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PUBLIC TAKEOVER EFFORT SHOULD BE FAVORED THIS TIME

For much of my journalism career, one of my roles was to offer advice in the form of editorials but it was more of an exercise than a meaningful attempt to get anyone to act a certain way. I considered it a success if anyone read the whole piece and gave it any thought.

The advice I am about to give is different. For one thing, the intended audience is much smaller. It is for the people who make decisions on behalf of California American Water Co., the principal purveyor of water to the Monterey Peninsula. And it is meant to be persuasive and not just informative.

So here goes.

Cal Am, it is time to sell.

For the benefit of your company, your shareholders and the people of the Monterey Peninsula, it is time for you to sit down at the bargaining table and try to work out a fair price for your highly successful and equally controversial enterprise. Coming to terms with the community, without a protracted takeover process, will save you money. It will maximize the return to your shareholders and that, after all, is what you are all about.

So why am I saying this? And why now?

It’s partly because I went to a forum Monday night in Monterey in which the leadership of Public Water Now sketched the basics of the group’s upcoming effort to convert Cal Am from a privately owned, profit-taking business to a publicly owned, public-benefit operation. There were about 140 people there and, as far as I could tell, none of them was from Cal Am. If there had been, I suspect they’d be writing a memo to their bosses making pretty much the same argument I’m making here.

A key argument against a public takeover effort will be that it has been tried before, most recently four years ago, and it failed then. Don’t be fooled. Although Cal Am outspent the public takeover forces 20-1, the margin of victory, was 55-45, closer than anyone expected. If this thing goes to the ballot again, you can expect the numbers to be reversed.

Since the 2013 vote on what was called Measure O, the rates Cal Am charges its customers have risen dramatically, more than doubling in many cases, and they are poised to keep going up, dramatically, for as long as the company owns the water operation. A key argument against Measure O was that a public takeover wouldn’t be cost effective. Cal Am has crippled that argument by squeezing every ounce of profit out of its customers.

The last straw for many Peninsula residents was the company’s successful effort to raise rates to make up for money it didn’t make while the community was working hard to conserve water because of drought. Cal Am wasn’t alone in this extraction. Many publicly owned water systems in the state did the same thing, but they weren’t dealing with such expensive water.

Here’s more. The 140 people at the meeting Monday night weren’t a bunch of fuzzy-headed activists. There were past and present members of Peninsula city councils and the water management district board. There were lawyers and retired CEOs. This wasn’t a bunch of twenty-somethings. This was a bunch of sixty-somethings, people who know a little something about elections. Many of them stopped to make  campaign contributions on their way out.

Also in the crowd were numerous people who were active in last year’s Measure Z campaign. That was the successful measure to ban fracking in Monterey County. Exxon and Mobil made like Cal Am and piled big money into the fight to defeat the measure. By the time it was over, they had spent more than $5 million on slick and tricky advertising that twisted the measure’s intent. In the end, Measure Z passed with more than 55 percent of the vote, a result that should scare the heck out of Cal Am’s accountants.

One of the speakers Monday night was the woman who ran the Measure Z campaign and the similar campaign that accomplished the same goals in San Benito County. She knows how to run a grassroots campaign, and so do many others who were in the room.

The people who ran the Measure O campaign were there Monday night, of course. The ringleader is Public Water Now’s George Riley, who knows almost as much about water as Cal Am. After Measure O went down to defeat, Riley didn’t walk away to lick his wounds. He dug into water issues. He continued studying Cal Am and he studied the campaign it ran against Measure O. It is safe to say he learned a lot in four years.

Four years ago, the focus of Cal Am’s fight against Measure O was the company’s desalination project, its complex and expensive answer to the Peninsula’s chronic water shortage. Cal Am campaign ads hit hard on the theme that a public takeover would delay the desalination project, which, the advertising assured us, was looming just over the horizon.

George Riley

Four years later, the desalination venture has added untold millions of dollars to the future financial burden imposed on Cal Am’s customers, but groundbreaking is no closer.The project has been stalled by technical issues and conflict-of-interest concerns, perhaps even by lack of will on the part of Cal Am. At the moment its product is something it pumps for free from the Carmel River. Even though state utility rules guarantee that it will make money in the process, getting a desal plant built is a difficult and expensive task. Critical issues, such as water rights and basic pumping technology, remain unsettled.

At the same time, alternative solutions to the Peninsula’s water shortage have moved ahead, including a plan for an ambitious water recycling project that just last week received approval for the bulk of its financing plan. That is something Cal Am’s desalination planners can only dream of.

What that means is that the need for a large and expensive desalination plant is weakening. As it stands, Cal Am looks to charge its customers hundreds of millions of dollars to treat much more water than the Peninsula needs, water that likely would be used to create subdivisions for which there is no demand. No wonder political support for Cal Am is drying up.

Cal Am officials likely have noticed the uptick in letters to the editor critical of Cal Am and its ridiculous water rates. Those letters are from actual bill-paying customers, not Public Water Now activists. The issue of Cal Am rates is not just something for Public Water Now to turn into a slogan. Real people are really upset with the cost of water and don’t like it one bit that the cost here is about as high as it is anywhere.

A lot has changed in four years. When Measure O was on the ballot, the Peninsula mayor’s water advisory board played a key role in urging its defeat. The makeup of that board has changed. Most notably, former Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett is out of office and out of power. It was Burnett who coalesced the mayoral opposition to Measure O and who coordinated strategies with the Peninsula business community’s support for Cal Am. For elected officials, supporting Cal Am politically is far riskier now than was then.

