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Bill McCrone has a question for the folks at City Hall, and it’s a simple one: What’s the hurry?

Specifically, why are city officials renegotiating lease terms with Chris Shake for the Fisherman’s Grotto on Fisherman’s Wharf, where the city lease doesn’t expire until 2021. And why are they renegotiating lease terms with the Surfside entity for the London Bridge Pub property at the foot of the wharf, where the current lease still has 20 months to run.

Those renegotiations are the topic of a closed-door meeting of the council tonight.

McCrone is a former planning commissioner and longtime critic of the city’s leasing practices at the wharf, which he has researched extensively. In a letter to the city, he notes that the City Charter requires the city to collect fair market value on its properties. He asks how the city can calculate fair market value so far in advance.

“The California Constitution and numerous other state and federal laws prohibit government officials, elected or appointed or employed, from giving away public property for less than adequate compensation to the public.  If you extend these two outrageous ‘ground’ leases or enter into new leases at less than FMR (market value), you will be defrauding the public and giving public property to private persons for free,” McCrone wrote.

McCrone, a retired lawyer, also argues that Surfside holds the master lease on the pub property and profits handsomely by subleasing the property, performing little or no service of value in the process. He says that’s a violation of city regulations.

Surfside, headed by the Cannery Row Co.’s Ted Balestreri,  “is doing nothing more than managing a well seasoned property but receives 60% to 70% of the rent for management.  Five % to 10% is the market rate for commercial property management.  No matter how you paper it, extending Surfside’s management for more than 10% of gross rents is a fraud on the public,” McCrone wrote.

“The good ole boys are at it again.  The dust has hardly settled on the recent election before they have once again forced their noses under the tent to reap enormous public subsidy for their commercial operations.  The reasons to refuse this premature negotiation are now more numerous than they have been the past two or three times the Council has refused their requests.”

The Partisan emailed various city officials this morning to ask why the city would consider renegotiating the leases early. City Manager Mike McCarthy replied only that that was something under consideration. The Partisan could not determine late Tuesday what if any action the council had taken.

The City Council two years ago began efforts to reform leasing practices at the city-owned wharf, largely because several longtime leaseholders were operating at sweetheart rates bestowed on them decades ago. In some cases, those leaseholders are profiting handsomely by subleasing the properties, with none of the profit going to the city.

Wharf tenants responded with a public relations campaign accusing City Hall of seeing to out local businesses and replacing them with chain operations able to pay more. The businesses also complained that the city was seeking the shorten the length of the leases, making it difficult for the tenants to obtain financing. A handful of leases have expired during the debate and the city is negotiating with Bay Area firms to fill a couple of the spaces, but city officials maintain they recognize the value of unique, local operations.

The merchants’ resistance to various reform measures was fortified in November when longtime Councilmember Libby Downey, a leader of the reform effort, lost her re-election bid. She was ousted by Dan Albert Jr., the former school official who received considerable financial support from wharf interests. For practical purposes, the wharf interest generally enjoy support from a council majority.

In his letter, McCrone argues that any council member who has received more than $500 from wharf interests should recuse themselves.

“You ought to pass an ordinance to limit campaign contributions,” McCrone wrote. “Your self-serving failure to do so has initiated a strong sentiment among citizens to take this issue to the polls with a charter amendment.”

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The case for campaign contribution reform grows with each passing election.

Take the city of Monterey, for instance, where a reform-minded city councilwoman, Libby Downey, was knocked out of office in November by an opponent who raised nearly six times as much money, much of it from a segment of the business community that Downey had tangled with.

The successful candidate was Dan Albert Jr., son of the longtime Monterey mayor. In a three-candidate race for two seats on the council, he pulled in $53,365 compared to $9,411 for Downey and $8,549 for Alan Haffa, who retained his seat.

Downey and Haffa have led the city’s efforts to reform leasing practices at city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf, where some longtime tenants who negotiated sweetheart lease deals with the city decades ago are allowed to sublease the space to other businesses at greatly increased rates without the city receiving any share of the additional income.

The effort to change that and other practices has been met with furious resistance from wharf tenants, who have repeatedly  accused city officials of attempting to turn the wharf over to chain restaurants at the expense of local, family-owned operations. With Downey’s departure, the city has softened its approach to negotiating more taxpayer-friendly leases at the wharf. The city’s resolve weakened further when Councilman Timothy Barrett, previously in the Haffa-Downey camp on the issue, was somehow persuaded to switch sides. Haffa is now expected to be outvoted 4-1 on wharf matters, so the established wharf interests appear to have regained their grip on  city leasing policy.

Albert’s contributors listed in the most recent campaign spending reports include the Monterey Commercial Property Owners Association, $2,500; and two closely related entities, the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Monterey Hospitality Association, $5,000 apiece. The $5,000 contributions came after the election and were presumably intended to help Albert build his treasury for a re-election effort. He also took in contributions from Monterey Fish Co., Randy’s Fishing Trips, the Cannery Row Co., Portola Hotel, Marriott Hotel and lawyer Tony Lombardo, who represents the Shake family interests on the wharf.

Incidentally, or not, in his previous role as associate superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Albert was an active participant in the pay-to-play system of awarding school bond contracts to companies that provide most of the financing for school bond measure campaigns.

The Monterey district was not alone, of course. School districts throughout California and beyond traditionally financed bond campaigns with contributions from bond underwriters and construction companies that would directly benefit from the resulting school construction contracts. In California, the state Treasurer’s Office only last year enacted regulations that prohibit contracts from being awarded to the firms that financed the corresponding bond measures. Bonding companies can still contribute to bond measure campaigns but they cannot then recover their investment directly by receiving contracts in the same communities.

No one has accused Albert of any illegal or unethical activities. The connection between school bond campaign financing and subsequent contracts has been so clear for so long that the built-in conflicts of interests were widely viewed as a necessary cost of getting schools built or repaired.

