Monterey Herald, Sept 29, 2011

More hogwash from Carmel

by Royal Calkins,
Opinion Page Editor, Monterey Herald

An editorial writer in Chico years ago wrote that a disfavored planning commissioner had "been caught with his hands in the cookie jar." Later, in a retraction, he explained that he had gotten carried away and made it up. Perhaps something like that explains the latest editorial in the Carmel Pine Cone.

It seemingly was an attempt by Pine Cone publisher Paul Miller to defend directors of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, who had been criticized earlier in a Herald commentary by Ron Weitzman, who heads a group trying to stir interest in a public takeover of California American Water.

Weitzman's column sharply criticized the water board majority for voting not to explore the takeover idea. He alleged that five of them had been swayed by various political conflicts that caused them to side with Cal Am, which does not want to be taken over.

But despite what you may have read in the Pine Cone, Weitzman did not accuse any of them of "corruption" or of benefiting financially from their vote. The conflicts Weitzman alleged were of the procedural variety. Why the Pine Cone likened them to bribetaking is inexplicable. Since Miller has not previously demonstrated much fondness for the water board, the closest I can come to an answer is that perhaps he is such a passionate defender of Cal Am that he simply got carried away.

Weitzman's case against some of the water board members was stronger than his case against others.

He contended that director Dave Pendergrass, mayor of Sand City, wanted to stay on Cal Am's good side because he wanted the water company to support his city's pitch to receive 100percent reimbursement for construction of a small desalination plant.

Weitzman argued that directors Bob Brower and Dave Potter were conflicted because of their connections to the Monterey County Hospitality Association, which is working with Cal Am to try to keep hotel water rates down.

Regarding two other board members, Kristi Markey and Regina Doyle, Weitzman contended that they were motivated by their desire to have Cal Am push to restore a water surcharge that previously financed the water district's habitat restoration program.

Here's what the editorial said: "When he lost a key vote at the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District a few weeks ago, Weitzman had a ready explanation: The board members who voted against him did so because they're corrupt."

The editorial went on to discuss Weitzman's "completely unsupported allegations of corruption."

"We won't bother to print the specifics of (Weitzman's) imaginary charges," Miller wrote, "but what they come down to is this: All those water board members would achieve some indirect financial benefit if Cal Am were permitted to carry on as a private water company."

Miller makes it appear as though a respected community activist had accused five hardworking members of the water management board of attempting to pad their pocketbooks at the expense of the public good. That cannot have been the Pine Cone's intention, but there it is, an insult to everyone named in the editorial.

Ironically, the editorial also laments the "name-calling problem" on the Peninsula but goes on to label Weitzman as a "gadfly" with "nutty" views. Weitzman does have strong opinions. But disagreeing with him is one thing and distorting his thoughts for dramatic effect is quite another. In the process, Pine Cone set fire to its own credibility.

Royal Calkins is editor of the Opinion page. Reach him at 646-4381 or rcalkins@montereyherald.com.

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