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Sometimes even the Partisan isn’t exactly sure what to make of things. For instance, the city of Salinas’ announcement Tuesday that it will sue President Trump in an attempt to stop him from withholding federal dollars from sanctuary cities. Bold and brave stroke? Symbolic gesture? Attempt to divert attention from the city’s failure to give itself sanctuary status? Who knows? But our uncertainty doesn’t stop us from providing at least some elaboration, so here is the city’s news release on the topic:

City of Salinas to Sue Administration Over Sanctuary Cities Executive Order
Salinas, CA — The Salinas City Council today voted to take action in federal court against President Trump and the executive branch to prevent their implementation of the executive order against sanctuary cities.

The vote, taken in closed session to direct the City Attorney to initiate legal action, was unanimous. (Councilman Steve McShane was away on his honeymoon, however.)

At a press conference following the vote, City Attorney Chris Callihan explained the reason for the suit:

“It is my opinion that any attempt by the federal government to withhold federal funding from Salinas should it become a sanctuary city would be an unconstitutional act. Certainly, the federal government would disagree with that, which would likely result in the City losing federal funding while the City fought to protect itself and its residents, who have come to rely on that funding for essential programs, including programs for street and road repairs and firefighter positions. If the funding is lost, those programs are lost and all of Salinas’s residents end up suffering.

“Some Salinans and City Council members supported the idea of declaring Salinas a sanctuary city. I understand their position, but legally it would have no real effect in terms of protecting anyone in the community from the enforcement of federal immigration law by the federal government. The resolution would not prevent ICE, for example, from coming into Salinas and enforcing federal immigration law.

“The City Council has unanimously directed me to take action in federal court against the President and against the executive branch to prevent their implementation of the executive order against sanctuary cities.

“That is why we are taking direct action to protect the City of Salinas and all other cities from the unconstitutional acts of the President and his executive branch.

“Over the next few weeks we will prepare the appropriate papers and have them filed in the United States Federal District Court in San Jose. Salinas will lead the region on this issue and will stand up for all its residents. Salinas will join other cities and counties taking a stand on behalf of their residents, including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara County.

“This will be a significant undertaking for the City of Salinas and for my office, but it is one that we think is critical for the safety and the security of Salinas and all its residents.”

Mayor Joe Gunter also spoke at the press conference. Full remarks as prepared for delivery by the Mayor and the City Attorney follow.

Remarks by City Attorney Chris Callihan

Thank you all for coming. To my knowledge, this is the first time the Salinas City Attorney’s Office has called a press conference, so that should give you some indication that this is a matter of some significance for the City.

Before I get started, I want to be sure to acknowledge Mayor Joe Gunter and City Manager Ray Corpuz. Everything we do at the City of Salinas is a team effort and I want to be sure to thank everyone their support. We have a solid team of leaders at the City of Salinas and today is a major expression of that leadership.

For several weeks now we have been discussing and debating the issue of sanctuary cities and the City of Salinas’s status as a sanctuary city. Most recently, the City Council considered the issue and heard from members of the public concerning the issue.

As you all know, the City Council-by a 4 to 3 vote-decided not to approve a Resolution that would have made Salinas a sanctuary city. That decision was not made lightly and occurred in the context of a concern over the risk that the City would lose federal funding, which amounts to an average of approximately $10 million per year. While we ultimately do not know what the federal government will do in response to sanctuary cities, the rhetoric has been clear and the executive order is clear.

As I indicated during the City Council’s discussion and consideration of the proposed Resolution, it is my opinion that any attempt by the federal government to withhold federal funding from Salinas should it become a sanctuary city would be an unconstitutional act. Certainly, the federal government would disagree with that, which would likely result in the City losing federal funding while the City fought to protect itself and its residents, who have come to rely on that funding for essential programs, including programs for street and road repairs and firefighter positions. If the funding is lost, those programs are lost and all of Salinas’s residents end up suffering.

Some Salinans and City Council members supported the idea of declaring Salinas a sanctuary city. I understand their position, but legally it would have no real effect in terms of protecting anyone in the community from the enforcement of federal immigration law by the federal government. The resolution would not prevent ICE, for example, from coming into Salinas and enforcing federal immigration law.

The City Council has directed me to take more substantial and meaningful action to protect not only the City’s federal funding, but to protect all the City’s residents.

The City Council has unanimously directed me to take action in federal court against the President and against the executive branch to prevent their implementation of the executive order against sanctuary cities.

That is why we are taking direct action to protect the City of Salinas and all other cities from the unconstitutional acts of the President and his executive branch.

Over the next few weeks we will prepare the appropriate papers and have them filed in the United States Federal District Court in San Jose. Salinas will lead the region on this issue and will stand up for all its residents. Salinas will join other cities and counties taking a stand on behalf of their residents, including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara County.

This will be a significant undertaking for the City of Salinas and for my office, but it is one that we think is critical for the safety and the security of Salinas and all its residents.

I am proud to be standing alongside the City Council and the City Manager as we take this next step for the City of Salinas.

Before we open up for questions, I will turn over the podium to Mayor Gunter who has a few things to say on behalf of the City Council.

Remarks by Mayor Joe Gunter

Thank you everyone for attending.

As the City Attorney has said, the City Council has directed him and his team to take action in federal court against the President and his executive branch to protect the City of Salinas and its residents and its families.

The City Council did not take this issue lightly. There was a lot of discussion about the matter and the significance of this act.

And there has been a lot of discussion across the community about sanctuary cities. I understand and respect the opinion and depth of feeling of those who believe Salinas should declare sanctuary city status. And I share the desire to show our hard-working, law-abiding immigrant population that we support and value them. But in my opinion, approving a resolution declaring the City a sanctuary city would have only symbolic value… It would do nothing to protect the City’s residents or keep families together.

Directing the City Attorney to take legal action to protect the City’s right to be a sanctuary city and not risk its federal funding is more than symbolic. And it is supported by all of the City Council members. Councilmember McShane was unable to participate in the discussion because he is off on his honeymoon, but I know he was in support of this act and is standing by his colleagues on the City Council in taking it.

By this act, the City is seeking to protect not only the tens of millions of dollars in federal funding the City receives each year, but also to protect all its residents, regardless of their immigration status.

Salinas, like most of Monterey County, is dependent on the agricultural economy. That economy is supported by immigrant workers who may or may not be in this country legally. The City should not get into the middle of that discussion, since that is a matter for the federal government to handle. If those hard-working families are ripped apart and deported, not only will they suffer, but the local economy will suffer – all of us will suffer.

Three times now the City Council has requested the federal government take action to implement comprehensive immigration reform. We continue to believe that a hard look at this problem needs to be taken and long-term solutions to the immigration problem need to be determined. Anything short of that will not solve the problem.

The City of Salinas is and has been the regional leader in Monterey County and this is another example of the City of Salinas and the City Council stepping up and showing the City’s residents, and all of Monterey County, that Salinas will take action and will lead… lead to protect Salinas’ residents and Salinas’ families and Salinas’ funding and the economy that supports all of Monterey County.

Thank you.

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In the good old days, pre-2017, designating a city a sanctuary city was a largely symbolic act, partly because U.S. commerce exploits illegal immigration and partly because the meaning isn’t as precise as it might be. In general, it means that local law enforcement in that jurisdiction won’t arrest undocumented residents merely for being undocumented and won’t help immigration officials go looking for targets. Many law enforcement agencies support the designation because they know that undocumented crime victims are reluctant to report crimes for fear of deportation and that crime witnesses who happen to be undocumented are reluctant to cooperate for the same reason.

Sanctuary status also generally means that the jurisdictions’ law enforcement agencies, or their jails, won’t automatically notify federal immigration officials when an undocumented resident is being released from custody. In cases of clearly dangerous inmates, however, local authorities often find ways to tip off the feds regardless of City Council resolutions to the contrary.

Things are changing, perhaps with remarkable speed, now that Donald Trump is in office. Sometime soon, federal immigration authorities will likely step up their efforts to track down people who are in this country illegally. Trump has signaled that local law enforcement agencies will be encouraged, or even required, to participate in the round-up. Those that don’t join in stand to lose some of their federal funding – assuming the Trump administration can actually figure out how to accomplish such a thing.