While Albert was the local school district’s chief business officer, his wife, Sharon, ran the successful Measure P campaign that raised more than $100 million in 2010, and she received considerable and justifiable praise for her efforts. With district officials barred from direct involvement in bond campaigns, companies that went on to receive sizable construction or finance contracts contributed the bulk of the money needed to persuade voters to approve the MPUSD bond program. A sizable share of the resulting construction work went to campaign contributor Harris Construction of Fresno, now under investigation for a bid-rigging scheme in Fresno. Others contributing to Measure P and then benefiting from the construction program included the Piper Jaffray and Stone & Youngberg bond firms, Keygent Advisers, a San Francisco bond counsel and a Fresno architecture firm.

Efforts to limit campaign contributions locally have surfaced from time to time but most have sputtered as local political action committees such as the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Salinas Valley Leadership Group have stepped up to support the most commerce-friendly candidates. At the moment, however, momentum appears to be growing for new, tougher rules that would affect candidates for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

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All was not lost on election day, at least not locally

edit_14232393_1166055086801312_6162782396031943489_nOn the way home from therapy on Wednesday, I stopped along the highway to pick up an election souvenir, a green-and-white YES ON Z sign. It now rests next to my computer as a reminder that all is not lost, that sometimes the good guys win.

I’m sure I will look at the sign often while reading about the latest groaner from the Trump administration. I am hoping that it will ease my despair and keep me focused on the positive and the local.

While the national election was an unmitigated disaster, it was a mixed bag locally. You had to look closely for the positives, but they were there.

Measure Z, of course, wins first prize for greatest success in the face of overwhelming money. It was the anti-fracking measure and you know all about it so I’ll spare you the normal details except for how the oil industry spent at least $5.5 million to fight it. (I’m hoping our friends at KSBW and elsewhere in electronic media spend their campaign advertising fortune wisely.)

Co-conspirator Larry Parsons and I made the rounds of election parties Tuesday night. We tried to stop by the Measure Z party in Salinas but a goodly share of the Measure Z camp is, well, it’s older now and the lights were off before 10 p.m.

We did stop by the Yes on Y affair. Medical marijuana, another ballot winner. I thought for a minute we had made a wrong turn and had ended up at a Pebble Beach Food & Wine after-party. There were lots of very pretty people, young and well dressed. I didn’t recognize anyone.

Monterey City Councilwoman Libby Downey’s party nearby was a quieter affair filled with older folks in comfortable clothes. Libby was just as gracious in defeat as she always is, saying that if Dan Albert Jr. had to knock one of the progressives off the council, which he did, it was better that it wasn’t Alan Haffa. For Downey, being on the council has meant also being on the mayors water authority and the boards of TAMC and the transit authority and the sewer board, etc., etc. It has meant almost daily meetings and lots of work. She deserves a standing ovation as she steps aside.

The Seaside results can be interpreted in different ways. I see it as a victory for common sense because even though Ralph Rubio will stick around as mayor, the fact that he didn’t receive an outright majority tells me that the people of Seaside aren’t so keen on the Monterey Downs project. Kay Cline came in a close second on a platform led by her opposition to the racetrack/housing venture. Give her the votes of the other two candidates and she would have won.

Cline’s party at the Press Club was upbeat even though no one in the room was enjoying the national election coverage on the bank of TVs.

Supporting my Seaside thoughts was the defeat of Councilman Ian Oglesby, who once was a promising newcomer but who fell into the trap of doing what Ralph wanted him to do. He will be replaced by Kayla Jones, a rising star with a progressive view of Seaside’s needs. Dave Pacheco was re-elected, a good thing because every council needs someone who is only looking out for the people.

Seaside was the setting for Sen. Bill Monning’s intimate victory party, populated mostly by campaign workers and elected officials such as Jane Parker and Mary Adams. Mel Mason was there, looking well. The Monning affair was at DeMarco’s Pizza, my go-to place for pizza. Monning and Haffa are also regulars there and you should be, too.  (This is what they call a plug. DeMarco’s is on Broadway (Obama Way) across the street from Goodwill.)

In Salinas, the big news was that odd-man-out Councilman Jose Castaneda is all the way out, finishing fourth in a four-way race for his seat. All went as expected in Pacific Grove. Nothing new there. Same with Marina, though it was gratifying to see Kevin Saunders fall flat, especially after he lobbed some anti-Semitic nonsense at Weekly editor Sara Rubin. Go off somewhere and torch one, Kevin, and leave the rest of us alone.

The Hartnell bond was approved and the transportation tax may have been approved. It needs two-thirds approval and had almost exactly that as of last count but there are thousands more ballots to count before we rest.

Could have been worse. Not nearly good enough to salve the sting of the Trump victory but good enough to keep some good people in the game for a few more cycles.

Congratulations to the Measure Z camp, especially Jeanne Turner, who did a remarkable job of organizing the petition drive and keeping her colleagues focused.

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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6People like controversy but only if the issues are straightforward and the arguments not too hard to follow. Unfortunately, that has not been the case with the long-running debate over the city of Monterey’s leasing policies at city-owned Fishermans Wharf, also known as the wharf or Wharf 1.

The problem is that while the property is public, the lease terms are not, primarily because the formula for determining the rents is based on the gross income of the various restaurants and other businesses. The business owners consider those figures proprietary and the city allows the numbers to remain confidential. That helps to create a debate long on talk and bluster and short on facts and details. Now that City Hall has ended its decades of rewarding friends with sweetheart deals at the wharf, reform-minded council members Libby Downey and Alan Haffa are leading an extremely difficult campaign to bring the rents up to market terms. The folks enjoying the benefits of the old deflated rents have responded by making the city out to be a villain on an inexplicable mission to drive out local tenants and bring in the chains. It makes no sense, but that’s what they’re left with as long as they don’t want to acknowledge the cheap rates they’ve been paying.

Now, here, for Partisan readers and their friends everywhere, is, finally, a simple account of how things work. It was put together by Haffa, one of the two City Council members who has been standing up to the moneyed interests at the wharf .

