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carmel_adventure04

Carmel River photo courtesy of Leor Pantilat. For more on his work, see end of post

If Jason Burnett was injured during his political struggles in Carmel or his controversial efforts to promote the Cal Am desalination project, he hides his wounds well. On a recent Friday he seemed more relaxed than he had in years as he prepared to immerse himself in a project with no political or policy overtones. He carried a giant chainsaw in the back of his pickup and was heading off to slice a dead black walnut tree into slabs to be turned into furniture.

During a break from the morning’s discussion, he showed off cell phone photos of some of the pieces he had previously crafted from redwood and the Big Sur cabin that he had brought back to life. He was more relaxed than ever and smiling like he does when he his son is the topic. He talked about the trip his little family will make soon into the north woods in search of relaxation and trout.

Burnett, 39, spoke proudly of his extremely active role in the desalination project and says he doesn’t worry about the criticism he has received for working so closely with rapacious Cal Am, which in some quarters is seen as a corrupter of public policy on the Central Coast. The way Burnett sees it, if people understood what he and associates have accomplished, they’d be “celebrating instead of criticizing.”

Public-ownership advocate George Riley, the most knowledgeable water activist on the Peninsula, agrees that Burnett has made several important and positive contributions to the desal venture, jeopardizing his political standing in the process. But at the same time, Burnett as a leader of the mayors’ water authority, spent “gobs of public money” and “ignored all the other water costs piling up on the ratepayers,” Riley said.

Burnett is no longer mayor of Carmel. He chose not to run for re-election this year following a period of great contentiousness that saw several city employees cut loose, followed by sizable public protest and, finally, the very public departure of the city manager that Burnett and his City Council allies had installed. It was made worse by terribly lopsided coverage in the weekly newspaper, whose publisher had felt disrespected by the manager. Whatever the cause, it placed another large speed bump in the path of Burnett’s political career.

He remains involved in the desalination project, though not in an official role. While he was on the Carmel City Council, he helped form the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority in order to give Peninsula mayors and residents some say in Cal Am’s tremendously controversial and equally expensive desalination venture. Now, at least when he’s not out fishing, he will serve as an unofficial adviser to the new president of the authority, Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe.

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Burnett at the beach

“A few months from now I hope he won’t be needing any input from me,” Burnett said in an interview that jumped from desal to Carmel politics to his love of fly-fishing, something he learned from his father and grandfather, David Packard of computer fame.

Foolishly or courageously depending on how it turns out, Burnett did something no other Peninsula politician dared. He stuck his neck out and provided some local leadership for the desalination project. Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter for years had been in the best position to assume that role by virtue of his membership on the Peninsula water management board, his past membership on the Coastal Commission and his numerous other associations. But when he did become involved, behind the scenes at the county level, the result was a nest of conflicting interests that unraveled the initial attempt at a desal plant for the Peninsula.

Though it has cost Burnett political capital locally, he jumped into the whirlpool with both feet and had some serious successes. Most importantly, considering the venture’s hefty pricetag, he helped create a bond-financing structure that reduces the project’s cost to Cal Am customers by 20 percent or more. He also helped create an oversight body that provides the public with a limited measure of scrutiny over the project, which is now penciled for completion in five years though the construction schedule has been and remains highly elastic.

But by becoming so closely involved in the project, and by working so closely with Cal Am, Burnett’s stock slid sharply in progressive circles over the past several years. He believes, without belaboring it, that his reputation has suffered unfairly simply because of the company’s reputation. Part of an international utility conglomerate, it has come under constant attack over the high and rising cost of its water locally, its general arrogance in dealing with its customers and its reliance on deceptive advertising to beat back a couple of efforts to start a public takeover of its local operations.

The company does have its allies, mostly in the hospitality industry, which fears great business losses if the desalination venture continues to sputter and the state makes good on its threat to severely cut the Peninsula’s use of Carmel River water. But Burnett seems unlikely to regain his political momentum unless and until a desal plant is up and running and running well.

As recently as five years ago, Burnett was seen as a likely replacement for U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, the Central Coast’s longtime representative in Congress. Though he never said he was going for that seat, the troubles in Carmel and his association with desal put an end to that talk. Simultaneously, the Peninsula watched Jimmy Panetta’s star rise, making favorite son Leon Panetta’s actual son the odds on favorite to take over for Farr.

According to Burnett, the desalination project is being embraced elsewhere as “the most environmentally advanced desalination plant” despite the picture its local detractors have painted.

He ticked off the environmental pluses.

  • The slant-well technology, which has led to considerable controversy and delay, but Burnett says ongoing testing of the technology is proving to be a great success. The result will be a water intake process that causes relatively little harm to ocean life.
  • The appropriate size, big enough to help prevent water rationing but not big enough to promote additional development.
  • The locatio, one of the best possible along the bay, next to the Cemex plant north of Marina, which is no longer pristine and creates no habitat or erosion issues. It is also close enough to the Marina landfill to create the possibility of being powered by electricity produced by the burning of methane created at the waste site.
  • The $10 million plan to use underwater diffusers if necessary to disburse the brine if it accumulates at the bottom of the bay below the waste-water outflow.

“I’m really proud of what we have done,” Burnett said. “We will be able to demonstrate that we can do desal in an environmentally sensitive way.”

But what about the cost? Peninsula water customers will be paying well over $400 million for the plant, not counting various related costs, and that’s on top of Cal Am bills that already are some of the highest in the nation.

