≡ Menu
Share

The lead-up to the Coastal Commission hearing on July 14 to determine the continued affordability of 161 Moro Cojo homes has become heated with CHISPA and a variety of Monterey County politicians and leaders claiming that organizations and individuals who oppose lifting the affordability deed restriction are anti-farmworker and uncaring about affordable housing. Monterey Bay Partisan readers will likely be interested that the organizations and individuals painted with this brush include the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, LandWatch, and by implication, former North County Supervisor Marc Del Piero and many Partisan readers themselves.

You would rightfully be confused at this accusation. It has happened because last fall those organizations and individuals persuaded the Coastal Commission to not accept the January 2016 decision by the Board of Supervisors to allow the homes to be sold at market rate. Coastal commissioners discussed the letters and scheduled a de novo hearing where the affordability requirement could be discussed in depth. That’s happening on the 14th; details can be found at the end of this article.

The accusations are included in letters sent by CHISPA, and in form letters signed by Salinas Valley leaders such as Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter, Gonzales Mayor Maria Orozco, Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas, former Supervisor Fernando Armenta, Greenfield political figures  John Huerta and Jesus Olvera-Garcia, Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma,  and the Most Reverend Richard J. Garcia, bishop of the Diocese of Monterey. As noted, they claim anti-farmworker and anti-affordable housing bias.

The irony is that those organizations and individuals charged with bias were acting to preserve affordable housing, while the organizations and individuals allegedly most interested in affordable housing are acting to convert affordable housing to market rate!

And we’re down the rabbit hole.

At issue is the affordability restriction that  keeps the subsidized homes’ selling prices capped at prices affordable to future qualified low- and moderate-income buyers. That figure currently is $290,000, roughly $100,000 more than Moro Cojo homeowners originally paid. If the selling prices weren’t capped, Moro Cojo homeowners could likely profit by twice that when they sell, netting $200,000 instead of $100,000. CHISPA and 161 of the homeowners want the higher profit and they’ve persuaded Salinas Valley leaders to support them.

The issue began back in 2000-2001 when the Moro Cojo subdivision was developed as an affordable housing project. The approval process was challenged in a Coastal Commission appeal in the 1990s, and later in a lawsuit that was settled by making the 175 single-family homes permanently affordable. The subdivision includes a large park, 90 multi-family units and 175 single-family homes  in the coastal zone near Castroville.

The Coastal Commission’s legal duty at the hearing will be to determine whether granting the application to terminate affordability on the 161 homes is consistent with North County Coastal Plan policies. The relevant policy is remarkably clear and simple:

“LUP Policy 4.3.6.D.1. The County shall protect existing affordable housing opportunities in the North County coastal area from loss due to deterioration, conversion, or any other reason. The County will:

a.) Discourage demolitions, but, require replacement on a one by one basis of all demolished or converted units which were affordable to or occupied by low and moderate income persons.”

And here we have another irony: Using tortured logic, the July 14 staff report claims on pages 13-16 that terminating affordability is consistent with LUP Policy 4.3.6.D.1!

Astoundingly, no replacement units are proposed. This is important. The cost to replace 161 homes at $300,000 each would exceed $48 million. The 161 Moro Cojo affordable homes currently exist. Removing the affordability restriction would help current Moro Cojo homeowners, but deprive future eligible purchasers of the chance for homeownership.

Partisan readers who want the Coastal Commission to keep the subsidized 161 Moro Cojo homes affordable should submit comments to the Coastal Commission by July 7, so commissioners will know Monterey County residents really do care about affordable housing.

If you need convincing about what a great community the affordable Moro Cojo subdivision is, drive on Castroville Boulevard just beyond North County High School. You’ll see play equipment for youngsters and a soccer field in a large public park surrounded by well kept homes. Hopefully, those homes will, as clearly intended, remain permanently affordable to future moderate- and low-income purchasers beyond July 14.

The de novo hearing is scheduled for July 14. It is agenda item 7a on the staff report.

Comments can be emailed to diana.chapman@coastal.ca.gov or snail-mailed to Brian O’Neill at California Coastal Commission Central Coast District Office, 725 Front Street, Suite 300 Santa Cruz CA 95060. Comments should mention Project A-3-MCO-16-16-0017 and arrive by July 7.

Jane Haines is a retired lawyer and long-time advocate for affordable housing. 

{ 18 comments }
Share

UPDATE: SORRY THIS DIDN’T GET POSTED EARLIER. MEETING WENT AS EXPECTED. SUPES APPROVED RANCHO CANADA PROJECT 4-0 WHILE SUPERVISOR PARKER WAS BUSY. THEY GAVE COUNTY COUNSEL CHARLES MCKEE AN EXTRA TWO YEARS ON HIS CONTRACT, MEANING IT WILL COST TAXPAYERS MORE IF THE NEW BOARD MAJORITY DECIDES TO GO A DIFFERENT DIRECTION WITH LEGAL COUNSEL. AND THE BOARD ALSO APPROVED THE MAKEUP OF A NEW SALINAS VALLEY GROUNDWATER COMMISSION HEAVILY DOMINATED BY FARMERS.

COUNTY COUNSEL COULD GET  EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFT

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

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

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

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

Armenta

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

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

Potter

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

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

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

{ 18 comments }
Share

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%

{ 31 comments }
Share
580109_431825193523126_1789868003_n 2

Tony Barrera

The Partisan used a simple methodology to decide which candidate gets the endorsement for supervisor in Monterey County’s District 1: Studying their campaign contributions.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, one of two candidates hoping to knock off incumbent Fernando Armenta, is receiving support from all over the state. His list of contributions makes it look as though he’s running for another Assembly term, which he can’t do because of term limits. His contributors are mostly from political action committees for industries with considerable business in Sacramento – hospitals, pharmaceuticals, liquor – as well as several Native American tribes with casino operations around the state and construction trade unions.

If it wasn’t already clear, Alejo’s financial disclosures show that he’s running because he needs some place, any place, to land between terms in the Legislature. He changed his address from Watsonville to Salinas just for the sake of trying to land a temporary job. In the meantime, his Watsonville-based wife is running for his Assembly seat. The people of District 1, the people of Salinas, hardly count in this equation.

member

Luis Alejo

Armenta mostly has support from various unions and development interests, many with no real connections to Salinas. He’s the fellow who likes to tell folks that in his 16 years as supervisor he has voted for every development project that has come before him. Not most. Every. Not just the “smart growth” projects. The dumb growth ones, too. Doesn’t matter to Fernando.