Haffa writes: “Businesses on the wharf pay a percentage of their gross revenue or a minimum rent per square foot, both of which are below market compared to commercial building leases. For example, wharf leaseholders pay 3 to 3.5% gross whereas other businesses in town pay 6 to 8% gross percentage rent; and wharf leaseholders pay 20 cents to 60 cents per square foot whereas typical commercial rents in town are $1.50 to $3.50 sq/ft.

“There are businesses on the Wharf that have paid as little as $400 to $680/month rent, which is far below market rent. In fact, the city recently signed three leases off the Wharf to local businesses for $3.00 to $3.50 sq/ft—or approximately five to ten times the sq/ft rent of businesses on the Wharf. And the city signed one lease on the Wharf with a local business at market rate and the new lease is a win-win for business and public alike.”

There is more to the issue, of course. Wharf business owners also contend, with only slight validity, that the city wants to sign leases that are too short to allow them to obtain the long-term financing that some of them need to finance improvements to their business. That may have been true initially but city officials agreed to grant longer terms, more than 10 years, for tenants who could make a case for them.

The wharf interests for the past year have engaged in a crafty public relations campaign that, like many crafty public relations campaigns, obfuscates the issues by creating a non-existent controversy. In this case, they argue via Facebook and other means that the city wants to drive out the existing mom-and-pop operations and bring in chain restaurants and maybe even a Hooters. City officials may be a lot of things but they’re not stupid. They know that tourists are turned off by the chains that have proliferated on Cannery Row and are far more interested in unique, local offerings. Don’t buy this nonsense.

Another thing Haffa and Downey are attempting to change on the wharf is the longstanding practice of long-term tenants subleasing their space for remarkable profits that don’t benefit the city. In other words, Tenant A pays X a month to the city to rent restaurant space under a lease signed 30 or 40 years ago. But Tenant A closed his/her restaurant years ago and now rents the space to Tenant B for X plus X plus X plus X. It’s a good thing for Tenant A, not such a good thing for the city or for you, unless you happen to be Tenant A.

By the way, at one point Haffa and Downey were on the winning side of the debate by virtue of the seeming alliance with Councilman Timothy Barrett. But Barrett has now drifted to the side of what one city critic has dubbed the Wharflords. He put out a position paper recently that takes the side of the tenants, going so far as to grossly overstate the amount of sales taxes generated by the wharf.

So what caused Barrett’s change of heart?

It’s not a mystery.

City campaign finance records show that Barrett received $4,000 in campaign contributions in 2014 from the Shake family, the largest single operator on the wharf. Restaurants and whale watching boats.

That amounted to nearly a third of his total campaign treasury.

Am I saying he sold his vote? I’d have to be a mind reader to make that allegation. But I do feel comfortable opining that he should disqualify himself from future discussions and votes on the subject. I raised that idea with him in an email but he hasn’t responded.

By the way, for the Jon Chowns and Chris Shakes and Tony Lombardos of the world, if you disagree with Haffa’s numbers, let’s see some facts, some numbers. No more of that “the city’s being mean to the tenants” stuff. And for Jerry Duncan, the former Fresno city councilman who has been part of the anti-city PR campaign. Please keep sharing your opinion but only after disclosing who’s signing your checks. Thanks.

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IMG_0690Monterey City Councilman Timothy Barrett frequently aligns with colleagues Libby Downey and Alan Haffa but has taken a sharp turn to oppose their effort to reform the city’s archaic leasing policies for the city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf.

Barrett has distributed what he is calling an “information paper” to argue essentially that the city treats commercial tenants at the wharf unfairly even though several are operating under below-market rental agreements negotiated decades ago.

Unfortunately for Barrett and others who have taken up the tenants’ cause, he sabotages his argument with erroneous information, including a huge exaggeration of the taxes generated by the wharf merchants.

Early in his paper, Barrett features a list of “incontrovertible facts.” One is that the city is spending some of the wharf income on impermissible expenses. He writes that state law requires all income derived from tideland properties to be expended in the tideland zone but he cites no examples of money improperly spent. The implication is that wharf income must be reinvested in the wharf, though state law and city policy clearly allow for the money to be used for other tideland purposes such as harbor dredging.

The heart of his case that the city is impermissibly profiting from the wharf and not reinvesting all the rental income into the wharf for maintenance, improvements or other expenses. He argues that the wharf enterprises are subsidizing the city and suggests it should be the other way around.

What’s wrong with his argument is simply this. If all the income from rental property had to be plowed back into the property, what would be the point of owning the property? Would any commercial landlords intentionally adopt a break-even business plan? The city could operate the wharf as a non-profit venture by offering discounted rental rates, but it would need to offer leasing opportunities to all comers and require them to provide a public service component beyond the catch of the day.

Which brings up another of Barrett’s “incontrovertible facts.”

Without much thought, apparently, Barrett writes this: “Incontrovertible Fact: Wharf 1 generates approximately 25% of the City of Monterey sales tax revenues. Sales tax revenues accrue to the General Fund where they support City services such as fire and police, services which benefit the entire community.”

The problem here is that the wharf generates only 4 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue, according to City Manager Mike McCarthy in a memo to the council last week. Not 25 percent. Not 10 percent. Four percent.

Barrett must not have thought about the scale of the wharf operations – a dozen or so restaurants, some gift shops, some fishing and cruising operations – and compare it to the scale of the rest of the sales tax-generating businesses in the city. Such as Del Monte Center, downtown, the Fremont and Lighthouse business corridors and, of course, Cannery Row.

You may have seen Barrett’s 25 percent figure repeated in a letter to the editor of the Herald the other day. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

Finally, Barrett falls for a big piece of the PR campaign being waged by the wharf merchants in support of the status quo. They have argued, without evidence, that the city’s effort to modernize the leasing structure would bring in chain restaurants and eliminate some of the unique and local operations there.

