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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


IMG_0686It is encouraging to see the number of interested parties responding to the accurate piece by Alan Haffa and Libby Down about the Monterey City Council’s action to finally re-exert control over Fisherman’s Wharf for the benefit of the public after 60-plus years of heavy subsidy for the good ole boys on the wharf. Some of the responses, however,  show the persistence of a great deal of misinformation foisted on the public by the Wharf Lords who are now seeing the end of the free lunch they have enjoyed at the public’s expense for 60 years.

Keep in mind that many of the existing terrible ground leases on the wharf will continue for another 25 years (until 2041) due to the incompetence of city staff and council in 1991 when they agreed to extend the leases for 50 years without any rent increase since 1977.

I will not repeat the long essays that I have posted in the past two years, which set forth the facts, rents, and accurate history of the wharf, but refer you to the Partisan’s archives (see Archive box on right side of page) where a search under my name will reveal the articles. Several items discussed above require further edification here:
(1) SAFEWAY LEASE. My recollection is that Safeway was paying about $12,000 per year in ground lease rent when its ground lease expired. The city had leased bare ground to Safeway in the 60s and Safeway developed the land, building and lot at its sole expense. That is the way a ground lease is supposed to work – the developer/tenant pays all cost of improvement and operation, in return for which the tenant pays the landowner a reduced rent to reflect that all the capital comes from the tenant. Into the bargain is the reversion of the property, with all improvements, to the landowner at the end of the lease term, when each party gets the full benefit of her bargain. The Safeway deal was a “Righteous Ground Lease,” good for the public and good for Safeway.

The city initiated negotiations to continue a “building lease” with Safeway at fair market rent (including gross percent) for another 25 years. Negotiations were successful except for one point. Safeway insisted that it have the unfettered right to assign the lease to anyone it chose in the event Safeway elected to leave the premises. This, of course, was unacceptable to the city, which had every right to vet any proposed assignee tenant, and in particular a need to ensure that whoever occupied the premises be a retail food store. Safeway was unwilling to budge from its most unreasonable condition, and the negotiations ended.

Trader Joe’s (Foothill Partners) then stepped up to negotiate a 66-year ground lease reflecting a much higher rent, but still recognizing that the capital of Foothill would be razing the Safeway building and constructing a new retail center that would include retail food. Both the original Safeway lease and the Foothill lease were well within reasonable commercial parameters for landowners. Those leases literally have nothing to do with the wharf leases, and nothing in common. They are apples and oranges to each other, and as fruit and widgets to compare with the aquarium tidelands lease.

(2) ACTUAL RENTS. This discussion would be much more illuminating if the city would release the actual rent figures (master and sub-lease) for the wharf. The city attorney has an opinion that such figures are confidential, but that is just her opinion. When a merchant leases public tidelands trust property from the public, it has no right or expectation that its sales figures will be kept confidential to hide the facts from the public. Yet that would apparently be the purpose of this city policy. It is unfortunate that it will take a lawsuit to obtain the transparency that is required for the public to evaluate the horrendous job the city’s property management has done since 1977 on these sweetheart leases on the wharf. No doubt the thinking is that a lot of problems would be unnecessarily created by telling the public the truth.

There are ways to get rent figures without the city’s cooperation. Based upon a city-commissioned appraisal in 2008, and disclosure of the tax and rent rolls by the Monterey County Assessor’s Office in 2012, we can closely estimate that the Balesteri lease (for three discrete retail spaces), which has just been terminated, earned between $905,386 and $1,000,000 in annual gross sales last year. Balesteri paid the City 3% of gross sales per year – $22,635 in 2008; and $18,511.49 in 2010. Fair market value for those premises is 8 – 10% of gross sales. Thus Mr. Balesteri received a subsidy from the pubic (mostly in the form of sub-lease rent retained) at the high end of $77,000 per year. It is understandable that he wanted to continue that windfall, for which he never paid anything whatsoever.

