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Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel at a Feb. 24 news conference where he said his office had been betrayed by immigration officials

KSBW-TV did a fine job covering the recent dust-up between the Santa Cruz Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security over the raid that resulted in the arrests of about 10 members of a violent street gang and arrests of another 10 or so undocumented residents.

The station even provided video of the entire Feb. 24 news conference in which Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel and Deputy Chief Dan Flippo explained how they felt federal officials had lied to them about how the undocumented would be handled. Vogel and Flippo said they were assured, repeatedly and falsely, that any undocumented residents encountered in connection with the Feb. 13 raid would not be subject to deportation.

The arrests of the undocumented as opposed to the gang suspects sparked loud protest in Santa Cruz, one of some 40 or so sanctuary cities in California. That means it is city policy not to let its police department function as an arm of the federal immigration force.

Unfortunately, the president and manager of KSBW, Joe Heston, apparently didn’t pay close attention to the video or details of the exchange between the two agencies. I say unfortunately because Heston, in his latest on-air editorial, casually rejects Vogel’s position. Apparently armed with nothing except a vague news release from Homeland Security, he essentially dismisses Vogel as “naïve” and declares Homeland Security the winner of the debate.

Heston notes that his reporters have had positive dealings with Vogel for some 16 years and consider him a “good guy.” Even so, he concludes that Vogel is lying about the assurances from the federal officials. He doesn’t use the word lie but he might as well have.

Following the news conference of Feb. 24, Homeland Security official James Schwab issued a statement saying his office had made it clear to Santa Cruz police that any undocumented residents encountered during the raid would be detained in order to be identified. (See Schwab’s entire statement below) Santa Cruz police say that’s absolutely correct. What’s in dispute is what the feds said would or would not happen next.

Flippo, Vogel’s chief deputy, said when the issue first arose and again Monday that federal officials agreed repeatedly before and during the raid that any of the people being detained would not be taken into custody or cited on immigration charges. Despite those assurances, about 10 people were arrested or cited on immigration charges and are being processed for deportation, said Flippo (no relation to Monterey County DA Dean Flippo).

“We asked if they would be (processed for immigration violations),” Flippo told the Partisan on Monday. “They said no, absolutely not.”

The situation has been a political nightmare for Santa Cruz police, who came under heavy community criticism when word of the immigration arrests spread. Heston has made things worse by asserting that they have not accurately described the understanding with the feds.

Joseph Heston

Like much of the immigration debate, the issue of sanctuary cities isn’t simple. When a local police department can and should cooperate with immigration officials is a hotly debated topic. The Salinas City Council is taking up the subject again Tuesday. But it is a settled question in Santa Cruz, where the City Council has made it extremely clear that the Police Department will not function as an adjunct of Homeland Security. Santa Cruz officials believe, as do many officials throughout the country, that law enforcement can operate more effectively if undocumented residents don’t live in fear that even casual contact with police could result in deportation.

Heston may simply have accepted the statement from Homeland Security at face value or maybe he  just gave too little thought to the meaning of “detained.” It refers to being taken into custody very briefly without the specter of criminal prosecution. There is no reason to think he is trying to undercut Vogel and his officers or to add unnecessarily to the natural tensions between law enforcement and portions of the community. He probably just didn’t think it through and didn’t bother to talk to the police before spouting off. Bottom line, if he has evidence that Vogel is lying, he should trot it out. If not, he should do another editorial setting the record straight.

Statement from James Schwab of Homeland Security:

On Feb. 13, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led a multi-agency operation involving the execution of federal search and arrest warrants at 11 locations as part of an ongoing criminal investigation targeting alleged criminal activity by suspected members of a notorious transnational gang. The operation was the culmination of a 5-year investigation which resulted in the arrest of 10 criminal organization members on federal criminal charges in Santa Cruz, Daly City, and Watsonville. Additionally, during the enforcement action, authorities encountered 11 illegal aliens at the operational locations who were detained initially on administrative immigration violations due to their association with suspected members of a transnational street gang. Ultimately, 10 of those individuals were released. One remains in agency custody at this time due to his criminal history and possible ties to the ongoing investigation. At no time during the operation were minors were left unattended at any of the enforcement locations.”

“Several days prior to the operation, our Special Agent-in-Charge office notified the Santa Cruz Chief of Police that any non-targeted foreign nationals encountered during the enforcement actions at the search and arrest locations would be held briefly until determinations could be made about their identities and case histories. The Chief acknowledged this possibility and it was agreed that no foreign nationals would enter the Santa Cruz Police Department’s facility or their police vehicles.”

“We worked closely with the Santa Cruz Police Department over the last five years on this case. Allegations that the agency secretly planned an immigration enforcement action in hopes there would be new political leadership that would allow for an alleged “secret” operation to take place are completely false, reckless, and disturbing.”

“‘Ryan L. Spradlin, the Special Agent-in-Charge in San Francisco, has stated that “it’s unfortunate when politics get intertwined with a well planned and executed public safety operation. When politics undermine law and order, the only winners are the criminals.” Spradlin publicly reiterated that he understands the concerns of community members and the sensitive nature of the operation, but that it’s a sad day for the law enforcement community when some continue to make statements because they are worried about their jobs, while our special agents remain focused on doing theirs.”

“‘I told the Deputy Chief that rather than disparaging this operation, the community of Santa Cruz should understand that they are safer because of it,’” said Spradlin. 

“Law enforcement operations are fluid, and unforeseen circumstances often arise that must be assessed and addressed on site. The goal of this operation was to arrest known members of a violent criminal organization and disrupt the dangerous activities of this organization. All of the arrests were conducted in accordance with agency policies and consistent with the special agents’ authorities under federal law.”

