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The incredible shrinking newsroom(s)

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It wasn’t a good sign a couple weeks back when the Salinas Californian announced it would no longer concern itself with breaking news. The once-proud daily had been reduced to a three-days-a-week schedule, and who wants to read about a Sunday-night fire on Wednesday?

Unfortunately for all involved, it was possible for things to go down even from there. Now that copy editors have been removed from many newsrooms, the growing trend is newsrooms without editors of any sort. For evidence, look no farther than Wednesday’s announcement that the Californian will now join the ranks of newspapers without any editor on site.

Californian Editor Pete Wevurski already had been spread mighty thin, also serving as editor of the Visalia Times-Delta and the closely related Tulare Advance-Register. As you may or may not know, Visalia and Tulare are not within shouting distance of Salinas. They are, however, part of the Gannett chain, which never met a cost it couldn’t cut.

The new arrangement has the Californian, the Times-Delta and the Advance-Register operating under the editorship of Silas Lyons, the longtime editor of Gannett’s Redding Record Searchlight. If your California geography is rusty, all you need to know is that the drive from Salinas to Redding is three times longer than the drive from Salinas to Visalia. And it’s in a different direction.

Lyons is a fine editor, highly capable, and he may prove to be an adequate overseer of three-plus news operations with little  in common. The Gannett public relations team managed to put the best possible spin on it with a news article that presented  him as uniquely qualified for the geographical challenge. It notes that he grew up in North Fork, a scant 60 miles or so from Visalia, and that his first job out of college was as an intern for the Monterey Herald, for which he covered the California Rodeo in Salinas. It did not mention whether he had visited the city since.

In case you’re not catching my drift here, what concerns me is that readers are best served when the journalists serving them know something about the community whose name is in big letters on the front page. Creating clusters of newspapers led by one person off in Timbuktu might appeal to the bean counters at corporate but I’ll challenge all readers of local newspapers to point to a time when doing so led to improved coverage.

I’m not an objective critic of this trend. I was once the editor of the Monterey Herald. That ended three years ago when whoever was in charge decided it would be better if the editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel was to become the Herald editor as well. Given the resource constraints, Don Miller has worn both hats well though some readers complain that the two papers seem too similar on some days. There are some readers who believe Miller has done a better job than I did. I might be able to name each of them and I wouldn’t think of arguing with them.

My regular golf partner chides me when I grouse about the demise of local newspapering, and he’s right to complain. It’s just the way it is and pointing it out probably does no one any good. I guess I go on and on about it because, in a lifetime of local newspapering, I have seen how much good can be accomplished by competent newspapers and how much important, even critical, news is being ignored these days. That’s why the Partisan exists but it is like a minnow swimming against a tsunami. The bad guys like what’s going on with newspapers.

I was discouraged as well this week when my former former employer, the Fresno Bee, announced the layoffs of eight writers and the transfers of a couple of editors. The Bee had not been spared from any of the previous rounds of cuts but there are those who had thought the bottom had been reached. Not yet, apparently. Among the casualties, Donald Munro, the arts writer. He’s the only person who had been covering music, theater, art, etc., in a city of more than half a million.

As usual, the announcements in Fresno and Gannettland made mention of the digital age, not by cursing its role in weakening the printed word but by promising a warmer embrace in the future. In both cases, it was an example of doubletalk that almost suggested that eliminating some journalists amounted to an improvemernt.

Said Lyons: “The newsrooms in Salinas, Visalia and Tulare have incredibly rich histories covering their communities and are extending that local journalism into the digital age.”

Said Bee Publisher Tom Cullinan: “We must remake our newsroom to drive digital readership while at the same time reckoning with budget and expense realities that necessitate a smaller, more focused, nimbler newsroom.”

Good luck, Tom, and good luck, Silas. If you can figure out how to drive digital readership by shrinking your newsrooms, maybe you can also figure out how to stop my paper from landing in a puddle.

So, you ask, what can you do to help reverse the trend, to help the struggling minnow, to help convince publishers to embark on a strategy of improvement rather than degradation? Simply this. When something important to you is approaching, call the newspaper and point it out. And when something important to you isn’t covered, call the publisher and complain. It might not do any good but it certainly can’t make things any worse.

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A former colleague now lives in a sizable city where the daily newspaper became a three-days-a-week paper a couple years ago.“It’s dreadful,” she says. “We still get the printed paper, but so much of it is old news by the time it arrives. It’s a shambles. I hate what has happened to a good newspaper. The community has lost the common voice, and that bodes ill in so many ways.”

Now it’s the Salinas Californian’s turn to go from daily to three days – Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a sad thing, a very sad thing for a paper that launched shortly after the Civil War, but it isn’t the newspaper or even its staff that I worry about. I worry about the community, one that has already lost much of its cohesion because of the newspaper’s slow but steady decline in recent years.

newsWednesday’s announcement had been expected for quite some as circulation tanked like it has at so many papers.

As usual, management at the newspaper felt compelled to search for a positive spin. Editor Pete Wevurski’s column about the changes wasn’t as fatuous as it might have been but the headline was the worst: “You’ll still see all your favorites … and more.”

The “more” promised in the headline apparently is additional commentary provided by you, the readers, on those days when there are enough pages to accommodate anything more than the essentials.

Publisher Paula Goudreau put her true feelings in a box and hid them beneath her desk before writing her column, which told us, “Today I am excited to announce a significant change that is an important step to assuring The Californian will continue to build on its first 144 years for many decades to come.”

“This shift – driven by our consumers and advertisers – enables us to invest in a new way of doing business and better position ourselves for the future. Salinas has evolved into one of California’s youngest markets, and research tells us that a decidedly large portion of that key younger demographic clearly prefers to get their news on mobile devices, rather than print.