As Riley pointed out Monday, the makeup of the water management district board has changed as well. That’s important because the district would become the initial operator of the water system once Cal Am was removed. Former Sand City Mayor David Pendergrass is gone from the district board, along with his unflinching support for Cal Am. New county Supervisor Mary Adams is going onto the board, bringing her brand of quiet progressivism with her.

If the ballot measure proceeds, Cal Am officials will spend millions fighting it while telling the shareholders that they are protecting the investment. Then, when the measure prevails, Cal Am will spend millions in litigation, fighting the election results initially and then watching as platoons of $500 per hour lawyers negotiate over the public purchase price of the system. In the end, a court, not Cal Am, will decide on the purchase price.

Cal Am officials on the Peninsula have insisted for years that their system here is barely if at all profitable, yet they have made it clear that they will fight to keep it. If anyone knows any Cal Am shareholders, you should send them this piece and encourage them to ask the company whether this fight really makes sense. Doesn’t it make more sense to start negotiating the price now?

It is time for the company to recognize that the tide has turned. By working every angle to squeeze maximum profit out of every aspect of the operation, they have invited a takeover by a publicly operated management structure intent on public service rather than rate of return.

I don’t mean to suggest that the takeover effort is a slam dunk if Cal Am resists. It will require tremendous energy and effort. But by every indication, there is an ample supply of energy and will and a diminishing set of reasons to keep Cal Am around.

So, Cal Am, if you’re thinking like the good corporate citizen you claim to be, you should conclude that it was nice while it lasted but it’s time to move on. And even if you’re thinking like the calculating enterprise that you really are, you should realize that sticking around means throwing lots of good money into a pot you can’t win. To steal a line from the anti-Measure O campaign, it’s a risk you can’t afford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Mary_Adams_Headshot_cropped

Mary Adams

Reflections on today’s elections:

I hesitate to write about politics on election day because it robs me of my sense of humor. There is nothing about Dave Potter, Dennis Donohue, or Donald Trump that lends itself to anything but stinging satire. I can’t muster a smile.

I am hoping that, in our own backyard, Parker and Adams win because of all the reasons the Partisan has enumerated in admirable detail.  (No other publication I know of here comes close to its investigative talent.)  Their adversaries have behaved execrably even while Parker and Adams have kept their cool. There is no telling what special interests or lack of voter enthusiasm or any other wild card will do, but let’s hope for the best.  They are the best.

 

clintonpodium_600_1As for Hillary vs. Bernie, I hope Hillary wins. Yes, Bernie has inspired thousands of fervent idealists, mostly white and mostly young, and as a committed progressive I admire many of his ideas.  I don’t think there is much difference in what Hillary wants to accomplish and what he has articulated, but there is no practical way much of what he wants can actually be achieved.  Among other unlikely events, we would need Congress to transform itself into Robin Hood and rob the rich to help the poor. No nonpartisan organization that has reviewed his ideas has given them any semblance of fiscal reality. I realize that idealism does not permit practicality to intervene. Bernie’s intentions are grand but his ability to achieve them just about zero.

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Parker

And then there is the problem of his foreign policy creds.  Sanders has had a mostly undistinguished career in Congress. The international crises confronting the next president are daunting. They need to be handled by someone who has the chops to do it.  I don’t like Hillary’s past hawkish views and I hope she has been sobered by the horrible outcomes of our military exploits. Hillary has the experience on Day One to get in the game.  I have no idea what Bernie would do, and he hasn’t said.

Also, I wish Bernie had not crossed the line from evangelism to demagoguery. His followers look like they are about to burn down the barricades if he doesn’t get the nomination.  At this point, they have the affect of a cult. He has no chance of getting the nomination with the rules that he agreed to when he decided to run as a guest on the Democratic ticket, and he knows it.  His drive to the absolute finish line, with the crowds cheering him on, looks like someone who has finally tasted power and can’t give it up.

Yet, I am counting on him to beseech his followers to vote for Hillary, because we have to beat Trump. Bernie may leave the race a bitter man, but he cannot be so mad at Hillary that he would help Trump get in office.  If his supporters vote for a third party candidate as a protest, that is exactly what could happen. We cannot even contemplate handing over the future to one of the most racist ignoramuses ever to ascend to the head of a major political party. If Trump gets his hands on the Supreme Court, it will be far worse than not having Medicare for all, or not having free college for all.

This is why I have no sense of humor about these elections in particular. We have too many awful candidates running who need to be sent back to their lairs.  We have a lot riding on what happens today.

Here’s to Jane, Mary, and Hillary, who all happen to be women.  May they all win!

Meister is a writer who lives in Pebble Beach and who has contributed several pieces to the Partisan.

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Vote today or the dirty tricksters win again

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Dirty water in old concrete swimming pool

Here’s what I think of when I think about the Donohue campaign strategy: Dirty pool

This is for voters who need one last bit of motivation to get to the polls today and to remind your friends and neighbors to do the same. I’m  aiming it at Jane Parker supporters in District 4 but the message also works well for Mary Adams supporters in District 5.

On Monday, the Dennis Donohue campaign sent emails out to voters accusing Parker, the incumbent, of running an ugly campaign. Yes, she did go negative with critical, and accurate, mailers challenging his silly assertion that he was a successful crime fighter while he was mayor of Salinas. He did put considerable time and energy into Salinas’ crime issues but he certainly didn’t solve them as his campaign literature proclaims.

