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It took forever for the state to get its act together on groundwater, but it finally did. The Legislature agreed in 2014 that the groundwater that supports agriculture and other life forms cannot continued to be mined without concern for the future, that some sort of management structure must be put in place to assure that the underground water not be pumped for profits without a mechanism to make sure that it be maintained, if not for all time, at least another century or two.

Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to create rules. And to craft and regulate those rules, bureaucracy must be created. Again unfortunately, the state left that task to the local governmental jurisdictions, many of which have spent decades or more proving their inability to manage resources. The biggest groundwater basin hereabouts is the Salinas Valley basin and it is in serious decline although a Farm Bureau leader optimistically describes it as “almost in sustainability.”

That means we pump more out of it than rain and runoff put back into it. That means we, or actually the agency created for this task, need to figure out how to take less water out or put more water in. As the escalating water woes of the Monterey Peninsula make expensively obvious, creating water is a steep challenge.

Faced with rapidly approaching deadlines, Monterey County officials have begun the task of creating the structure to manage the water of the Salinas Valley basin. They may not be off to a strong start.

As ordered by the state, there is a new Salinas Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Its 11-member board was sworn in earlier this month, heavy with agricultural and governmental interests and painfully short on the environmental side despite the seemingly environmental bent of the assignment. Remarkably, the one seat reserved for a representative of the public went to Lou Calcagno, the former Monterey County supervisor who served almost as an unpaid lobbyist for agribusiness and development interests during his 16 years in office.

He was appointed by the current Board of Supervisors on a motion by Supervisor John Phillips from a field of three applicants. The others submitted lengthy applications with essays about their thoughts on groundwater management and made presentations to the board. Calcagno provided 20 words in writing and made no presentation.

Calcagno, a dairy operator when he isn’t politicking, is the prototypical backroom dealmaker, the ultimate good-ol-boy of Monterey County politics. He does have something of an environmentalist streak but he has been involved in so many deals over the years and has received so many campaign contributions that it becomes impossible to know whose voice you’re hearing when he speaks.

I called Phillips to ask why wanted Calcagno on board. He didn’t return the call. That’s the way he is. I didn’t call Calcagno for comment because he made it clear last time that he’s never going to return my call.

The county gets another seat as well, filled by Supervisor Luis Alejo, representing something known as GSA-eligible agencies. When I find out what that means, I will let you know.

The environment, big as it is, is represented on the 11-member board by one member and only one member. Fortunately, she’s a good one — Janet Brennan, the tireless League of Women Voters leader. She has worked as a land-use planner and is skilled in water quality issues. Probably as much as anyone in the county, she speaks with authority on environmental matters.

Things could change, possibly even for the better,  because the board is an interim creation, formed to meet some deadlines and potentially subject to wholesale revision in the fall. If that occurs, and if the board is serious about fulfilling its mission, it would be wise for it to be less weighted toward ag and politics.

The farmers will tell you, and it is true, that they are great stewards of the land and that they have led the way on water conservation. It is very true that they have altered irrigation techniques and have aggressively pursued other means to cut back on water use. But one grower engaging in all the best practices doesn’t stop the landowner next door from drilling a deeper well and putting another 100 acres, 1,000 acres into production.

Of course ag must be well represented on this board. It is the biggest user of the basin and what it produces from that water sustains most of the economy of the Salinas Valley, and more. After a year or so of government-financed start up, much of the expense of running the agency will fall to agriculture, which is not necessarily a winning formula because it solidifies the notion that ag interests are fully in control. Most of the start-up money will come from Monterey County and the city of Salinas, on about a 66 percent/33 percent split with the smaller cities responsible for another $130,000 or so.

The structure, created by a working group appointed mostly by government and ag interests, calls for four members to be appointed directly by agricultural interests and for those four to maintain special voting powers at times. Those four are  Colby Pereira of Costa Farms,  Adam Secondo of Secondo Farms, Steve McIntyre of Monterey Pacific Growers and Bill Lip, formerly of NH3 Service Co.

Pereira is president of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, which has been heavily engaged in the process. However, its  executive director, Norm Groot, indicated this week that its involvement is somewhat begrudging.

“What has astounded us is how expensive this all is, and that it is really coming down to an unfunded mandate that the state is imposing on all of the counties,” Groot told AgAlert. “It’s almost staggering how much they’ve put on us and in the end, for a basin like ours that is almost in sustainability anyway, we’re going to be spending millions and millions on this and the solution is probably far less costly.”

Other board members are:

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This photo of Dave Potter comes from Mary Adams’ website, potterfacts.com

I’ve always greatly enjoyed Mary Duan’s columns in the Monterey County Weekly, and I enjoyed most of her farewell column this week. With her husband’s lottery winnings tucked into a mattress, she has stepped down as editor after a productive and sometimes grueling six years.

Thursday’s column was about politics and Mary’s decision to enjoy life for a while. The part I didn’t love was the little section where she sort of lost her way  while writing about Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter and his effort to fight off a challenge by a strong candidate, Mary Adams.

She wrote about how the Weekly had endorsed Potter, setting off some serious groaning from the left side of the political divide, which constitutes a good share of the paper’s readership. I have it on good authority that Duan argued mightily for an Adams endorsement but was outmuscled by her bosses, who got on the Potter train long ago and stayed onboard while others departed. (I’ve always suspected it has something to do with Potter being a good source, especially when he needs to divert the attention of journalists looking too closely at his affairs.) The result of the internal debate at the Weekly was an endorsement editorial that made note of Potter’s “integrity” issues. You won’t find that part quoted in Potter’s campaign mailers.

Here’s the portion of Duan column that I found, well, exasperating.

“There’s a heated level of vitriol being thrown our way because of the Potter endorsement – progressives, it turns out, can be a hostile bunch,” Duan wrote. “I don’t think we’ve been called stupid, but we have been called inept and corrupt.

“Potter gets called corrupt a lot, by the way. He’s done some dumb stuff, but in terms of outright corruption, I haven’t been able to prove it (and boy have I tried) and neither has anyone else. My message to the angry progressives is this: Prove it. Prove what you think you know.”

I would be surprised if I didn’t enter Duan’s thoughts at least fleetingly while she wrote that last paragraph. And here’s why. While I don’t have a file of documents that a prosecutor could take to a grand jury and get Potter thrown in jail, I have been involved in covering Potter for 16 years now and I believe it has been proved several times now that if not outright, damnably corrupt, he is ethically challenged to the point that he should not be in office. Corrupt is a pretty big word. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions is a good one, “Doing things that are dishonest or illegal in order to make money or to gain or keep power.” Ms. Duan, I think it has been proved that the definition applies to the fellow your former employer endorsed. (It should be noted that my former employer, the Herald, has endorsed him as well.)