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In the past six months, at least six U.S. universities have canceled scheduled appearances by white supremacist agitator Milo Yiannopoulis. In most cases, the Steve Bannon protégé had been invited by campus Republican groups. The University of Miami was one of the first to cancel, based on security concerns. That speech would have been in June.

NYU canceled a talk set for November. According to the Inside Higher Ed website, Florida Atlantic University canceled a talk that would have occurred in September. At Villanova, a campus group announced Yiannopoulis was coming but the university put out a statement say that wasn’t going to happen.

Yiannopoulis made an appearance at DePaul in May, provoking some fairly strong protest, strong enough that the university nixed a repeat performance planned for the fall.

But UC Berkeley, the campus joined at the hip with free speech, expended considerable time, money and energy to try to accommodate a Yiannopoulis talk on Wednesday and is now being denounced as the campus that killed free speech. (The same thing happened, in less dramatic fashion, at UC Davis earlier, but Davis never had Berkeley’s special reputation.)

Amid a peaceful protest by some 2,000, many of them students, an estimated 150 militants from off campus invaded the campus a couple of hours before the scheduled talk. They broke windows, set fires, set off firecrackers, and hooted and hollered to the point that the university, in consultation with its highly experienced police department, canceled the talk. And across this seemingly intelligent land, conservatives and liberals alike fell for the cheap narrative, taking to social media, letters to the editor and any other forums they could find to denounce UC Berkeley for embracing or even promoting intolerance.

If the university administration had simply wanted to muzzle obnoxious opinion, it could have said no from the start, like so many others had done. There would have been a couple of news stories and our charming new president, the boss of Yiannopoulis’ boss, might have tweeted out something about those hippies out in California. But there would have been no dramatic footage, no fireworks, no visuals to coax poorly informed people to lash out at pointy-headed university types without a moment’s thought to all the places that had simply told Milo to stay away.

This provocation by a man who makes his living by promoting misogyny and racism worked as planned, even prompting Trump to hint at ending federal aid to the UC system.

The propagandists even have some people believing that some rich liberals paid the protesters to disrupt the speech. Try to imagine George Soros handing out cash to the anarchists of the East Bay with instructions to go nuts. People with some semblance of common sense in their day-to-day lives are “liking” Facebook posts with that message and retweeting similar nonsense, without giving any thought at all to NYU or the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic, Villanova or DePaul. Maybe Soros dropped off some cash at those campuses.

Am I saying those other schools should have provided a forum for such a creepy character? In truth, that’s a tough question but here’s the way I lean. When it becomes obvious that the intent of the speaker is to irritate rather than inform, to provoke rather than prod, and it is obvious that someone is going to get hurt, I might unhappily fall into the camp that says that while the First Amendment protects your right to say whatever it is you want to say, it doesn’t require me to give you a forum.

I’m glad the Berkeley brass tried to accommodate the fellow but it should be recognized that keeping him away would not have prevented anyone from receiving his hateful message. Any young person receptive to his world view has received it or could fill the void by clicking on You Tube. The earnest young Republicans at Berkeley and NYU and DePaul who invited Milo, I’m guessing they had more on their minds than enriching the academic experience by bringing in a thought-provoking speaker. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that some of them were happy when the events were canceled. Point made. Those liberals are just soooo intolerant.

A final point. While I’m disappointed by those who have attacked the university without thinking it through, I’ve also been disappointed by the news coverage. KSBW’s 11 o’clock newscast last night was a fine example. The story line went like this. Controversial speaker was going to talk at Berkeley but the students rioted so it didn’t happen and the president might cut off federal funding and here’s some film. But mind you, this was the newcast Thursday night, not Wednesday night. There was time to gather an interview or two, some information about the identities of the violent protesters and maybe some context about what had happened elsewhere, but, hey, that might have interfered with our wakeup forecast.

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Aged Oil Pump on Colorado Prairie with Mountain Hills in the Background. Oil Industry Theme.The oil industry campaign against Measure Z is providing work for political consultants, lawyers, video production companies and caterers up and down California. As of Sept. 24, it had raised $3.3 million and spent a large measure of it on every form of advertising, including $8,000 on Facebook.

Measure Z, of course, is the November ballot measure that would ban fracking in the Monterey County oil fields and require the oil companies to stop injecting wastewater into the ground. The No on Z campaign is financed entirely by the oil industry — $1,812,480 from Chevron, $1,464,000 from the Shell and ExxonMobil–owned Aera Energy of Bakersfield, and $25,000 from oil property owner Mary Orradre.

Though the ballot measure would allow oil operations to continue, the industry advertising maintains it would end oil production in the county.

Unknown-1The listing of expenses from the No on Z campaign filing takes up dozens of pages and includes the purchase of numerous endorsements from slate mailer operations. A large share of the money went to advertising locally, with TV station KSBW receiving the biggest buy. The campaign relies on a Sacramento law firm for legal advice and numerous consultants for political advice but also used the L&G law firm in Salinas and local land-use consultant Maureen Wruck.

In contrast, Protect Monterey County’s Measure Z campaign reported collecting $143,402 from more than 100 contributors, including singer Joan Baez. That amounts to 4 percent of the total raised by the opposition .

The largest contribution on the anti-fracking side, $32,000, came from the Center for Biological Diversity, whose director, Kassie Segal, added $2,135.

Other major contributors included Paicines Ranch owner Sallie Calhoun, $10,250; Robert Frischmuth, $7,500; retired architect Robert Gunn, $5,390; Nancy Burnett, $5,000; environmental activist Gillian Taylor, $3,000; and retired dentist Dan Turner, $2,000. Also among the contributors were former Monterey City Councilwoman Nancy Selfridge, former Pacific Grove Mayor Dan Cort and Marina Coast water board member Jan Shriner.

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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.

