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This photo of Dave Potter comes from Mary Adams’ website, potterfacts.com

I’ve always greatly enjoyed Mary Duan’s columns in the Monterey County Weekly, and I enjoyed most of her farewell column this week. With her husband’s lottery winnings tucked into a mattress, she has stepped down as editor after a productive and sometimes grueling six years.

Thursday’s column was about politics and Mary’s decision to enjoy life for a while. The part I didn’t love was the little section where she sort of lost her way  while writing about Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter and his effort to fight off a challenge by a strong candidate, Mary Adams.

She wrote about how the Weekly had endorsed Potter, setting off some serious groaning from the left side of the political divide, which constitutes a good share of the paper’s readership. I have it on good authority that Duan argued mightily for an Adams endorsement but was outmuscled by her bosses, who got on the Potter train long ago and stayed onboard while others departed. (I’ve always suspected it has something to do with Potter being a good source, especially when he needs to divert the attention of journalists looking too closely at his affairs.) The result of the internal debate at the Weekly was an endorsement editorial that made note of Potter’s “integrity” issues. You won’t find that part quoted in Potter’s campaign mailers.

Here’s the portion of Duan column that I found, well, exasperating.

“There’s a heated level of vitriol being thrown our way because of the Potter endorsement – progressives, it turns out, can be a hostile bunch,” Duan wrote. “I don’t think we’ve been called stupid, but we have been called inept and corrupt.

“Potter gets called corrupt a lot, by the way. He’s done some dumb stuff, but in terms of outright corruption, I haven’t been able to prove it (and boy have I tried) and neither has anyone else. My message to the angry progressives is this: Prove it. Prove what you think you know.”

I would be surprised if I didn’t enter Duan’s thoughts at least fleetingly while she wrote that last paragraph. And here’s why. While I don’t have a file of documents that a prosecutor could take to a grand jury and get Potter thrown in jail, I have been involved in covering Potter for 16 years now and I believe it has been proved several times now that if not outright, damnably corrupt, he is ethically challenged to the point that he should not be in office. Corrupt is a pretty big word. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions is a good one, “Doing things that are dishonest or illegal in order to make money or to gain or keep power.” Ms. Duan, I think it has been proved that the definition applies to the fellow your former employer endorsed. (It should be noted that my former employer, the Herald, has endorsed him as well.)

The publisher of another weekly paper in the area, the Carmel Pine Cone, has accused me over the years of being out to get Potter, though he has never explained why. The truth is that, like most people who know Potter, I like the guy. He can be a real charmer and he knows more than anyone else about two of my favorite topics, local politics and governance. Even when he has been beyond irritated at something I had written about him, he and I have managed to have pleasant and even constructive conversations. For instance, he was the one who explained to me why former Supervisor Lou Calcagno is endorsing Supervisor Jane Parker instead of her challenger, Dennis Donohue. It’s because Donohue has signed onto a plan to let the city of Salinas spill over onto some of the wonderful farmland south and west of town.

So, back to the point. What has been proven about Potter, his method of operations and his integrity? I can only tell you what I know, which is a fair amount.

Two examples make my point about Potter’s integrity, and I’ll go into some detail about those. For now, let’s not worry about the house he bought from the land-use lawyer’s family, the building and coastal permits his construction company forgot to obtain before starting projects, the time he was using campaign money to pay his construction company rent, the time he bought a car from a dealer who was seeking a coastal permit while Potter was on the Coastal Commission or the time he tried to arrange free property at Fort Ord so his company could build a hockey rink there. The list of troubling but not indictable acts goes on.

Let’s focus instead on the Nader Agha campaign contribution and the forgery allegation.

Agha, of course, is the local developer and antique dealer who has been pursuing a desalination plant in competition with Cal Am’s. He is well known for his generosity, both to charities and to politicians.

You can read a Monterey Herald article about the issue here and get the details but I’ll summarize the key points.

In January 2004, Potter asked Agha for a $10,000 campaign contribution. But rather than have him make the check out to his campaign fund as legally required, he asked Agha to make the check out to a business associate, Russ Carter, one of a group of San Jose investors who have repeatedly lent money to Potter over the years.