The publisher of another weekly paper in the area, the Carmel Pine Cone, has accused me over the years of being out to get Potter, though he has never explained why. The truth is that, like most people who know Potter, I like the guy. He can be a real charmer and he knows more than anyone else about two of my favorite topics, local politics and governance. Even when he has been beyond irritated at something I had written about him, he and I have managed to have pleasant and even constructive conversations. For instance, he was the one who explained to me why former Supervisor Lou Calcagno is endorsing Supervisor Jane Parker instead of her challenger, Dennis Donohue. It’s because Donohue has signed onto a plan to let the city of Salinas spill over onto some of the wonderful farmland south and west of town.

So, back to the point. What has been proven about Potter, his method of operations and his integrity? I can only tell you what I know, which is a fair amount.

Two examples make my point about Potter’s integrity, and I’ll go into some detail about those. For now, let’s not worry about the house he bought from the land-use lawyer’s family, the building and coastal permits his construction company forgot to obtain before starting projects, the time he was using campaign money to pay his construction company rent, the time he bought a car from a dealer who was seeking a coastal permit while Potter was on the Coastal Commission or the time he tried to arrange free property at Fort Ord so his company could build a hockey rink there. The list of troubling but not indictable acts goes on.

Let’s focus instead on the Nader Agha campaign contribution and the forgery allegation.

Agha, of course, is the local developer and antique dealer who has been pursuing a desalination plant in competition with Cal Am’s. He is well known for his generosity, both to charities and to politicians.

You can read a Monterey Herald article about the issue here and get the details but I’ll summarize the key points.

In January 2004, Potter asked Agha for a $10,000 campaign contribution. But rather than have him make the check out to his campaign fund as legally required, he asked Agha to make the check out to a business associate, Russ Carter, one of a group of San Jose investors who have repeatedly lent money to Potter over the years.

Much later, then-county Supervisor Lou Calcagno told Agha that the money had gone toward a vacation rather than campaign expenses. To make a long story short, Agha then sued Potter for return of the money and – and this is key here – included a copy of the canceled check to Carter along with the legal filing.

Potter denied everything and insisted that he had been exonerated through an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission. It’s true that the FPPC didn’t take any action. It seldom does. But Potter was never able to explain why Agha had written a $10,000 check out to a close Potter associate with whom he had no connection of his own.

Agha at one point said he would pursue the lawsuit vigorously to prove that Potter was lying. Unfortunately for those of us who care about facts, Potter did everything he could to keep the matter out of public scrutiny. Monterey public relations man David Armanasco went to Agha on Potter’s behalf and arranged a settlement. Rather than pursue the litigation, Agha agreed to settle out of court for an unreported amount and agreed with Potter’s request to have the settlement details sealed.

“I’m kicking myself,” Agha said later.

It is true that Agha’s assertions were never proved in court and that the FPPC didn’t charge Potter. But in the court of public opinion, the one in which Potter and Mary Duan and the Partisan reside, the canceled check to Carter is both persuasive and damning.

The forgery matter also made it into the courthouse but, like the Agha matter, was not resolved there. Still, in the court of common sense, Potter loses.

Again, there is a long Monterey Herald story that spells it all out, so we’ll only summarize here.

In 2012, Potter’s ex-wife, Patricia, said in court papers that Potter had forged her name on home loan documents after their estrangement so he could take out another mortgage on their Monterey home.

(The home, by the way, was one Potter had bought from the mother of land-use lawyer Tony Lombardo, with partial financing from the mother, but that’s another tale.)

Anyway, in court papers, Patricia Potter alleged that her former husband surreptitiously signed her name to the paperwork so he could obtain a second mortgage of $193,000. She said that $168,000 of that went to pay off loans that Potter had received from three San Jose investors, including Russ Carter (the fellow who had earlier cashed the $10,000 check from Agha.)

The paperwork was processed in San Jose, at a meeting Patricia Potter did not attend, and the signatures were notarized by a Silicon Valley real estate agent who is a business partner of the investors who received the $168,000.  Patricia Potter alleged that her ex-husband then recorded the documents without her knowledge, something that her ex-husband’s lawyer actually verified in court papers.

The allegations went away without landing Potter in any real trouble. That’s because Herald reporter Jim Johnson, who wrote the story on the allegations, called Dave and Patricia Potter for comment and they got their heads together before returning his calls.  By then, before the story came out, they had come to terms about disputed spousal support and agreed to say that the forgery allegation was the result of a simple misunderstanding.

The headline on the resulting Herald article said Patricia Potter had retracted the allegation. The last time I checked the court record, she had not done so in court papers.

To my way of thinking, Potter could have been prosecuted but the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office concluded that there was no case since Patricia Potter had changed her story. Some tough questioning of the real estate agent who notarized the signature might have produced a different result, but who knows.

Does this prove Potter is corrupt? His supporters won’t think so but many of those supporting Mary Adams will argue that the case has been made. That’s how it goes in politics. Those folks over at the other local weekly, the Pine Cone, are so blind to Potter’s failings that they may try to hold Adams accountable for the words on these pages. The ferocity of the Pine Cone’s repeated attacks on Adams, combined with its historic unwillingness to examine Potter’s record, suggests another form of misfeasance.

As I wrote above, Potter is an exceedingly knowledgeable politician. His understanding of the ins and outs of local governance is without parallel. He has done some good things and I do not believe that, deep down, he is an evil fellow. I believe that he has struggled financially at times, for reasons I do not understand, and that he has routinely cut corners and done worse to get by. Corrupt? You be the judge.

The Potter strategy in the current campaign is to portray Adams as inexperienced, incapable of stepping in to deal with the difficult realities of county government. My counter is that she is highly experienced in the equally complicated world of non-profit social services, that she is smart and quick, and that she carries absolutely none of the type of ethical baggage that causes even neutral observers of Dave Potter to question his sincerity in almost everything he does.

The election is June 7.

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Are both District 4 supervisorial candidates really for “smart growth?”

Most of us have a hard time envisioning 15,000 acres because we don’t deal with properties of that size. This should help. The existing Fort Ord National Monument is about 15,000 acres. The fort itself was about twice that size during its heyday. Toro Regional Park between Monterey and Salinas stretches deeper into the hills than you’d expect but still covers only 5,000 acres or so. It would take three Toros to equal 15,000 acres.

Remember the Rancho San Juan proposal? That was one of the big land-use controversies of the last decade. The Rancho San Juan community north of Salinas would have been huge but it would have taken seven of them to cover 15,000 acres.

