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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.


People in Salinas get excited about the littlest things. Strike that. Some people in Salinas get excited about the littlest things.

This week’s buzz is about a Jose, Castaneda, who tried to visit another Jose, Velasco, in jail. The motives of Jose Castaneda, the rogue Salinas City Councilman, remain unclear because his plan was nipped in the bud by an alert jailer and an equally alert patrol officer who fortunately understand the full range of negative outcomes that are possible when unauthorized communication between Joses is allowed to floursh.

The intended recipient of the visit, Velasco, is in jail because he attacked his mother in the middle of a busy North Main Street a little over a week ago. Velasco has been in the news because Salinas police officers attempting to restrain him tased him twice and finally resorted to a series of nightstick blows in order to subdue him after he grabbed a taser away from one officer and wrestled vigorously with others.

A passing motorist managed to get video of the arrest and it has become must see TV. Much of what is going on unfortunately is obscured by the officers themselves but it is clear that Velasco was struck at least 20 times. Some who have viewed the video say it appears that one officer, the one supplying the final several blows, may have gone slightly overboard. While the other officers involved remain on full duty, he has been assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of investigations.

Police Chief Kelly McMillin, while stressing he will reserve judgment until the investigations are completed, also told the Partisan early last week that anyone who believes excessive force was used is “simply wrong.”

Anyway, it seems that Castaneda attempted to visit with Velasco in jail on Thursday, a day when inmates are only supposed to be visited by their lawyers or relatives.

His plot was foiled, a victim of his notoriety. A clerk at the jail recognized him and who wouldn’t? He is the bad boy of Salinas politics, the subject of hours of TV footage of him walking away from reporters, the subject of countless columns by Jeff Mitchell, a Salinas Californian reporter with an apparent fondness for chronicling the misadventures of people who make his job easy by not putting up a defense.

If you were the victim of a crime in Salinas and wanted the Police Department to write up a report about it, you’d likely be told that the line starts over there but not until a week from tomorrow. Yet Castaneda’s trip to the jail was the subject of one of the fastest appearing reports of all time and it was in the columnist’s hands even before the officer’s supervisor could get a chance to sign it. Mitchell would like people to believe that the report came his way because of his sleuthing skills. Not so.

The report presents an interesting account that suggests that officer Ernesto Sanchez might want to consider ghostwriting Mitchell’s column from time to time.He reports that he had gone to the jail on other business but happened to encounter Councilman Castaneda.

“Once I arrived at the lobby of the visitor’s building, I observed a man who I recognized as a councilmember for the city of Salinas, Jose Castaneda …. I saw that he looked at me as I walked into the lobby and he greeted me by looking directly at me and forming a large smile on his face. Since I knew who he was, … I returned the same greeting and nodded my head to him.

“Almost immediately after I returned the greeting to him, I saw that his face changed into what I recognized to be a ‘can you help me?’ look; his eyebrows turned slightly upwards in the middle and he continued to hold a smile much smaller than the original smile … . He did not say anything else to me and I did not say anything else to him either.”

From there, the plot thickens quickly but the prose dries up, so paraphrasing will suffice.

Sanchez reports that he went about his business but a clerk pointed out Castaneda and informed him that Castaneda had tried but failed to get inside by claiming to be a relative of Velasco. Actual relatives of Velasco were there for a visit. Might Castaneda have said he was “with the family”?

Sanchez left the clerk’s name out of the report, apparently for her protection. From whom he does not indicate.

Disaster was averted but one might conclude otherwise listening to other council members. They were all over the TV news this week tsk-tsking about irresponsibility and giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Apparently since Velasco’s family has obtained counsel and there might be a lawsuit, a councilman talking to Velasco would amount to treason.

The Californian columnist said the council is considering censure and it’s about time. Later, Mitchell gleefully reported that the Monterey County grand jury (lower case, JM, and you can look it up) just issued a report highly critical of Castaneda’s behavior and urging the City Council to find a way to force him to either pay a $5,000 fine or force him off the council.

It is true, very true, that Castaneda has been a pain in the council’s collective butt. He doesn’t play by the rules. He doesn’t file required forms, he has scuffles with people, he accomplishes just about nothing of import and he pouts a lot. His city stipend has been garnished because he can’t pay his bills. Castaneda is a troublemaker who brings little to his position except talk. He talks a pretty good game about equality and civil rights, etc., but undercuts himself through inaction. Some will recall that he was simultaneously and illegally serving on both the council and a school board at one time. People who voted for Castaneda made a mistake.

