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The possibility of another attempt to put Cal Am Water in public hands prompts reflection over the history of major Monterey County ballot measures in which money and the big-lie technique prevailed. The first in recent history was Measure M back in 2000.

It was initiated by the Pebble Beach Co. with the aim of forcing the county and the Coastal Commission to allow it to build another golf course at the famed resort, but that’s not how it was sold to the voting public. Instead, the commercials and four-color fliers promoted the false notion that Measure M would stop development in the Del Monte Forest that surrounds the existing golf courses.

Measure M did contain a provision limiting the company’s ability to develop 425 acres that previously had been zoned for housing, but the company hardly needed a ballot measure to protect the property. The Pebble Beach Co. offered to permanently fallow the land for ballot measure purposes only after it had already shelved any plans to develop it. We hear a lot about Fake News. This was a Fake Ballot Measure. The campaign featured TV ads with popular actor Clint Eastwood, a Pebble Beach Co. principal, strolling through the trees and saying something like “if you love these woods as much as I do, you’ll vote yes on Measure M.”

The measure passed easily, helped by voters in the far reaches of the county who had no idea they were really voting only to add a golf course. Though the golf course deal was later scuttled by the Coastal Commission, Measure M demonstrated how moneyed interests could manipulate voter initiatives. Until about that time, the side attracting the most money had prevailed in every statewide ballot measure in California. Monterey County would prove to be equally fertile ground for deceptive politicking.

Other examples of dishonest but successful ballot measures include the 2016 ballot fight over the Monterey Downs horse race project and, of course, Measure 0 of 2014 in which California American Water twisted the truth to persuade voters not to move forward with a public takeover of the Monterey Peninsula’s privately held water system.

A giant anomaly, of course, was last year’s Measure Z, the anti-fracking measure approved by Monterey County voters despite a gusher of oil company money that paid for ads falsely charging that the initiative would shut down oil production in the area. But Measure Z’s success is no assurance that reality will trump money in the next big ballot showdown, which is likely to be another attempt to bring Cal Am under public ownership. If that ballot measure materializes in the coming, as expected, voters are likely to see another slick and misleading opposition campaign essentially paid for by the same ratepayers the measure would be designed to help.

Public Water Now, led by water activist George Riley, is believed to be on the verge of a decision to move ahead with a public takeover measure, which would be fueled in part by giant rate increases the company has imposed on its captive customers and the certainty that its struggling desalination project will lead to large additional increases.

The last time the issue made it to the ballot, in 2014, Cal Am prevailed by a count of 55 percent to 45 percent. But analysis of the vote showed that early, absentee voters who had been primarily exposed to Cal Am’s advertising voted against the measure while voters who waited for detailed information from the measure’s proponents voted for it. In other words, higher-information voters favored the ballot measure while those who were spun by Cal Am went the other way.

Cal Am’s anti-O campaign repeatedly described the takeover effort as a risky gamble. If O had passed, it would have required the Peninsula’s water management district to study the feasibility of a public takeover. The study wouldn’t have come cheap but it would have cost far less than Cal Am spent combating the ballot measure. Cal Am called Measure O “the risk we can’t afford.” What we can’t afford, Riley and a growing number of others believe, is Cal Am bills.

The Cal Am campaign also emphasized that negotiating a sale to the public would distract the company from developing a desalination plant – a plant that seems barely closer to reality even now, three years later. Cal Am also repeatedly mischaracterized attempts to takeover water systems elsewhere and the results of successful efforts.

A public takeover of Cal Am’s Peninsula water system would be an extremely difficult and expensive process and Cal Am can be expected to fight Public Water Now at every turn. The company has maintained through the years that the Peninsula system is barely profitable yet it has made it clear that it will fight any and all takeover efforts, which suggests the network of pumps and pipes is more profitable than the company lets on.