Which brings us to Salinas, where the City Council is scheduled Tuesday night to meet behind closed doors to discuss whether it should reconsider its recent vote to reject sanctuary status for their heavily Latino municipality.

The sanctuary city designation was voted down by a 4-3 count, with the majority arguing that they didn’t want to risk having the city lose federal grants – even at the risk of essentially outlawing a large slice of the city’s population. The president has threatened to withdraw federal funding for sanctuary cities. In California alone, there are about 40 sanctuary of them, and at last count, 46 of the 58 California counties had adopted sanctuary status, including Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

I won’t get too worked up here about the closed-door part, at least not yet. The discussion is scheduled for executive session under the guise that it pertains to potential litigation. I suspect that someone in power will realize before the Tuesday session that the real reason to shut the public out of the discussion has to do with the political sensitivity of the subject, which makes the backroom nature of the discussion  illegal.

(The discussion was scheduled at the request of Councilman Tony Villegas, one of four council members who voted against sanctuary status, which was beaten back by a 4-3 vote. Because the council action upset a large share of the community, Villegas has called for a revote, which creates issues of parliamentary procedure. City officials say what to do next needs to be hashed out in private to avoid embarrassing anyone. As reasons go, that’s one of the worst.)

Voting for sanctuary city status were Tony Barrera, Gloria De La Rosa and council newcomer Scott Davis. Davis’ position is highly significant considering that he is a Monterey County sheriff’s deputy who, as a leader of the deputy sheriff’s union, provided heavy support for Sheriff Steve Bernal’s election campaign. Bernal announced early in his term that he would cooperate with federal immigration officials whenever possible.

Davis not only supported the sanctuary city motion; he made it, explaining that it was strongly supported by residents of his heavily Latino district.

When others on the council argue that sanctuary status could jeopardize as much as $20 million in federal grants annually, Davis notes that the resolution allows for the matter to be revisited if Trump’s threats turn real and he argues that losing the money wouldn’t be the end of the world. The federal grants amount to about 10 percent of the budget.

“What I would like to see is if the federal government is going to pull in purse strings and try to manipulate local communities, we don’t rely on federal grants,” he told the Monterey County Weekly last month. “How plausible that is remains to be seen.”

Sanctuary city designations have not won unanimous support from law enforcement but they have received strong support. That’s because officers on the street say that when residents here illegally fear any contact with officialdom, it becomes almost impossible to obtain their cooperation when crime occurs.

The defining issue in Salinas is crime but the perpetrators, overwhelmingly, are native-born gang members. The homicide rate is one of the highest in California and, statistically, it is one of the unsafest places in the United States to be young and Latino — legal or illegal. Heavy gang involvement in much of the violence puts law enforcement at a huge disadvantage. Sending crime victims and witnesses underground for fear of deportation would only make things worse.

If the Salinas council does not reverse itself, it is telling the citizenry that a balanced budget is more important than fighting crime. And at some point, the message will become colder yet: Staying out of trouble and keeping your head down isn’t going to help when they come for you. The City Council should vote again and get it right this time.

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While we are all feeling thankful today, we should also reflect on this piece from the New York Times about the realities of food and lack of food just across the Lettuce Curtain.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/in-a-california-valley-healthy-food-everywhere-but-on-the-table.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share

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Redevelopment money helped build a cardroom but little else

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The city of Salinas bought this property for $850,000 nine years ago. It is being used now to stockpile fill dirt and paving material. 

When he was mayor of Salinas, Dennis Donohue was a big-picture guy, a politician with big ideas and a vision of his city as a leader in agriculture-related technology, a peaceful city with a reinvigorated downtown.

He swung for the fences. In tough economic times, he helped lead two successful tax measures to maintain and even expand city services before and after holding office. But he also swung and missed. His best-known strikeouts included the ill-fated Renaissance Partners plan for downtown, which spun itself into a web of expensive litigation, and the Green Vehicles investment fiasco of 2009, which cost the city at least $500,000.

It turns out, however, that an obscure East Salinas redevelopment venture supported if not orchestrated by Donohue cost the city significantly more money, as much as $4.5 million, while helping finance a controversial downtown cardroom and leaving the city holding a vacant swath of problematic property and a boarded-up church.

Nearly nine years after the first properties were purchased by the city, they all sit idle while city officials contemplate what they might do with them.

“I love Dennis, I do,” said veteran City Councilwoman Jyl Lutes, “but we’re still cleaning up the messes of Dennis and we will be cleaning up those messes for a long time.”

Former City Councilman Steve Villegas said Donohue “always maintained the philosophy of spend, spend, and spend, and worry later about how to pay for everything. He handled the city budget like an open checkbook.”

“Remember, we were just entering into a recession and we had to be careful on how the city was spending money,” said Villegas, who served on the council with Donohue for four years. “Dennis didn’t care how much we spent on the assumption that we would borrow from Paul to pay Peter. It would drive the rest of the council nuts.”

Dan Ortega, who was police chief at the time, told others as it happened that he suspected Donohue and others supported the redevelopment plan partly as a way to provide city money to help start the Bankers Casino cardroom venture downtown, which Ortega strenuously opposed.

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Supervisorial candidate Dennis Donohue

City officials had been considering the redevelopment purchase as early as 2005 but the effort didn’t become serious until Donohue was elected. Months after he took office in 2007, the city redevelopment agency bought three parcels along Division Street from restaurant owner Hector Campos, who would help open Bankers Casino a year later. Campos had purchased the undeveloped 1.3 acres seven years earlier for $150,000 and sold it to the city in the same shape for $850,000.

Campos’ nephew and partner in the Bankers Casino venture, Sal Jimenez, acknowledged this week that the profit provided a significant portion of the cardroom financing, but he insisted Donohue was not key to the deal.

“Hell no, Dennis didn’t put that together. It was all the redevelopment guy, Alan Stumpf,” said Jimenez. Jimenez said Campos was approached by Stumpf, the city redevelopment director at the time, who made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“We put two and two together and said we can sell this and put it into the casino,” said Jimenez.

Stumpf, now retired, said it didn’t happen that way, though his predecessor as redevelopment chief, Larry Bussard, might have approached Campos. Bussard noted Thursday, however, that he had retired in 2004 and had nothing to do with the Division Street transactions.

Stumpf said he didn’t know how involved Donohue might have been in initiating the process, but he said the purchase and related expenditures  were part of a sincere  redevelopment effort that could make a major difference in East Salinas eventually. He said the plan received significant early support from several council members in addition to Donohue.

Donohue  did not respond to an email and call earlier this week seeking comment on the subject.  After a campaign forum Thursday night in Salinas, he told the Partisan he had received the messages but did not wish to comment.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said three times before walking away.

Donahue’s six-year tenure as mayor ended in 2012 and he is now a candidate to represent the 4th District on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. Running against the board’s leading environmentalist, Marina resident Jane Parker, Donohue is campaigning on a platform of progress, growth and commerce. He has built a campaign treasury of more than a half million dollars, mostly from Salinas Valley ag interests and the Peninsula hotel industry. Throughout his campaign, he has argued that redevelopment of the former Fort Ord Army base should be expanded and accelerated.

(A constant theme of Donohue’s campaign has been that Parker has not worked closely enough with the cities in District 4 — Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Del Rey Oaks and Salinas — to promote development at Fort Ord. At campaign forums and in his biography on his website, he does not mention that he served four years on the board of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority.)

When Donohue became mayor, the city administration was led by veteran City Manager Dave Mora, but he retired a year into Donohue’s tenure. His replacement, Artie Fields, had significantly less experience and Donohue stepped into the vacuum to operate almost as though the city had a strong-mayor system.

“Dennis oftentimes said ‘trust me’ and we didn’t know what he was doing,” said Lutes. “Everything was done behind closed doors and it was a real problem. We had no idea what was going on. We were often duped.”