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UnknownIt is only natural, and somewhat appropriate, for a police chief to stand up for his or her officers when controversy develops or, as is becoming more and more common, when a video surfaces putting the officers in a bad light.

Therefore, it is best to allow Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin some leeway as he responds to the battering of an assault suspect last week. We shouldn’t make a terribly big deal out of the way he on the one hand urges the public not to rush to judgment and then, then on the other hand, aggressively vilifies the suspect and exonerates officers he might have to discipline some day.

Referring to his department’s arrest Friday of assault suspect Jose Velasco, McMillin told the Herald on Monday, “I would say to those who think this is unnecessary (force) to consider all the facts and understand exactly what happened. This video shows a small version of the events.”

In other words, forget what you think you saw on the cell phone video – Velasco receiving 20 blows from officers using nightsticks– and wait for the results of formal investigation by a Police Department that has already made up its mind.

In a lengthy and sometimes animated phone conversation with the Partisan, McMillin detailed Velasco’s injuries and twice said that he had suffered a minor head wound from an accidental billyclub blow. He said the officer had been swinging for another part of Velasco’s body but Velasco quickly changed position, causing the baton to strike his head.

I asked McMillin how he had determined the blow to the head was accidental.

“Because that’s what the officers said,” he said.

That’s what McMillin should have said in the first place. Strike that. It’s what someone else should have said in the first place. That the officer said it was an accident. But McMillin simply called it an accident. No ifs, ands or maybes. No we’re going to find out.

In a long interview with KSBW, McMillin unfortunately sounded more like a defense lawyer for the officers involved, not their commanding officer.

There is little in the video to suggest the officers acted criminally or in violation of department regulations. Velasco clearly was resisting mightily and the rules of engagement say police officers can do just about anything within reason to a suspect who is resisting mightily. I have no reason to disbelieve the officer who says he accidentally hit Velasco on the head.

But it is wrong for the department to tell the public to withhold judgment – to wait for an investigation that likely will take well over a year – while simultaneously doing everything possible to weight public reaction against the suspect and to portray the officers as essentially above suspicion.

Though the department won’t comment on Velasco’s apparently history of mental illness, they said from the start that he was confronted because he had attacked his mother, that he has had multiple arrests for various felonies, that he has violated parole and that he had exhibited “super human” strength because he apparently was high on methamphetamine.

Most of the literature on that final topic, methamphetamine’s effects, discards the notion that methamphetamine produces exceptional strength. Instead, researchers agree that it can greatly reduce a person’s ability to feel pain. A person in that state clearly is more dangerous and harder to control than a sober person but there is little to indicate that such a person can lift more weight or manhandle more officers.

Some area residents who watched accounts of the arrest on TV say they got the impression that the officers had interrupted the assault on Velasco’s mother. The Police Department later said, though, that they had received several 911 calls reporting the attack on the woman, one of the calls coming from Velasco’s mother. Such details have been largely ignored while the department puts its efforts into painting itself in a good light.

I’m not suggesting that McMillin’s analysis is wrong. Let me repeat that. I am not saying McMillin’s version of events is wrong. He knows far more about the incident than almost anyone. Velasco allegedly ripped one officer’s taser out of its holster – or at least that’s what the officers involved in the altercation said. He clearly was a danger to himself, the officers, the public and his mother.

But if McMillin wants us to keep our opinions to ourselves, to simply sit back and wait while the District Attorney’s Office moseys through an investigation that will receive an extremely low priority among prosecutors, he should not be so obviously taking the word of the officers as gospel. Subtly and not so subtly, McMillin has made it clear that anyone who questions his version of events is being irresponsible or “immature.”

If it turns out that the officers are shading the truth, McMillin could find himself in the position of having to discipline while also admitting that he was wrong, that he had done exactly the kind of pre-judging that he asks the public to avoid.

It would be a much wiser course for someone in McMillin’s position let someone else in the department do the talking in a case such as this so he is not putting himself in a position of potentially having to make a credibility-shattering retraction at some point, after all the sitting back and waiting is over.

Because of simple human nature, the internal and DA’s investigations into Friday’s arrest will automatically be biased against Velasco and for the officers. That’s just the way it goes and it would be naïve or even silly to expect anything else. But to make those inquiries as professional as possible, the chief should not be making any pronouncements about guilt, innocence or motivations. He is supposed to be looking out for the public’s best interests, not just the best interests of his officers.

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KSBW AWAITS APOLOGY FROM PROTESTERS, GOLFERS, CONCOURS

The editorial board at KSBW-TV must still be waiting for an apology from the folks who blocked traffic on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

With all the pent-up rage of Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski character chasing his Hmong neighbors off his lawn, Joseph Heston, the animated embodiment of KSBW’s editorial board, on Friday unleashed a stern finger wag to UC Santa Cruz students who blocked traffic on Highway 17 near Santa Cruz back in March. Heston and the editorial board are furious because the students failed to “apologize for their incredibly reckless behavior.

The six students were in court last week to plead no contest to misdemeanor charges of creating a public nuisance. Their misdemeanors were committed in March, when they chained themselves to concrete-filled bins they had placed on the highway to bring attention to tuition increases in the UC system.

Heston was apparently expecting expressions of “real remorse” from the students, but he was sorely disappointed.

Ever the reliable defender of commerce and the status quo, Heston went so far as to proffer his own two-bit psychological diagnosis of the Santa Cruz students.

“Perhaps it comes from being a part of a generation that grew up being awarded blue ribbons no matter who actually won the race,” blustered the telegenic amateur Freudian, apropos of nothing. “Or, when acting out in kindergarten or elementary school, the misbehavior was excused as the child’s just expressing his or her true feelings.”

terri-sewell-selma-edmund-pettus-bridge-2012jpg-387a39c2d8661ad1-300x178

A group of activists, overly entitled according to toad’s standards, commemorates the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., a landmark event in the Civil Rights Movement. The movement went on to considerable success. Little is remembered about the traffic troubles of the time.