Parker was punching back, relatively gently and absolutely fairly, after Donohue had hit her with a barrage of false accusations to the effect that she had opposed the Veterans Cemetery at Fort Ord and is anti-veteran. It was one of the great local examples of deceptive, below-the-belt campaigning.

Yet on Monday, Donohue shared his reflections thusly:

“Election Day is tomorrow, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon recent ugliness the campaign has endured. It’s unfortunate how normal it has become for campaigns to go negative. Negativity distracts and muddies situations so it’s difficult to distinguish between a horrible personal attack (like being compared to Donald Trump) and a legitimate concern over a candidate’s ethics and moral compass.

“You and your neighbors I am sure have received countless attack mailers from Jane Parker. These personal and schoolyard antics are similar to how a bully behaves. And like any bully Jane is using her attacks to hide and distract us from who she is.”

Wow. I mean Wow! Dennis Donohue calling Jane Parker a bully! I guess that if you’re going to use the big lie technique, you take it all the way.

In District 5, incumbent Dave Potter took a similar tack against Mary Adams, accusing her of lying about his removal from the Coastal Commission. He was, in fact, refused another term because of his repeatedly pro-development votes and his horrible standing with environmental groups but he claims that isn’t so. He had considerable help from Carmel Pine Cone Publisher Paul Miller, who produced two stories in the news section and two editorials calling Adams a liar based on manufactured evidence. It was a shameful performance politically and journalistically.

Unless Parker and Adams win today, the take-away will be another reminder that dirty pool pays off even in a place like Monterey County with an enlightened and engaged electorate. We learned that when Cal Am crafted a campaign of nonsense to beat back a public takeover vote and when the backers of Monterey Downs whipped up some deceptive nonsense of their own to prevail in a ballot measure intended to stop the misguided project. Money wins, especially when it is used to manufacture and distribute a bogus product.

Anyway, back to the point. Don’t believe a word from Donohue and Potter. Get out and vote and take your neighbors with you. Voters say that politics and elections should be about character. Let’s prove it.

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Brochure says Dana Point mega project was “Inspired by Nature.”

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The Strand at the Headlands, a housing development in Dana Point in Orange County that Dave Potter voted for when he was a member of the California Coastal Commission.

I wasn’t going to write any more about Dave Potter’s re-election bid because we’re so close to Tuesday’s election, but then he sent a provocation to my mailbox. It’s his latest campaign mailer and it has a nice photo on the front of an oceanfront cypress with the words “A delicate balance.” Inside, it says, “As the longest serving government appointee to the California Coastal Commission (1997-2009), Dave led statewide efforts to protect our most precious natural resource from unwise and excessive development.”

Forget that he was removed from the commission after compiling one of the worst environmental records of all the commissioners, according to annual rankings by Surfrider and the Sierra Club. The Carmel Pine Cone reported last week and plans to report again this week that he wasn’t removed, an absolutely incorrect assertion based on then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’s overly polite comment that she wasn’t even aware of his voting record when she replaced him with a more environmentally friendly appointee. The Pine Cone accuses Adams of lying, and worse, even though Potter publicly acknowledged that “the environmentalists” had arranged for his removal over his objections.

Coincidentally, when Potter’s latest touchy-feely mailer arrived, I was contemplating a piece of my own, updating Potter’s yes vote on one of the most controversial Southern California development projects of his Coastal Commission tenure. I had been leaning toward letting it go, lest it be suggested that the Partisan has already made the case against his re-election and was piling on. But then I saw that cypress tree and read about how Potter has been “Guarding Our Coastline.”

Potter’s time on the Coastal Commission provided him with a great opportunity to become cozy with development interests up and down the state while portraying himself as a conservationist at home, a pretense he has partly abandoned in recent years. While casting token anti-development votes here, he routinely voted in favor of controversial development projects large and small along the coast. It was during one Los Angeles County application process that he met and became friends with horse-racing promoter Brian Boudreau, who brought his controversial Monterey Downs racetrack venture to Monterey County at Potter’s invitation.

But possibly the most controversial project of Potter’s time on the commission was the Dana Point Headlands project, which allowed a string of monster homes to be built on the sand over the super-strenous objections of just about everyone except the developer. Remarkably, while Potter’s commission vote in favor of the venture came a dozen years ago, he is still enjoying the benefits.

Str_HomesonBeach_

Photo of Headlands homes from Sanford Edwards’ website

The Headlands developer, Sanford Edward, early this year contributed $1,000 to Potter’s campaign against challenger Mary Adams for his 5th District seat. And one of the first millionaires to build a monster home there, David Demshur, contributed $2,000 just last month.

Here is what the Sierra Club said about the Headlands venture after the vote:

“The project violates the Coastal Act in that it calls for severe grading in the coastal zone and construction of a 2200-foot-long rock pile revetment/seawall to support about 70 custom lots on Strands bluff. Even the Coastal Commission’s own staff’s reports strongly recommended denial of this project based on its multiple Coastal Act violations.

If granted, the preliminary injunction would have halted construction on the Headlands project until the lawsuit came to trial, several months later.

In late June, Sierra Club and Surfrider assessed the situation. Without the preliminary injunction, construction on the site would continue until the trial; even if the environmentalists won at trial, undoing of the development work would be unlikely. The need to put resources into the much larger toll road/Trestles campaign loomed large. The groups reached regretful consensus to end the Headlands campaign.

Sierra Club National Litigation Committee approved dismissal of the suit in mid-September. Surfrider Foundation has also voted to approve dismissal.

