Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Public Water, Now?

Well, they're back! A local group of activists called Public Water Now thinks that doing the same thing over again will have a different result. That thing involves yet another ballot measure asking Monterey Peninsula voters if we want to buy out the privately owned local water company, California-American Water (Cal-Am), and turn it into a publicly owned utility. After two failed attempts in recent years, PWN seems to think this time will be different. 

They may have a point. In the two years since their last attempt, Measure O, failed, Cal-Am took Peninsula ratepayers for a ride with a wholly unethical rate increase. During the drought Peninsula water customers did their best to conserve water, resulting in less water passing through our water meters which in turn resulted in less money flowing into Cal-Am's bottom line. Cal-Am never claimed that they were losing money, but they did argue before the California Public Utilities Commission that their profits were not as great as they “should” have been. The corporate puppets at the PUC agreed that Cal-Am could collect those expected profits retroactively by adding them to our water bills for the next five years. Needless to say Peninsula ratepayers are fuming. 

So the political climate may be right for a successful third attempt. But before we dive into a public takeover we need a cold, hard reality check. 

PWN's arguments for a public water company include more local control, better accountability, no need to satisfy shareholders with profits, and lower water bills. While the first three points seem to me self-evident, the fourth is not so clear. 

PWN points to public water systems nationwide which have lower rates than we currently have. According to a chart on PWN's home page, Cal-Am's water bills are the ninth highest in the nation, and that seven out of the top ten communities with the highest water bills are served by privately owned water companies like Cal-Am. Based on this we are asked to conclude that a public buyout of Cal-Am would result in lower rates here on the Monterey Peninsula. 

But is that really true? Most public water utilities were publicly owned from the beginning. Their systems were built up gradually over 80, 90, or 100 years, maybe more, and their financial investments in water infrastructure were also spread out over as many years. These public systems are therefore mostly, if not entirely, paid for. 

By contrast, a public buyout of Cal-Am would require us to pay for an entire municipal water delivery system all at once. I have no idea how much that would cost, and I couldn't find any hints on PWN's website, but I think it is safe to say it will cost an awful lot. I sincerely doubt that any local public agency has enough cash on hand to pay an awful lot, so a buyout would have to be financed over a long period of time on the order of 20-30 years, maybe more. During that time the debt burden – principal and interest – would have to be added to our water bills. 

Maybe, just maybe, the debt payments would be offset by eliminating profits paid to shareholders or other cost savings. But maybe the debt would actually cause our water bills to go up for a few decades until the system is paid for. The fact is nobody really knows for sure because nobody knows how much it would cost to buy Cal-Am. So when anyone says a public takeover of Cal-Am will automatically result in lower water bills, give them a wide berth. Until somebody produces actual numbers specific to our situation, rather than spouting statistics about public systems in general, I reserve the right to be skeptical and suggest you do the same.

Carmel River Lagoon>

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Oh - my - god......E-MAIL!

The lame-stream and blame-scream media are driving me nuts with this latest Clinton e-mail "scandal" as if a new smoking gun has been found.

Get real. Here's all we really know as of now:

1. The FBI is investigating Anthony Wiener for sexting a minor.

2. The FBI seized Wiener's laptop as part of the investigation.

3. It turns out that Wiener's wife, Huma Abedin, also used the same laptop to communicate via e-mail with her boss, Hillary Clinton.

4. The FBI told everyone about point #3 yesterday, but didn't give any details.

That's it! BFD. So far this is a non-story. But the easily excitable news media seems to have a Pavlovian reaction any time the name "Clinton" is used in the same sentence as "e-mail."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

KBOQ comes around.

Radio station format changes are not usually pleasant. For reasons known only to station owners, they tend to be drastic, abrupt, and unwelcome to loyal listeners.

Friday evening, as I was getting ready to take a shower I tuned the bathroom radio to KBOQ hoping to hear classic rock tunes which is my favorite entertainment for my particular bathing ritual. But instead of classic rock, it was just...classical.

Now don't get me wrong. I love classical music as much as any other form, but it was still kinda jarring to expect one thing and hear something very different. At first I thought it was some sort of feed mix-up, as this particular station had that happen once before. But no, apparently KBOQ is now rebroadcasting San Francisco's classical KDFC in Monterey. So KBOQ, originally known as "K-Bach," has come back to its classical roots.