Donohue soon became a highly visible figure in Salinas, showing up regularly at everything from neighborhood meetings to high school banquets to crime scenes. Despite a regular job as a produce executive, he worked tirelessly on city business, seldom turning down any opportunity to share his goals for the city. Lutes recalled recently that former City Attorney Vanessa Vallarta once remarked “that Dennis’ biggest problem is that he loves Salinas too much.”

Technically part of the Sunset Avenue Redevelopment Plan, the Division Street effort began in earnest just months after he took office in 2007. It mostly involves property along Division Street, a stub of an unpaved roadway near the busy intersection of Market Street and Sanborn Avenue in East Salinas.

According to city documents, the redevelopment effort was pursued and promoted by the Salinas United Business Association while Jimenez the cardroom operator was its president and an active board member. According to city redevelopment documents, the association, best known as SUBA, urged the city and its redevelopment agency to buy the property from Campos as part of an effort to revitalize the larger blighted neighborhood, a mix of houses, apartments, storefronts, a juvenile detention facility, a mortuary and health clinics. Donohue and Jimenez had served together on the Planning Commission before Donohue was elected mayor.

Over the years, the cardroom operators have contributed modestly to Donohue political campaigns. They gave $500 during his last year as mayor and $1,000 to his supervisorial campaign this spring. Jimenez contributed $110 in 2010. (Incidentally, the Parker campaign contributed $1,500 to Donohue’s first re-election campaign in 2008.)

A 2005 appraisal by a third party put the value of Campos’ land at $670,00 and noted, incorrectly, that the property had not been subject to a sale in the previous decade. Another appraisal by the same firm in 2007 put the value at $850,000, which was to be the purchase price. It said it would have been worth more but has no utilities and is in a flood plain that would require fill before any construction. It also noted that a potential obstacle to development is the adjoining Monterey County Youth Center, a juvenile hall for relatively low-risk offenders, and the towering lights that surround that property.

County property records show that Campos had purchased the property for $150,000 from O’Neil and Lois Eastin in 2000. Jimenez said his uncle saw the potential for developing the property and bought it largely because he got a good price and Eastin was willing to finance the purchase.

division street parcels

The parcels outlined in red were purchased by the city of Salinas and the profit was used to help create the Bankers Casino cardroom downtown. The other properties in yellow also were purchased by the city redevelopment agency. Most of the property across Division Street is owned by the Teamsters Union. Parcel 60 to the right of the yellow parcels is the Monterey County Youth Center detention facility.

The next year, in the summer of 2008, Jimenez and Campos succeeded in opening their Bankers Casino in the former Moose Lodge building on Monterey Street near the Steinbeck Center downtown. News reports at the time said that partners invested more than $2 million to renovate the building, which has since expanded as the operation has grown to include off-track betting and entertainment space.

Ortega, while he was police chief, unsuccessfully lobbied against the operation for fear it would attract a criminal element and require a significant investment of time from his department. Ortega had been involved in several cardroom-related investigations while he was with the San Jose Police Department before coming to Salinas. City officials say that, for the most part, the casino has been less problematic than Ortega feared.

The cardroom did add a sizable business to the downtown, contributing to the continuing revival of the central business district. It has provided the city with around $10,000 in property taxes annually along with a confidential amount of sales tax revenue. Unlike cardrooms in other California cities that pay taxes of 10 percent and more on gaming income, the Bankers operation pays only about $5,000 in gaming fees annually because Donohoe and the City Council agreed to levy only a token gaming tax.

Following the purchase of the Campos property, the city bought three adjacent parcels from other sellers, including a ramshackle building at 923 E. Market. The city paid former Salinas schools Superintendent Jim Earhart $520,000 for that 16,835-square-foot parcel, which has potential commercial uses, and $335,000 and $300,000 for two similarly sized but undeveloped properties nearby on Division. No use has been found for any of it.

According to city redevelopment documents, the city at one point hoped to work with the non-profit housing developer CHISPA to put affordable housing on the properties and at other times intended to seek some other non-profit organization that would be willing to develop the land, possibly tying it into the nearby Cesar Chavez Park, two Clinica de Salud health centers or possibly a Boys and Girls Club to be created at the former Nazarene Church property at 331 N. Sanborn, one parcel removed from the Campos property.

As part of the redevelopment effort, the city bought the church in August 2008 for $2.6 million and later offered to lease it to the Boys and Girls Club for a token amount. Club officials decided, however, that the structure was unusable and opted to build a facility elsewhere. The church structure remains in place, windows and doors boarded. Signs warn visitors that it is city property, that it is unstable and that they should “Keep Out.”

“To purchase the additional adjoining property and the Nazerene Church was a crazy thing to do,” said Villegas, the former councilman and retired sheriff’s lieutenant. “Yes, the intent of what we wanted to refurbish the property into was good, but we had no money to complete the projects. Money was very tight but Dennis felt redevelopment would pay for the project itself. Purchasing these properties, the city got itself in a no-win situation. Dennis didn’t look down the long road and had no plan on how these properties were going to be redeveloped.  Now the city is still stuck with these go-nowhere properties. This is what he will do to the county if elected supervisor.”

Salinas officials have been in discussion with Monterey County officials for months or longer about a possible land swap that could result in the church property becoming a county health clinic.

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The city of Salinas paid $2.6 million for the former Nazarene Church at 331 N. Sanborn, near Market, and hopes someday to find a use for it, possibly as a county health clinic.

Lutes, the city councilwoman, says she supported the Campos land purchase and the cardroom venture but finds it troublesome in retrospect.

“It does look funny and now I feel culpable,” said Lutes. She says she finds it “ridiculous” that property that cost the city so much is still sitting vacant nine years later. “I feel sick about this.”

Lutes also mentioned the Renaissance Partners deal for a downtown makeover, which led to expensive litigation, and the Green Vehicles venture in 2009. Under Donohue’s leadership, the city invested $540,000 in a plan to manufacture electric cars in the city. The operation folded before any cars were produced.

“He (Donohue) promised us, guaranteed us, that we would never lose any money,” said Lutes.

At the campaign forum Thursday, Donohue said the city’s pursuit of an electric-car plant had been a worthy effort and he emphasized that the city’s investment had received the council’s unanimous blessing.

City Councilwoman Kimbley Craig, who endorsed Donohue’s bid for supervisor, said Donohue has shown the ability to get things done despite setbacks.

“Local politics is about building consensus with your colleagues to get things done, she said. “You might have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t get a majority of votes, it’s difficult to get things done for your district. I know Dennis has the capability of ‘getting to three votes’ for the needs of his constituency on the Board of Supervisors. And that’s single-handedly the most important factor in policymaking.”

Lutes, the five-term councilwoman, said she does not suspect Donohue of evil intent. She said he was sincere in his efforts to address the city’s issues, “but it’s also true that for Dennis, the ends always justified the means.”

Former Councilwoman Janet Barnes said last week that she had supported the redevelopment plan but now feels that she was misled.

Villegas called the Green Vehicles project “a joke.”

“This was a six-figure loan to his Palma (High School) friends to help establish a dream of theirs that was not realistic at that time. Dennis was turning the city into a business loan company that had no business lending out money. No collateral provided by the green vehicles in case the business went belly up, which it did, and then the city had to sue to get their money back. Another mess that Donahue got the city into.”

The Partisan has endorsed Parker for supervisor along with District 5 challenger Mary Adams.

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He sat on the curb outside a lean-to where a middle-aged woman still bundled against the morning chill hunched on a little padding against the hard Soledad Street sidewalk.

“Have you ever tried to survive on disability in the third most expensive county in the state?” he demanded to know from the man scribbling notes.

Down the block at Market Way and Soledad Street — the main crossroads in the cluster of tent-and-tarp shelters where hundreds of Salinas’ homeless have makeshift homes — a bullhorn amplified the voices of protestors Wednesday morning against city plans to raze the Chinatown encampment.

“Right now, they need to let us alone,” said the man, an 11-year resident of the Chinatown streets.

That’s what city officials decided to do, at least temporarily, on the first day of a long-planned cleanup of the warren of shelters erected by an estimated 200 to 300 homeless residents. Here’s an earlier Partisan look at the community.

