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Aged Oil Pump on Colorado Prairie with Mountain Hills in the Background. Oil Industry Theme.So I was thinking about oil and fracking and other issues of the day, and I had an idea.

You’ve probably seen the TV commercials and the mailers paid for by the oil industry. They say that if Monterey County voters approve Measure Z, the anti-fracking initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot, it will shut down the local oil industry. (The ballot measure language says just the opposite, but we’ll let this issue slide for the moment.)

The commercials and mailers also tell us that the loss of the oil industry would cost various local government agencies $8 million or $9 million in property taxes each year. (They started out with $8 million but the number has grown in the last week or so.)

The commercials are pretty slick. They show a fire engine disappearing as it rolls down a country road and a firehouse vanishing. Nobody would want that to happen.

But that’s when I started thinking about those tax dollars. Let’s call it $9 million. On the one hand, that’s kind of a lot. But then again, is it really?

It amounts to just about 1 percent of the property tax income in Monterey County. And even if Measure Z did put the oil industry out of business, it wouldn’t happen all at once. The property values would decline over time but that would stop long before hitting zero.

The amount of property taxes paid by the oil companies in Monterey County works out to less than the property taxes paid by owners of the houses along the fairways of the Pebble Beach links. And the owners of those houses aren’t doing much to increase the carbon footprint. They aren’t using government-financed roads to send tanker trucks filled with crude to refineries out of the area. They aren’t pumping oily wastewater into the aquifers of Pebble Beach.

So here’s the idea.

If all those fancy commercials, the expensive scare tactics, the big lie technique, manage to beat back Measure Z, the community should stick together and require the industry to start paying for the privilege of getting rich from the resources of Monterey County.

At last count the oil companies had spent $3.7 million to fight Measure Z. They’re able to do that because they might as well be pumping money out of those wells instead of gas and oil. Last year, they pumped 7.8 million barrels of crude from the San Ardo fields, and smaller amounts elsewhere. At the current per barrel price, that oil was worth about $400 million.

That’s a lot.

If for some reason Measure Z fails, we need to find a way to make sure that the oil companies take responsibility for the environmental cleanup that their work surely will require. The bottom line issue addressed by Measure Z is the wastewater that the oil companies now inject into the ground as part of their processes. They say they aren’t hurting anything, but others who have studied the issue closely say it is only a matter of time before the current practices create a contamination crisis in the aquifers that serve the county’s much larger and much more important ag industry.

If Measure Z fails – and, perhaps, even if it passes – we should be requiring the oil companies to set aside a percentage of their take to create whatever technology is needed to ensure that the crisis never comes and to create a fund to clean up the water should it ever occur.

Just a couple of years back California legislators played around with a 9 percent production fee but those big-spending oil companies used campaign contributions to dissolve the legislative resolve. I’m thinking 9 percent sounds about right for Monterey County’s oil production tax, but let’s call it 10 percent just to make the math easier.

By the way. Yes on Z.

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press and media camera ,video photographer on duty in public news event for reporterPhineas T. Barnum didn’t coin “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but the circus impresario valued the sentiment. Nothing like barrels of ink to draw more suckers.

The original aphorist had to be a politician, probably as far back as ancient Athens. Politicians crave attention, be it from a lyre-plucking poet of old or a TV reporter coming up at 11.

Politicians must be talked about. They live on buzz. No one is going to tell an exit interviewer they voted for Candidate X because, “I never heard of the guy.”

Politicians need the media, more than the modern media need politicians. There is already ample fodder in pastures of celebrity, crime, sports and shark encounters.

That brings us to much-talked-about Salinas City Councilman Jose Castaneda, representing the city’s east-side District 1 since December 2012.

Castaneda has been subject of more media coverage than any Salinas council member in my memory. And I recall a former mayor of Salinas who was prosecuted 30 years ago for $800,000 in insurance fraud after a 1979 arson fire destroyed his Idaho bean warehouse. Yes, a warehouse full of beans. A lot of beans.

Which brings us back to Castaneda. About 99.9 percent of his media coverage has been negative. There were a few admiring stories (here’s one) when he was new on the council. But they’re saplings amid of forest of recall mania, legal wrangling, name-calling, restraining orders, grand jury slaps, unruly school meetings and hapless ambush interviews.