As far as local media pundits go, nothing stirs the jaundice worse than a bad traffic jam. Unless, of course, the traffic jams are created in the interests of golf tournaments, food festivals and fancy car shows. They are the sorts of events we should apparently all get behind because their participants aren’t liable to go all social-justice crazy on us.

Six weeks ago, another student protest tied up Saturday traffic on Highway 1 on the Monterey Peninsula. I got caught up in that particular jam, but it didn’t seem much worse than the usual strangulated highway situation on any typical Monterey weekend.

Admittedly, the issue of tuition hikes doesn’t exactly reverberate like the civil rights violations that students in Alabama were protesting when they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma back in 1965, an event that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Still, I would imagine the manager of the Selma television station at the time must have been livid that young and uppity whipper-snappers possessed the temerity to raise awareness for their cause by tying up traffic without an apology.

Rather than showing remorse, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee continued their peaceful protests and eventually succeeded in pushing for the Voting Rights Act. Or, as Heston might have said at the time (as he did in his editorial on Friday), they “pontificated about the lack of justice and proclaimed their ultimate righteousness.”

As I recall, the Civil Rights Movement grew out of a generation in which blue ribbons weren’t awarded to everyone because of their race.

Livernois, a former editor of the Monterey Herald, is the author of “The Road to Guanajuato.”

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Are the reporters all on vacation, or what?

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White wall texture with a chairLast Thursday, March 19, shortly before 10 p.m., I was channel surfing and stopped for a few minutes to watch the live broadcast of the Seaside city council meeting. I came in at the end of a presentation about the library, and after a minute or so they invited public comments. I probably would have moved on to better entertainment, but the first person to speak happened to be someone I knew, so I stuck around.

As she was speaking, someone in the council chambers began moaning very loudly. The woman stopped speaking, turned around and said “We need an EMT.” The video cut to a wide shot of the dais where I saw Councilman Dennis Alexander’s chair turned around and his right arm was moving erratically. Men in police or fire uniforms were rushing to his aid as Councilman Jason Campbell jumped out of their way. The mayor called a recess and the screen went dark. It was such a disturbing scene that I was shaking for the next 10 minutes.

I tuned into the 11 o’clock news to see what had happened. KSBW didn’t mention it all, but KION had a reporter at the meeting and she said it had been cut short because a City Council member had a medical emergency and was taken away in an ambulance. She said he looked OK, but had no further details. She didn’t even say which council member fell ill.

I fully expected to hear more about the incident on Friday when, presumably, more information would come to light. But again, KSBW had nothing. KION briefly repeated the same vague information from the night before, but only as a footnote to a story about the council’s activities. The Monterey Herald and Monterey County Weekly newspapers also missed the story entirely, especially odd for the Weekly,  which covers Seaside pretty closely and posts stories daily on its website. We have to wait a couple more days to see if the Carmel Pine Cone mentions it.

It’s a mystery to me how an elected official being hauled away from a public meeting in an ambulance, with dozens of witnesses, can almost completely escape the notice of the local news media. I certainly hope he’s OK. The news folks should be keeping us informed so we don’t have to guess.

By a strange coincidence, the reason KION was at Thursday’s council meeting was that the city is thinking of dropping out of Monterey County’s emergency 911 dispatch service and taking the city’s business elsewhere, either to a new agency of its own making or possibly to Santa Cruz County’s call center. A couple days earlier it was reported that Salinas and Pacific Grove were planning to do the same, and as of this week it looks like Del Rey Oaks will join them. What in blazes is going on?

I follow local news pretty closely, but until last week I can’t recall hearing a single complaint about emergency dispatch services. Not a peep. Now all of a sudden it’s a major problem. If reports are accurate, the cities say they’re paying a lot for the county to provide 911 service but the cities don’t have much say in how it’s run. OK, I can see why that might be a problem, but not one of sufficient severity to jump up and say, “We’re outta here.”

Perhaps this is some sort of political ploy to get the county’s attention, but I can think of less alarming ways to accomplish that. The appropriate thing for these cities to do is pass resolutions asking for greater influence on call center management, or ask to renegotiate the arrangements, and see how the county responds. Instead, four cities have abruptly said they want a divorce, and have done so with almost no public discussion. Until last week the issue wasn’t even on the public radar.

The idea that cities in Monterey County could afford to start a 911 system from scratch, or successfully move their 911 services to a neighboring county is difficult to believe in the absence of any formal studies. KSBW reported that Santa Cruz County’s facilities would require a major and costly expansion to accommodate our cities. Worse, by having separate dispatch services, local cities would isolate themselves from neighboring police and fire districts, which could hamper mutual aid calls. And what will happen to Monterey County’s emergency call center if it loses a major source of funding? It doesn’t look like local cities have thought through their position very well. So why are they so eager to bail out? That’s the second emergency mystery this week.

James Toy is a native of Carmel, currently living in Seaside, who occasionally gets involved in local political matters. He is the creator of a community-oriented website called The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box at www.montereypeninsula.info. This commentary also appears on that site.

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A Jan. 19 article in the Monterey Herald focused on the Salinas church appearance of a well-traveled lecturer who says he became a Christian after 20 years as an Islamic terrorist. I figured the piece would not land with a thud. The good-vs.-evil story had some rough edges, to say the least.

I knew, as did the Herald reporter, there is long-running controversy about the sensational autobiography of the speaker, Kalam Saleem, who appeared at the First Presbyterian Church as a former “jihad terrorist, raised an Islamic radical, taught to hate Jews & Christians by his parents.”

Here’s the article.

