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

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

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

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Board splits along gender lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Parker’s office, the agency would:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NEWS FLASH: Monterey County Board of Supervisors votes unanimously to send the letter explained below.

 

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors is being asked Tuesday to send a letter to state regulators asking them not to allow oil producers to sidestep state and local regulations intended to prevent contamination of potable water supplies in southern Monterey County.

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, commonly known as DOGGER, is considering a proposal to expand exemptions for two of the San Ardo-area oilfields, which would allow additional use of injection techniques and underground disposal of wastewater from those processes.

Protect Monterey County, the organizers of the Measure Z anti-fracking initiative passed in November, has been lobbying the supervisors to enforce that measure and take other steps to protect the water and resist the oil industry’s attempt to pressure the county to disregard the letter and intent of the ballot measure.

Oil pump jacks at sunset sky background. Toned.

The letter being considered Tuesday was drafted for the county by the County Counsel’s Office, which earlier worked with the oil companies to delay implementation of Measure Z until the industry’s legal challenges have been adjudicated.

The matter is scheduled for sometime shortly after 10 p.m. at the supervisors’ chambers, 186 W. Alisal St. in Salinas.

The draft letter follows:

To Whom it May Concern:

The County of Monterey (“County”) submits these comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Aquifer Exemption (“Notice”) published by the California Department of Conversation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“Division”) on January 11, 2017. According to the Notice, the Division is considering a proposal (“Proposal”) “to expand the current aquifer exemption designation for the Lombardi and Aurignac Sands of the Monterey Formation to the geologic limits of each unit in and around the San Ardo and McCool Ranch Oil Fields located about 2 miles southeast of the town of San Ardo, CA along Highway 101 at Alvarado Rd.” If the Division and other regulatory agencies approve the Proposal, the resulting exemption “would allow the State, in compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, to approve Class II injection into the identified area for enhanced oil recovery or for injection disposal of fluids associated with oil and gas production.”

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act and state law require the protection of underground sources of drinking water. Underground sources of drinking water are defined broadly in federal regulations to include any aquifer that supplies or contains a sufficient quantity of groundwater to supply a public water system and that has a total dissolved solids composition of less than 10,000 mg/l. (40 C.F.R. § 144.3). As the Division’s Statement of Basis concludes, the area subject to the Proposal meets this definition of an underground source of drinking water that is required to protection.

If certain criteria are met, underground sources of drinking water may be exempted from protection such that Class II injection into the underground source may be permitted. Among other criteria, the underground source must not currently serve as a source of drinking water or cannot now and will not in the future serve as a source of drinking water for specified reasons. (40 C.F.R. § 146.4). In addition, injection into the source must not affect the quality of water that is, or may reasonably be, used for any beneficial use. (Public Resources Code § 3131.)

The County requests that the Division carefully consider whether the Proposal satisfies the requirements for an exemption and whether this is an appropriate instance in which the Division should use its discretion to permit the disposal of fluids associated with oil and gas production into this particular underground source. Citizens of Monterey County have long expressed concern about the public health and safety issues associated with the injection of fluids into the County’s groundwater. In November of 2016, the voters in Monterey County approved Measure Z, an initiative that amends the County’s General Plan and related land use documents to create land use prohibitions associated with oil and gas land uses. Measure Z contains several findings that address the relationship between Class II injections and groundwater quality in the County, including, but not limited to, impacts to beneficial uses. These findings suggest that the criteria for an exemption from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act’s protection of this underground source of drinking water may not be warranted. The Division should carefully consider these findings as part of its assessment of the Proposal.

On behalf of its residents, the County is concerned that the Proposal may negatively impact public health and safety as expressed in Measure Z. The County believes that the Division should not approve the Proposal unless it can demonstrate to the residents of the County that these public health and safety impacts, including impacts to beneficial uses, will not occur.

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UPDATE: SORRY THIS DIDN’T GET POSTED EARLIER. MEETING WENT AS EXPECTED. SUPES APPROVED RANCHO CANADA PROJECT 4-0 WHILE SUPERVISOR PARKER WAS BUSY. THEY GAVE COUNTY COUNSEL CHARLES MCKEE AN EXTRA TWO YEARS ON HIS CONTRACT, MEANING IT WILL COST TAXPAYERS MORE IF THE NEW BOARD MAJORITY DECIDES TO GO A DIFFERENT DIRECTION WITH LEGAL COUNSEL. AND THE BOARD ALSO APPROVED THE MAKEUP OF A NEW SALINAS VALLEY GROUNDWATER COMMISSION HEAVILY DOMINATED BY FARMERS.

COUNTY COUNSEL COULD GET  EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFT

If you’re any kind of student of government – and many Partisan readers are – you should find Tuesday’s meeting of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to be loaded with fascinating little subplots. It will be the last meeting for longtime supervisors Dave Potter and Fernando Armenta.

The big agenda item is the planned approval of the long-debated Rancho Canada development at the mouth of Carmel Valley, which Potter has helped keep alive for most of his two decades on the board. With Potter politically indebted to project proponents Tony Lombardo and Alan Williams, with Armenta a proud supporter of every development proposal ever placed before him and with Supervisor John Phillips clearly on board, this one appears to be a lock.