The development is now in full swing. An outing to Strands Beach is now marred by the sight of heavy-duty construction machinery working on the bluff. The once-peaceful bluff has been cleared of all vegetation and looks like it has been strip-mined.

The Coastal Commission’s approval of the project has not only destroyed the natural beauty that once was Strands bluff, but also set a bad precedent for other coastal development projects throughout California.”

(A previous Partisan post misstated Potter’s vote based on erroneous information in a Los Angeles Times account.)

Demshur’s 10,000-square-foot home at the Dana Point development has received considerable publicity for its design. Incidentally, his primary residence is on a golf course in Houston, where he is the head of Core Laboratories, which is heavily involved in oil fracking. The Partisan’s mention of his fracking work May 12 prompted Potter to return his $2,000 contribution the next day. However, Potter had previously collected what is likely to have been considerably more from Demshur. The supervisor’s statement of economic interests for 2015 says his Potter Construction Co. received something in excess of $100,000 that year from Demshur and two companies, Enviro International and Ocean Breeze Construction. Specific dollar amounts and details of the work are not included on the forms and Potter did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Enviro International is operated by Safwat Malek, the Pebble Beach architect who is currently involved in a Carmel home-building project with Potter. It is likely that Ocean Breeze Construction is actually Ocean Breeze Quality Building in Carmel.

Coincidentally or not, both Edwards and Demshur now have business in front of Monterey County government. Edwards several years ago bought what used to be known as the Oreck estate on the 12th Fairway at Pebble Beach along with an adjoining lot. He demolished the 1924-era Oreck house and replaced it with a home for himself. He sold the other lot in 2012 to Demshur for $14 million but building plans have not yet been approved by the county. Edwards or someone working for him was cited by the county for demolishing the Oreck house without a permit but he was later able to clear that up, according to county records.

Potter Consruction Co., meanwhile, seems to have taken on a life of its own. Early in Potter’s tenure as supervisor, starting 20 years ago, it was a fairly active little operation specializing in cement work. It ran into financial problems, however, and soon was the subject of several mechanics liens from suppliers who had not been paid. Through the middle years of Potter’s supervisorial career, he said the company was inactive, though it maintained an office, and only in recent years has it come back to life. He said a month ago that it is largely operated by two subcontractors and requires little of his time. State records indicate the company has no employees.

Earlier this year Potter Construction was listed as the builder for renovations being done on Potter’s own home in Carmel and it is currently listed as the general contractor on the construction of a new, Safwat Malek-designed home at 6th and Dolores in Carmel.

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Hand holding out a stack of money tied to the end of a stick for briberyLocal campaign contribution reports over the past week created no new intrigues but Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter had three interesting items to report.

Potter, campaigning to retain his seat in the 5th Supervisorial District, reported returning a $2,000 contribution from David Demshur of Houston, whose Core Laboratories is a big player in the oil fracking industry. Potter’s latest campaign filing says the money was returned May 13, the day after the Partisan wrote about the contribution.

With an anti-fracking initiative heading to the November ballot, the candidates are sensitive to any perception of support from the oil industry, but both Potter and his opponent, Mary Adams, have received contributions from South County landowners who could benefit from a fracking boom.

Parker also accepted a $1,000 contribution in April from prominent oil and gas lawyer Lawrence Wolfe of Cheyenne, Wyo.

Potter maintains a big fund-raising lead over Adams thanks to considerable input from both inside and outside the area. Two recent outside contributions that advance the campaign story line: $500 from Chris Bardis and $1,000 from Susan McCabe.

Bardis is a Sacramento attorney who is a big promoter of harness racing and horse racing in general. The Adams campaign has gone after Potter for bringing the Monterey Downs horse racing proposal to Fort Ord and for his behind-the-scenes work to promote the tremendously controversial project.

McCabe is noteworthy because she is the most active and successful lobbyist of the California Coastal Commission, of which Potter was once a member. She almost always represents people or businesses wanting to develop along the shore and she has come under recent scrutiny for her role in removing strong environmentalist Charles Lester from the commission’s leadership position. In his campaign filing, Potter identifies her only as a “self-employed manager.”

In campaign mailings, Adams has made much of Potter’s low rating by environmental groups while he was on the commission, which led to his earlier removal from the commission. He was replaced by Santa Cruz Assemblyman Mark Stone, who has a much better environmental report card.

The Carmel Pine Cone in its last edition attacked Adams with exceptional vigor, claiming she was lying about Potter having been removed from the commission. To support that, the weekly paper interviewed then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who said she had appointed Stone in Potter’s place only because it was time for a change and that she had not even considered Potter’s voting record. The Pine Cone accepted that as gospel, apparently not even considering that Bass was merely reciting the type of lines scripted for such occasions. It is inconceivable that an Assembly speaker would make such an important change without carefully examining the records of the former commissioner and his replacement. Inconceivable to most, that is.

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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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Potter, right, enjoys the support of fellow Supervisor and former Judge John Phillips

Dave Potter’s transformation is nearly complete. About all that’s left for him to do is change his registration.

Throughout his political career, Potter, the 5th District Monterey County supervisor, has been a Democrat and has enjoyed considerable support from the party and its spinoffs. This year, however, the best he could do endorsement-wise was a co-endorsement from the local party, which also endorsed his opponent in the June election, Mary Adams.

Adams, meanwhile, also received the endorsements of party-related groups that used to endorse Potter, such as the Democratic Women of Monterey County. Adams also picked up endorsements from the Monterey County chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America and the Salinas Valley Democratic Club.