Need something smaller? Maybe you’ve been to Spreckels, the cute community near Salinas. Set 200 of them side by side and you’d have 15,000 acres.

We’re talking about 15,000 acres here because that’s the amount of good farmland that would be turned over to development purposes under the proposed Economic Development Element to the Salinas General Plan. No, it wouldn’t be developed all at once, of course. It would happen in dribs and drabs, so most of the work wouldn’t set off any Rancho San Juan-style controversies.

Much of that development would be to the southwest and southeast of current Salinas city limits. Significantly, it would spread the city south beyond Blanco Road, which traditionally has been viewed as the firm and final dividing line between urban and ag.

We’re talking about that 15,000 acres now because it is a factor in the current political campaign between Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker and challenger Dennis Donohue, the former mayor of Salinas. It is a factor, an important factor even, though it has not yet risen to the status of a public campaign issue. That’s because Parker is a quiet sort, not one to shout about things, and Donohue maybe isn’t sure how to play it.

According to a handful of knowledgeable observers, including Supervisor Dave Potter, Donohue’s support for the Economic Development Element is a key reason that former Supervisor Lou Calcagno chose to endorse environmentalist Parker over agriculturalist Donohue in the June contest. It was a big deal, that endorsement.

Calcagno was a major force on the board, often the swing vote. And though he is something of an environmentalist, he was better known as a champion of both agriculture and development, as incompatible as those two industries might seem. What some folks don’t know about Calcagno, however, is that he is a fierce champion of preserving farm land. That’s why he has been active for years now with the Ag Land Trust, which helps provide tax advantages for farmers who agree to easements protecting their land from commercial or residential development.

Anyone who didn’t know about Calcagno’s position on farmland or the Economic Development Element must have been surprised to hear of his endorsement of Parker. By the way, did I mention that some of the 15,000 acres slated for development is currently covered by Ag Land Trusts?

SalinasEDE-LUmap

This map details the Economic Development Element of the Salinas General Plan. I do now know why it isn’t more clear. For a better version, click on the LandWatch link below.

So is Donohue really supporting the Economic Development Element, which still faces an environmental impact review before it will be eagerly adopted by the growth-minded Salinas City Council? He says he hasn’t really made up his mind.

“I could not begin to offer an opinion on the reasons behind why Lou endorsed my opponent because he never spoke to me about my candidacy,” Donohue said via email. “Additionally, to comment on the expansion of South Salinas would be completely irresponsible as I have yet to see any plans, formal or otherwise and to offer an opinion would be pure speculation.

“What I can definitively say, is that as the three-term mayor of Salinas and candidate for District 4 supervisor, I am in complete support of the revitalization of Oldtown Salinas, and feel our efforts should be focused on what we can accomplish in the near term.”

I had told Donohue in an email of my own that others believed that he is squarely behind the 15,000-acre plan but he didn’t address that point. He says he hasn’t seen any plans, formal or otherwise, yet the Economic Development Element has been around since 2014, has been unanimously approved by the Salinas City Council and has been the subject of at least one article in the Monterey County Weekly.

To be clear, the Economic Development Element proposes much more than merely gobbling up farmland. It pushes the concept of Salinas as a key player in the intersection of ag and technology, something Donohue had pushed hard during his tenure as mayor. It would provide space for industrial uses and promote significant highway construction and traffic reconfiguration, ending the near gridlock conditions that sometimes occur in and near the ag-related industrial zone near the airport. I figure the promise of change there is a big part of why big ag is supporting Donohue in a big way, campaign contributionwise.

The Economic Development Element makes no secret of its intentions. Its south-of-Blanco ambitions are spelled out in maps and its underlying intent is delineated here:“Lack of available vacant land within city limits and within the city’s sphere of influence is a key constraint to economic development.”

So you might be asking what this has to do with the Board of Supervisors? Good question.

The county comes into the equation at several levels. First, the county government is well-represented at LAFCO. That’s the agency that determines when cities can annex property or even widen what is known as their spheres of influence, the area of probable expansion. A Board of Supervisors that includes Donohue rather than Parker would be a Board of Supervisors more likely to support the annexation effort.

Urban boundaries also represent agreements between the cities and the county because the lines affect the provision of constituent services and the collection of taxes. The city of Salinas would find it easier to negotiate with a board that includes Donohue instead of a board that includes Parker.

For her part, Parker doesn’t have a lot to say. She’s like that. She has done little so far to trumpet Calcagno’s endorsement. She offered only a short take on the subject.

“As you know, I support smart growth and the preservation of farmland — both of which contribute to our economic vitality.  My understanding is that extending the city limits south of Blanco could violate an agreement between the city and county.  Right now, it’s important to focus on the economic vitality of downtown Salinas.”

Oh, by the way, LandWatch Monterey County has already had something to say about the Economic Development Element. Among other things, it has argued in letters to the city that considerable vacant and underutilized property now exists within city limits, that thousands of acres designated for residential development to the north and east of the city remains open and that development on the fringes of a city tends to discourage healthier and more efficient infill development.

LandWatch’s Amy White also makes a key point about water. Supporters of the Economic Development Element argue that industrial development generally does not require more water than the previous agricultural use. White counters that taking farmland out of production often results in cultivation of rangeland and other untilled acreage, resulting in a net increase in water use, a huge factor in the Salinas Valley.

So, it’s complicated, as you probably have concluded from the length and meandering nature of this missive. That’s partly why, as important as it is, you probably won’t be reading about the issue until well after the election, at which point it may be too late to do anything about it, depending on who wins.

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

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

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

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

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

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Nearby, it’s the battle of the signs

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

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

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

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

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Unknown-1The criminal case against Monterey County water official Steve Collins ended some time ago with a no contest plea involving  conflict of interest in connection with a Cal Am desalination project. But Collins continues to plead his case in the court of public opinion. To that end, he has released a series of documents in an attempt to bolster his position that when he quietly took a side job with the project management firm, he was acting at the direction of other county officials, particularly supervisors Lou Calcagno and Dave Potter.

Last week he distributed a transcript of a prosecution interview with Curtis Weeks, who once was the county’s chief water official. Weeks acknowledged he knew about Collins’ double role almost from the start.

Then he released logs of Deputy County Counsel Irv Grant’s emails, which strongly suggest Grant was discussing Collins’ side job with outside counsel and others nearly a year before he claims to have learned of the situation.

Next, Collins released a transcript of a prosecution interview with Potter, who acknowledges that Calcagno was expressing concerns about Collins’ role early on.