Certainly that’s a large concern, Burnett acknowledged, but the community has no choice but to move ahead because the alternative is to continue killing the Carmel River and the habitat it supports.

Burnett said he grew up fishing on the river and is motivated more than anything by a desire to preserve and restore it. In his view, continuing to drain the river in violation of state water policy would have been both illegal and unconscionable.

“If we had continued on the same trajectory, the steelhead would be dead. I think in the long run that it will be recognized that this was absolutely the right thing to do both for the ocean and the river.”

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George Riley

Riley, the leader of Public Water Now, gives Burnett high marks in several areas, especially his work to create a public governance committee that has some oversight powers over the process and, eventually, the actual operation of the plant.

Riley said Burnett “became enormously knowledgeable, more so than any non-water professional,” but may have taken too much credit for some of the progress. He said Dave Stoldt of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District deserves serious credit for helping put together the bond package that will shave costs from the project and for the related ground water recovery program, along with Paul Sciuto of the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency.

So what’s next for Burnett, whose family money creates a long list of options? Before jumping into local politics, he was the managing partner of Clean Fund, an investment firm specializing in renewable energy projects, and before that he was associate deputy director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he specialized in climate change and greenhouse gas issues.

If he has a plan, he wasn’t sharing it that day, though rumor has it that he’s likely to play some role in the Clinton presidential campaign. He mentioned only the upcoming fishing trip, and the retro trailer he plans to tow behind the truck, and said simply, “I’m going to take some time off.”

Proprietor’s note: Silicon Valley lawyer Leor Pantilat’s excellent blog, “Leor Pantilat’s Adventures,” includes this section on the Carmel River Gorge.

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Hand holding out a stack of money tied to the end of a stick for briberyBetween them, Central Coast congressional candidates Casey Lucius and Jimmy Panetta have raised more than $725,000 so far to propel their campaigns, thanks in no small part to the generosity of investment bankers.

Several donors identifying themselves as venture capitalists, fund managers or investment bankers made the maximum contribution of $5,400 to the candidates, with most favoring  Democrat Jimmy Panetta but several opting to help the Republican underdog, Lucius.

Under federal election rules, the maximum contribution from an individual is $2,700 but that individual can double up by writing one $2,700 check for the June primary election and another for the November general election.

The latest campaign disclosure forms also show that Panetta, son of former Congressman/CIA Director/Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has raised $563,000 and is also receiving considerable help from the congressional crowd, including several members who worked with his father. They include Jim Costa, Tony Coelho, Steny Hoyer, Vic Fazio, Marty Russo, Bud Cramer, Dennis Cardoza and Zoe Lofgren as well as the lobbyist wife of former Sen. Tom Daschle.

Panetta, a prosecutor for the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, also picked up a fair measure of support from Monterey County’s budding marijuana industry. He received $1,420 from lawyer Jeff Gilles, whose firm specializes in representing marijuana interests, $1,500 from medical marijuana advocate Valentia Piccinini, $1,000 from commercial pot grower Mike Hackett and a contribution of free or discounted office space from Mike Bitar, who puts together investment syndicates for marijuana-related ventures.

(Incidentally, Bitar is a host of a fund-raising event tonight for Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter. It starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Estrada Adobe, 470 Tyler St., Monterey.)

Attorney James Panetta in court on July 25, 2013. (Vern Fisher/Monterey County Herald)Panetta is the obvious favorite because of the Panetta name and the Democratic leanings of the 20th Congressional District, now represented by the retiring Sam Farr, D-Carmel. But Lucius, a Pacific Grove city councilwoman, has raised some $162,000, the most ever raised by a GOP candidate in the district, and has impressed a serious slice of the electorate with her knowledge of international affairs and defense matters.  She is a former professor of national security for the U.S. Naval War College, the Naval Postgraduate School and other schools, a former naval intelligence officer and operations assistant to the U.S. ambassador to Hanoi.

Her largest contributions were $5,400 apiece from Tiburon investment banker Robert Hofeditz, venture capitalist Lloyd Alexander of San Francisco and Palo Alto asset manager Franklin P. Johnson of Palo Alto.

She received $2,700 from Charles Munger Jr. of Palo Alto, the California GOP’s biggest benefactor in recent years. Munger has contributed millions annually over the past several years, often targeting female and Latino candidates for help.

cbkmE29VAside from those contributions, Lucius has received mostly local money, including $2,000 from contractor Don Chapin, $1,000 from Margaret Duflock, who almost single-handedly financed the successful sheriff’s campaign of her son-in-law, Steve Bernal, and $500 from Salinas entrepreneur David Drew.

In addition to the investment bankers on the list, Panetta reported local contributions totaling $10,800 from the Antle farming family, $10,800 from the family of beer distributor George Couch, $10,000 from broadcasting executive David Benjamin and his wife, medical researcher Laurie Benjamin, and $8,100 from the Ted Balestreri family. He also picked up $500 from the girlfriend of local GOP stalwart Paul Bruno.

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Wrong conceptAlways trying to stay one step ahead of the pack for discriminating readers of the Monterey Bay Partisan, I’m doing a little self-accountability project.

Many leading pundits, in an odd but self-congratulating gesture, used the end of 2015 to look at how well their predictions for the year stood up when all was said and done.

Really, just about all was said and done by Dec. 31. Much of it by Republican Party front man and performance artist Donald Trump, who capped the year conjugating schlong (which remains outlawed in many red states and proposed for a ban in the 2012 GOP platform).

Trump saved a full-throated defense of aerosol hair spray for men, one of the great issues of modern times, in his final stump speech of the year. Make American comb-overs tough as plastic, erosion-proof and great again.