Demonstrating how far Potter has drifted away from the progressive crowd that once supported him, one of his latest mailers (SEE BELOW) includes lengthy endorsement messages from one of the GOP’s most outspoken local activists, Paul Bruno, and longtime Republican bigwig Jeff Davi.

Davi was California’s real estate commissioner under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger (though the mailer makes him out to be the current commissioner.) He is perhaps best known for his agency’s nearly complete failure to prosecute any real estate interests during the height of the mortgage crisis. Some will also remember that Davi was Potter’s opponent in his first campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Bruno would have been a Ted Cruz delegate if his favored candidate had stayed in the presidential race. He says in the mailer that he is a fan of Potter’s as well because “for me, it is all about good government.” He goes on to say that Potter has “an impressive record on issues of importance to us – jobs, the economy and fiscal responsibility.” Look for specifics in the next mailer, perhaps.

Bruno, some will recall, is the fellow who dragged a chain out to a political demonstration on Highway 1. He was going to haul the protesters away until the CHP made him stop. He’s also the fellow whose company, Monterey Peninsula Engineering, seems to have a lock on Cal Am pipeline work.

Also pictured in the same flyer is Potter endorser Steve Bernal, the young sheriff of Monterey County, also a proud Republican.

In his campaigns of old, Potter touted endorsements from the Sierra Club, Democratic legislators Bill Monning and Mark Stone. Not this time. His flyers of old included kind words from LandWatch activists. Not this time.

Clearly the mailer featuring Bruno, Davi and Bernal was tailored to Republican households in the district – Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Carmel Valley, Big Sur and the Highway 68 corridor – so it makes sense that he emphasizes the economy and public safety rather than the environment and social issues. The big headline on the mailer, featuring a photo of Bixby Bridge, is “Bridging the divide,” but the mailer never goes on to explain what divide he means.

There is another mailer, of course, for Democratic households. In it, Potter is still in favor of attracting jobs and economic growth, but in this version he wants to do that “without threatening the quality of life that makes us unique.” (By omitting that caution from the GOP version, is he telling his Republican constituents that he’s OK with threatening the quality of life?)

In the GOP version, he’s all about growth and jobs. In the Democratic version, “He’s said no to bad development projects that poorly impact our water supply and traffic.” In the GOP version, he doesn’t mention the environment. Not at all.

In both versions, he lists a number of organizations endorsing him this time around. They include:

That last one is particularly interesting. Not unexpected, but interesting. The Salinas Valley Leadership Group was formed primarily by contractor Don Chapin. Its board of directors includes Brian Finegan, the Salinas lawyer who specializes in representing real estate developers; architect Peter Kasavan, who helped design the proposed Salinas general plan element that calls for Salinas to expand onto prime farmland; and accountant Warren Wayland, who handles campaign reporting duties for most Republican candidates in the area.

Dues-paying members of the SVLG include Monterey Downs racetrack principals Brian Boudreau and Beth Palmer, Salinas promoter and bar owner David Drew, Monterey PR man David Armanasco, the head of the deeply troubled Alco Water System, and the builder and developer of the Ferrini Ranch development that Potter voted against after it became clear that it would win county approval regardless of his vote.

Potter’s mailer to both Democrat and GOP households mentions his endorsements from law enforcement unions. Oddly enough, the mailers to Democratic homes includes blurbs from his endorsements by the Monterey County Weekly and the Herald, but those aren’t mentioned in the mailers sent to Republicans.

In the mailers to the Dems, Potter touts his endorsement by a group called Evolve California, which also endorsed Adams. He doesn’t mention Evolve in the GOP version, however. Perhaps that’s because in order to get the Evolve nod, he said he favored increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing property taxes for businesses. Potter’s making a big deal in this campaign about being the experienced candidate. What he’s demonstrating with his mailers is that he has plenty of experience tailoring his message to his audience, no matter what he really thinks.

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Supervisor started touting the project six years ago

Business people horse racingNow that Monterey Downs has emerged as a key issue in the 5th District supervisorial race, expect incumbent Dave Potter to try to duck challenger Mary Adams’ assertion that he is to blame for giving the troubled and troubling project a foothold in Monterey County.

Potter’s story, and he seems to be sticking to it, is that he merely made some introductions.  Potter was serving on the state Coastal Commission when he met Monterey Downs developer Brian Boudreau, who was seeking a coastal permit for a Southern California development. Potter was the swing vote in his favor and they hit it off. And that’s as far as it goes, according to Potter.

The record does not back him up, however, so let’s take a look at the early days as told through government records and news accounts:

June 15, 2010: Potter meets privately with Seaside Mayor Felix Bachofner and Seaside City Manager Ray Corpuz to talk about Monterey Downs. Source: Corpuz email.

Aug. 17, 2010:  Potter and his chief aide, Kathleen Lee, attend private meeting with Monterey Downs developers Brian Boudreau and Beth Palmer, discussing “critical paths” for the project. It appears that regular “Monterey Downs team meetings” commence, with Potter’s office in the loop/attending. No other county supervisor attends. Source: Journal entry by Lisa Brinton, Seaside’s Monterey Downs project manager.

Sept. 7, 2010: Potter aide Lee is kept in the loop on Monterey Downs project development actions. No other county supervisor is included. Source: email regarding TAMC-Ped Bike program.

