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Brochure says Dana Point mega project was “Inspired by Nature.”

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The Strand at the Headlands, a housing development in Dana Point in Orange County that Dave Potter voted for when he was a member of the California Coastal Commission.

I wasn’t going to write any more about Dave Potter’s re-election bid because we’re so close to Tuesday’s election, but then he sent a provocation to my mailbox. It’s his latest campaign mailer and it has a nice photo on the front of an oceanfront cypress with the words “A delicate balance.” Inside, it says, “As the longest serving government appointee to the California Coastal Commission (1997-2009), Dave led statewide efforts to protect our most precious natural resource from unwise and excessive development.”

Forget that he was removed from the commission after compiling one of the worst environmental records of all the commissioners, according to annual rankings by Surfrider and the Sierra Club. The Carmel Pine Cone reported last week and plans to report again this week that he wasn’t removed, an absolutely incorrect assertion based on then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’s overly polite comment that she wasn’t even aware of his voting record when she replaced him with a more environmentally friendly appointee. The Pine Cone accuses Adams of lying, and worse, even though Potter publicly acknowledged that “the environmentalists” had arranged for his removal over his objections.

Coincidentally, when Potter’s latest touchy-feely mailer arrived, I was contemplating a piece of my own, updating Potter’s yes vote on one of the most controversial Southern California development projects of his Coastal Commission tenure. I had been leaning toward letting it go, lest it be suggested that the Partisan has already made the case against his re-election and was piling on. But then I saw that cypress tree and read about how Potter has been “Guarding Our Coastline.”

Potter’s time on the Coastal Commission provided him with a great opportunity to become cozy with development interests up and down the state while portraying himself as a conservationist at home, a pretense he has partly abandoned in recent years. While casting token anti-development votes here, he routinely voted in favor of controversial development projects large and small along the coast. It was during one Los Angeles County application process that he met and became friends with horse-racing promoter Brian Boudreau, who brought his controversial Monterey Downs racetrack venture to Monterey County at Potter’s invitation.

But possibly the most controversial project of Potter’s time on the commission was the Dana Point Headlands project, which allowed a string of monster homes to be built on the sand over the super-strenous objections of just about everyone except the developer. Remarkably, while Potter’s commission vote in favor of the venture came a dozen years ago, he is still enjoying the benefits.

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Photo of Headlands homes from Sanford Edwards’ website

The Headlands developer, Sanford Edward, early this year contributed $1,000 to Potter’s campaign against challenger Mary Adams for his 5th District seat. And one of the first millionaires to build a monster home there, David Demshur, contributed $2,000 just last month.

Here is what the Sierra Club said about the Headlands venture after the vote:

“The project violates the Coastal Act in that it calls for severe grading in the coastal zone and construction of a 2200-foot-long rock pile revetment/seawall to support about 70 custom lots on Strands bluff. Even the Coastal Commission’s own staff’s reports strongly recommended denial of this project based on its multiple Coastal Act violations.

If granted, the preliminary injunction would have halted construction on the Headlands project until the lawsuit came to trial, several months later.

In late June, Sierra Club and Surfrider assessed the situation. Without the preliminary injunction, construction on the site would continue until the trial; even if the environmentalists won at trial, undoing of the development work would be unlikely. The need to put resources into the much larger toll road/Trestles campaign loomed large. The groups reached regretful consensus to end the Headlands campaign.

Sierra Club National Litigation Committee approved dismissal of the suit in mid-September. Surfrider Foundation has also voted to approve dismissal.

The development is now in full swing. An outing to Strands Beach is now marred by the sight of heavy-duty construction machinery working on the bluff. The once-peaceful bluff has been cleared of all vegetation and looks like it has been strip-mined.

The Coastal Commission’s approval of the project has not only destroyed the natural beauty that once was Strands bluff, but also set a bad precedent for other coastal development projects throughout California.”

(A previous Partisan post misstated Potter’s vote based on erroneous information in a Los Angeles Times account.)

Demshur’s 10,000-square-foot home at the Dana Point development has received considerable publicity for its design. Incidentally, his primary residence is on a golf course in Houston, where he is the head of Core Laboratories, which is heavily involved in oil fracking. The Partisan’s mention of his fracking work May 12 prompted Potter to return his $2,000 contribution the next day. However, Potter had previously collected what is likely to have been considerably more from Demshur. The supervisor’s statement of economic interests for 2015 says his Potter Construction Co. received something in excess of $100,000 that year from Demshur and two companies, Enviro International and Ocean Breeze Construction. Specific dollar amounts and details of the work are not included on the forms and Potter did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Enviro International is operated by Safwat Malek, the Pebble Beach architect who is currently involved in a Carmel home-building project with Potter. It is likely that Ocean Breeze Construction is actually Ocean Breeze Quality Building in Carmel.

Coincidentally or not, both Edwards and Demshur now have business in front of Monterey County government. Edwards several years ago bought what used to be known as the Oreck estate on the 12th Fairway at Pebble Beach along with an adjoining lot. He demolished the 1924-era Oreck house and replaced it with a home for himself. He sold the other lot in 2012 to Demshur for $14 million but building plans have not yet been approved by the county. Edwards or someone working for him was cited by the county for demolishing the Oreck house without a permit but he was later able to clear that up, according to county records.