Facing a knot of protestors and a few tense moments when a bottle flew and a man screamed at someone shooting video, city officials backed off plans to immediately begin clearing the homeless village hung along Chinatown’s fences and walls. Officials said they have 30 days to do the job under city ordinance.

For years, Salinas has made periodic sweeps in Chinatown to remove debris and rubbish for what officials have called public health hazards. The latest sweep — for which a federal judge cleared the way earlier this month — is different. This time, city contract crews will truck away property that homeless persons can’t carry and store it for up to 90 days at a city yard. Overnight camping would still be allowed, but everything must be packed up each morning.

“Whatever happened to the land of free?” a man in a black leather coat asked at the entrance to his tent shelter. A few feet away, a young woman cooed as she changed the diaper of her 5-month-old daughter.

Back at the corner, the bullhorn kept getting passed among Chinatown residents, homeless advocates and an official or two,

There was a promise that housing for 200 would be available within 90 days. City Councilman Tony Barrera said the cleanup needed to happen and so does suitable housing. “We don’t have the solution, but we need your help,” he said.

The councilman gave up the bullhorn as a few critics — what one homeless advocate called “part of the general staff of the poor people’s army” — shouted down his comments as hollow promises.

There was no great flurry of activity outside the shelters erected on the curving fence line visible from traffic on East Market Street. There were dozens of mostly black bicycles under the morning sun, along with a few stacked mattresses, a bunch of shirts hung for drying and loaded shopping carts. A few pigeons busily pecked at fresh crumbs.

“This is the civil rights movement of today,” said homeless advocate Wes White, ticking off earlier decades and their movements for blacks, women, gays. “(This decade) it’s the poor.”

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She calls herself simply Mrs. Coronado and she doesn’t think she or the rest of the Chinatown tent dwellers are standing in the way of anyone’s progress

His name is George. He didn’t mind sharing that. What he didn’t want to talk about was how long he has been living on the streets of Chinatown.

“What’s that matter?” he told his inquisitor. “How long, that makes no difference because time makes no difference, you know. What’s time ever done for you except make you old and it’s going to do that to me, too. Time is crap, man. It’s just crap.”

George is a heavily muscled man in his thirties. Wednesday he was wearing a tight tank top and lime green pants and he was trying to put some pedals on a bike, one of about a dozen bikes circling his tent. The Chinatown neighborhood in Salinas is home to maybe 100 encampments like George’s and even more bicycles, most of them missing a tire or a handlebar or some other important piece.

George had heard something about the city’s plan to clear out the encampments next Wednesday but had no plans to look for somewhere else to stake out some space.

“I never planned nothing in my life, man, and that might explain why I’m here, I guess.”

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon the neighborhood gave off a fairly mellow vibe. Most of the residents were off somewhere. Music played from several tents and people chatted with their neighbors.

Nights are different.

Mary, who wouldn’t give her last name, says she’s fine in the daytime but “scared out of my mind” after dark.

“I hide in my tent and I try to make no sounds at all, not move so no one notices me. I cover my head even when it’s hot.”

Mary said she is 44 and grew up in Arizona. She’s been homeless off and on since she dropped out of college.

“I’d have a home if I could put up with men but I never met a man who was good to me or good for me,” she said.

Mary said she is careful not to attract attention. A friend gave her a necklace when she was living in an encampment in Southern California and people staying nearby were talking about it.

“So that night I just put it outside my tent so they could just take it and not come into my tent after it.”

The city plans to scoop up the Chinatown tents and tarps and pallet houses next week because things have reached critical mass. There’s no plan on what to do with the people, no alternate accommodations in the works, but officialdom is frustrated by the situation and feels it has to do something, even if it’s wrong. The place is a lot like a refugee camp but without the Red Cross serving meals, without running water, without enough toilets, without enough security.

A man of about 60, a Pacific Islander, said he knows why the city is pushing the people out.

“It’s the new Taylor Farms building,” he said, referring to the 6-story office building recently completed nearby on Main Street. “They have people coming from all over. From Japan and Asia and England and when they’re up there on the top floor doing their barbecues they look down and the first thing they ask the Taylor brothers is ‘Is that your workers down there?’”

He didn’t want to give his name and he didn’t say how he knows what he knows. He said that Chinatown will start filling back up with homeless folks three or four days after the upcoming sweep.

“That’s what happened last time and the time before,” he said. He added that he isn’t that worried for himself because he owns a house that happens to be full of relatives at the moment and he has a daughter he can stay with if things get too rough on the street.

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There may be more bikes in Chinatown than homeless people

Across Soledad Street, from inside a pile of rugs and tarps, a woman called out to a man standing nearby, “Hey, mijo. Get my lunch.”

“Be quiet,” he replied.

“I won’t be quiet. My mouth won’t let me.”

“You be quiet.”

“You be quiet. Shut up and get my lunch.”

“OK.”

Another woman, Deborah, said she has been homeless for nine weeks and felt fortunate to be staying in a bunk provided by Dorothy’s Place, the neighborhood soup kitchen.

“I came here from Carmel,” she said. “I’d never been homeless before but I had to get out of a bad situation.”

Abuse?

“Verbal abuse,” she replied. She was carrying her belongings in a backpack because she has to leave Dorothy’s Place at 6 a.m. every day and find somewhere to hang out.

Another fellow without a name said the upcoming “raid” is “ridiculous.”

“There are like 2,600 homeless people in Salinas and like 300 beds and they’re not all for the homeless. They’re for the mentally ill and stuff. What do they think, everybody’s just going to leave town? Where the hell are they going to go.”

The man, 45ish, in an Army jacket and doo-rag, asked if the visitor could spare a couple of bucks for food.

“The Health Department just closed down Dorothy’s Place so we got no place to get food.”

The gullible visitor coughed up a couple of bucks and learned minutes later that, no, Dorothy’s Place had not been closed.

A sad-eyed young man sitting on a curb said he’d be glad to chat.

“Call me Ysidro,” he said. “That’s not my name but that’s what you can call me.”

“Things are pretty nice here right now,” he said,  “but you should have been here last week when it was raining. It was like living in a swamp but without fish or boats. It was like you could never get dry and even under a tarp or something the rain noise would never stop making you crazy.”

While Ysidro talked, a big, shiny, white Chevy Suburban drove by slowly, windows down, rap music pounding from inside. The driver was a fat guy with a beard.

“That’s the ice cream truck,” said Ysidro, “but he’s not selling ice cream.”

What is he selling?

“Not ice cream.”

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Raul has been a Chinatown regular since he was 12. At the moment, he makes enough from collecting cans to be able to afford a motel room

A friendly older man, Raul, sat on a bench below a No Trespassing sign and rested. He was worn out from a morning spent hunting down bottles and cans from trash cans, trying to fill the shopping cart next to him.

“Hard times,” he said. “Hard times.”

“I’ve been coming here since I was 12,” he said. “I’m 63 now. All of it has been hard. What do I know? Never be lazy.”

Raul said he makes just enough collecting bottles and cans to afford a room at the Royal Motel over by the In-N’-Out but isn’t sure how long that will last.

One of the striking things about the neighborhood is the amount of stuff, random stuff, that has essentially washed up on the side of the streets. There are the bikes, of course, and grocery carts, refrigerators, plastic toys, cardboard boxes, old signs, tree limbs, lumber of all types, plastic crates, garbage bags, bottles and cans, broken exercise equipment, a basketball hoop, broken toys, even generators, some that actually work. One of those was humming Wednesday under a tarp that also covered a camper shell. Inside, young men in backward baseball caps were smoking a joint.

“I don’t know those guys,” said the owner of the camper shell, a man in a San Jose Sharks shirt, “and I don’t know how they got in there. Scoot, you guys, OK.” They didn’t seem to notice.

Sitting alone inside her small tent was a young woman who said she liked to be called Mrs. Coronado. She wore several necklaces and her toenails were polished blue.