Proprietor’s note: For those of you just tuning in, Monterey Downs is the proposed horse race track complex planned for Fort Ord. It would include housing, a hotel, other businesses and, according to the developer, various spaces for recreation, including an equestrian center, a swim center and more. Among the downsides is that it would require removal of tens of thousands of trees, it would need a considerable water supply that does not seem to exist and, well, it’s a horse race track with all that that entails. Fortunately for the opponents, developer Brian Boudreau appears to be struggling to finance the venture, as evidenced by repeated delays in the approval processes.

April 26, 2011:  Lee continues to be kept informed on project developments. Source: Monterey Downs team meeting email.

June 2011:  Potter and Boudreau travel to Ireland to attend wedding of William de Burgh, director of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, whose brother is a leading horse breeder in Ireland. De Burgh is a backer of the Monterey Downs project. Source: Monterey Herald.

Aug. 3, 2011: Monterey Downs meeting at Potter’s office. No other supervisor attends. Source: Brinton journal entry.

Aug. 9, 2011:  Monterey Downs developers Boudreau and Palmer present the Monterey Downs project to the Board of Supervisors’ Fort Ord Committee. William de Burgh attends. Boudreau says half of all Monterey Downs employees will be brought in from outside the county. Boudreau says Potter had introduced him to Fort Ord. Potter says this is the first time he has seen the project in significant detail. Potter does not disclose his previous secret meetings with the developers, the meetings at his office, his advocacy for the project or his personal relationships with Boudreau and de Burgh. He also fails to disclose that had set up a private talk with the developers immediately following the public meeting. (Sources: meeting video, attendance records.)

Aug. 9, 2011: Private meeting with Boudreau and Palmer at Tarpy’s Roadhouse, set up by Potter using his county email and scheduling on his county calendar. FORA Executive Director Michael Houlemard invited. No confirmation of whether de Burgh attended. Source: Potter email.

Aug. 12, 2011: County Redevelopment Director Jim Cook invites Potter aide Lee to a Monterey Downs “team meeting.” No other supervisors’ staff invited. Source: Cook email.

Oct. 25, 2011: On county letterhead, Potter “as the Fifth District Supervisor and Chair of FORA” sends letter to Seaside Mayor Felix Bachofner expressing his support of Monterey Downs. Potter emphasizes that “the Monterey Downs project is unique” and says, “Please allow this letter to serve as my personal commitment to work diligently with you, City staff and County departments” on the Monterey Downs project. Potter points out his role is important because the project “will ultimately require policy direction from the Board of Supervisors.”

Potter writes, “It is important that the Monterey Downs team moves forward as expeditiously as possible” and “I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on this exciting project and should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at any time.”

The letter is not distributed to the other four county supervisors.

Oct. 25, 2011: Potter again meets secretly with Seaside Mayor Bachofner and Seaside City Manager Corpuz to talk about Monterey Downs. Potter brings the county’s chief administrative officer, Lew Bauman, to the meeting. Potter emphasizes that he wants the Monterey Downs project to move forward and not be placed at “risk.” Corpuz promptly informs Seaside’s Monterey Downs project manager Brinton that “Potter made it very clear he would not accept a revised MOU with the project being wholly in the City because he [Potter] did not want to risk another vote by the Supervisors. [Potter] did say he would be willing to work on an MOU II, my phrase, after the City approves the current MOU. MOU II could include more specific items such as where the project is located.” Corpuz schedules a closed meeting of the City Council to discuss MontereyDowns on Nov. 3. Source: Corpus email.

Nov. 21, 2011: Monterey Downs project team, including Boudreau and Corpuz, meets to discuss the “Potter concern” about Monterey Downs “moving forward.” Source: Project manager Brinton journal entry.

Nov. 30, 2011:  County Redevelopment Director Jim Cook email regarding Monterey Downs consultant is sent to Lee at Potter’s office. Source: Cook email.

May 26, 2012: When questioned by the Herald about his involvement in the project, Potter responds that “all he had done was ask his friend [Boudreau] to lend a hand to the horse park organizers.” Potter also claims “he’s seen no formal proposal and is withholding judgment until he does.” Source: Monterey Herald.

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From Monterey Downs website

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I was talking to a friend the other day, a former journalist who has covered lots of political campaigns. We were talking about the current races for Monterey County supervisor, particularly the contest between incumbent Jane Parker and former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue.

Over the past week or so, the news coverage has been filled with criticism of Donohue’s over-the-top accusations against Parker. Below-the-belt might be a better description. He alleged that she has something against military veterans and had voted against establishing the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord. He falsely asserted that she had somehow delayed the cemetery project, costing Monterey County lots of money and lots of job.

Donohue had “gone negative,” which most candidates do these days. Parker has come out with some ads critical of his source of campaign money. That’s going negative. But Donohue had gone farther, all the way to dirty. Going negative is when you criticize your opponent’s record. Going dirty is when you make stuff up.

Fortunately for the voters, state Sen. Bill Monning jumped into the fray and made it clear that Parker had actually supported the cemetery each step of the way and that, despite the impression Donohue tried to make, the cemetery is actually nearing completion at the former Army base. From the tone of the resulting discussion, it appears that Donohue’s strategy backfired badly. The conversation now begins, “I always liked Dennis, but … .”

During my talk with my friend the other day, I mentioned how how much big money had been injected into the Donohue campaign. Big for a local election. Lots of checks for $20,000, $40,000, even $50,000, mostly from growers and other business interests. And my friend had something interesting to say about that. He said that the big contributions had backed Donohue into a corner of sorts, essentially forcing him go dirty.

I scratched my head. He explained that the big contributions had put Donohue in the position of needing to win, no matter how.