Many pundits, of course, failed big when it came to Trump’s campaign. They predicted the near-end of Trumpmania so many times that poor Jeb Bush actually believed some of the losers. The ones who saw Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a political juggernaut should lose their sinecures and be forced to clean Tim Pawlenty’s lumberjack shirts by hand.

I know I’ll be wrong plenty this year, so many times that I’d best get started and confess the errs of my future ways.

— I will be wrong in predicting House Speaker Paul Ryan will shave his beard. I never imagined part of his deal to take the crumby job but still go home weekends was so he could not only to see his young children, but perform with Wisconsin’s top ZZ Top karaoke tribute band.

— I will be wrong again when I predict the Monterey Peninsula would take the opening of the new In ‘N Out burger joint in Seaside in a sophisticated, understated way. I never guessed it would be accompanied by a blimp fleet, laser light show, massive traffic jams and Mayor Ralph Rubio’s unfortunate ribbon-cutting mishap.

— I’ll be red-faced when my bold prediction that Castroville, under the new effort to normalize relations with Cuba, will establish a sister-city bond with a community on the island nation. Seems I was wrong in thinking there’s a place called Castroburg near Havana. Monterey, meanwhile, will add six more sister cities.

— I’ll really have to eat my optimistic words that 2016 will be the year of miracle, when all parties in the gigantic fight over Monterey Peninsula water — including the steelhead — will find common bonds in their existential weariness. Under the peace deal I envisioned, all golf courses would be irrigated for 18 months by desalted tears of joy. But Cal Am’s filing for a rate increase with the CPUC on all tear-supplied waters doomed the fragile agreement.

— Crow will be served on my plate for my rash declaration that Congressman Sam Farr will rescind his retirement and seek another term to take up the cause of shocking abuse suffered by fleas in the American flea-circus industry. Internal polling swiftly shows the popularity of fleas among voters ranks just below bedbugs and slightly above drug-price gouger Martin Shkreli. Farr’s plan to celebrate his re-retirement with an old-fashioned bonfire on the Carmel beach ends in horrible chaos as police disperse the celebrants with perfume-scented pepper spray.

— I will be sadly mistaken by my inability to collect on a $20 wager for correctly predicting Donald Trump will win the GOP nomination in Cleveland this summer. The former reporter colleague with whom I made the bet moves out of the area, denies knowledge of the wager, says he can’t afford to pay because his cat needs a tummy tuck, and, finally, responds to all my pay-up messages with a blanket “Shut up, Larry” Just like the old days in the newsroom.

— With deep shame, I admit my vow to never shut up when there are good fights to fight and Trump hair jokes to make went awry when Monterey Bay Partisan Czar R. Calkins replaces me early in 2016 with the new “cranky geezer” app. The app spits out superior topical humor in mere seconds, while improving on the very old model — me — by spelling words corectly.

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PARTISAN News Quiz 2015: No one will get all these right

110_F_66851562_fFaspr2gJRZ649D8HnBiDZyATXAzuOcPThe people of the Central Coast are an enlightened lot, but just how enlightened? To find out, we designed this quiz to test how well Partisan readers were paying attention in 2015. As always, go to the comment box at the end and let us know how you did.

A. Which of the following happened in 2015

  1. Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo retired
  2. The various Peninsula agencies agreed on a plan to increase groundwater storage and expand conservation efforts
  3. A sheriff’s deputy with no management experience became the head of  the county’s largest law enforcement agency
  4. The Salinas murder rate went down
  5. None of the above (hint hint)

B. Cal Am continued to make progress on

  1.  A test well
  2. Plans for a test well
  3. Plans to study a test well
  4. The hiring of consultants without conflicts of interest to study plans to study a test well

C. Which of these development projects continued to exist, at least on paper, despite demonstrably inadequate water supplies:

  1. Monterey Downs
  2. Ferrini Ranch
  3. Corral de Tierra shopping center
  4. All of the above

D. GOP political consultant Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

  1. Changed his registration to Democrat
  2. Went into partnership with campaign manager Alex Hulanicki to form the Icki Group.
  3. Was elected to public office
  4. Started taking a correspondence course to become a bail bondsman

E. Which of the following comics attracted record crowds

  1. Don Rickles
  2. Don Knotts
  3. Don Trump

F. A sequel was produced for which of these movies

  1. The Graduate/The Retiree
  2. Star Wars: Luke Skywalker/Star Wars: Luke Buys a Walker
  3. The Godfather/The Great-Godfather
  4. Groundhog Day/Groundhog Day

G. The Pebble Beach Co.

  1. Announced plans for more gates with entrance fees on a sliding scale
  2. Banned American cars
  3. Bought Del Rey Oaks for employee housing

H. The Transportation Agency for Monterey County chose as its top 2016 priority

  1. Construction of a roundabout at Highway 1 and Holman Highway
  2. A study of roundabouts on Monterey-Salinas Highway because it has been free of construction delays for several weeks
  3. Approval of a sales tax measure to finance additional study into the need for an additional sales tax measure

I. The following decided to run for Sam Farr’s seat in Congress

  1. Jimmy Panetta
  2. Jimmy Panetta’s offspring
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Howard

J. Howard Gustafson of the Marina Coast Water District said 

  1. The Surfrider Foundation should “go F— yourselves.”
  2. He had once been engaged to Jane Fonda
  3. He gets all his information from the Partisan
  4. Voters would be better off replacing him randomly

