Fourteen candidates swarm in crowded Monterey races.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in Monterey, the five members of the city council gathered in their chambers to do the unthinkable but inevitable, in a city that has changed from a fishing community and working-class military town to a small city hooked on tourism. Three seafood processors that rent space from the city on the municipal wharf were in arrears for tens of thousands of dollars. The council, convened for a regular meeting, considered whether to terminate the leases to the three longtime fishing families once and for all.
According to the city, every break had been given to the seafood business owners, but now the niceties had to stop. While it’s no mystery that the commercial fishing industry in Monterey has suffered and dwindled for years, the heritage of days long past had been maintained by a city program to subsidize the rents for fish processing operations on the municipal wharf, also known as Wharf #2.
Still, that afternoon, Oct. 19, the city council did not pull the trigger. After it became known that delinquent rent money was beginning to appear—even arriving earlier that day—the council decided to put the issue aside for another month.
They did so after a long speech by one tenant, Warren Nobusada, who told the council, “I come from a very proud Monterey family.”
For all the things that the visitor-oriented city of Monterey does, kicking old fishermen off the wharf has to be nearly the least palatable. It’s a city that hums along smoothly and proudly announces its forward progress in a regular city-published newsletter with story headlines like “Fee Structure Analysis Makes Sense.”
At the Oct. 19 meeting, one of the more vocal advocates on the council was Theresa Canepa, a Monterey-native who has held her seat since 1983. She’s long been an ally of local fishing interests, and Oct. 19 was one of her last meetings. Canepa’s not seeking another term, and come the new year, a new voice will be coming from her spot on the dais. In fact there may be several new voices. Next week, voters must choose three city council members from a full slate of candidates. The mayor’s seat is also in contention.
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In addition to Canepa’s departure, two incumbents are also running to stay on the council—Dick Vreeland as well as incumbent Clyde Roberson.
Vreeland was appointed to the council when his wife, Ruth, a member of the council since 1983, died in a car accident in January 2004. A retired school administrator and speech pathologist, Vreeland is running in a field of seven candidates competing for two four-year-term seats on the council. (The Mayor’s seat comes up every two years, but the council seats are four-year terms with two seats coming up every two years. But Ruth Vreeland’s death created an oddity this year, since there were two years remaining in her term. Roberson is running to fill out her two years and Dick Vreeland is running for a regular four-year seat). Among those challenging Vreeland for a four-year seat are retired police detective Frank Sollecito, community activist Barbara Bass Evans, hospitality industry consultant and neighborhood advocate Rick Heuer, weather analyst and neighborhood activist Jeff Haferman, planning commissioner and lawyer Bill McCrone, planning commissioner and architect Henry Ruhnke, and public health nurse and parks commissioner Libby Downey. Two from that group need to be elected.
Clyde Roberson, who was once the mayor and has been on the council since 1981, is running against perennial candidate and former mayor of Seaside Lou Haddad. Dan Presser, who runs a travel agency also competes for Roberson’s spot.
The mayor’s seat is also up for grabs. Dan Albert, who was first elected to the council in 1979 and has been mayor since 1986, has a virtual lock. His challengers, Bob Oliver and Joe Aiello, don’t pose a serious threat.
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Albert looks at the field running for office and he’s baffled.
Unlike years past, when incumbents faced some opposition but prevailed (as evidenced by members who have held their seats since the invasion of Grenada) there are so many candidates this year that the votes will be spread out. And, he says, there are several good candidates, making the decision even harder.
“If you were to ask me who I think will win, I don’t have a clue,” he says.
Albert is typically circumspect about the field and will not identify favorites. He will say he does like the candidates who have been working with the city in some form or another, which is just about all of them. He has made only one endorsement.
“Certainly Clyde [Roberson]; I’d endorse him in a minute,” he says.
With his re-election inevitable, Albert clearly wants people on the council who will stick with the program, implying that candidates like Barbara Bass Evans, Jeff Haferman and even Rick Heuer might produce too much friction.
“I really think that to get things done, I think you need to set goals, and the council has to move in that direction,” Albert says. “I really think that’s important. People can be critical of city government of Monterey if they want but overall it runs pretty well because of the relationship the council has with the citizens, the boards and commissions, and the staff.”
Monterey is a famously well-run city and whichever candidates win on Nov. 2 will walk into a council with relatively few thorny issues.
The most pressing issue is a forecasted $2.3 million deficit expected in next year’s budget. Monterey runs on an operating budget of about $71 million—about $13 million of which comes from hotel room taxes. The city council has already cut some $5 million and cut more than 50 positions from its staff. Several top-level employees have been cut back to half-time and the idea of canceling the extras like the Fourth of July party have been batted around regularly.
In an effort to forestall more cuts, there’s a new tax measure on the ballot this year that would charge a quarter cent—or 25 cents per $100—on sales in the city. The mayor and most of the council candidates support Measure K, the sales tax initiative; but Haferman, Aiello, Haddad, Oliver and Bass-Evans oppose the tax proposal.
One other bugaboo on the horizon will be the upcoming round of military base closures.
In the spring, the Department of Defense is expected to release a list of military facilities around the country that will be shut down or reorganized as part of its regular Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. Knowing what happened to the local economy when Fort Ord was closed in 1994, the city of Monterey has done everything it can to hold on to the Presidio and the Naval Postgraduate School. In previous BRAC episodes, the city hired a Washington, DC lobbyist to plead its case, and Albert says it probably will again.
“What we don’t want to do is get on that [base closure] list,” he says. It’s a topic that the other candidates don’t differ tremendously on, except to say they’d like to see traffic allowed through the Presidio again. (While the lower fields have been opened up for sporting events, an open lane of traffic through the Franklin Street gate is not likely.)
If there’s a polarizing issue in a city that runs well despite its budget troubles that issue is water.
Albert blames the lack of new affordable housing in Monterey on the shortage of water. In 2002, he—along with just about every other city council on the Peninsula—got behind a ballot measure to dissolve the controversial water management board which, he claimed, was stalled on efforts to find a new source of water.
Albert favors a joint powers agreement (JPA) modeled on the current scheme for the local waste management district. The city is reviewing the feasibility study of creating a water management JPA, and Albert wants to see new sources of water created. Under the waste management district model for a JPA, the local jurisdictions run the operations from a board made up of elected representatives from member cities.
“I think it’s going to be desal and Moss Landing is the place,” he says. Although it has not been a major source of debate in the Monterey race, opponents to the big Moss Landing desal plant would prefer to see a smaller plant.
One more issue over which the city has little control is the obscene cost of housing. Albert laments the fact that young families have a hard time finding a place to live in the town where he and his wife raised four children. Asked what can be done to keep Monterey from becoming off-limits to everyone but the very rich, he cannot come up with a easy solution.
“I really wish I had an answer for that but I don’t,” he says. “Real estate has just gone nuts…Do I like it? No.”
There is a small rumor going around that this will be Mayor Albert’s last turn, but when asked the question, Albert was absolutely silent. He then broke in, “Is the silence deafening?”
If he does decide not to run again, Albert says “You’ll know when it happens.”