His thinking went like this. When people contribute $100 or $500 to a City Council or supervisorial campaign, they’re doing so because they know the candidate and/or appreciate the candidate’s position on the issues. But when a business contributes $20,000 or more to a campaign, it’s an investment. The money isn’t being spent in support of friendship or good government. It’s an investment and the investor expects a return. The recipient is expected to win and to make sure the investor receives something in return, something worth at least the amount invested.

In one sense, my friend was cutting Donohue a little slack. His internal polling likely told him he was trailing Parker in the District 4 race, and he knew that campaign brochures showing him posting with farmers and cops and such wasn’t going to do it. To win, he’d have to go after Parker, and what was there to say?

Donohue could have said, as he has, that Parker has some strong environmentalist leanings and is receiving lots of support from environmentalists. But he likely realized that such an approach was just as likely to help her as hurt her.

He could have kept stressing in his campaign literature that he has received the endorsements from most of the mayors in the district. But most people in the district don’t know who the mayors are and those who do know might not be really impressed by their views.

So, my friend suggested, Donohue was left with little else but to play the veteran card. It had worked before. Developers of the hugely controversial Monterey Downs horse racing/commercial/residential development at Fort Ord had done everything possible to link the fate of their project to the veterans cemetery project and, in the process, they had tricked some representatives of veterans group into loudly supporting the horse racing venture. A couple of ballot measures related to the horse racing project were decided by the nonsensical argument that a vote against horse racing was a vote against veterans. It was dirty pool but it worked, though the  developers still haven’t come up with enough money or water to make their venture go.

Still, the veterans gambit confused voters once, so the Donohue people apparently figured it was worth another try. What else were they going to do? Win by running a campaign of ideas? Win by pointing to Donohue’s successes as mayor? Win by knocking on doors and answering questions? Clearly that wasn’t working so they made the choice to go negative, to go dirty, to go nasty or go home. As my friend said, with all those investors behind them, excuse me, contributors, what choice did they have?

I’ve always been a cynical sort. I long ago realized that our political system is as much about business as it is about government. But I hadn’t ever looked at things quite the way my friend does. I almost wish we hadn’t had the conversation.

By the way, here’s Parker’s latest mailer, Jane Parker May 14 2016 mailer, which goes after Donohue for his campaign contributions. And expect District 5 supervisorial candidate Mary Adams to go after incumbent Dave Potter‘s voting record in the next week or so. It’s fair game, in both cases, but if anyone spots any truth bending, shout it out. In the same vein, a group of local Adams supporters has just put out a flyer going after Potter’s support for the Monterey Downs project, focusing on a laudatory letter he sent to the mayor of Seaside. And here it is:

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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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Business growth opportunity concept as a group of business people taking advantage of a tall tree grown in time to create a bridge to cross over and link two seperate cliffs as a motivation metaphor for financial patience and opportunismThe Partisan takes a timeout from its Truth-O-Meter series today to look instead at two recent endorsements by the Monterey Herald. It probably is not a coincidence that we chose these editorial endorsements because they ran exactly counter to the Partisan’s own choices.

We won’t argue the overall recommendations. Newspaper endorsements don’t have to make sense. Instead, we will pick and choose some of the key elements that seem to underly those choices.

More than any other topic, the Herald’s endorsement of Dennis Donohue to replace District 4 Supervisor Jane Parker focused on Fort Ord and the pace of redevelopment there.

It noted that the district takes in much of Fort Ord and says “the position and ideas of the District 4 Board of Supervisors candidates on reuse of Fort Ord are key factors in our endorsement, given the hopes pinned on Fort Ord reuse by the entire region for economic redevelopment, housing and jobs.”

The editorial, unfortunately, neglects to explain the governance of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, which is responsible for redeveloping the former Army base or, perhaps closer to the truth, for not really getting very far on redeveloping the former base, which closed in the mid 1990s.

The agency charged with redevelopment is governed by an unwieldy board of directors, 13 members with voting rights and a large cast of non-voting members. The voting members represent most of the government jurisdictions with a stake in the process, including the surrounding cities and the county. Four of the five supervisors are members or alternates. Parker is a member and so is Supervisor Dave Potter, who received the Herald’s endorsement in the other supervisorial race. By implication, the Herald seems to be faulting the FORA board in general for not doing more to turn old barracks into new shopping centers, but where exactly should that blame land? The Herald seems to be forgetting that Donohue was an active member of the FORA board while he was mayor of Salinas and, therefore, the newspaper made little of his  missed opportunity to speed things up. The Herald also seems to forget that a large segment of the local population isn’t all that keen on major new development at Fort Ord.

What’s that? One person can’t provide much momentum to the redevelopment bureaucracy. Our point exactly.

The Herald likes it that Donohue is in favor of the proposed but way-off-in-the-distance Eastside Parkway, a new highway that would run through Fort Ord to connect Highways 68 and 1. Again, as much as the Herald might wish it otherwise, while an individual supervisor wields considerable power on issues that come before the five-member Board of Supervisors, the same supervisor holds just one of 17 votes on the primary highway-building agency hereabouts, TAMC.

The Herald finds it telling that most of the city officials in the district support Donohue rather than Parker. The Partisan finds it telling as well. Those who support Donohue have histories of supporting virtually any project in their realms, everything from cookie-cutter fast food joints to the hugely unpopular Monterey Downs horse racing complex proposed for Fort Ord.