“The Californian has recognized the digital opportunity these past few years and has focused on local breaking news and local content that appeals to the changing marketplace in Salinas. Its mobile apps for smart phones and tablets were upgraded early in 2014 and the mobile version of TheCalifornian.com web site is robust. And more improvements related to new kinds of content, video and advertising opportunities on the mobile platform are in development. We’ll be telling you about these in the coming weeks.

“Blah, blah, blah….”

In other words, not to worry. We’re excited to tell you that less is more.

I’m not trying to be mean here or pick on anyone at the Californian. Though it was a key component of the competition while I was at the Monterey Herald, newspaper people love newspapers and other newspaper people. It’s just that I’ve been through my own share of belt-tightening and cutbacks in the industry and I’ve heard too many people at the top of the food chain tell us that the readers would still love us no matter how thin the gruel became.

Fortunately, cutting back on production should not require any cuts to the production staff in Salinas because the paper, for the most part, is edited and put together at a sister paper in Visalia, another outpost in the huge Gannett chain.

My biggest fear now is that some bean counter at corporate will calculate that a three-day-a-week newspaper doesn’t need as many reporters as a daily. One might look at it that way, I suppose, but not after being reminded that most journalism of real value takes longer than a day to produce. In other words, there’s nothing at all wrong if a reporter working on Monday also spends Tuesday working on a story for the Wednesday paper instead of a Twitter blurb about a fender bender.

Goudreau tells us that this is not a cutback, not a retreat, but simply a change in direction, a change in platform, away from the old days of print and toward the exciting new world of digital. That is, of course, exactly what is happening at newspapers everywhere, which promote the concept of instant news on readers’ phones and laptops. Which would be a good thing if it was in addition to what we used to get in print and not a replacement.

The Herald is owned, for now, by a company known as Digital First Media, a name that included the mission statement. Unfortunately, news distributed digitally is not as lucrative as news delivered to your porch, and the company is now for sale.

Fortunately for readers on the Peninsula, Monterey County Weekly has done an excellent job supplementing the news supply as the Herald has trimmed staff and pages. For better or worse, the Weekly also has devoted considerable resources into its Web product, which unavoidably takes resources away from the print product. Still, all in all, the Peninsula is relatively well served by a combination of the Herald, the Weekly and the Pine Cone with an intermittent assist from the Partisan.

The case is not at all similar in Salinas. There isn’t a weekly. There isn’t a Salinas Partisan or, for better or worse, anything resembling the Pine Cone.

The loss of the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday Californian won’t have a dramatic impact immediately. People will get used to not having the paper every day and not knowing as much about civic affairs. The process will be gradual, like the community’s adjustment to the slippage of recent years. For now, perhaps we should take a clue from Goudreau and Wevurski and express some optimism, real or imagined.

Perhaps Gannett will discover that the old way was more profitable.

Perhaps someone will start a good weekly or a Partisan or two will spring up.

Maybe someone with more money than sense will buy the Californian and turn it into what it once was.

Or maybe, just maybe, someone at the paper will read the promises that Goudreau and Wevurski made about commitment to the news and the community and actually try to make good on them.

Wish them luck. Wish us all luck.

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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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happy young girl with a clown noseWhat do you do when your newspaper is going under? Jeff Mitchell and the Salinas Californian want to rewrite the Salinas city charter.

I’m sure it’s not the first time in history that a dying publication has decided to create the news instead of reporting it in some last ditch effort to remain relevant and drive readership. I am referring to Californian columnist Jeff Mitchell’s scheme to convene a “citizen’s task force,” known as the “Californian Charter Task Force,” to  research and draft structural amendments to the city charter that would be submitted to the City Council and the voters for approval.

In his latest column, Mitchell calls for the task force to draft amendments that would make all seven city council members including the mayor full- time politicians with full salary and benefits,  each with his or her own staff. He calls for amendments to change the mayoral term from the current two years to four years and to grant the mayor veto power over council legislation and other unmentioned “executive” powers.

Mitchell says everyone is welcome to apply but the task force will be picked by invitation only, I assume selected by him and the Californian’s editorial board. There’s no mention of qualifications, size, or makeup of the task force. I’m curious who will apply and be accepted. The tinfoil hat crowd? Special interests? Out of work politicos?

Whose idea is this anyway?  I wonder if the task force will meet in secret at the Californian’s offices on Alisal Street? The reporters won’t even need to leave the newsroom.

Are we expected to trust the future of Salinas to the same people who are running a once great newspaper into the ground? The same people who many would argue have failed in their most basic responsibility to provide us with accurate news? The Californian should first get its own house in order, shine light into the dark corners of city hall, bring us investigative journalism, maybe start with some news that we didn’t already know. Advocacy journalism requires the community’s trust and confidence. How much trust and confidence do you have in the Californian?

Mitchell brings up some serious issues regarding the effectiveness and responsiveness of our city government. We all know that something isn’t working at city hall, but what is the exact nature of the problem? (More on that to come.) Here’s where Mitchell takes the train off the tracks. He implies that the reason Salinas government is dysfunctional is that the council members and mayor are not paid a “full-time living salary at sustainable wages.” He claims that changing that will attract Salinas’ best and brightest 20- to 40-somethings into government service. I see the money attracting a different crowd entirely.

As if paying to create professional career politicians isn’t bad enough, he proposes they each have their own staff! I see a perfect storm of cronyism and patronage. A political machine presided over by the mayor as chief executive with veto power over council legislation. Why not crown the mayor king while we’re at it?

Apparently Mitchell is under the impression that the city is flush with cash! We’ve only recently ended Friday furloughs and begun hiring critically needed police officers, firefighters, and other essential staff. We have roads and sidewalks that need to be repaired, buildings in disrepair, and services that must be rebuilt after years of cuts. Mitchell and the Californian would have us take tens of thousands of dollars from our city treasury and give it to the City Council, which in his own words “doesn’t really lead our city.”