My own limited research  leads me to believe that in the short term, a public takeover would not result in lower water bills because a public agency would need to borrow sizable sums to complete the transaction. Dave Stoldt, manager of the water management district, once estimated that there would be no actual savings to the customers for as long as 30 years. Proponents disagree, saying savings would materialize much more quickly. Either way, I believe a takeover is worth pursuing because the savings to future customers, decades and decades of future savings, would make the effort worthwhile even if our bills didn’t immediately go down.

To me, the prospect of a takeover is an important public policy issue that should be decided by careful analysis and a considerable amount of professional cost accounting. The decision should not be based on a clever advertising campaign.

The way Cal Am conducted itself last time around was shameful but you didn’t hear a peep about it in polite Peninsula circles. As they did with the Monterey Downs ballot measures, pillars of the community knew that the side with the most money was cheating but they just looked the other way.

If Cal Am listens to anyone in public life on the Peninsula these days, those people should make it clear that the company should stick to the facts and the math and not create its own make-believe reality. The hospitality industry and other business interests have benefited in recent years from sweetheart rate arrangements with Cal Am. They should not let those short-term gains stop them from encouraging Cal Am to be the good corporate citizen it claims to be.

At the same time, Public Water Now and its supporters can and should be expected to play it straight. If buying out Cal Am is a good idea, the numbers should tell the story. If it doesn’t make financial sense, the idea probably isn’t worth pursuing no matter how much better off we would be with a water company run by an accountable local agency rather than for the benefit of distant shareholders.


BREAKING NEWS: Monterey Downs project on last legs


Business people horse racingSomething to be particularly thankful about today: Monterey Downs developer Brian Boudreau has told the city of Seaside that he no longer wishes to proceed with the project as it was approved by the City Council earlier this month and that he won’t indemnify the city as required against potential litigation over the various approvals. As a result, city officials will ask the council on Thursday, Dec. 1 to rescind its approval and send the venture back to the Planning Commission for possible revisions.

Monterey Downs, under the recently changed name Monument Village, is the large housing and commercial development long proposed for a wooded site at Fort Ord. It originally was proposed to be anchored by a horse racing arena but opposition to that and other aspects of the venture caused the developer to downplay that feature, leaving some question about the direction and viability of the project.

Opposition has centered on the need to remove thousands of trees and the developer’s inability to demonstrate any sustainable water supply. The City Council approved the overall venture earlier this month on a 3-2 vote but the Nov. 8 election has changed the balance of power on the council, creating the very strong likelihood of a 3-2 vote against the project. LandWatch Monterey has launched a referendum against the project, which would prompt another council vote.

The information about the apparent collapse of the project is included in the agenda for the Dec. 1 council meeting,  posted late Wednesday and discovered by Molly Erickson, lawyer for the Keep Fort Ord Wild group. The agenda item follows in full:

TO: City Council

FROM: Craig Malin, City Manager
BY: Lesley Milton-Rerig, City Clerk
DATE: December 1, 2016

Item No.: 10.A.




The City Council, at meetings on November 10, 2016, and November 17, 2016, approved
amendments to the General Plan, adopted a Specific Plan, and adopted revisions to the City’s Municipal Code and official Zoning District Map for the proposed Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, Monument Village, and Seaside Horse Park Specific Plan (formerly known as the Monterey Downs and Monterey Horse Park and Central Coast Veterans Cemetery Specific Plan). The Project Applicant, Monterey Downs, LLC, informed the City on November 22, 2016, that they do not wish to proceed with the project as currently approved, and declined at this time to enter into an indemnification agreement as required by the approvals for the General Plan Amendment, Specific Plan, and Zone Text and Map Amendments. Therefore, the City Council will consider rescission of the approvals, direction to staff to effectuate that rescission, and remand the Project to the Planning Commission for consideration of further Project Revisions that Project Applicant may wish to propose.