Herald political endorsements of late seem to hinge on the degree to which the candidate supports development, and while the development wish list always gives a nod to jobs and affordable housing, few public figures in our midst have accomplished anything of note in those arenas in recent years. Perhaps the newspaper blames Parker. If so, it has not been paying close attention. Peninsula residents, and to some degree all Monterey County residents, are witnessing a contest between the forces of commerce and the forces of conservation. While Donohue, like many other development-minded politicians, claims to be in favor of “smart growth,” he and his allies haven’t been able come up with concrete examples to propose or support.

The Herald’s endorsement of Donohue overstates the impact of one public official and mistakenly suggests that electing him over Parker would change the board and its direction. Actually, the opposite is true. Parker throughout her political career has been a nearly lone wolf fighting to protect the environment and she has been outvoted at nearly every turn by people in synch with Donohue. Keeping Parker in place and making changes elsewhere, such as in District 5, would amount to much more meaningful and positive change.

In case you didn’t notice, that was a transition. Moving along now to the Herald’s endorsement of District 5 Supervisor Dave Potter over challenger Mary Adams.

In the Potter endorsement, the Herald gives the incumbent big points for experience and tenure without mentioning what little has come of it.

“On water, Potter clearly knows the urgency of securing a new Peninsula supply,” the Herald writes. “He supports Cal Am’s desal project with reclaimed waste water as part of the total solution. Adams indicated she was still uncertain about the desal project, and she placed a higher emphasis on conservation.”

It is true that Potter “clearly knows” the urgency of securing a new Peninsula water supply. That’s because the state’s mandate that we cut back on our use of the Carmel River has been in effect the entire time he has been in office but his clear knowledge of the urgency has resulted in nothing except huge expense.

While serving on the board for two decades, Potter has worn a remarkable number of other hats. He has been on the state Coastal Commission and has forever been a board member for the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. If there is any one public official who could have been expected to show leadership on the Peninsula’s water crisis, it was Potter. Yet the only leading role he seems to have taken was to help lead the county into a messy conflict of interest involving water official Steve Collins, a conflict that derailed years of work on a desalination solution.

It is true that Adams places a higher value on conservation. A large majority of Peninsula residents has lost faith in Cal Am and officialdom’s ability to complete a desalination project at anything approaching a reasonable cost and, out of necessity, also places a higher value on conservation.

“Potter has a much better grasp of all facets of the water issue, and there really is not any time for a steep learning curve on this critical issue,” the Herald opines. What Potter truly grasps is how a community spent 20 years failing to make measurable progress. If Adams is elected, it will take her about 20 minutes to get caught up on that history.

The Herald also likes it that Potter likes the idea of an Eastside Parkway and criticizes Adams for not knowing much about it. The Partisan’s suggestion is simply this. If it is so important to the local economy and well-being, perhaps some explanatory articles would be advisable. And perhaps the Herald can think of a way to give some special highway-building, job-creating, water-making powers to their favored candidates in case they win.

Partisan proprietor Royal Calkins is a former editor and opinion page editor for the Herald and, therefore, cannot convincingly assert that he is not disgruntled in at least some respects.

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No Vacancy sign hanging on yellow painted cedar siding.It was early evening when the phone rang. I was groggy because I had been awake off and on for much of the day, so I didn’t exactly catch the information about who was calling. It was the robotic voice of a woman and I think she just said she was calling from the 805 area code. I think that’s all she said about who who she was.

She (it) was taking a poll and I’m a sucker for those because often they give me something to write about. What I learned from this call is that we soon will be hearing that likely voters in Monterey County are overwhelmingly supportive of regulations allowing short-term rentals. One of the questions, for instance, was whether I thought short-term rentals were A. The Best Thing Ever, or B. Even Better Than That.

OK, I exaggerate, but not by all that much. I was asked in a couple of ways whether I realized that short-term rentals are really important to the economy and whether I or anyone I know had ever used a short-term rental.

It seems that there are no rules governing short-term vacation rentals in unincorporated Monterey County and that county officials, acting upon complaints, sometimes send notices to short-term landlords telling them to knock it off. So, the Association of People Who Own Things That Can Be Rented Out For Big Money on Big Event Weekends (APWOTTCBROFBGBBEW) are lobbying the Board of Supervisors to enact an ordinance that would make it pretty much useless for the neighbors to complain.

The survey taker asked me if I thought it was a good idea that there be rules for such things so the landlords would be encouraged to pay the appropriate taxes. She also wanted to know if I realized that sometimes I might want to take advantage of short-term rentals to accommodate visiting friends or relatives, and whether I truly care about my friends and relatives or was I a horrible person. Or something like that.

Either to throw this intrepid blogger off the scent or to make some money from other sponsors, the survey taker also asked a few questions on other topics.

Did I plan to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries?

Which of the candidates for Senate would I vote for, either Kamala Harris or several people you’re never heard of?

In the race for District 5 supervisor in Monterey County, will I vote for Supervisor Dave Potter or “retired non-profit organization CEO Mary Adams?” It might just be me, but it seemed like the word I was supposed to hear was “retired” because she (it) said it more than once.

Usually in surveys like this you’re asked how you would describe yourself politically, either very conservative, kind of conservative, more conservative than not, moderate or one of those damned liberal pinheads. They didn’t ask it this time but they did have a question that stumped me. She wanted to know if I was A. “Over 65” or B. “Under 65.” The problem is that I am precisely 65. I realize that doesn’t make me “Under 65” but it sure as hell doesn’t make me “Over 65” either, OK?

By the way, if she had asked me a straightforward question about whether I think short-term rentals should be allowed, I would have said I didn’t really have a strong opinion either way.

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