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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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Discovering the Democratic Party of Monterey County

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After the meeting I attended Tuesday night, I looked up the word “conspiracy.” I was disappointed to see that most of the definitions included the notion of illegality, because I did feel like a conspirator but not the kind who should be arrested.

It was a meeting of the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee, held in a bare-bones union hall in East Salinas. It’s a neighborhood that relatively few Republicans have visited, unless it was to collect the rent.

I was there for a couple reasons. One, I had become interested in the mechanics of party politics during the tragic presidential election of 2016. I kept reading about how the Democratic Party had sold its soul and had cheated and ultimately failed but I realized I knew almost nothing about how the party actually works, about the people who run it locally and nationally. Last week, I read various outbursts by people who were appalled that liberal Tom Perez had beaten leftist Keith Ellison for the post of national Democratic Party boss but I could tell that, for the most part, many of those doing the shouting had no better understanding of the process than I did.

Two, I was there to be sworn in as an alternate member of the committee, someone who could fill in at a meeting if regular member Bill Leone can’t make it. Which I guess makes me a card-carrying member of the Democratic machine, if that label can be applied to such a conglomeration.

From now on, when the Partisan endorses a political candidate, pretend there’s an asterisk next to the name, signifying that the Partisan has become semi-officially partisan. Since I’m an alternate, does that make the Partisan alternatively partisan?

(At some point in the heat of some future election, look for the Carmel Pine Cone to breathlessly report on this as though one of its crack reporters had dug it up.)

So what did I see and learn Tuesday night? First off, it seems a lot like a union meeting. It took me back to all those union meetings I attended and led when I was with the Fresno Bee a couple decades ago.

The members sat in a large circle, nearly 30 people, of which about a third were people of color. There were more men than women. If there was a back room, I didn’t see it. There was cheese but no white wine. Just grape juice and organic apple juice. The meeting place alternates between Salinas and Seaside.

I recognized a few people. Running the meeting was the committee chairman, Alan Haffa, the Monterey Peninsula College instructor who sits on the Monterey City Council and wonders if he will ever be on the winning side of a motion now that Libby Downey is gone from the council and Timothy Barrett has gone off on a tangent. Haffa, you may recall, was a stalwart of the local Occupy movement.

There was Mr. Grassroots, Gary Karnes, who has worked tirelessly for every good cause since before the days of grape strikes. And Ron Chesshire, the Carpenters Union heavy, and Erin Fogg, the charming PR practitioner.

Supervisor Luis Alejo came in late. I was surprised to see Scott Dick there. He ran for what would have been the Carmel Valley City Council while also working to prevent Carmel Valley from being incorporated. I always figured he was a GOPer. Carl Pohlhammer, the longtime MPC English professor, was there, looking and sounding wise.

The meeting started while Donald Trump was addressing Congress for the first time. I don’t think Trump’s name came up during the meeting but he was on everyone’s mind. Especially Eric Bauman’s. He was there to pitch his candidacy for state party chair.

I have to admit I had never heard of Bauman but he’s a big deal in Democratic Party circles. He’s headed the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee forever and he’s vice chair of the state party. With state Chairman John Burton about to step down, Bauman’s the heavy favorite to replace him.

I really didn’t know what to make of Bauman. He is the ultimate party insider. He’s gay, Jewish and a former head of Southern California nurses’ unions. He’s dynamic and he knows the art of politics well enough to make the worst idea sound great. Tuesday night, he pitched pragmatism to the pragmatists and ideology to the idealists. He didn’t actually endorse the idea of keeping oil, tobacco and pharmaceutical money out of the party as many are pushing but he said there must be a way to replace it.

Bauman told the group about how he had worked up to the last minute to try to win the national chairmanship for Ellison, the Muslim legislator who couldn’t overcome Perez’s closer ties to the party establishment. He didn’t spend much time on that topic, though. He wanted to talk  about the times he was on the winning side. I appreciated his energy but he also reminded me a little of the local GOP party bosses, the Peter Newmans and Paul Brunos, who aim to turn every city council in Monterey County into a Republican fortress despite the region’s heavy Democratic majority. Despite the name of this blog, I don’t like seeing local, non-partisan offices become trophies for the political parties.