A wise man once told me that you don’t get paid until you do the work. The Californian and the council should remember that.

Devin Podeszwa lives in Salinas, works in the flooring industry and advocates for increased community dialogue through social media. He can be reached at devinpodeszwa@gmail.com.

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It should not come as a surprise if some folks from the U.S. Department of Justice tell their bosses later this week that law enforcement issues really aren’t that big of a deal in Salinas. As evidence, they’ll be able to point to mediocre turnout at a “community forum” on the subject scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, at Sherwood Hall.

Why the mediocre turnout? Other big events going on that evening? Aerosmith coming soon? Actually it’s much simpler than that.

We certainly could have missed something, but the only publicity we have seen so far was an announcement posted shortly after 4 p.m. Monday in the Salinas Californian.

The blurb says the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office and an independent assessment team of law enforcement community relations professionals are conducting the assessment with the Salinas Police Department. A key part of this long-term process, it says, is “listening to the community’s perspective on their law enforcement agency.” Representatives from the COPS Office and its technical assistance provider will be present to discuss and answer questions related to the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance process.

The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services developed the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance in 2011 as an independent and objective way to transform a law enforcement agency through an analysis of policies, practices, training, tactics and accountability methods around key issues facing law enforcement today.

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People in Salinas get excited about the littlest things. Strike that. Some people in Salinas get excited about the littlest things.

This week’s buzz is about a Jose, Castaneda, who tried to visit another Jose, Velasco, in jail. The motives of Jose Castaneda, the rogue Salinas City Councilman, remain unclear because his plan was nipped in the bud by an alert jailer and an equally alert patrol officer who fortunately understand the full range of negative outcomes that are possible when unauthorized communication between Joses is allowed to floursh.

The intended recipient of the visit, Velasco, is in jail because he attacked his mother in the middle of a busy North Main Street a little over a week ago. Velasco has been in the news because Salinas police officers attempting to restrain him tased him twice and finally resorted to a series of nightstick blows in order to subdue him after he grabbed a taser away from one officer and wrestled vigorously with others.

A passing motorist managed to get video of the arrest and it has become must see TV. Much of what is going on unfortunately is obscured by the officers themselves but it is clear that Velasco was struck at least 20 times. Some who have viewed the video say it appears that one officer, the one supplying the final several blows, may have gone slightly overboard. While the other officers involved remain on full duty, he has been assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of investigations.

Police Chief Kelly McMillin, while stressing he will reserve judgment until the investigations are completed, also told the Partisan early last week that anyone who believes excessive force was used is “simply wrong.”

Anyway, it seems that Castaneda attempted to visit with Velasco in jail on Thursday, a day when inmates are only supposed to be visited by their lawyers or relatives.

His plot was foiled, a victim of his notoriety. A clerk at the jail recognized him and who wouldn’t? He is the bad boy of Salinas politics, the subject of hours of TV footage of him walking away from reporters, the subject of countless columns by Jeff Mitchell, a Salinas Californian reporter with an apparent fondness for chronicling the misadventures of people who make his job easy by not putting up a defense.

If you were the victim of a crime in Salinas and wanted the Police Department to write up a report about it, you’d likely be told that the line starts over there but not until a week from tomorrow. Yet Castaneda’s trip to the jail was the subject of one of the fastest appearing reports of all time and it was in the columnist’s hands even before the officer’s supervisor could get a chance to sign it. Mitchell would like people to believe that the report came his way because of his sleuthing skills. Not so.

The report presents an interesting account that suggests that officer Ernesto Sanchez might want to consider ghostwriting Mitchell’s column from time to time.He reports that he had gone to the jail on other business but happened to encounter Councilman Castaneda.

“Once I arrived at the lobby of the visitor’s building, I observed a man who I recognized as a councilmember for the city of Salinas, Jose Castaneda …. I saw that he looked at me as I walked into the lobby and he greeted me by looking directly at me and forming a large smile on his face. Since I knew who he was, … I returned the same greeting and nodded my head to him.

“Almost immediately after I returned the greeting to him, I saw that his face changed into what I recognized to be a ‘can you help me?’ look; his eyebrows turned slightly upwards in the middle and he continued to hold a smile much smaller than the original smile … . He did not say anything else to me and I did not say anything else to him either.”

From there, the plot thickens quickly but the prose dries up, so paraphrasing will suffice.

Sanchez reports that he went about his business but a clerk pointed out Castaneda and informed him that Castaneda had tried but failed to get inside by claiming to be a relative of Velasco. Actual relatives of Velasco were there for a visit. Might Castaneda have said he was “with the family”?

Sanchez left the clerk’s name out of the report, apparently for her protection. From whom he does not indicate.

Disaster was averted but one might conclude otherwise listening to other council members. They were all over the TV news this week tsk-tsking about irresponsibility and giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Apparently since Velasco’s family has obtained counsel and there might be a lawsuit, a councilman talking to Velasco would amount to treason.

The Californian columnist said the council is considering censure and it’s about time. Later, Mitchell gleefully reported that the Monterey County grand jury (lower case, JM, and you can look it up) just issued a report highly critical of Castaneda’s behavior and urging the City Council to find a way to force him to either pay a $5,000 fine or force him off the council.

It is true, very true, that Castaneda has been a pain in the council’s collective butt. He doesn’t play by the rules. He doesn’t file required forms, he has scuffles with people, he accomplishes just about nothing of import and he pouts a lot. His city stipend has been garnished because he can’t pay his bills. Castaneda is a troublemaker who brings little to his position except talk. He talks a pretty good game about equality and civil rights, etc., but undercuts himself through inaction. Some will recall that he was simultaneously and illegally serving on both the council and a school board at one time. People who voted for Castaneda made a mistake.