Much later, then-county Supervisor Lou Calcagno told Agha that the money had gone toward a vacation rather than campaign expenses. To make a long story short, Agha then sued Potter for return of the money and – and this is key here – included a copy of the canceled check to Carter along with the legal filing.

Potter denied everything and insisted that he had been exonerated through an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission. It’s true that the FPPC didn’t take any action. It seldom does. But Potter was never able to explain why Agha had written a $10,000 check out to a close Potter associate with whom he had no connection of his own.

Agha at one point said he would pursue the lawsuit vigorously to prove that Potter was lying. Unfortunately for those of us who care about facts, Potter did everything he could to keep the matter out of public scrutiny. Monterey public relations man David Armanasco went to Agha on Potter’s behalf and arranged a settlement. Rather than pursue the litigation, Agha agreed to settle out of court for an unreported amount and agreed with Potter’s request to have the settlement details sealed.

“I’m kicking myself,” Agha said later.

It is true that Agha’s assertions were never proved in court and that the FPPC didn’t charge Potter. But in the court of public opinion, the one in which Potter and Mary Duan and the Partisan reside, the canceled check to Carter is both persuasive and damning.

The forgery matter also made it into the courthouse but, like the Agha matter, was not resolved there. Still, in the court of common sense, Potter loses.

Again, there is a long Monterey Herald story that spells it all out, so we’ll only summarize here.

In 2012, Potter’s ex-wife, Patricia, said in court papers that Potter had forged her name on home loan documents after their estrangement so he could take out another mortgage on their Monterey home.

(The home, by the way, was one Potter had bought from the mother of land-use lawyer Tony Lombardo, with partial financing from the mother, but that’s another tale.)

Anyway, in court papers, Patricia Potter alleged that her former husband surreptitiously signed her name to the paperwork so he could obtain a second mortgage of $193,000. She said that $168,000 of that went to pay off loans that Potter had received from three San Jose investors, including Russ Carter (the fellow who had earlier cashed the $10,000 check from Agha.)

The paperwork was processed in San Jose, at a meeting Patricia Potter did not attend, and the signatures were notarized by a Silicon Valley real estate agent who is a business partner of the investors who received the $168,000.  Patricia Potter alleged that her ex-husband then recorded the documents without her knowledge, something that her ex-husband’s lawyer actually verified in court papers.

The allegations went away without landing Potter in any real trouble. That’s because Herald reporter Jim Johnson, who wrote the story on the allegations, called Dave and Patricia Potter for comment and they got their heads together before returning his calls.  By then, before the story came out, they had come to terms about disputed spousal support and agreed to say that the forgery allegation was the result of a simple misunderstanding.

The headline on the resulting Herald article said Patricia Potter had retracted the allegation. The last time I checked the court record, she had not done so in court papers.

To my way of thinking, Potter could have been prosecuted but the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office concluded that there was no case since Patricia Potter had changed her story. Some tough questioning of the real estate agent who notarized the signature might have produced a different result, but who knows.

Does this prove Potter is corrupt? His supporters won’t think so but many of those supporting Mary Adams will argue that the case has been made. That’s how it goes in politics. Those folks over at the other local weekly, the Pine Cone, are so blind to Potter’s failings that they may try to hold Adams accountable for the words on these pages. The ferocity of the Pine Cone’s repeated attacks on Adams, combined with its historic unwillingness to examine Potter’s record, suggests another form of misfeasance.

As I wrote above, Potter is an exceedingly knowledgeable politician. His understanding of the ins and outs of local governance is without parallel. He has done some good things and I do not believe that, deep down, he is an evil fellow. I believe that he has struggled financially at times, for reasons I do not understand, and that he has routinely cut corners and done worse to get by. Corrupt? You be the judge.

The Potter strategy in the current campaign is to portray Adams as inexperienced, incapable of stepping in to deal with the difficult realities of county government. My counter is that she is highly experienced in the equally complicated world of non-profit social services, that she is smart and quick, and that she carries absolutely none of the type of ethical baggage that causes even neutral observers of Dave Potter to question his sincerity in almost everything he does.

The election is June 7.