K. Two homeless men apparently died of exposure in downtown Monterey, leading to 

  1. A communitywide effort to build housing for the homless
  2. An outpouring of blankets and warm clothes
  3. Pretty much nothing

L. Officials at the Monterey County Weekly disclosed that the Squid Fry column

  1. Is written by Paul Miller
  2. Is edited by Dave Potter
  3. Is a repeat of the column from exactly a year earlier

M. Sand City officials announced plans to

  1. Rezone the beachfront light industrial
  2. Annex Seaside
  3. Eliminate sales taxes throughout the shopping district
  4. Cancel municipal elections

Beach campfire on lake with sand shore. burning wood on white sand in daytimeN. The city of Carmel eliminated beach bonfires and banned

  1. The sale or marketing of necessities
  2. Any public references to Jason Stilwell or Sue McCloud
  3. Children

O. The city of Marina approved plans for

  1. A citywide no-parking zone
  2. A gluten-free, cheese-free, meat-free pizza truck
  3. Shrinking the city limits to cover two walkable square blocks

SCORING: Because we attended Christmas Eve services at a Unitarian church, we encourage you to decide for yourselves which answers are correct. If you answered all 15 questions correctly, you are a liar and a cheat and need to know that there is plenty of time to take out papers for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. If you correctly answered 10-14 questions, you are Mary Duan, editor of the Monterey County Weekly. If you got 6-9 questions right, you’re more than qualified to start your own blog or, at least, write your own editorials. Fewer than 6 right? You had help from either Howard Gustafson or Paul Bruno

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The Partisan’s 2015 wish list, toward a better tomorrow

christmas tree lightA review of the Partisan’s posts of 2015 reveals that we did a reasonably good job of accentuating the positive and avoiding unnecessary criticism. In that spirit, we are taking this opportunity to distribute some presents of sorts with the barest amount of advice necessary to provide context.

City of Seaside: A gift bag filled with enough wisdom to realize that this horse-racing thing is never going to happen. You need to know this before you waste more time and money. It might have come to something if the centerpiece of this proposal was something other than a horse racing track, but that’s what it is. Horse racing was a dying enterprise even before the public started recognizing how many horses actually die at the tracks. On top of that, the location is wrong, the developers’ own financial forecasts don’t support the idea and the development team seems to think it can force it down the community’s throat.

Craig Malin: For the incoming Seaside city manager, a subscription to the Weekly and the Partisan because you’ve shown yourself to be a fan of good local journalism.

Sand City: Don’t be jealous about Seaside’s present. Here’s a box of reality for you, too. That hotel on the beach? It was a bureaucratic fluke that got the proposal this far but if you think the community is going to let you build a hotel on the sand, knowing what happens when buildings go up on the shore, you need to get out more.

City of Mared christmas backgroundrina: Your gift is a back brace to help continue to build a people-friendly community rather than a conglomeration of shopping centers and parking lots. Yes, people want restaurants in their commercial districts but the City Council can and should set standards. Time will prove the council right.

The City of King City: A whole new start.

Salinas Police Department: May the big shiny box behind the tree be filled with at least a few months of peace. The way your officers stepped up to contribute money for the 9-year-old abuse victim in the recent child homicide case was truly heartwarming. They deserve something other than crime scene after crime scene.

Jane Parker: Here’s hoping Santa brings you two new colleagues this year. Imagine a board trying to work together to serve the public! Yes, it sounds crazy, but we’ve all heard of Christmas miracles, right?

Dennis DonohuBirch forest in wintere: The former Salinas mayor won’t come right out and say he will run against Parker, though he’s already collecting campaign cash. Our gift is a simple reminder that to beat Parker, he’ll have to take loads of money from people he wouldn’t to have as neighbors. It’s about governance, Dennis, not commerce.

Pacific Grove: A city engineer who can figure out how to use the new hotel tax money to get the ancient sewer system fixed.

Carmel: A few dozen barbecue grills and a mural at the Post Office depicting the good old days of beach bonfires.

Sam Farr: Some fishing tackle.

Jimmy Panetta: A challenge from the left to keep you honest.

Casey Lucius: A professional campaign manager.

Monterey County Democratic Party: Leadership.

Monterey County Republican Party: New leadership.

Cal Am: A conscience.

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Monning to announce plans Tuesday

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State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, plans to announce his intentions regarding the congressional race at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Colton Hall in Monterey. No way to be certain, of course, but the expectation is that he will say that he will run for the seat now held by Sam Farr, also D-Carmel.

This is good news for voters who believe campaigns should be about issues. Already on the Democratic side of the primary ballot is prosecutor Jimmy Panetta, son of former Congressman Leon Panetta. Others are expected. On the Republican side there is Casey Lucius, a member of the Pacific Grove City Council, someone who had been expected to give Farr his first significant challenge in years.

Stay tuned.

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Lucius-2Since November 1976 — the year “Watergate Babies” were elected to Congress in droves — two Democrats have won victory after victory to represent the Central Coast of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties in the House of Representatives.

By November 2016, the undefeated streak put together by Leon Panetta and Sam Farr will have reached 40 years. During that time you could count the number of their “serious” opponents on one hand. A three-toed sloth could count the number of challengers who raked in any serious money from national Republican contributors without using every toe on one paw. The GOP hasn’t put in a lot of energy trying to wrest the decidedly Democrat-leaning district from the Democrats. Nor has the party put up carefully groomed candidates for the seat.

Which is why one local political pundit breathlessly heralded this week’s campaign announcement by first-term Pacific Grove Councilwoman Casey Lucius with the words “a possibly NOT insane GOP candidate” is in the race.