Watch for more on this angle later. That isn’t what this piece is about, however. It’s about a side comment by Potter in that interview, a comment that doesn’t amount to anything of import but that his constituents might find intriguing. Or at least amusing.

Under questioning by then-Deputy DA Stephanie Hulsey, Potter was discussing the difficulties Collins was having working with Peninsula interests and how he was more comfortable dealing with Salinas Valley types.

“… In order to get those wells that were needed,” Potter said, “uh, you know, for a Peninsula project, really, really was a pretty heavy political lift, because there’s no love lost between the ag guys in the valley and the citizens of my district, a very effete, light, you know, affluent community versus the hard-working we-toil-in-the-soil, don’t-tell-us-what-to-do ag community.”

What he meant by effete and light, I have no idea, but I looked up effete. Here’s the first entry that popped up.

Eff-ete

adjective: effete

  1. (of a person) affected, overrefined, and ineffectual.”effete trendies from art college”
  2. synonyms: affected, pretentious, precious, mannered, overrefined; More: ineffectual; informal la-di-da, “effete trendies”
  3. No longer capable of effective action.”the authority of an effete aristocracy began to dwindle”
  4. weak, enfeebled, enervated, worn out, exhausted, finished, drained, spent, powerless, ineffectual “the fabric of society is effete”

So there you have it, Potter constituents in effete Carmel Valley, light Monterey and affluent Pebble Beach. Or vice versa.

By the way, I’m not able to link to the transcripts, but if you’d like to see them, shoot me an email, calkinsroyal@gmail, and I’ll be glad to send them along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mary Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jane Parker

Now for the Salinas part. Stay with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Tony Barrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think it over.

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Business fraudThe author of a recent Partisan column proposed stronger transparency rules for state public utilities commissioners, who already are required to publicly report any contacts with utility representatives. The existing rules haven’t stopped commissioners from becoming overly chummy with those they regulate but at least they have helped show ratepayers what they’re up against.

The proposal likely won’t go anywhere, but it raises a thought. If California lawmakers thought such disclosures were needed in the utilities arena, why shouldn’t there be similar rules for other officeholders, starting with county boards of supervisors?

Monterey County’s handling of the Ferrini Ranch development provides real support for the idea and it also raises important questions about the roles of individual supervisors. While making land-use decisions, are they unbiased arbiters making tough calls in the name of the public good, after all sides have had their say? Or are they negotiators, expediters, accommodators, empowered to make private deals even while the public process plays out as though it mattered?

In other words, should they do what then-Supervisor Lou Calcagno did, work behind the scene for months—actually years, it turns out—in order to help a favored developer and campaign contributor win a vote worth millions of dollars? Can a supervisor quietly lobby other government agencies on behalf of a proposed development and then assume a posture of neutrality while voting in favor? Or should there be rules to prevent such a thing?

The proposed 185-lot Ferrini Ranch development straddles Toro Regional Park along Highway 68. Neighbors and environmental groups protested vigorously on several grounds, especially the lack of a sustainable water supply and the impact on Highway 68, easily the most congested roadway in the county.

In the midst of the formal vote on the plans Calcagno announced that he had negotiated a side deal calling for the developer to put money into escrow for potential use in recycling area wastewater if area residents agree to form a community services district for that purpose. Suggesting that he had found a magic solution, Calcagno offered that the arrangement could help ease the project’s impact on the dwindling Salinas Valley water supply.

If anyone in the audience wondered about details of the recycling plan or about the propriety of one supervisor crafting a special deal that had received no public airing of any sort, there was no chance to raise those issues because the public hearing had been closed.

If any of the other supervisors knew about Calcagno’s negotiations over the recycling idea, they didn’t let on. As arranged by Calcagno, the developer is to put $425,000 into an escrow account that would be used toward wastewater recycling if and when residents of the Toro Park and Las Palmas areas agree to form a community services district for that purpose. Chances of that seem remote, however, because such a project would at least double sewer bills for each residence in the area.

If the district isn’t formed, the developer gets the money back—assuming that county officials actually require the money to be deposited in the first place.

That was not the only example of Calcagno’s behind-the-scenes work to accommodate the venture. Newly disclosed county email records indicate that Calcagno’s office organized a July 2013 meeting between the head of the development team, Mark Kelton, and John Laird, director of natural resources for California. Calcagno also attended, along with a biologist working for Kelton, a county planner who is now the chief planner on the Ferrini project, and Sherwood Darington of the Monterey County Ag Land Trust.

As natural resources director, Laird oversees several key state agencies, including Fish & Wildlife. Although the Monterey County supervisors have approved the Ferrini Ranch project, Kelton and state Fish & Wildlife officials are still discussing the ramifications of sensitive clover and salamander habitat on at the project site, the foothills overlooking Highway 68.

At the time of the meeting in Santa Cruz, the environmental impact report for the Ferrini project was still in the works and state Fish & Wildlife officials had raised concerns about how Kelton would mitigate the project’s impact on the salamander and clover. Fish & Game also was concerned about the project’s potential for blocking the movement of other wildlife on the hilly property. Theoretically, the project still could be stopped if Fish & Wildlife declines to issue the appropriate permits.

Laird said last week that he could not recall details of the meeting other than that Kelton expressed concern about the positions of state agencies. The Partisan was unable to determine whether the meeting resulted in any softening of the Fish & Game stance on habitat protection despite Calcagno’s effort.

Mike Novo, head of the county department, said Friday that planner John Ford of his staff attended the meeting in order to discuss Fish & Wildlife issues on the Ferrini property and elsewhere.

Derrington, a managing director of the Land Trust, said he was looking for help obtaining a state grant to help the trust pay for Kelton-owned land that could qualify for protection under an agricultural easement. Discussions about that possibility continue even now that the subdivision plans have been approved.

“There were other discussions that day that I was not involved with,” Derrington said.

Calcagno declined to comment on the meeting. Over the telephone, his wife told the Partisan, “He says he is out of politics now and doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Supporters of Calcagno and the Ferrini Ranch project will say he did nothing wrong, and it is almost certainly true that he broke no laws. But in these instances, and who knows how many others, he certainly stretched the definition of representative government. Getting the Ferrini Ranch project this far has required discussions, negotiations, with highway officials, parks officials and many others. It would be a surprise if Calcagno let the county staff handle all that without his hands-on guidance.

“I don’t think county supervisors should lobby on behalf of private interests at the expense of community interests,” said Chris Fitz, the former director of LandWatch Monterey, which is suing to stop the project.

“The Department of Fish & Wildlife is charged with protecting the public interest. If Calcagno participated in lobbying Fish & Wildlife to go easy on the developers of Ferrini Ranch, he put the interests of the landowners above those of the public. It appears that Lou Calcagno made up his mind to support this project before the environmental analysis was complete. Indeed, it looks as if he wanted Fish & Wildlife to go easy on the project so that his support of the project would not look so egregious.”