In the online version of his story, Herald reporter Phillip Molnar provided links to several of the articles questioning Saleem’s personal story, articles that I found in about 45 minutes of Googling. I also found plenty of links to conservative Christian and patriot sites trumpeting Saleem’s message and videos of his anti-Islam lectures.

Unfortunately the documentary links in the Herald online story — because of the disparate nature of the media — disappeared in the print version in the next day’s paper.

Still, I thought there would be a strong reaction to the front-page story, which hit the issue about Saleem’s unusual credentials very hard. But the online story attracted only a half dozen comments, and I couldn’t find many more than that on the church’s Facebook page. I didn’t see any letters to the editor, either.

Thud.

Go figure, I thought.

Then on Sunday, the Herald ran an opinion piece by Mike Ladra, senior pastor at the Salinas church, that ripped the story as one-sided, inaccurate and focused more on “various unproven accusations” against Saleem than what he and Saleem had to say to the congregants about “radical Islam.”

Here’s Ladra’s piece.

As far as I can tell, the “accusations” remain unrefuted by Saleem, other than his blaming them on the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a 20-year-old Muslim advocacy group that critics view as extreme.

Like Ladra, I would have liked to read more of what Saleem had to say in Salinas, because one quote in the Herald story cried out for more context. Or it was spoken in a context devoid of reason.

“Islam is the only religion today that asks for a blood sacrifice before Allah. You cannot worship Allah without blood,” (Saleem) said. “… You must offer yourself by killing yourself, or killing others.”

It’s obvious that all 1.6 billion Muslims living in 49 countries don’t follow that recipe to live their faith. Or there would be millions of murders and suicides going uncounted among adherents of the world’s second-largest religion, to whom Saleem broadly ascribes staggering barbarity.

Ladra also wields a broad brush in his piece, which accuses the Herald story of giving readers an impression the church program on “radical Islam” bad-mouthed “Muslims in general.”

He says he spent three summers studying in Jerusalem and sipped Arabic tea with Muslims — he calls them “my new friends — while discussing America, Europe, Jews, Christians and jihad.

“Without exception,” Ladra says, “I was told that I am an infidel and that the world must worship Allah voluntarily or involuntarily. I heard repeatedly from my new friends, “’Today Islam is our religion; tomorrow it will be your religion.’” Radical Islam up close and personal.”

In closing, Ladra suggests Islam can’t be a peaceful religion because the prophet Muhammad, late in life, taught jihad. (The Arabic noun, translated as “struggle”or “striving,” has various spiritual and historical interpretations for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  Today it is used by Muslim extremists to mean armed aggression against enemies.)

Ladra credits TV stations KION and KSBW with covering Saleem’s appearance “very positively.” The KION story identifies Saleem just as he portrays himself without a hint of the controversy about his credentials as a born-again ex-terrorist.  That’s nice, but it’s not as informative as the Herald story, which actually pulled its punches on one of Saleem’s associates on the conservative speaker circuit.

Saleem recently co-wrote a novel, “The Coalition,” about a battle against global jihad with retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a controversial former Delta Force commander and undersecretary for defense for President George W. Bush. Today, Boykin is a conservative Christian activist and executive vice president of the Family Research Council. Like Saleem, he provides frequent fodder for liberal groups like Media Matters and Right Wing Watch.

A Boykin sampling: He was rebuked twice by President Bush in 2003 for saying Muslims worship an idol and false god. He has said Islam shouldn’t be a constitutionally protected religion because it is a “totalitarian way of life.” He has said President Obama is leading the country like a Marxist revolutionary and has called for his impeachment for the Benghazi consulate attack. He also accused Gov. Chris Christie of appointing a Muslim man linked to Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, as a New Jersey judge.

Of course, there is a need to understand radical Islam and to challenge it savagery, as this writer in the New York Times says:

Or as former basketball star and scholar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in Time:

But reliance on dubious, if not false voices — Saleem last year reputedly claimed President Obama worshipped at a Washington, D.C., mosque on a Christmas Day when he was in Hawaii — is a poor way to muster the informed resolve to meet the challenge.

(Full disclosure: I worked with Molnar at the Herald for nearly two years. I consider him a scrupulous reporter and a friend.)

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1782068_751687911586152_8569243377802927373_n 2In the new world of rapid-fire, damn-the-facts journalism, Jeffrey Hunter Phillips got a scoop of sorts this week. He got it wrong but he was close, and that’s what matters in the new world of journalism.

Phillips, one of new Sheriff Steve Bernal’s more shadowy supporters, is best known for his You Tube videos that tend to relate to crime and punishment, though it isn’t always entirely clear. (For the entire series, entertaining if slightly ominous, go to You Tube and search for TheKeffeeKlatsch.com.)

His scooplet consisted of messages to various news outlets this week informing them that former Sheriff Scott Miller had filed a worker compensation claim for stress. Miller confirms he did indeed file a comp claim before leaving office but for repetitive strain injury, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome. He says it may require surgery.

“I have never filed a job-related stress claim nor do I have any plans to do so,” Miller said. “The only injury-related claim I have filed in the past twenty years is related to a right wrist and shoulder injury apparently related to a repetitive motion injury that may require treatment.

“Information related to worker compensation claims becomes public record at some point in the process, however I don’t believe this information is publicly available yet. Regardless, any assertion that I have filed a stress-related claim is unfounded and slanderous.”

Stress or carpal tunnel? In the new world of journalism, details don’t much matter.Still, it is newsworthy, at least to some degree, which is why this is being written. Miller’s predecessor, Mike Kanalakis, filed a worker compensation claim shortly after being defeated by Miller, and it received a fair amount of news coverage. At the time, Kanalakis said he always encouraged his staff to file any legitimate claims. Kanalakis’ predecessor, Gordon Sonne, filed several. It is common practice within law enforcement, and it probably should not be, or at least it should not be significantly easier for law enforcement types to obtain worker comp benefits than it is for regular folks to obtain the same benefits.