Also interesting but well below the radar, the supes are scheduled as part of their consent calendar to grant County Counsel Charles McKee another four-year contract extension even though he got a four-year contract extension just two years ago.

Here’s what that means. The current board, including lame ducks Potter and Armenta, are hoping to lock the new board, featuring newcomers Mary Adams and Luis Alejo, into four more years of McKee whether they want him or not. Yes, the new board would be able to send him off to another county somewhere but only if the county paid for the full four years or was able to fire him for demonstrably poor performance.

Armenta

McKee is a key figure in county government, helping to provide the supervisors with political and administrative strategies above and beyond his work as the county’s chief lawyer. He is considered an able lawyer but critics of the county’s role in the long-running desalination saga say McKee’s advice created huge legal bills for the county and prolonged the region’s search for solutions to its water problems.

The departure of Potter and Armenta creates real potential for a power shift on the board and the end of smooth sailing for even the most ill-considered development proposals. McKee clearly is astute enough to tailor his advice to new thinking at the board level, but the decision about the length of his tenure should be up to the new board, not the old one.

Potter

Also Tuesday, the board is scheduled to be lobbied on an important legal matter – whether the county will step up and defend the successful Measure Z anti-fracking referendum, and it is scheduled to give its stamp of approval to the farmer-heavy makeup of the new agency that will oversee the Salinas Valley groundwater supply.

California’s counties are under a new state mandate to create local agencies charged with monitoring and sustaining groundwater for the first time in state history, and each county is taking a different approach. Under bylaws written by McKee’s office, Monterey County plans to create the Salinas Valley Groundwater Sustainability agency with one person representing the environmental community and four members appointed by agricultural interests. The bylaws don’t give any particular weight to expertise.

What gets approved Thursday, and what gets postponed, would be considerably more significant than the ceremony honoring the outgoing supes for their service.

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The collapse of the huge Monterey Downs project is good news for those of us who support sound land-use planning. It is also a personal defeat for outgoing Supervisor Dave Potter, who was a critical “mover and shaker” for the project, mostly behind the scenes.

Will we see a similar defeat for Potter’s other big project, before he is shown the door at the end of the month? Probably not, at least not next week when it comes before the Board of Supervisors. Potter has put the Rancho Canada subdivision proposal for the mouth of Carmel Valley on a fast track for approval before he leaves office, and has made sure to line up the votes to get it done. By a 4-3 vote, the project cleared the Planning Commission, “bypassing any substantive discussion” as Jim Johnson in the Herald aptly described the proceedings.

The rush to push the project through to the Board of Supervisors was most clearly seen in the treatment of the “draft” final environmental impact report, which was distributed to planning commissioners less than a week before the hearing. Martha Diehl’s common sense motion to delay the hearing until January to give the commissioners a chance to read the report and the various new conditions of approval was defeated. Commissioners had even less time to digest other important elements of the proposal, which were presented the day of the hearing.

Diehl subsequently wrote to the Partisan that “the first time I saw some 55 or so of the 119 proposed Conditions of Approval was at the hearing, and I for one had no opportunity whatsoever to read them, much less review them.”

Is this any way to deliberate over important land use decisions?

An earlier article I wrote on the Rancho Canada subdivision prior to the Planning Commission hearing stated that the application was being considered in part under the old 1982 general plan. This claim is true, although county staff specifically (albeit falsely) maintains that the application is consistent with the current 2010 general plan. Specifically, the county maintains (Planning Commission staff report page 3, and Board of Supervisors report Exhibit A, page 1) that a 2004 application “deemed complete” in 2005 under the old plan is still acceptable. Thus, it would seem applications made years or decades ago under a long expired general plan may be resurrected instead of requiring a new application and a new process. In the words of the county, an application more than a decade old was simply “put on hold” and evidently may be considered at any time in the future with no expiration date.

That said, county staff’s assertion that Rancho Canada is consistent with the 2010 general plan is false. As the staff reports to both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors make clear, the application from 2004 was for 281 housing units and that has not changed. Yet, a legal settlement with the Carmel Valley Association, reflected as an amendment in the general plan — and noted in the staff reports – caps development in the Carmel Valley Master Plan to 190 units. So county staff is trying to say with a straight face that 281 units somehow fits into a 190-unit cap.

This is the purpose of allowing the application to be considered just “on hold” from the old general plan rules because the application obviously is not consistent with the new general plan’s cap of 190-units. Without that sleight of hand to maintain that an application may be revived decades later instead of needing to be resubmitted in conformance with the new general plan, this application would have been rejected a priori (or, at least, should have been). As I argued before, the Lazarus-like revival of the 281-unit subdivision from 2004 is in reality a Trojan horse to get a 130-unit “alternative” subdivision approved.

Richard Stott gave a thoughtful response to my earlier article that essentially argued that the flood control elements to the Rancho Canada subdivision application are worth the price of the subdivision itself. I thank Dick for his considered response. Allow me to respond in two ways. First, reasonable flood control measures ought to be undertaken to protect citizens regardless of consideration of this or that subdivision. Good land-use planning would consider responsible flood control projects on their own merits.