Armenta is the fellow who seems almost proud to have ignored many of the staff reports on issues that go before the supervisors. He’s been in office so long that he’s just going through the motions. He needs to retire.

What’s different about Tony Barrera’s campaign contributors is that they are almost entirely from within the district. Regular people, for the most part, and small businesses. He’s a Salinas city councilman and he knows his city. He’s learned a few political tricks along the way but he is about as grassroots as they come. He understands the issues in his city, the challenges faced by a large share of the electorate. For Barrera, many of the issues of the district are personal, and that’s a good thing.

635933217184160993-Fernando-Armenta-Portrait-Photo-002-

Fernando Armenta

Most descriptions of Barrera include the phrase “rough around the edges.” He is that.  Alejo is by far the slickest of the candidates but county government already has plenty of slick. Barrera has served his district well on the council and he understands, much more than either of his opponents, that the job is representing the people of that district, not the political action committees, not the developers with their eyes on farmland outside the city.

Tony’s the guy.

{ 5 comments }
Share
DSCN0346

A Dave Potter for Supervisor sign has sprung to life at the Corral De Tierra shopping center property, either setting off or solving a political mystery

In the world of small-time journalism, Monterey County style, this might be something but then again it might be nothing at all. You decide.

It involves revisiting an old controversy about whether one large corner of the intersection of Highway 68 and Corral De Tierra Road should be made over as a fairly significant shopping center with a super market, dry cleaners, maybe a restaurant, that sort of thing, or whether it should remain as is, country funky with mostly bare grass and trees and an unused service station. Some people in the Corral De Tierra/San Benancio neighborhoods supported the plan. By my reckoning, they were mostly friends of the owners, the Phelps family, or people who would have some role in building or supplying the businesses to be built there. Most everyone I know in the neighborhood, my neighborhood, was opposed on grounds that they’d rather see the grass and trees left alone.

Couple years back, the issue went to the Board of Supervisors for a decision. The Phelps family, which owns the property, had been trying for decades to get approval for a shopping center and, finally, they got the vote they needed. It was 3-2. On the side of the Phelps family were Lou Calcagno, Simon Salinas and Fernando Armenta. On the losing side, Jane Parker and Dave Potter. Potter, not so incidentally, represents the territory involved in the dispute.

Potter’s no vote, combined with lack of any sign that he had worked behind the scene to combat the project, led to serious discussion among the political observers of Monterey County. Some, including yours truly, argued that Potter likely could have stopped the project if he had really wanted it stopped. He might have played a little politics, as politicians are wont to do, by trading something with one of the supervisors who voted yes. He might have stepped up and made some up-front arguments about what is wrong with the project. Water supply for instance. Our reasoning was that surely the hometown supervisor could have swung the vote against the project and away from his past campaign contributors if he really had wanted that result.

DSCN0348

Nearby, it’s the battle of the signs

Defenders of Potter said people such as myself were being unfair and seeing conspiracies where none exist. They said we were unfairly accusing Potter of trading votes with the only other potential no vote, Lou Calcacno, accusing without evidence. That position, I must admit, is not without merit. (As you might have guessed, the fate of the project is up to the courts.)

Now, fortunately for my piece of mind, another shred of evidence supporting my theory has surfaced in the form of a “Potter for Supervisor” sign that went up this week on the very property we’re talking about here. Let those who post comments at the end of Partisan pieces explain to me why the Phelps family would allow the posting of a sign for a supervisor seeking re-election if they truly believed he had attempted to foil their decades-long plan to turn their dormant land into some serious money.

To thicken the plot just a bit, signs for two other supervisorial candidates recently appeared on the neighboring property. They support Potter’s opponent, Mary Adams, and the other supervisor who opposed the Phelps project, Jane Parker. In front of those signs, on the Phelps side of the fence, a Potter sign quietly makes a recommendation of its own.

Am I reading too much into campaign signs? Probably so, but maybe not. Maybe the Phelpses are just the kind of folks who say yes to everyone wanting space for a sign. Or maybe I’m right and this is late-arriving and circumstantial evidence that I was right all along, which might be a first.

{ 14 comments }
Share

If you get all your local political news from the papers or TV, you can be forgiven for not knowing that Tony Barrera, a Salinas City Councilman, is running for Monterey County supervisor.

That’s because he wasn’t mentioned in one paper’s account of Assemblyman Luis Alejo’s decision to run for the District 1 supervisorial seat held by Fernando Armenta or in a TV station’s report on Alejo’s announcement. The newspaper at least mentioned Armenta. The KSBW report mentioned no one other than Alejo.

Alejo’s entry into the race likely makes Barrera even more of an underdog. Armenta, who hasn’t yet announced whether he will run again, would be able to raise far more campaign money than Barrera and so will Alejo, of course. The district takes in most of Salinas but you can expect to see most of the campaign money coming from elsewhere.

And why does this matter to you if, like most Partisan readers, you live somewhere between Salinas and the Pacific? Here’s why. Armenta is a fairly conscientious fellow when it comes to representing his district, but when it comes to important matters outside the district, especially development issues, it’s all about campaign contributions.

Armenta is a sure vote for development, good development, bad development, he doesn’t really care. His mind is made up. And if it’s a traffic-clogging project proposed for the Corral de Tierra area, a subdivision at the mouth of the valley, a model of leapfrog development in north county, his vote is just as important as that of the supervisor representing that district. If you don’t think more strip malls and cookie-cutter subdivisions would enhance the Peninsula, you want someone more thoughtful than Armenta on the board.

As it stands, the only consistent board vote for good planning is Jane Parker. She represents Seaside, Marina and a small part of Salinas. She’s up for re-election and is being challenged by former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue. Donohue will get considerable help from the business community and development interests.

The other seat up for grabs in the coming year is held by Dave Potter, who is not quite the sure development vote that Armenta is but only because he is cagy enough to oppose developments when he knows they’ll get approved anyway. In a district that takes in Monterey, PG, Carmel, Carmel Valley and Big Sur, he is being challenged by Mary Adams, the retired United Way exec, who is receiving support from slow-growthers, progressives in general and some quarters of agriculture.