Running against Bauman is a Bay Area woman, Kimberly Ellis. She is an African-American who runs the Bay Area’s chapter of Emerge America, which supports women running for office. She’s campaigning as a change agent. If it was my choice to make, I’d likely go with Ellis over Baumann. Business as usual doesn’t seem like the way to go at the moment.

Bauman talked so long that there wasn’t much time for local issues. Some fellow whose name I didn’t catch wanted the committee to lean on the Salinas City Council to reverse its decision last week to not declare Salinas a sanctuary city, but it looks like there will be another council vote on that topic before the central committee will get a chance to weigh in.

There was quite a bit of talk about the budget – the central committee’s budget, not Trump’s. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the local Democratic apparatus is a shoestring operation.

So, for me, some of the mystery is gone. In its most local form, the party is neither slick nor ragtag. I didn’t sense that there were any corporatists there or any bomb throwers. I didn’t detect any one faction running things and, with Haffa leading things, I’m comfortable it is operating fairly and democratically. The people all seemed serious and committed.

For most of my adult life, I have mostly written off political parties and, to some degree, national elections. We labor under an economic system more than a political system. “One dollar, one vote” sums it up pretty well.

But now, watching this ugly new Republican regime take shape, I realize that those of us with relatively few dollars need to fight back on as many fronts as possible. We’ll never agree on one strategy, so we’d better try several. I believe the arsenal needs to include open debate, active protest, organized resistance, civil disobedience at times and, yes, better engagement of the electoral process.

To do this thing, I had to change my registration. I don’t remember for sure if I was a Green or a Peace & Freedom. Whichever, neither required much of a commitment. I’m not convinced party politics is the way to right this ship, but I believe that almost all the members of Congress elected in two years will be Democrats or Republicans and that the next president will most likely be a Democrat or Republican. I am not one of those hopeless folks who want things to get worse because only then will the masses awaken. I fear that worse begets worse, not better.

So, bottom line, I don’t see that it will hurt anything to dip a toe into party politics. It may result in more GOP spitwads being sent my way but I think I’ll be able to handle it. Unless the party bosses make me shut up, I’ll try to keep you posted on what I learn.

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The Monterey County Board of Supervisors, on a 3-2 split, continued to press its case Tuesday for providing additional voting strength to the county and Salinas in the formation of a regional electrical power consortium.

The plan has been in the works for several years now, but with a formation deadline approaching next month, supervisors John Phillips, Luis Alejo and Simon Salinas are essentially saying that unless Monterey County gets an extra vote, they’ll pass on enabling Monterey County residents to reduce their reliance on carbon-heavy energy sources and replace them with power from renewable sources.

Here’s the Monterey Herald story on Tuesday’s action. Here’s our previous story.

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Board splits along gender lines

Monterey County’s effort to gain additional authority over a regional electrical power consortium seems to be coming up short, with most of the other 20 government partners unenthusiastic about awarding the county an extra vote on the governing body.

Monterey County staffers are scheduled Tuesday to brief a divided Board of Supervisors on their effort to persuade the other counties and cities involved to bestow additional voting rights on Monterey County. That item is on the board’s 1:30 p.m. agenda.

The proposed Monterey Bay Community Power agency is intended to be an alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., an energy brokerage of sorts dedicated to increasing the Central Coast’s use of renewable energy and potentially driving down the cost of electricity. It would be the seventh such “Community Choice Energy” agency in California.

It would be operated by a joint-powers agency made up of the governments of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties and the cities in those counties.

Five years into the process of creating the agency, most of the government agencies involved have formally approved the structure and the operating principles but three members of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors have thrown a wrench into the works by insisting that Monterey County receive an extra vote because it has the largest population of the three counties. As it stands, Monterey County and the cities in the county would have five of the 11 votes on the board, more than any other county, but supervisors Luis Alejo, Simon Salinas and John Phillips say Monterey County deserves a second vote of its own, giving the county and the cities in the county a total of six votes. As an alternative, they say they could support weighted voting,.

The issue has divided the board, with Chairwoman Mary Adams and Jane Parker supporting the original plan. Parker, in fact, is urging her constituents to attend today’s board meeting and be prepared to argue in favor of moving the venture along.

According to Parker’s office, the agency would:

  • More than double our use of renewable energy resources (from 27% renewables to 59% renewables)
  • Provide 70% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission free electricity
  • Provide annual surplus revenues of approximately $9 million dollars in funds that can will support our local regional goals
  • Help build local renewable energy projects, stimulate local economic reinvestment and support local green job creation.