Jeffrey Hunter Phillips, who sometimes uses other names, suggested it was only fair to publicize Miller’s claim because Kanalakis’ claim had been publicized. He mistakenly added that Miller had illegally alerted the media to the Kanalakis claim four years ago. It actually was a public record, but, again, details, schmetails.

In Kanalakis’ case, he claimed that during his last year as sheriff he was in so much pain from old injuries that he should not have been working. So apparently he was paid both for working and paid again for working in pain. The system does not make sense. Unless you’re an officer of the law, or a fire fighter.

By the way, journalists apparently were competing Tuesday to be the first to verify Jeffrey Hunter Phillips’ missive and it appears that KSBW’s Felix Cortez was the first to tweet the corrected info. The Partisan may or may not have been the first to blog about it. Weekly Editor Mary Duan said she would buy Felix a donut and coffee as a prize. We don’t expect a prize of any sort. We’re satisfied knowing that the public knows as much as Jeffrey Hunter Phillips and a fair bit more.

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How KSBW wounded two egos at once

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B2L4F4oIIAA0MME.jpg-largeIf both Pine Cone publisher Paul Miller and I were to sue KSBW for messing up this caption, it would be one heckuva trial. Paul and I would never be able to agree on a lawyer, and we would call entirely different witnesses to try to establish that either of us had been defamed. Expert witnesses would testify that, by definition, there could not have been any injury to the reputations involved. This was from the piece that aired Friday about the media’s exasperation over the sheriff’s race, and how most journalists in the region had voted for Ron Chesshire. Felix Cortez from KSBW would testify that he made an honest mistake telling the graphic editor that the bald guy was Calkins. Officials at Cal Am reacted with confusion and quickly attempted to buy ad space in the Partisan.

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A Town Without a Newspaper Wouldn’t Be Much of a Town

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The NewsThis weekend the Monterey Herald moves into new, smaller quarters along Garden Road near the airport, which means quite a few things depending on one’s perspective. For me, it means that none of the newsrooms in which I toiled over the past four decades will continue to exist except in my faulty memory.

First to go was the old Chico Enterprise-Record, aka the Enterprise-Wretched, an institution in a lovely downtown until the business, for that’s what it was, was moved closer to the freeway to make distribution easier. The old building is now a Salvation Army store. My old desk sat in what is now the women’s clothing section.

Next was the Journal-Gazette in, of all places, Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a wonderful newspaper, locally owned, a champion of progressive values in a state that had other things on its mind. The newsroom was later moved to a space next door to a paper with opposite leanings. The circulation of both has plummeted.

Then it was back to the West and the venerable Fresno Bee. Unfortunately I missed the years in the grand old downtown building that is now an art museum. My 19 years were spent in a large box in a redevelopment zone. By the freeway, of course. The building is still there but the newsroom later moved into a much larger space for reasons that now must seem mysterious.

Like everyone in Fresno, I had always dreamt of an escape to the coast. For me, that meant the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The newspaper was downtown, where newspapers should be. The newsroom was upstairs. Because of earthquakes, the floor was a suspended affair meaning it bounced up and down whenever the largest photographer walked in the room. The Sentinel now resides in rented space in, of all places, Scotts Valley, and the newsroom has been downsized even more since the move.

And finally, the Herald. Again I missed the relatively grand old downtown building. My 13 years were spent on the fringe of Monterey, in Ryan Ranch, in a modernish building that, by the time I left, had a very leaky roof, no air conditioning and some inoperable plumbing. Surely CSU-Monterey Bay will improve things before it moves students in. The new Herald newsroom will be in the old Community TV building. I have not seen it but I’m told it is about a quarter the size of the one that produces its final scoop today.

A historic Herald photo marking Larry Parsons' final day at the paper. He's the handsome one in the back row, goatee and cap.

A historic Herald photo marking reporter Larry Parsons’ final day at the paper on Friday. He’s the handsome one in the back row, goatee and cap. People, especially those over 50, tell me all the time that they don’t like to get their news from the Internet, that they like holding a newspaper in their hands. Usually they show me what they mean by pretending to hold a newspaper. I get it. That’s the way I like it, too. But the format, the method of delivery, means less to me than the news itself, which I miss even more than I miss the old newsrooms.

The shrinkage of the industry should alarm all of us. If you worry about what the government is up to, if you want to understand your region’s issues, if you want to feel any sense of community, you must have a source of local news and information. It scares me to think about what could happen in Salinas, where the Californian could go the way of my old newsrooms.

Fortunately for the Peninsula we have the Monterey County Weekly, once the alternative paper and increasingly now a main if not the main source of information on government and politics in the area. I give it credit but not too much because I know it could do more. When I came to Monterey, the Herald news staff was at least three times as large as the Weekly’s. Today, I believe they are roughly equal. I’ve seen the ad volume in the Weekly. I suspect the budget would accommodate some real growth in staffing and enterprise.

Fortunately KSBW is a relatively strong provider of local information even though it hasn’t produced any semblance of investigative reporting since Dan Green had a full head of hair. (Check out this website for more information on the former KSBW anchor who describes herself as the station’s former investigative reporter). It does a fine job of covering community events. Those are easy to cover. Wading into some tougher issues would do the station and the community some real good.

As for the Herald, I suppose the only hope for a revival is new ownership, which certainly is a possibility if the hedge fund that holds the purse strings ever gets around to letting go. All we can do is hope. In the meantime, though, I encourage the community to support the Herald. I’m irritated, too, by the size of the Monday paper, but I continue to read it and to subscribe because I can’t imagine a city the size of Monterey, a region the size of the Peninsula, without a daily newspaper, even if it is produced in someone’s living room.