Which takes us back to Armenta’s district. If the white hats manage to re-elect Parker and elect Adams, Armenta’s re-election would mean that logic-defying developments would still have three nearly automatic votes, those of Armenta, John Phillips and Simon Salinas. Like Armenta, Salinas apparently has never met subdivision he couldn’t support.

But with Barrera or Alejo in office instead of Armenta, development proposals would be the subject of healthy examination and debate. Developments that create housing and jobs without aggravating traffic and water problems would be considered on their merits. The size of the proponents’ campaign contributions would be less likely to be the deciding factor.

In the coming months, voters countywide should study Barrera and Alejo. Barrera is the rough-and-tumble type. He has a somewhat checkered past but is trying to get people to forget it by working hard to represent everyone in his district, not just the players. Alejo is smoother, the career politician type who has wisely weighed in regularly on issues of importance in the Salinas Valley. He is moving to Salinas from Watsonville because he is being termed out of his Assembly post and needs a job. (His wife, Watsonville City Councilwoman Karina Cervantez, is running for his Assembly seat in a race that includes former Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero.)

So here’s the bottom line.

If you live on the Peninsula and prefer trees over asphalt, you can’t afford to focus only on your own backyard. You should pay attention to Parker and Adams and you also should consider getting involved in the race shaping up in Salinas.  It’s either that or watching a lot of 3-2 votes in the wrong direction.

{ 5 comments }
Share

CORRECTION ADDED BELOW, IN BOLD

I didn’t have any strong opinions on the proposed canine sports center that the Monterey County Board of Supervisors rejected this week. Ultimately I guess I think it was a cool idea that would have worked better in a more discrete location.

I was bothered, however, by some of the speechifying by two of the supervisors who voted against the project. Dave Potter and Fernando Armenta.

Potter was critical of his longtime friend and political supporter Keith Vandevere, a member of the county Planning Committee that had endorsed the project. Vandevere recused himself from the proceedings because of his longtime friendship with project principal Martha Diehl, who also serves on the Planning Commission. Potter said he thought Vandevere should have set his conflict aside and found a way to be impartial.

Vandevere got it right. People are influenced by their friendships. Even if Vandevere didn’t consciously favor Diehl, he almost assuredly would have granted her more credibility than project opponents. And if had voted against her, might it have been a case of bending over too far to prove his impartiality?

Potter’s criticism makes one wonder if the supervisor really believes what he said or if he was  trying to justify some of his own actions. At the moment, for instance, Potter is taking an active role in the Pebble Beach controversy over disputed plans to tear down an architecturally significant house and replace it with a much larger structure. The next-door neighbor and most vigorous opponent or the larger house is cotton tycoon Sam Reeves, who has made campaign contributions to Potter on several occasions. Reeves is represented by lawyer Tony Lombardo, who represented many of those opposing the canine sports center. By the way, a couple of decades ago Potter bought a house from Lombardo’s mother, a purchase that was partly financed by Lombardo.

CORRECTION ADDED NOV. 2, 2015: In an email to the Partisan, Lombardo said he was not involved in financing the purchase. Based on previous accounts in the Monterey Herald, it appears that Potter borrowed money for the down payment from Lombardo’s mother, not Lombardo himself. According to those accounts, Potter was to mail payments on the Lombardo loan to Lombardo’s law office. He soon got behind on his payments on the first mortgage, held by Bank of America initially, but Lombardo said at the time that the supervisor remained current on the smaller loan. Potter later lost the property to foreclosure. The Partisan apologizes for the error.

Over the years, Potter has had numerous opportunities to find a way to be impartial while considering developments promoted by Lombardo, who specializes in land use issues. I’ve been looking for an example of any times when Potter was impartial enough to vote against Lombardo’s interest. I’ll let you know if I find one.

As for Armenta, he said he was upset with the Planning Commission, which supported the dog park project. He said some of the commissioners had unanswered questions about the project but voted for it anyway. He said after reviewing a video of the commission hearing on the project, he wondered “what was the decision based on.”

Armenta may be onto something. Perhaps some of the commissioners believed as commissioners often do that it is their job to approve controversial projects so the decision is left up to the politicians, the supervisors. But for Armenta to question whether the facts supported the commission’s recommendation might create the severe misimpression that Armenta has ever let the facts stand in the way of his votes on development projects.

Armenta has proudly declared that he has never opposed a development proposal. The dog park doesn’t count because it isn’t really a development. In other words, Armenta has boasted that he has voted for every subdivision, every construction project that has come along no matter whether it was a sound project or a dud, no matter what the Planning Commission or planning staff recommended. And here he is questioning whether the planning commissioners had done their homework before supporting a project.

In the end, the canine sports center will not be remembered as one of the great land-use controversies of our time, but students of government and process should take note of it and the proclamations of Potter and Armenta for consideration when future controversies arise. If Potter persists on voting on issues involving friends and supporters, someone should ask him at what point is he able to recognize a conflict. And when Armenta votes for another leapfrog development, someone should ask him “what was the decision based on.”

{ 31 comments }
Share

MoneyADDITIONAL INFO IN POTTER SECTION BELOW

While so much attention is focused already on next year’s presidential election, a local campaign is quietly underway locally, the race for campaign money in Monterey County’s 4th Supervisorial District even though the primary is still nine months away.

In first place so far is the incumbent, Jane Parker, who had taken in $112,000 as of June 30, the end of the latest reporting period, but former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue’s campaign treasury stood at a healthy $65,000 thanks to hefty contributions from the Salinas Valley ag industry.

Donohue, who works in produce, received $5,000 contributions from Fresh Foods of King City, Newstar Fresh Foods, Mann Packing, D’Arrigo Brothers, Gowan Seed Co., American Farms and other ag-related entities, the Nunes Co., A.C. Smith and Massa Trucking.

Donohue received a $1,000 contribution from his treasurer, accountant Warren Wayland, who serves as treasurer for many Republicans.

The ex-mayor’s largest contribution, $10,000, came from Taylor Fresh Foods. A related entity, Taylor Fresh Farms, just opened its headquarters building in downtown Salinas and is reported to have purchased several other buildings downtown with plans to renovate. While he was mayor, Donohue pressed for a downtown makeover. Expect him to criticize Parker for supporting a county decision to buy an office building on the outskirts and move some county workers outside the city center.