Government staffers in Monterey and elsewhere say it is difficult to tell whether the Alejo-Salinas-Phillips triumvirate is simply seeking a stronger voice on the agency board or is attempting to scuttle the venture.

Alejo didn’t return a call or email requesting comment, but he reportedly has argued privately that he fears the agency could end up raising power bills for low-income residents. The person who has worked most closely with the venture says that simply isn’t true, as demonstrated by the agency’s voluminous technical studies.

That person is Virginia Johnson, an aide to Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, the former secretary of state and legislator who has led the formation process.

Johnson said Monday that some other community power agencies have succeeded in lowering overall electrical rates and that even if that did not prove to be the case on the Central Coast, current PG&E customers would be entitled to continue their PG&E service along with any low-income discounts.

“There is no way poor people are going to pay more,” Johnson said.

San Benito County officials originally expressed similar concerns but were won over by activists working closely with the Catholic Church, which has embraced the plan.

A popular feature of the new entity is that it would allow for relatively affluent households to pay a premium for power in order to be supplied entirely by relatively clean sources such as solar or wind.

The overall plan had been scheduled for final approval by the end of 2016 but was delayed until March because of Monterey County’s reservations, which, according to Johnson and others, have received scant support elsewhere.  Johnson said the other entities would much prefer that Monterey County stay with the plan, largely because additional population creates additional buying power when purchasing electricity, but she said the others are fully prepared to move ahead with or without Monterey County.

As it stands, Monterey County and jurisdictions in the county would have five votes on an 11-member board of directors. Those votes would be assigned to the county, Salinas, the Peninsula cities as a group, Seaside/Marina/Sand City/Del Rey Oaks as a group, and the South County cities.

Santa Cruz County and its jurisdictions would control four votes and San Benito County, with the smallest population of the three counties, would control two votes.

Under the alternative weighted voting proposal, Monterey County, Santa Cruz County and Salinas, the largest city in the region, would be apportioned extra voting power on some issues.

Monterey Bay Community Power would be a government-run non-profit operating under a 2002 state law that enables communities to choose to buy power from clean sources while contracting with PG&E to maintain power lines and provide customer service.

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Runoff in Salinas still pivotal for Peninsula interests

Happy smiling beautiful young business woman showing two fingers or victory gesture, over gray backgroundOne of the Partisan’s defining traits is humility because we have so much to be humble about, but today we have developed a hint of a swagger because we didn’t come out on the wrong side of the election results.

I am kicking myself, gently, for not posting a prediction that Jane Parker and Mary Adams would prevail in Tuesday’s Monterey County supervisorial contests but if you work at it, you might be able to get one of the few people still talking to me to confirm that I had been making that prediction for weeks now.

There are votes left to be counted but not enough to change the order of finish. In District 5, where Dave Potter reigned for 20 years, long enough to be seduced by money and power many times over, Mary Adams won by what amounted to at least a minor landslide. See the results below for the actual numbers.

And in District 4, incumbent Jane Parker wiped the floor with Dennis Donohue, one of the most arrogant politicians I had ever encountered, a man who became so caught up in worst aspects of the campaign that he actually called exceedingly mild-mannered Parker a “bully.” No November runoff for Parker and Donohue because the vote for her was large enough to wipe out the potential impact of a minor third candidate.

As with most elections, there are things to be learned from Tuesday’s results. Let’s be optimistic about the first and say that the Parker victory tell us that deceptive advertising doesn’t work and that it might even backfire. The centerpiece of this contest was Donohue’s expensive attempt to persuade voters that Parker had disrespected our military veterans by opposing the Veterans Cemetery at Fort Ord and that she essentially doesn’t like veterans. The tactic exploded in Donohue’s face, however, when state Sen. Bill Monning pronounced Donohue’s assertions as flat-out wrong. She had supported the cemetery each step of the way and did not vote to move it somewhere as Donohue insisted. But Donohue’s big mistake was the advertising in which he said that Parker had actually blocked the project, causing great misery for our veterans, even though the project is well underway. Lesson two. If you’re going to lie, lie smart.