But the rest of the council, and Jimmy Olsen over there at the Californian, are making a mistake by making a big deal out of Castaneda’s attempt to talk to Velasco. Big whoops. But he lied! Maybe, but show me a politician who hasn’t told a fib this week.

If there was any doubt about Castaneda’s record as a councilman, news of the grand jury report would be a big deal, But confirmation of the obvious hardly amounts to groundbreaking stuff. Mitchell writes with disdain about Castaneda’s plan to appear Friday at a rally in support of Velasco, and to appear with the Velasco family’s lawyer. Mitchell is right when he says Castaneda has the right to do so. He’s wrong, though, when he goes on to say that it means Castaneda will be disqualified from participating in the city’s discussions over whatever lawsuit is filed on Velasco’s behalf. Jimmy Olsen seems to be getting his legal advice from someone other than a lawyer.

What is the worst that could have happened if Castaneda had talked to one of his constituents? The councilman isn’t likely to know anything about the Velasco arrest that everyone doesn’t already know. Some of Velasco’s thinking might slip out of his cell? Castaneda may say something that contradicts the official city line as though countless politicians in countless cities haven’t strayed from majority think without catastrophic result.

My chief concern here is simply this. I question the wisdom of having a police report prepared on such a minor event and I question the judgment of those who thought it should be leaked to a columnist who is obsessed with Castaneda. The police report filed by Sanchez says right at the top that no crime had been committed. Where does a report like this get stored? The political intelligence file? Does the Police Department think it makes itself look better by linking Velasco to Castaneda.

So now the council is inching closer to stepping up and issuing a censure. My dictionary describes that as a meaningless act that diverts attention from more important things.

There’s nothing the City Council can do to change Castaneda’s behavior. Most of the council members have already had plenty of TV time and the opportunity to demonstrate just how statesmanlike they are in contrast to their colleague. They would be doing the city, and Castaneda’s constituents, much more good by finding and encouraging a good candidate or two to run against him, but that’s a lot harder than going on camera and shaking one’s head.

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77693_1772679833796_1143286226_32009704_5495859_o_400x400Sometimes I grudgingly admire reporter/columnist Jeff Mitchell’s work in the Salinas Californian. I don’t like his style but he gets people talking and sometimes he keeps pushing after other reporters have given up. But he flunked out of columnist school with this about the controversial baton-aided arrest of assault suspect Jose Velasco.

“You have to ask yourself though what would have happened if the police ignored the call and let Velasco—who later told officers he had been smoking methamphetamine and drinking alcohol right before the incident—kill his mother or cause other harm to motorists and pedestrians—or himself, for that matter? How would we all be reacting to that today?”

In other words, whatever it was they did out there on North Main Street was better than simply not showing up. Who can argue with that? Imagine all the questions we’d have if  the police had blown it off? How might we all be reacting today if the cops had just driven by the crime scene and flashed gang signs, or if they had all gone home and mowed their lawns instead of making the arrest. I, for one, would be outraged, dammit!

Help me out here. There’s probably a name for Jeff’s form of illogical comparison. Someone who majored in rhetoric or philosophy probably knows it. False equivalence? Hypothetical disconnect? Columnar absurdum? That’s probably not it.

Until I read Jeff’s column, I was doing some research into a politician who may have taken a bribe. I’m not going to bother with it now because, following Jeff’s thinking, at least the politician didn’t do something a lot worse like beat up his mother or something.

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Changes ahead daily newspaper headlineCity council members in the Southern California city of Carson are considering cancellation of the city’s subscriptions to a local newspaper and inviting city residents to boycott the paper. According to a councilman leading the effort, the Daily Breeze newspaper “over-reports the negatives and under-reports the positives.”

The approach is a mistake. City officials should be thanking the Daily Breeze for covering things in Carson, even if the paper doesn’t always get it right. It should be encouraging people in the city to subscribe to and advertise in the Daily Breeze, and any other publication that even occasionally sends a reporter to sit in on a City Council meeting.

Perhaps the Carson City Council hasn’t noticed that newspapers are having a tough time. Most papers are so understaffed that they seldom cover city council meetings in their own cities these days and are much less likely to cover a meeting in a suburb. The Daily Breeze was once known as the Torrance Daily Breeze and at one time it did a bang-up job covering Torrance. Nowadays, not so much. Other cities in the area, really not so much.

The Daily Breeze recently published a fairly detailed account of political maneuvering in nearby Carson, something that Editor Mike Anastasi says might have had something to do with the unrest within council chambers. But while the editor insists otherwise, Carson receives little day-to-day coverage from the Daily Breeze and much of it is crime news. Worse, council members said, the paper is quick to report that a crime occurred in Carson when it was actually outside the city.

City officials have some valid gripes. Just about anyone who deals with a newspaper more than occasionally has some valid gripes. They are imperfect enterprises. But the Carson City Council, and even more so the people of Carson, should consider themselves fortunate that a newspaper of any sort pays them any attention at all. Most small-city governments receive almost no coverage, so there is less and less likelihood that anyone will notice when the mayor does something stupid, the council makes a giant mistake or the city manager uses his city credit card to buy a set of golf clubs.

Carson isn’t far from the city of Bell, home to one of the messiest and juiciest municipal corruption cases of the past decade. The city manager was slipping himself taxpayer money at every opportunity and the City Council members didn’t care because he was taking care of them as well. It was a situation that would not have occurred, could not have occurred, 20 years ago when the Los Angeles Times semi-regularly attended Bell Council meetings and routinely scrutinized the city budget. By the time the city manager’s greed got the best of him, no news outlets of any sort were covering much of anything in Bell.