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Businessman chained to a large ballMany knowledgeable people on the Peninsula, including friends and others whose opinions I respect, believe the tarot cards are slowly but surely pointing to an eventual Cal Am demise.   I am reading the cards differently and here is why:

  • There aren’t enough people rising up against Cal Am. Some point to the recent parade of angry ratepayers who spoke publicly before the Cal Am board as a sign of a developing groundswell. That may be true, but in the near and long term, will there ever be the critical mass necessary to accomplish major change? There were people who were angry with the water bill spikes, but that seems now to be ancient history.  A respectable 45 percent of those who voted on Measure O, the Cal Am takeover initiative, clearly opposed Cal Am.  But 45 percent of what number? I recall that the turnout was less than 25 percent of registered voters eligible to vote.  In some cities (e.g., Seaside) the turnout was even smaller. About 11,000 people voted for th measure but Cal Am’s customer base, homes and businesses, numbers some 40,000.

Further, the number of persons who are knowledgeable and willing to be real activists has grown over the past two years, but I would doubt if they currently number more than 500. People join groups like Public Water Now and the Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula but only a very few are truly active and committed on a scale necessary to effect change.

Cal Am has conducted polls and surveys that indicate, according to the company’s vice president for communications, most younger people who have been on the Peninsula for five years or less typically rent and have no serious issues with the company.  And while the older “more conservative” long-term locals (his words) are more concerned, he still maintains that the poll/survey results indicate that the number truly opposed and angry is minimal.

A local water activist has stated that future water rates will have a greater impact on ratepayers so that more and more persons will join the fight to oust Cal Am.  Once again, I am not sure.   After the Herald wrote a good article on the “spanking” that the Cal Am board received from so many citizens at its recent public meeting, I contacted Cal Am’s VP and asked for his take.  He said there were definitely things to learn and Cal Am needs to be more intelligent about rate applications and rate structures. Cal Am and this gentleman are not stupid. I interpret his statement as an indication that Cal Am may revise the way it seeks rates, fees and other costs, and may redesign the tier structure in a way that lightens the future impact on the greatest number of ratepayers. If I were a Cal Am senior officer, I would certainly consider such changes

Cal Am’s communications officer also indicated that the company’s overall PR program needs revitalizing – I don’t know what that would include, but it might include greater transparency and more detailed information on current and future plans, which, like it or not, would also tend to simmer down potential opposition.

  • Unless the California Public Utilities Commission process is statutorily corrected to protect ratepayers, Cal Am may well be able to continue as is as long as it can count on three votes on the commission. Correcting the CPUC process is a longshot, because it would be so politically sensitive that few politicians at the state level could be counted on to become involved. I sent a letter to the area’s state legislators and the governor suggesting changes.  I received a response from Assemblyman Mark Stone but no one else, as I expected. Ratepayers will always be on the losing side as long as any utility can put together at least three commissioners on its side in a rate case, and as long as the CPUC’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates is not recreated as an independent state agency with the authority to sue the CPUC on behalf of ratepayers.   Since commissioners are appointed, effecting change in that regard is almost beyond the ken of anyone on the Monterey Peninsula.  Likewise, without the leadership of your elected officials, you won’t get an independent ORA either.   The likely result:  Cal Am will succeed in its rate cases no matter how many people don’t like it.
  • For the sake of argument, assume that a critical mass does exist and there is another Measure O. What then? This is the area in which think not enough analysis and discussion and/or debate has taken place.  If another Measure O were to pass, perhaps a stronger measure calling not only for a study but the outright acquisition of Cal Am, what agency would do it and how? How much would it cost?  Would the new entity’s ratepayers be protected from future rate hikes?  Would they be assured that their input would be heeded?  Would Cal Am give up and sell out?

A simple review of existing public agencies does not result in terribly positive answers to those questions.

There is some thought that some Peninsula cities would form a joint powers agency to take over Cal Am. But this isn’t small-town Felton, where a takeover did occur. There are six cities on the Peninsula, with no real history of working together for a common goal. Who would be on the board of such a partnership?  Some of the same people who have turned the mayor’s joint powers agency into a money-spending waste of time?