It’s unnecessary to spell out the details. Royal Calkins, mogul of the Monterey Bay Partisan, filed this report a few weeks ago about a recent episode of “Days of Our Castaneda,” with ample background and advice for the other six Salinas council members.

However, new twists in “The Castaneda and the Restless” demand further analysis of, arguably, the most successful failure in Monterey County politics. As Oscar Wilde would have said, “The only thing worse than being blogged about is not being blogged about.”

— The Salinas council in August will take up a censure vote against Castaneda. Alleged naughties include not paying a $5,000 court judgment, being boorish to council members and staffers, not filing campaign and personal finance reports, and insulting two reporters by mocking their weight and IQ.

(Quick aside: Good reporters laugh off insults from politicians. They recognize the source.)

— The state Fair Political Practices Commission opened an enforcement action into Castaneda’s failure to report personal economic interests and campaign finances for 2014.

(Quick aside: These reports have been routine for thousands of California public officials for 40 years. Reporters and opponents pore over them, guided by the prime directive: follow the money.)

Castaneda could take a few minutes from his important schedule of accomplishing little or nothing and file the reports. Otherwise he may face more fines to ignore.

(Quick aside: Jeff Mitchell, reporter-columnist-fledgling blog critic for the Salinas Californian took credit for alerting the FPPC about the one-year gap in Castaneda’s filings. The city clerk’s office apparently was asleep at the switch.)

— Castaneda has fastened himself like a refrigerator magnet to legal proceedings, including a probable police brutality suit against Salinas, surrounding Jose Velasco, the mentally unstable man whose violent arrest amid baton-swinging cops was captured on video still trending locally.

Castaneda portrays himself as a champion of Salinas’ hard-working Latino residents, and he clearly believes the cops who arrested Velasco are guilty — of something. Shortly after the video surfaced, he told a Bay Area reporter (a slender, intelligent looking chap, by the way) that Velasco only survived his arrest because it took place on a busy street before many witnesses.

His insinuation that Salinas cops would normally beat a man to death in a dark, out-of-the-way place struck me as being over the top, especially from a councilman. But it didn’t cause a ripple among those inured to Castaneda’s rhetoric.

— A new episode of “Law and Order: Special Castaneda Unit” saw Castaneda back in court last week on a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license. He claims he’s a victim of a police witchhunt.  More drama, more coverage.

As for censure, Castaneda likely savors the upcoming showdown. As Irish writer Brendan Behan said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” Would censure kill his political career? Mitchell predicted on Twitter:  “public shaming … should doom Castaneda’s reelection chances.”

Probably not. Censure, and the attendant hoopla, may enhance his position.

Name recognition is key in local races, and Castaneda’s is laser-printed into the city’s collective consciousness. He’s made a smart move embracing the 10-month-old controversy over police-community relations ignited after four Latino men were fatally shot by officers last year. That resonates with people who don’t know, or don’t care, about the negative stuff and admire strident words over quiet deeds.

Censure can be spun as a vindictive move by political foes. It’s certainly not fatal. Two current directors of the Marina Coast Water District survived censure votes while the district went through political gyrations.

Don’t forget, Castaneda won easily in 2012, despite a having sketchy tenure on the Alisal school board and copping to a misdemeanor in 2011 for filing false affidavits in a botched recall against longtime county Supervisor Fernando Armenta.

He got his supporters to the polls in a heavily Latino, low-turnout distinct. He won nearly 53 percent of the vote in 2012 in a three-way race. He needed only 1,802 votes, while two other council members won that year with about 2,500 and 6,900 votes apiece, in more voter-heavy districts.

Unless Castaneda faces a challenger who knows District 1 at least as well as he does, he could easily win another four-year term. Maybe then he would forget about picking every fight possible and get some things done for his constituents. Maybe something good, without a lot of press. More likely, the telenovela of his political career would continue, and he’d still be good copy for bad reasons.

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earthmover operator giving thumb upI tried to let it pass. I really did. The Herald editorial Thursday morning about the Ferrini Ranch project caused me to grit my teeth harder than my dentist recommends. Among several things,  it leaned a little to the tacky side. It’s one thing to endorse a project but to come back with a “good job, supervisors” editorial afterward might seem a little insensitive to the many project opponents.  Is “gloaty” a word?

But as I said, I tried to just take a breath and move on. It’s over. I told myself to just turn to the sports page and enjoy the story about the Warriors’ big victory over Houston last night. That would make me feel better.

