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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.


happy young girl with a clown noseWhat do you do when your newspaper is going under? Jeff Mitchell and the Salinas Californian want to rewrite the Salinas city charter.

I’m sure it’s not the first time in history that a dying publication has decided to create the news instead of reporting it in some last ditch effort to remain relevant and drive readership. I am referring to Californian columnist Jeff Mitchell’s scheme to convene a “citizen’s task force,” known as the “Californian Charter Task Force,” to  research and draft structural amendments to the city charter that would be submitted to the City Council and the voters for approval.

In his latest column, Mitchell calls for the task force to draft amendments that would make all seven city council members including the mayor full- time politicians with full salary and benefits,  each with his or her own staff. He calls for amendments to change the mayoral term from the current two years to four years and to grant the mayor veto power over council legislation and other unmentioned “executive” powers.

Mitchell says everyone is welcome to apply but the task force will be picked by invitation only, I assume selected by him and the Californian’s editorial board. There’s no mention of qualifications, size, or makeup of the task force. I’m curious who will apply and be accepted. The tinfoil hat crowd? Special interests? Out of work politicos?

Whose idea is this anyway?  I wonder if the task force will meet in secret at the Californian’s offices on Alisal Street? The reporters won’t even need to leave the newsroom.

Are we expected to trust the future of Salinas to the same people who are running a once great newspaper into the ground? The same people who many would argue have failed in their most basic responsibility to provide us with accurate news? The Californian should first get its own house in order, shine light into the dark corners of city hall, bring us investigative journalism, maybe start with some news that we didn’t already know. Advocacy journalism requires the community’s trust and confidence. How much trust and confidence do you have in the Californian?

Mitchell brings up some serious issues regarding the effectiveness and responsiveness of our city government. We all know that something isn’t working at city hall, but what is the exact nature of the problem? (More on that to come.) Here’s where Mitchell takes the train off the tracks. He implies that the reason Salinas government is dysfunctional is that the council members and mayor are not paid a “full-time living salary at sustainable wages.” He claims that changing that will attract Salinas’ best and brightest 20- to 40-somethings into government service. I see the money attracting a different crowd entirely.

As if paying to create professional career politicians isn’t bad enough, he proposes they each have their own staff! I see a perfect storm of cronyism and patronage. A political machine presided over by the mayor as chief executive with veto power over council legislation. Why not crown the mayor king while we’re at it?

Apparently Mitchell is under the impression that the city is flush with cash! We’ve only recently ended Friday furloughs and begun hiring critically needed police officers, firefighters, and other essential staff. We have roads and sidewalks that need to be repaired, buildings in disrepair, and services that must be rebuilt after years of cuts. Mitchell and the Californian would have us take tens of thousands of dollars from our city treasury and give it to the City Council, which in his own words “doesn’t really lead our city.”

A wise man once told me that you don’t get paid until you do the work. The Californian and the council should remember that.

Devin Podeszwa lives in Salinas, works in the flooring industry and advocates for increased community dialogue through social media. He can be reached at devinpodeszwa@gmail.com.


77693_1772679833796_1143286226_32009704_5495859_o_400x400Sometimes I grudgingly admire reporter/columnist Jeff Mitchell’s work in the Salinas Californian. I don’t like his style but he gets people talking and sometimes he keeps pushing after other reporters have given up. But he flunked out of columnist school with this about the controversial baton-aided arrest of assault suspect Jose Velasco.

“You have to ask yourself though what would have happened if the police ignored the call and let Velasco—who later told officers he had been smoking methamphetamine and drinking alcohol right before the incident—kill his mother or cause other harm to motorists and pedestrians—or himself, for that matter? How would we all be reacting to that today?”

In other words, whatever it was they did out there on North Main Street was better than simply not showing up. Who can argue with that? Imagine all the questions we’d have if  the police had blown it off? How might we all be reacting today if the cops had just driven by the crime scene and flashed gang signs, or if they had all gone home and mowed their lawns instead of making the arrest. I, for one, would be outraged, dammit!

Help me out here. There’s probably a name for Jeff’s form of illogical comparison. Someone who majored in rhetoric or philosophy probably knows it. False equivalence? Hypothetical disconnect? Columnar absurdum? That’s probably not it.

Until I read Jeff’s column, I was doing some research into a politician who may have taken a bribe. I’m not going to bother with it now because, following Jeff’s thinking, at least the politician didn’t do something a lot worse like beat up his mother or something.


City Hall columnist Jeff Mitchell over at the Salinas Californian is the only reporter type I’ve known who takes pictures of his awards and posts them on Facebook, or anywhere else. If he’d like, I’d be glad to make a printout of this column and turn it into another award for him. Call it the “Monterey Bay Partisan Award for Journalism that Blows Up in the Journalist’s Face.”

It’s a small story but worth telling just because, well, because it is so small.

Mitchell wrote in his Californian column  Monday that Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane has proved his unworthiness for public office for posting a Facebook photo that shows him and four other men in a vehicle. One of the men is in the back seat and he’s holding a can of Coors Light beer. Mitchell concludes based on nothing at all that it’s an open container and he reports that his buddies in law enforcement tell him it’s a crime to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Where Mitchell goes astray is figuring that the can is open. No way to tell. He also concludes absent any facts that the vehicle is mobile. And he also forgets about that part of California law that makes it OK to have an open container in a bus, limo or taxi. Looks like a taxi from my vantage point.

The cool thing about the column is that Mitchell can use the same headline, ” McShane Post Shows Questionable Judgment,” on the retraction.

In fairness to Mitchell, he does do some good work at times. He did some important digging on financial abuses at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. But he lacks a sense of proportion. A can of Coors is not a hospital administrator’s secret pension.

McShane, like Mitchell, also gets it wrong sometimes. He’s young and he acts like it. It wasn’t smart to put the photo on Facebook because it does seem to sanction drinking and riding, at least at rodeo time. But does it rise to “Once again Councilman Steve McShane has proven he has no business being in local politics?” The Partisan thinks not.