Parker’s largest contribution in the first half of the year, $20,000, came from Nancy Burnett, who is the mother of Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett and daughter of computer baron David Packard.

Parker received $10,500 from Brigitte Wasserman of Carmel, $9,748 from Constance Murray of Carmel Valley, $6,500 from Edwina Bent of Monterey, $6,000 from the Babcock Family Trust, $5,250 from Shirley Devol of Carmel Valley and Gordon Kauhenen of Union, Wash., $2,500 from Lisa Hoivik of Monterey and numerous smaller contributions.

While Parker’s district covers Marina, Seaside and a portion of Salinas, she receives considerable support from elsewhere because of her reputation as the lone progressive on the five-member board. She is routinely on the losing side of major development issues.

She did receive some significant contributions from ag interests, picking up $5,000 from Dennis Caprara of R.C. Farms and $5,000 more from Sea Mist Farms of Castroville.

In District 5, incumbent Dave Potter took in $54,000 in the first half of the year, and spent $21,000.

Potter is expected to receive a strong challenge from former United Way executive Mary Adams, who plans to announce her candidacy this fall. Former supervisor Marc Del Piero, who challenged Potter four years ago, also is believed to be considering another run. The district generally covers the Peninsula south of Seaside, Carmel Valley and much of the Highway 68 corridor.

Potter’s contributions came from several directions, including Pebble Beach homeowners, investors, and resort operators.

Potter played a key role in bringing the controversial Monterey Downs horse racing and development proposal to the Peninsula, but there were few obvious signs of support from the horse racing industry. He did pick up $1,000 from Chris Bardis, a key figure in the harness racing industry. Bardis once owned a share of the Los Alamitos racetrack and sat on the state racing commission. He reported receiving $1,000 from Double S.L. Ranch of Lafayette but little information is available about that entity.

Potter received $5,000 from Shanna Fineberg, an interior decorator from Dallas, and the same amount from venture capitalist Jon Q. Reynolds of Piedmont. He received $1,000 contributions from the owners of Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley Ranch, Bernardus Lodge, Folktale Winery and Old Fisherman’s Grotto.

Steve Foster, owner of the Lucky Strike chain of bowling alley/nightclub operations gave $2,000 and the Monterey County Hospitality Association gave $500.

One $1,000 contribution of interest came from Sanford Edward, whose large Dana Point Headlands project went before the Coastal Commission while Potter was a member. The highly controversial Orange County project was approved by the commission on a 7-5 vote with Potter on the dissenting side.

Potter received a contribution of $1,000 from cotton tycoon Sam Reeves, who is fighting an application by a Pebble Beach neighbor to enlarge his home, a decision that will be made by county officials.

In the other district with an election next year, District 1 in Salinas, incumbent Fernando Armenta and his expected challenger, Salinas City Councilman Tony Barrera, haven’t reported any contributions so far.

{ 18 comments }
Share

press and media camera ,video photographer on duty in public news event for reporterPhineas T. Barnum didn’t coin “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but the circus impresario valued the sentiment. Nothing like barrels of ink to draw more suckers.

The original aphorist had to be a politician, probably as far back as ancient Athens. Politicians crave attention, be it from a lyre-plucking poet of old or a TV reporter coming up at 11.

Politicians must be talked about. They live on buzz. No one is going to tell an exit interviewer they voted for Candidate X because, “I never heard of the guy.”

Politicians need the media, more than the modern media need politicians. There is already ample fodder in pastures of celebrity, crime, sports and shark encounters.

That brings us to much-talked-about Salinas City Councilman Jose Castaneda, representing the city’s east-side District 1 since December 2012.

Castaneda has been subject of more media coverage than any Salinas council member in my memory. And I recall a former mayor of Salinas who was prosecuted 30 years ago for $800,000 in insurance fraud after a 1979 arson fire destroyed his Idaho bean warehouse. Yes, a warehouse full of beans. A lot of beans.

Which brings us back to Castaneda. About 99.9 percent of his media coverage has been negative. There were a few admiring stories (here’s one) when he was new on the council. But they’re saplings amid of forest of recall mania, legal wrangling, name-calling, restraining orders, grand jury slaps, unruly school meetings and hapless ambush interviews.

It’s unnecessary to spell out the details. Royal Calkins, mogul of the Monterey Bay Partisan, filed this report a few weeks ago about a recent episode of “Days of Our Castaneda,” with ample background and advice for the other six Salinas council members.

However, new twists in “The Castaneda and the Restless” demand further analysis of, arguably, the most successful failure in Monterey County politics. As Oscar Wilde would have said, “The only thing worse than being blogged about is not being blogged about.”

— The Salinas council in August will take up a censure vote against Castaneda. Alleged naughties include not paying a $5,000 court judgment, being boorish to council members and staffers, not filing campaign and personal finance reports, and insulting two reporters by mocking their weight and IQ.

(Quick aside: Good reporters laugh off insults from politicians. They recognize the source.)

— The state Fair Political Practices Commission opened an enforcement action into Castaneda’s failure to report personal economic interests and campaign finances for 2014.

(Quick aside: These reports have been routine for thousands of California public officials for 40 years. Reporters and opponents pore over them, guided by the prime directive: follow the money.)

Castaneda could take a few minutes from his important schedule of accomplishing little or nothing and file the reports. Otherwise he may face more fines to ignore.

(Quick aside: Jeff Mitchell, reporter-columnist-fledgling blog critic for the Salinas Californian took credit for alerting the FPPC about the one-year gap in Castaneda’s filings. The city clerk’s office apparently was asleep at the switch.)

— Castaneda has fastened himself like a refrigerator magnet to legal proceedings, including a probable police brutality suit against Salinas, surrounding Jose Velasco, the mentally unstable man whose violent arrest amid baton-swinging cops was captured on video still trending locally.

Castaneda portrays himself as a champion of Salinas’ hard-working Latino residents, and he clearly believes the cops who arrested Velasco are guilty — of something. Shortly after the video surfaced, he told a Bay Area reporter (a slender, intelligent looking chap, by the way) that Velasco only survived his arrest because it took place on a busy street before many witnesses.