I checked the front of the sports section. There was a silly story about the 49ers and their hopes of beating Seattle, which is as likely as me beating Steph Curry in a three-point shooting contest. But no Warriors story. I turned to the inside pages. Still no Warriors.

I thought back to last night. Was it a late game? No. As I recall, it ended with plenty of time for me to check my Paypal account for Partisan contributions before Chicago P.D. aired at 10 p.m. So, no, it wasn’t late.

Maybe they just forgot about it, I thought. After all, the Herald staff may report to soulless, bean-counting corporate masters but the worker bees are earnest humans. Finally, I found something, a little blurb at the bottom of the page suggesting I go online for a story about the game. At least I knew I had not dreamt of the Warriors’ record rising to 18-2. It wasn’t an oversight. It was an understaff. It was something, but it did not scratch my basketball itch.

It takes a lot to move me to action, but by then I was irritated enough to flip back to the editorial page. This time I read the whole piece. My course was set, though I admit to a brief moment of hesitation because I once edited the Herald and wrote its editorials. I worried that some folks might be bothered by the idea of me writing a piece criticizing the work of my former employer. I realized it might edge toward the inappropriate, but no more so than a crowing editorial while so many people are so upset.

I’ll go through the Herald piece slowly.

“Critics cited the development’s impact on traffic and the area’s water supply as reasons to turn down the project. We’re not so sure.”

If there is a worse traffic issue anywhere in Monterey County, we have not heard of it. The morning rush hour backup can put traffic at a standstill from Ryan Ranch in Monterey to beyond Reservation Road on the outskirts of Salinas. The nightly rush hour backup turns a 10-minute commute into a 45-minute festival of rear-end collisions. The Ferrini Ranch development will add 2,000-plus cars a day to Highway 68, and that’s according to the county planning staff that had been manipulated into essentially lobbying for the project.

“Opponents have commented that the development would only make traffic snarls worse. We’re not so sure. Developers will be required to provide for one additional mile of four lanes, and a new signaled intersection. These improvements and rights-of-way have been part of adopted local and state transportation plans for years, but had no funding. Ferrini will pay for these improvements.”

Imagine a long pipe an inch in diameter and imagine you’re trying to get a lot of water through it quickly. Imagine that in the middle of the pipe you can splice another piece of pipe, say three inches in diameter, but you still have one-inch pipe at both ends. Is the water going to get through any faster? Now imagine that in middle of the length of pipe you install a valve that shuts the water off briefly every few minutes. Is the water going to move faster now? If you think so, you don’t understand the question.

Speaking of water, the Herald goes on to say that Ferrini Ranch will use an exceptionally small percentage of the water in the Salinas Valley aquifer. That is quite true. But there is already more water coming out of the aquifer than going in. Which means that someday there won’t be any more water unless officialdom comes up with some big ideas, and we’ve all seen how well officialdom does with such things hereabouts. Until then,  salt water from Monterey Bay will continue to fill the void created by the subsiding aquifer, making groundwater near the coast too saline for irrigation purposes. The opponents of Ferrini Ranch are not making this up.

“The reality is that most opponents just don’t like the development and they’re citing infrastructure limits as a reason for denial. We expect that the infrastructure issue will be raised again as those against the project prepare to do battle in court.”

You think?

The Herald likes the idea of the developer putting up $425,000 toward creation of a community services district so that wastewater eventually will be treated and potentially used to combat seawater intrusion. That’s a condition imposed by lame duck Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who, by the way, was the largest recipient of campaign contributions from the developer, more than any other supervisor. By the way, the community services district idea obviously was the result of a negotiation between Calcagno and the developers. It was sprung on the public, with no chance for anyone to press for details, suggest alternatives or simply raise questions. If it doesn’t work out, is the project dead? Will this be like the community services district, and related infrastructure, that the supervisors gave to Cal Am?

Actually, the community services district may be a good idea and it may even help combat seawater intrusion. But here’s an even better idea. Let’s postpone the project and begin construction after the district is created and the recycling is well under way and seawater has stopped intruding.  At Tuesday’s supervisorial meeting, the best thing the county planners could say about the Salinas Valley Water Project is that it has slowed groundwater over-drafting to an unknown degree and seawater intrusion to an equally unknown degree. They’ll know more after a study is completed. In about five years.

Says the Herald: “We’re old-fashioned enough to believe that land owners have some rights, too, and that the county has its duty to observe those rights even while balancing the impact of development on the area.”