It is recommended that the City Council take the following actions regarding the subject applications:

  1. Consider Rescission of Resolution No. 16-97 Amending the General Plan, Ordinance No. 1031 Adopting the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, Monument Village, and Seaside Horse Park Specific Plan, and Ordinance No. 1032 amending the Municipal Code and Official Zoning District Map.
  2. Consider Direction to staff to take necessary steps to effectuate rescission of the foregoing approvals
  3. Consider Remanding the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, Monument Village, and Seaside Horse Park Specific Plan project to the Planning Commission for consideration of possible project revisions as may be proposed by the Project Applicant.


There is no written report for this item. A verbal discussion will take place at the meeting.





Meeting Date: December 1, 2016


horses neonBack when the Monterey Downs development was the subject of dueling ballot measures, Jack Stewart was a key part of the disinformation campaign supporting the venture.

The Monterey Downs developers used every trick in the book to win that round. The worst was convincing gullible voters that those opposed to the racetrack project were also opposed to veterans and the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord. There was a slight connection between the project and the cemetery but it was a weak one created only to create a talking point for the project backers.

Stewart was one of the faces of the opposition and he was a good choice. He’s an older fellow and a veteran and people tend to give the benefit of the doubt to older veterans. Unfortunately, he abused that trust and he’s at it again.

His latest ploy is his letter to the editor in Friday’s Monterey Herald. He writes that two Seaside City Council members and a council member-elect, Kayla Jones, support a ballot measure that would overturn the council’s recent approval of the project. If he had stopped there, he would have been right. Council members Jason Campbell and Dave Pacheco are opposed to the venture, as is Jones.

But Stewart goes on to say that the ballot measure, which is being pursued by LandWatch Monterey County, would result in a special election that would cost the city $120,000.

“The majority is willing to expend city revenues because they don’t want to make a decision that may affect their future political ambitions,” Stewart writes. “They hope voters will forget about the expended city revenues and hope the veterans community won’t mind being thrown under the bus.”

But here’s the thing. If project opponents collect enough signature to force a ballot measure, which won’t be a problem,  the measure doesn’t have to go to the ballot. The council has the option of accepting the will of the people and voting to kill the misbegotten project. There is no need for a ballot measure to stop the horse racing/housing/commercial project.

That’s what happened when the public collected signatures in opposition to cutting down a zillion trees in order to build a bus yard at a site near the proposed Monterey Downs property. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors had voted to proceed with the bus project but it reversed itself when presented with a referendum petition.

“Upon further reflection,” the supes said, demonstrating some belated political wisdom.

I probably should also mention that Stewart’s letter also accuses the budding council majority of throwing the “veterans community” under the bus. The referendum has nothing to do with the veterans cemetery, which is already being built. Stewart knows that but it worked once.

By the way, now they’re calling the project Monument Village and saying that it only kinda, sorta involves horse racing. I’m thinking maybe they should have stayed with the horse racing theme and called it Thumbs Downs.



The Monterey Downs developer agreed Wednesday night to drop horse racing from their plans for a sprawling commercial and residential development at Fort Ord, but project opponents are holding out for a guarantee that racing won’t be added back in at some point.

The occasion was a meeting of the Seaside Planning Commission at which city officials were being ask to begin the process of approving the project’s environmental impact report and specific plan. After nearly five hours of vigorous testimony by project supporters and opponents, the commission deferred action to another meeting yet to be scheduled.

The city staff had recommended last week that horse racing be eliminated from the plan, which has drawn considerable heat both for the racing element and environmental issues including lack of a sustainable water supply and the need to rip out thousands of trees from a relatively unspoiled site on the former Army base.

Developer representative Beth Palmer said she wants to see a horse training facility and other equestrian-related features retained in the plan and hopes to explore actual racing at another site. Opponents remained concerned that leaving the horse-related elements would pave the way for construction of a full-fledged racetrack and all that entails at some point.

UPDATE: The Partisan contacted City Manager Craig Malin on Thursday to seek some clarity about what would be permitted, and what would not be permitted, if the staff recommendation to remove horse racing is removed. 

Here is his response: “The words ‘race’ and ‘racing’ would be removed from the table of permitted uses.  A training track would be permitted.  Grandstands would be permitted, as they are ancillary to other equine shows and events other than racing.  Parking scaled to the non-race facilities would be permitted.”