Five years ago Mapleton Communications abruptly changed KBOQ's format from classical to classic hits, much to the dismay of everyone whose alarm clock-radio was set to gently waken them to Mozart or Handel. Getting hit in the head by Led Zeppelin and the Doobies at 6:00 am one Monday morning was an obnoxious surprise to say the least. A lot of long-time K-Bach listeners were very, very angry.

I was among them, though I kinda saw it coming. Mapleton didn't have a clue as to how to run a proper classical station, a problem I described in detail in a 2011 Mental Note entitled "KBOQ bites the dust....again!"

KBOQ's frequency is now owned by the University of Southern California, under the banner USC Radio Group. KDFC broadcasts full-time classical music on six different frequencies covering territory from Big Sur to Ukiah. Locally it can be found on 103.9 FM (Monterey), 95.9 FM (Big Sur), and Comcast Cable channel 981. USC also runs five classical stations south of here in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Thousand Oaks, Los Angeles, and Palm Springs. It's a pretty big outfit, especially for public radio.

KBOQ's classical resurrection creates an interesting situation in the local radio market. You see, a year or so after K-Bach went rogue, a new commercial classical station KMZT, K-Mozart, came to town at 95.1 FM and neatly filled the void. The big question now is whether the Monterey Bay area can support two classical stations. We've never had more than one at a time.

Perhaps a clue can be found in an interesting twist to this story. You see, KDFC's Big Sur frequency 95.9 FM was, until very recently, owned by K-Mozart! According to a USC Radio Group blog entry, K-Mozart's parent company, Mount Wilson Broadcasters, donated their Big Sur station to USC "in order to ensure these important communities had a strong classical music service.” Perhaps this is a signal that KMZT also has a format change in the works. We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What's wrong with a food court, anyway?

I love Carmel. I was born in Carmel during one of the final years of it having its own hospital and maternity ward. Carmel is in my blood, and like many people I never want it to change. Of course, over the last 56 years it has, in many ways, changed quite a bit, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Yet it is comforting that many of the village landmarks I grew up with, from the Pine Inn to Bruno's Market still look pretty much the same as they did in my earliest childhood memories. 

For some strange reason a single building on the corner of 7th and Dolores seems to be the focal point for the local political drama over keeping Carmel Carmelish. Several years ago it was suggested that a Long's Drug store might occupy the former bank building, but that was shot down by the anti-chain-store crowd whose short memory forgot that the townsfolk fought to preserve a similar chain store that closed its Ocean Avenue location just a decade earlier. 

More recently there were arguments over whether the relatively new (1970s) building was architecturally significant and worthy of preservation or a disposable piece of modern architecture improperly imposing itself on Carmel's classic storybook charm. After that was settled in favor of keeping the building, there were more arguments about what sort of business should occupy the space. 

Eventually it became an “event center” for “special events.” Then early this year the owner thought a market and deli would be a nice fit for the building, but the machete and pitchfork wielding townsfolk thought it looked too much like a dreaded “fast food” operation. 

Now the owner wishes to open a restaurant there. A fairly large, but non-threatening restaurant. That should be fine, right? 

Apparently not if it has a display case with two cash registers. According to competing restaurant owner Rich Pepe that makes it not a restaurant but a “food court.” And because food courts are typically associated with big suburban shopping malls, a display case in a restaurant is a direct threat to Carmel's way of life (Patisserie Boissiere excepted). 

According to Pepe, “Many of us feel a very large, 100-seat cafeteria/food court operation in Carmel will only encourage day-trippers and damage Carmel’s fine reputation as a unique village.” 

Putting aside the obvious snobbery, I think it's safe to say that the duration of a visitor's stay will never be influenced by the mode of food service offered on the SE corner of 7th and Dolores. The decision to come to Carmel for a day, a weekend, or a week is typically determined by such factors as personal schedules, how far they have to travel (someone from San Jose will likely return home in the evening while a visitor from Omaha would probably stay a night or two), and the purpose of their visit. 

Personally, I think a food court would make a wonderful social hub well suited to the Carmel lifestyle. I'm not talking about the kind with cheap formula fast food, plastic chairs, Formica tables, and sporks, but rather a comfortable dining space surrounded by local vendors offering coffee, pastries, sandwiches, soups, and such. It could be a place where locals could stop for an easy lunch or snack en route to the post office or library. A place where friends and neighbors could run into each other by chance and enjoy each other's company in a relaxed setting. In my vision it also has a fireplace. 