Barrett writes, “On multiple occasions during comments delivered to the Monterey City Council, proponents of the City’s Leasing Policies / Guidelines have indicated a desire to see corporate chains on Wharf 1 where locally owned and headquartered businesses now exist.”

I emailed Barrett over the weekend and again Monday to ask him if he could cite specifics. I haven’t heard back from him. Downey said Monday that she has not heard any city representatives say anything of the sort. She and Haffa, the chief proponents of reforming the lease policies, have made it clear repeatedly that they want the city to maintain the local character of the wharf.

The council takes up the issue of wharf leases again Tuesday night. With Barrett’s defection from the reform camp, it seems likely that the wharf interests will continue to chip away at the reform measures and that people who signed wharf leases years ago will continue subleasing the properties to others for multiples of what they are paying the city. It amounts to profiteering at the expense of taxpayers.

There’s a lot of tradition in a place like Monterey, the good kind and the not so good.

Here’s Barrett’s white paper and the city manager’s response.

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The Monterey Bay Partisan tries to tell you how to vote

160_f_120626248_g4tp9zjjlz9bglrzr86wd5wixngadl3kIF YOU WANT SURPRISES, YOU’RE IN THE WRONG PLACE

Back when I was editor of the Monterey Herald, I found it amusing to compare our political endorsements with those of the Monterey County Weekly. The Herald was, of course, the local headquarters of the mainstream media and the Weekly was the alternative.

But for a brief period, I was able to drag the Herald’s endorsements a little to the left, far enough that the choices of the daily and once-a-week publications became a rather close match. I imagined the ink-stained wretches at the Weekly gnashing their teeth, at least a little. Part of the job description at alternative papers everywhere is to huff and puff about those corporate suits over at the daily.

I suspect the fine folks at the Weekly don’t mind at all that the Herald in my absence has done a much better job of being the voice of the establishment. For proof of that, look no farther than its support for the Monterey Downs horse-racing, home-building venture despite flaws such as no water and no financing. Or its upcoming endorsements in the local political races. Last time around, the Herald even endorsed Marina water board member Howard Gustafson, the Donald Trump of Peninsula politics.

Today, I set out the Partisan’s endorsements in the local political races and I am afraid that close observers will notice a strong resemblance to the choices made this week by the Weekly. In my decidedly subjective view, the Weekly made some wise choices and I found the presentation to be excellent as well. Short, to the point, easy to follow and filled with entertaining tidbits.

I’m afraid that this exercise will accomplish little except to reinforce the choices in the latest Weekly. I’ll flag any variations.

CONGRESS: Jimmy Panetta

I don’t care for political dynasties either, but being Leon’s son should give Jimmy a big head start in Washington. While his GOP opponent, Casey Lucius, would be one of many new faces in Congress, Jimmy’s Rolodex will be overflowing with the names of ready-made allies.

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Panetta

Panetta is the smart, engaging former prosecutor who served in Afghanistan and never did anything wrong. Lucius may be right when she says he wouldn’t be on the verge of congressional office if he was, say Jimmy Williams or Jimmy Smith, but, then again, he just might be.

Lucius has gained excellent name recognition and a crowd of admirers. She’d be wise to put that into a race for state office, but because of her military and other federal experience, she seems interested only in Washington. I imagine the 20th Congressional District seat will be Panetta’s for as long as he wants it. If Lucius really has her heart set, she’d be wise to make a run at the Assembly in a few years. Her politics are a bit conservative for the region but she has already shown an ability to win people over.

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Lucius

Lucius constantly makes the point that she deserves the job because she has worked hard for it and really, really wants it, and that Panetta is the favorite in part because of his lineage. That resonates with voters who are tired of what Washington has become. But elections aren’t about being fair to underdogs or rewarding earnestness. Panetta brings everything that Lucius brings to the job and he will be a particularly able representative from day one.

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 17: Bill Monning, no matter who might be running against him.

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 29: Mark Stone, no matter who might be running against him.

ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 30: Anna Caballero. This one gives me pause. She’s not in the same realm as Monning and Stone. While they are true public servants, she is more of a career politician/bureaucrat. She had no problem accepting tons of money from wherever, especially the charter school movement, which is a thinly veiled attempt to weaken the teachers union.

Despite some drawbacks, Caballero still inspires more confidence than her opponent, Karina Cervantez Alejo, the former Watsonville mayor and wife of soon-to-be Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, the former assemblyman. There seems to be a tag team approach to the Alejo campaigns and at least some element of mystery to their agendas.

Monterey City Council: Incumbents Libby Downey and Alan Haffa

This is about balance of power on the council, old school vs. new school.

Representing the old school is challenger Dan Albert Jr., son of the former longtime mayor. To a large degree, he is the candidate of the longtime Fishermans Wharf interests, Cannery Row and the closely related hospitality industry.

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Downey

Downey, a retired school nurse, and Haffa, a Monterey Peninsula College, are running as an unofficial slate. Though they have had their differences, they are united by their effort to reform the city’s leasing practices at the wharf, where businesses that signed leases decades ago are living off sub-leases costing the tenants many times more. Albert’s father was a major player in adopting the old order on the wharf. While the elder Albert deserves credit for major accomplishments, including the Monterey Sports Center and the fantastically successful Windows on the Bay initiative, he also remained a close ally of the corporate interests that have pulled the strings at City Hall for decades.

By electing Albert over either of the incumbents, voters would be tipping the scales to the corporate side and away from the reform side.

Albert was a long time teacher and principal in the Monterey Peninsula school system. He recently retired as assistant superintendent of the district, a position in which he did not distinguish himself. He turned much of the district’s bond financing work over to a Clovis-based consultant who has since been fined by the Securities & Exchange Commission for conflicts of interests and who is currently embroiled in an FBI investigation in Fresno that focuses on a school contractor that also did considerable work here under Albert’s watch. I will be surprised if some of the Monterey district’s bonding troubles aren’t incorporated into the Fresno investigation.