Hmm, I didn’t really notice much balancing going on, and are we forgetting the rights of the other land owners in the area? Let’s start with those who have been paying into the Salinas Valley Water Project only to be told they can’t build on their property because there isn’t enough water. How about the rights of the thousands of property owners who live in Toro Park, San Benancio Canyon and Corral de Tierra who want to be able to get home from work at night without having to detour through Marina. (In the interest of disclosure, I must admit that I live in San Benancio Canyon and was a victim of the Highway 68 commute while I worked for the Herald. One member of the Herald editorial board also lives in the canyon. One lives in Monterey and the others live in Santa Cruz County.)

And how about the rights of a few people who don’t own land? If people were to complain about how hard it is to commute from Salinas to Pebble Beach jobs n the morning, I’m thinking the Herald might suggest they move closer to their work. Carmel maybe.

The Herald asks, “Will there be an impact? Certainly, as Supervisor Jane Parker pointed out at the hearing. But we’re satisfied the impact will not be severe.”

This is a cute oneWill there be an impact? Why, yes, come to think of it, there could be. But why no mention of everyone else who pointed out the same thing, including Supervisor Dave Potter, who represents the area affected by the project and who pointed out that the traffic and water issues are symptoms of the “most blatant examples of bad planning.” Is the Herald trying to make it seem like only one official was bothered by the project, Parker, coincidentally the only one of the five supervisors who didn’t receive campaign contributions from the property owners? Heck, even Supervisor Fernando Armenta, every developer’s best friend, said he feared that the traffic impact could be severe.

Having written editorials myself for several years, I thought the Herald’s piece might offer an olive branch to the project opponents. Its original editorial endorsing the project had said that the opponents’ concerns should be dismissed because some of them had opposed a project in Spreckels some years ago, though almost none of those speaking out against the Ferrini Ranch project had ever expressed any opinion about the Spreckels venture. The Herald also had said the opposition’s concerns should be ignored because some opponents purportedly had said something untrue about the Ferrini venture. That was a difficult one to respond to in that the people purportedly making the untrue statements weren’t identified and the purportedly untrue statements went unidentified as well. Tuesday’s editorial, it would have seemed, might have been a time for some fence mending but, no, apparently it was time for the opposite.

One last point. Two, actually. The Warriors game next Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder is a big one. There should be coverage and if there is, I’m sure I will be more forgiving of the Herald’s foibles for ever more. It shouldn’t be hard for them to meet the challenge because it’s an away game and should be over by 9 p.m. at the latest. And if the  bean counters have moved the deadlines up so early to make that impossible, it’s game over anyway. For the paper, not the Warriors.

That other point is this. I watched the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday and was struck by the degree to which the county planning staff had been put in the position of being advocates for the projects. Not arbiters but champions. It isn’t supposed to be like that. On a large and fairly complex project such as Ferrini Ranch, it is necessary for the county staff to work closely with the developers on numerous issues, boundaries, lot sizes, setbacks, visual aspects, traffic flow, drainage, etc., etc. But working with the developers does not mean removing all obstacles on their behalf or automatically taking their side when challenges arise.

Much of Tuesday’s session was devoted to having the county staff address questions that had been raised by project critics during a public hearing the week before. There were pointed questions and some more general. The answers to most were not helpful. Did the staff consider this factor or this one? The answer. Yes we did. No elaboration, no explanation. Just a meaningless yes. Yes, we thought about the impact on wildlife and vegetation. Since the public hearing had been closed, there was no one to ask the follow-up: So what were your thoughts?

The county planning staff should be working for everyone, the supervisors, developers and the public. It should be a credible source of accurate information on the design and potential impacts of projects. It should not be part of the development team. As the result showed, the supervisors are capable of tipping the scales far enough all by themselves.

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Election letters that should be read

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One of the most interesting parts of many publications, this one included, is the letters. Here, for your edification and enjoyment, are three particularly interesting responses to the Partisan’s most recent post on Tuesday’s election. Take a peek.

And, by the way, if you haven’t seen Jim Toy’s blog, you should check it out as well, and not just because of his running list of Herald bloopers. Just click on his name.