Balesteri is a small operator compared to the Shakes and Mary Alice Cerrito. According to a written sublease available at the city, Chris Shake received sublease rent from Fisherman’s Grotto in the amount of $27,563 PER MONTH in 2010, over and above the rent he paid to the city. Cerrito proposed to sublease the old Gilbert’s restaurant for in excess of $20,000 per month in 2015. I do not have figures from her current sublease to the Shakes, but it is fair to estimate that they pay her in excess of $20,000 per month from their new restaurant. Most tenants on the wharf pay fair market rent, but they pay it to sub-landlords, not the public. That is an outrageous ripoff. The new City Council policy will require a provision in new building leases that all sublease rent be paid to the city and the public.

(3) OWNERSHIP/REMOVAL OF BUILDINGS. The ownership of the buildings on the wharf is misunderstood concept number 1, and it seems to be intractable. The public owns the tidelands by constitutional grant in perpetuity. Under the law, the landowner owns the land and everything on it, including buildings, nails, and roof tile. The Wharf Lords repeatedly claim they own the buildings, a claim utterly devoid of the truth. If you own a real estate interest, you have a deed to prove your interest and you pay real property tax to the county. If you own personal property, you have a bill of sale and a title document to prove your interest, and you pay personal property tax to the county. The wharf merchants have neither. It would seem that the old propaganda axiom pertains – if you tell a lie often enough, the people will believe the lie over the truth.

It would appear that the claim that the merchants can remove the buildings when they leave is another intractable lie that won’t go away. The ridiculous lease provision saying that the tenant can remove the buildings they built within 90 days of termination of the lease is, and for over a decade has been, void. A California Court of Appeals decision (County of Santa Barbara vs. Channel Islands Marina) has established conclusively that such provisions in a tidelands lease are void because Coastal Commission approval of a demolition could never be obtained within 90 days, as a matter of law. Moreover, the Coastal Commission would never approve a demolition without receiving a conjoined permit request to replace the building with a new structure. Finally, no merchant is going to spend the million dollars required to demolish, which would be an utter waste of money.

As Alan Haffa says, the buildings revert to the public upon expiration of the lease, which is the modest benefit of a poor bargain struck by the council many years ago. Nothing whatsoever is due the tenant, who has received the generous benefit of its one-sided bargain in the form of many years subsidy in rent.

The hard won gains for the public that were voted for by Alan and Libby are at risk in the the November election. The Wharf Lords will spend heavily to get another tool like Councilman Ed Smith elected to change the balance on the council and roll back the public gains so that the ripoff on the wharf can continue indefinitely. Vote to return Alan and Libby to their seats on the council and preserve our waterfront to be operated for the benefit of the public, not the private business profiteers on the wharf.

McCrone is a retired lawyer and former member of the Monterey Planning Commission and other bodies. He has written extensively on the wharf leases, which are the subject of a sophisticated and misleading public relations campaign on behalf of wharf tenants who are attempting to prevent reform measures from going into effect.


Clean Drinking WaterI was breezing through the local daily the other day when I came across an editorial that put forth a peculiar proposition. It was a response to the Monterey City Council’s resolution in opposition to Cal Am’s request for a $50 million rate increase to compensate itself for water it didn’t sell because its customers were being good citizens and conserving water.

The editorial noted that the City Council had asked the Monterey Peninsula Water Authority to join in the opposition. The water authority, which is made up of the Peninsula mayors, was formed primarily to provide some level of oversight to Cal Am’s ongoing desalination venture.

The editorial’s thrust was that the water authority should stay out of the rate increase controversy because it would distract it from its main focus, helping to get the desal plant built. That’s the part I found peculiar.

The desal project, and its companion projects like groundwater replenishment, are in the design and planning stages. Ground has not been broken. There is no welding going on, no trenches being dug, no machinery bulldozing the sand. In other words, there is not an awful lot for the water authority to do day-to-day, not a lot to monitor or even watch between meetings. The mayors for the most part are an able lot and I for one think they could ably do more than one thing at a time.

The mayors’ group represents each of the cities and, by extension, the residents of those cities. Its job is not to be a cheerleader for Cal Am or the desalination project but to protect the public interest, to help control costs and make sure the construction contracts are proper and not awarded to the project manager’s cousin. Heck, even the hotel industry, usually one of Cal Am’s coziest bed partners, is opposing this rate increase. If the authority helps control costs on the desal plant but just looks the other way while Cal Am wins obscene rate increases for other elements of its enterprise, the mayor won’t really have accomplished all that much.


Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.The Monterey City Council quickly righted a wrong on Tuesday.

The council unanimously passed an urgency ordinance to locate a safe-parking place for six homeless people on a city-owned parking lot on Pacific Street. In so doing, it’s possible that the city’s solution could work out even better than a proposal the city turned down two weeks ago.

“It’s been a little bit of a rocky road,” acknowledged Mayor Clyde Roberson.

“The way it stands now, it’s really a best-case scenario,” said Councilman Timothy Barrett.

Two weeks ago, the council rejected a proposal by the Monterey Methodist Church on Soledad Street to allow six homeless women to sleep in their cars overnight in the church parking lot. The safe-parking program would be operated by One Starfish, a Methodist group.

The council expressed support for One Starfish, but ultimately bowed to Methodist Church neighbors who said their area is already overrun by homeless people, many of whom live in the gullies and hillsides around nearby Del Monte Shopping Center. Among other concerns, the neighbors said they worried that the women parked at the Methodist Church site might not be safe in a neighborhood populated by a rougher element of homeless men.

While rejecting the Methodist Church as a site by a 3-2 vote, the council asked city officials to find an appropriate city parking lot to handle the safe-parking program.

That action generated criticism from activists who said that the council seemed to be more concerned about inconveniencing neighbors than meeting the needs of desperate homeless people.

City staffers scrambled to survey its parking lots for accessibility and safety, and ultimately found a lot at 735 Pacific St., across the street from Monterey High School. During the day, the lot handles parking for the city’s finance and human-resources offices.

The urgency ordinance allows One Starfish to operate the safe-parking program on the lot immediately.

Response to the city’s action on Tuesday drew praise from all circles, including representatives from One Starfish. In particular, they pointed out that Assistant City Manager Hans Usler and Community Services Director Kim Bui Burton moved swiftly to find a parking lot that meets the concerns of both the homeless and the community.


New plan emerges for homeless parking in Monterey


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

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

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

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


Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.City Council votes 3-2 not to offend the neighbors

Minnie Coyle, the late mayor of Monterey, was known for many things, but a single sentence published in the Monterey Peninsula Herald possibly best describes her legacy.

“Almost like Horatio at the Bridge,” the Herald declared, “Monterey Mayor Minnie D. Coyle symbolically stood at the city gates last night ready to protect the citizenry from the ‘flower children.’”

The issue, of course, was the city’s crossed-armed resistance to organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival.

Now enter our new Horatio and his small army — Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson and the council majority — to protect the citizens from six homeless women who are trying to make their way in this desperate world.

By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Monterey City Council denied a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep safely in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street.

Later in the evening, the council also rejected an ordinance that would give homeless people overnight shelter within the warm and sacred confines of local churches. This last ordinance was considered an “urgency” action, formally and morally, since the weather has been cold and inclement lately and there is significant fretting among those who possess a modicum of compassion that more homeless people might die without shelter.

The bodies of two homeless men were found across the street from Trader Joe’s last month, killed by their apparent inattentiveness and preparedness to prevailing weather conditions. By police accounts, they had earlier declined officers’ offer of help.

Before ruling in the Methodist Church case Tuesday night, the council heard from a long line of neighbors with legitimate complaints about the headaches caused by encampments of homeless people in and around their neighborhood. In particularly, vagrants, beggars and homeless haunt the gullies and backwoods near Del Monte Shopping Center and many of them make the nearby Union Bank property their toilet.

The neighbors described a long list of the bad behavior they must endure, and for that they deserve our pity.

But then they argued that allowing the Methodist Church to use six spaces in its parking lot so that homeless women in cars can sleep comfortably and safely will further degrade the neighborhood.

Each neighbor agreed that the Methodist Church program, called One Starfish, is righteous and beneficial and deserves our support. Many of the neighbors felt compelled to preface their public testimony with statements asserting that they are compassionate and giving people who would give the shirts off their backs to homeless people, as long as said homeless people are situated somewhere other than their general vicinity.

