Thursday, August 22, 2002
No Free Rides to Jail Peninsula cities are scrambling to find a way to move prisoners over to court or jail in Salinas as the Sheriff''s Office will cut off a long-standing transportation service as of Sept. 3.
Outgoing Sheriff Gordon Sonné says picking up arrestees from Peninsula cities and the small holding pen at the Monterey Police Department was taking too big a chunk from his budget.
"It''s a business decision," he says. "It was costing me, and it was tying up our deputies on patrol."
Sonné says his deputies had to make an estimated 100 trips a month to retrieve prisoners from the west side of the county. Between gasoline and overtime costs, he figures the prisoner transport service was taking $100,000 from a $54 million annual budget.
"When I found that out I said, ''I''m not Santa Claus,''" he says.
The practice of sheriff''s deputies taking prisoners over to Salinas is a holdover from the days when there was a criminal court in Monterey. However, when the state consolidated the court system two years ago, all criminal cases were moved to Superior Court in Salinas. The Sheriff''s office had been obligated to move prisoners to the Monterey court, but now that all criminal cases are heard in Salinas, there''s no such mandate.
The regular shuttle for the Monterey holding pen will end in two weeks, and patrol deputies will no longer be sent off their beats to fetch prisoners when needed.
Pacific Grove Police Chief Scott Miller, until recently the head of the county police chief''s association, says local police departments are in a bad spot now because it stretches their small departments even thinner. In P.G. for example, if there are only three officers on duty at any one time, sending one to Salinas to chauffeur a prisoner means the city has less police in the city. Still, he thinks the Peninsula cities will figure something out, whether it''s taking turns at transport or hiring a contractor.
"I''m optimistic we can work this out between us," he says. "We''re looking for suitable alternatives that will minimize the impact on our agencies."
Japanese Seaweed Spreads In Harbor
Monterey Harbor has been invaded. A Japanese seaweed called Undaria pinnatifida, Undaria for short, has infiltrated the dock area and has naturalists concerned it may start to crowd out native kelp.
"It''s in the harbor right now and we''re not sure how it got there," says Rachel Saunders, the public relations coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). "We''d like to see it not go outside the harbor."
Undaria is known as called wakame in Japan, where it is dried and eaten as a wrap for sushi.
Undaria has been detected in every harbor south of Monterey and at Catalina Island. It''s expected to make its way north. Each plant is believed to be capable of releasing 100 million spores per day.
"They think it might have come to California from an aquaculture experiment in Ensenada, Mexico," says Kelly Newton, a researcher for the MBNMS.
Newton says the weed is an annual, so there are certain times of the year that are better than others to try to rout it from the harbor.
In April she and a team of science students armed with putty knives were able to scrape off a good amount of it from the floating docks in Monterey Harbor. At the time, the weeds were mature. It was first discovered in Monterey in 2000.
The Sanctuary had formed a research team to try to devise a way to eradicate the weed. It has to be removed by hand. Once it spreads it''s hard to eradicate permanently. The Sanctuary is working with the city and the diving community to explore strategies.
"You have to pull it out like pulling weeds," Saunders says. "It''s an invasive non-native species and it can take over habitat and may crowd out other species."
Ignoring Citizens, Advisory Group Says ''Maybe'' to Peaker Plant
Pajaroresidents don''t want a "peaker plant" in their tiny town. But you''d never know that from looking at a recent citizen''s advisory committee''s vote.
Calpine, a San-Jose based energy company, wants to build a small plant to boost the state''s electricity supply during peak demand periods. Proponents say such peaker plants are the only way to avoid future rolling blackouts in California.
On Aug. 15, following several public meetings, dozens of people denounced the proposed facility, citing pollution and water concerns. Attorney David Morales, who represents some nearby property owners, handed the committee a petition with more than 700 signatures opposing the plant.
"The community is against this project for good reason," he told the board.
Nearly three hours later, however, the citizen''s panel tied at 3-3 with one abstention on the question of whether to endorse the project-essentially passing the buck to county elected officials. This advisory vote will now be forwarded to the County Planning Commission, which is schedule to make a decision on Aug. 28. The Board of Supervisors will have the final say.
In a last-ditch attempt to woo the hostile crowd, Calpine''s Mark Smolley outlined the monetary benefits to come, should Pajaro house an energy facility: funds for a water treatment system; a minimum of $160,000 tax dollars a year; and an additional $200,000 up front.
Attendees, however, weren''t satisfied.
"You''re talking peanuts," said Robert Herrera, who lives in Pajaro. "That''s what you''re offering us. It''s an insult, and I take it as such."
Smuckers Co.''s plant manager Pat Campbell was one of two people at the meeting to speak in favor of the peaker plant.
"Last month we had to shut down cold storage," because of power shortages, he told the board. "We are for the project. It''s good for the community in the long range."
Campbell lives in Salinas.
The Other War
It''seasy to forget about the War on Drugs now that the War on Terrorism is in full swing and the War on One Third of the Axis of Evil is gearing up. But Dr. Dale Gieringer is wants to keep a focus on the nationwide crackdown on illegal substances, and will do so in a lecture this Friday.
As state coordinator of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) since 1987, and director of the California Drug Policy Forum, Gieringer is a veteran of the struggle to legalize medical marijuana and, now, as is the case in Nevada, to decriminalize the substance. He will also include in his lecture a rundown of international drug history, starting with the opium dens of the 19th century.
Gieringer comes to Monterey at the invitation of the locally based FED-UP (Foundation to End Drug Unfairness Policies), the Rampart Institute and the Libertarian Party of Monterey County. He speaks at the Round Table Pizza Banquet Room at 1717 Fremont in Seaside at 7:30pm on Friday. A $5 donation is requested.
-Andrew Scutro, Jessica Lyons, Traci Hukill