If the Partisan exists when other elections unfold, one message it is likely to harp on is that a key to understanding local elections is to expect the best-funded, best-connected candidate or measure to lie, cheat and steal if necessary to win. For evidence, look to how Cal Am was able to beat back a public-ownership measure and how the Monterey Downs people lied their way past a referendum to stop that silly project. Until not too many years ago, every statewide ballot measure in California was decided in favor of whichever side spent the most money. Scary when you think about it.

From the Adams-Potter race, the lessons are different. In this case, Adams was the underdog by virtue of Potter’s tenure and bank account, so she went after his record, hitting him hard for his promotion of the Monterey Downs horse-racing venture and his rotten record on the state Coastal Commission. Respected organizations like the Sierra Club and Surfrider ranked him close to last on their environmental scorecard, leading to his removal from the commission despite considerable effort by Potter and development interests to keep him on board.

In this campaign, Potter let the Carmel Pine Cone handle his counter-attack and it was a fail, largely because Adams was right about his removal and the weekly paper took up Potter’s cause in a shrill and repetitive fashion despite being armed with the flimsiest of arguments.

(Speaking of weekly newspapers, I stopped by Parker’s election night gathering at the Press Club, the lovely juice bar operated by Monterey County Weekly, and found myself in a spirited discussion with the newspaper’s owner, Bradley Zeve. Our focus was the Weekly’s endorsement of Potter over Adams and my published assertion that it had come over the objections of the newly departed editor, Mary Duan. Zeve insisted that I was wrong. I insisted that I was right, but I am forced to admit right here and now that he was there when it happened and I was not. I stand corrected. Reluctantly corrected and still hoping to find a way to prove myself right but with little hope.)

So where do we go from here?

To Salinas.

The other supervisorial race of the evening was one that barely captured the Peninsula’s attention and, unfortunately, a winner has not emerged. For the District 1 seat, it appears there will be a November runoff between state legislator Luis Alejo and Supervisor Fernando Armenta. I am not a fan of Alejo the way I am a fan of Adams or Parker, but I believe that Adams and Parker have the potential to reshape county policy only if Alejo wins in the fall.

Armenta is the ultimate old-school politician. Think Chicago alderman. He started as a passionate advocate for civil rights and other good causes but slowly turned into a ward politician who felt his job was to promote patronage and vote for anyone who contributed to his campaigns. He had proudly announced that he has never voted against a development project. Not a single leapfrog development with inadequate water supply has been bad enough to win a no vote from Armenta.

Being a county supervisor is about a lot more than land use but that is the key issue for most Peninsula voters, that and related matters such as desalination. If Armenta remains on board, big decisions on major land use policy questions will be decided by Armenta and supervisors John Phillips and Simon Salinas, all big fans of big development. Alejo is not as easy to categorize on land-use issues because he has seldom dealt with them in Sacramento, but what everyone says about him is that he is a politician, a professional politician who would apply a meaningful or at least intelligent balancing test before making a decision. With Armenta on the board, the future of our farmland and forests looks a lot like pavement. With Alejo on board, along with Parker and Adams, the future of our resources is up for debate.

In other words, voters and campaign contributors of the Peninsula, your work is not done.

County Supervisor, District 4
39/39 100.00%
Vote Count Percent
DENNIS DONOHUE 3,416 36.11%
ALEX MILLER 616 6.51%
JANE PARKER 5,428 57.38%
Total 9,460 100.00%

 


County Supervisor, District 5
51/51 100.00%
Vote Count Percent
MARY L. ADAMS 9,734 56.35%
DAVE POTTER 7,541 43.65%
Total 17,275 100.00%

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Tony Barrera

The Partisan used a simple methodology to decide which candidate gets the endorsement for supervisor in Monterey County’s District 1: Studying their campaign contributions.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, one of two candidates hoping to knock off incumbent Fernando Armenta, is receiving support from all over the state. His list of contributions makes it look as though he’s running for another Assembly term, which he can’t do because of term limits. His contributors are mostly from political action committees for industries with considerable business in Sacramento – hospitals, pharmaceuticals, liquor – as well as several Native American tribes with casino operations around the state and construction trade unions.