Lucius, a Navy veteran who left her job as a professor at the Naval War College in Monterey to run, certainly has the military background helpful for a GOP candidate to burnish one’s national security credentials. And her husband is a retired Marine to boot, now working for the — wait a minute — Humane Society.

Lucius, who campaigned for the Pacific Grove Council in 2012 by emphasizing the unmet needs of children and young parents, aimed for the same new-breed, next-generation approach in her opening salvo against Farr.

She said it is time for “new ideas and a new generation of solutions” and someone representing the Central Coast in Congress who is not bound “to follow partisan dictates.” Those are lofty sentiments. But given the lockstep partisan character of most national Republicans, it’s difficult to see Lucius doing much to shake up her party’s hard positions on climate science, abortion, health care, gun control, income disparity, voting rights, campaign finance or the likes.

Unknown-1That’s not to say Lucius isn’t trying to sound like a very different kind of Republican that voters in a traditional Democratic bastion might take a fancy to.

Lucius says she supports gay marriage, improving the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights under Roe vs. Wade, and is concerned about climate change. Of course, she also says she is for the Second Amendment, a simpler tax code and fewer government regulation, all tried-and-true GOP sound bites. She veered further from current GOP orthodoxy in remarks to Jeff Mitchell of the Salinas Californian. She condemned the “Citizen’s United” Supreme Court decision that unleashed an avalanche of campaign spending in the name of corporate free speech, and she said she and her family are longtime vegetarians.

I look forward to the reaction from Central Coast cattle ranchers, many of whom probably still have dusty Bush-Cheney bumper stickers on their pickups, to that news about Lucius’ dietary preferences.

To mount a serious challenge to Farr she’ll need a lot of money — at least $1 million, she estimates — and that kind of cash comes from the kind of people who like their candidates — Republican or Democrat — to hew close to the party line. Given her views on gay rights and abortion, I wonder how Lucius would even find a Republican presidential candidate to vote for among the current field.

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west-wing-rob-lowe

Which Rob Lowe? If the actor runs for Congress out of Santa Barbara, as some Republicans hope, he wouldn’t be the liberal Rob Lowe from The West Wing but instead would be the libertarian Rob Lowe from Montecito

Congressman Sam Farr, although he has made no noise about retiring, won’t be in Congress forever. And when he does exit, Central Coast residents can expect a crowded field of wannabe House members to throw their hats — though no one wears hats much any more — into the race.

There will be a throng, not unlike the two-round, special 1993 election that Farr won to succeed Leon Panetta, who left Congress to become President Clinton’s budget chief.

That year, Farr and 26 other candidates lined up in a wide-open primary field, which included 11 Democrats vying for their party nomination. Because of the district’s heavily Democratic makeup, Farr really won the seat by besting the 10 other Dems in the special primary.

Farr went on to beat Republican Bill McCampbell by 10 percentage points in the runoff election and has cruised to easy re-elections since. That likely will keep happening until Farr decides to hang it up — despite the flurry of publicity being enjoyed by first-term Pacific Grove Councilwoman Casey Lucius for merely thinking about taking on Farr under the GOP banner.

Central Coast residents can get a sense of how the political gusher will gush when Farr retires  — Jimmy Panneta, Bill Monning, how many others? — by looking down the coast toward Santa Barbara.

Longtime Democrat Rep. Lois Capps said this week she won’t run for re-election next year, and the number of possible candidates is already approaching the number of oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Capps’ 24th District is different than Farr’s 20th District. Democrats only hold a slight edge in the district that runs from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara. That makes the 2016 race even more wide open, for both Democrats and Republicans, than an open race in the 20th. Here’s an early take on what will be a very competitive race from Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee.

Absent from that list is one of the 24th’s most famous residents and current darling among some Republicans — actor Rob Lowe, who resides in Montecito. Though Lowe’s only political experience was as a fictional Democratic White House aide on the TV show “The West Wing,” some conservatives are hoping he runs next year for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Barbara Boxer.

If Lowe decides to be the latest actor-turned-politician  in California, Lowe shouldn’t suffer for lack of name recognition. Until this month, he and several inferior alter egos were featured in a curious series of elitist TV commercials for DirecTV.

Lowe makes his bones on the libertarian side of the Republican tent. He’s for individualism over big government, except for big-ticket items, presumably like Pentagon budgets.

But he may have to convince voters he isn’t the Rob Lowe who peaked, not in high school like in the TV ads, but as Sam Seaborn, urbane and liberal policy wonk on “The West Wing.”

And, of course, there was the notorious video of Lowe having sex with two young women he met in an Atlanta club on the eve of the 1988 Democratic National Convention. With today’s GOP electorate, the sex tape may not mean as much as what Lowe was doing at the DNC — campaigning for eventual Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

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circus elephantLike any member of Congress, Sam Farr, the Central Coast’s longtime House Democrat, must be a busy guy.

Just the other day, Farr lectured the House’s top administrator on ways to cut money out of its budget by creating an in-house Web bulletin board for goods and services a la Craigslist, eBay and Freecycle.

So it may take a while before the congressman notices the big story out of another circus world — the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which says it will phase out elephant acts by 2018.

For years, Farr drew “huh” notice in Congress for bills he sponsored to end abuses of elephants and other circus animals. One such bill was 2008’s “The Captive Elephants Accident Prevention Act,” in which Farr called for more humane treatment of circus animals.

