Vote Sanchez, Parker and Potter
With District 5 the most contentious, the Weekly announces its endorsements.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
District 1 County Supervisor
District 1 pits veteran supe Fernando Armenta against two veteran Salinas City Councilmen, Sergio Sanchez and Tony Barrera. While other supervisors’ races may seem more fractious on the outside – with supporters and detractors publicly battling for moral superiority – the District 1 race wins for being snippiest internally.
Armenta and Sanchez can’t stand each other, and Barrera, an affable gentleman whom council colleagues say votes with his heart (he sang a Frank Sinatra song to a group of little old ladies at a senior center, for pete’s sake – what’s not to like?) is stuck in the middle. How bad has it gotten? The private strife went public in the past two weeks, with Armenta yelling into a microphone about Sanchez and repeatedly calling him “bro” during a candidate’s forum at the Teamster’s Hall in Salinas. A few days later, at a candidate’s meeting at the Weekly, Armenta would not shake Sanchez’ hand. One reason: Sanchez’ high-school volunteers had stolen some Armenta campaign signs. They did it without Sanchez knowing, and he told them to knock it off immediately.
It’s all chilling because, Armenta was once Sanchez’s political mentor; now, Armenta calls him a former “flunky.” With that context, some differences in philosophy and action are clear.
Armenta, with 11.5 years as a supervisor and, before that, almost a decade as a city councilman, touts his work on gang violence and securing state and federal gang prevention dollars as cornerstones of his tenure. He is unrepentant in his support of the Whispering Oaks Business Park, which ended in a debacle for the Board of Supervisors.
“When we try to do something creative, we end up being threatened with lawsuits and by referendum,” he says. “You can’t plan a marriage and decide on the day of the marriage you’re getting divorced based on nothing.”
Armenta, though, seems isolated from his community. From our perspective, from Whispering Oaks to his support for the untenable Corral de Tierra shopping village, his voting record is best described as terrible.
To his credit, though, when asked if he would support Monterey Downs, he says he needs to know more before can make an informed decision. But based on his track record, it’s easy to predict which way he would vote.
Sanchez, who came to the country at age 13 with his migrant farmworker parents, worked in clinics and then for the United Farmworkers and SEIU before becoming Assemblyman Luis Alejo’s district director in 2010.Sanchez points to his own council district as evidence of the county’s failure to help the poor: no clinics, limited access to healthcare, limited access to public transportation and limited access to social services. Sanchez has a fairly innovative solution to the Monterey-Salinas Transit problem: Don’t put all the eggs in one basket. Put some operations in Salinas, but put a majority of operations at the Marina Airport. That way empty buses aren’t leaving Salinas bound for the Peninsula, leading to more pollution and congested roadways. He says he would support Monterey Downs, but then adds a caveat about needing to see the plan.
We admire Barrera’s style. “Politics,” he says, “is the art of compromise, and due diligence is critical.” We look forward to seeing Barrera evolve as a councilman and potentially as Salinas’ next mayor. Armenta, in the past few months, has campaigned like a man not interested in winning, which is to say, he’s barely done it. Sanchez has built a clear support base, and with his ambition, brains and connections to Sacramento, is the best man for the job.
District 4 County Supervisor
To put it bluntly, challenger Byrl Smith is intellectually unprepared to serve as a county supervisor. Woefully so. Asked specific questions about critical county issues, she consistently offers vague answers about how she’d need more information or would work with fellow supes before coming to a position.
Smith doesn’t get the complex issues involved in desalination; she just thinks we need it for growth. She doesn’t get why people care about the oak-savannah habitats of the former Fort Ord; to her they’re just shrubs. She hasn’t considered the traffic impacts of the Corral de Tierra proposal, or the loss of ag land to South County development; all that matters to her is the jobs, even if they’re temporary and can’t support a middle-class income. She’s made it clear there’s no development she’d turn down.
And what about CalPERS, the Public Employee Retirement System that’s bankrupting local cities across California? Smith says her only thoughts about it are that she gets her CalPERS check each month – benefits accrued by her late husband, former supervisor and Soledad state prison employee Jerry Smith – and “they’ve been more than gracious with me.” For a candidate, that kind of cluelessness is just scary.
The only quality we can really praise in Byrl Smith is that she seems like a very nice person, at least in person. But her campaign’s attack ads against incumbent Jane Parker have been vicious and unfair.