Throughout his three terms on the board, Calcagno was known as a backroom negotiator, something that brought him both praise and criticism. Over time, the public and other officials seemed to accept his role as a dealmaker, even when it clashed with widely accepted government practices. However, his backroom dealings on the Ferrini matter raise serious questions about the private actions of public officials acting in a quasi-judicial role. The Ferrini project had been narrowly approved by the county Planning Commission but that recommendation had been formally appealed to the Board of Supervisors, by a planning commissioner, no less.

It has long been considered a legal requirement that local governing bodies avoid “pre-judging” any issues until the public has had its say. For Calcagno, any pretense of abiding by that basic principle evaporated well before the Ferrini Ranch project came up for a vote.

What good would it do if supervisors were required to publicly declare their contacts with developers or their representatives, or representatives of companies wanting county contracts? Directly, probably not much. But if a supervisor had to disclose repeated private meetings and communications with the same interests, one of two things would likely occur. Fewer private discussions would come about, or disclosure of the contacts would make it obvious that the supervisor had a conflict of interest and should not vote.

In fairness to Calcagno, the roles of county supervisors are not nearly as clear cut as the roles of city council members and some other elected officials. City council members are supposed to act solely as legislators, adopting policies and making decisions but staying out of administrative matters at City Hall. Technically, similar restrictions apply to county supervisors, but they receive full-time salaries and often work at their county roles full-time. It is not unusual for them to insert themselves into administrative matters despite the presence of professionals assigned to those duties.

Not surprisingly, Calcagno received a series of campaign contributions over the years from Kelton and related parties, who also contributed to the other two supervisors supporting the project, Simon Salinas and Fernando Armenta. Calcagno’s take topped $10,000. The others received smaller amounts.

Kelton contributions also went to Supervisor Dave Potter, who voted against the project, which is in his district. Project opponents have criticized him, however, for not doing more to block it. Some have even characterized his no vote as a sham. Glen Robinson, former president of the Carmel Valley Association, accused Potter in a letter to the editor of voting against the development only after being assured by his colleagues that it would be approved no matter how he voted.

The developers also contributed to the campaign of Calcagno’s successor, John Phillips. There is no record that they ever contributed to any of Laird’s campaigns but they did make a series of contributions to the legislative campaigns of a Laird ally, former Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero. She is now secretary of the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

Coincidentally, the Ferrini developers are represented by well-known land-use attorney Tony Lombardo, who also has done private legal work for Calcagno and Potter.

Two groups, LandWatch Monterey County and the Highway 68 Coalition, have filed lawsuits aimed at blocking the project. The litigation challenges the adequacy of the environmental impact, particularly as it pertains to traffic, and challenges the county’s decision to approve the project under provisions of the county’s 1982 general plan rather than the 2010 plan.

Two supervisors, Potter and Salinas, announced late last year that they planned to pursue tighter limits on campaign contributions to supervisorial candidates. It’s an idea that seems overdue. At the same time, though, it could prove to be an even better idea to consider regulations barring supervisors from voting on matters affecting contributors, like the rule in place for members of the Pacific Grove City Council. And, better yet, activities surrounding the Ferrini Ranch project suggest that rules should be put into place requiring supervisors to tell the public what’s really going on and requiring them to stop pretending that it’s a level playing field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A sidenote about an email, snarky but inconsequential:

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

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

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

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110_F_66851562_fFaspr2gJRZ649D8HnBiDZyATXAzuOcPI’m always asking myself what’s the end of the year without a news quiz. Actually, I stole this idea from the Fresno Bee. Give it a try and see how you do. And, yes, I do know that the questions should be numbered and the answers should be lettered, but I am remain a klutz when it comes to formatting anything, so I’ll make this my last formal apology of 2014.

A. Which of the following happened in 2014

  1. One of the four open investigations into officer-involved shootings in Salinas was completed
  2. The various Peninsula agencies agreed on a plan to increase groundwater storage and expand conservation efforts
  3. A sheriff’s deputy with no management experience was elected to head the county’s largest law enforcement agency

B. Which of these development projects moved ahead despite demonstrably inadequate water supplies:

  1. Monterey Downs
  2. Ferrini Ranch
  3. Corral de Tierra shopping center
  4. All of the above

C. GOP political consultant Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

  1. Managed a principled campaign
  2. Told a chamber of commerce committee that his candidate’s opponent would soon be charged with a crime
  3. Became a campaign issue to the point that he had to pretend to leave the campaign

D. The Monterey Herald editorialized that

  1. Water should not be an issue when developments are proposed because no single development could exhaust the county’s entire water supply
  2. The Pebble Beach clambake golf tournament should be moved to summertime so better weather would attract more tourists
  3. Howard Gustafson and Ken Nishi were the best candidates for seats on the Marina Coast Water District board.

E. California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey

  1. Was caught skinny dipping with the PG&E board of directors
  2. Told Southern California Edison shareholders that if they thought rates were too high, they should just discontinue their electrical service.
  3. Called victims of the San Bruno explosion “a bunch of crybabies.”
  4. Finally got the hell out of Dodge.

F. California American Water Co. spent more than $2 million on

  1. Defeating a public campaign to take over the business even though it claims to be losing money
  2. Brochures touting the company’s frugality
  3. Lunches with Michael Peevey

G. The proposed design of the Monterey conference center was compared to

  1. A post office, circa 1962.
  2. A dental office, circa 1972
  3. A visionary yet misunderstood monument to man’s inhumanity to man

H. In his book, Leon Panetta

  1. Disclosed that the CIA staff kept him in the dark about everything
  2. Revealed that he worked as a script adviser on Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Disclosed that it was Sylvia who found bin Laden
  4. Mentioned that he had wanted Al Pacino to play him in the movie, a young Al Pacino.
  5. None of the above.

I. The oil industry spent $2 million on

  1. Attempting to defeat a public campaign to prevent fracking in San Benito County even though the oil companies contend there is no fracking in San Benito County.
  2. Beautification of the Lost Hills oil reserve
  3. Brochures touting the industry’s environmental resolve

J. Lou Calcagno’s final act as Monterey County Supevisor was to

  1. To take Steve Collins  to lunch
  2. Give John Phillips’ home phone number to Tony Lombardo
  3. Pardon Dave Potter
  4. It’s a secret

Answers: A. (3). B. (4). C. (2 and 3). D. (2 and 3). E. (4). F. (1). G. (1 and 2). H. (5). I. (1). J. (4)

If you correctly answered all 10 questions, consider this an offer to come to work for the Partisan, especially if you have other income.