Potter Consruction Co., meanwhile, seems to have taken on a life of its own. Early in Potter’s tenure as supervisor, starting 20 years ago, it was a fairly active little operation specializing in cement work. It ran into financial problems, however, and soon was the subject of several mechanics liens from suppliers who had not been paid. Through the middle years of Potter’s supervisorial career, he said the company was inactive, though it maintained an office, and only in recent years has it come back to life. He said a month ago that it is largely operated by two subcontractors and requires little of his time. State records indicate the company has no employees.

Earlier this year Potter Construction was listed as the builder for renovations being done on Potter’s own home in Carmel and it is currently listed as the general contractor on the construction of a new, Safwat Malek-designed home at 6th and Dolores in Carmel.

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Howard Gustafson

UPDATED 10 A.M. MONDAY

For a time, the antics of Howard Gustafson were almost amusing. He was everybody’s screwy uncle, the guy who popped off whatever happened to be on his mind, whether or not it was pertinent to the conversation.

Even so, he has been a board member at the Marina Coast Water District for years now, and even though he has called one of his colleagues a “reject,” another a “moron” and yet another a “liar,” he’s currently the board president.

Here’s the latest:

Because of his position, the Surfrider Foundation’s Monterey Chapter on Friday sent Gustafson an invitation to the screening of a documentary film, “Sand Wars,” which highlights the environmental impact of sand mining. The Nov. 4 screening is to be followed by a panel discussion involving several local experts on the topic.

The invitation went out to numerous local officials, and was sent to the email addresses listed on their agencies’ websites. Gustafson’s went to the email address on the Marina Coast website and the response was from that address. It is possible, of course, that someone else with access to his computer might have sent it, or that someone hacked him or who knows what else. But of late Sunday, he had not responded to an email or voice mail seeking comment, so here’s his response to the invitation:

 from: <hgustafson@sbcglobal.net>

Date: October 23, 2015, 5:26:27 PM PDT

To: Ximena Waissbluth <xw@surfrider.org>

Subject:Re: Sand Wars Special Event Invitation

Be serious, go fuck yourselves.  GO TRUMP! We’re coming…

Waissbluh, who sent the invitation, said she was stunned by the response.
“My jaw dropped.  It was an invitation to a movie screening and panel discussion at MIIS- not so horrible really.  I double checked the email address, thinking it may have been some kind of hoax or spam because how can someone in such a public position write something like that.  Email address is correct, according the the MCWD website.”

That’s the long and short of it. When we hear from Howard, we’ll let you know what else he has to say. But in case you’re interested in the screening, here are the details:

Sand Wars Film Screening and Panel Discussion – November 4, 2015

Join us for a special screening of the award-winning film “Sand Wars”, a documentary film followed by a panel discussion of local experts to explore the issues surrounding the widely unknown practice of sand mining, it’s impact on the environment, and its consequences on neighboring populations. 
 
On Wednesday evening at 6pm, we invite you to a wine and cheese reception followed by the movie screening.  Directly after the movie, the expert panel members will discuss the global and local issues of sand mining, as well as potential solutions. The esteemed panel includes Dr Gary Griggs, UC Santa Cruz, Dr Jason Scorse, MIIS, Dr Ed Thornton, NPS retired, and will be moderated by Bob Battalio with CA Shore and Beach Preservation Association. 
 
Tickets are $10 adults and $8 for students, faculty and seniors.  This event is open to the public and tickets can be purchased online at www.oceanfilmfest.org or at the door.
 
WHAT:  Screening of Sand Wars film, reception and panel discussion – Monterey 


WHEN:  Wednesday November 4th, 6pm-9pm
WHERE:  Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) at Monterey, 499 Pierce Street, Monterey, CA 93940.  Event will be held in the Irvine Auditorium, McCone Bldg 


WHO:  The general public is invited 

 
HOSTS:   The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, The Surfrider Foundation Monterey Chapter, The San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, The CA Shore and Beach Preservation Association
For tickets and more information, please visit: www.oceanfilmfest.org or contact Kayley Kim at kayley@oceanfilmfest.org

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Court rules, again, that beaches aren’t commodities

beach partySometimes the people win.

A San Mateo County judge ruled Wednesday that California’s beaches are public treasures, not businesses that can be closed like donut shops and used car lots. Just because someone has enough money to buy property along the shore doesn’t give them the right to put up gates and locks.

The ruling specifically affects only Martins Beach, a small slice of shoreline near Half Moon Bay, but it reestablishes important precedent for the entirety of the California coastline.

The property is owned by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who bought the 53 acres for $32.5 million in 2008. For much of the last century, the previous owners had charged for public access. Khosla blocked the access gate in 2010, saying he was worried about the cost of maintenance and liability insurance. When the Coastal Commission challenged him, he took the tack that business owners cannot be required to remain in business and that the government had no say in the matter.

The Surfrider Foundation and others successfully argued that public access to the shore trumps the billionaire’s argument. His analogy about forcing a business to remain in business might have been apt if applied to shopping center property but not to a public treasure.

“It’s a fabulous victory for the people of California because now their coast is safe,” Joe Cotchett, lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Those people who wanted to roll back the California Coastal Act must now live by the law, and money cannot change that.

Khosla, of course, has received support from development interests that see gold in the sand, so expect appeals up the legal ladder. But for now at least California’s beaches won’t be divided into first class and economy sections.

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