“It’s hard living here when you don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. How long has she been staying here? She thought for five seconds or so and came up with “a while.” She said she’s from San Luis Obispo. She knows about the purge coming next week and is worried.

“I don’t know where I’m going to go or where anyone is going to go,” she said. “It’s not like we’re stopping progress or anything. We’re just living our lives.”

As she was telling her visitor goodbye, she had a request.

“Could you buy me an apple pie?”

The visitor handed over a couple of dollars.

“A la mode?”

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No one pays attention to signs like this in Chinatown

On the corner, three big guys wearing nylon sweatsuits were dividing a pile of cash within view of an older man who was repeatedly hitting a cinder block with a hammer for reasons unknown. There were no children in sight and only one dog, a terrier mix that flipped over onto his back and waved his little legs in the air whenever anyone came close. A social worker with a clipboard was interviewing two women who were holding hands.

An old biker-looking guy, probably in his 70s, sat on a folding chair and looked to be napping but then he barked “You’d better not take my picture.” He wore a red headband and a giant grey mustache.

OK, said the visitor. No problem. But can we talk?

“Sure I’ll talk. Whaddya want to know?

Tell me about this place.

“This place is heaven and this place is hell,” he said. “It’s where people land when they’re circling the drain.”

Why are you here?

“I’m here because everything I’ve ever touched I fucked up. I fucked up my work, I fucked up my family, I fucked up my friends. I haven’t had more than 10 bucks in my pocket in 10 years and if I did, I’d spend it on the worst booze in the world.”

What are you going to do when they clear this place out?

“Maybe I’ll get me a job and a car and a house and leave this place forever. Maybe I’ll get some new clothes and cut my hair and become respectable. Maybe I’ll run for mayor. Who’s the mayor now? Joe Gopher? Something like that. Maybe I’ll run for Congress or president.”

What are you really going to do?

“Hell if I know.”

{ 28 comments }

Little happy cute boy catching sun in skyIt’s official. Those surveys about the best this or the worst that are nonsense. The final piece of evidence, the nail in the coffin, the dramatic confession, the incontrovertible evidence was the news today that Salinas is the second “healthiest and happiest city” in the United States.

Last week a heating company with the aid of a social scientist declared Salinas the third “coziest” city in the land. Perhaps, my daughter suggested, they were thinking about the crowded housing, especially in East Salinas, where a legitimate study years ago calculated the population density as comparable to Manhattan’s.

Now comes the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being: 2015 Community Rankings list released on Tuesday. It purportedly measures how residents of 190 U.S. cities feel about their physical health, social ties, financial security, community and sense of purpose.

 In first place, Naples, Fla., followed by Salinas, North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Barnstable Town, Mass.

In sixth place is Santa Cruz/Watsonville and in 10th place San Luis Obispo.

Based a national telephone survey, residents in these places are said to have the lowest levels of stress in the country, report little depression and eat healthy on a daily basis, the report found. Many of them like their daily activities and enjoy a sense of purpose.

Salinas ranked extremely high in the categories of purpose and physical, meaning the residents have a strong sense of purpose and feel they have the health and energy to pursue it.

So why can’t I just be happy for Salinas and let it go? Some will ask me “Don’t you like Salinas?” and my answer will be, “Of course I do.” I find it to be a fascinating and frustrating place with lots of strengths and interesting challenges.

Here’s why I can’t just let it go. The survey bothered me mostly because one must read the fine print to learn that when they’re talking about Salinas, they’re really talking about the Salinas Metropolitan Statistical Area, a Census Bureau designation that actually means Monterey County.

As the biggest city in the county, Salinas gets its name on the SMSA, which is fine for Census purposes but not for understanding results.  To portray the city of Salinas as one of the happiest and coziest places in the nation ignores the realities of gang violence, crowded housing and cultural segregation. Mix in Carmel and P.G. and Monterey and Del Rey Oaks and a very different picture emerges of Salinas, the Metropolitan Statistical Area, as opposed to Salinas, the city. Taken that way, the findings may be close to accurate.

Certainly Salinas is filled with purposeful and healthy people but way more than the average city? It would be nice to believe that, but the latest effort does not convince me.

The Salinas Police Department’s PR man put out a news release late in the day trumpeting the survey’s results and overlooking the reality that it isn’t really about Salinas.

Why do they do these surveys? For publicity, of course, and I have fallen into the trap. Newspapers and TV stations and pretentious little blogs all around the country are breathlessly reporting on the findings today, even the news outlets in the bottom-dwelling cities, the Toledos and the Newarks. Who is Healthways? They manage health plans for somesuch. I got bored with the web site before I could figure out exactly what they’re selling.

There was another ranking put out Tuesday, by Forbes magazine, which rated Sacramento the most miserable place in the United States. That’s a judgment call, I guess, but here’s my question for the Forbes people. Also ranked really high on the miserableness scale were Stockton, Modesto and Bakersfield, some of the garden spots of the San Joaquin Valley, but Fresno didn’t make it into that tier of the rankings. Maybe that could be Fresno’s new slogan: “We’ve always been better than Bakersfield but now we’re better than Sacramento, too.”

Bottom line. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And don’t take anything at face value, with the possible exception of what you see here.

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firefighters with the fire extinguisher during a practice session at Fire StationI had just gotten off Highway 101 at John Street in Salinas about 3 p.m. Saturday when the afternoon wind carried a blast of super-heated air and the pungent smell of fresh smoke through my driver-side window.

That’s a building burning, I immediately thought, but I didn’t see any smoke rising.

By the time I got to the traffic light at Pajaro Street, a big fire truck with blaring siren and booming horn had stopped traffic to clear its path to Main Street. Then I saw smoke rising over the modest skyline of downtown Salinas — lots of churning, black smoke.

Old reportorial instincts almost made me follow the fire truck because I knew one of the older downtown buildings was on fire, and I could tell it was a big one.

But I was tired, having spent much of the previous 24 hours with relatives and friends of my late sister who’d gathered in Clovis for a memorial service. Besides, I thought, I’m no reporter anymore. I would just be another sidewalk gawker behind the barricades. I silently hoped that no one got hurt and turned away from the billowing smoke toward home.

Today, I learned firefighters have remained at the scene of the fire-gutted Bruhn Building at Main and Alisal streets for two days to keep an eye out for smoldering debris.

I’ve read news stories in which longtime Salinas residents recalled shopping at the store that was the anchor of a small chain of stores operated for years by clothier Dick Bruhn. They rented tuxes for proms, picked up holiday gifts for mom and dad. Police and firefighters bought their uniforms up on the second floor. Then the longtime fixture in the city center closed in 2007 as the shrunken Bruhn group of stores went into bankruptcy. The big brick building, shuttered and empty, became a different kind a landmark at the north end of Main Street’s 300 block.

For more than 20 years, I bought some of my clothes at “Dick Bruhn, A Man’s Store,” and probably a few gifts at the M’Lady Bruhn women’s wear section of the big store. As soon as you walked in, one or two dapper-dressed salesmen moved quickly to intercept your steps.

I didn’t have to walk up the stairs to the police and fire uniform shop, but I did my shopping at Bruhn’s — which offered a fairly staid selection of good-quality menswear — for a different kind of uniform.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, the dress rules for male reporters still called for sport coats, decent slacks and a fashionable tie or two. I probably bought three or four sport coats, several expensive pairs of slacks and some understated ties at Bruhn’s over the years, whenever my work uniform needed augmentation. I took a couple tweedy sport coats to the store for patches when the elbows gave out.

My biggest purchase — which will sound silly to any serious clothes horse — occurred the day I finally went to Bruhn’s to buy my first and, as it turned out, only tailored blazer. I think I’d read somewhere that any well-dressed man owned a classic blazer or two.

The red and green ones, naturally, were out. Bruhn’s also had tan and pink ones, but come on!

The earnest salesman alternately held up both a black and dark blue blazer until I finally made the conservative choice — the blue one. The tailor came over, took my measurements, and I picked up my classic blue blazer a few days later.