The $100 million bond measure that Albert oversaw for the Monterey schools began with a political campaign financed largely by the same bonding companies that later received contracts to execute the bond. The state Treasurers Office has since banned such arrangements, something that should have happened decades ago.

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Haffa

Despite being past retirement age, Downey is a tireless representative of the city at various other agencies and a voice of reason on transportation and water issues. She is more of a moderate than the aggressively progressive Haffa, who was active in the Occupy Wall Street movement and who was a Sanders delegate. He brings political passion to the council task but he also has shown a pragmatic side when necessary.

Marina mayor: Bruce Delgado

Delgado is a true believer in environmental causes and the inherent goodness of people. He is an idealist who has learned to support intelligent economic development for the good of his constituency. He is an effective mayor and a truly nice guy in a city that doesn’t always play nice. His opponent, Kevin Saunders, is all about medical marijuana and creating a fuss.

Pacific Grove mayor: Bill Kampe

Kampe is so solid as to be downright boring. He’s good with the administrative aspects of the job and he has dived into the technical aspects, including the water issues that dominate local governance. In my view, he’s been too friendly with Cal Am and other corporate interests, but he can back up his positions with a reasonable amount of logic.

His opponent, Councilman Dan Miller, loves his city but he simply doesn’t have the temperament for the job. His friends say he has been getting calmer over time but it could be a while before he’s ready to pick up the gavel.

Salinas mayor: No endorsement

Incumbent Joe Gunter, the former police detective, is a throwback to simpler times in a city that faces every type of big city problems, including heavy duty crime and homelessness. His support for law enforcement hasn’t translated into putting more cops on the street, though, and remarkably the Police Department has even had to close its narcotics bureau simply to keep the numbers up on the streets.

Gunter runs an OK meeting but he has shown little of the leadership that the city needs to build its economy, reverse some of its blight and quiet the gangs. The previous mayor, Dennis Donohue, was too much of a dreamer, a big spender chasing elusive rewards. Gunter is too much the opposite.

Unfortunately, his opponent, auto repair shop owner Amit Pandya, has a somewhat sketchy reputation in business circles and he hasn’t been able to demonstrate where he would find the money to finance his big promise to add lots of officers to the force. The Weekly endorsed Gunter.

Salinas City Council District 1: Brian Contreras

For as long as I can remember, Contreras has been the talking head that media types turn to for comment whenever gang activity spikes in Salinas, which is often. He founded the Second Chance Family and Youth Services organization, and he does know as much as anyone about the gang problem. He stands out in a weak field.

Incumbent Jose Castaneda mouths the type of politics that the Partisan embraces, seriously progressive and inclusive, but it’s all for show. His pouty opposition to everything has become an obstacle and a distraction. He needs to go away. Sheriff’s union leader Scott Davis is a creation of contractor Don Chapin’s pro-development political machine and a shill for Sheriff Steve Bernal.

Salinas City Council District 4: Virginia Mendoza

I don’t know much about her but I’m at a loss to think of a reason to vote for De La Rosa. The Weekly gave her a thumbs up.

Salinas City Council District 6: Incumbent Jyl Lutes

She has a long record of public service, representing progressive views for the most part, and her opponent, Tony Villegas, hasn’t give any good reason to support him.

Seaside mayor: Kay Cline

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Cline

Cline started as a one-issue candidate, but it’s the biggest issue in town. Monterey Downs. She has been an active opponent of the misbegotten project along with her husband, retired meteorology professor Bill Weigle. Though there is some support for the big racetrack/housing project in Seaside, it’s mostly the short-term variety bought and paid for by the would-be developer. The project is a fiasco and incumbent Ralph Rubio’s support for it is one reason he should go. Rubio has been a solid mayor but it was often difficult to tell if he was wearing his mayoral hat or his Carpenters Union hat.

Cline has been a leader of the Sustainable Seaside environmental group for a decade now and she is on the side of transparency and economic development that enhances the city without simply enriching the developers.

Former Mayor Felix Bachofner is making another run at the office and he also represents a decent choice. The downside is that he mostly a budget wonk and, well, he’s already had his chance. Newcomer Gertrude Smith could make a great councilmember and/or mayor someday.

Seaside City Council: Kayla Jones and Dave Pacheco

I was impressed by Ian Oglesby when I met him a decade ago. Mature, articulate, he was like a reborn Jerry Smith with additional skills. But he has been a major disappointment on the council, showing himself to be a follower instead of any kind of a leader.

Jones is the freshest of fresh faces, just 23 years old, but articulate beyond her years. She comes from a political family and already understands city politics, and its needs, as well as Oglesby.

Incumbent Dave Pacheco is the nice guy that every council needs. He is the former city recreation leader and he oozes concern for youth. For him, this is about service, not politics.

That’s it, folks. I’d like to make recommendations in the Pacific Grove and Del Rey Oaks city council races, but I don’t know enough about the candidates to make intelligence choices. For the PG council, the Weekly went with Cynthia Garfield, Robert Huitt and Jenny McAdams. In Del Rey Oaks, the Weekly went with Mike Ventimiglia and Kristin Clark.

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New plan emerges for homeless parking in Monterey

Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.A new plan to provide safe overnight parking to six homeless women is to be presented at the Monterey City Council meeting at 4 p.m. today. The location — a city lot next to the Police Department.

The City Council had voted 3-2 last week against a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street as part of the church’s One Starfish program. (See previous Partisan article here.) Supporters expected approval but Councilwoman Libby Downey decided at the last minute to vote against the plan because of strong opposition from church neighbors, who said they had already been dealing with negative interactions with homeless people.

Downey said afterward that it was a difficult decision that some had misinterpreted as a slap at the homeless and the One Starfish program. She said she remained fully supportive of the program and her only concern was the location. Since the vote, she has worked with city staff to come up with an solid alternative, and she said Tuesday morning that she believes they were successful.