Some say the water district could take the lead. It has the statutory authority and perhaps even the staff to undertake the responsibilities of Cal Am (and could presumably hire ex-Cal Am employees to bolster its capabilities).  However, as we all know the district has not been successful on many fronts, even when it did take the initiative to increase the Peninsula’s water supply. A further problem is that the board’s membership includes two appointed officials, one from the cities, and one from the county. Those individuals, no matter how good-hearted and well-intentioned, come to the board with built-in conflicts and with other issues to distract them from solely water issues.   In order for the district to actually perform in the best possible manner, both of those appointees would have to be replaced by two additional electees, from two newly formed districts. Of course, this couldn’t be accomplished without statutory correction, and the same hurdles against changing the CPUC are in place against reforming the district.

So what is left?  Create a new JPA? JPAs in Monterey County (e.g., FORA) are rife with dissension. Name me a JPA that would clearly be successful.

Consider other agencies, such as the Moss Landing Harbor District or the Marina Coast Water District. Think of the difficulties in bringing together Marina and Peninsula interests that have never been in sync.   Another suggested option would be public ownership contracting out to a private enterprise to build, operate and deliver water to the Peninsula.  Problem is: what agency or what entity could or would represent the public and who would own the water system?   Further, such a contract would require policy decisions, oversight and funding on behalf of the public owners. That brings us back to reviewing the possible government agencies that could do it, which already seems to lead to the end of a cul-de-sac.

  • What about the possibilities of a current private desal project encouraging a local city to form a JPA which, in turn, would acquire the project’s assets and hire private firms to build and operate the desal plant?   In fact, local water activists are in the process of encouraging the city of Monterey to create a new JPA to acquire Nader Agha’s Peoples’ Desal Project at Moss Landing, which is actually ahead of Cal Am in a schedule to obtain permitting and begin construction. Once created, the JPA, representing public ownership, would hire consultants to build and operate the system.  The question remains, however:  a “JPA (Joint Powers Authority)” by its very nature, is a collaboration created by an agreement between two or more government agencies. So, what “other agencies” would agree to participate, and what are the realistic expectations that such an animal, if ever created, would be any different than what we have historically seen?   I hope it can happen, but a seachange in local political collaboration, creativity, initiative and commitment would have to arise where it never has before.  I know and admire my friends who are involved in this effort, and if anyone can, they can.  So God bless – prayers will be required.
  •   Finally, Cal-Am has a lot of money, is determined to remain on the Peninsula because it has been an outstanding revenue source. What does that mean?   For one, the company will almost certainly fight an eminent domain action.  They will not sell. They are not afraid of litigation. They say they care about ratepayer’s concerns, and they will probably take steps to actually go in that direction, but in the end, a good ROI (Return on Investment) trumps everything.

I am running out of options.   I have always supported public water as a concept, but have never had to sit down and figure out if it were handed to me how would I implement it in the best interests of the public. It is not necessarily as inevitable nor as straightforward as some would make out. In spite of all the delays, mismanagement, conflict of interests, data manipulation (as alleged), and so on, Cal Am is still afloat, the CPUC and Coastal Commission have not kicked them out and have barely slapped their hands. My take is a gloomy, negative one, for sure.   But even though I am a public water advocate, I have come to believe that facts and history unfortunately suggest that any grass-root attempt to right all the wrongs is facing great odds.

Bill Hood is a retired water resources engineer and attorney and executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He lives in Carmel and Columbus, Ohio.

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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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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6Just in time to add to the confusion over the city of Monterey’s lease policies at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey Bay Views and News publication has been revived.

The centerpiece of the relaunched vehicle criticizes City Councilman Alan Haffa for sending a note to hospitality and chamber of commerce officials expressing his displeasure for their lobbying efforts on behalf of longtime leaseholders. The leaseholders, including Cannery Row Co. executive Ted Balestreri and the daughter of the late restaurateur Sal Cerrito are attempting to hold onto lease rates negotiated in 1964 so they can continue subleasing wharf properties to others at current rates.

The article, headlined “Monterey Council Member attempts to Silence Stakeholders,” says an email sent by Haffa contained a veiled threat but there is no indication of what the threat entailed.