His insinuation that Salinas cops would normally beat a man to death in a dark, out-of-the-way place struck me as being over the top, especially from a councilman. But it didn’t cause a ripple among those inured to Castaneda’s rhetoric.

— A new episode of “Law and Order: Special Castaneda Unit” saw Castaneda back in court last week on a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license. He claims he’s a victim of a police witchhunt.  More drama, more coverage.

As for censure, Castaneda likely savors the upcoming showdown. As Irish writer Brendan Behan said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” Would censure kill his political career? Mitchell predicted on Twitter:  “public shaming … should doom Castaneda’s reelection chances.”

Probably not. Censure, and the attendant hoopla, may enhance his position.

Name recognition is key in local races, and Castaneda’s is laser-printed into the city’s collective consciousness. He’s made a smart move embracing the 10-month-old controversy over police-community relations ignited after four Latino men were fatally shot by officers last year. That resonates with people who don’t know, or don’t care, about the negative stuff and admire strident words over quiet deeds.

Censure can be spun as a vindictive move by political foes. It’s certainly not fatal. Two current directors of the Marina Coast Water District survived censure votes while the district went through political gyrations.

Don’t forget, Castaneda won easily in 2012, despite a having sketchy tenure on the Alisal school board and copping to a misdemeanor in 2011 for filing false affidavits in a botched recall against longtime county Supervisor Fernando Armenta.

He got his supporters to the polls in a heavily Latino, low-turnout distinct. He won nearly 53 percent of the vote in 2012 in a three-way race. He needed only 1,802 votes, while two other council members won that year with about 2,500 and 6,900 votes apiece, in more voter-heavy districts.

Unless Castaneda faces a challenger who knows District 1 at least as well as he does, he could easily win another four-year term. Maybe then he would forget about picking every fight possible and get some things done for his constituents. Maybe something good, without a lot of press. More likely, the telenovela of his political career would continue, and he’d still be good copy for bad reasons.

{ 10 comments }

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

Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the large impediment.

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

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

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

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

Gov. MetLife Blimp is a huge NFL fan.

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

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

I did say something nice. Thanks, Mom.

{ 6 comments }
Share

DOLE-jpgDole packing plant workers represented by Teamsters Local 890 reached a tentative settlement with the company this week following another in a series of community marches. The agreement if ratified would increase wages by 12% over the next three years, according to the Teamsters negotiating committee.

Among those marching Monday in support of the Dole employees were Monterey County Supervisor Fernando Armenta and Salinas City Councilman Tony Barrera. They joined more than 100 workers and others in the march to the company’s local headquarters in Salinas.

The workers said they felt the need to increase pressure on the company because their union contract had not been finalized in eight months.

“The work that we do is very important to this country,” says Rosa Maria Pizano, a packing shed worker. “Our work feeds America. We deserve to have wages that are on par with the rest of the industry!”

Workers have been pressuring Dole, a multinational company, to increase wages to be at the same level as the rest of the salad packing plant industry. Also marching were supporters from SEIU Local 521 and Teamsters Local 912.

Monday’s action was the second time that Dole workers have taken to the streets to put pressure on the company to negotiate. On April 23 over 600 Dole workers in Soledad rallied outside a company’s packing plant.

Pilot Program

The day after the march and rally, members of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA) spoke during the public comment section of the Board of Supervisors meeting to demonstrate their support for a potential pilot program that would invest $500,000 to give access to Monterey County’s undocumented population.

The proposal, drafted by Ray Bullick from the Health Department, came after meetings with COPA members in the past month. It is estimated that 13.8% of Monterey County’s population is undocumented. With the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act in 2012 came the Medicaid expansion. That same year California expanded Medi-Cal even further to include preventive care services for the undocumented, giving them access to county clinics for basic services such as annual check ups.

However, the issue arises that for people  getting diagnosed with some type of illness, the cost of medication, laboratory services and x-rays are often too high, causing some in the uninsured population forced to go without treatment, increasing the possibility that they will end up in the emergency room.

COPA has been organizing around health care issues for a number of years and has been very active in helping community members enroll into the Medi-Cal programs. On Tuesday six of their members spoke during public comment, telling stories of the community members they know who cannot afford the necessary medicine.

The proposal will be completed and sent to committee hearings before the Board of Supervisors votes on the issue.

Jesús Valenzuela is a Salinas resident who works on health equity issues for the Central Labor Council.

{ 6 comments }

Monterey County supes tell enviros to pound sand

Share
Businessman discouraged and saddened by his failures

Maybe this fellow is downhearted because he just learned that the county supervisors consider the general plan a business plan, not a land-use plan. Or, he’s simply a model in a stock photo.

Anyone who doubts that a political and cultural war is being waged in Monterey County would have been disabused of the idea at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

The issue on the table was approval of a settlement agreement that county staff had negotiated with the government watchdog group Open Government Monterey and the environmental group LandWatch Monterey County. The agreement was meant to end litigation in which those groups spelled out their concerns about the impact and legality of the county’s 2010 general plan, which is heavily weighted toward the wants of developers and agribusiness.

Everyone in the room knew there was no chance that the supervisors were going to publicly ratify language taking back any of what the business interests had won five years ago, but the session provided them with the opportunity to talk tough in front of various benefactors.

“We can’t strangulate this county,” said Supervisor Fernando Armenta, according to a report in the Monterey County Weekly. Armenta said he had recently enjoyed a drive along Napa Valley’s vaunted wine trail and wished Monterey County could be more like that, green and relatively lacking in contentiousness. He mentioned without making his context clear that he had not seen any of the endangered species that are issues in Monterey County planning matters.

Much of the discussion was about Monterey County’s wine corridor, which the wine industry envisions as a series of wineries and tasting rooms along River Road on the western edge of the Salinas Valley. Although county officials have expressed nothing but support for the idea, little has materialized there.

(In a meeting with Monterey Herald editors several years ago, vintner Kurt Gollnick was asked what benefits a wine corridor would provide to those outside the wind industry. He couldn’t come up with an answer at the time.)

Specifics of Tuesday’s discussion included what can and cannot be planted on steep slopes susceptible to erosion, what can be done to accommodate the passage of wildlife through farms and fields.

The advocacy groups and the county had reached a tentative agreement in January but it could not take effect without a majority vote of the supervisors. It didn’t come close. Supervisor Jane Parker was the only supporter. She noted that the county’s legal bills are adding up quickly as the discussions continue and court proceedings loom.