With council members Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett strongly supporting programs to aid the homeless, look for approval of the new plan.

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Boxing. Businessman in boxing gloves on backgroundAs if the fight over Fisherman’s Wharf leases wasn’t creating enough drama for the Monterey City Council, a new City Hall skirmish has broken out that promises to be at least as spirited.

The first punch was thrown during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Monterey Planning Commission when two commission members, David Stocker and Paul Davis, received emails from Mayor Clyde Roberson and Vice Mayor Alan Haffa asking them to withdraw their applications for reappointment to the commission.

Roberson and Haffa constitute the council’s nominating committee for commission appointments and they indicated in the emails that they have essentially decided to impose term limits for commission members though neither the council nor voters have enacted term limits. Traditionally, a two-person committee nominates residents for commission appointments that are then voted on by the five-member council.

The terms of four commissioners, including Stocker and Davis, are set to expire and the city has received applications from two others active in city politics, Rick Heuer and Sharon Dwight. Heuer is a lobbyist for the hospitality association and has been an adviser to the mayor, especially during the current effort by other council members to toss out a set of sweetheart leases between the city and wharf-related businesses. Dwight is a key figure in the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Program.

(UPDATE: Heuer says he has not applied for a position on the Planning Commission. Roberson says he cannot comment because commission applications are confidential under California law, specifically the Maddy Act, which requires government bodies to advertise commission openings. The text of the Maddy Act makes no reference to confidentiality, however, and a spot check of other jurisdictions found that  commission applications in many California cities make it clear that the applications are subject to public disclosure under the state Public Records Act. Monterey’s application, however, says the form remains confidential until the appointment process is complete. The spot check turned up one other city, Ripon, that labels the applications confidential.)

The terms of Planning Commissioners Willard McCrone and Luis Osorio are also set to expire but they apparently have not received emails asking them to resign. McCrone has been a leading force behind the effort to require wharf business to begin paying market rates for their space. The business and the hospitality industry has mounted a campaign to beat back the increases by portraying city officials as incompetent and uncaring. Perhaps not incidentally, Roberson and Haffa have been on opposite sides of that debate, with the mayor siding with established wharf interests and opposing the reform efforts.

McCrone commented Wednesday, “I expect my (email) any moment, and Luis Osorio, too. That is four of seven  commissioners from the best PC on the Central Coast, by far.  Dismissing over 50 years of experience.  It will have the effect of gutting the Waterfront Master Plan, in which we have pushed to recapture some of the waterfront from the wharf merchants for the public.  The Plan has been languishing in the back room for over 6 months while Clyde waits to get rid of us. ”

In a response email to the City Council and the rest of the Planning Commission, Stocker wrote that if the City Council wants to establish term limits, fine, but only after the matter is subject to an “open, public council discussion and decision.” As it is, the attempt by Roberson and Haffa to reshape the commission is simply “unacceptable,” Stocker said in a phone interview Wednesday. Stocker, a builder, has been on the commission for at least 15 years.

Davis, an architect, couldn’t be reached for immediate comment, but Stocker said he had spoken to his commission colleague.

“He said this is bullshit and he’ll fight,” Stocker said.

City Councilwoman Libby Downey said she also considered the attempted elimination of the commissioners as unacceptable.

“I’m very disturbed,” she said. “Two people cannot do this.” And if Roberson has received support from Councilman Ed Smith, which would provide him with a council majority, it would be a violation of the state’s open meetings law, Downey said.

Downey and others have said that Roberson ultimately would like to do away with the Planning Commission, partly because he believes it has too much authority on some matters and adds unnecessary bureaucracy on others.

The letter from Roberson and Haffa to Stocker reads:

Thank you for your years of dedicated service on the Planning Commission to keep Monterey a special place to live, work, and visit.  We value your contributions and caring for our precious City.

At this time, our subcommittee feels that it is time to allow other dedicated citizens to serve. We feel that 8 consecutive years on the Planning Commission in a good number.  Going forward, it is important to bring a variety of people from the community onto our commissions. 

Unlike other commissions, the Planning Commission often acts as a quasi-judicial body, and many instances, is the final approval body.

If you decide to take a break, we hope you will apply again in the future.  If you desire a break, you might consider withdrawing your application for the Planning Commission so it is clear that you are not being “fired,” which is absolutely not the case.

The subcommittee does not want to lose your expertise and experience.  To that end, we hope you will consider serving either on the Architectural Review Commission or Historic Preservation Commission.  There are openings on both, and both would benefit from your membership.

We hope to hear your positive response on the ARC and HPC opportunities.  Please let us know as soon as possible.

In appreciation,

Mayor and Vice-Mayor

Here is Stocker’s response:

Last October, during the election cycle, when we met at Libby’s, you had said that you would be putting in term limits for all committees, including the NIP (Neighborhood Improvement Program), and therefore, you would not support me for another planning commission appointment. When you said that, I had indicated that if that was the decision of the council, I would consider a different committee. The council has not voted on term limits, and I believe that discussion should happen, instead of it being put in place on select committees and individuals. I understand that my long service to the city has been at the pleasure of the Council, that is the essence of an appointed position, and it has been my pleasure to serve the city. But if the decisions not to reappoint are due to time limits, it should be a open, public, council discussion and decision.

I wish you all the best.

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How could I forget to follow the money?

161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6Gramps also told me to always check campaign contributions when writing about political issues but, doggone it, I forgot to do that before writing the piece about the smackdown attached to the leases at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

Sure enough, there were some contributions that may help explain why Councilman Ed Smith thinks the existing policies are just fine and why he hasn’t joined with  Alan Haffa, Libby Downey and Timothy Barrett in trying to put some business sense into the process.

I haven’t been able to find Ed’s campaign reports from his first attempt at a council seat, but when he ran last year he got the following contributions from folks who’d like to preserve the sweetheart arrangements at the wharf:

Chris’ Fishing Trips, $250.
Mercurio Brothers, $250.
Monterey Bay Boat Charters, $100.
Cafe Fina, $250.
Ben DiGirolamo, $100
Sam Balesteri, $1,000
Monterey Bay Silver, $250.
Coniglio Family Trust, $250.
Benji Shake, $200
Mary Alice Cerrito Fettis, $100.