Malin also was asked about whether the amended plan would still allow for racetrack worker housing. He said he believed it would not be allowed but he wanted to check further.



Business people horse racingEIR and plan details go to Seaside Planning Commission on Wednesday

Opponents of the Monterey Downs horse race track venture at Fort Ord may be on the verge of a huge victory with the Seaside city staff recommending that the associated commercial and residential elements of the sprawling project move ahead without provisions for actual racing.

Celebration seems premature, however, because nothing in the staff recommendation to the city Planning Commission would prevent the racing operation from being revived at some point after somewhat less controversial aspects had been approved. Debate over the entire project and especially the horse racing component are expected to play a real role in the upcoming municipal election, which features a mayoral contest between project proponent/incumbent Ralph Rubio and project opponent Kay Cline.

The staff recommendation amounts to a couple of brief, nearly cryptic mentions in a lengthy report presented to planning commissioners for a special meeting Wednesday at which they will be asked to approve the environmental impact report and the so-called specific plan for the development. Southern California horse racing figure Brian Boudreau proposes 1,280 homes and apartments and considerable other construction on 700-plus acres partly within Seaside city limits and partly in Monterey County’s jurisdiction.

While the project has enjoyed significant support from elected officials and some business interests, the developer hasn’t been able to point to a continuing water supply and has been slow to cover expenses stemming from the application process. The project also has created something of a local coalition of animal-rights activists and environmentalists concerned about the loss of tens of thousands of trees. Perhaps incidentally, the Monterey Downs website detailing and promoting the project was nowhere to be found on Monday

City Manager Craig Malin elaborated on the staff’s current thinking in an email exchange with the Partisan on Monday and in a recent blog post.

“The staff recommendation is premised on planning and land use concerns; principally that setting aside the acreage required for horse racing (track, infield, grandstands, associated structures and parking) without a clearly defined path to financing and construction of those facilities is, at this moment in time, difficult to position as a highest and best use of the land,” Malin said by email. “There is a clear and significant consolidation of the California horse racing industry underway, and the amount of money wagered on California horse racing is, adjusted for inflation, down nearly 40% from 2005 to 2015, according to annual reports published by the California Horse Racing Board.”

But yes, Malin acknowledged, the racing enterprise could be re-inserted into the plan at some point.

“…In both a conceptual and practical sense, horse racing is a legal business.  Conceptually, cities can’t generally prohibit legal businesses from operating in a community, particularly those that are as much creatures of state regulation as horse racing is.  Conceptually, horse racing could come to almost any city with infrastructure that exists (or may be constructed) to support it.  Practically speaking, should the project move forward, it would be very difficult to add horse racing back into the project if homes are sold without that use allowed within the first approvals.

“Keep in  mind, it is just a staff recommendation at this point.”

Malin spent most of his public sector career in other states and his comments seem to reflect a poor understanding of California zoning and environmental protection law. Cities can, in fact, prohibit legal businesses from opening if they are deemed to be in conflict with the zoning.

In his blog, Manifest, Malin wrote about a recent excursion with Boudreau to the Del Mar race track near San Diego, where Boudreau explained the wagering process and the manager soaked in the atmosphere.

“It was all quite lovely, and I could see how responsible, normal people could enjoy a day, or a season, at the racetrack,” he wrote. “I could see that Del Mar is a regional attraction, and community institution, with a long and storied history. I could also see how Del Mar, at its present scale and with its southern California zeitgeist, wouldn’t and shouldn’t be replicated exactly here in Seaside. But perhaps something smaller in scale, and something more Northern California in manner, could.”

City Councilman Jason Campbell, who opposed the project, said the staff recommendation “is politically expedient” because it would mute much of the project’s criticism while allowing the city to pursue other aspects of the development.

The issue goes to the Planning Commission at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Seaside City Hall.