By a vote of 4-1, the supervisors agreed to continue the discussion for another couple weeks, but the chances of a negotiated settlement appear to be growing slimmer.

Supervisor John Phillips voted for the extension but was dismissive of the general plan opponents.

“We all know the plaintiffs here live by litigation and that’s how they support themselves,” said Phillips, who supported himself by working as a lawyer and then a judge before joining the board

The supervisors were being cheered on by the county Planning Commission, several farm and business groups, the mayors’ association and the cities of Gonzales, Soledad and even Sand City, which is almost entirely unaffected by anything that goes into the general plan.

{ 22 comments }
Share

Silhouettes of construction cranes against the evening skyIF FERNANDO ARMENTA WINS AGAIN, ENVIROS ARE FIGHTING A LOSING BATTLE

People of the Peninsula, listen up. Yes, I’m talking to you. This is important, including the part that involves Salinas. Try not to go into your “I don’t care about Salinas” mode when we get to it.

Here’s the deal. There’s a local election coming up. It’s not until next year but you need to start thinking about it now – and setting money aside for it.

Three of the five seats will be up for grabs on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. If the election goes one way, we could end up with a transparent, responsible board that carefully considers development issues and approves only the projects that make sense. Or, more likely, it will go the other way we’ll end up with a board fully and proudly resistant to good land-use planning. A board like we have now, only worse.

One of the contests should get your attention right from the start. That’s the one for Dave Potter’s seat in District 1, which includes the Peninsula from Seaside south. That means Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, Carmel Valley, Big Sur, and the Highway 68 corridor.

Once upon a time, Potter was able to straddle the fence on land-use issues well enough to keep both the environmentalists and the business community fairly happy. Times have changed, however. Now, Potter will vote against poorly planned projects in his district but only after making sure there are enough votes for approval. The Ferrini Ranch and Harper Canyon projects are recent and glaring examples. He was able to tell his constituents that he tried, darn it, while actually doing nothing to prevent the result his campaign contributors wanted.

Don’t forget, Potter’s also the guy who brought the Monterey Downs people to the Peninsula and put in a good word for them.

7257493550_e8f1d6b86b 2

Mary Adams

Fortunately, a solid candidate has stepped up to the challenge of taking Potter on: Mary Adams, executive director of the United Way of Monterey County.

Adams is an accomplished and talented manager who is quite capable of doing what Potter once did, balance the concerns of progressives with the needs of commerce. She’s no ideologue but she understands that we can’t keep approving subdivisions when we don’t have enough water to take care of our existing needs. Because of her long years of service in the non-profit arena, she is on top of other key areas of county governance, particularly health care and social services. Yes, there is more to the Board of Supervisors than land use, but those topics are less relevant to residents of the Peninsula cities.

Potter’s campaign will be well-funded. The Adams’ campaign also needs to be well-funded. That’s where you come in.

Just as important is the race in District 4. That’s the seat now held by Jane Parker, the board’s lone wolf on environmental issues, the woman in the white hat. You know all about her. District 4 takes in Seaside and Marina and, unfortunately, slides on over to cover part of Salinas. I say unfortunately because the Salinas territory is what enables former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue to throw his oversized hat into the ring. His isn’t white.

Though the primary election for these seats isn’t until next June, Donohue is already campaigning. He and contractor Don Chapin’s Salinas Valley Leadership Group were likely behind the recent push-polling in which respondents were asked if they would vote for Parker again if they knew she doesn’t get along with the rest of the board. Like that’s a bad thing. Voting is more than a year away and already they’re playing mean.

Donohue, like Potter, will have plenty of money for his campaign. He’s a well-connected part of the produce industry and he has cozied up to the development industry. He’s smart and fairly slick, but he offers little of value to the Peninsula.

When Jane Parker first ran for the board, Donohue supported her opponent, former Marina Mayor Ila Mettee McCutchon, and her “Pave Marina” crusade. He endorsed Mike Kanalakis for sheriff over Scott Miller and Lou Calcagno for supervisor over Ed Mitchell. Get the picture?

How much will development and ag interests pay to try to knock the Parker’s enviro vote off the board? Plenty. There are loads of growers in the Salinas Valley whose retirement plan involves planting houses where lettuce grows now. The only question they’ll have for their candidate will be “How much you need, Dennis?”

picJaneParkerSunset

Jane Parker

Now for the Salinas part. Stay with me.

Supervisor Fernando Armenta has represented District 1, much of the city of Salinas, for four terms now. He says he cannot remember ever voting against a development project. Oh, there was that one time, he acknowledges, but it was only to send a message to the development boys that they shouldn’t take him for granted. True story.

Armenta has found one of the sweet spots of politics. All development proposals that reach the Board of Supervisors come from outside his urban district. So he can collect campaign contributions from everyone with an interest in development and vote their way without upsetting any of his constituents. And if anyone in his district ever did question him, he could claim the high road by saying he is voting for jobs and affordable housing, as though the trickle-down theory applies to the construction of luxury homes far from his district.

Whoever wins will be on the board with supervisors Simon Salinas and John Phillips. Neither has any trouble approving poorly placed developments without adequate water supplies.

Do the math. It’s a five-member board. If Armenta wins again, the Parker-Adams tandem still would be outvoted 3-2 whenever the supes were presented with a ill-advised but big-bucks project.

Which takes us to Tony Barrera. He’s on the Salinas City Council but most of you have never heard of him because, well, you know why. Salinas.

580109_431825193523126_1789868003_n 2

Tony Barrera

On top of that, Barrera’s not really a Peninsula kind of guy. He’s smart, very smart, but he doesn’t use big words. He’s got a rough side. He got in some legal trouble a few decades back and had to claw his way back into politics. At the moment, he’s under some scrutiny over a neighborhood beef. Barrera wasn’t at the Food & Wine event at Pebble Beach last weekend. He was at a neighborhood meeting in the Alisal.

When Donohue was endorsing Ila Mettee McCutchon, Barrera was supporting Parker.

When the Harper Canyon and Ferrini Ranch proposals went before the board, when the construction unions that support Armenta were recommending yes votes, Barrera was pointing out that the water for the projects doesn’t seem to exist, and if it does, it is already spoken for.

