Squid Speaks

The Social Network…Squid spends an inordinate amount of time on social media. A few weeks back, Squid oozed over to the wildflower superbloom to post selfies on Instagram (with all those tentacles, Squid was able to make a bomb-ass heart shape to capture a picture of the sun setting behind the poppies). Then Squid posted a Facebook story about the adventure, snapchatted a few shots to Squid’s besties and tweeted out the geolocation of the best bloom-viewing areas.

Squid likes to keep Squid’s social media positive and loaded with good vibes. And while Squid would never presume to tell a pugnacious local politician how, when and why to tweet, Squid’s wondering if maybe Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo should consider toning down the rage tweeting he did last week at Monterey County Superior Court Executive Officer Chris Ruhl and Presiding Judge Lydia Villarreal.

Last week the news dropped that four South County mayors were asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to intervene on their behalf as it relates to the proposed new location of a Monterey County courthouse.

Greenfield’s Lance Walker, Gonzales’ Maria Orozco, Soledad’s Fred Ledesma and King City’s Mike LeBarre say the long-awaited and long-promised three-courtroom courthouse proposed years ago for Greenfield is a need, not a want. But even as those plans remain active, the court system is examining whether it can replace its antiquated, asbestos-riddled and seismically unsafe courthouse in Monterey with a new one in Seaside on former Fort Ord lands.

The two are not mutually exclusive, according to Ruhl, and the court is mulling reaching out to the state to secure funding for both projects. But even as Ruhl publicly stated this, Alejo—a former Superior Court staff attorney who worked with the system’s self-help clients—took to Twitter. And even though Greenfield is in a different county supervisor (Chris Lopez’s) district, Alejo’s ire was incandescent.

On April 25, Alejo tweeted up a storm. Although former Weekly reporter David Schmalz wrote a story last September about the court system reaching out to Seaside about possibly locating the Monterey Family Justice Center east of Broadway Avenue and Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard—contingent on the court getting upwards of 10 acres for free, that there be no environmental challenges and that construction would cost less than $1,000 a square foot—Alejo apparently hadn’t read that story. Or if he had, chose to wage an angry Twitter battle instead.

In one tweet, Alejo stated: “The issue of a Seaside Courthouse feasibility study is coming on May 2nd?? Court never informed us despite yrs of talks. Look at fancy photos for Seaside when they can’t even give Greenfield a scaled-down courthouse. They boast about ‘25% More Businesses’ but not for SouthCounty?”

The court, he also tweeted, “made false claims re seismic safety & other facility concerns re Monterey Courthouse in Feb. to justify a Seaside Courthouse!@SupervisorLopez & I immediately investigated w CountyRMA staff who confirmed NO such issues exist. It’s an older building, but in good condition!!”

And this: “SouthCounty has been waiting for yrs for its Greenfield Courthouse. Now, the new court leadership is betraying them & its commitment to access to justice! As a former Superior Court staff attorney, I’m calling on the Presiding Judge &CAO to fulfill is promise to South County FIRST”

Lots of passion, lots of rage. But the yikes-worthy piéce d’resistance, this: “Monterey Co. Superior Court CEO#ChrisRhul is now lying about “pressing needs” for both court houses. The current Monterey Courthouse is FINE & there was NO “rat infestation”!! I just checked w county facilities staff 3wks ago &confirmed no such conditions” followed by “As a former Superior Court staff attorney, I worked at the Monterey Courthouse &there were no such conditions! They’re making up conditions to justify their betrayal against South County & disadvantaged communities! No Superior Court should lie to the public just to get their way”

One of Squid’s colleagues reached out to Ruhl. He explained that the process for deciding what courthouses get built is decided by the Judicial Council of California, a state body that is the rule-making arm of the state court system—meaning it's not up to, say, Seaside City Council. A dozen years ago, the Monterey County courts put forward both the need to replace the Monterey courthouse and the one in South County. South County is definitely on the priority list, Ruhl says, but has remained on indefinite delay since state funding dried up in 2012.  

"It's an ongoing priority and challenge for this court to restart the Greenfield project and to, in the meantime, provide meaningful and timely access to justice for the people in South County," Ruhl says.

That goal is accomplished, in part, by a collaboration with Greenfield in which the court holds two self-help events a month at Greenfield City Hall

Where it stands now is this: The Judicial Council, mandated by the legislature, is undertaking a reassessment of pending courthouse projects throughout the state. Local courts are providing information to JCC consultants, and the JCC is expected to finish its prioritization work by December. "We're going to be competing with every courthouse in California to get our courthouse project funded and ultimately built," Ruhl says.

Ruhl hasn't had any direct contact with the South County mayors, nor Alejo or Lopez, stating that, "I am not an elected official, I'm an appointed administrative officer and I defer to our elected officials on the court to be the primary points of communication with other elected officials."

Alejo has long been a fierce advocate for economic justice, especially as it relates to South County getting its fair share of the pie, but he’s gotta realize calling Ruhl a liar isn’t going to do him—or Lopez’s South County constituents—any good.

Seaside, meanwhile, can expect to be inundated at its next City Council meeting—at 6pm on May 2—as the South County mayors, Lopez and Alejo organize their constituents and ask for Seaside to cooperate and collaborate with the long-awaited South County courthouse before snagging one of their own.

The two supes, along with Walker, penned an op-ed that ran in the Salinas Californian and the Monterey Herald this weekend. That piece took a slightly more measured tone than Alejo’s tweets, stating, “We hope we have misread the situation, and some clarity can be found soon. We implore our counterparts in Seaside to support South County communities and stand on the side of equity and justice.”

Squid also believes in equity and justice, on both sides of the Lettuce Curtain.

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