Monterey Bay Views and News was started in 2012 by public relations specialist and former Watsonville journalist Jon Chown in partnership with Peninsula businessman Nader Agha, who is pursuing a desalination project at property he owns in Moss Landing. The print component of the publication ceased operations a year later and it apparently remains mothballed while Chown moves ahead with a digital version.

The article about the wharf quotes from city documents from 2011 when city officials met in closed session and decided not to attempt legal action against the leaseholders. At that time,  critics of the lease arrangements were contending that longtime leaseholders had received a sweetheart deal that amounted to a gift of public funds.

According to Monterey attorney and Planning Commissioner Willard McCrone (see his Partisan post below), many of the existing leaseholders are leasing space at the city-owned wharf for 61 cents per square foot per month and subleasing the same space to others for several times that amount. Supporters of the leaseholders have mounted a letter-writing campaign accusing city officials of mindlessly seeking to raise the rent without regard for consequences. Those behind that effort have provided virtually no information about lease rates, profit margins or other details but have made good use of the public’s discontent with government to spin public perception their way. With Chown’s return, they apparently have found another tool.

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People’s desal project still chugging along

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

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

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

Project Overview

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

Project Benefits

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

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

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Transparency Word Magnifying Glass Sincerity Openness ClarityQuestion of the day:

What do the following have in common?

The Cannery Row Co. Pebble Beach Co. Granite Construction. Monterey County Business Council. Fort Ord Reuse Authority. FORA contractor EMC Planning Groupu.

First Tee. Granite Construction.Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. California Fisheries Association.

Monterey Convention and Business Bureau.  Carmel Mission Inn. Highlands Inn.

Several local law firms. Several local restaurants. A bank or two. Diocese of Monterey.

Give up?

Why, it’s David Armanasco. And the list of local companies and entities that are represented by his public relations firm goes on and on from there.

Now, add to the list the name of Sheriff-elect Steve Bernal.

As the vote count continued last week and it became increasingly clear that Deputy Bernal is going to upset Sheriff Scott Miller, Bernal announced that Armanasco will be handling his media calls and other public relations matters during the transition. No, strike that. Armanasco made the announcement.

It is a natural pairing. Bernal was backed heavily by the Republican Party locally and was backed by many key business figures, and those are Armanasco’s people. And Bernal apparently plans to keep up with his South County patrol duties for the time being, making it difficult for him to “interface” with community leaders, so he needs someone to serve as his proxy.

Armanasco is expert at dealing with the press and equally expert at ducking questions from the press. For instance, I asked him by email last week about the financial arrangements. Who’s paying him?

He responded quickly and pleasantly.

“We are helping through transition for Bernal.  He will not have any announcements until next week.  Since the incumbent has not conceded, Bernal has decided to wait for the latest vote count to be made public late Friday and the voter trend confirmed. Next week he will announce his transition adviser team.  He is still working on patrol so it helps him that we can field calls and make arrangements for him to respond to inquiries when he is off duty.”

Thanks, David, But who’s paying you?

Over the weekend, KSBW interviewed Bernal and asked if Armanasco was being paid out of campaign money. The answer was no. It apparently was a short interview and it wasn’t clear whether the reporter got a chance to ask a follow-up question.

Why does it matter who is paying Armanasco? Good question. Armanasco’s firm does all the things that most public relations firms do. It prepares news release and plans public relations strategies. It writes speeches for clients and helps craft their messages.But Armanasco goes a step farther. In addition to the other chores, he specializes in introducing clients to the right people, who, in many cases, are other clients.

If one was to draw a link chart showing connections between Monterey Peninsula businesses, governments and non-profits, Armanasco would be right in the middle like the hub of a wheel. He isn’t a powerful figure in his own right—though he did once serve on the Coastal Commission—but he’s friendly with the powerful people hereabouts and he’s not a bit shy about marketing his connections

Armanasco’s reach extends beyond the Peninsula as well. He is also a principal in a statewide lobbying and consulting company called California Strategies, which is made up of several former legislators and aides to high-ranking politicians. He joined the firm in October 2013, coincidentally the same month that it became the first company to be fined for lobbying without registering as a lobbyist or filing disclosure documents. Three principals, including former Central Coast legislator Rusty Areias, were ordered to pay $40,500 for lobbying the Legislature and the Air Resources Board on behalf of Boeing. One of the three ordered to pay the fine, Winston Hickox, is a former secretary of the state Environmental Protection Agency. His efforts helped Boeing avoid responsibility for cleaning up a toxic site near Los Angeles.