Aside from sporting its shiny brass buttons at the occasional wedding or semi-formal gathering, I used my blazer as a different reporting uniform option. It felt more appropriate to wear than a frazzled old sports coat with elbow patches when covering speakers at the Carmel Republican Women’s Club or a reception for some dignitary at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Somehow I wore it out over the years. One of the brass buttons fell off and got lost. The blue cloth wore down until it shone in especially thin spots.

I put the old blazer in a bag bound for Goodwill several years ago, about the same time big-box clothing stores wore out out the patrician charm of stores like Bruhn’s, which had helped dress generations of Salinas men in old-line uniforms.

It’s been years since male reporters were expected to wear coats and ties on the job. That’s good. It’s probably been years since most of them got a raise in pay to afford those kinds of clothes. Or enough extra dough, say, to decide on a whim one day to go to a store like the old Bruhn’s and buy a classic blue blazer.

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What’s cozier than Carmel and closer than you think?

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Here’s the photo Country Living used to illustrate the third coziest place in the U.S.

Do you put much faith into those lists that keep popping up on social media – best private colleges, most easily trained dog, top hamburger in each state in the union?

If so, you should be pleased to know that there is a good chance you live near one of the “Coziest Towns in America,” as selected by Honeywell Heaters with the help of environmental scientist Ted Myatt.

In the No. 1 spot this year, Asheville, N.C.

In second place, slipping slightly from its 2015 ranking, Boston.

And number 3? Wait for it  ….. Salinas.

Country Living magazine, which publishes the list each year, explains that the ratings are based primarily on the number of restaurants, coffee shops, museums, florists, museums and B&Bs.

A count of those establishments put Salinas ahead of:

  1. Portland, Oregon
  2. Portland, Maine
  3. Santa Rosa
  4. Providence
  5. Spokane
  6. Provo
  7. Chattanooga

Writes Country Living: “2016 is the first time this charming California town has made its appearance on Honeywell’s list, but its mild climate, as well as its abundance of bakeries and specialty stores could make it a mainstay.”

If you’re expecting me to quibble with any of that, you’re in for another surprise. I’m not about to argue with a ranking that shines a positive light on one of my favorite places in the northern Salinas Valley. Instead, I’m going to try to beat the rush and book a nice B&B room with a view for Rodeo Week. See you there.

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Crime SceneThe word from the Salinas Police Department is that the record number of homicides in the city last year was not  linked to any particular trend or even for the most part linked to gangs. The total topped 40 by the end of the year, easily bettering the previous record of 29 homicides, but police officials said they were at a loss to explain much of it.

Former Monterey Herald reporter Julia Reynolds, a true expert on Central Coast gangs, wrote in late December that the authorities felt this was not a sign of gangs out of control.

“… (I)n setting a new record, 2015 has been a year of outliers,” Reynolds wrote. “While gang rivalries and vendettas are likely responsible for more than half of this year’s homicides, a significant percentage of the violence appears to be the kind cities everywhere else deal with most of the time — the kinds of killings common everywhere but Salinas.

“These slayings stem from personal disputes, escalating arguments at parties or in the streets, quarrels that end with gunshots and sirens. They are family feuds and drug-dealing beefs that are settled by drawing a gun or pulling a knife. In rarer cases, they’re settled with a killer’s bare hands.”

I can’t prove it, but I think officials may have painted her a misleading picture. Since I can’t prove it, what I’m really saying is that I have a hunch, and that is that the rash of murders that continues into this year absolutely could be the result of gang violence of the worst kind. Based principally on the brief description of the crime that accompanies each news release about the latest murder, I suspect that Salinas gang members, Nortenos mostly, could be systematically executing young men that they suspect to be members of the rival Surenos – or that they are executing young men who happen to look like relatively recent immigrants who fit the profile of Sureno recruits. By my count, that would explain more than a dozen killings last year and several of the shootings, fatal and not, this year.

I’ve spoken to a couple of former gang members, not the most reliable of sources, and they agree with my thinking. One of them said he moved from Salinas to Greenfield because of the violence. But I also have talked to Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin about this a couple of times and he disputes my theory, though without the level of certitude that persuades me I’m wrong. He acknowledges that quite a few victims fit the profile that my theory encompasses but he says his detectives don’t believe a single explanation fits a large percentage of these cases.

The most recent homicide occurred Saturday night in the 1000 block of Atlantic Street. That’s in East Salinas, about a half block from Acosta Plaza, a housing project that has seen more than its share of gang violence. A 23-year-old man had been shot several times “by unknown persons” while walking on the sidewalk. Motive unknown, no known witnesses.

The circumstances were somewhat similar in at least four non-fatal shootings in the last 10 days. Young man shot by a young Latino man dressed all in black. Young couple shot by unknown man. Young man shot after being confronted by another young man who asked his gang affiliation.

Again and again last year the shooters in fatal and non-fatal attacks alike were described as young men dressed black, often wearing hoods. Sometimes one young man. Often two.

As Reynolds wrote, those could be the result of arguments at parties, of domestic disputes or neighborhood beefs, but in such cases, the police usually have a relatively easy time figuring out who pulled the trigger — and the shooter isn’t all that likely to be outfitted in black, with a hood.

Gang-related cases are much harder, for several reasons. Most obviously, there’s the fear factor. Victims and witnesses alike aren’t eager to put themselves in continuing conflict with gang bangers. Less obviously, victims of gang violence may suspect or believe it had to do with gangs but they’re not likely to be able to name names. Members of rival gangs don’t hang out together. And the type of victims being targeted, recent arrivals in Salinas, are even less likely to know the identities of their attackers.

Another factor adds to the challenge for detectives. Executions often are attempted from some distance, often from a passing car. That makes identifications even more difficult.

Maybe I’m wrong. There’s an excellent chance that I am. But if I’m right, I think it is time, past time, for the authorities to put out some meaningful alerts, to warn people who fit the profile that they may want to keep a very low profile for until things quiet down.

It is just as likely that I am being naïve, that the message has already been sent and received through informal channels and that there really isn’t anything more that can be done about this. That could be.

But here’s my hope. My hopes, actually. I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m right and there is some reason the authorities don’t want to cop to it, I hope they think it over and do the right thing

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By now you’ve most likely heard that two separate shootings over the weekend brought the total number of homicides in Salinas this year to 31, surpassing the record high of 29 homicides from 2009, the majority of those have been gang related shootings. Neighborhood crimes such as burglaries, auto thefts, auto burglaries, and other thefts are now a daily occurrence in Salinas. There is consensus that crime and gang violence has spread to every corner of Salinas. No neighborhood is immune. Our families no longer feel safe in our community or in our homes.

I hear daily from Salinas residents who are outraged and ready to be part of the solution. I hear calls for more services for our youth and stepped up police enforcement. Others call for peace marches and for our community to unite.  Our city leaders have for the most part remained silent. When they do speak it is of youth violence prevention strategies and of the need for citizens to come forward and report crimes and cooperate with the police. Unfortunately, all of these suggestions are nothing new to the residents of Salinas. We’ve been hearing these same words for years and the violence and crime in Salinas is worse than ever. Salinas’ residents are coming to realize that if we are going to reduce violence and crime, and create a safe community for our families we are going to have to do it ourselves, but no one is leading the way.

Programs and services for our youth are critical to crime and violence prevention. We have dozens of youth programs in Salinas both public and private. Many of the families who need them most, are unaware that they exist. They operate in the shadows and are not effectively reaching out and engaging the community. Volunteers who are eager to help are not being connected to these organizations.

Youth prevention alone will not be successful if we do not simultaneously reduce the crime that is happening now. Expanding neighborhood watches, establishing neighborhood citizen patrols, and installing personal security cameras outside our homes and businesses are strategies that have proven effective in other communities facing overwhelming crime. They would serve the dual purposes of crime prevention and community building in Salinas.

The greatest obstacle I see to our successfully reducing crime and violence in Salinas is our lack of effective communication and organization. We don’t talk to each other in Salinas and as a result our efforts are fractured and discombobulated. Go to a city council meeting or any other meeting for that matter and you see the same group of folks week after week. Our city government and our community groups are insular. There are 155,000 people in Salinas and most of them are eager to help solve our cities problems. No one is leading the way.