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The debate is on in Salinas over a depressing issue. Should the Police Department be required to identify police officers who shoot people? The issue grows larger and the debate grows louder with each “officer-involved shooting,” a first-rate euphemism if there ever was one.

Now that there have been four fatal shootings by Salinas police this year, the debate is likely to continue at least until the community has gone a particularly long time without such a shooting. A year or more might do it.

Unfortunately, the Police Department has added heat to the debate without illumination with its latest contribution, a list of emails, police reports and photos of graffiti, each seeking to indicate that the officers involved in the shootings of 2014 would be in additional danger if their names were made public.

The 200-page compilation was provided late last week to KSBW-TV and other media outlets in response to a public request for the names. It attempts to relieve the department from state disclosure requirements by demonstrating that the officers involved have been threatened and are in particular danger. Instead, the compilation merely documents the emotional instability of some people and the depth of anger that much of the community felt over some of the shootings.

The compilation is an additional example of the Police Department handicapping itself in its effort to win over the community. In the most recent shooting on July 10, authorities declined to release any substantive information on the circumstances on the day of the incident and then provided only the barest outline, which included the news that victim Frank Alvarado had been armed only with a cell phone.

I don’t mean to dismiss the Police Department’s concerns about identifying the officers. Being involved in a fatal shooting is terribly traumatic and publicity about officers’ roles  certainly could make them feel as though targets had been painted on their uniform.  But there is nothing about Salinas that should exempt the department from following the rules followed in most other cities, where such information is routinely made public for good reason.

Common sense tells us that a law enforcement agency should not be the sole judge of its performance. To an increasing degree, police departments are highly insular, paramilitary organizations that operate under the law but also under their own codes of conduct. They have created an us-them world in which almost anyone who isn’t a cop is a suspect and no one from the outside has any right to judge them. It is an understandable reaction to working in such trying circumstances, but that does not make it right or healthy for anyone. Respect for law enforcement agencies remains high but a growing portion of the citizenry is wary of the perception of police departments as occupying armies. If only the police are deemed worthy of judging the police, it does not take much imagination to envision a society in which only the police are deemed worthy of judging everyone else.

Following officer-involved shootings, many police departments hold off for several days to provide time for the officers to receive counseling and get some stress-relieving rest before additional public scrutiny descends on them. If is common for officers to take extended vacations or leaves of absences while tensions on the street work themselves out. But it remains a matter of public policy in most jurisdictions to let the public in on the assessment of police shootings.

As it stands in Salinas, the public would have no way of knowing if the same officer or officers were involved in two or three or even four of the fatal shootings this year. Had any of the officers been involved in shootings in previous years or in other jurisdictions? Had any been sued for alleged brutality? The shooting victims this year have all been Latinos. Were the officers Latinos? Gringos? Their identities matter to the community and should be shared.

More than a decade ago, while I was assigned to the police beat at the Fresno Bee, a team of narcotics officers attempted to buy drugs at an apartment. The plan was to buy meth or coke and then force the door open and arrest everyone inside. Something went terribly wrong. A veteran narcotics officer thought he saw someone inside pull a gun so he opened fire. A nine-year-old boy inside the apartment was killed. A thorough search of the area turned up no weapons other than those the officers carried.

Under department policy, the officer’s identity was to be withheld for a week or so to give him time to recover from the trauma. While working on the story, I discovered his name.It turned out that the same officer had fatally shot another youngster under very similar circumstances a couple of years earlier. A civil trial over that shooting was playing out at the county courthouse the very day of the new shooting.

The question confronting the newspaper was whether to add to the officer’s stress by publishing his name, whether to take the chance of making him a target in the eyes of the boy’s grieving family, or whether to share the information with the public.

It wasn’t a difficult decision. We went with the name.

As far as I know, the officer never shot anyone else.

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KSBW television says at the end of General Manager Joe Heston’s latest on-air editorial that the station welcomes responsible replies. Even though my middle name is Responsible, it’s hard to tell whether this will meet the standard, so here goes nothing.

The topic was surveillance cameras.

Years ago, writer Hunter Thompson was defending his style of rule-breaking journalism. He wrote that the only objective form of journalism was a surveillance camera in a store, but he corrected himself, saying that even that didn’t qualify because someone could decide when to turn it on and off.

That’s part of what’s wrong with Heston’s latest editorial, in which he gives unconditional support to installation of police surveillance cameras. (Not everywhere, of course, but in high-crime neighborhoods.) He anoints them as infallible, even headlining his piece “Cameras don’t lie.” The truth is, as even Heston knows, they do fib and they create misimpressions. Even law enforcement sees it that way. Oftentimes when a video camera catches a cop smacking someone around, the official line is that the camera didn’t record the events leading up to the smacking. “Oh, don’t be misled by what you saw on camera,” they tell us. “That’s out of context.”

When two Salinas cops recently shot and killed a man holding pruning shears, the action was caught by two cameras, but we were told they only caught a tiny bit of the part where he lunged at the officers.

I agree that surveillance cameras can be useful in the right place and the right time, but I don’t share Heston’s enthusiasm for their widespread use or his trust in their accuracy. I also am bothered by the way he dismisses people who don’t agree with him.

“With cities using surveillance cameras in public areas,” he tells us, “it should remind people that if you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to worry about.” In other words, if you don’t like it, you must be up to no good.

It is one of the worst arguments possible: I must be right because anyone who disagrees with me should be ignored.

The city of Salinas recently started using surveillance cameras and Seaside is about to start. Heston tells us that people shouldn’t worry because there are lots of cameras out there already—TV cameras, cell phone cameras, security cameras. Which is a little like saying don’t worry about a new source of pollution because there’s already a lot of pollution.