“Animals like elephants are not horses or dogs,” Farr said at the time. Truer words were never spoken in Congress.

Over the years, when not touting his district’s tourism and farming industries and going to bat for big pots of Pentagon dollars for the Defense Language Institute and Naval Postgraduate School, Farr has been a champion against animal abuse, not only with circus performers but with puppy mills, too.

I believe he has kept his congressional nose out of the debate over the mistreatment of rodeo animals, but I’d have to check the record. It could strike too close to home. I know whatever Republican chooses to take Farr on in 2016 will have a tough time going against a guy who pitched in to protect show-biz elephants — the very symbol of the GOP. 

Given how the current Republican-held House has kicked off its first two months in power, Farr may be focusing his attention more on the circus elephants inside the Beltway big top. And like most Democrats, he probably isn’t too worried about their acts without a net.

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Sometimes a picture can be worth a thousand votes

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Jay Varney, sworn in this week as sheriff of conservative Madera County, is on to something. Varney did some effective messaging with his creative typography and his deft reference to having had law enforcement experience in Texas, a separate nation when it comes to policing. Monterey County candidates may want to consider his technique rather than going with the same old Joe Blow for Supervisor signs.

Some suggestions. When he runs for re-election in four years, Sheriff Steve Bernal may want to use a large dollar sign in place of each S to remind potential challengers that  he’s the guy with all the campaign money, assuming he hasn’t done something to upset his brother’s well-heeled mother-in-law.

When prosecutor Jimmy Panetta runs for Congress, he might want to skip the last name entirely and just use a picture of his famous dad with a big smile. Similarly, when Felix Bachofner runs for Seaside mayor again, he should just leave off the last name and let it go at that. Too difficult.

Whatever Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett runs for next, his signs could have his name inscribed on military-style tombstones like those at the new national cemetery at Fort Ord to remind people that he was the guy who made the cemetery a reality. Congressman Sam Farr would quibble, of course, but he’ll probably be out of the picture by then. As for Burnett, the tombstone imagery might become even more apt if the desalination project doesn’t get on a better track and if voters haven’t forgotten the meltdown at City Hall.

Monterey City Councilwoman Libby Downey, surrounded now by so many progressives on the council, should think about using her full name, Liberal Downey, on her signs to make it clear she belongs.

Spanish-speaking Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning of Carmel has statewide political ambitions. To appeal to the widest possible demographic, he would be wise to scatter some accent marks throughout his name.

During his successful race for county supervisor, retired judge John Phillips was criticized in print by former prosecutor Ann Hill, who contended that he was a not-so-good-old boy when it came to issues of gender equality. To remind voters that he was the guy who shook it off and went on to a convincing victory, he might want to highlight four letters of his last name, as in John PHILLips.

Over at the Marina Coast Water District, Howard Gustafson could turn the O in Howard into a face of an angry man yelling at someone.

Ex-cop Joe Gunter, mayor of Salinas, could simply steal the gun idea from Varney.

And Supervisor Dave Potter, if he runs again,  should have his signs play up both of his faces.

 

(BTW, it would be really useful to the Partisan if those of you who read this on Facebook would hit the share button so all your friends can see what kind of nonsense amuses you)

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close-up making sausages automatic processAs Central Coast residents and media folks rushed Thursday to deal with the buckets of rain brought by “Hellastorm,'” another hellastorm played out in Congress.

It featured “Cromnibus” — which isn’t a Hollywood monster or an old “Seinfeld” holiday — but last-ditch legislation to keep the federal government from being shut down at midnight.

Eleventh-hour legislation to avert government shutdowns is becoming as much a holiday tradition as trimming the tree, shopping for presents and Fox News coverage of the 30-year War on Christmas.

Passage of Cromnibus — a semantic salad mixing “continuing resolution” and “omnibus appropriations measure” — was going to be tight.

Right-wing Republicans didn’t like it because it actually paid for federal operations that they would just as soon see nullified.

Left-wing Democrats didn’t like it, particularly because of a last-minute provision that no one would publicly cop to supporting, which will use tax dollars to insure risky swap investments by big banks. One reform measure passed in the wake of the 2008 economic crash had removed federal insurance from this high-roller action by the big investment banks.

Those fancy financial instruments were instrumental in the 2008 meltdown and subsequent, highly popular bailout of bonus-earning Wall Streeters.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged House Democrats to reject this crummy feature of Cromnibus. The drama increased as President Obama and Vice President Biden personally pitched in to help House Speaker John Boehner round up yes votes. Even JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon was working the phones. And he probably got right through to many of those of Congress critters who answer average constituents with snappy form letter thank yous.

In the end, 57 House Democrats joined all but 67 Republicans to pass the spending bill, including Central Coast Congressman Sam Farr. He must have bought the White House arguments for Cromnibus more than he bought those from Pelosi and Warren.

Why isn’t exactly clear.

Farr’s last tweet on the subject urged Central Coast residents to stay dry while Stormulus lashed his home turf as he remained in the capital for the big budget showdown.

The Associated Press quoted Farr as telling colleagues to “Hold your nose and make this a better world.” There was too much good stuff in Cromnibus to risk getting a worse deal once Republicans take control of both houses of Congress next year. Those goodies include money to fund nearly every Cabinet agency through September 2015, increases for health research, securities regulation, processing of a backlog of rape kits, and foreign aid.

In a press release Tuesday, Farr had glowingly said the spending bill would have an amendment he co-authored to prevent the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana patients.

That’s what legislators call compromise.

Bankers will get full house backing on their high-risk investment gambles. And medical marijuana patients won’t have to fear the federal kick on the door.