If it wasn’t already clear, Alejo’s financial disclosures show that he’s running because he needs some place, any place, to land between terms in the Legislature. He changed his address from Watsonville to Salinas just for the sake of trying to land a temporary job. In the meantime, his Watsonville-based wife is running for his Assembly seat. The people of District 1, the people of Salinas, hardly count in this equation.

member

Luis Alejo

Armenta mostly has support from various unions and development interests, many with no real connections to Salinas. He’s the fellow who likes to tell folks that in his 16 years as supervisor he has voted for every development project that has come before him. Not most. Every. Not just the “smart growth” projects. The dumb growth ones, too. Doesn’t matter to Fernando.

Armenta is the fellow who seems almost proud to have ignored many of the staff reports on issues that go before the supervisors. He’s been in office so long that he’s just going through the motions. He needs to retire.

What’s different about Tony Barrera’s campaign contributors is that they are almost entirely from within the district. Regular people, for the most part, and small businesses. He’s a Salinas city councilman and he knows his city. He’s learned a few political tricks along the way but he is about as grassroots as they come. He understands the issues in his city, the challenges faced by a large share of the electorate. For Barrera, many of the issues of the district are personal, and that’s a good thing.

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Fernando Armenta

Most descriptions of Barrera include the phrase “rough around the edges.” He is that.  Alejo is by far the slickest of the candidates but county government already has plenty of slick. Barrera has served his district well on the council and he understands, much more than either of his opponents, that the job is representing the people of that district, not the political action committees, not the developers with their eyes on farmland outside the city.

Tony’s the guy.

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10003 (1)The Partisan is pleased to report that it has viewed campaign mailers from several candidates, including Dave Potter, Jane Parker and Mary Adams, all seeking seats on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, and has found nothing worrisome, no distortions, no unwarranted attacks.

The positive pattern ended today with a rather nasty mailer sent out by an independent political action committee backing state Assembly candidate Anna Caballero, the former Salinas mayor, former state commerce secretary and former lots of other things.

These PACs can pretty much do as they please except they are forbidden from communicating directly with the candidates and coordinating their efforts. There are those in positions of power who say that those rules are actually respected by some of the groups and candidates.

The rather nasty mailer was sent out by the Govern for California PAC, made up largely of business interests and lawyers opposed to public employee unions and in favor of charter schools.

The mailing is an attack on Caballero’s opponent, Watsonville City Councilwoman Karina Alejo Cervantez, who once was mayor of Watsonville.

“YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW KARINA ALEJO BECAME MAYOR,” the mailer screams in yellow and black.

“She became mayor through a backroom deal.”

How so?

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“After serving on the Watsonville City Council for just 1 year, Karina Alejo became mayor through the agreement of other politicians behind closed doors.”

Jeepers. Sounds bad.

In fact, the Watsonville City Council, like many other city councils, used to pick the mayor and vice mayor by a vote of the City Council. That’s what happened in 2013, the year Cervantez became mayor.

Later, Watsonville voters changed the procedure to base the selection on an automatic rotation of the council members, something quite a few other cities do as well.

The mailer says, without attribution, that Cervantez’s husband, state Sen. Luis Alejo, spent thousands of dollars trying to fight the new procedure. We couldn’t find evidence of that but it could be true.

SCORE: We’ll give this one a D because it is misleading without outright lying. On second thought, make it a D-minus.

By the way, Caballero’s campaign is receiving quite a bit of help from PACs in this campaign, especially the primary organization promoting charter schools in California. As of a week ago, the Parent Teacher Alliance had reported spending $375,000 on Caballero’s behalf.

Caballero also has received sizable contributions from the Fisher family of San Francisco, the people behind The Gap stores, who also are big supporters of charter schools.

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If you get all your local political news from the papers or TV, you can be forgiven for not knowing that Tony Barrera, a Salinas City Councilman, is running for Monterey County supervisor.

That’s because he wasn’t mentioned in one paper’s account of Assemblyman Luis Alejo’s decision to run for the District 1 supervisorial seat held by Fernando Armenta or in a TV station’s report on Alejo’s announcement. The newspaper at least mentioned Armenta. The KSBW report mentioned no one other than Alejo.

Alejo’s entry into the race likely makes Barrera even more of an underdog. Armenta, who hasn’t yet announced whether he will run again, would be able to raise far more campaign money than Barrera and so will Alejo, of course. The district takes in most of Salinas but you can expect to see most of the campaign money coming from elsewhere.

And why does this matter to you if, like most Partisan readers, you live somewhere between Salinas and the Pacific? Here’s why. Armenta is a fairly conscientious fellow when it comes to representing his district, but when it comes to important matters outside the district, especially development issues, it’s all about campaign contributions.