Carson officials have every right to be upset with the Daily Breeze if the newspaper has been sloppy about pinpointing crime scenes or generally badmouthing the city. The way to fix that is to make a few phone calls. Not a big deal. But inviting the paper to stay away, canceling subscriptions and urging advertisers to go elsewhere, isn’t going to make anything better and it almost assuredly will make things worse. My advice to the council is to invite Daily Breeze reporters in to talk, to cover meetings, to take a tour of the city, even to do an expose’ on whatever issues ail Carson. True, the council members might bring unwanted attention to themselves, but their job is to serve their cities and their constituents. The people of Carson are not served by being ignored.

Many Partisan readers have probably also seen references to troubles in the daily newspaper scene locally  in the past couple of weeks, and some have responded much like the Carson folks, negatively.

It came out last week that reporters and others at the Salinas Californian are having to reapply for their jobs, under different job titles, and that they’re likely to be playing a game of musical chairs, journalism style. There won’t be quite as many jobs as there are applicants.

Also flirting with death spiral status, Monterey Herald Publisher Gary Omernick told his staff Tuesday night that another round of layoffs approaches. First word was one or two people. According to an account in the Californian, the layoffs could come from any of four departments, not all from the newsroom. The publisher said the paper wasn’t making its financial goals. It has been widely reported that the Herald is for sale, along with the Daily Breeze and some 70 other papers in the Digital First Media group. Boosting the bottom line, through layoffs or other means, could boost the sales price

One potential buyer, of course, is the giant Gannett newspaper chain, which owns the Californian. There are better options. Much, much better, but cancelling your subscription won’t do anything to advance them.

There also has been talk of Google buying the newspapers, which certainly seems odd at first glance in that the rise of the Internet has played a significant role in the decline of newspapers. Google executives have said they don’t want to see newspapers dry up and blow away because most of the news you see when you sign onto a Google page comes from newspapers. Without newspapers, where does Google get news items for your edification and amusement? From City Hall press releases?

Hardly a day goes by that some Partisan reader doesn’t mentioned cancelling a Herald subscription. One reader commented on one of my Facebook postings that she gets all the news she needs from free sources. Because I formerly worked at the Herald and left without a parade, some people seem to think I like hearing these things. Not at all.

In fact, I hate hearing about cancelled subscription and newspaper boycotts I am glad that readers care enough about newspapers and local news to get angry when they feel they are not being served properly, but I urge Monterey County residents, and Carson residents, to cling to their subscriptions as long as possible, or to pop a few quarters into the machine from time to time. (Now if the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents Herald employees, calls for a boycott in response to the new layoffs, my tune will change.)

I have worked for newspapers all my adult life, so I undoubtedly have an inflated view of their value, but I’ll share it with you anyway. A community of any size isn’t really a community unless it has a newspaper, be it printed or digitized. Many folks know I like the Carmel Pine Cone about as much as I like Dick Cheney, but I will freely admit that the Pine Cone makes Carmel a better place and provides the community with a common language, even if they use it to argue.

Many if not most newspapers are shells of what they once were, but I would much rather see continued support while people in the news biz search for salvation in the form of a new business model or even some miracle. As newspapers go, the Herald is rather expensive, but most of you reading this can afford the price. What you can’t afford is letting City Hall, whether in Monterey, Salinas or Carson, decide what you need to know about what is going on in City Hall. What you can’t afford is letting Cal Am just go about its business without anyone paying attention except Ron Weitzman, George Riley and the Partisan.

Renewing your subscription is not the same as signaling satisfaction with the downsized product you’re receiving today. Renewing your subscription is a way to signal your hope for a better product, and for stronger coverage, as soon as someone figures out how to bring it about.

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Young man hiding in his jumperWhere to start?

It is a familiar feeling for most people who follow politics closely. Watching the numbers dribble in on election night, seeing a few pleasing results and then being blown away by that one decision that makes no sense at all, that makes you question the rationality and intelligence of slightly more than a majority of everyone in your community.

(New numbers expected at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Latest local results here)

I’m not talking about Howard Gustafson’s apparent re-election to the Marina Coast Water District board. I expected that one. He’s been around so long that people in that small district vote for him out of habit. Bad habit. The remarkable thing this time around is that he managed to get the endorsement of my former employer, the Monterey Herald. It is my sincere hope that some of the brighter lights in the community are letting the current Herald leadership know how wrong-headed that was.

I’m not talking about Alvin Edwards’ apparent defeat in Seaside. Excusing him from the City Council makes no sense except there is a good side, the apparent victory of Jason Campbell. Jason has a little to learn about diplomacy, but he will be a great councilman who will be of particular importance as the powers that be try to get the council to rubber stamp the ill-conceived Monterey Downs horse track development.

And I’m not talking about what happened in Monterey, where a relatively unknown and untested progressive, Timothy Barrett, apparently has displaced a known and tested progressive, Councilwoman Nancy Selfridge.

Not talking about the national results. Mitch McConnell will be his own undoing. National politics are a hopeless mess and will be until a new Supreme Court rules that passing money around in expensive briefcases does not constitute free speech.

No, not those results. I’m talking, of course, about what looks to be the outcome of the sheriff’s race, in which the experienced professional incumbent, Scott Miller, may have lost to the inexperienced, ethically challenged GOP front man, Steve Bernal. Enough absentee ballots remain uncounted to possibly turn this one around, but it’s not looking good at the moment.

As my colleague Larry Parsons tweeted earlier, the candidates at the end made this all about the media. The Bernal people say the media were out to get the young deputy, so much so that reporters were turned away from Bernal’s election night party. Miller says the media failed to focus on Bernal’s lack of qualifications and his deceptive and negative campaigning. As with many things political, there are grains of truth to both versions but this stunner wasn’t about the media.