Monterey Downs EIR might not survive close inspection


Business people horse racingIt will be interesting to see what the environmental review experts come up with when they dig into the “Final Environmental Impact Report” on the Monterey Downs project. Expect them to find plenty to talk about. It took the decidedly inexpert Partisan staff about 20 minutes to spot a fairly significant problem.

It isn’t the kind of thing that will stop the project but it will remind project critics, and there are many of them, to accept nothing at face value as they scour all those pages of dry discussion and even drier fine print.

The problem has to do with one word, “wide,” and how its absence rather dramatically changes the meaning of a section having to do with the project’s water supply, particularly the sustainability of the Salinas Valley groundwater basin.

Some quick, obligatory background. After a long delay, the city of Seaside on Friday released to the public the environmental impact report on the Monterey Downs project, a hotly contested plan to build a horse racetrack 1,280 housing units, an arena, hotels and other facilities on a nicely treed site at Parker Flats at Fort Ord. The EIR was prepared for the city by Michael Baker International of Irvine. It’s a thick and heavy document that includes tons of information, including numerous letters from government agencies and others, including supporters and opponents.

This EIR found numerous environmental issues of concern, including water, of course. It was well established before the environmental review began that while there may be enough water available to start the project, there isn’t enough to complete it. For that reason, developer Brian Boudreau and project supporters at City Hall hope to move ahead in phases while others work on developing an additional water supply.

The primary purveyor of water for the project would be the Marina Coast Water District, which does have plans for a desalination plant down the road. But the water district, MCWD, pumps a considerable amount of water out of the ground, including water from the Salinas Valley groundwater basin (SVGB), the principal source of irrigation water for the Salinas Valley.

Here’s where “wide” comes in. Strike that. Here’s where “wide” should come in.

Buried at the bottom of one long section about comments from other agencies, the EIR repeats several lines from the draft environmental impact report from a year and a half ago. It says, “The Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin has a large storage volume and is recharged by the Salinas River, which is augmented by upstream reservoirs managed by the MCWRA (Monterey County Water Resources Agency). Therefore, the aquifer does not experience variations due to climatic conditions.

I put that last sentence in bold italics because that’s the key passage. It also caught the attention of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, which wrote to the city in June 2015 about that and other water-related issues.

The letter, by district manager Dave Stoldt, said his agency monitors the groundwater basin, partly because what happens there affects what happens in the Seaside groundwater basin, which supplies much of the Monterey Peninsula. And, he continued, the draft EIR “presents no data or references that support the conclusion that ‘the SVGB does not experience variations due to climatic conditions.’”

Stoldt writes that there clearly is a connection between rainfall and the status of the Salinas basin.

“The overwhelming evidence for the SVGB is that over the long term, recharge from precipitation and reservoir storage releases does not match groundwater production, and the basin is in a condition of chronic overdraft. Any conclusion … that suggests otherwise should be removed and a statement that reflects the present understanding of the basin condition should take its place.”

The writers of the EIR addressed the issue by attributing the sentence in question.  The EIR says, “This statement concerning SVBG was obtained from the Water Supply Assessment and Written Verification of Supply for the Monterey Downs Specific Plan (Schaaf & Wheeler, November 6, 2012) (pages 22-23).”

But, and you problably saw this coming, what the Water Supply Assessment and Written Verification of Supply for the Monterey Downs Specific Plan actually says on Page 22 is that “the aquifer does not experience wide variations due to climatic conditions.”

Emphasis added in hopes of sparking some discussion about the difference between no variations and some variations.

Big deal? Probably not. The project is not going to rise or fall over this one slip. But the makers of the EIR had 18 months to clean things up following the release of the draft environmental impact report, and a mistake like this suggests either a fairly substantial case of sloppiness or perhaps some inappropriate bias in favor of the project. Either is cause for concern as the experts dig in.

To read the report, click here.


Business people horse racingMONTEREY DOWNS E.I.R. TO BE RELEASED TODAY

Sports fans love statistics and going for records. But here’s some numbers you probably won’t find on the sports pages – the death rate for thoroughbred race horses.