Parker, by contrast, is a smart, thoughtful and progressive leader who’s run an above-the-waist campaign. Her regular community meetings keep her in touch with her constituents in Seaside, Marina, Del Rey Oaks, Sand City and Southwest Salinas. Like Smith, she wants to attract jobs to the county. But she’s done a little more thinking on the issue, and calls for development that will attract year-round, well-paying, career-track jobs that can’t be outsourced. Unfortunately, though, she can’t offer a clear path for getting those jobs here.
Parker has a record of standing up for transparency and accountability, and asking the tough questions when the rest of the board is ready to rubber-stamp a questionable motion. She was the lone voice against the Whispering Oaks Business Park proposal, until public pressure pushed three more supes to change their minds. She was also the first supe to take a skeptical look at the Regional Desal Project, which has since collapsed under its own dysfunction.
We can count on Parker to do her homework, to challenge the county’s good-old-boy way of doing business, and to offer thoughtful, well-researched solutions to some of the county’s most complicated conundrums. This is the easiest call in all of the county’s June races. Vote Jane.
District 5 County Supervisor
When it comes to the District 5, we could use a magic mirror to help sort out truth from untruth, the environmental candidate from the growth-at-any-cost candidate. It’s an odd race, and it’s not going to be settled in this primary unless one of the three surprises us to take 50 percent of the vote.
With 16 years in office, incumbent Dave Potter has deep knowledge of the county’s issues and experience on a bunch of important agencies, including the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board and the state Coastal Commission. His voting record as a supervisor is pretty solid, with a couple of exceptions: his original support of the ill-fated first development plan for Pebble Beach and his initial “yes” vote for the Whispering Oaks Business Park.
But we suspect there’s a muckier side to Dave. Potter reminds us a little of Pigpen from the comic strip “Peanuts”: There’s a cloud of dirt that shadows him.
That cloud is less about Potter’s voting record than the perception that he runs with the wrong crowd. Does Potter stand up for open government and transparency, or does he backroom deal? Does he tell the public one thing and would-be developers another?
Potter’s been re-elected several times, in great part due to early support from local environmentalists. At one time, he also counted land-use attorney Tony Lombardo as a friend and real estate mogul Nader Agha as friends and supporters. (No longer.)
Much of Potter’s enviro support recently abandoned ship, citing his poor voting record on the Coastal Commission (he was not reappointed after he obtained the Sierra Club’s lowest rating); his lack of support for fellow Peninsula Supervisor Jane Parker; and his close relationship with Brian Boudreau, the developer for the controversial, proposed Monterey Downs racetrack on Fort Ord.
To Potter’s credit, in his long tenure he helped resolve the Hatton Canyon freeway mess in Carmel. He recently stepped in and saved Rippling River. As FORA chair, he played a role in helping to see part of Fort Ord get designated as a national monument. He was a consistent vote for a reasonable General Plan. He helped manage the county’s budget through fat times, but more importantly and more recently, through the lean ones too. And he helped save Natividad Medical Center from budget disaster.
Enter Potter’s chief challenger, former County Supervisor Marc Del Piero. Del Piero is a smart, brash, in-your-face candidate. He has a long track record of public service, both as a county supervisor and as a member of the State Water Resources Control Board. He knows water issues as well as anyone in this county. He represented a since-reconfigured District 1 from 1980-92, but moved to Pebble Beach in District 5 more than a decade ago. When asked about specific development projects facing the county, he calmly says, “No water, no project.” He is advocating for the public takeover of the local water system and wants to restore trust in county government.
And he’s amassed one of the most unusual group of endorsers we’ve ever seen, including the Green Party, the Republican Party, environmental activists and the Salinas Valley Chamber. This list has us scratching our heads. We’re not sure what he’s telling each group, but it’s hard to imagine it’s the same thing.
While we like the way Del Piero presents himself and don’t mind his brash side (too much), we gulped at the mailer proclaiming Del Piero the “open spaces and open government candidate.” When he served on the Board of Supervisors in the ’80s, he voted in favor of sprawling Las Palmas and for Pebble Beach’s Spanish Bay. As a member of the state water board, he played a critical role ensuring Clint Eastwood could transfer water credits from his unbuildable Odello Ranch property to then-pending Tehama, enabling this exclusive, gated community to become a reality without providing any traffic relief to the rest of us poor schmucks.
