Spreading the political wealth In Monterey County, the big money is going into the race for sheriff and for a North County supervisor's position

| OPINION

By Royal Calkins

CORRECTION: This article initially reported incorrectly that contractor Don Chapin has endorsed Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig’s campaign for the District 3 Board of Supervisors seat.

The conventional way for news folks to write about campaign contributions is to start by declaring which candidate raised the most money — in hopes of  either fostering their idea of good government or, in some cases, getting favors or a nice government contract — and then listing the people and companies that put up the biggest chunks of money.

Most people stop reading after they see who raised the most money. But reports on campaign finances can be so much more than a box score. In the case of law enforcement-related campaigns, they can tell you who is likely to be promoted if so and so wins or who might get low-cost security for their next big event. Or, if it is for a Board of Supervisors campaign, the reports might help predict which subdivisions will get built in your neighborhood, or who in the environmentalist camp isn’t in step with others of a similar mindset. 

Stories such as this are worth your time even if you think you don’t care about the Sheriff’s Department or what happens in Prunedale. They are worth it if you live anywhere in Monterey County, or if you care about the size of your tax bill, or if you like your view, or if you’re worried about crime and justice, or if you want some clues about how those numbskull county supervisors make such cockamamie decisions.

There are other potential races on the ballot but they are mostly uncontested at this point. There is a race for district attorney. We’ll get to that later.

Many who don’t live in supervisorial District 2 probably don’t think they care about who represents that territory, mostly north Monterey County. But that person will make many decisions affecting you in Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, etc., etc. The supervisors are in charge of most social services in the county and public health matters, including mask mandates and the like.

And if you think you don’t care about who runs the Sheriff’s Department because you live in a city with a very fine police department of its own, think again. The sheriff runs the terribly expensive operations at the jail, where you kids might end up if they do something stupid. And the sheriff helps decide what laws will be enforced and what crimes will be investigated, and not just in rural areas. If you’ve been paying any attention to the Sheriff’s Department in recent years, you probably don’t realize that it is supposed to investigate political corruption, embezzlement, other types of financial crimes, human trafficking, money laundering, things like that. Not just things like petty thievery and drug dealing. 

The department is supposed to prevent jail inmates from escaping. The current administration has struggled with that one.

So here we go. The story will be kind of long because Voices isn’t constrained by the cost of newsprint.

The Sheriff’s Race

In the all-important race for sheriff, current sheriff’s Capt. Joe Moses holds a strong money lead over Marina Police Chief Tina Nieto and three candidates who may not have enough money to make it until the June election.

As of the end of 2021 — the close of the first filing period for this race — Moses had collected $124,092 to Nieto’s $32,755.

The simple explanation is that Moses is the quasi-incumbent. He has been a close ally of the current two-term sheriff, Steve Bernal, who isn’t seeking re-election. Some say Bernal is moving on because of all the critical stories Voices has written about him over the last couple of years. Others say he’ll be moving to Nashville in hopes of making it on the C&W circuit like almost no sheriffs before him.

Wisely, Moses has somewhat distanced himself from Bernal, who, you may recall, was unanimously censured by the Board of Supervisors for some monkey business involving taxpayer money and a big sheriffs’ convention. Bernal’s surprise victory eight years ago came about because of family money, the organizational skills of the local GOP and a smear campaign against the former sheriff. 

Not only does Moses not have much family money, he hasn’t received any of Bernal’s family money. And, unusually for someone in law enforcement, he’s a Democrat. Which helps explain why former Congressman Sam Farr has contributed to the Moses campaign and why current Congressman Jimmy Panetta has been posing for pictures with Moses.

The campaign reports don’t reflect big money contributions like in elections past because the rules have changed. Individual donations can’t top $5,000, though there are ways to get around that.

Contractor Don Chapin, who founded the Salinas Valley Leadership Group, contributed $1,000 to the Moses campaign. In past campaigns, the SVLG group likely would have given Moses, and supervisorial candidate Kimbley Craig, tons of money, but there are those rules changes, and the state Fair Political Practices Commission has ordered the organization to change its ways. More on that later as well.

The biggest contributions to the Moses campaign so far include a $4,900 check from Don Ratzlaff of Genoa, Nev., and $4,500 checks from W. Taylor Fithian — whose company provides medical care in the jail — H&H Transportation of Salinas, and the Cannery Row Co. of Monterey, whose leadership may not know Moses is a Democrat.

Restaurateur Chris Shake and one of his managers each contributed $2,500.

The Moses campaign is being managed by Clean Sweep, a Berkeley firm that almost exclusively represents Democrats and progressive causes. It’s the same company that’s handling Salinas Mayor Craig’s supervisorial campaign, but that’s only a coincidence, both candidates say.

Other sizable Moses contributions include $3,500 from contractor Guillermo Nieto and checks totalling $7,000 from the Stewart family. Jerome Stewart is a vice president of Dynatrace, a high-tech company, and a relative of Moses’ wife.