Barrera ran against Armenta four years ago. He got clobbered, not surprising since Armenta outspent him 8-to-1. He’s going to try again next year. Stubborn, I guess. There was talk of Armenta stepping down next year and letting Assemblyman Luis Alejo move down from Watsonville to take over the District 1 seat, but Armenta apparently nixed the deal, holding out for one more term.

So, people of the Peninsula. Is the message being received?

You can put time, effort and money into the Parker campaign next year and feel good about yourselves. You can put time, effort and money into the Adams campaign and feel even better. With enough of your time, effort and money, they might even win, unless the big money on the other side buys too many deceptive ads and pays for enough unscrupulous campaign staffers. In other words, if the activists of the Peninsula follow the standard script, it is possible that Parker and Adams will win.

But if the people of the Peninsula don’t broaden their horizons and think beyond the familiar, if they don’t also put time, effort and money into the Barrera campaign, who are they going to blame when the next project from hell is approved by a 3-2 vote?

Think it over.

{ 42 comments }
Share

New House BuildingMonterey County officials did the Ferrini Ranch developers a favor by allowing them to rely on the county’s 1982 general plan rather than the stronger 2010 plan, but they managed to fumble the process anyway by allowing the project to skirt even the less stringent provisions of the old plan. That is a key contention of a lawsuit filed Friday by LandWatch Monterey County, legal action that complements a suit filed the day before by the Highway 68 Coalition.

Seeking to block the Highway 68 development, the new suit faults the county on numerous fronts, saying the environmental impact report on the project failed to properly consider impacts and mitigations on traffic, sensitive habitat, visual impact, water supply and other areas.

The EIR couldn’t properly address many of those issues because the design of the project, including the location of lots and various traffic features continued to change even after the county Planning Commission had approved the venture, according to the litigation. It was filed on LandWatch’s behalf by San Francisco environmental lawyers Mark R. Wolfe and John H. Farrow.

It challenges the county’s decision to get around the law requiring developers to present proof of a long-term water supply. Instead, county officials simply declared that the existence of the Salinas Valley Water Project constitutes such proof even though has no concrete plans in place to augment the valley’s dwindling water supply.

Supervisor Lou Calcagno, in one of his last official acts, voted for the project but only after announcing a public relations gesture. Though there had been no public discussion, Calcagno announced that the developers, the Kelton family of Southern California, had agreed to contribute money toward a possible wastewater recycling facility, which theoretically would help address the Salinas Valley groundwater shortage.

Later, in an end-of-term interview with the Monterey County Weekly, Calcagno said he took pride in how he had handled negotiations over the Ferrini venture – negotiations that the public was not privy to until they were a done deal.

The project consists of 185 lots on 870 acres along Highway 68 on both sides of the Toro Regional Park entrance. The development would run from near San Benancio Road to near River Road. It would require removal of 921 oak trees and would see construction of houses on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. Each of the supervisors who voted for the project—Calcagno, Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas—had received campaign contributions from the developers.

 A sidenote about an email, snarky but inconsequential:

After the supervisors approved the Ferrini Ranch project, the Partisan filed a public records request with the county, seeking access to any emails between the developers and the supervisors. County officials responded this week, saying they had found only a handful of emails.One of the more interesting communications, at least in the Partisan’s view, was a copy of a Partisan article about the approval along with comments from numerous Partisan readers attached.

Builder Ray Harrod of the development team had emailed the article to project spokeswoman Candy Ingram, developer Mark Kelton and project attorneys Tony Lombardo and Brian Finnegan. Harrod mentioned in the email that one of the original reader comments had been deleted. He added, “Guess Royal (Partisan proprietor Royal Calkins) does not want anyone to see what type of followers he has.”

I’m not sure, but I think I’ve been insulted, at least a little. And if you’re reading this, you might have been as well.

{ 18 comments }
Share

earthmover operator giving thumb upI tried to let it pass. I really did. The Herald editorial Thursday morning about the Ferrini Ranch project caused me to grit my teeth harder than my dentist recommends. Among several things,  it leaned a little to the tacky side. It’s one thing to endorse a project but to come back with a “good job, supervisors” editorial afterward might seem a little insensitive to the many project opponents.  Is “gloaty” a word?

But as I said, I tried to just take a breath and move on. It’s over. I told myself to just turn to the sports page and enjoy the story about the Warriors’ big victory over Houston last night. That would make me feel better.

I checked the front of the sports section. There was a silly story about the 49ers and their hopes of beating Seattle, which is as likely as me beating Steph Curry in a three-point shooting contest. But no Warriors story. I turned to the inside pages. Still no Warriors.

I thought back to last night. Was it a late game? No. As I recall, it ended with plenty of time for me to check my Paypal account for Partisan contributions before Chicago P.D. aired at 10 p.m. So, no, it wasn’t late.

Maybe they just forgot about it, I thought. After all, the Herald staff may report to soulless, bean-counting corporate masters but the worker bees are earnest humans. Finally, I found something, a little blurb at the bottom of the page suggesting I go online for a story about the game. At least I knew I had not dreamt of the Warriors’ record rising to 18-2. It wasn’t an oversight. It was an understaff. It was something, but it did not scratch my basketball itch.

It takes a lot to move me to action, but by then I was irritated enough to flip back to the editorial page. This time I read the whole piece. My course was set, though I admit to a brief moment of hesitation because I once edited the Herald and wrote its editorials. I worried that some folks might be bothered by the idea of me writing a piece criticizing the work of my former employer. I realized it might edge toward the inappropriate, but no more so than a crowing editorial while so many people are so upset.

I’ll go through the Herald piece slowly.

“Critics cited the development’s impact on traffic and the area’s water supply as reasons to turn down the project. We’re not so sure.”

If there is a worse traffic issue anywhere in Monterey County, we have not heard of it. The morning rush hour backup can put traffic at a standstill from Ryan Ranch in Monterey to beyond Reservation Road on the outskirts of Salinas. The nightly rush hour backup turns a 10-minute commute into a 45-minute festival of rear-end collisions. The Ferrini Ranch development will add 2,000-plus cars a day to Highway 68, and that’s according to the county planning staff that had been manipulated into essentially lobbying for the project.