It’s not enough to tell our neighbors about all the programs available in Salinas. It’s not enough to suggest they start a neighborhood watch or install cameras. For years we have been making these and similar suggestions as a community. The outcry is loud, but then we become complacent and nothing changes. We must have the infrastructure and organization in place to bring people in, put the action in their hands, and walk them through it step by step. Someone has got to lead the way.

I have suggested that we start with a community summit, a meeting, or series of meetings inviting representatives from Salinas PD, the District Attorney’s Office, Monterey County Probation, State Parole, the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP), and other groups to speak about what they are doing to address the out of control crime and violence in Salinas and what we can do as a community and in our own families to help.

“Salinas Neighbors United” a new resident organization recently founded with the backing of the Salinas City Council and partnered with the Facebook group “Neighborhood Watch Help in Salinas” is ideally positioned to spearhead the type of community organizing.

The leadership team for “Salinas Neighbors United” includes Mike Jones, President – Leo De La Rosa, Vice President – Joel Hernandez – Jeanette Pantoja – Mary Beth Bowman, Treasurer – Sandy Whittle – Albert Fong – Al Espindola – Bob Andrews

Non-Voting members include Cynthia Bojorquez, Library and Community Services Director for the City of Salinas – Gary Peterson, Public Works Director for the City of Salinas – Julia Nix of the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace – Dave Clark, web and Facebook.

“Salinas Neighbors United” has a meeting schedule for Tuesday October 20th 6:00pm-8:00pm at the John Steinbeck Library, 350 Lincoln Avenue in Salinas. The meeting is open to the public and everyone is invited to attend. For more information please visit salinasneighborsunited.org

Salinas has many community groups and has started many more. They come in with big plans and high hopes only to wither on the vine or settle into relative obscurity. I’m hopeful that “Salinas Neighbors United” will be different, but hoping is not enough. We must do the work, and someone must lead the way.

Devin Podeszwa lives in Salinas.

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shutterstock_185810549-2 2HUG: The agribusiness giant Tanimura & Antle deserves thanks from the entire community for its plan to build a farmworker housing complex on its Spreckels property. The plan isn’t popular just across the road in the postcard community of Spreckels, which got its start as a company town. That’s understandable because the labor camp would house some 800 people, close to the number who already call Spreckels home. But T&A is helping the larger community by providing decent housing for the men and women who tend the crops, taking some of the pressure off already crowded neighborhoods in Salinas and other places in the Salinas Valley. Some of the company’s labor practices in the past have been less than sterling but it is a solid business in most respects and can be expected to be a good job with this venture. Let’s hope the Board of Supes agrees.

HISS: I was disappointed not to see any new news in the papers or on TV so far this week on Friday’s shooting of Naval Postgraduate School police officer Eric Glazier.He was shot by two Seaside Police Officers when he walked out of his house holding a gun while the officers were returning his wife home after a disturbance elsewhere? A tease on one local TV station (not KSBW) said he had aimed his gun at the officers but the subsequent newscast had nothing to back that up. Lack of follow-up since the weekend reflects a couple of things. The Police Department hasn’t issued another news release, the lifeblood of local journalism these days. And the various news staffs were too busy with the rodeo, motorcycle racing and the weather to go out and knock on doors. Now if anyone wants to criticize the Partisan for its failure to haul itself out to Glazier’s neighborhood, we wouldn’t be able to put up much of an argument but the size of our staff makes the Herald look like a real newspaper.

HUG: Someone posted some Facebook photos of the interior of the new Taylor building in downtown Salinas, and it looks pretty darned spectacular. I love downtowns and I’m hoping this is a catalyst for the rebirth of downtown Salinas, which, by the way, really isn’t bad at all. You Peninsula types who haven’t tried the Patria restaurant are missing something special.

HISS: The Osio Cinema closes its doors, without warning, leaving Peninsula residents with nowhere to go out to a movie except for the big theaters that play the same movies that all the other big theaters are playing. The reaction is strong but will it be enough to convince the owners that there are enough customers willing to give up Netflix and Amazon for the evening and venture out into the wilds of downtown Monterey? There is talk about some sort of crowdsourcing or subsidy to save the theater. More practical, it seems to us, would be for the Lighthouse theater in P.G. to play around with an art house approach. If it does, you all need to get out of the sweats, put some shoes on and put your money where your mouth is. It also occurs to us that the Golden State is empty most nights. Hint, hint.

HISS: Local radio personality Mark Carbonaro was the latest to weigh in with the nonsense that candidate X is more qualified to be president than Hillary Clinton. Does she lose experience points because of her gender or what? In Carbonaro’s case, he said the candidate with the superior qualifications is, who else, Donald Trump? If we need a president who is good at setting up shell companies and playing the bankruptcy system, Trump could be our guy. After all, what’s Hillary got going for her other than having be a senator for eight years, secretary of state and essentially assistant president for two terms?

HISS: Now, for what might be the most inconsequential Hiss published so far. Bet you haven’t noticed something that the Partisan has, but you’ll notice it hereafter. As you’re tooling down the highway, pay attention to the color of the cars going the other way. What you’ll find is a remarkable absence of color. Black, grey, silver, white, two more black cars, silver, beige, silver, grey, black, black, white. Often, you’ll see as many as 30 or more cars whiz by the other way before you’ll see a red one or a blue one. Why is this a Hiss? People who have an opportunity to put some color in their lives but go for grey, there are too many of them and we’d like to see something done about that.

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lettuce plantation of familiar agriculture in brazil

They may not look like it, but the lettuce fields of the Salinas Valley apparently are tall enough to prevent Peninsula residents from seeing over them

I was a guest last week at the annual meeting of the League of Women Voters of Monterey County and was jazzed by part of the discussion.

As you know, the league mainly focuses on issues of general concern and advocating for better government, voter rights and campaign finance reform. Though it is aggressively non-partisan, it is widely considered to be a progressive body, largely because opinions supported by good research tend to be progressive.

The portion of the proceedings that lifted me was about potential research topics for league committees in the coming year. The first four mentioned were immigration, literacy, police procedures and affordable housing. What they have in common is that each is of particular interest to those living in the Salinas Valley.

Though the Monterey Peninsula and the Salinas Valley share a county, there is a very real divide. I don’t know who coined the term Lettuce Curtain but it’s apt. It applies to economics, social standing, living conditions and political and cultural issues. And it also applies to an attitude way too common on the Peninsula.

A great many Peninsula people, even those who consider themselves open- and fair-minded, dismiss Salinas as a dangerous and unappealing place. They don’t view the community’s issues as their own. Crowded housing, gang crime, pesticide pollution and conflict with law enforcement don’t alarm many people of the Peninsula nearly as much as their water bills, beach bonfires, view-sheds and what’s playing at the Osio.

You probably know people who would never shop in Salinas, unless stopping for gas can be called shopping, and who would never go out to eat in Salinas. When my daughter enrolled at Salinas High School, arguably the best public high school in the county, some of my Peninsula acquaintances were appalled.

“Don’t you know about the gangs?” they asked.

Over the past couple of years, Salinas has struggled with officer-involved shootings, four or more in the past 18 months alone. The victim in each case was a Latino male, a fact that has stirred a fair amount of consternation and protest in the community. The Salinas community, that is. Not the larger community.

Housing in East Salinas is as crowded as any place in the country, a factor that contributes to the type of violence that Peninsula residents worry about but only when they fear it might slip under the curtain.

Many people on the Peninsula correctly organize themselves to combat poorly planned or poorly placed development. Developers and their supporters in government and other industry have declared war on environmental laws and environmentalists, so it is critical that the resistance remain vigorous. But those who fight the latest plan to plant houses where they don’t belong need to realize that the people of the Salinas Valley see each defeated project as lost jobs and lost opportunities for affordable housing. To succeed in defeating illogical development long-term, the people of the Peninsula need to help create jobs and suitable housing on both sides of the curtain. It is the right thing to do, and if it doesn’t happen, Peninsula interests can count on being clobbered at election time.