Cannabis money isn’t flowing into this race like some in the past. That’s because fewer marijuana operations are starting up and a fair number are shutting down. There is a ganja glut. Moses did receive contributions from cannabis entrepreneurs Alvarez Brothers, Ricky Cabrera and associates, and the JRG law firm, which specializes in representing pot businesses.

Cannabis companies like to have friends at sheriff’s departments because deputies weigh in on cannabis-related permit applications, help regulate the operations and know the difference between illegal cannabis operations and the legal operations that happen to be dealing illegal, untaxed product out the back door. 

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Rebecca Smith, Sgt. Mark Sievers and deputy Pedro Sanchez each contributed $2,000 while a department manager, Jennifer Claudel, chipped in $2,562.

Archie Warren, a retired commander in the department, contributed $1,000. He along with Moses and Cmdr. Mark Caldwell are defendants in continuing lawsuits over false accusations they made against Bernal’s opposition four years ago, but you can read all about that in other Voices accounts.

Marco and Zonia Gonzalez, who have a role in running Hacienda Carmel, gave $5,000 to the Moses campaign.

As part of his campaign, Moses has been actively promoting the long overdue idea of improving mental health services in the jail and other parts of the sheriff’s operation. That has won his campaign several volunteers from the social services arena but hasn’t generated any noticeable campaign contributions. Department critics say they fear that if mental health services are expanded, it will amount to helping criminal defendants become lucid enough to be prosecuted but Moses says it would amount to considerably more. 

On to the opposition.

Chief Nieto’s biggest contribution, $4,900, came from Peter Castanos of the Fresno firm that is building the huge Sea Haven development in Marina. Her financial report shows that she has considerable support in Marina but will likely need to pick it up elsewhere if she is to overtake Moses’ financial advantage. Marina-based Monterey Peninsula Engineering, headed by the staunchest of Republicans, Paul Bruno, contributed $500.

Nieto is Latina and a Democrat. She has received strong expressions of support from progressives and Latino activists countywide, but few checks. County Supervisor Mary Adams contributed $1,500 and North County political activist Marjorie Kay gave $3,000.

Nieto once was the highest ranking woman in the Los Angeles Police Department. Her partner, private investigator Cheryl Kent, also ex-LAPD, contributed $3,000. 

Nieto got $4,500 from the Marina Club cardroom and received various contributions from Marina political figures Nancy Amadeo, Lisa Berkley and Cristina Medina Dirksen.

Her report lists one marijuana operation, Catalyst Cannabis, which gave $1,000. It holds one of the three dispensary permits in Marina. (Incidentally for you political junkies, Catalyst is operated by a partnership that includes longtime Monterey County GOP operative Brandon Gesicki, a close associate of former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who recently was granted a marijuana cultivation permit for one of his ranches in Santa Barbara County.)

Nieto is using a large Los Angeles firm, Rally Campaigns, to manage her operation,

A third candidate, former sheriff’s Cmdr. Jose Mendoza, reported no contributions so far. He also ran four years ago and has been an outspoken and consistent critic of the Bernal administration.

Candidate Jeff Hoyne, police chief of Del Rey Oaks and the Monterey airport police department, reported receiving $8,047 through the end of 2021. 

Hoyne’s biggest contribution, $4,900, came from Del Rey Oaks reserve police officer Ozell Murray, who works in security for Tesla. He is a former Fresno police officer.

Hoyne reported receiving $2,000 from car dealer Joe Cardinale, whose family owns cannabis dispensary property in Marina, and $299 from Del Rey Oaks City Councilmember Dennis Allion.

The fifth candidate, Justin Patterson, had a treasury at year’s end that amounted to $4,725 in contributions and a $2,000 loan from himself. He received $2,000 from Jose Hernandez of Monterey Transmission, $1,500 from Rocklin resident Connie Bustos, $1,000 from former sheriff’s lieutenant Fred Garcia and $100 from Monterey County Republican Central Committee member Kathy Forgnone.

The supervisor’s race

District 2 runs from north Salinas to the Santa Cruz County line and over to the coast. Call it mostly rural residential, much of it nice, some of it is shabby, even ramshackle. If it had a more stable water supply, it would be considerably more developed. It has way too many roosters.

It is represented now by John Phillips, the former judge who founded and runs the Rancho Cielo youth ranch that principally offers vocational training to disadvantaged youth. He’s been a pro-development conservative who generally sides with ag and North County interests and against the wishes of Peninsula progressives. All eyes are on this race because the victor is likely to be a swing vote on a long list of critical issues.

If anyone was to venture a pre-campaign analysis, they likely would predict that Kimbley Craig, the Salinas mayor, will battle it out with Graniterock executive Steve Snodgrass in the June primary, with the winner there facing off against either Glenn Church or Regina Gage in November. But that’s just a guess.