Armenta is a sure vote for development, good development, bad development, he doesn’t really care. His mind is made up. And if it’s a traffic-clogging project proposed for the Corral de Tierra area, a subdivision at the mouth of the valley, a model of leapfrog development in north county, his vote is just as important as that of the supervisor representing that district. If you don’t think more strip malls and cookie-cutter subdivisions would enhance the Peninsula, you want someone more thoughtful than Armenta on the board.

As it stands, the only consistent board vote for good planning is Jane Parker. She represents Seaside, Marina and a small part of Salinas. She’s up for re-election and is being challenged by former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue. Donohue will get considerable help from the business community and development interests.

The other seat up for grabs in the coming year is held by Dave Potter, who is not quite the sure development vote that Armenta is but only because he is cagy enough to oppose developments when he knows they’ll get approved anyway. In a district that takes in Monterey, PG, Carmel, Carmel Valley and Big Sur, he is being challenged by Mary Adams, the retired United Way exec, who is receiving support from slow-growthers, progressives in general and some quarters of agriculture.

Which takes us back to Armenta’s district. If the white hats manage to re-elect Parker and elect Adams, Armenta’s re-election would mean that logic-defying developments would still have three nearly automatic votes, those of Armenta, John Phillips and Simon Salinas. Like Armenta, Salinas apparently has never met subdivision he couldn’t support.

But with Barrera or Alejo in office instead of Armenta, development proposals would be the subject of healthy examination and debate. Developments that create housing and jobs without aggravating traffic and water problems would be considered on their merits. The size of the proponents’ campaign contributions would be less likely to be the deciding factor.

In the coming months, voters countywide should study Barrera and Alejo. Barrera is the rough-and-tumble type. He has a somewhat checkered past but is trying to get people to forget it by working hard to represent everyone in his district, not just the players. Alejo is smoother, the career politician type who has wisely weighed in regularly on issues of importance in the Salinas Valley. He is moving to Salinas from Watsonville because he is being termed out of his Assembly post and needs a job. (His wife, Watsonville City Councilwoman Karina Cervantez, is running for his Assembly seat in a race that includes former Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero.)

So here’s the bottom line.

If you live on the Peninsula and prefer trees over asphalt, you can’t afford to focus only on your own backyard. You should pay attention to Parker and Adams and you also should consider getting involved in the race shaping up in Salinas.  It’s either that or watching a lot of 3-2 votes in the wrong direction.

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Peace symbol word cloud for Iran nuclear dealAssemblyman Luis Alejo was busy this week in King City, seeking a district-election process to elect council members and a state audit of the city’s trouble-plagued police force.

Alejo, a three-term Watsonville Democrat and chairman of the Latino Caucus in the state Legislature, also quietly put down a marker in the country’s top foreign policy debate — the proposed Iranian nuclear agreement.

Alejo and fellow Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, issued a statement Tuesday, declaring themselves on the same ground as almost every Republican in Congress and the 17 GOP presidential candidates — against the Iran nuclear agreement backed by President Barack Obama.

The two Assembly Democrats said the agreement negotiated with Iran by the U.S. along with Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union “falls short” of putting limits on Iran’s nuclear program to ensure peace.

Echoing language by fervent opponents of the Iran deal from former Vice President Dick Cheney to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the legislators declare Iran “an extraordinary threat to the United States and our allies” and a supporter of terrorist groups that have killed Americans over the past 30 years from Lebanon to Iraq.

In opposing the Iran deal, Alejo puts himself at odds with both California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Central Coast Congressman Sam Farr, D-Carmel, all previously announced supporters of the agreement.

Why Alejo, a liberal on immigrant rights issues and author of a bill against the term “Redskins” for school mascots, has sided with conservatives on the Iran deal wasn’t clear. Questions put to him Wednesday were answered with a written statement:

Flags of United States and Iran with Nuclear icon on Yin and Yang symbol“This is not a partisan issue, it’s about what is best for the United States and our allies.  Secretary of State Kerry and the president should be commended for all their hard work and effort they put into these negotiations.  But when the security of one of our country’s most loyal allies is at stake, we cannot settle for an agreement that is ‘good enough.’  In 2012 I traveled to Israel and learned an incredible amount about the U.S.-Israel relationship, including the Israeli perspectives on global issues. This included an exploration of major policy issues including the Arab-Israeli conflict, peace process, global terrorism, Iranian nuclear policy, and U.S.-Israel relations.  During my time there I also gained a better understanding of the religious, historical and strategic flashpoints associated with the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Alejo’s trip to Israel was a  six-day “educational tour” courtesy of the American Israel Education Foundation, according to his 2012 economic interests report on file with the state.