Second, and to put it bluntly, be careful what you wish for: flood control in the hands of the Rancho Canada subdivision developers has a tainted history. Please recall the former “blister” along the south side of the Carmel River, the removal of which was considered important for flood control purposes. The blister was an illegal dump for rubble from an old hotel in Monterey demolished decades ago. Over the decades, others added lord-knows-what to this illegal dump. Several years back, in preparation for the subdivision, the Rancho Canada developers applied for a permit to build an “agricultural road” on other lands they owned, specifically on the nearby Odello East artichoke fields. Like bridges in Alaska, this was a “road to nowhere” that served no obvious purpose.

Two Carmel Valley residents happened to stumble on the real purpose of the “agricultural road:” a huge elongated pit into which the contents of the “blister” were being dumped. Alerted, the county immediately issued a red tag to cease the activity, but ultimately allowed the developers to finish covering the rubble with dirt. County staff told the Carmel Valley Association that there was nothing they could do to prevent the construction of such an agricultural road, as if the illegal disposal of construction waste was a normal part of dirt road construction. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Mr. Potter twisted some arms to make sure the red tag was lifted and the disposal proceeded.

I shudder to think of what might be percolating into the Odello East artichoke fields these days, and what future floods might bring to the whole of the flood plain and residents nearby. Some of those Odello lands were donated to the Big Sur Land Trust earlier this year.

That is the track record of the Rancho Canada developers when it comes to flood control.

There is no compelling argument to approve the Rancho Canada subdivision and to allocate virtually all remaining units in the general plan. It is just more leapfrog, sprawl development in an environmentally sensitive location, not to mention a looming eyesore in a beautiful area dependent, in part, on eco- and recreational tourism. The 130-unit alternative loses the only positive element in the old application: reserving 50% for affordable and workforce housing (as called for in the general plan); the developers are proposing the bare-minimum 20% required by the county on all big subdivisions.

The subdivision violates numerous other provisions of the current general plan, and will create unmitigated traffic congestion. Indeed, Rancho Canada will undo Dave Potter’s only real accomplishment as supervisor: getting the climbing lane built on northbound Highway 1 over Carmel Hill to relieve traffic congestion at the mouth of Carmel Valley. We will be “back to the future” when it comes to traffic congestion.

Like Monterey Downs, the Rancho Canada subdivision is a pet project of Dave Potter, and like Monterey Downs, Rancho Canada will collapse at some point given its obvious defects. But that has not prevented Potter from trying to rush the project through to approval by the Board of Supervisors before he leaves office. Potter will likely get his way next week, but his victory will certainly be ephemeral. Before wasting taxpayer dollars defending this poor project, the supervisors would be wise to slow down Potter’s train.

Robinson is a professor who has long been active in Carmel Valley land use issues.

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Dollarphotoclub_89236926Thanks in part to Partisan reader emails, the California Coastal Commission voted 9-2 on Wednesday to hold a hearing on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors‘ decision to remove affordability requirements on the Moro Cojo Subdivision in North County. In doing so, concerned commissioners cited the need to retain affordable housing, and voted against its own staff recommendation to let the county’s decision stand.

This means that the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 26 decision to allow 161 affordable Moro Cojo homes to convert to market rate – without replacements – is now void.

As Partisan readers know from a previous piece, the 90-page coastal appeal staff report buried important, relevant information on pages 78-90. Your emails to coastal commissioners, telling them to look at those pages, were successful. The commissioners did look, and absorb those pages, which is probably why they voted against their staff’s recommendation.

A CHISPA-spokesperson submitted a letter claiming that people who want the affordable housing to remain affordable are NIMBYs (not in my back yard people) who don’t want farmworkers living near them. It’s an odd claim, because it’s the “NIMBYs” who were trying to keep the homes affordable so that future farmworkers could also afford them. More than 50 Moro Cojo homeowners attended yesterday’s hearing, many of them Spanish speaking. There was no translator, but the Coastal Commission promised that there would be at the next hearing.

Meanwhile, back at home, the reporter for the local daily who wrote about yesterday’s hearing interviewed CHISPA representatives, but interviewed no one wanting to keep the homes affordable. The article states that “most [Moro Cojo] residents are bound to a roughly 8 percent [interest] rate” on their home payments. That’s another odd claim, since it has never arisen before.

At a future time, probably in January 2017, the Coastal Commission will hold a public hearing to decide if the 161 Moro Cojo homes can be converted to market rate and, if so, whether or not CHISPA needs to replace them on a one-by-one basis. Since replacement value stands at around $48 million, this will be an interesting session.

Because the original Moro Cojo subdivision approval involved the waiving of serious environmental concerns that would have prohibited a market-rate development, the hearing will be starting at the beginning (“de novo”) to consider the matter from the beginning rather than from the point of the Monterey County hearing.

In January, or whenever the Coastal Commission holds its hearing, there will be opportunity for public comment. Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

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

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Nearby, it’s the battle of the signs

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

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

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

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

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I have not followed the medical marijuana saga very closely, mainly because I have felt for quite a while now that it is merely a stepping stone toward full legalization. Why get all wonky on the details? I guess I was forgetting that the intersection of money and government always merits attention.