If you got more than six questions right, you’re a true newshound. You probably borrow your neighbor’s Herald occasionally and pick up the Weekly once in a while.

If you got two to five right, you probably know what comes on right after the KSBW news.

If you got none or one right, Peter Newman’s team at the local GOP would like to talk to you about running for office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll go through the Herald piece slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Board of Supervisors approves Ferrini Project

By a predictable vote of 3-2 Tuesday evening, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved the 180-lot Ferrini Ranch subdivision along Highway 68 near Toro Park.

Voting no were supervisors Jane Parker and Dave Potter, who said that two issues, traffic and water, make this project “a blatant example of bad planning.”

Supervisors Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas voted for the project, despite Armenta’s expressed concerns about near gridlock traffic conditions at rush hour.

The swing vote was lame duck Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who called for creation of a community service district that could use wastewater in the Toro Park area for recycling into potable water, helping to alleviate the project’s impact on the already overdrawn Salinas Valley aquifer.

Each of the three supervisors voting for the project had received campaign contributions from the developers, the Kelton family of Southern California. Potter also had received contributions from the Keltons but the project is in his supervisorial district, so he had the choice of alienating a contributor or his constituents.

The board majority ignored emotional pleas from area residents, including one woman who cried as she told the board that she had been in three increasingly serious traffic accidents on Highway 68 in the past three years. Representatives of the Toro Park neighborhood also called for the supervisors to eliminate a plan to widen the highway near their homes and to eliminate an additional traffic signal now planned in reaction to the Ferrini Ranch project. The supervisors ignored those requests.

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Perfection concept.What’s not to like abut the Ferrini Ranch project? That’s the one that goes to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors for a decision on Tuesday, and it’s about time. The project website promises a very long lost list of really bad things that won’t happen if the supervisors say yes.

For instance, there won’t be 703 acres of development like there would have been under the previous plan. Nope. Now it will only be 602 acres, so the supervisors will actually be saving 101 acres of lovely grasslands!

There won’t be 212 residential units in the lovely hills along Highway 68, or 500 or 600 units as originally envisioned. That’s because there will only be 185.

Key scenic views from Highway 68, River Road and San Benancio Road will not be ruined because most of the 185 houses will largely be hidden behind hills! One might wonder whether something much worse might have been hidden there instead if the supervisors didn’t act.

The wine facility won’t be a huge 110,000-square-foot structure like the developers. No way! It will be just 28,500 square feet, not much bigger than some of the homes!

Not all of the pretty lupine field behind San Benancio Middle School will be lost! Only some of it. Phew.

Remember the proposed access road in Toro Park? Not going to happen! And the frontage road along Highway 68. Thanks to the developers and no one else, it won’t be needed either! Which means more open space for all of us to enjoy! If they keep on creating open space, the supes might end up deserving what we’re paying them.

Finally, the project will not draw down the water table from the already overdrawn Toro Basin? That’s because it will draw down the water table from the already overdrawn Salinas Valley aquifer instead, and there’s a legal agreement already in place that says that’s no big deal!

The agreement, a byproduct of the county’s last general plan, says that if the property owners have been paying into the Salinas Valley Water Project, the property is presumed to have an adequate water supply even though everyone knows that it does not. This is what is known as a legal fiction.

(If you have a minute, take a look at the website for the Salinas Valley Water Project. You’ll find lots of detail, such as the thickness of the concrete at Nacimiento Dam and the number of gallons in an acre-foot, but you won’t find any details about any plans for the Salinas Valley Water Project to produce any more water because there aren’t any such plans. BTW, this “sentence” from the website is my favorite part: “The SVWP the Nacimiento Dam Spillway Modification Component , which includes enlargement of the spillway and installation of a rubber spillway gate at the dam and a diversion facility , which is another rubber dam on the Salinas River near Marina, to allow diversion of river water for treatment and piping to nearby farms for irrigation.” )

In other words, the only thing that could have been better than the project being approved Tuesday would have occurred if the developers, the Kelton family, had proposed a significantly larger project, because then this smaller project would be saving us from even more harm. Maybe the next time, they’ll think bigger early on and we’ll have even more to be thankful about.

It’s called land-used planning by mitigation and negotiation. Rather than build subdivisions where they belong, in cities, developers pick attractive parcels well out of town. (It’s called leapfrog development, but they avoid the term in their brochures.) Next, rather than rely on good planning principles, they propose the maximum possible number of units that could be squeezed onto the property, unimaginative design, elimination of trees, marginal replacement landscaping and suspect drainage plans. Think of it as a bluff, or, if you prefer, a threat.

Then, proving themselves to actually be great folks after all, they negotiate downward. They meet with the neighbors and decide to reduce the density, maybe even plant more trees as buffers. Over time, they give up some of this and some of that until, near the end, they’re nominating themselves for philanthropist of the year awards.

What results, of course, is a project that probably should be called It Could Have Been Much Worse Estates, Phase 1.

The Ferrini Ranch project is, in many ways, the absolute model of how planning is done these days in Monterey County, with predictable results. Years of campaign contributions set the stage, the larger plan is introduced, neighbors complain, plan is downsized before it goes to planning commission, planning commission is divided, goes to supes. Then, if it is in Dave Potter’s district, Potter votes against it but doesn’t put up any real political fight against because, after all, he was one of the recipients of the campaign contributions (see paragraph above.) He doesn’t do what politicians do and trade votes with the automatic yes votes, Simon Salinas and Fernando Armenta. He just votes no along with Supervisor Jane Parker. Chairman Lou Calcagno goes back and forth, looks troubled, says this is a tough one, folks, and then votes for the development, which is approved 3-2.

But no, it doesn’t end there. Richard Rosenthal and/or Michael Stamp file a lawsuit over the inadequate environmental impact report or, in this case, the systematic overdrafting of the Salinas Valley aquifer. A couple years go by. Settlement allows for much smaller development or contribution of land to Big Sur Land Trust.

Developer takes huge tax write-off based on value of original project.

No one notices because everyone is focused on next big plan.

Years of campaign contributions set the stage . . .

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billete monedaFor a few moments Tuesday, it looked like those opposing the proposed Encina Hills development in San Benancio Canyon were going to prevail. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors was considering the project, yet again, when supervisors Dave Potter and Jane Parker made it clear they had run out of patience with the developers and their inability to demonstrate that the 18-lot development would have an adequate water supply.