But neither Pepe's nightmarish day-tripper attractant nor my vision for a community social hub is what's being proposed. It's just a restaurant with a harmless display counter. The problem isn't the display case. The problem is that Carmel's regulations are so blasted rigid and formulaic now. Any deviation from what is legally considered Carmelish is treated as a crime. They have eliminated any possibility of creativity in business management or aesthetic design. The irony of course is that Carmel's charm was developed by people who came here so they could be free to express their creativity in art, architecture, and business as they, not society, saw fit. I think they would be horrified by Carmel's regulations today.

For further discussion on Carmel's regulations, see my earlier post Strangling Carmel to death.

Photography Prints

Friday, July 22, 2016

Donald Trump is Coming to Town

Sing to the tune of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

Oh you'd better shut up
You'd better not whine
You need to stand up and fall in line
Donald Trump is coming to town.

He's building a wall
To keep Muslims out
Mexicans too, that's what it's about
Donald Trump is coming to town.

He's planning massive tax cuts
And massive spending, too
Do you think he plans to pay for it
Out of his own bank-a-roo?

He'll make us all great
By making us hate
Those people he shall designate
Donald Trump is coming to town.

Monday, June 27, 2016


In recent years it has become a weekend ritual for Mrs. Toy to pick up burgers and fries from Wendy's on her way home from a busy day of church musicianship. This weekend we thought it might be fun to alter the routine and try out the new In-N-Out Burger joint in Seaside, which opened to great fanfare and excitement about three months ago.

While we didn't expect our meal to live up to the hype, we did expect a reasonably good hamburger and fries, and we left open the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. We didn't expect to be too disappointed, much less a little disgusted.

The bag contained two double burgers with cheese and two “containers” of fries. I used quotation marks because the fries were placed in shallow paper trays that didn't really contain them. They just sort of spilled out everywhere. The burgers were half naked with the other half wrapped in a flimsy paper shell. Unlike normal fast-food hamburgers, which come in a clamshell box or completely wrapped in paper or foil that can be opened up and used as sort of a plate, these In-N-Out burgers had no real protection, nothing to keep them warm on the drive home, and required plates from our cupboard.

As I expected, the hamburger was nothing extraordinary. In fact the taste was almost indistinguishable from the Wendy's product, and the ingredients were essentially the same. But it was a good deal messier. Once I had eaten the exposed half there was the problem of how to separate the wrapped half from the tight wrapper. As someone with limited manual dexterity due to chronic pain and muscle stiffness, it was especially challenging.

I decided just to rip the paper off. I almost didn't notice, which means I almost ate, a microscopically thin layer of paper that remained clinging to the bun. It looked and felt like the film that you find between layers of an onion, and it was devilishly hard to remove from my food.

Once the second half of my burger was free, I had a hard time holding it together, and before I could raise it to my mouth it collapsed into a mess on my plate. What remained looked more like a serving of hamburger casserole than a hamburger. I ended up eating the individual components separately.

Meanwhile, I found the fries, which In-N-Out fans rave about, to be almost flavorless. They certainly didn't taste like potatoes, not even an undressed baked potato. Mrs. Toy thought they tasted undercooked, and she called them “inedible.” This word came from a woman who, in the 35 years I have known her, has no more than once or twice turned up her nose at any food put in front of her.

The only thing that saved the meal from total disaster was my chocolate milkshake. It tasted pretty good, though as shakes go it was a little on the thin side. A truly good milkshake takes a little work to suck through a straw. This one was too easy.

To make matters worse, our In-N-Out meal didn't settle in our stomachs very well and now, about 22 hours after the fact, we both still feel a little bit queasy. We're still waiting for the "Out" part of In-N-Out to happen.

So our first In-N-Out burgers were also our last. And we are now completely puzzled as to how an unimpressive, overstuffed hamburger and bland French fries in poorly designed packaging has gained such a cult following. It's not unlike the Donald Trump phenomenon, a lot of hype and no substance seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people making them very giddy over junk.

If you want a truly excellent hamburger, and a great milkshake too, I suggest you skip the chains altogether and pay a visit to our locally owned R.G. Burgers in Carmel and Monterey.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Two simple rules

To Donald Trump protesters: DO NOT engage in any form of violence, threats, or bullying! It only makes you look bad and makes Trump and his supporters look like the victims. Instead, think like Gandhi and Martin Luther King - practice peaceful, nonviolent noncooperation.

To Donald Trump supporters: Because your guy has systematically insulted huge numbers of Americans in order to gain your favor, don't expect to be greeted with tea and cookies.