Look for Armanasco to spend many of his billable hours introducing Bernal to the powers that be on the Peninsula and beyond. Until his dark horse campaign, Bernal was an unknown on the Peninsula and in Sacramento, where he will need to focus much of his attention because of state funding issues. His 15 years in the Sheriff’s Department have been spent in South County and he lived much of that time in San Luis Obispo County. His kids go to school in Templeton.

During the campaign, GOP bigwigs introduced him to some of the right people on the Peninsula, those who could commit money and their good names to his campaign, but he still has some catching up to do. He still needs to meet construction company leaders. There are new jail facilities to be built. He needs to meet the bankers and architects and the lawyers and others on the Peninsula who have a growing interest in public safety in the unincorporated reaches of Monterey County.

Whether campaign contributions can be used for post-election PR isn’t entirely clear. Maybe Bernal’s family will pay Armanasco’s fees. Bernal’s brother, Mike, is a cattle rancher and his mother-in-law, Margaret Duflock is a rich cattle rancher. She contributed around half of the half million dollars he spent on the campaign. But if she pays, Bernal would eventually have to fill out a form reporting the gift.

There is a good chance then that Armanasco is working for free. Donating his time. He does that. He has worked pro bono numerous entities over the years.

One example comes to mind. Ten years ago, when the city of Salinas was struggling to find the money to keep its libraries open, city officials proposed several potential tax increases but was mostly focused on a sales tax increase. Along came the business community with an alternative. How about a utility tax on businesses?

It sounded so generous, so community-minded, and on top of that, David Armanasco would volunteer to help the city get the measure passed. For free.

Never mind that it was a virtual secret that there would be a cap on the utility tax, making it so that the maximum impact on any one business would be minimal. The utility tax would essentially cost businesses less than the alternatives. Never mind that some of the affected businesses were Armanasco clients.

Anything wrong with that? No. Anything illegal? Not a thing. It’s smart business, and many clients have found it smart business to hire Armanasco.

A couple years back, Supervisor Dave Potter was in some trouble because he had solicited and accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution from developer Nader Agha and had asked Agha to make the check out to another fellow. Later, Agha found out that Potter had used the money for something other than his campaign, so he sued.

Armanasco, a longtime friend of Potter’s, went to work. He worked tirelessly to get Agha to accept an out-of-court cash settlement from Potter and to agree to make the amount and details confidential.Anything wrong with that? No, unless you think things like that ought to be worked out in public. Anything illegal? Well, yes, but not Armanasco’s part. And if it helped him get Potter’s support for his Deep Water desalination project, what’s so wrong about friends helping friends?

Armanasco is often quick to offer assistance. When I was editor of the Monterey Herald, I hired a business reporter. Armanasco quickly volunteered to hold a reception for the reporter and introduce him to the business community. My boss thought it was a great idea. I thought it was a horrible idea. The reporter was perfectly capable of meeting the business community on his own and I wasn’t interested in setting Armanasco up as a conduit to the Herald’s business page. I got my way but barely.

The point here is that Armanasco is part PR man, part schmoozer, part political fixer. Bernal can’t be blamed for wanting someone like that on his transition team. He doesn’t move in the same circles as Armanasco, and Armanasco certainly can help steer him in the right direction, even if it happens to be the direction that serves Armanasco and his clientele, the cream of the Peninsula.

But during the campaign, Bernal was quick to criticize Sheriff Miller for supposedly hiding things. Bernal says often that the public wants transparency, which means it wants access to information about how things work. If he meant a word of it, he needs to start by explaining his relationship with Armanasco and spelling out the financial arrangement. And if he doesn’t feel up to the task just yet, he could have Armanasco do it for him.

