By Royal Calkins
Now that everyone has had a chance to rest up from the mid-term election, now that most of the votes in the local races have finally been counted, it’s time to turn our thoughts to governance rather than the personalities of politics.
Locally, the voting turned out pretty well, with the Cal Am takeover measure passing handily and some strong new candidates succeeding at the polls. But will it make a difference? Will the slightly updated city councils of Seaside and Monterey and Salinas do a better job defining and dealing with problems or will all that new energy be drained by endless discussions of easements, pensions and the other mainstays of municipal decision-making?
In support of option A, the one about doing a better job, here is an attempt to help set the overall agenda for some of the jurisdictions in case the newly elected are distracted by all their new friends with agendas of their own.
The leadership of Monterey County’s largest city has been putting considerable time, energy and money into addressing the city’s largest and closely related problems of homelessness, crowding and the need for more affordable housing. It is slow work, however, and each new shelter has a barely noticeable impact on the tent cities that ring the city center.
Meanwhile, some of the neighborhoods are glutted with people crowding into houses and apartments designed for fewer people. Even though some landlords are profiting handsomely, the crowding drags property values down and puts sizable swaths of the city on a downward trajectory. Living conditions for some of the hardest working people among us are dreadful.
Housing deserves nearly complete attention. Sure, there are other issues, but when hundreds of people sleep on the streets each night and thousands of people sleep in garages and sheds and kitchens, the priorities are obvious. Better housing is a better investment than almost anything else.
It’s almost hard to believe these two cities are in the same county, that’s how opposite Salinas and Carmel are. So many of the lovely homes in Carmel are weekenders that on a typical Wednesday night you might have a hard time finding enough people in some neighborhoods to put together a game of bridge.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. Unfortunately, the biggest one at the moment has nowhere near the visibility of tents on sidewalks. It is simply the city attorney, Glen Mozingo, who was swept into the job a year ago on the strength of his campaign support for Mayor Steve Dallas and his friendship with city councilmember Carolyn Hardy. He got the job despite applications from truly qualified candidates and a resumé in which he grossly exaggerated his experience with municipal law. Though he had practiced estate and business formation law for four decades, he was seriously ill-prepared to advise city officials on the matters before them.
Unfortunately, even after his inflated resumé became known, Mozingo persuaded the council to grant him a five-year contract, to let him hire a couple of deputies, and to agree that it would take four out of the five council votes to get rid of him. Until Mozingo came along, little Carmel got along with one half-time city attorney.
Fortunately, voters chose just this month to remove Dallas and Hardy from office, effective this week. It remains to be seen whether the replacements, Dave Potter and Jeff Baron, can muster the four votes to expeditiously send Mozingo back into retirement. But it does seem that Potter, Baron and holdover Bobby Richards could manage to rid the city of Mozingo’s expensive contract by arguing that he got the job under false pretenses. If he decided to fight such a move in court, I’d want a front row seat.
One more point that no one else seems to have raised. What happens when the city is in the midst of big litigation and the other side challenges the city’s assertions by pointing out the fabrications in Mozingo’s resumé? Until he is gone, almost anything the city tries to do will be suspect.
The city’s popular and progressive mayor Bruce Delgado survived a serious challenge from retired cop Bob Nolan, but he should not take that as an endorsement of how he has handled things the past few years. Delgado lost the backing of close council allies by becoming too cozy with the developer of the SpringHill Suites hotel and pushing to provide him with city subsidies without adequate documentation of his claims.
Moving forward, it is critical that the city have a complete understanding of the hotel finances and that there are no fuzzy side deals.
CARMEL, DEL REY OAKS, MONTEREY, PACIFIC GROVE, SEASIDE
Homelessness and affordable housing continue to be critical issues in each of the cities, or at least they should be. Seaside can’t be the only city providing affordable housing and no one should expect Salinas to be the leading purveyor of curbside camping.
But another important if less obvious issue also unites the Peninsula cities. It’s the future of Cal Am and the current move toward a public takeover of the private company’s local operations.
Peninsula voters this month said yes to Measure J, which requires the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to commission a professional feasibility study of the takeover idea and to move ahead with buying out Cal Am if the study shows the effort makes financial sense. The next step is for the district board to decide how to proceed on the feasibility study and to hire consultants to do the work. Simple? Not so much.
Cal Am spent a fortune fighting Measure J and it is likely committed to spending another fortune and all the political capital it can muster to block the takeover, largely by making the company appear to be worth considerably more than it actually is. If there is a way to scuttle the feasibility study and subvert the wishes of the voters, they will find it.
So that’s where the cities come in. Sometime soon, the mayors of the various cities will gather to choose one of the mayors to join the board of the water management district. And that’s where you come in. If you support the idea of putting Cal Am under public management, if you are concerned about water rates that are already the highest in the U.S., you might want to contact the mayor or your city, or the council members of your city, and urge the selection of a mayor supportive of the takeover effort and a credible study.
The best bets – mayors who would support an honest and meaningful feasibility study and a straightforward takeover process – are the mayors of Monterey and Del Rey Oaks, Clyde Roberson and Alison Kerr. Not so good, Ian Oglesby of Seaside, who promises to follow in the political footsteps of outgoing mayorRalph Rubio, who has been one of Cal Am’s closest allies on the water board. Also not such a good idea, Dave Potter, the newly seated mayor Carmel, who was a valuable friend to Cal Am during his many years as a Monterey County supervisor.
No, this issue isn’t going to show up on a city council agenda near you. They won’t be asking for public comment the second Tuesday of the month. But while much of politics isn’t played in public, that doesn’t mean you can’t participate or that you can’t get your favorite newly elected council member to push your message forward.
Lawyer and former planning commissioner Bill McCrone ran against Roberson on a platform of cleaning up the Fisherman’s Wharf leases, sweetheart deals negotiated decades ago and continuing to cost city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
Without McCrone pushing the issue, the rest of the council is likely to ignore this one. Making political patrons pay full freight is a perilous path. But if the Monterey council doesn’t do something soon to end the city’s subsidization of profitable enterprises, look for the grand jury to take a long and close look.
During the campaign, we heard a lot of candidates talking about “transparency.” Don’t expect to hear much again until the next campaign.
For the most part, the government agencies in Monterey County have done a horrible job of making it easier for the public to look over their shoulders at such things as campaign finance. Monterey has made campaign finance reports easy to find online. Seaside and Carmel have put campaign finance reports online but good luck finding them ifyou don’t know where they’re tucked away.
The technology to make campaign contribution reports easily accessible is cheap and readily available. Any jurisdiction that doesn’t get up to speed before the next election needs a whole new cast of characters.
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