Now that I am no longer toiling in the trenches of daily journalism, I have a different take on the definition of “the media,” but Bernal and Miller were talking about different arms of the octopus. Yes, the understaffed Herald and the Salinas Californian were highly reluctant to challenge the distortions offered up by Bernal’s handlers, Brandon Gesicki et al. Simple he said/she said journalism is easier and it plays into the hands of a campaign that decides to go with the big lie technique, a Gesicki specialty. But the Monterey County Weekly never fell for Gesicki’s schtick and this loud but undersized platform, the Partisan, was not at all shy about focusing on Bernal’s pathetic resume’ and Gesicki’s devotion to deception. KSBW did its part by reporting on Bernal losing his car to repossession during the primary campaign and losing his house to foreclosure, neither of which demonstrate enough financial prowess to help him understand how to hold a budget right-side up.

The winning strategy consisted largely of harping on the legal troubles of Miller’s son and manipulating the deputies’ union, the Deputy Sheriffs Association, into endorsing Bernal. I’m not enough of a social scientist to understand why so many sons and daughters of sheriffs and police chiefs get into trouble the way Miller’s son did. Fair game to a degree. But the Bernal/Gesicki crew managed to convince quite a few voters that Miller had countenanced the young man’s drug use and sales. The evidence of that? Not a shred. But when you say something enough times, some folks are prone to see things that aren’t there.

The Gesicki gang turned the DSA against Miller by having Bernal promise things he can’t deliver, like free lunches and veto power over deputy scheduling. The campaign also took advantage of a cultural rift between Miller and the deputies. In an era of increasing militarization of law enforcement agencies, Miller isn’t a typical gung-ho, grrr, grunt kind of sheriff. He’s a relative sophisticate, someone who grew up in Pacific Grove, went to college, learned to speak Spanish. He doesn’t wear a cowboy hat, doesn’t hunt, doesn’t go four-wheeling with the boys every weekend.

In Bernal, the younger deputies see themselves, and I suspect that many of them see the next four years as time to let it all hang out. That is not a good thing. Bernal said during his campaign that he would eliminate internal affairs investigations except in cases of likely criminal wrongdoing. What about cases of incompetence or dereliction of duty? What about sexist or racist behavior? Don’t sweat it boys, the boss has your back.

Another factor that hasn’t been discussed is that leadership of the DSA sees personal opportunities in a Bernal regime. Change at the top usually means considerable change  in the upper reaches of the department. Quite a few higher-ranking employees loyal to Miller will pull the plug on their careers, opening promotional spots for a like number of Bernal cronies. Judging from my email, the jockeying and backstabbing began on Election Night.

The media may be partly to blame for all this, but there is plenty of blame to go around. The starting point is the Republican Party as operated locally by chairman Peter Newman. This entity is so hell-bent on keeping score of the number of elected Republicans that it cynically and selfishly created Bernal as a candidate and helped finance his shameless campaign. Newman tried to get Miller to change his registration from independent to Republican, promising to support no one else if he did so. When Miller declined, Newman helped create Bernal and even supported other challengers in the primary last spring.

In other words, Newman and pals are not concerned that an extremely important public-safety agency populated by heavily armed men and women could soon be managed by a fellow who has never been a manager, a deputy who apparently couldn’t pass the sergeants’ test.

Among the passengers on Newman’s wrong-way bus are former Carmel city officials Sue McCloud and Paula Hazdovac, Republicans both, who endorsed Bernal but not because they know anything about sheriffs. I believe they were getting back at Miller’s wife, Jane, who beat Carmel City Hall in a sexual harassment case after her time as the city’s personnel director. (Former Councilman Gerard Rose was on that bus as well but I understand he got off at an early stop.)

Where were the judges and prosecutors on this one? In order to do their jobs, prosecutors need good police work. Individually, they praise Miller highly for his work within the Sheriff’s Department and previously at the Pacific Grove and Salinas police departments, saying his investigators consistently presented quality work enabling them to convict the bad guys. Bernal’s never even been a detective and hasn’t trained anyone to do anything. Why weren’t the prosecutors making commercials for Miller? Monterey County DA Dean Flippo was at Miller’s gathering Tuesday night. He told others that he can’t make endorsements in such a race because he has to work with the winner no matter who that is. The problem is that the public also has to work with the winner, no matter who that is.

How about the county supervisors, who deal with the Sheriff’s Department daily and are often left to clean up its messes. Jane Parker went with Miller but the others chickened out. Supervisor and dairyman Lou Calcagno, who is about to leave office, said he didn’t want to take sides because he had bought hay from Bernal’s family. Let me repeat that. Supervisor and dairyman Lou Calcagno, who is about to leave office, said he didn’t want to take sides because he had bought hay from Bernal’s family. Maybe they gave him a great deal or some great hay.

Supervisors Dave Potter, Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas were silent, too, even though I don’t think they bought any hay. One explanation is that their lists of campaign contributions line up closely with Bernal’s list.

Another Bernal accomplice is the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and its political tentacles. It didn’t endorse Miller because Gesicki told chamber officials privately that Miller would soon be charged with a crime of some sort. That’s how he works and the chamber should have known that.

Finally, some of the blame has to go to Miller, not for his work as sheriff but for his decision to essentially run his own campaign. Gesicki is one of the least principled campaign managers I have dealt with in my 40 years in journalism, but that’s what he does for a living. He has run many campaigns, a couple successfully, and he understands spin and deception as well as anyone. The GOP brought in enough money to bring in an equally ruthless group of mercenaries to work with him.

Miller, meanwhile, made an early mistake by naming an ex-DEA agent as his campaign spokesman without realizing said spokesman had made some very politically incorrect statements in the past. After they parted ways, Miller was a staff of one. While he has been a good sheriff, and a fair poker player, he is not a campaign professional. He produced relatively little campaign literature and depended on overworked reporters to pierce Bernal’s messaging. You can see how that worked out.