The Del Mar track in Southern California is two weeks or eight days into a 54-day season and already at least 11 horses have died, according to the Veterinarian Reports for the first two weeks. Five died in the first week and six in the second.

That’s a rate of 1.37 horses killed per race day. Perhaps they are going for the track record! Over the past four years the average race horse death rate at Del Mar has only been 0.35 and they are well ahead of that, though admittedly it is early in the season. Also, over that same four-year period the highest death rate was 0.47 in 2012.  That’s a lot of dead horses for a $2 bet.

I’m writing about this because of the proposed Monterey Downs racetrack at Fort Ord, whose environmental impact report is scheduled for public release today. Here’s the connection:

“Monterey Downs draws inspiration from Del Mar, which by most accounts is the classiest and most successful track in California.”

In other words, if you want to know what the developers and promoters of Monterey Downs have in mind as their model, look to Del Mar, where horses are dying with predictable regularity. Is that what we want for Seaside? For our young people? For the CSUMB students who will matriculate immediately adjacent to the proposed Monterey Downs track? If not, we should just say “NO to Monterey Downs!”

Bill Weigle is professor emeritus of mathematics and environmental studies at the University of Maine at Machias. He lives in Seaside. 


Runoff in Salinas still pivotal for Peninsula interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where do we go from here?

To Salinas.

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Supervisor started touting the project six years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From Monterey Downs website


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Falsely states that cemetery has been blocked by Supervisor Jane Parker

DSCN0380 (1)Politicians rarely weigh in on campaigns other than their own but a new mailing by Monterey County supervisorial candidate Dennis Donohue strayed so far from the facts that it provoked a strong denunciation from state Sen. Bill Monning.

“I just saw the Donohue hit piece against Supervisor Parker,” said Monning. “This is so erroneous and inaccurate that I hardly know where to start. ”

The mailer claims that Parker, the 4th District incumbent, somehow is blocking the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord even though it is already under construction.

“The California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery is already under construction and scheduled for opening in August or September this year – well before this candidate could even take office,” Monning said Saturday.

A headline in the mailer says, “Jane Parker says ‘No’ to Veterans and Monterey County,” and the text says, “Only one vote on the Board of Supervisors stands between Monterey County veterans and a long-awaiting military cemetery at Fort Ord. Dennis Donohue strongly supports the plan and will stand with veterans to get it done.”

Monning, D-Carmel, has been heavily involved in  the cemetery project, working closely with the Board of Supervisors, area legislators, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority and veterans organizations. He sponsored legislation establishing the cemetery and securing more than $2 million for the project. He said Saturday that Parker had supported the cemetery “every step of the way.”


Former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue

“For Donohue to suggest that establishment of the veterans cemetery only awaits his affirmative vote to come to fruition is not only false, it is disrespectful and dismissive of all of us who have worked to establish the cemetery,” the senator said.

“For Dennis Donohue to vilify Jane as somehow not supporting the veterans cemetery is false and misleading and intentionally designed to deceive the voters. I am disappointed to see a candidate initiate a campaign based on lies and deception instead of advancing an honest portrayal of what he might aspire to do as a supervisor,” said Monning.”If this is how Donohue runs his campaign, would he also throw truth and ethics to the winds if elected?”

The mailer also attacks Parker for her opposition to a related venture, the failed plan by Monterey-Salinas Transit to build a transit center near the cemetery site at Fort Ord. The initial Board of Supervisors’ approval of that project led to a referendum measure motivated mostly by plans to cut down thousands of trees. The referendum led to another vote by the supervisors during which Supervisor Dave Potter acknowledged that the original vote was a mistake and Supervisor Lou Calcagno praised the protesters as being “right on.”

Unfortunately for voters attempting to follow the status of the cemetery project, the developers behind the proposed Monterey Downs horse racing and housing venture initially linked their venture’s approval to the cemetery and the transit yard, an attempt to artificially create political pressure on officials opposed to the Monterey Downs effort. That enabled the developers to enlist some local veterans to criticize politicians who expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the large Monterey Downs venture, which has not acquired the necessary property, approvals or water rights it needs to advance.