And the rest of us, the next time the economy crashes, may need some hellagood recreational pot.

UPDATE (2:10 pm)
Here’s a statement Farr posted on Facebook explaining why be voted for Cromnibus.

“Last night was a tough vote. Before us was a bill to avoid a government shutdown and keep the government open through September. The bill contained a lot of good things: increased funding for federal agencies, provisions to help our local ag industry, protections for medical marijuana patients, and it saved healthy school lunches to name just a few. It also contained some bad things the Republicans added at the last minute. I felt the good outweighed the bad and voted for it. The alternative was to allow the government to shut down or to only fund it for a short term until the Republicans take control of the Senate, leaving the Democrats with even less negotiating power. In both of those situations we would have lost all of the good this bill accomplished.”

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Cal Am and critics are fighting hard over a hole in the sand

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The Cemex sand-mining operation along Monterey Bay north of Marina, which is where Cal Am wants to drill a desalination test well.

During the political campaigning that ended with last week’s election, Democratic Congressman Sam Farr did something unusual. In the race for two seats on the Marina City Council, he endorsed strongly conservative Nancy Amadeo and registered independent Dan Devlin Jr. instead of Democratic incumbent Dave Brown.

Farr’s explanation was straightforward. He was punishing Brown for not voting to let Cal Am Water drill a desalination test well in the Marina sand dunes.

In an email, Farr explained, “I support friends. I support (Mayor Bruce Delgado) and Nancy because they supported the rest of the Peninsula’s effort to solve the water issue. I thought the blockage (the majority vote against the permit) was selfish and punitive.”

Farr’s choice helps illustrate how much energy and politicking is going into the unresolved issue of whether Cal Am should be allowed to proceed with a test well. Ultimately, it’s about a lot more than a simple well, of course. It is the latest in a series of increasingly testy fights between the Cal Am camp, which includes the hospitality industry and other business interests, and Cal Am’s detractors, which include many area environmental activists and others who worry what an expensive desalination plant is going to do to the already high cost of water locally.

Cal Am has been trying for most of this year to move ahead with a plan to drill a test well to help determine whether the Cemex sand mining property on the Marina shoreline is a feasible location for the desalination plant it hopes to build to help solve the Peninsula’s water shortage. In essence, the plan is to drill a well slightly inland from the ocean to draw seawater and some fresh groundwater and determine whether the sand can serve as a filter to prevent the intake of sea life.

Engineers also want to see how much fresh water would be drawn into the well, an issue of grave concern to neighboring property owners and others with rights to the Salinas Valley aquifer, which reaches to Marina and beyond. If things go well, the well could be converted to a production well for the actual desalination plant.

Rather than granting a permit, however, the majority of the Marina City Council voted to require an environmental impact report, which would add many months to the desalination project. The council members say they were only protecting the environment and state environmental laws that require EIRs for projects that create the potential for significant harm. In an appeal to the California Coastal Commission, Cal Am and its cohorts say the issue is the economic health of the Peninsula, which they say easily trumps the environmental niceties.

The issue goes to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors Tuesday Nov. 11 for an advisory vote and then to the Coastal Commission the next day for a possible vote on a motion to overturn the city of Marina and allow Cal Am to proceed. Under tremendous political pressure to permit the testing, the commission is likely to say yes, but don’t expect it to end there. Much of the opposition input is written like legal briefs, so the two sides are likely to see each other in court.

Here, the Partisan will try to explain what’s happening, a task that will tax our analytical skills to the max. It might take a while, so you might want to take a seat.

BACKGROUND

As most everyone knows by now, the state Water Resources Board has issued an order requiring the Peninsula to reduce its reliance on the threatened Carmel River starting in 2016. After Plans A, B and C fell through, the only real plan in place now involves construction of a desalination plant along with a handful of supplemental projects, including additional wastewater reclamation.

Unfortunately for all, the process has been compromised by petty corruption, politics of all sorts, litigation and bureaucratic dilly-dallying. It became obvious long ago that there is no chance of meeting the state’s deadline, which is why an assortment of Peninsula bigwigs is preparing to descend on Sacramento later this month to beg for mercy and time. The state agency is fully empowered to require deep reductions in water usage, and the water-reliant hospitality industry is in near-panic mode.

Well testing is expected to take more than two years, once it gets started, and actual construction of the desalination plant couldn’t begin until completion of an arduous regulatory process and additional engineering work. Even so, Cal Am and the area officials hope to obtain the well-drilling permit as a signal to the state that progress is, at long last, being made.

THE VOTE

After a series of delays, Cal Am’s permit application finally went to the Marina City Council for a vote on Sept. 4. The issue put the council in an unusual position. Most city governments in the area are solidly behind Cal Am’s desalination plan because their jurisdictions are running short on water and political leaders are worried about the economic impact of a severe water cutback. Marina isn’t served by Cal Am, however. It has its own water district, the Marina Coast Water District and would not be directly affected by the state cutback order.

Making things more complicated, the Marina Coast Water District was a partner with Cal Am and Monterey County in an earlier incarnation of a desalination project. That venture fell apart, but Marina Coast Water District believes Cal Am still owes it some big money from that failed effort. Not so incidentally, trial over that dispute is scheduled to begin Dec. 1 in San Francisco.

Also not so incidentally, the City Council majority in Marina is politically compatible with the majority of the Marina Coast board, so Cal Am wasn’t as warmly received in Marina as it might have hoped. When Cal Am and its supporters in the hospitality industry complain about obstructionists and those who would destroy the Peninsula’s economy, Marina officials don’t quiver the way their counterparts in Monterey, Seaside or Carmel might.