The bright side, if there is one, is that maybe Bernal learned something from the campaign and will realize that the people he puts around him are exceedingly important. It is my fervent hope that none of them will be anything like Gesicki but perhaps he will attempt to reward competence over loyalty. Mary Duan, editor of the Weekly, dubbed Gustafson and the Marina Coast Water District board as the “Insane Clown Posse.” Here’s hoping that the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t become even more worthy of the name.

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医療スタッフTensions will remain high at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital until the directors understand the role of the unions and recognize that hospital employees are already contributing as much as the board and the CEO.

As expressed in a recent column by board Chairman Harry Wardwell, the leadership seems surprised that the union isn’t simply acquiescing to a plan to lay off as many as 120 people, including 54 registered nurses. They seem surprised even though the CEO, Pete Delgado, received a $177,000 raise just two months ago.

“Unfortunately, the unions representing some of the employees at SVMHS are using this time of difficult decisions to criticize the administration rather than helping to be a part of the solution,” Wardwell wrote in the Salinas Californian.

“It is my hope that everyone will work together to determine the best way forward. It is in the best interest of Salinas Valley Memorial, and it is in the best interest of our community.”

Wardwell can hope all he wants but it won’t lead anywhere until he understands the situation from the perspective of the employees and the unions. Of course the employees want what is best for the hospital, the community and the patients. That’s because it’s the right thing and because that’s in their best interest. Every day, most of the employees go above and beyond on behalf of the patients. But they cannot be expected to meekly let the administration put all the budget-cutting burden on their backs, something that has happened year after year.

Of course the employees and the unions resent Delgado’s raise, especially coming right before another round of painful belt tightening. Of course the unions are complaining. Their job is to protect the employees, not to help undo years of bad management and reckless spending. To suggest that the employees are letting down the hospital and the community is another example of tone deafness at the top.

The story of the previous CEO, Sam Downing, is well known. He left the hospital in shaky financial shape but retired with a $150,000 annual pension and a special supplemental pension fund of $3.9 million. The hospital board repeatedly denied the existence of that fund, which only came to light because of a Los Angeles Times investigation. Were Downing’s pension and other perks in the best interest of the hospital and the community?

Now, the hospital is following the lead of thousands of short-sighted corporations that manage to meet annual profit goals principally by cutting employees and expenses. The top executives receive raises or generous bonuses merely by eliminating people, which is considerably easier than finding ways to increase revenues by improving or expanding services. The hospital, like so many comatose corporations, could be setting itself on a course of declining expectations and results.

At the same time, the hospital also plans to convert most of its patient rooms from doubles to singles, which would reduce patient load and allow staff cuts while enabling the facility to charge higher room rates.

One special problem for Salinas Valley is that many of its part time nurses receive full-time benefits, a function of the time not long ago when hospitals were having a hard time finding nurses. The administration proposes to end that by converting most of the part-time jobs to full time. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as their union has a real say in how it works.

The economy, the advent of the Affordable Care Act and numerous other factors make these tough times for the hospital industry. Wardwell, Delgado and everyone else at Salinas Valley face large challenges. It very likely is true that downsizing is necessary because of the economic realities. If so, the administration should focus on making the process as painless as possible, starting with the recognition that the employees and the union should be partners in the process. To marginalize them or cast them as villains is not in the best interests of the hospital or the community.

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A Town Without a Newspaper Wouldn’t Be Much of a Town

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The NewsThis weekend the Monterey Herald moves into new, smaller quarters along Garden Road near the airport, which means quite a few things depending on one’s perspective. For me, it means that none of the newsrooms in which I toiled over the past four decades will continue to exist except in my faulty memory.

First to go was the old Chico Enterprise-Record, aka the Enterprise-Wretched, an institution in a lovely downtown until the business, for that’s what it was, was moved closer to the freeway to make distribution easier. The old building is now a Salvation Army store. My old desk sat in what is now the women’s clothing section.

Next was the Journal-Gazette in, of all places, Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a wonderful newspaper, locally owned, a champion of progressive values in a state that had other things on its mind. The newsroom was later moved to a space next door to a paper with opposite leanings. The circulation of both has plummeted.

Then it was back to the West and the venerable Fresno Bee. Unfortunately I missed the years in the grand old downtown building that is now an art museum. My 19 years were spent in a large box in a redevelopment zone. By the freeway, of course. The building is still there but the newsroom later moved into a much larger space for reasons that now must seem mysterious.

Like everyone in Fresno, I had always dreamt of an escape to the coast. For me, that meant the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The newspaper was downtown, where newspapers should be. The newsroom was upstairs. Because of earthquakes, the floor was a suspended affair meaning it bounced up and down whenever the largest photographer walked in the room. The Sentinel now resides in rented space in, of all places, Scotts Valley, and the newsroom has been downsized even more since the move.

And finally, the Herald. Again I missed the relatively grand old downtown building. My 13 years were spent on the fringe of Monterey, in Ryan Ranch, in a modernish building that, by the time I left, had a very leaky roof, no air conditioning and some inoperable plumbing. Surely CSU-Monterey Bay will improve things before it moves students in. The new Herald newsroom will be in the old Community TV building. I have not seen it but I’m told it is about a quarter the size of the one that produces its final scoop today.

A historic Herald photo marking Larry Parsons' final day at the paper. He's the handsome one in the back row, goatee and cap.

A historic Herald photo marking reporter Larry Parsons’ final day at the paper on Friday. He’s the handsome one in the back row, goatee and cap. People, especially those over 50, tell me all the time that they don’t like to get their news from the Internet, that they like holding a newspaper in their hands. Usually they show me what they mean by pretending to hold a newspaper. I get it. That’s the way I like it, too. But the format, the method of delivery, means less to me than the news itself, which I miss even more than I miss the old newsrooms.