But the rest of the council, and Jimmy Olsen over there at the Californian, are making a mistake by making a big deal out of Castaneda’s attempt to talk to Velasco. Big whoops. But he lied! Maybe, but show me a politician who hasn’t told a fib this week.

If there was any doubt about Castaneda’s record as a councilman, news of the grand jury report would be a big deal, But confirmation of the obvious hardly amounts to groundbreaking stuff. Mitchell writes with disdain about Castaneda’s plan to appear Friday at a rally in support of Velasco, and to appear with the Velasco family’s lawyer. Mitchell is right when he says Castaneda has the right to do so. He’s wrong, though, when he goes on to say that it means Castaneda will be disqualified from participating in the city’s discussions over whatever lawsuit is filed on Velasco’s behalf. Jimmy Olsen seems to be getting his legal advice from someone other than a lawyer.

What is the worst that could have happened if Castaneda had talked to one of his constituents? The councilman isn’t likely to know anything about the Velasco arrest that everyone doesn’t already know. Some of Velasco’s thinking might slip out of his cell? Castaneda may say something that contradicts the official city line as though countless politicians in countless cities haven’t strayed from majority think without catastrophic result.

My chief concern here is simply this. I question the wisdom of having a police report prepared on such a minor event and I question the judgment of those who thought it should be leaked to a columnist who is obsessed with Castaneda. The police report filed by Sanchez says right at the top that no crime had been committed. Where does a report like this get stored? The political intelligence file? Does the Police Department think it makes itself look better by linking Velasco to Castaneda.

So now the council is inching closer to stepping up and issuing a censure. My dictionary describes that as a meaningless act that diverts attention from more important things.

There’s nothing the City Council can do to change Castaneda’s behavior. Most of the council members have already had plenty of TV time and the opportunity to demonstrate just how statesmanlike they are in contrast to their colleague. They would be doing the city, and Castaneda’s constituents, much more good by finding and encouraging a good candidate or two to run against him, but that’s a lot harder than going on camera and shaking one’s head.


The owner of a minor league baseball team from Bakersfield, appropriately named The Bakersfield Blaze, says the team may move to Salinas for the 2016 season. The nickname, I figure, refers to Bakersfield’s blast-furnace climate and not to one of the hardscrabble city’s pioneer strippers.

The Blaze ownership’s first pitch will be thrown Tuesday to the Salinas City Council, and will include, per initial reports, plans for a 5,000-seat stadium on East Alisal Street financed largely with private money. Watch closely if the council has the old hidden ball of public financing tossed at it. The only sure thing is that Councilman Jose Castaneda likely will be against whatever his colleagues have to say on the subject.

The Class A team, which just lost its affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds, has the oldest stadium in the California League and the league’s lowest attendance. That’s despite having not one but three costumed team mascots — Torch, Heater and Pat D. Panda.

In years past, I attended minor league baseball games when Salinas fielded the prodigious Packers and the zesty Peppers in the old northside yard near the DMV office and rodeo grounds. I always thought a good name for a Salinas team back then would be the Pickle Pepper Packers, the Spry Spurs, The Fog, The Mist or The Foggy Mist.

500_F_60115782_25WUyIBSc35kXN4kVaOrj7BvRdKTufynThe complaint I heard most often about going to the ballpark was that nights in July and August in Salinas were too damn cold and wet. Indeed, there was a city softball field in the shadows of the real ballpark. I worked at the Salinas Californian then and played first base and outfield for several seasons in the Class Z softball league. Imagine that, a small-town newspaper with enough employees to field a softball team. Today, your average newspaper would be hard pressed to field a two-person toboggan team without resorting to freelancers.

Those softball nights were cold and damp. As soon as the sun went down behind the fog bank racing in from Castroville, there was enough dew on the outfield grass to solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water woes. One night in left field, I tried to get a jump on a low fly hit my way. One foot slipped, then the other slipped, and soon I resembled Bugs Bunny trying to dance on a frozen lake. I did something bad to my right knee, left the game and went to a doc-in-the-box clinic. Two friends and I left puddles of ballyard drizzle on the clinic’s floor as we waited for someone to check my knee, swollen by then to the size of an iceberg lettuce head in August.

Thirty years later, I believe climate change may be working in Salinas’ favor when it comes to night baseball games. This summer has been the foggiest-free summer I can remember. Many nights were clear, warm and surprisingly drizzle-free. So it may be a good time for minor league baseball’s return to Salinas.  And the team could sponsor a contest to let the community pick a nickname, say the Salinas Cool But Not Colds.

I have ideas for three new mascots — Crucifer Cruiser, Straw Berry Good, and Mixed Green Marauder. Hey, it’s not the majors.