The names of some people with wharf interests were conspicuously absent from Smith’s reports. I’m guessing, and it is only a guess, that some of them might have been behind a $2,000 contribution from something called the Monterey Bay Action Committee, with a Carmel address. The thing is, I don’t know what the Monterey Bay Action Committee is but something tells me it’s the Peninsula’s answer to contractor Don Chapin’s Salinas Valley Leadership Group. If you know, please chime in. If I’ve got it wrong, please chime in very loudly.

The fifth member of the City Council, Mayor Clyde Roberson, is also opposed to changing the wharf leasing policies. He ran unopposed for his seat and didn’t receive campaign contributions. So that’s not it. It would be great if he would give us his take on the topic.

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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6CORRECTION PENDING: Based on information from the city, I reported in this post that the average lease rate at the wharf properties is about $1.65 per square foot. I have since been informed that the rate actually is about 65 cents. In his comment below, Willard McCrone states that the “minimum” lease figure is 61 cents. I have not yet been able to fully to determine which of those figures is better for comparison purposes.  In the meantime, anyone with actual numbers is invited to share them in the comment section below. Please attribute.

Gramps didn’t say a lot but what he did say was worth hearing. For instance, he offered fairly often that whenever someone tells you how honest they are, you should make sure they haven’t already lifted your wallet.

When we’d ask why he was so quiet most of the time, he’d answer, “When you don’t know what you’re talking about, stop talking.” Good advice, and I am reminded of it because of how much is being said these days by those who don’t understand the issues in the heated debate over the city of Monterey’s leasing practices at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The topic is much more complicated than you might expect, but to hear the wharf tenants and their pals tell it, it’s simply that the city wants to gouge local businesses without regard to reality or ramifications. The thrust of their argument is that the city is making it up when it says the wharf tenants are paying less than market value rent, but the reality is that the city has ample facts and figures to support its position. In other words, the tenants are attempting the age-old technique of repeating the same fiction over and over until the repetition causes people to start believing it. The key is to keep contending it’s the other side that’s lying. It works in politics, after all, and this debate is all about power politics.

Unfortunately, the facts here are open to fairly easy distortion because the individual leases and sub-leases have been negotiated at various times over the decades and because the wharf isn’t your typical bricks and mortar building on dry land. And because the city owns the property below the wharf and not the structures themselves, the tenants want us to believe the city is trying to extract gold from plain, old mud when, in fact, the city’s watery real estate is about as prime as it gets.

Also complicating matters, the tenants in some cases built the structures that house their businesses. In some cases, the leaseholders long ago sub-leased the property to other tenants, creating a situation in which the leaseholder is making a pretty profit while the city is receiving a relative pittance. Apples to apples comparisons become difficult but that does not mean that the city can’t support its position. The city has obtained expert opinion from some of the region’s most knowledgeable specialists in commercial real estate and applicable law.

Notice that the tenants aren’t broadcasting any numbers, actual figures about how much they’re paying, or not paying. Instead, they keep accusing the city of ignoring facts and numbers. Say it often enough and people will believe it.

TENANTS HAVE PLENTY OF OTHERS TO DO THEIR BIDDING

Many of the current leases that the city wants to rewrite as they expire were negotiated and renewed at less than arms’ length by past councils populated by friends and associates of the tenants. As a result, the rent being paid by many of the businesses is well below market rate, no matter what you are being told by those who don’t really know.

Among those pretending to know is KSBW-TV, which maintained in a recent editorial that the City Council “has started down a short-sighted, ‘never-mind the facts’ path, aimed at changing leases for long-time wharf businesses.”

You’ll notice that the editorial has little to say about the facts that the city supposedly is ignoring. It doesn’t mention that the average monthly lease rate of around $1.65 per square foot is 50 cents to $1 below prevailing rates on the Peninsula.

The tenants argue that the city must allow long-term leases, longer than 10 years, so they can finance improvements to the properties. KSBW simply accepts their assertion that the city won’t allow longer leases even though newly adopted city policies say options beyond 10 years are available. When? When contemplated improvements could not be financed if the business was limited to a 10-year ease.

(At least two City Council members contacted KSBW to quarrel with its version of the “facts” and to ask for an opportunity to rebut the editorial. They were told that they could post a response on the station’s website but couldn’t meet with the KSBW editorial board or have their objections aired. Though the station’s editorials end with “KSBW welcomes responsible replies to this editorial,” that doesn’t amount to an offer of air time and doesn’t imply those responses will be shared with anyone, according to News Director Lawton Dodd.)

The editorial makes the argument, which others are repeating with limp evidence, that the new lease procedures could drive local businesses off the wharf, potentially leading to an invasion by better-financed national chains. Never mind that the city is well aware of the great value of local tenants. The specter of chain restaurants was also raised in a recent Monterey Herald commentary by the Monterey Hospitality Association and the Chamber of Commerce, which were enlisted by the leaseholders to lobby for the lucrative status quo.

Operators of Sapporo and the London Bridge Pub in this building don’t rent their space from the city but from another leaseholder who rents from the city. If the city was receiving the market rate, the restaurant owners would be paying above market rate. How likely is that?

It deserves mention that among those fighting to keep the current lease structure intact is chamber and Hospitality Association stalwart Ted Balestreri of the Cannery Row Company, one of the city’s biggest landlords and holder of the master lease on the property that houses Sapporo Steak & Sushi and the London Bridge Pub at the foot of the commercial wharf. Though that property isn’t on Fisherman’s Wharf, it is subject to the revised leasing practices. While Balestreri’s supporters use the prospect of national chains as a scare tactic, it should be noted that tenants of some of the Cannery Row Company’s best real estate are the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and El Torito, both part of large national chains. (By the way, Balestrieri has said that the Bubba Gump operation on Cannery Row was pulling in more sales per square foot than any other restaurant in the country.)