The latest twist is, at the least, amusing. While the Monterey County Board of Supervisors are contemplating the rules for medical marijuana operations hereabouts, the supes the other day indicated they need more time to sort things out. At the moment, there is a temporary ordinance that bans the sales and cultivation of medicinal pot in unincorporated sections of the county. The supes are thinking about extending that ban for another year while the sorting of things continues.

aged and worn vintage photo of medical marijuana signBut, and here’s the fun part, but if someone had made substantial progress on establishing a cultivation operation before last July 7, when the temporary ban was enacted, the supervisors could be persuaded to let those operations move forward, ban or no ban.

In other words, entrepreneurs who know how to read tea leaves as well as marijuana leaves just might able to enjoy a sizable head start that just might render the extended ordinance academic.

A wise old cop once told me that if you wanted to understand how things work in your community, pay attention to the gambling. Figure out why some gambling operations prosper where others fail and you’ll gain some real insight into the power structure.   If my wise old cop friend were alive today, I think he might recommend paying attention to the new world of marijuana.

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A piggy bank with the retirement fund theme on the sideUPDATED WITH INFO ON NEW UNDERSHERIFF

When Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal hired his friend Galen Bohner as his undersheriff a year ago, he said he knew he was the right guy because of his long resume’ and some intangibles.

“I know I can trust and count on him to get the job done — and he’ll be honest with me,” Bernal said at the time. He was so taken with Bohner that he persuaded the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to re-establish the long-vacant undersheriff position to accommodate the hire and to allow him to bring Bohner in at the top of the scale, some $208,000 in annual salary, plus benefits.

Never mind that Bohner was nearing retirement age for law enforcement officials in California, 50, or that as a lieutenant in his previous job with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department he was skipping over several links on the chain of command.

How did it work out? OK for as long as it lasted. Bohner’s gone now, retired after less than a year in Monterey County. His retirement was announced last month along with the second retirement of Chief Deputy Tracy Brown. Brown had retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2011 but was named to the department’s No. 3 spot shortly after  Bernal’s upset election of incumbent Scott Miller.

Though Bohner’s replacement, Michael Moore, won’t be retirement eligible until 2020, it appears that some key positions  in the Sheriff’s Department may have become essentially temporary jobs to be filled by those wishing to boost their pensions. It is a common practice in California and it’s known as pension spiking. Significant pay raises in the employee’s final three years of work can dramatically increase pension benefits and so can allowing the employee to receive credit for unused vacation or sick leave. The state Controller’s Office calculated in 2014 that the practice could cost state taxpayers just under $800 million over the next 20 years. Efforts to reform the system to prevent spiking have been underway for several years but most reform measures are being applied only to public employees just joining the work force.

Under San Bernardino County’s salary schedule, the most Bohner could have been making as a lieutenant was $127,000.  A spokesman for CalPERS,  the state retirement system, said his actual retirement benefit has not been calculated yet but he estimated that by retiring as undersheriff rather than lieutenant, Bohner would likely receive at least an additional $20,000-$30,000  in retirement pay annually.

Attempts to reach Bohner for comment have been unsuccessful and both Brown and Bernal have failed to respond to requests for comment.

The Partisan’s question for Bernal was, and is, whether he plans to do anything in the future to ensure that top positions in his administration will not be used as pension-spiking tools. Will he ask his appointees to formally or informally agree to remain on board for two years, three years or more?

We did not ask but perhaps should have how he feels about what he said a year ago: “I know I can trust and count on him to get the job done.”

Bohner and Bernal didn’t invent pension spiking, of course. It is a common problem throughout the state, especially in law enforcement ranks, where employees are able to retire at age 50 and receive 3 percent of their final salary for each year employed. Someone making $200,000 after 25 years service, for instance, would receive an annual pension of $150,000. You may have noticed how many California cities seem to be hiring new fire chiefs every year or so. That’s all about pension spiking.

In my email to Bernal seeking comment, I mentioned an old friend of mine, a high-ranking official in the sheriff’s department in another California county. Under California’s retirement system, he could have retired at more than 90 percent of his salary 20 years ago, but he’s still working. He once explained that he had worked hard and long to get to the position he is in, one that enables him to help protect the public, and he couldn’t imagine leaving for financial reasons. I wanted to know if Bernal might want to look for more people like that.

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Retired Judge Terrance Duncan introduces Mary Adams, who hopes to knock Dave Potter off the Monterey County Board of Supervisors

The seeds of Mary Adams’ campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors were planted, figuratively at least, in the sugarcane fields of Cuba or perhaps during a tour of one of the country’s farming co-ops.

It was on a trip to Cuba in the spring of 2014 that a group of politically active Monterey County women started pushing the idea of an Adams campaign against seemingly entrenched Supervisor Dave Potter.

Making the trip were 15 members of the Democratic Women of Monterey County, among them Supervisor Jane Parker, Judge Susan Dauphine, former Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman and trip organizer Priscilla Walton. Though Potter is a longtime Democrat, he has lost most of his support from the progressive side of the political ledger, which accuses him of failing to protect his District 5 from unwanted development. He has also rankled the left by his behind-the-scenes support for the hugely controversial Monterey Downs racetrack development.

Potter beat back a strong challenge four years ago from another former county supervisor, Republican Marc Del Piero, a relatively recent convert to the slow-growth side, who received considerable support from environmentalists. To at least some degree, however, Del Piero’s campaign was hampered by lingering concerns about whether his political transformation was complete.