(Finally, though my prediction on the outcome of the sheriff’s race was a giant miss, allow me a couple more prognostications. I’m guessing that Bernal is going to name an old friend, Galen Bohner, from Southern California to the undersheriff spot or another top position and former sheriff’s Commander Mike Richards as a chief deputy. Some of his supporters won’t like the appointment of an outsider, though, because one promotion from inside the department leads naturally to two or three additional promotions from inside. So if Bernal changes his mind on that one, don’t hold it against me. Richards was terminated by Miller and later ran against him unsuccessfully. Bohner is a former Monterey County sheriff’s deputy who is now a lieutenant in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. For several years, he headed a regional gang task force in the high desert. Also said to be a serious contender for undersheriff or another top spot is Tracy Brown, a former sheriff’s commander who left the department when Miller was elected four years ago.)

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Do profits prevent Cal Am from picking up the pace?

????Twelve years ago, Nader Agha told me “Cal Am will never build a desal plant.”

We were having lunch at the Hyatt Monterey. Agha had set up the meeting to chew me out. I was the city editor at the Monterey Herald, which had published an article about his plan to buy the National Refractories property at Moss Landing. Agha, the developer-coin dealer-entrepreneur, was buying it as a potential site for a desalination plant of his own and he feared that publicity would kill the deal.

When I said I was skeptical about his ability to build a desal plant, he shook his head and said, “Do you really think Cal Am is going to build a desal plant?” He drew in his breath and raised his shoulders and said, slowly and loudly, “Cal Am will NEVER build a desal plant. NEVER.”

Why’s that, I asked, quickly and softly. He pulled out a pen and started scrawling on a napkin. There were numbers and arrows and plus signs and minuses. When he could tell I was not following, he wadded the napkin and said, “It’s simple. Cal Am is making too much money selling water that it gets for free. Why would the company want to spend millions of dollars doing something else when it is making so much money selling water it gets for free?”

Each time Cal Am suffers another setback in its effort to build a desal plant for the Peninsula, I think about Agha’s prediction. He’s no expert on utility finance but he has does know something about buying low and selling high. Given Cal Am’s halting progress toward a desal solution, I have had plenty of occasions to think about his forecast.

I thought of it again this week, of course, when I heard that Cal Am is suing over rights to use the Cemex property in Marina to drill test wells. In case you missed it, there had been a big fuss over the last several months over whether the city of Marina would allow Cal Am to drill the wells without conducting a complete environmental impact study. The city said no, and Cal Am supporters howled that do-nothing environmentalists on the City Council were trying to block the desal plant because of its growth-inducing potential.

As we have been told again and again, time’s a’wasting. The Peninsula is under state order to greatly reduce its reliance on the Carmel River. Cal Am needs to develop a considerable supply of replacement water pronto or face large fines.

Who pays those fines is an open question, of course. If Cal Am can persuade the state that it did all it could, those fines could land right on top of our water bills. Cal Am has stumbled to the right and stumbled to the left since the original water cutback order of 1995 but has managed each time to somehow put the blame on everyone else.

Now, here’s another delay and Cal Am is telling us it wasn’t its fault. It was Marina’s fault or the fault of whoever got to Cemex.

It turns out Cal Am had no firm deal with Cemex to drill the wells. Cal Am’s engineering department had gotten ahead of the legal department. In other words, this multinational conglomerate has been spending more ratepayer money and doing all sorts of engineering and hydrological work based on a handshake arrangement with another multinational conglomerate.

Good thinking.

Now Cal Am will try to get the courts to order Cemex to go along as a public necessity. There will be appeals and appeals of appeals, all involving deployments of sharply dressed lawyers.

We’ll be told that it’s the fault of do-nothing enviros, or even Cal Am customers who couldn’t convince Marina politicians that it is their responsibility to fix water problems outside their jurisdiction.

Eventually, I imagine, we’ll be asked to pay for it all, the appeals and the appeals of the appeals and the nicely dressed lawyers and the studies. Plus a 10 percent profit margin on top of it.

And in the meantime, Cal Am will keep pumping free water from the Carmel River and charging us more and more for it.

All because Cal Am’s lawyers didn’t do their job.

Or did they?

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