COUNCIL MEMBERS GETTING HAMMERED FOR DOING THE RIGHT THING

After considerable discussion and consultation with their real estate experts, the City Council, by a 3-2 vote, has approved some 20 new leasing policies and soon will take up two more that would directly impact the wharf. We can expect the leaseholders to fight mightily over the coming months to roll back some the 20 measures and to fight hard against the two current proposals.

The first would require the wharf businesses to cover the expenses assigned to common areas and facilities such as a commercial trash compactor. Unfair, say the businesses. But ask why the city should be required to continue subsidizing these enterprises and the answer is likely to veer into politics rather than business practices.

The second proposal would set a limit on the square footage that could be leased by any one entity. The concern, of course, is that some of the wharf’s most successful entrepreneurs, such as the Shake family, could dominate the wharf property. The Shakes are accomplished restaurateurs but the city rightly fears that having one tenant with the majority of the leased space could put the city at a great disadvantage: Reduce the rent or we’ll pull out.

In another Herald commentary, Chris Shake took issue with the views of Planning Commissioner Willard McCrone, whose research of the leases played a large part in the current reform effort.

Shake wrote, “Commissioner McCrone has no facts or evidence to prove his assumptions that the wharf tenants are paying below-market rent; his assumptions are completely false and have no basis.”

Did Shake then provide facts and figures to disprove McCrone’s assertions? Nope. Nothing at all. He publicly labeled McCrone a liar without a hint of evidence

The fact is, and this is an actual fact, that debate over the wharf leases has turned into a hardball case of politics that has supplanted what should be a professional negotiation. Another fact is that the tenants amount to a politically powerful lot, flexing muscles they have built through decades of political and charitable contributions, family ties and associations with other political and commercial powers.

MESS WITH THE LEASEHOLDERS AND EXPECT TO GET ZAPPED

Often in a debate such as this, taxpayers’ groups would step up to support the government’s position because below-market rental rates essentially require taxpayers to subsidize the enterprises. But the most active taxpayer group on the Peninsula is the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association, which is closely allied with the Hospitality Association, which has taken up the tenants’ cause.

The council members pushing this effort should be congratulated. Instead, they have found themselves under heavy attack. For many years, well into this century, the city’s real estate matters were overseen by a fellow who had virtually no previous experience with real estate. At one point lasting more than a year, the city forgot it owned a condo intended to provide affordable housing, so it sat vacant. This is not a fact, only a theory, but some suspect that city officials made a conscious decision to let themselves be outmatched in negotiations with the wharf tenants. It was simply easier thatr way.

Going forward, support for professionalizing the leases comes from council members Libby Downey, Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett. Mayor Clyde Roberson has gone the other way. Whether that has anything to do with his previous service on the council, between 1981 and 2006, isn’t clear one way or the other. Also going the other way, Ed Smith, who has championed the tenants’ case at every opportunity.

When I came to the Peninsula as city editor of the Herald in 2000, I asked assistant city editor Calvin Demmon, a wise adviser, about the Cannery Row Company.

“Cannery Row?” he said. “That’s the third rail of Peninsula politics.” For those you too young to get the reference, it comes from electric trains. The third rail is the one that carries the juice. It’s the rail that one doesn’t mess with.

Those are some of the facts. There are others that we’re not prepared to discuss because we haven’t studied them well enough. To some degree, then, we’re following grandpa’s advice, and we’re hoping that others who haven’t studied the issues will follow along for now.

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Sometimes a picture can be worth a thousand votes

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Jay Varney, sworn in this week as sheriff of conservative Madera County, is on to something. Varney did some effective messaging with his creative typography and his deft reference to having had law enforcement experience in Texas, a separate nation when it comes to policing. Monterey County candidates may want to consider his technique rather than going with the same old Joe Blow for Supervisor signs.

Some suggestions. When he runs for re-election in four years, Sheriff Steve Bernal may want to use a large dollar sign in place of each S to remind potential challengers that  he’s the guy with all the campaign money, assuming he hasn’t done something to upset his brother’s well-heeled mother-in-law.

When prosecutor Jimmy Panetta runs for Congress, he might want to skip the last name entirely and just use a picture of his famous dad with a big smile. Similarly, when Felix Bachofner runs for Seaside mayor again, he should just leave off the last name and let it go at that. Too difficult.

Whatever Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett runs for next, his signs could have his name inscribed on military-style tombstones like those at the new national cemetery at Fort Ord to remind people that he was the guy who made the cemetery a reality. Congressman Sam Farr would quibble, of course, but he’ll probably be out of the picture by then. As for Burnett, the tombstone imagery might become even more apt if the desalination project doesn’t get on a better track and if voters haven’t forgotten the meltdown at City Hall.

Monterey City Councilwoman Libby Downey, surrounded now by so many progressives on the council, should think about using her full name, Liberal Downey, on her signs to make it clear she belongs.

Spanish-speaking Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning of Carmel has statewide political ambitions. To appeal to the widest possible demographic, he would be wise to scatter some accent marks throughout his name.

During his successful race for county supervisor, retired judge John Phillips was criticized in print by former prosecutor Ann Hill, who contended that he was a not-so-good-old boy when it came to issues of gender equality. To remind voters that he was the guy who shook it off and went on to a convincing victory, he might want to highlight four letters of his last name, as in John PHILLips.

Over at the Marina Coast Water District, Howard Gustafson could turn the O in Howard into a face of an angry man yelling at someone.

Ex-cop Joe Gunter, mayor of Salinas, could simply steal the gun idea from Varney.

And Supervisor Dave Potter, if he runs again,  should have his signs play up both of his faces.

 

(BTW, it would be really useful to the Partisan if those of you who read this on Facebook would hit the share button so all your friends can see what kind of nonsense amuses you)

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