Del Piero, now a registered Democrat, said Wedneday that he is undecided about running against Potter in the upcoming election.

With Del Piero uncommitted, political insiders for the past couple of years have mulled over many names as Potter’s replacement. Adams said recently that she was totally surprised, but ultimately flattered, by the suggestion that she take on such a challenge.

“I hope I know what I’m doing,” she said.

Potter’s district includes most of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and, of particular importance, unincorporated Carmel Valley. Dissatisfied with the county’s land-use decisions affecting Carmel Valley, valley residents mounted an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful effort late in the last decade to form a city. Among the strongest supporters of that effort were Walton and Strasser Kauffman, who were on the Cuba trip. Also highly active were Amy Anderson and Glenn Robinson, who were present for Adams’ campaign kickoff announcement Wednesday.

Potter’s name was never mentioned during the speechifying, but many of the candidate’s comments were pointed right at him.

“As I meet with neighborhood groups, community leaders and people on the street, I have heard complaints and frustrations,” Adams said. “Frustrations about the actions, and also lack of action, by supervisors, by a tone of secrecy that seems to prevail, with the dismissal of community input and a lack of progress o pressing needs.”

Adams continued, “People are tired of being disrespected and no longer want to accept the creeping stagnation compounded by decisions that seem to cater to special interests rather than the will of the people.”

Retired Judge Terrance Duncan helped introduce Adams along with Margaret D’Arrigo Martin of Taylor Farms. Other notables in the crowd include water activists George Reilly and Ron Weitzman, LandWatch officials Amy White and Chris Fitz, philanthropist Morley Brown, and Monterey Downs opponent Bill Weigle.

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Illustration depicting a large number of directional roadsigns in a chaotic arrangement. White  background.After careful contemplation and the expenditure of countless hours of staff time and other resources, I have come to the conclusion that the two biggest problems facing the Monterey Peninsula are quite closely related.

Problem No. 1, of course, is the declining water supply, which should have been addressed decades ago before we decided that strawberries and grapes were good choices for desert cultivation. The leading proposed solution at the moment involves a possible desalination plant near Marina and an assortment of smaller efforts involving conservation and recycling.

Problem No. 2, almost as obviously, is that just about every element of Problem No. 1 seems so complicated, complex and confounding that there are only a handful of people who understand any of it. On top of that, most of those who do understand it don’t care that you don’t. In fact, some are glad you don’t and there are even those who are being paid to make sure you don’t.

Why so complicated?

First, complexity makes things more expensive,  and when you’re on the receiving side of “cost plus,” there’s a lot to be said for expensive. Second, with all of that cost plus to be spread around, there are many players willing to participate in the search for solutions. Too many.

That starts with the misleadingly named California American Water Co., which has as much to do with California as the autobahn. It is supposed to be playing a lead role in solving Problem 1 but it spends most of its time wading around in the swamps of Problem 2, creating complications and looking for trouble. The company likes to portray itself as a helpful fellow in boots going out into the community, patching leaks and coaching Little League teams when the truth is that the bean counters in the home office depend on those very leaks in order to keep the bottom line above water. Way above water.

Then there’s the Public Utilities Commission, which technically is in charge of solving Problem No. 1 even though it has absolutely no experience in problem solving and even less in desalination. The Public Utilities Commission apparently was put in charge of this process because our state legislators wanted to keep it away from all aspects of gas pipeline safety. You might say that the PUC is Problem No. 3.

A key concern of those involved in the effort locally is that if the PUC ever approves a timeline and a production schedule, it might as a matter of routine order them confidential and put them under seal, effectively killing the venture.

Then there are the local agencies. For instance, the mayors’ authority, a quasi-government agency made up of the mayors of the Peninsula cities. It was set up because the first local agency given an oversight role, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, couldn’t figure out how to convert desalination progress into campaign contributions. The supervisors are hoping to get involved again when construction seems imminent and quite a few construction contracts will need to be awarded.

The mayors’ committee was hoping to jumpstart the process because the hospitality industry pretty much decides who gets to be mayor in these parts and it needs water for hotel rooms occupied by tourists who won’t have to pay for the project. The mayors have gotten off to a slow start, however, because the Del Rey Oaks mayor is busy building ammunition bunkers throughout his community and the Sand City mayor is napping.

A water district in Marina has some role in all of this, but for now its leadership seems to be in a sort of bureaucratic penalty box and won’t be allowed back into the game until the second overtime period. It is a shame because some of the district’s leadership has demonstrated to interested members of the public that you don’t have to have a clue to get involved.

Part of the problem has to do with the news coverage but it isn’t what you might expect. In this age of shrinking newspapers, it hasn’t been a lack of coverage. Just the opposite. In the last decade, the Herald has published nearly 173,500 articles mentioning Cal Am, 62,600 articles containing acronyms for non-existent water agencies, the same number of articles in which Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Steadman says, “We’ll get back to you about that,” and some 20,000 articles in which County Counsel Charles McKee says documents are being sealed in the interest of full disclosure.

Some of the confusion is, of course, the public’s owned damned fault. For instance, believe it or not, there are those in the community who can’t seem to grasp why   a desalination plant designed to take water from the ocean and convert it into drinkable fresh water needs to drill a series of inland wells in order to take already fresh water from Salinas farmers and, through a process invented by the Coastal Commission, convert it into cash to be used to pay consultants to declare the existing water supply more than adequate as an effective hedge against the 180-foot aquatard. Do the math, people. Sheesh.