  • Helga Fellay November 3, 2014, 8:48 am

You have pretty much said it all, and very well, too, about the Sheriff’s race, but just within the last week I became aware of another thing, or maybe two: 1. The DSA endorsement which Bernal uses as his strongest bragging right, is not what he makes it out to be; and 2. A disturbing connection between Monterey Downs, the giant horse racing plus casino development planned for the former Fort Ord, and the DSA (deputy sheriff’s association).

At a DSA meeting where 12 of 17 present voted to place the vote of no-confidence on the ballot. This is the meeting where Gesicki was present but Sheriff Miller was not invited. According to Scott Davis, the union has 316 members, of whom about 250 registered to vote. The final tally was 119 of 184 total votes in favor of a no-confidence resolution. But it was a corrupted vote. President Scott Davis himself counted the votes. There was no neutral person present to oversee the vote counting. Remember that the DSA and its president, Scott Davis, received $25,000 from Bernal relative Margaret Duflok, and the DSA received another $9,000 from Monterey Downs, LLC.(Schedule A, California Form 460, Contributions received, page 4 of 8, ID Number 1334267). Scott Davis, President of DSA, is now in a TV commercial touting Bernal. So how impartial and how reliable can that vote count really have been! It’s all smoke and mirrors. And they allowed Bernal to write a memo to the deputies before the endorsement (which made all those illegal promises to the jail deputies). They didn’t give the same privilege to Sheriff Miller.

We have always known that the Republican Party and Big Ag thought they could use a clueless deputy without any personal ambition to buy this election. But we also know that the DSA endorsement, Bernal’s biggest bragging tool, was bought with a $25,000 donation from Bernal’s family and another $9,000 donation from Monterey Downs, LLC. At least those are the only two we know about.

  • Ann Hill November 3, 2014, 10:50 am

    For the 55% of the 2nd district voters who are planning to vote for John Phillips for supervisor, you are voting for the judge made nationally notorious by a Charles Osgood poem on CBS radio, which made fun of Phillips’ decision awarding a thief damages against Costco. The thief had stolen items from Costco, and then tried to get away. He was stopped in his attempt to flee by Costco security officers, but he fought with them and lost. He was injured in the struggle to get away, and he sued Costco for his medical expenses and damages for pain and suffering. Judge Phillips saw merit in the thief’s claim and made Costco pay up. I remember at the time that many voters were calling for the judge’s ouster, because he appeared to have no common sense. Funny that this case was not brought up during the campaign for supervisor. Did the editorial board at the Herald know about it? Probably not. It is also not likely that any one of them spent any time in his courtroom, or they too would have seen the behavior described by David Brown – the temper tantrums, yelling at attorneys and throwing of files. And they might have understood why this judge was known as “King John” by some attorneys. So, get ready for a bumpy ride – judges wield absolute power in their courtrooms. They do not need to build consensus. Absolute power corrupts absolutely – and it is often abused. That abuse of power, as much as the poor treatment of women, was what I had previously written about for the Partisan. It is not a good character trait for a county supervisor. If this concerns you, vote for Mitchell instead.

  • Bill Carrothers November 3, 2014, 1:36 pm

    Royal, you seem to lack some rather elementary powers of observation. I am amazed that you cannot see Bill Freeman for what he is: a useful idiot being played by the open-borders sociopaths who use him to promote their growthio-sociopathic agendas. Second, what limited powers of observation and intellect prevent you from seeing Jan Shriner as anything other than what she is: a toxic agenda monster hell-bent on preventing any successful and practical solutions for the Peninsula’s water issues? There is simply no such thing as a useful conversation with this witch! As for the latest Ferrini Ranch debacle, there is a new word to describe the planning commission members and Board of Supervisors who voted for this additional mile of construction on the highway to hell: GROWCIOPATHS.

  • James Toy November 2, 2014, 8:37 pm

    Thank you for endorsing Felix Bachofner for Seaside. I’ve known Felix for about 24 years, and he’s as incorruptible as they come. My favorite reason for voting for him is that Felix understands land use issues better than anyone I know, and he’s seeking high quality commercial development of existing commercial areas, the type that will draw customers from the entire Peninsula, not just fast-food consumers from Seaside.

    Here’s a little more I wrote on Seaside’s election: http://mrtoysmentalnotes.blogspot.com/2014/10/ralph-rubios-momentum.html

    By the way, I struggled with Felix’s last name when I first met him, too. To help me remember, I made up a little saying: “I sometimes listen to Offenbach, but I tend to listen to Bachofner.” :-)

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