It’s hard to see his open-space philosophy in play here. And when we asked Del Piero what his role was in the Tehama project, he answered that he wasn’t a supervisor at the time. He failed to mention any role he played on the state water board, a key position that helped Clint get the agency’s attention and approval. More troubling is a controversial project the Aromas Water District agreed to supply, delivering precious water over county lines to a luxury development near San Juan Bautista. Del Piero denies he was involved; it was his father, Richard, and brother, Kris, who finagled a deal so costly and litigious for the water district it ended in bankruptcy. But observers say Del Piero exerted influence from Sacramento such that North County decision-makers felt they had no alternative but to sell the water.
We wish the third candidate in the race, Pacific Grove Mayor Carmelita Garcia, could save voters from having to rely on magic mirrors. But she’s just not ready.
Potter should be given a chance to demonstrate he’s always on the public side of things, and to prove he believes in open government.
U.S. Representative, 20th District
A bold half-dozen challengers are lining up against the 19-year incumbent, but he remains one of our favorite folks in Washington. Sam’s served what used to be the 17th Congressional District since 1993, and has been a consistent voice of progressive leadership in the House: pushing for immigration reform, calling for an end to oil-company payouts and leading federal ocean-conservation efforts, among other stands. He’s helped funnel funds to our local military education institutions while remaining staunchly anti-war. We’ll always praise him for being one of the few congresspeople willing to stand up and vote against the Iraq War. His influence also has helped win a V.A. clinic for the former Fort Ord. We give him credit for bending Barack’s ear about Fort Ord while en route to Colombia with the president – leading to a speedy national monument designation.
Yet while he’s accessible and eloquent, Farr’s major victories in the House are too few and far between. We want to see more initiative, energy and passion. Nevertheless, we’re happy to keep him in D.C.
State Senator, 17th District
Assemblyman Bill Monning isn’t a great progressive like his predecessors Fred Keeley and John Laird. He’s made a few questionable moves, like voting for a bill boosting the HPV vaccine after accepting money from the vaccine’s manufacturer, and pushed for the wholesale extension of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority’s powers without assessing FORA’s performance balancing environmental protection with growth.
That said, Monning is a very good progressive. He’s been a leader in the ultimately successful battle against toxic strawberry fumigant methyl iodide, he scored a perfect voting record on the League of Conservation Voters’ 2011 Environmental Scorecard, and he consistently stands up for vulnerable populations like children and seniors. He deserves more time in Sacramento to add to those victories.
Republican challenger Larry Beaman, an insurance agent and school board member, isn’t really a contender. He hasn’t filed any campaign finance statements, didn’t give a candidate statement to Monterey County Elections and didn’t provide into to SmartVoter.org.
We do wish a place still existed somewhere for current 17th-District State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, who bowed out when his district was redrawn to become bluer. We liked his precautionary stance on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, and top ranking on the California League of Conservation Voters scorecard among Senate Republicans.
State Assembly, 29th District
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone’s been an unwavering supporter of the environment who doesn’t offer special treatment to special interests.
On a divided Coastal Commission, he voted last August against La Bahia Hotel. Even though the Santa Cruz community had largely rallied around the economic engine it promised to be, Stone argued special zoning for the upscale project would set a dangerous precedent – but balancing environmental preservation against good and sensible economic progress is a key to good public policy.
He’s also shown an attention to pragmatic nuts and bolts along with the big picture. On high-speed rail, for example, Stone’s worried too few access points are built into the design. “We can’t be too swayed by how sexy something looks if we don’t have the practical components,” he said, and the Weekly agrees.
State Assembly, 30th District
Assemblyman Luis Alejo is en route to becoming one of the most powerful legislators in the state.
The former Watsonville mayor and former attorney for the Monterey County Superior Court has, in just two years, pulled off a state audit investigation of Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital that has both the county D.A. and the state Fair Political Practices Commission taking a long look at the hospital board’s operations. His work also led to legislation requiring that contracts with hospital administrators be in writing.
He’s worked with the farmworker community to stand up against methyl iodide, and the pressure that was brought to bear from a variety of interest groups helped lead to Arysta LifeSciences pulling the toxic fumigant from the U.S. market. He’s very smart, very ambitious and represents his district well. Let’s keep him in office.
The Weekly’s endorsement board comprises Founder and CEO Bradley Zeve, Publisher Erik Cushman, Editor Mary Duan, Managing Editor Mark C. Anderson and Assistant Editor Kera Abraham.