Cal Am isn’t the only game in town, of course, which makes things that much more complicated.

Peninsula wheeler-dealer Nader Agha has the property and the plans to build a better and cheaper desalination plant in Moss Landing but Cal Am keeps telling people that Agha and former county Supervisor Marc del Piero are the same person, which violates a county ordinance requiring desalination operators to front only for seated supervisors.

Then there’s Deepwater Desal, a creation of Monterey PR man David Armanasco, who has been sidelined because his core clients have hired him to paint murals of wharf pilings to installed over the actual pilings at Fisherman’s Wharf.

And speaking of the wharf, let’s not forget the lawyers. Every lawyer in California who ever lived in a house with a low-flow shower has been declared a water expert for purposes of this feeding frenzy. For convenience and efficiency, each seems to have brought on Tony Lombardo as local counsel. Those who have been around a while will remember him. He wrote the previous general plan while representing most of the supervisors and many of the businesses at Fisherman’s Wharf, including the two warring fish houses that both claim to have invented cioppino Monterey, which consists of a handful of saltwater taffy, samples of five kinds of clam chowder, a couple of restaurant pagers, Sal Cerrito’s will, a half loaf of Armenian pita bread and a half pound of Bubba Gump shrimp but, alas, no sardines.

And let’s not forget the environmentalists, the “no-growthers” who, we are constantly told, are busily working against the interests of the community to reverse all the  progress on the desal front.

Next: Sheriff Bernal’s plan to patrol the waterfront.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mary Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

picJaneParkerSunset

Jane Parker

Now for the Salinas part. Stay with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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Tony Barrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think it over.

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????I want to congratulate the Carmel Pine Cone on being the latest victim to obtain a Cal Am press release and print it in a newspaper as journalism: “Slant Well Salinity not There Yet” but …”it’s moving in the right direction, Cal Am says,” on Page 1 of Friday’s edition. Perhaps this pronouncement could have generated a couple of piercing questions from the newspaper. Since that did not happen, let us discuss what was reported.

1. “The Company said Thursday that the facility (slant well) has completed an important five day continuous operation of the well, with promising results.” Response: The initial operation testing is a CEQA requirement, with immediate reporting to parties required.

2. “At one of the monitoring wells, Cal Am said the drop in groundwater levels and salinity changes (due to the pumping of 2,000 gallons per minute) were much better than limits set by the California Coastal Commission.” Response: Swell, what is the reduction and salinity changes at the other six monitoring wells?

3. “The salinity of the water from the test well itself increased from 23,000 parts before the test to 26,000 parts at the conclusion of the 5 day test.” Response: 23,000 ppm is 65.71% seawater, or 34.29% fresh water. At 26,000 the numbers are 74.28% and 25.71%. This is a far cry from 4%, but ask yourself how does the water composition change by 3,000 in a five day test? Seawater intrusion, remember this is an unconfined aquifer.

4. “Given the large volume of water located within the shallow dunes sand and relatively small pump volume,” Cal Am reported that “these two trends are very positive and indicate that ocean water is moving toward the well.” Response: And fresh water is being evacuated from the aquifer, and pumped directly back into the ocean in violation of state law and the Beneficial Use rules of the California Water Code.

I am sure it is possible to read this article in a positive light and ignore the Cal Am spin, but the statements against self interest, in this article, in their water rights lawsuits have to make their attorneys cringe. Cal Am has consistently said it will draw primarily seawater and that any take of fresh water would be incidental. Let me put the 2 year “take” Cal Am proposes into mathematical perspective.

1. 2,000 gallons per minutes equal 2,880,000 gallons per day. That is equal to 8.32 acre feet per day. Five days of testing equals 41.6 acre feet for the CEQA test. Of that 41.6 acre feet, approximately 30% (split the diff. 23K v 26K) is fresh water, or 12.48 acre feet.

2. Now let’s run the test for the first year: 1,051,200,000 gallons of water, or 3,038.15 acre-feet of water, that will be pumped into one pipe and blown back out into the ocean in another pipe, with no beneficial use. Assuming the 30% fresh ratio, that is 911.45 acre-feet of fresh water wasted. These numbers may be low because Cal Am has been permitted and is allowed to pump 4,000 acre-feet per year for 2 years, so they may increase the pump rate, but we need to ask them.

3. Second year: Assume same numbers, another 3,038.15 acre-feet of water, and another 911.45 acre-feet of fresh water.

4. Combining the two years gives us 6,076.3 acre feet of water pumped, of which 1,822,900 is Salinas Valley fresh water that has simply been illegally extracted from an overdrafted basin by increasing seawater intrusion.

Now let’s politically put these numbers into perspective. Recently two land-use decisions were made by the Board of Supervisors that allowed the projects to move forward. I forget the numbers on one of the projects, but the other was 90 acre-feet of Zone 2C water per year. For the record, I live off Highway 68 and am not a fan of either project, but I am simply trying to make a point. The posturing from the dais at the Board of Supervisors meeting predictable. Jane Parker voted no, and I truly believe she votes her conscience and believes what she says, water is an issue, and a no vote. Potter, after doing a head count and knowing he had 3 votes yes, pontificated about 90 acre-feet and voted no.