The shrinkage of the industry should alarm all of us. If you worry about what the government is up to, if you want to understand your region’s issues, if you want to feel any sense of community, you must have a source of local news and information. It scares me to think about what could happen in Salinas, where the Californian could go the way of my old newsrooms.

Fortunately for the Peninsula we have the Monterey County Weekly, once the alternative paper and increasingly now a main if not the main source of information on government and politics in the area. I give it credit but not too much because I know it could do more. When I came to Monterey, the Herald news staff was at least three times as large as the Weekly’s. Today, I believe they are roughly equal. I’ve seen the ad volume in the Weekly. I suspect the budget would accommodate some real growth in staffing and enterprise.

Fortunately KSBW is a relatively strong provider of local information even though it hasn’t produced any semblance of investigative reporting since Dan Green had a full head of hair. (Check out this website for more information on the former KSBW anchor who describes herself as the station’s former investigative reporter). It does a fine job of covering community events. Those are easy to cover. Wading into some tougher issues would do the station and the community some real good.

As for the Herald, I suppose the only hope for a revival is new ownership, which certainly is a possibility if the hedge fund that holds the purse strings ever gets around to letting go. All we can do is hope. In the meantime, though, I encourage the community to support the Herald. I’m irritated, too, by the size of the Monday paper, but I continue to read it and to subscribe because I can’t imagine a city the size of Monterey, a region the size of the Peninsula, without a daily newspaper, even if it is produced in someone’s living room.

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City Hall columnist Jeff Mitchell over at the Salinas Californian is the only reporter type I’ve known who takes pictures of his awards and posts them on Facebook, or anywhere else. If he’d like, I’d be glad to make a printout of this column and turn it into another award for him. Call it the “Monterey Bay Partisan Award for Journalism that Blows Up in the Journalist’s Face.”

It’s a small story but worth telling just because, well, because it is so small.

Mitchell wrote in his Californian column  Monday that Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane has proved his unworthiness for public office for posting a Facebook photo that shows him and four other men in a vehicle. One of the men is in the back seat and he’s holding a can of Coors Light beer. Mitchell concludes based on nothing at all that it’s an open container and he reports that his buddies in law enforcement tell him it’s a crime to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Where Mitchell goes astray is figuring that the can is open. No way to tell. He also concludes absent any facts that the vehicle is mobile. And he also forgets about that part of California law that makes it OK to have an open container in a bus, limo or taxi. Looks like a taxi from my vantage point.

The cool thing about the column is that Mitchell can use the same headline, ” McShane Post Shows Questionable Judgment,” on the retraction.

In fairness to Mitchell, he does do some good work at times. He did some important digging on financial abuses at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. But he lacks a sense of proportion. A can of Coors is not a hospital administrator’s secret pension.

McShane, like Mitchell, also gets it wrong sometimes. He’s young and he acts like it. It wasn’t smart to put the photo on Facebook because it does seem to sanction drinking and riding, at least at rodeo time. But does it rise to “Once again Councilman Steve McShane has proven he has no business being in local politics?” The Partisan thinks not.

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4:40 p.m. Update: District Attorney’s Office says Alvarado had attempted to set curtains on fire at his family home and would not comply with police direction when at least two officers arrived. When told to put his hands in the air, the DA’s Office said, he instead went at the officers with a cell phone in his hand and was shot. DA’s Office said it did not know whether a Taser or other device had been used.

Update: Monterey campaign manager and public relations specialist Spencer Critchley says in comments below that the no comments from the officials do not reflect a no-comment position. It’s just that they can’t comment. Critchley is the acting public information officer for the Salinas Police Department.

Text of original piece:

If Salinas police had arrested Frank Alvarado early Thursday, they would have been required to provide some details, starting with why he had been arrested. State law mandates the release of some basic information in order to prevent what would amount to secret arrests.

But since Alvarado was killed, state law apparently doesn’t require the Police Department to say much of anything about it. Salinas police and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office essentially have revealed nothing about what led to the 5 a.m. shooting on the east side of Salinas.

So what we have here amounts to an almost secret killing.

The District Attorney’s Office will now conduct an investigation. It will interview the officers involved and any witnesses. It will look at photos from the scene of the shooting, examine bullet casings, examine Alvarado’s criminal record, wait several weeks for results of toxicology testing, and then make an announcement.

Unless DA investigators determine that the officers acted criminally, all the public is likely to hear about the outcome is that charges will not be filed. Then the Police Department will announce some time later that no department policies had been violated.

Details? The whats and whys of what actually happened? They may never be made public. If the investigations support the officers’ actions, officialdom may find it necessary for the sake of argument to say what Alvarado did to prompt the shooting, but if any contrary evidence exists, we’re not likely to hear about it.

It is easy to understand why the authorities would want to keep the information under wraps. This was the fourth case this year of Salinas police fatally shooting someone, and the most recent previous case prompted considerable protest after a video went viral showing officers shooting a man who may or may not have been threatening them with pruning shears.

The authorities don’t want more protest marches, more angry neighborhood meetings. But there is some reason to suspect that this official silent treatment could backfire. The public, and especially Alvarado’s family, will want answers. The authorities, after formally adopting a no comment posture, could find themselves locked into that posture, no matter how awkward it becomes. Anyone thinking the public reaction would be “oh well, that’s the way it goes” ought to think again.

This is not to suggest the police did anything wrong. Alvarado was a parolee with a history of violence. But the police don’t answer just to themselves or the District Attorney’s Office. They answer to the public. This “no comment” position isn’t acceptable.

Salinas police officials have said they are working to regain the community’s trust. They are going about it entirely the wrong way.

A reporter for the Salinas Californian tweeted this morning that DA Dean Flippo “may” have more to say later today. Go for it, Dean. You’d be doing the community and probably even the Police Department a favor.

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