilwoman Kimbley Craig, who endorsed Donohue’s bid for supervisor, said Donohue has shown the ability to get things done despite setbacks.

“Local politics is about building consensus with your colleagues to get things done, she said. “You might have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t get a majority of votes, it’s difficult to get things done for your district. I know Dennis has the capability of ‘getting to three votes’ for the needs of his constituency on the Board of Supervisors. And that’s single-handedly the most important factor in policymaking.”

Lutes, the five-term councilwoman, said she does not suspect Donohue of evil intent. She said he was sincere in his efforts to address the city’s issues, “but it’s also true that for Dennis, the ends always justified the means.”

Former Councilwoman Janet Barnes said last week that she had supported the redevelopment plan but now feels that she was misled.

Villegas called the Green Vehicles project “a joke.”

“This was a six-figure loan to his Palma (High School) friends to help establish a dream of theirs that was not realistic at that time. Dennis was turning the city into a business loan company that had no business lending out money. No collateral provided by the green vehicles in case the business went belly up, which it did, and then the city had to sue to get their money back. Another mess that Donahue got the city into.”

The Partisan has endorsed Parker for supervisor along with District 5 challenger Mary Adams.

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District 4 Supervisorial candidates (from left) Jane Parker, Dennis Donohue and Alex Miller ponder during Thursday’s campaign forum at the Oldermeyer Center in Seaside.

Ex-Salinas mayor claims to be neutral on Monterey Downs despite strong letter of support

For all but about a minute of Thursday night’s campaign forum, political opponents Jane Parker and Dennis Donohue were as polite as they could be with each other but there were two brief periods when the claws came out.

Donohue the challenger, who repeatedly promised to push for more and faster redevelopment at Fort Ord, added a slight barb the last time when he said he would “support the Fort Ord Reuse Plan and not just say I’ll support it.” It was subtle but it was a dig at Parker the incumbent, who embraces a more deliberate pace with considerable time for environmental review.

But it was Parker who got in the bigger zinger. The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Sustainable Seaside, featured questions from the audience. One was whether the candidates support Monterey Downs, the hugely controversial proposal to build a residential and commercial complex at Fort Ord anchored by a thoroughbred race track. The proposal appears to be dying a natural death because of financial uncertainties but it remains a lightning rod issue on the Peninsula.

Parker said redevelopment of Fort Ord should be focused on creating permanent jobs and mixed-use communities and that gambling and racing don’t fit in.

Donohue skirted the question by saying that he might have to weigh in officially on the venture at some point so he was “not in a position to prejudge the project.” The major decision-making rests with the Seaside City Council and only then would his opinion matter, he said.

Parker seized the opportunity to counter-punch. She asked Donohue why, then, had he invited the Monterey Down developers to make a presentation to the Salinas City Council while he was mayor of Salinas, a presentation that led to a resolution of support.

In a draft of a letter to Monterey Downs managing partner Brian Boudreau on May 15, 2012, Donohue wrote, “I wanted to let you know how much the City Council appreciated the presentation on March 13 by Beth Palmer on behalf of the Monterey Downs project and how excited we are at the prospect of this economic ‘game changer’ at the former Fort Ord. In that much of the planned redevelopment of Fort Ord has been stalled, your project could be the welcome spark to bring many other initiatives forward, consistent with the adopted Fort Ord Reuse Plan.”

Donohue wrote that he understood that the local jurisdictions and environmental regulators were still reviewing the project and that the city supports a fair and rigorous process. Still, he continued, “we understand the importance of Monterey Downs not just as another attraction for Monterey County but the start of a new industry that provides jobs at all economic levels and also complements and supports protection of the unique environmental resources of the vast Fort Ord lands. We cannot overlook the creation of up to 3,000 direct and 2,000 indirect job opportunities for our citizens at a time when Monterey County jobs market lags both state and national employment rates and when we continue to struggle with keeping jobs already here. On behalf of the City Council and our community, we welcome the long-term investment that Monterey Downs is willing to make in this unique and high quality development and wish for your success in obtaining necessary government approvals.”

Because the forum was just that, a forum, and not a debate, Donohue had no immediate opportunity to respond to Parker’s questions and he didn’t get back to it in his closing comments.

Overall, Donohue repeatedly emphasized that his focus as supervisor would be on economic development and job creation.

“Job one is creating jobs,” he said.