The foundation is a charitable group affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the strongest pro-Israel lobby in the United States. The charity group says it makes annual grants to Aipac and pays for “educational seminars to Israel” for members of Congress and “other political influentials.”
Aipac is lobbying hard against the proposed Iran nuclear deal, as Bloomberg reported this month. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-08-21/iran-deal-puts-aipac-at-risk-of-losing-to-obama-in-biggest-fight
The Aipac-affiliated foundation picked up $8,926 to cover Alejo’s travel, lodging and meals for the 2011 visit, state records say. Alejo reported he made a speech and took part in a panel during the tour.

The initial statement by the two legislators was mentioned on Twitter by a few Sacramento capital reporters. Alejo’s official web site didn’t mention it and there was no immediate media coverage.

Alejo will be termed out of the Assembly in 2016 and reportedly has been eyeing possible runs for the state Senate and Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

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People’s desal project still chugging along

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This is an update on the People’s Desal Project, Nader Agha’s proposed desal plant at Moss Landing, as provided by the project’s lawyer, David Balch:

The Moss Landing Harbor District (MLHD) – the CEQA Lead Agency for the People’s Desal Project – voted last night, April 22, to accept the proposal from Aspen Environmental Group to serve as the MLHD’s CEQA consultant. Aspen’s hiring, which was conditioned on the final checking of references and a scoping workshop, begins the formal CEQA review process. Aspen’s proposed schedule shows a June 2016 completion date.

This was a busy week for the People’s Project. Prior to the MLHD vote, we were introducing the project to key regulatory agencies and legislators in Sacramento. We met with Senator Bill Monning’s office, with Secretary Anna Caballero, and with the Chief Consultant to the Environmental Safety Committee (which is chaired by Assemblyman Luis Alejo), as well as with the State Water Resources Control Board, the California Water Commission, and the Lieutenant Governor’s office (who sits on the State Lands Commission). While these meetings were introductory in nature, it marks an exciting new phase for the People’s Moss Landing project.

Project Overview

The People’s Moss Landing project is a proposed reverse osmosis desalination plant at the Moss Landing Green Commercial Park that will produce 13,404 acre-feet per year (AFY) of potable water. The Project proposes to provide 3,652 AFY of “new water” to North County and 9,752 AFY to the Monterey Peninsula, to offset Cal-Am’s mandated water supply diversion curtailments on the Carmel River and Seaside Basin. The Project is located at the site of the former Kaiser Refractories Plant in Moss Landing, and it will occupy approximately 16 acres of the entire 186 acre site. Once the plant is built, water production (including delivery) is estimated to cost between $1,950 and $2,000 per acre foot – the least expensive of the three major local desalination proposals. The Draft Process Design Report provides a detailed overview of the Project and is located on the Project’s website.

Project Benefits

The “People’s Project” is located at the former National Refractories site in Moss Landing, California, which was identified by the CPUC in 2002 as the “preferred site” for a Monterey desalination plant, at the direction of the State Legislature. The MLCP site is zoned industrial and has been used extensively for industrial purposes. The site is considered ideal for a desalination plant since it is adjacent to the Moss Landing Power Plant, has access to a major roadway, and has significant infrastructure in place.

The People’s Project site has historical intake from, and discharge into, Monterey Bay, pre-existing the creation of the California Coastal Commission and the Monterey Bay Marine National Sanctuary. The site also has existing, grandfathered intake and outfall pipelines that run from the property, under Highway One and the Moss Landing harbor, and out into Monterey Bay. (The project team, of course, is aware of the proposed SWRCB regulations that require subsurface intake unless proven infeasible, and we look forward to working with the regulators during the coming months on this issue.) The site also has senior appropriative rights of approximately 2,000 acre feet of zone 2C groundwater, considered to be part of Salinas Valley groundwater basin. The People’s Project is the only project that has these critical benefits.