DSCN0361 (2)

District 4 Supervisorial candidates (from left) Jane Parker, Dennis Donohue and Alex Miller ponder during Thursday’s campaign forum at the Oldermeyer Center in Seaside.

Ex-Salinas mayor claims to be neutral on Monterey Downs despite strong letter of support

For all but about a minute of Thursday night’s campaign forum, political opponents Jane Parker and Dennis Donohue were as polite as they could be with each other but there were two brief periods when the claws came out.

Donohue the challenger, who repeatedly promised to push for more and faster redevelopment at Fort Ord, added a slight barb the last time when he said he would “support the Fort Ord Reuse Plan and not just say I’ll support it.” It was subtle but it was a dig at Parker the incumbent, who embraces a more deliberate pace with considerable time for environmental review.

But it was Parker who got in the bigger zinger. The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Sustainable Seaside, featured questions from the audience. One was whether the candidates support Monterey Downs, the hugely controversial proposal to build a residential and commercial complex at Fort Ord anchored by a thoroughbred race track. The proposal appears to be dying a natural death because of financial uncertainties but it remains a lightning rod issue on the Peninsula.

Parker said redevelopment of Fort Ord should be focused on creating permanent jobs and mixed-use communities and that gambling and racing don’t fit in.

Donohue skirted the question by saying that he might have to weigh in officially on the venture at some point so he was “not in a position to prejudge the project.” The major decision-making rests with the Seaside City Council and only then would his opinion matter, he said.

Parker seized the opportunity to counter-punch. She asked Donohue why, then, had he invited the Monterey Down developers to make a presentation to the Salinas City Council while he was mayor of Salinas, a presentation that led to a resolution of support.

In a draft of a letter to Monterey Downs managing partner Brian Boudreau on May 15, 2012, Donohue wrote, “I wanted to let you know how much the City Council appreciated the presentation on March 13 by Beth Palmer on behalf of the Monterey Downs project and how excited we are at the prospect of this economic ‘game changer’ at the former Fort Ord. In that much of the planned redevelopment of Fort Ord has been stalled, your project could be the welcome spark to bring many other initiatives forward, consistent with the adopted Fort Ord Reuse Plan.”

Donohue wrote that he understood that the local jurisdictions and environmental regulators were still reviewing the project and that the city supports a fair and rigorous process. Still, he continued, “we understand the importance of Monterey Downs not just as another attraction for Monterey County but the start of a new industry that provides jobs at all economic levels and also complements and supports protection of the unique environmental resources of the vast Fort Ord lands. We cannot overlook the creation of up to 3,000 direct and 2,000 indirect job opportunities for our citizens at a time when Monterey County jobs market lags both state and national employment rates and when we continue to struggle with keeping jobs already here. On behalf of the City Council and our community, we welcome the long-term investment that Monterey Downs is willing to make in this unique and high quality development and wish for your success in obtaining necessary government approvals.”

Because the forum was just that, a forum, and not a debate, Donohue had no immediate opportunity to respond to Parker’s questions and he didn’t get back to it in his closing comments.

Overall, Donohue repeatedly emphasized that his focus as supervisor would be on economic development and job creation.

“Job one is creating jobs,” he said.


Seventeen Annual Racehorse Deaths Predicted at the Proposed Monterey Downs — and What It Means for the Upcoming Elections

If the proposed Monterey Downs is built, is modeled after the Del Mar Race Track in Southern California, and it has a 50-day racing season (as discussed on pages 2-34 of the Monterey Downs Draft Environmental Impact Report available on the City of Seaside web site), then we could expect approximately 17 racehorse deaths per season at Monterey Downs. Here’s how I arrived at that estimate.

The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) publishes the Stewards’ Minutes for all of the tracks in California. Since 2011 those minutes have been published weekly and include a Veterinarian Report that lists the number of deceased horses for the week. Here are the data by year since 2012 for Del Mar.