They pointed out that many other parking lots are better suited for such activity. Indeed, there exists a quiet and functional parking lot, away from the madding crowd, behind City Hall and Colton Hall that might be used. And they do have a valid point. A Capitol Idea, one might say.

And, ultimately, it’s one of many other sites the council might consider now that it rejected the Methodist Church parking lot.

Still, even after the council voted against the Methodist site as a safe parking place for harmless homeless women, the neighbors’ problems haven’t been solved. The council action Tuesday did not a thing to remedy the vagrancy problem in that neighborhood.

For the record, councilmen Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett cast votes in support of One Starfish.

While the One Starfish issue was a localized rejection, the council’s action on church shelters was more of a citywide rebuff of compassionate treatment of folks who are down on their luck.

This was an outright rejection of the I-Help model of grace and humanity, egged on by homeowners who declared that offering those who are less fortunate than the rest of us a dry, warm place for the night only encourages them.

Almost 50 years ago, the Herald scribe who covered Mayor Minnie Coyle was not the only bemused observer of her brigade of finger-waggers. Also on the scene was Jann Wenner, founder and publisher of an upstart magazine called Rolling Stone.

Wenner’s account of the unfolding drama, published in 1968, feels appropriate today: “And so it began to happen in Monterey: a bizarre enactment of the entire American tragedy.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The letter from Roberson and Haffa to Stocker reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In appreciation,

Mayor and Vice-Mayor

Here is Stocker’s response:

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

I wish you all the best.


BULL AND BEARWhen things are going well, the Buich brothers are a couple of affable guys. Their family has been in the restaurant business for decades and they generally understand how the hospitality business works. But when things aren’t going so well, it becomes a different story, one that won’t necessarily have a happy ending.

Brothers Anthony and Alex Buich own and operate the Bull and Bear Whiskey Bar and Tap House on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, formerly known as the Mucky Duck. It is the liveliest nightspot downtown, with music and sometimes boisterous crowds. For the most part, that’s all fine and good. But sometimes things get a little too lively, according to the Monterey Police Department, which says the places accounts for far more than its share of police calls in the area.

So this week, in an effort to calm things down, the Monterey City Council ordered the bar to close an hour early—1 a.m. instead of 2 a.m.—for the next three months. Councilman Ed Smith suggested the proprietors were lucky that closing time wasn’t set much early. Relations between the business and the city have been rocky for years, starting well before the Buich brothers acquired it, and city officials are justifiably tired of hearing that the place is being picked on.

So did the brothers go away contrite after the unanimous vote and full of promises to do better? Not according to what Anthony, the older brother, had to say on Facebook. He lit out at the council and Phil Molnar, the Monterey Herald reporter who had covered the proceedings.

First, he criticized Molnar for not mentioning “all the fundraising for military and the hosted events for local charities over the last 3-plus years under new management… .” (Reminds me of the defense fraternity presidents put up when their houses have come under any kind of scrutiny.) He also criticized Molnar for not having visited the establishment while working on the story, even though he had.

After Molnar politely responded, Anthony poured it on.

“Phil, you disgust me,” he wrote. Really. But he wasn’t finished. “You and the city council are about as clueless as it can be. You helped crush the income of over 20 people with your garbage. Nice work. You write like a child.”

I don’t want to make too much of this. When we’re angry many of us say things we shouldn’t. I also wouldn’t want the City Council to hold this against the business going forward. But it leaves me unconvinced that the proprietors have been as diligent as they claim about addressing the issues, which primarily relate to a simple matter of allowing some customers to drink more than they should.

I like to see people downtown. It’s nice knowing that there’s a place where people can go to dance and drink, a place where young people can act like young people. I’d like to see more places with live music and large crowds, places that don’t close down at sunset.

But making nightclubs work well is a  tough job and a big responsibility. It takes cooperation between the staff and law enforcement. The Buich brothers say that their place has a disproportionate number of police responses because the staff is quick to call the police when appropriate. That’s a good thing and if it’s true, the police know it. But it takes even more than that to make a lively nightspot a welcome neighbor. Among other things, it takes a good attitude, and that’s something that at least one of the Buich brothers simply doesn’t have.