Where is the hue and cry over the 1,822.90 acre feet of Zone 2C water being wasted on a test that will never get close to 4% salinity. And why is 4% a magic number? It is still water Cal Am does not own and not legally transport.

Let me put two points to rest for the Cal Am naysayers who say 1) the test was necessary, and 2) we did not have preexisting test data.

The test numbers in the EIR certified by the state Public Utilities Commission in 2010 pegged the fresh water percentage in the groundwater at the CEMEX site at 25%. Going vertical with a deeper core at the same site generated the infamous 15% that was heavily debated. Memories starting to return? All you have to do is pull up the prior EIR to find this data.

The State Water Resource Control Board and the Coastal Commission, following CEQA guidelines, require evaluation of all the applicable water sources. Prior data testing that is timely and relevant may be included in the data set presented to the regulatory authorities, for evaluation.” Straight from the CEQA handbook, perhaps Marc Del Piero can weigh in on this.

One final thought, the salinity and total dissolved solids measurements can be done hourly and with a kit. I find it interesting that two months turned into a Friday report with no other press outlet reporting. Congratulations, Pine Cone, on hard-hitting investigative journalism.

Steve Collins is an accountant and former chairman of the Monterey County Water Resource Agency board of directors. He helped lead the county’s efforts to develop a desalination plant in partnership with Cal Am and was prosecuted for a conflict of interest that he maintains was encouraged and approved by top county officials.

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500_F_53293135_27J85jZn71YPw8YyiI93FVhmRFHQ1gFuI have been accused more than once of talking too much. I like people and like sharing stories. It takes a lot to make me speechless. At the moment, I’m close.

Some background:

Last week the Partisan published a commentary by retired Monterey County prosecutor Ann Hill about John Phillips, the former judge who is now running for Monterey County supervisor. Hill asserted that throughout his career Phillips had demonstrated sexist traits and lapses in judgment of the sort that would make him a poor supervisor.

Shortly afterward, the Monterey County Weekly belatedly discovered that someone has been anonymously distributing flyers featuring a cartoon depicting a wild-eyed Phillips engaged in intercourse with Lady Justice. The result of that discovery was a piece by Weekly editor Mary Duan that was posted online late Friday. It contains an assertion by Phillips’ campaign manager, Plasha Will, to the effect that I might have played a role in production  of the trashy flyer. Her evidence? I formerly was a newspaper editor and therefore knew some cartoonists. Really. That is what she said. You can read it by clicking here.

Duan apparently also deduced that timing could constitute some sort of evidence against me. She reported, incorrectly, that the flyers started appearing after Hill’s piece ran on this blog on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Among the many shortcomings of that theory is that Prunedale residents had started receiving the flyer in the mail sometime before Sept. 12. I’m trying not to make too much of this anyway because I was already having trouble tracking the notion that an entirely reasonable piece by a well-identified 30-year prosecutor is likely to result in a crude and anonymous cartoon. Because of Hill’s piece I gathered my cartoonist friends and urged them to do their worst?

I understand that Hill’s piece may have bothered Judge Phillips. If you’ll scroll down below this post, you can find Hill’s writing and, connected to it, several comments supporting Hill’s point of view and several others firmly defending Phillips. I think it is a good thing that Hill’s piece set off a civil debate about a candidate’s record and character. That is exactly what should happen in a political campaign. Unfortunately, the judge’s attempt to point a finger at me over the ridiculous flyer could be viewed as support for Hill’s point about lapses in judgment.

For the record, the existence of a commentary on this website does not in any way constitute an endorsement of the thoughts contained therein. We don’t have to agree with something in order to print it. I barely know the judge. Before Hill’s commentary ran, I asked him if he wished to respond. Plasha said he did not.

By the way, the Phillips camp essentially accuses his opponent, Ed Mitchell, of being the sly character behind the flyer, possibly in concert with my stable of cartoonists. Mitchell told the Weekly he didn’t care for that one bit and wants an apology. Oh, also, the offensive cartoon is there on the Weekly’s website so you can see what the fuss is about.

OK, enough. I am now back in speechless mode.

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UPDATE: ANN HILL’S RESPONSE TO COMMENTS ON HER ORIGINAL COLUMN, PRINTED BELOW
I could have remained silent. According to some of the responses to my commentary, I should have remained silent. It was a difficult decision whether to come forward with the information I shared about the second district supervisorial candidate John Phillips. For those who have not had any negative experiences with him and who wrote about him glowingly, that is your good fortune and that is your right. I tried to focus on some traits I witnessed that would raise serious questions about this candidate’s fitness to be one of five county supervisors. Each candidate – Mitchell and Phillips —
in this race has his loyal supporters. I wrote for the undecided voter in the second district who is seeking information on both candidates. Perhaps there is someone who has known Ed Mitchell for more than thirty years who can share information about him. Sharing information is not “ranting”. Let’s continue to share information about both candidates.
Ann Hill

 

 

COLUMN BEGINS HERE

The race for District 2 supervisor has focused primarily on whether voters want a third pro-development vote on the Board of Supervisors or whether they want a majority of smart-growth county supervisors. This is a reasonable assessment of the major difference between John Phillips, who is getting lots of money from developers and builders, and Ed Mitchell, who draws support from conservation and environmental groups. But it fails to look into the character of either candidate. I do not know Ed Mitchell, but I have known Judge Phillips for more than thirty years, and I am concerned about certain traits he has displayed in two prior positions of authority: assistant district attorney and Monterey County Superior Court judge.