Parker noted that they developers had delayed well testing until this week, now that rain is recharging the overburdened aquifer. She wasn’t buying their excuses for why it just wasn’t possible to meet their deadlines and to get started during the dry months: Busy season for hydrologists, other expenses, etc., etc.

As usual, supervisors Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas weren’t bothered and were ready to grant the developers every accommodation. That’s the way Armenta and Salinas are when it comes to development. No one even bothers asking them why anymore.

So that left Lou Calcagno, the lame duck chairman of the Board of Supervisors, to break the tie. And he had expressed serious exasperation with the developers in the spring after it was revealed that the test well for the project had not been tested in eight years.

It sounded at first as though Calcagno would side with Parker and Potter and vote to put an end to the project, but he punted. Calcagno, who leaves office at the end of the year, said he wanted to be extra fair to the developers and give them just one more chance to demonstrate the power of their pumps, never mind the impact on the already overdrawn groundwater. The new deadline for water testing is in March. Retired Judge John Phillips will have taken Calcagno’s place on the board and he’ll be receiving the punt.

If anyone is willing to take your bet, put some good money down on the side of the project winning approval..

In general, Phillips will be a friend to the development and construction industries. They contributed heavily to his supervisorial campaign, which resulted in an easy victory over slow-growther Ed Mitchell. The Realtors and the construction companies and development lawyers don’t make big contributions to candidates in hopes they’ll just fortuitously turn out to be friendly votes. They want some kind of assurance before they write those checks, and someone let them know that Phillips was on the team.

On this project specifically, there’s good reason to believe a little thing like a sketchy water supply isn’t going to bother Phillips all that much. First off, the project lawyer, Michael Cling, contributed $1,500 to Phillips’ campaign the day before the election. It was the last contribution Phillips reported on his disclosure forms.

Cling also contributed $200 to the judge’s campaign a couple days before the May primary.

When Cling arrived at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, he and Phillips greeted each other warmly in the lobby.

“Nice to see you,” said Phillips.

“I was hoping you’d be here,” said Cling, who did the talking for the development Tuesday.

After the session, Cling passed by Phillips on the way out and got the nod, the wink and the handshake.

Reading too much into circumstantial evidence, and flimsy circumstantial evidence at that? That certainly could be. The Partisan predicted that Sheriff Scott Miller would win re-election, so our ability to read the political tea leaves obviously is suspect at times. But one doesn’t have to be certain to make a bet, and we’re betting this one has already been decided. They’ll say it’s about property rights.

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Man's Hand Resting on a Stack of Bibles, Isolated Background

Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter and former county water czar Curtis Weeks are among those expected to testify in the trial that pits the Marina Coast Water District against the team of Monterey County and California American Water.

The trial centers on the failed regional desalination project, which was a partnership between the three agencies that are now fighting over responsibility for millions of dollars in bills paid and unpaid. The trial is scheduled to start today in San Francisco Superior Court and to last about a week.

Potter and Weeks are included in the county’s list of expected witnesses. Lawyers for the county also plan to introduce videotaped testimony from Steve Collins. He is the former county water official whose side job with the project manager helped lead to the collapse of the project. After a long investigation, Collins pleaded no contest to one count of conflict of interest but maintained that everything he did was at the direction of Weeks, Potter and another county supervisor, Lou Calcagno. Collins is also expected to be called as a witness for Marina Coast.

Key issues in the trial are who was responsible for Collins’ paid relationship with RMC Water and Environment, the project manager, and when the county and Cal Am learned of his double role. The timing of their knowledge is critical to determining whether the county and Cal Am acted to void the project agreements in a timely manner or waited until contractual deadlines had expired.

Though Potter was heavily involved in the desalination venture on behalf of the county, he has said in depositions and in interviews with investigators that he did not know about Collins’ paid work for RMC for close to a year. According to lawyers for the county, he’ll be repeating that stance this week.

Perhaps the most interesting witness on the county’s list is Weeks. He was the chief executive of the county Water Resources Agency while Collins was an active member of the agency’s board of directors. Around the time Collins went to work for RMC, he and Weeks formed a partnership, a consulting firm that had visions of taking over management of the desalination project.

Under some amount of pressure, Weeks left the county position after Collins’ double role had been publicized. At one point, according to Collins’ lawyer, Weeks was considering seeking whistleblower protection and testifying on behalf of Collins. Things changed when the county offered him half of his contractual severance pay and he went to work for an environmental consulting company that has been working for the county under a series of contracts. That arrangement led to speculation that the county had essentially bought his silence.

Also among those on the county’s list are Cal Am President Robert Maclean and Lyndel Melton, a principal with RMC.

Jim Heitzman, former general manager of the Marina Coast Water District, is expected to testify about his role in helping to arrange for Collins to work for RMC, which eventually paid him $160,000.

Two lawyers are on the county’s list, outside counsel Dan Carroll, who represented the county throughout the troubled desal project, and Lloyd Lowrey, former general counsel  for Marina Coast.

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Young man hiding in his jumperWhere to start?

It is a familiar feeling for most people who follow politics closely. Watching the numbers dribble in on election night, seeing a few pleasing results and then being blown away by that one decision that makes no sense at all, that makes you question the rationality and intelligence of slightly more than a majority of everyone in your community.

(New numbers expected at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Latest local results here)

I’m not talking about Howard Gustafson’s apparent re-election to the Marina Coast Water District board. I expected that one. He’s been around so long that people in that small district vote for him out of habit. Bad habit. The remarkable thing this time around is that he managed to get the endorsement of my former employer, the Monterey Herald. It is my sincere hope that some of the brighter lights in the community are letting the current Herald leadership know how wrong-headed that was.

I’m not talking about Alvin Edwards’ apparent defeat in Seaside. Excusing him from the City Council makes no sense except there is a good side, the apparent victory of Jason Campbell. Jason has a little to learn about diplomacy, but he will be a great councilman who will be of particular importance as the powers that be try to get the council to rubber stamp the ill-conceived Monterey Downs horse track development.

And I’m not talking about what happened in Monterey, where a relatively unknown and untested progressive, Timothy Barrett, apparently has displaced a known and tested progressive, Councilwoman Nancy Selfridge.

Not talking about the national results. Mitch McConnell will be his own undoing. National politics are a hopeless mess and will be until a new Supreme Court rules that passing money around in expensive briefcases does not constitute free speech.

No, not those results. I’m talking, of course, about what looks to be the outcome of the sheriff’s race, in which the experienced professional incumbent, Scott Miller, may have lost to the inexperienced, ethically challenged GOP front man, Steve Bernal. Enough absentee ballots remain uncounted to possibly turn this one around, but it’s not looking good at the moment.