“Opponents have commented that the development would only make traffic snarls worse. We’re not so sure. Developers will be required to provide for one additional mile of four lanes, and a new signaled intersection. These improvements and rights-of-way have been part of adopted local and state transportation plans for years, but had no funding. Ferrini will pay for these improvements.”

Imagine a long pipe an inch in diameter and imagine you’re trying to get a lot of water through it quickly. Imagine that in the middle of the pipe you can splice another piece of pipe, say three inches in diameter, but you still have one-inch pipe at both ends. Is the water going to get through any faster? Now imagine that in middle of the length of pipe you install a valve that shuts the water off briefly every few minutes. Is the water going to move faster now? If you think so, you don’t understand the question.

Speaking of water, the Herald goes on to say that Ferrini Ranch will use an exceptionally small percentage of the water in the Salinas Valley aquifer. That is quite true. But there is already more water coming out of the aquifer than going in. Which means that someday there won’t be any more water unless officialdom comes up with some big ideas, and we’ve all seen how well officialdom does with such things hereabouts. Until then,  salt water from Monterey Bay will continue to fill the void created by the subsiding aquifer, making groundwater near the coast too saline for irrigation purposes. The opponents of Ferrini Ranch are not making this up.

“The reality is that most opponents just don’t like the development and they’re citing infrastructure limits as a reason for denial. We expect that the infrastructure issue will be raised again as those against the project prepare to do battle in court.”

You think?

The Herald likes the idea of the developer putting up $425,000 toward creation of a community services district so that wastewater eventually will be treated and potentially used to combat seawater intrusion. That’s a condition imposed by lame duck Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who, by the way, was the largest recipient of campaign contributions from the developer, more than any other supervisor. By the way, the community services district idea obviously was the result of a negotiation between Calcagno and the developers. It was sprung on the public, with no chance for anyone to press for details, suggest alternatives or simply raise questions. If it doesn’t work out, is the project dead? Will this be like the community services district, and related infrastructure, that the supervisors gave to Cal Am?

Actually, the community services district may be a good idea and it may even help combat seawater intrusion. But here’s an even better idea. Let’s postpone the project and begin construction after the district is created and the recycling is well under way and seawater has stopped intruding.  At Tuesday’s supervisorial meeting, the best thing the county planners could say about the Salinas Valley Water Project is that it has slowed groundwater over-drafting to an unknown degree and seawater intrusion to an equally unknown degree. They’ll know more after a study is completed. In about five years.

Says the Herald: “We’re old-fashioned enough to believe that land owners have some rights, too, and that the county has its duty to observe those rights even while balancing the impact of development on the area.”

Hmm, I didn’t really notice much balancing going on, and are we forgetting the rights of the other land owners in the area? Let’s start with those who have been paying into the Salinas Valley Water Project only to be told they can’t build on their property because there isn’t enough water. How about the rights of the thousands of property owners who live in Toro Park, San Benancio Canyon and Corral de Tierra who want to be able to get home from work at night without having to detour through Marina. (In the interest of disclosure, I must admit that I live in San Benancio Canyon and was a victim of the Highway 68 commute while I worked for the Herald. One member of the Herald editorial board also lives in the canyon. One lives in Monterey and the others live in Santa Cruz County.)

And how about the rights of a few people who don’t own land? If people were to complain about how hard it is to commute from Salinas to Pebble Beach jobs n the morning, I’m thinking the Herald might suggest they move closer to their work. Carmel maybe.

The Herald asks, “Will there be an impact? Certainly, as Supervisor Jane Parker pointed out at the hearing. But we’re satisfied the impact will not be severe.”

This is a cute oneWill there be an impact? Why, yes, come to think of it, there could be. But why no mention of everyone else who pointed out the same thing, including Supervisor Dave Potter, who represents the area affected by the project and who pointed out that the traffic and water issues are symptoms of the “most blatant examples of bad planning.” Is the Herald trying to make it seem like only one official was bothered by the project, Parker, coincidentally the only one of the five supervisors who didn’t receive campaign contributions from the property owners? Heck, even Supervisor Fernando Armenta, every developer’s best friend, said he feared that the traffic impact could be severe.

Having written editorials myself for several years, I thought the Herald’s piece might offer an olive branch to the project opponents. Its original editorial endorsing the project had said that the opponents’ concerns should be dismissed because some of them had opposed a project in Spreckels some years ago, though almost none of those speaking out against the Ferrini Ranch project had ever expressed any opinion about the Spreckels venture. The Herald also had said the opposition’s concerns should be ignored because some opponents purportedly had said something untrue about the Ferrini venture. That was a difficult one to respond to in that the people purportedly making the untrue statements weren’t identified and the purportedly untrue statements went unidentified as well. Tuesday’s editorial, it would have seemed, might have been a time for some fence mending but, no, apparently it was time for the opposite.

One last point. Two, actually. The Warriors game next Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder is a big one. There should be coverage and if there is, I’m sure I will be more forgiving of the Herald’s foibles for ever more. It shouldn’t be hard for them to meet the challenge because it’s an away game and should be over by 9 p.m. at the latest. And if the  bean counters have moved the deadlines up so early to make that impossible, it’s game over anyway. For the paper, not the Warriors.

That other point is this. I watched the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday and was struck by the degree to which the county planning staff had been put in the position of being advocates for the projects. Not arbiters but champions. It isn’t supposed to be like that. On a large and fairly complex project such as Ferrini Ranch, it is necessary for the county staff to work closely with the developers on numerous issues, boundaries, lot sizes, setbacks, visual aspects, traffic flow, drainage, etc., etc. But working with the developers does not mean removing all obstacles on their behalf or automatically taking their side when challenges arise.

Much of Tuesday’s session was devoted to having the county staff address questions that had been raised by project critics during a public hearing the week before. There were pointed questions and some more general. The answers to most were not helpful. Did the staff consider this factor or this one? The answer. Yes we did. No elaboration, no explanation. Just a meaningless yes. Yes, we thought about the impact on wildlife and vegetation. Since the public hearing had been closed, there was no one to ask the follow-up: So what were your thoughts?

The county planning staff should be working for everyone, the supervisors, developers and the public. It should be a credible source of accurate information on the design and potential impacts of projects. It should not be part of the development team. As the result showed, the supervisors are capable of tipping the scales far enough all by themselves.

{ 22 comments }