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Judge Phillips was my boss in the District Attorney’s Office before he became a judge. The DA’s Office was a boys’ club when I was hired in 1981. There were just a few women attorneys. The men were in control and Judge Phillips was the alpha male. Some would say that most men who are his age (70 and up) have a history of sexist remarks in their past, because “that was their generation.” I am nearly 70 and I believe that most men in my generation were not as blatantly sexist as many of the men my age with whom I worked in the DA’s office. And Assistant District Attorney Phillips was the leader of that pack.

As a judge, John Phillips was very concerned about the rights of the criminal defendant – rightly so. However, he often did not show the same concern for victims or witnesses who came to court to testify – particularly female victims and witnesses. The case that stays with me involved a gang drive-by shooting in South County. As the deputy district attorney prosecuting one of the gang defendants in the car, I had subpoenaed to court a teenaged girl who had also been in the car at the time and could identify who had done the shooting and who was driving. With the help of an investigator I was able to persuade the girl and her mother to come to court, so the girl could testify against one of the defendants. She was our only cooperative eyewitness. Naturally, both she and her mother were terrified of retaliation by gang members if she took the witness stand. Somehow, she summoned the courage to be sworn in and to identify the defendant as one of the participants in the shooting. She testified before Judge Phillips, who turned to her at the end of her testimony and criticized her in front of a courtroom full of people for what she had worn to court.

In my eyes, the witness had on a clean, pressed, age-appropriate outfit with several layers on top, including a transparent blouse that was over another opaque top. But to Judge Phillips, it was not her courage in coming forward in the face of certain violence against her and her family that he noted. Rather he chewed her out for wearing clothing that he felt was suggestive. The girl left the witness stand in tears. She told me that the judge made her feel like a prostitute. A male deputy sheriff sitting in court who was waiting for another case commented that Judge Phillips was way out of line in the way that he had humiliated the young witness.

This incident was troubling when it happened, and it is still troubling because it makes me wonder whether Phillips would treat a young woman who appears before the Board of Supervisors in the same manner. Maybe he has matured since leaving the bench and establishing the Rancho Cielo youth camp but can we take the risk that a candidate with a history of sexist remarks to and about females has become enlightened and is no longer disparaging of girls and women? More than half of Judge Phillips’ constituents are female, and many women and girls appear to speak before the Board of Supervisors. Will their comments be taken seriously, and will they be given a fair shake if  Judge Phillips is a supervisor, or will he focus on their style of dress or find some other sex-based reason to put them down?

My concern is based in part on Judge Phillips’ reaction to a written complaint filed against him with the Commission on Judicial Performance by the young girl and her mother. An investigation was conducted by the commission. I was contacted and asked if I had witnessed any inappropriate treatment by the judge. The defendant’s attorney was contacted too. I was told the entire investigation was confidential and that I should feel free to speak truthfully. I told the investigator that I had indeed witnessed the judge browbeat the young witness about her clothing choice  and that she had felt degraded by his treatment and told me she would never return to court to testify. The defense attorney warned me against being honest with the investigator, because Monterey County is small and the legal community is even smaller.

After the investigation was concluded, a year-end report of the Commission was issued that indicated that a Monterey County Superior Court judge had received a letter of reprimand for inappropriate comments to a female witness. While no case name was cited, it seemed clear to me that Judge Phillips had been reprimanded. Sometime after the report came out, another Superior Court judge came to me at a Bar Association meeting and told me that Judge Phillips hated me because I had “beefed” him to the Judicial Commission several times. Never mind that I had not ever “beefed” Judge Phillips to the commission – I had just answered the investigator’s questions honestly – from that time on I knew that I would not get a fair shake in his courtroom.

What is most disturbing about Judge Phillips’ reaction to a complaint about his performance as a judge is that he blamed the witness and the prosecutor who presented the witness for getting him in trouble. He apparently never saw anything wrong in his mistreatment of the terrified young woman. Furthermore, he jumped to the wrong conclusion about me – based on no evidence – that I had filed complaints against him – and then he shared this mistaken belief with at least one other judge. He never confronted me directly with these false assumptions, but knowing his belief that I had “told on him,” I made every effort to avoid holding any hearings or trials in his courtroom, especially any that involved women or girls as victims or witnesses.

The negative traits that I have witnessed in Judge Phillips – sexist remarks, poor treatment of a witness, inability to acknowledge one’s own bad behavior, developing and holding a grudge based on a mistaken belief – are not traits I would like to see in any elected official, especially one of our five county supervisors. If you don’t acknowledge that you have done wrong and learn from your mistakes, you just keep making the same mistakes. That is the concern I have with supervisorial candidate John Phillips. The five supervisors vote on issues of importance to all of our lives in Monterey County. We cannot afford to have even one of those five decision-makers relying on personal biases rather than the facts presented to the board.

Retired lawyer Ann Hill was a deputy district attorney in Monterey County for 32 years. 

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