PURELY OPINION: The Monterey Herald gets one right


For many readers, a good editorial is one they agree with. As long as the conclusion or recommendation is on target, the supporting information is secondary. For good editorial writers, however, the supporting information is the most important element. After that come the usefulness of the analysis, the crafting of the piece and, finally and in a distant fourth place, the actual position taken.

An editorial is an opportunity for a writer schooled in a topic to use any number of creative tools to analyze and explain an issue of public importance. Unlike the beat reporter, largely constrained by the rules of he said/she said journalism, the newspaper editorial writer is free to use various writing devices to demystify anything from water politics to Dave Potter’s political longevity. That’s why astute readers are likely to disregard the most subjective passages while keying in on the rest of the package.

The importance of the underlying information is why I was pleased to see the announcement in Sunday’s Monterey Herald that Phyllis Meurer has been added to the Herald’s editorial board.

This means Meurer will have a place at the table when the four-person board considers its positions on various issues. Presumably, her vote will carry  as much weight as that of the other members, Publisher Gary Omernick, Editor Don Miller and editorial writer Tom Honig. (Sometimes publishers insist on veto power, which seldom works out well.)

The upside here is that Meurer brings a deep understanding of government, politics and public policy in Monterey County. She is a former Salinas city councilwoman, a onetime leader of the League of Women Voters and the wife of former Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer. What she doesn’t know about public affairs in Monterey County, her husband does.

Some readers of the Monterey Bay Partisan will remember that I was editor of the Herald until February and I wrote the editorials for the past several years. I am not a fan of what has happened to the editorial page since my departure – a sharp right turn in the choice of columns and editorial cartoons and a decline in the number of local editorials and columns. Some of that is a function of the relatively short tenures and divided focus of the editorial board members.

Omernick has been publisher about six years but the realities of modern newspapering require him to concentrate on the business side of the operation, both here and at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Miller has spent his entire newspaper career at the Sentinel, where he continues to serve as editor even while holding the same position in Monterey. He is counting the days to retirement. Libertarian-leaning Honig also spent his entire newspaper career in Santa Cruz before being replaced by Miller. Honig’s relatively short Peninsula experience prior to his recent Herald assignment consisted of working for the Armanasco public relations firm and the Panetta Institute. I write about their backgrounds not as criticism but to explain their challenge. It’s tough to thoughtfully editorialize on local issues when your idea of local involves a different locality. Meurer’s appointment to the editorial board can help change all that. She has a remarkable depth of local knowledge and an endless list of local contacts to help the Herald unravel the issues.

Still, there already has been grousing in some quarters—progressive quarters—about Meurer’s new role. I believe much of it is misplaced and, even if it isn’t, it really doesn’t matter all that much.

One issue on the left side of the political dial is her leadership role in the successful campaign against last year’s Measure M, which was intended to stop the proposed Monterey Downs racetrack development at Fort Ord. She told me she was motivated largely by her belief that the proper government decision-making process is preferable to decision-making by referendum. I strongly disagree with her, largely because the government process in the land-use arena is easily and often corrupted. But because she probably doesn’t see the government process the same way, her position is sincere if not valid.

During that campaign, I called Meurer to ask how she defended the highly deceptive advertising her camp was using in its campaign against Measure M. I wasn’t satisfied with her answer, which essentially was that the other side was being deceptive as well. But I did come away feeling that she truly believed what she was saying. Some of my environmentalist friends who were on the opposite side of the issue have suggested that she was somehow bought off. She was not.

Also from the progressives comes concern about Meurer’s husband, Fred, who ran Monterey’s City Hall for decades before retiring and taking a position with the Panetta Institute. Fred was an exceptionally capable and accomplished city manager who could balance a budget in the morning and fix the Planning Department copy machine before lunch.

In recent years, unfortunately, Fred Meurer has been vilified by some as a tool of business interests, the hotel industry, the good ol’ boys of local commerce. I understand the perception. The local economy and city government revenues are so dependent on the hotel industry and other elements of the local power structure. (Did I mention Cal Am yet?) I don’t embrace the accusation, however, because when a City Council has five members, city managers quickly learn how to count to three. Those who didn’t like Meurer’s administration should have spent less time complaining and more time getting their candidates elected or lobbying the successful candidates. Fred Meurer would have been an equally forceful and successful manager on behalf of an entirely different sort of city council.