Pesticide spraying too close to homes and schools is common in the Salinas Valley, and the issue produces not a peep from the same Peninsula people who came unglued when the state sprayed non-toxic pheromones over the area to control a crop-threatening moth.

Yes, it is true that the Salinas Valley doesn’t have cute boutiques or enough trendy restaurants to draw many of your neighbors. But it does have more than 200,000 people who are up against economic conditions of the type that many people of the Peninsula have overcome. To a great extent, the Salinas Valley is populated by the people who do the Peninsula’s work but become invisible at the end of the day.

Sorry if this sounds like a sermon, but I don’t want to hear one more person from Monterey complain about “gang encroachment” until I’ve heard 10 people taking a direct interest in the schools or libraries of Salinas.

Salinas isn’t dangerous unless you’re a gang member or a cop. It has restaurants with cloth napkins and vegan food. In my daughter’s high school class, there were two National Merit scholars while no Peninsula schools produced any. They’ve had an In-N-Out for years now, and downtown Salinas is taking off.

League of Women Voters, you’ve always been on the right track and you showed me last week that you plan to stay on it. Let’s hope you can drag the rest of us along with you.

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Oscar - trofeo doratoIt was impossible to dip into the muddy waters of current events this week without being socked in the jaw by the realization that plenty of people, once again, are hopping mad about the Oscar nominations.

This year’s anger centered on the complete absence of actors of color from the nominees for the top acting awards, a phenomenon not seen since 1998.

I forget why everyone was ticked off last year when the Academy of Whatever announced the Oscar-worthy films and film people.

But I have no doubt there was great debate about how blind the academy voters — whoever they are — were by snubbing this or that film, actor or sound editor (not really, there is never the slightest kerfuffle over sound editing nominees, an ironic zone of silence amid the annual Oscar shout-fest.)

I have two theories about why Oscar nominations spur more vein-popping debate every year than, say, weightier issues like the widening income gap, state-sanctioned torture or the ethical considerations of buying Cuban cigars under the Obama administration’s new namby-bamby policy toward Castro’s Communist Cuba.

  1. A terrific outcry about who makes and who doesn’t make the coveted Oscar ballot generates more free buzz about more movies than if everyone were happy with the nominees. This is probably deliberate, a clever tactic devised by an industry that has cooked up nearly every trick in the heavy footlocker of press agentry.
  2. An abiding division among film cognoscenti set in motion by Marlon Brando in 1973 when, to demonstrate his solidarity with the American Indian Movement, he dispatched Salinas-born Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to the awards ceremony to make the acceptance speech in his place for Brando’s magnificent mumbling in “The Godfather.”

This “right on” moment didn’t sit well with all the folks in tuxes and fancy dresses instead of buckskin and feathers and forever politicized all things Oscar.

Personally, I care very little about the Oscars, the awards ceremony, the beautiful people on the red carpet, or the tendentious acceptance speeches by the winners. I have never clipped out an Oscars ballot from a newspaper features section nor have I attended an Oscar party to watch the televised ceremony with a bunch of overdressed movie buffs.

I blame my overall grumpy attitude about the Academy Awards on Country Joe, lead singer for the Berkeley-based psychedelic band Country Joe and the Fish, one of those no-hit groups from the 1960s whose ridiculous claim to fame was to lead audiences to spell out the F-word at the tops of their cannabanoid-soaked lungs. Right on.

When I was young and impressionable, I caught CJ and the Fish at the Santa Cruz Civic auditorium in a concert one night in the early 1970s right after that distant year’s Academy Awards show.

Between songs, as he attempted to discern the tuning pegs on his guitar from the chemically induced waves of energy flashing around the stage, Country Joe rasped into the microphone,

“Did you see all those Hollywood sleazoids on television last night?”

Well, no I hadn’t. But I caught C. Joe’s disdainful drift. And ever since I’ve shied away from all things Oscar because of that long-ago insinuation that the whole deal is loaded with sleazoid cooties. Silly, yes, but true.

That is not to say I don’t enjoy some of the movies “honored” by the academy. In the past few years, I have seen and enjoyed the films “Nebraska,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Lincoln,” “Argo,” and, yes, even 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love.”

But I don’t make a point of seeing all the “best pictures” to personally judge my taste against the taste of the academy voters. It would be an exercise in self-reinforcement. Like most people, particularly movie buffs, I know I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

I still think 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” got shafted by winning only four Oscars, and none of them in major categories. Those darn sleazoids. They’ll always put a good rabbit down.

I intend the see “Selma,” one this year’s best picture nominees about Martin Luther King Jr. and the battle to ensure voting rights for black Americans. Lots of folks are mad because its director and star were snubbed by the academy voters. There are others ticked by its portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson.

I just want to see “Selma” for its portrayal of a great American story of courage, faith and daring. Who knows, what with Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act and many states giddily restricting voters’ enfranchisement anew, there may well be room for what Hollywood likes best: the sequel.

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sign of interrogation 3d, background There are a lot of reasons to question what and why things happen in the world, and for a curious but rather naive person like myself, I can think of a lot of reasons to ask if anyone has every wondered about some of those things.

So, have YOU ever wondered . . .

Why certain anti-depressant drugs hyped in TV ads can actually cause depression?

Why many people actually go to their doctors and ask them if (enter drug of choice here) is “right for them?”

How some doctors whose patients ask if (enter drug of choice here) is “right for them” go home and have a stiff drink or two and wonder if they should have been TV meteorologists?

Why carrying a concealed gun in a grocery store or church (or school) is legal in many states, but possession of a couple of grams of marijuana is not? Why some drivers tailgate at 70 mph when they know they can’t possibly stop or avoid a serious collision if suddenly the car in front of them comes to a stop.

Why Sunnis hate Shias based on a family feud 1,200 years ago?

Why “reality shows” are scripted?

Why Dina Eastwood believed her “reality show” would be a positive thing?

Why anyone would really want to watch a reality show?

Why, in over 40 years, none of Monterey County’s elite leadership could not manage to improve Routes 156 and 68, even to the extent of providing a third lane, or switching two lanes during rush hours to accommodate the greatest flow of traffic?

Why, in over 40 years, none of the county’s elite leadership could get their heads together, legally and in public for all to see, to create and implement a plan to provide a reliable water supply for the entire county, not just for the Peninsula or the Salinas Valley.

Why, if Del Rey Oaks has an old armored police vehicle, doesn’t Salinas have six and Seaside at least two?

Why the Peninsula mayors have hung on to a horse that has sometimes moved sideways, but mostly backwards, in such fits and starts, that it would never win a race, except that it had the magical ability to make a lot of money for its owners, from people who never bet on it? (PS – guess who the “horse” is)

Why anyone would have sold a house on Carmel Point for less than $200K (my wife and I did that in 1976)?

Why the elite leadership in the county this very day still evidently believe that secrecy is necessary to govern?

How do the elite leadership in the county not know the value of perception vs. reality in the minds of the public?

What are county Democratic leaders afraid of that leads them to support a Republican candidate for supervisor who has no track record on any of the major issues facing the county?

Why is it that only a few step out and publicly complain about county issues, when it comes to water rates, jobs, housing and the economy?

When these few do complain, why do so few of the county’s elite leadership actually try to do something about them? Could be that only a “few” don’t win elections?

Why would citizens of a local city complain about affordable housing for people who really need it, especially when the affordable housing would be separated from the complainers by a fence?

Why did Seaside and In-N-Out Burgers agree to the site to build a restaurant, when it is easily accessed from only one direction?

Why are politics in the county so damned screwed up?

Why were some coastal-issue attorneys from around the state attending a conference in Monterey overheard to totally agree that the most corrupt county in the state was Monterey County?

Why are there environmentalists worrying about the demise of a small bird that is thriving 15 miles up the coast, who have come out of the woodwork in 2013 and 2014 to oppose a beach resort project in Sand City, when they were quiet for the previous 21 years that the project was before the Coastal Commission?

Why am I writing this? Or, better yet, why are you reading this? I am left to ponder and continue to wonder why. . .

Hood, who lives in Carmel, formerly was executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.

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