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Zen waterOn April 7, the End of Life Option Act (SB128), the bill co-authored by California state Senators Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis), cleared its second committee hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, by a comfortable 5-2 margin.

At the hearing, news was made: Assemblyman Luis Alejo, whose district includes Salinas and who chairs the Latino Caucus, has signed on as a principal sponsor of the bill. This is notable because he represents a constituency that has traditionally opposed such legislation on religious and/or cultural grounds. His support is indicative of the attitudinal shift in confronting the challenges of end of life care on the part of both voters and physicians.

A recent poll indicates that over 70 percent of Californians favor an aid-in-dying law, mirroring the national percentage. For the first time, a majority of physicians – 54 percent, up from 46 percent in 2010—also favor it.

For those of you unfamiliar with this bill, it would allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults, who meet a number of strict requirements, to end their lives with medication that they must be able to ingest themselves, at the time of their choosing. Two physicians must certify that the patient has a terminal condition. Other safeguards in the bill address concerns about coercive family or financial pressures. Patients must initiate the request and they can decide at the last minute not to use the medication, making the process entirely patient driven.

The End of Life Option Act is modeled on Oregon’s very successful Death with Dignity Act, which has been in place since 1997 without a single complaint of abuse to any authority. A very small percentage of the Oregon population has requested medication under the law; an even smaller percentage has taken it. It seems that merely having the medication available is such a comfort that many terminally ill patients feel no need to use it. Oregon and Washington passed the Death with Dignity Act via ballot initiative; New Mexico and Montana allow it by judicial order. Vermont’s legislature is the only one that has approved it, which is the best way in the view of experts to embed the required safeguards into the law. California now appears poised to do the same, though if the bill does not pass the many hurdles ahead of it, especially in the Assembly where many more votes are needed, it is sure to appear on the 2016 as a ballot initiative.

The traditional opponents of such bills include the Catholic Church – which has already signed on an expensive lobbying organization to oppose SB128. Some organizations representing the disabled, who are very aware that being disabled or old does not meet the strict rules under which one would qualify for aid in dying, are able to raise a lot of money by opposing the legislation on a “slippery slope” rationale made moot by the many years of data from Oregon. It is also opposed by some medical organizations, including oncologists. In the past, the California Medical Association (CMA) has opposed it, though it is hoped that this time around the CMA will take a neutral stance and allow its members to decide whether or not to participate in carrying out provisions of the bill, which would be strictly voluntary. (For reasons difficult to comprehend, the CMA opposed the End of Life Notification Bill recently signed into law by Governor Brown, requiring physicians to inform terminally ill patients of their options end of life options at the time of diagnosis.)

Infinite warehouse

SB128 is appropriately named the “End of Life Option” Act because the authors and supporters have made clear that aid in dying is part of a continuum of care for the terminally ill that includes both palliative care and hospice — vital options even though they are not always available or effective in relieving the pain and suffering of the terminally ill. The recommendation to consult palliative care and hospice experts is included in the bill, though it is not a requirement because access might be a problem, especially in rural parts of the state.

Many supporting this bill believe it is a basic human right to determine how to exit an untenable situation when one is terminally ill. Opponents like to call it “assisted suicide,” a politically charged phrase that summons distaste. The very definition of “terminal” connotes the inevitable ending of life, whereas “suicide” connotes the possibility of a future that is willingly foreclosed. When all viable treatment options have been exhausted, the only issue remaining to those patients is how peaceful their end will be, not whether or not there is an end. If the End of Life Option Act allows those facing the emotional and physical pain of a prolonged and painful death a peaceful departure, it is difficult to imagine why it would be opposed. Neither religious doctrine nor a misconceived notion that everyone can be healed should stand in the way of a crucial personal freedom.

If you agree, your voice needs to be heard. The next hearing – as yet unscheduled – will be before the Senate Appropriations Committee where the sponsors are not certain that they have the votes to send SB128 onto its next legislative gantlet. This link will take you to a list of members, and you can send emails to them by clicking on their names. You may not be in their district, but theoretically they represent all Californians, and so far, the majority of Californians say they want the right to decide how they die when their circumstances are grievous and irremediable. It would be far more expedient for our state legislators to agree than force an expensive ballot initiative, but for that to happen, we need to make ourselves heard.

Meister is a journalist who lives in Pebble Beach. She is a frequent contributor to the Partisan.

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