Phyllis Meurer is an independent and highly capable woman who has nothing to apologize for as she assumes this new role. While I was at the Herald, the publisher talked often about bringing a woman from the community onto the all-male editorial board. I made a series of suggestions but never mentioned Phyllis because of Fred’s City Hall role at the time. If not for that, I certainly would have recommended her.

It doesn’t particularly concern me that she favors Monterey Downs. For reasons I never understood even though I was there, the paper editorialized early on in favor of that project. Never mind that it is seriously misplaced and doesn’t have an adequate water supply and that horse racing is the sport of scoundrels. It doesn’t concern me that her husband has been a huge figure in local politics and public policy for decades. I am won over by knowing she brings with her a wealth of knowledge about how things work around here, about who pulls the strings and even about where the bodies are buried.

One thing that does concern me is that her new role could help cement the Herald’s fear of offending Cal Am. Fred Meurer has been a consistent supporter of Cal Am, which has developed a loyal following in the business community by engineering a pricing structure that favors large commercial customers over residential water users. Phyllis Meurer will provide a valuable service if she demonstrates her independence and research skills in this area.

During the recent campaign over Measure O, the unsuccessful ballot measure in favor of public ownership of the Cal Am water system, Monterey County Weekly published an absolutely excellent editorial in favor of the proposition. Beyond the appropriate conclusion, what made it so strong was the information and analysis it presented. It was unusually long, long enough to discuss each significant issue and explain it to a population that was clearly confused. It was so well researched that it would have been instructive even to the staunchest opponent of Measure O. The Herald’s editorial opposing the initiative was little more than a rehash of Cal Am talking points.

It is my hope that with Phyllis Meurer aboard, the Herald will be reminded of the importance of research no matter which direction the paper leans on specific issus. As I said at the start here, editorials succeed not by how much they persuade but by how much they inform. I expect Meurer to provide some of the necessary information and, when she doesn’t have it, to ask that it be provided in some fashion before an editorial decision is made. If she draws from her strong League of Women Voters experience, the Herald and its readers will be well served—even when its opinions are all wet.



The Monterey City Council voted last night to discourage older people or the disabled from shopping downtown.

That was not the intent of the 4-1 vote, of course, but the unintended consequence certainly could be elimination of any places for shoppers or other “regular people” to sit.

In an effort to keep unsightly homeless people away from stores and to prevent panhandling in places where there are people available to be panhandled, the council enacted a ban on sleeping or reclining in commercial districts. While it is true that those are places where it is common for people of all ages to sit and panhandle or sit and play guitars, etc., it is also common there for husbands to sit and wait outside while wives shop for dresses and where wives wait while husbands shop for ties.

Councilman Alan Haffa was the dissenter, arguing that banning sitting in public could be unconstitutional and clearly is unfair.

The ordinance was presented by Police Chief Phil Penko, though that does not necessarily mean it was his idea. He said it is aimed at “travelers,” drifters who pass through town looking for handouts and sometimes blocking the paths of other people. Hoping to make the new law fit into a constitutional framework, Penko said it targets behavior, not the homeless.

Other cities have struggled with the same issue for years and years. Santa Cruz, with much more of a youth culture than Monterey, attracts relatively large groups of bedraggled youth in search of community and spare change. To address that, it has wrestled with various ordinances, bans and law enforcement campaigns, at significant legal costs and less significant results.

Many at Tueday’s meeting agreed in passing that downtown could use more benches, even though it was obvious that that would never happen. How can a transient be ticketed for sitting over here while a couple of shoppers are watching from over there? Nonetheless, the council majority also agreed to pursue additional benches. How the city can travel both paths remains to be seen.

Penko said the ordinance “targets behavior,” but the way it’s written it targets the wrong thing. A wiser approach, in my humble opinion, would be to truly target bad behavior by banning aggressive panhandling and prohibiting people from blocking sidewalks or store entrances. That would do much more to help create a downtown that attracts large numbers of people to shop, eat and, when tired, sit.