Heston concludes, “When an innocent bystander is killed during a community disturbance and a police officer is knocked unconscious by a bottle to the head, surveillance cameras may, sadly, be the only fearless, accurate, yet ever-silent witnesses to the crime. In those cases, the camera would be the Eye of Truth.”

Heston apparently doesn’t watch much baseball and hasn’t seen those instant replays of close calls. It’s a new thing in Major League Baseball this year. When the coach thinks the umpire got it wrong, he can ask for officials to watch the play again, on camera, in slow motion. As often as not, the replay from one angle makes it appear the umpire is right but the replay from another angle shows the coach is right.

Can both be right? Probably not. Can both be wrong? Absolutely. As Nietzsche said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

By the way, any sort of reply to this editorial is invited, responsible or not, but those of you submitting the irresponsible type are encouraged to make note of that at the beginning so you don’t startle me.

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The Monterey Bay Partisan is two weeks old now, so I thought some loyal readers might like an update.

With some 200 hits on a good day, traffic has been better than expected, considering that all the writing so far has been mine, a fact that can try even my patience. Technical assistance has been provided thus far by my lovely family and my lovely friend Paul Skolnick. Some of you Fresno types may remember from his Channel 30 days.

 YOU TOO CAN BE A BIGSHOT WRITER

Which takes me to Appeal No. 1. I thought I had made it clear early on that I am looking for others to share the writing. After you have liked us on Facebook, after you have hit the share button and gone to the site itself to hit the subscribe button, your work is not done.

You need to leave some comments at the end of the pieces your read, AND THEN WRITE YOUR OWN DARNED PIECE. Write about the topics covered here or write about something entirely different. You can write about the potholes on your street or man’s inhumanity to man, especially local man’s inhumanity to local man. Pitch your project or poke holes in someone else’s. Write about Cal Am! Write about the upcoming election! Write about how that darned Monterey County Weekly hasn’t written a word about the Monterey Bay Partisan. I can’t promise you I’ll put everything on the website, but I will tend to err on the side of putting it out there.

Sure, we’re small now, but most great, world-changing ideas started out small. You may wonder why you would write something for a blog with a three-figure circulation. I’ll tell you why. Unless you’re Charles Krauthammer, your writing isn’t getting much play in the local dailies and weeklies. This isn’t supposed to be just Royal Calkins’ blog. It’s supposed to be a community blog. Let’s get this party started. You can find me at calkinsroyal@gmail.com

 CALLING ALL ANGELS

Which takes me to Appeal No. 2. I am doing this out of passion for journalism and to fill some gaps in the local news and opinion scene (do I have to spell everything out?). I’m not trying to make a living out of it. I’ve got other things to do that actually make me a little money. But, and let me be absolutely clear about this, I COULD USE A LITTLE HELP HERE.

Some wonderful folks approached me after my much-celebrated departure from the Monterey Herald in February and offered to help me launch a site something like this (actually they were thinking bigger and better, but here we are.) A little financial help was extended, accepted, greatly appreciated and depleted before I decided to try to get this moving without the complications that committees can create.

I am finding now that despite that aforementioned passion, expenses can be the enemy of resolve. There are fees for the website host, for the domain name, for this and for that. I hope eventually to be able to pay for some of the contributions that will be prompted by Appeal No. 1. And now some of my wiser friends are telling me that libel insurance is a must if this site is to be as vigorous as the community deserves. And then there’s Freelance Guild dues and that kid in college, etc., etc.

So here’s the plan. I am getting the Monterey Bay Partisan incorporated as a non-profit, and then I will ruthlessly seek out those among you whose extra money is just sitting around looking for something to do. The aim is to raise enough to support some actual journalism, some digging into the things that need digging into, instead of relying on mere opinionizing. Or is that opinionating? At the moment, for instance, I am working on a piece about some surprising security breaches at a local defense facility and a fraud aimed at seniors.

When newspapers started shrinking, one of the first casualties was investigative reporting. As newspapers morph into 24/7 news operations aiming to out-Twitter the competition, what passes for in-depth reporting of any kind will become a memory. I won’t say that blogs like this are the answer, but I don’t see many other candidates out there.

I bring this up now as something akin to market research. I’d like to get some sense of whether the idea of private sponsorships is practicable or not. If you think you might be interested in lending a financial hand, please give me a shout at calkinsroyal@gmail.com. I won’t spread your name around, but if and when I do line up sponsors, I would hope to acknowledge them on the website.

I don’t plan to sell ads. I know how much they can taint the editorial processes. (Actually, it is less of a factor than you might expect at most newspapers, but when it happens it creates a smell that is not quickly forgotten.)

So if you’ve got a few bucks, or a buncha bucks, that could use some exercise, you’ve found the place. Again, send me a note at calkinsroyal@gmail.com, and we can talk about it.

THAT DARNED SHOE

When my friend Paul and I put that profile of a pelican at the top of this page, it never occurred to us that anyone would see anything but a pelican profile. But we have learned the hard way that some people, and you know who you are, look at the pelican and see a high-heeled shoe. Take a look. You’ll see what I mean.

This high-heeled shoe instead of a pelican is not a good thing.Branding and marketing and all.

So look here soon for another change. Obviously, our budget doesn’t allow for any meaningful testing of designs or other factors, but I’m headed out to find something new for the top. Maybe I’ll find a pelican that doesn’t look like a shoe. I have reached out to some photographer friends, hoping they might share some iconic Monterey Bay images but I guess they’re busy trying to come up with sponsorship money instead.

With any luck, I’ll find a beautiful beach scene, or some perfectly photogenic otters. And if you see the otters and think one of them looks like, say, Joe Heston, please don’t tell me.

Later.

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