Among the most interesting developments in the race thus far was the initial finance report from Craig. Despite her status as a — if not the — favorite, she reported zero contributions for the first reporting period. Don’t be fooled, she says.

She explains that she got a terribly late start, not announcing her candidacy until mid-December but knowing that she already had $35,000 available in her mayoral campaign fund. It’s an easy transfer.

And, according to her organization, she quickly raised $20,000 more, almost catching up to the leaders with four months to go before Election Day.

Given all that, the money leader so far is Glenn Church, son of long-ago Supervisor Warren Church. Glenn raises Christmas trees and studies blueprints and planning documents like no one else.

He and his wife, Voices founder and contributor Kathy McKenzie, recently published a book about an aborted effort to build an oil refinery along Monterey Bay. His wife and family contributed some $15,000 to jumpstart his campaign.

By New Year’s Day, Church had raised just over $100,000, much of it from environmental activists throughout the county. Leading the way were Marjorie Kay at $4,900 and Amy Anderson of Carmel at $4,850. There was also Janet Brennan, Beverly Bean, Howard Classen, Democratic Party leader Kate Daniels Kurz, Peter Neumeier, Carol Shadwell, Pris Walton and Anne Fitzpatrick. Stanford biology professor George Somero gave $2,500. 

Church received $4,124 from George Riley, the water management district trustee who led the continuing effort for a public buyout of the Cal Am water system.

Supervisor Adams of Pebble Beach gave $2,500 from her campaign treasury. A former candidate in the same district, Eddie Mitchell, contributed $1,000 and former district supervisor Judy Pennycook gave $100 and her ex- husband, William, gave $2,000.

Former supervisor Marc Del Piero and LandWatch Monterey County’s executive director, Mike DeLapa, each gave $1,000. Perhaps notably, LandWatch board member Chris Fitz contributed instead to Gage.

The only cannabis money going to Church was $1,000 from dispensary operator and promoter Valentina Valentine of Pebble Beach.

Church also received $1,000 from long-retired Judge Richard Silver, an icon of the county’s legal community.

Candidate Gage heads the Meals on Wheels operation for the Salinas Valley, and is credited with seriously expanding the operation. She is a member of the Salinas hospital district board and she ran against Supervisor Phillips four years ago.

Because of that defeat, some on the left side of the political ledger had written Gage off but she has surprised them by raising a solid and early $73,054 for this race.

Though Gage is considered a progressive, she has not picked up much enviro support except for that of Fitz and former Supervisor Jane Parker of Seaside. Parker and Salinas activist Eric Peterson each gave $4,900.

At least partly because of her role with the hospital district, Gage has received strong support from doctors and others in the medical field.

She also is getting strong backing from labor, with the Carpenters Union, the Teamsters and the Sheet Metal Workers each making contributions. The Teamsters gave $900, the others gave $4,900 apiece.

Her biggest backer so far is her family, which gave $9,800. Her husband, Steuart Samuels, is  a former director of a residential program for troubled youth and a current Meals on Wheels volunteer. 

The candidate considered a favorite in the race until Craig’s entry, Steve Snodgrass, is the chief financial officer for Graniterock, the building and paving materials giant based in Watsonville. He has a remarkable record of community service in Monterey County, particularly North County. His campaign website is well worth a look.

Through the end of last year he had raised $39,184 and had loans of $29,000. 

His biggest financial backer so far, at $3,250, is the Falcon Trading Co. produce operation in Royal Oaks. He also received $2,500 from Pebble Beach resident Richard Scherer, president of The Pelican Group, one of the nation’s largest amusement and vending companies. (It recently announced plans to start providing CBD — non-intoxicating cannabis extract — vending machines.)

Much of Snodgrass’s support comes from ag and construction. Other solid Snodgrass backers include Watsonville grower Clint Miller and Shadowbrook restaurant owner Ted Burke, each giving $1,000, and the Association of General Contractors, $2,500.

The only other candidate, Grant Leonard, is a housing analyst for the city of Monterey. He reported receiving several small gifts totaling $2,000.

So there you have it. There is still time for other candidates to join in but they would start off well behind in the money race that could decide everything in June. 

Be sure to register and vote.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Spreading the political wealth In Monterey County, the big money is going into the race for sheriff and for a North County supervisor's position

  1. Hi, Royal. Up front–I am Grant’s mom. That said, I was a bit dismayed that you mentioned Steve Snodgrass’s “remarkable record of community service,” but neglected to mention Grant’s non-stop community service since 2014. Your focusing on just money, rather than positions on issues, is something I did not think you would do. Have you looked at Grant’s website for his campaign?
    By the way, our previous interaction was when I was the community college instructor (now retired) that you discussed Letters to the Editor with several years ago because I assigned them each semester. Take care, Kathleen

  2. Stellar reporting. Wish I was in Church’s district…as far as the Sheriffs race I will leave that to people who know the candidates better but anyone closely aligned with Bernal should not only not be supported for Sheriff but they shouldn’t be in office.

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