As my colleague Larry Parsons tweeted earlier, the candidates at the end made this all about the media. The Bernal people say the media were out to get the young deputy, so much so that reporters were turned away from Bernal’s election night party. Miller says the media failed to focus on Bernal’s lack of qualifications and his deceptive and negative campaigning. As with many things political, there are grains of truth to both versions but this stunner wasn’t about the media.

Now that I am no longer toiling in the trenches of daily journalism, I have a different take on the definition of “the media,” but Bernal and Miller were talking about different arms of the octopus. Yes, the understaffed Herald and the Salinas Californian were highly reluctant to challenge the distortions offered up by Bernal’s handlers, Brandon Gesicki et al. Simple he said/she said journalism is easier and it plays into the hands of a campaign that decides to go with the big lie technique, a Gesicki specialty. But the Monterey County Weekly never fell for Gesicki’s schtick and this loud but undersized platform, the Partisan, was not at all shy about focusing on Bernal’s pathetic resume’ and Gesicki’s devotion to deception. KSBW did its part by reporting on Bernal losing his car to repossession during the primary campaign and losing his house to foreclosure, neither of which demonstrate enough financial prowess to help him understand how to hold a budget right-side up.

The winning strategy consisted largely of harping on the legal troubles of Miller’s son and manipulating the deputies’ union, the Deputy Sheriffs Association, into endorsing Bernal. I’m not enough of a social scientist to understand why so many sons and daughters of sheriffs and police chiefs get into trouble the way Miller’s son did. Fair game to a degree. But the Bernal/Gesicki crew managed to convince quite a few voters that Miller had countenanced the young man’s drug use and sales. The evidence of that? Not a shred. But when you say something enough times, some folks are prone to see things that aren’t there.

The Gesicki gang turned the DSA against Miller by having Bernal promise things he can’t deliver, like free lunches and veto power over deputy scheduling. The campaign also took advantage of a cultural rift between Miller and the deputies. In an era of increasing militarization of law enforcement agencies, Miller isn’t a typical gung-ho, grrr, grunt kind of sheriff. He’s a relative sophisticate, someone who grew up in Pacific Grove, went to college, learned to speak Spanish. He doesn’t wear a cowboy hat, doesn’t hunt, doesn’t go four-wheeling with the boys every weekend.

In Bernal, the younger deputies see themselves, and I suspect that many of them see the next four years as time to let it all hang out. That is not a good thing. Bernal said during his campaign that he would eliminate internal affairs investigations except in cases of likely criminal wrongdoing. What about cases of incompetence or dereliction of duty? What about sexist or racist behavior? Don’t sweat it boys, the boss has your back.

Another factor that hasn’t been discussed is that leadership of the DSA sees personal opportunities in a Bernal regime. Change at the top usually means considerable change  in the upper reaches of the department. Quite a few higher-ranking employees loyal to Miller will pull the plug on their careers, opening promotional spots for a like number of Bernal cronies. Judging from my email, the jockeying and backstabbing began on Election Night.

The media may be partly to blame for all this, but there is plenty of blame to go around. The starting point is the Republican Party as operated locally by chairman Peter Newman. This entity is so hell-bent on keeping score of the number of elected Republicans that it cynically and selfishly created Bernal as a candidate and helped finance his shameless campaign. Newman tried to get Miller to change his registration from independent to Republican, promising to support no one else if he did so. When Miller declined, Newman helped create Bernal and even supported other challengers in the primary last spring.

In other words, Newman and pals are not concerned that an extremely important public-safety agency populated by heavily armed men and women could soon be managed by a fellow who has never been a manager, a deputy who apparently couldn’t pass the sergeants’ test.

Among the passengers on Newman’s wrong-way bus are former Carmel city officials Sue McCloud and Paula Hazdovac, Republicans both, who endorsed Bernal but not because they know anything about sheriffs. I believe they were getting back at Miller’s wife, Jane, who beat Carmel City Hall in a sexual harassment case after her time as the city’s personnel director. (Former Councilman Gerard Rose was on that bus as well but I understand he got off at an early stop.)

Where were the judges and prosecutors on this one? In order to do their jobs, prosecutors need good police work. Individually, they praise Miller highly for his work within the Sheriff’s Department and previously at the Pacific Grove and Salinas police departments, saying his investigators consistently presented quality work enabling them to convict the bad guys. Bernal’s never even been a detective and hasn’t trained anyone to do anything. Why weren’t the prosecutors making commercials for Miller? Monterey County DA Dean Flippo was at Miller’s gathering Tuesday night. He told others that he can’t make endorsements in such a race because he has to work with the winner no matter who that is. The problem is that the public also has to work with the winner, no matter who that is.

How about the county supervisors, who deal with the Sheriff’s Department daily and are often left to clean up its messes. Jane Parker went with Miller but the others chickened out. Supervisor and dairyman Lou Calcagno, who is about to leave office, said he didn’t want to take sides because he had bought hay from Bernal’s family. Let me repeat that. Supervisor and dairyman Lou Calcagno, who is about to leave office, said he didn’t want to take sides because he had bought hay from Bernal’s family. Maybe they gave him a great deal or some great hay.

Supervisors Dave Potter, Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas were silent, too, even though I don’t think they bought any hay. One explanation is that their lists of campaign contributions line up closely with Bernal’s list.

Another Bernal accomplice is the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and its political tentacles. It didn’t endorse Miller because Gesicki told chamber officials privately that Miller would soon be charged with a crime of some sort. That’s how he works and the chamber should have known that.

Finally, some of the blame has to go to Miller, not for his work as sheriff but for his decision to essentially run his own campaign. Gesicki is one of the least principled campaign managers I have dealt with in my 40 years in journalism, but that’s what he does for a living. He has run many campaigns, a couple successfully, and he understands spin and deception as well as anyone. The GOP brought in enough money to bring in an equally ruthless group of mercenaries to work with him.

Miller, meanwhile, made an early mistake by naming an ex-DEA agent as his campaign spokesman without realizing said spokesman had made some very politically incorrect statements in the past. After they parted ways, Miller was a staff of one. While he has been a good sheriff, and a fair poker player, he is not a campaign professional. He produced relatively little campaign literature and depended on overworked reporters to pierce Bernal’s messaging. You can see how that worked out.

The bright side, if there is one, is that maybe Bernal learned something from the campaign and will realize that the people he puts around him are exceedingly important. It is my fervent hope that none of them will be anything like Gesicki but perhaps he will attempt to reward competence over loyalty. Mary Duan, editor of the Weekly, dubbed Gustafson and the Marina Coast Water District board as the “Insane Clown Posse.” Here’s hoping that the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t become even more worthy of the name.

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