  • 2015       23 deaths       60 race days        .38 deaths per day
  • 2014       11 deaths        51 race days       .22 deaths per day
  • 2013       9 deaths         34 race days       .26 deaths per day
  • 2012       16 deaths        37 race days       .47 deaths per day
  • Total      77 deaths        219 race days      .35 deaths per day

So in a 50-day season at Monterey Downs we could expect approximately the deaths to equal 50 times .35,  or 17!

By the way, Del Mar is not the exception when it comes to racehorse deaths. The web site Horseracingwrongs.com reports at least 935 racehorse deaths in the United States for 2015 of which 30% were training deaths. At least 969 died in 2014, of which 27% were in training. In 2014, at least 199 racehorses died in racing and training in California. Moreover, most of these numbers of racehorse deaths are underestimates.

Here is what Patrick Battuello who maintains the web site Horseracingwrongs writes regarding the racehorse deaths reported on his site.

The following racehorses were killed on American tracks in 2015. Please note, however, that these are on-site deaths only – the “catastrophically injured” who were euthanized back at the farm or at a rescue facility are not reflected here. In addition, several states – California and Kentucky among them – rejected my FOIA request. While some horses from these states do appear below (confirmed through other channels), a likely majority remain hidden. Other states, still, omitted training deaths from their FOIA documents. So, this list – roughly 1,000 strong – could easily and reasonably be doubled, leaving us with close to 2,000 track-related kills last year.

Furthermore, what the industry refers to as “non-racing” fatalities – colic, laminitis, “found dead in stall” – have not been included. And, of course, this list says nothing of the thousands of recent “athletes” who were bled-out and butchered in foreign abattoirs. In short, what follows is far from a complete reckoning of Racing’s carnage.

Finally, while reading, please be mindful that the maiming and destruction is but a part of the story. There is, also: the pounding of unformed bodies; the extreme confinement of naturally free-roaming animals; the whipping; the (obviously) nonconsensual drugging and doping; and perhaps worst of all, the commodification – the buying and selling and trading and dumping. Collectively, the horseracing wrongs.

In addition, here is another article that focuses on racehorse deaths in California and Del Mar in particular. Among other statistics it points out that “More than 3,000 horses died during racing or training from 2009–2011, according to a New York Times survey of 29 racing states.” That is in just 29 states, not all 50! Also, in this period California was the leading state with 635 deaths!

So, whether in training or racing, horses will surely die (and be drugged and whipped) at Monterey Downs! Based on the data above, my current best estimate is 17 horses will die in training and racing in a 50-day season.

Business people horse racingNow is this issue of Monterey Downs and the associated racehorse brutality and deaths important for each one of us? Absolutely, and here’s why. Firstly, based on the data quoted above, it should be clear that if Monterey Downs is approved and built, there will be racehorse brutality and deaths there just as there have been through the years at Del Mar and other tracks throughout California and the United States. To even imagine otherwise is totally irrational!

Secondly, we have supervisorial elections coming up in June and city elections in November. If you want to cast a responsible vote in these elections, you must ascertain where your candidates stand with respect to approving the Monterey Downs project. This is particularly important for the Board of Supervisors, the Seaside City Council and mayor, and any other city elected official who could serve on LAFCO or the FORA board.  It should be clear that if you cast a vote for a candidate who supports Monterey Downs, you personally will be condoning horse racing brutality.

Now, if for any reason you are still uncertain regarding the issue of horse racing brutality, do your own online research. Also, remember that race horses are athletes. Whenever they are mistreated it is against their will. They should not be brutalized in training and competition any more than human athletes should be.

Bill Weigle is professor emeritus of mathematics and environmental studies at the University of Maine at Machias. He lives in Seaside. 


According to this flyer from Monterey Downs, the Seaside City Council is scheduled to meet this evening, Wednesday, to consider a 12-month extension for negotiations over the Monterey Downs project but the meeting is really on Thursday.