Enviros, conservatives back ’80s supervisor Marc Del Piero for a return to the board.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
An unusual lineup backs water rights attorney and federal bankruptcy trustee Marc Del Piero for county supervisor, including LandWatch board members, the Green Party of Monterey County, Young Professional Republicans of the Central Coast and Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Del Piero, who first became a supervisor in 1980 and sat on the board for 12 years, says he’s running against Pacific Grove Mayor Carmelita Garcia and incumbent Dave Potter to put an end to backroom deals. “The public needs to know what its government and elected officials are doing,” he says.
What he’s been doing lately is presiding over bankruptcy court, where he hears out painful stories of people’s financial devastation, and the experience has softened his views on social services: “The county needs to focus on taking care of our own,” he says.
He’s also been serving on the board of the Ag Land Trust, of which he was a co-founder, where he quietly helped craft a legal argument that became one of several holes in the sinking ship that was the Regional Water Project.
Supporters hope Del Piero will be a persuasive force on the board, swaying his colleagues to vote with him on District 5 issues.
“I think he will by definition be a good representative,” says former District 5 Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman, who served with Del Piero from 1984-92. “His vote was a good support for many of the battles I had to fight on behalf of the environment.”
He has his detractors, but they’re a relatively quiet bunch in this election season – except for Aromas Water District board member Marcus Dutra, that is. “If you want a positive outlook for the Del Pieros, I have nothing,” he says. “I have only negative things to say.”
Dutra and fellow board member Bonnie Mahler suspect Del Piero had a hand in securing a water source for Rancho Larios, his father’s and brother’s controversial development near San Juan Bautista, in the ’90s while Del Piero was serving on the State Water Resources Quality Control Board.
The Aromas Water District agreed to build a new well and deliver Monterey County water to Rancho Larios. The subsequent lawsuits left the district in a lurch, and eventually it declared bankruptcy.
Del Piero dismisses the allegation of undue influence. “I don’t know what they’re talking about,” he says. “I was in Sacramento.”
The Monterey Herald decried his actions when Del Piero helped draw more Hispanic votes into urban Salinas – and out of his North County turf – in the county’s redistricting effort. Del Piero’s “lack of patience and thin skin in matters of public criticism” made him seem both “arrogant and stubborn,” the paper stated in an editorial when Del Piero left the board. Now the paper wholeheartedly endorses him in this race.
Del Piero counts the 17 years since the state ordered an end to illegal overpumping of the Carmel River. “We’ve had two Popes and four presidents of the United States, but we haven’t built a water project.”
He served on the state water board that issued that 1995 order. Before California American Water’s Regional Desalination Project fell apart, Pajaro Sunny Mesa Community Services District in North County signed a 98-year lease agreement with business mogul Nader Agha with plans for a desal plant on Agha’s Moss Landing Commercial Park. Del Piero was Pajaro Sunny Mesa’s counsel when that agreement was crafted. The lease was nullified two years ago because the project hadn’t produced an environmental impact report.
Agha blames the current board of supervisors for undercutting the partnership. “[Del Piero] was very amenable, he knew his subject, and he knew the Carmel River was in trouble,” Agha says. “He went through all the data to make sure the overpumping stopped.”
Agha endorsed Garcia before Del Piero announced his candidacy.
Del Piero presides over bankruptcy court gently, but some colleagues in North County water dealings say he’s not consistently peaceable.
“Pajaro Sunny Mesa was essentially at war with the agency,” says Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency board member and former Watsonville mayor Dennis Osmer. “[Del Piero] was not a builder. He was a divider.”
Pajaro Sunny Mesa sued PVWMA in 2008 for levying fees, and settled out of court after Del Piero departed in 2010. “He pretty much terrorized the PVWMA,” General Manager Mary Bannister says.
Del Piero maintains the fees were illegal, and laments that Pajaro Sunny Mesa settled. “We just happened to be ahead of our time in recognizing there were constitutional issues,” he says.
Osmer feels Del Piero could’ve resolved the issue with less litigation. “He appears to believe profoundly that the end justifies the means,” he says.
Del Piero says the last time he saw Clint Eastwood was three years ago at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He dismisses claims in a 1995 L.A. Times article that he used his state water board role to shepherd Eastwood’s Carmel golf course, now known as Tehama, through the permitting process.
“I didn’t treat him any differently than I treated anyone else from Monterey County,” Del Piero says.
Monterey County Democratic Central Committee chair Vinz Koller worries Del Piero is a pro-growther with strong liberal backing.
Koller views Del Piero’s 1984 vote in favor of Pebble Beach’s Spanish Bay as particularly egregious. Del Piero says he’d still support the hotel today, but would have pushed for fewer condos.
He feels similarly about his vote for Las Palmas, then Monterey County’s largest single-development project, but says he would have pushed to scale it back even more than he did in 1983.
Del Piero voted to establish areas of development concentration, intended to curb sprawl. Rancho San Juan, one-sixth the size of Salinas, was approved as one such high-density site.
Julie Engell, a LandWatch board member and founder of the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition, says Del Piero tried to lay out a long-term plan for smart growth. But the project was approved without meeting his conditions for traffic easements and centralized development.
Engell’s coalition has since morphed into the North Salinas Valley Fund for Responsible Growth, a corporation that’s so far donated $45,000 to Del Piero’s campaign.
Del Piero’s supporters in the ’80s and ’90s were mostly farmers and ranchers, including Calcagno’s Moss Landing dairy, as well as developers like Pebble Beach Company and HYH, the company behind Rancho San Juan.
Koller worries about Del Piero’s true allegiances. “He’s presenting himself as a moderate, but he’s been an activist in one of the most radically right-wing parties in the state,” Koller says.
Establishment Republicans appear to have their own issues with him. Though he’s held leadership positions in the Republican Central Committee, the committee’s been notably absent in delivering an endorsement.