RATIONALE

Anybody who is anybody in the world of water testified before the Marina council. Cal Am argued that there was no reason not to proceed. Time’s a’wasting, the company emphasized. Representatives of the hospitality industry, who had pressured employees to attend, warned of dire economic consequences if the vote went the wrong way. Cal Am critics argued that Cal Am and the industry have made an unholy alliance with hotel officials supporting Cal Am in exchange for a sweetheart arrangement on water rates.

The meeting went on forever.

In the end, the Marina council voted 3-2 to require that Cal Am perform an environmental impact report before proceeding with the test well.  Council members said they were concerned primarily about the well’s potential impact on the surrounding groundwater in the Salinas Valley aquifer. They also were concerned about whether the pumping would violate the water rights of other property owners.

The technical grounds for the decision are important now for legal reasons. The council members in the majority—David Brown, Frank O’Connell, and Gail Norton—said they felt compelled to vote as they did no matter how they felt about the desalination plant and the threat of economic harm to the community. Clearly, they said, pumping a large amount of water along the shoreline could have significant environmental impacts, so the law requires full exploration of the potentials.

Councilman Brown won re-election last week despite falling into disfavor with Farr. He explained the thinking in a subsequent email to Farr. He noted that the other two lawyers on the council agreed with his analysis:

“First, I did not vote against desal, or desal in Marina. I simply voted to require an EIR. Second, our CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) attorney explained the matter as somewhat analogous to a motion for summary judgment, namely if there is opposing environmental evidence on both sides of the issue, from experts, as to the possibility of environmental harm to Marina’s 180-foot aquifer, we don’t weigh the evidence, we simply note the conflict and then require an EIR.

“There was expert testimony from engineer Brian Lee of (Marina Coast Water District) of such harm. I viewed the matter as more of a legal one than anything else, and as an attorney I felt I had to respect that process . . . . You may recall that a few months earlier, I voted to approve (in a 3-2 vote) Cal Am’s bid to drill temporary boreholes at the Cemex plant, for water-quality testing. I voted that way because it was clear there would be no significant environmental impact.”

APPEAL PROCESS

Cal Am quickly appealed to the Coastal Commission, which has the power to overturn local jurisdictions in cases involving significant public works projects.

The commission staff is recommending that the commission grant the test well permit. The staff’s legal argument is largely that the City Council did not properly document its position in the context of the city’s coastal protection plan as approved by the commission and that the overriding issue, the Peninsula’s water supply, is more important than an EIR.

The staff found that alternative locations for the test well and the desalination plant itself are more environmentally vulnerable than the already developed Cemex site. The staff also found that the public interest compels approval of the test well because progress on the project is necessary in order for the Peninsula to eventually abide by the state’s water cutback order.

The staff did concur with the City Council in places. It said the test well plan is inconsistent with the city- and commission-approved coastal habitat protection plan and that numerous requirements should be attached to the permit to assure that Cal Am protects the site to the greatest extent possible and is responsible for eventual cleanup.

One thing that is curious about the staff report is that it keys on the city’s rationale for essentially denying the permit but does not include a full transcript of the city proceedings.

Tom Moore, chairman of the Marina Coast Water District board, pointd that out in a note to the district engineer.

“Someone brought to my attention the fact that it appears as though the Coastal Commission staff has redacted more than 200 pages from the City of Marina’s transcript of the slant well hearings before the City Council in September.  The online staff report to the Coastal Commissioners on this item for Wednesday’s meeting contains less than 40 of the more than 300 pages of the transcript.”

After listing the missing pages, Moore continued, “I have to say that this boggles my mind.  Who authorized such an extensive redaction, one that prevents the Coastal Commissioners and the public from understanding the entirety of the proceedings that were held before Marina City Council.”

PRO AND CON

Presumably, correspondence on the issue was flowing into the commission in the past weeks. Farr, among others, wrote a letter strongly supporting the permitting of a test well.

Among those writing letters in opposition was the Ag Land Trust, which owns rights to Salinas Valley aquifer water in the area.

“The Coastal Commission, if it follows (the staff’s) wrongful advice, will be taking an ‘ultra viras’ (beyond its power) act and approving an illegal test well which violates CEQA, which fails to address the cumulative adverse impacts of the project as a whole and which will result in an unlawful ‘taking’ of groundwater rights from the Ag Land Trust and other rights holders.”

The Ag Land Trust letter was signed by former county Supervisor Marc Del Piero, a lawyer who has specialized in water, and Richard Nutter, retired Monterey County ag commission

The trust said it owns extensive groundwater rights in the area, including on property adjacent to the Cemex property, and that Cal Am has not produced any evidence that it has any rights to groundwater that would be pumped along with seawater. In its 11-page letter, the trust also said the test well would violate numerous provisions of the Marina coastal plan as approved by the commission and not just the habitat provision cited by the staff.

“The Ag Land Trust understands that there is a water shortage on the Monterey Peninsula. We have not caused nor have we contributed to that problem. It has gone on for decades . . . . The water shortage that is of Cal Am making, by its failure to produce a water supply project in over 20 years, does not justify the commission staff’s proposed illegal taking of our groundwater and property rights and the intentional contamination of our potable aquifers and wells for the sold and private economic benefit of Cal Am.”

So there you have it. Important stuff. And, as always, the Partisan would like to know what you think. You can leave a comment below.

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