Friday, July 17, 2020

Jon Wizard recall effort is political censorship

There is a petition drive now underway to recall Seaside city councilman Jon Wizard. The effort is being spearheaded by two former Seaside council members Helen Rucker and Darryl Choates, both of whom have conservative political leanings. Wizard tends to be more on the liberal side of things, and has openly supported the Black Lives Matter movement. In the interest of full disclosure Wizard, Rucker, and Choates are all three black, so racism doesn't appear to be at play here.

I haven't followed Wizard particularly closely, but this recall effort gives me the creeps. As far as  I can see he has done nothing wrong. His only "offense" is that he has floated an idea to take some money from the Seaside Police Department budget (inaccurately called "defunding") and use it for other community programs that could help reduce crime. You may or may not agree with the idea, but it deserves a fair and open debate.

This recall effort strikes me as a way to prevent an open and honest discussion of the idea's merits and shortcomings. Since my mind is not made up on this issue, a successful recall effort will deprive people like me of the opportunity to hear both sides of the issue so we can make up my own minds.

It's not as if Wizard can implement his idea single-handedly. He still has to convince the rest of the city council and the public that it makes good use of limited public funds, an uphill battle for any new way of looking at things.

So this recall effort comes across as the political equivalent of a crucifixion, an extreme form of censorship. And as I like to say, advocating censorship is an admission that one's own belief system is too weak and fragile to withstand a few challenges.

But perhaps there may be something even more sinister going on here. You see, Wizard is running from a safe council seat to unseat the current mayor, Ian Oglesby, who, like Rucker and Choates, also leans conservative. Could it be that Rucker and Choates are merely trying to discredit Mr. Wizard in order to keep Oglesby in office?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

My website got a makeover!

I haven't posted any Mental Notes for about ten months now. That's because I've been busy. I started a project one year and three weeks ago. I thought I'd have it wrapped up by Labor Day. Nope. But I should be done by Thanksgiving. Nope. Christmas, definitely! Nope. But now I can finally announce to the world that it is finished. I have completely rebuilt my website, The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box, from the ground up. It is the first major overhaul of the website since 2008.

The Toy Box now has a clean, modern look, and unlike the old version, it is mobile-friendly so it looks just as good on a small phone screen as on a big desktop monitor. This is important because Google had been penalizing me in search rankings for not being mobile-friendly, and my ad revenue had dropped significantly since they started doing that. 

I have been wanting to do this for about three years, but I lacked the technical know-how to build a responsive website. After a lot of research and experimentation with programs that were not very user-friendly, I finally settled on a free program called Mobirise, which turned out to be a good match for my skill level. Once I got to know its capabilities and limitations, I went to town. I was finally able to redesign the Toy Box in a way that suited my vision and I was able to incorporate a variety of ways, some subtle and some obvious, to promote my photography website as well. But with well over 200 pages to rebuild, it took a long time. 

Pretty much everything is still there: the visitors guide (just in time for the covid-19 shutdown of the travel industry!), movie guide, history section, humor section, and glossary are all still there with only minor updates to the content. I dropped the page of links to other local websites because it would have taken too long to rebuild that one, plus it was basically obsolete now that everyone knows how to use Google (which was not the case in 1997). I may put it back in someday just for kicks, but for now it's not worth the effort. I also did not update the Del Monte Club Car section, because I haven't been able to keep it up to date and it is pretty much obsolete since TAMC has all but scrapped the main thing the pages were intended to promote - the revival of Monterey to SF rail service. I did, however, keep the old Club Car pages online for archival reference purposes. You can find it in the Goodies section of the new website. 

Please note, many of the page URLs have changed so you may need to update any bookmarks you may have.

So while you're stuck at home with little to do, please check out my handiwork at

Saturday, July 20, 2019

An idea to help save Big Sur

“OVERTOURISM IS KILLING BIG SUR.” A banner was recently hung on Bixby Bridge with that message, but was quickly removed by Caltrans. A little over a week later that same message was painted on the pavement of the viewpoint overlooking the bridge. Caltrans cleaned it up within hours. 

While I don't condone vandalism, I sympathize with the message, and it did help drive home the point. Big Sur, not unlike many other famous places around the world, has been overrun with tourists. The banner and paint job explicitly expressed the legitimate frustrations of Big Sur residents. 

I haven't driven down the coast for awhile, but I have seen news reports showing cars on Highway 1 backed up for miles, crawling along at a snails pace. I've also read horror stories of people coming across piles of human poop, complete with toilet paper, along park trails due to the lack of public rest rooms. Clearly, something needs to be done. Soon. 

It has been suggested that Highway 1 be made a toll road, but I don't think that will help much. Tolls might be useful to help pay for road maintenance and services like much-needed rest rooms, but by themselves they won't significantly reduce traffic volume. After all, if people are making the effort to get here from far away places they aren't going to be deterred by having to spend a few extra dollars to go the last few miles. 

Instead, what is needed is reliable, frequent bus service to and from Big Sur to provide a credible alternative to driving. Right now, Monterey-Salinas Transit runs only three buses a day from Monterey to Big Sur, spaced about three and a half hours apart, with Nepenthe being the southernmost stop. And that schedule only operates during the summer months. From September to May MST only runs four buses a week, two on Saturday and two on Sunday, roughly four hours apart each day. 

The service pretends to be tourist-friendly by offering to stop at Bixby Bridge long enough to take a snapshot or two “upon request,” but I don't see how such schedules would be of much use to anybody. They certainly aren't practical for tourists, who need the flexibility to make relatively brief stops at parks, viewpoints, and restaurants as they explore attractions spread out over dozens of miles. So as it stands now, driving the family automobile is the only way to see Big Sur. That's why traffic backs up for miles. 

But what if MST ran buses as frequently as every 20-30 minutes? That would change the whole ball game. Passengers could get on and off at will, knowing that another bus would soon come along to carry them to the next point of interest. So, for example, a couple or family might get off at Point Lobos for an hour or two. Then they could catch another bus which would let them off at Garrapata, where they might spend 30 minutes walking the beach and trails before the next bus picks them up. A 5 minute stop at Bixby Bridge could be built into the schedule for the quick photo op, or the passengers could linger longer and be back on a different bus within half an hour. On down the road they'd go picking and choosing where to get off, when to get back on, and when to catch the northbound bus once they've seen what they came to see, all at their convenience. 

This sort of service would provide a very practical alternative to driving individual automobiles. To promote the service and encourage its use, day passes could be included in hotel room packages much the same way aquarium tickets are now. 

Ah, but then the question arises, how do we pay for it? Farebox revenue would probably not cover the full costs, so some sort of subsidy would probably be necessary. I confess I'm not familiar enough with potential funding sources to say where the money might come from. But we have a lot of clever people in Monterey County who might have an idea or two that could get this off and running.

Point Sur

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Consider The Lily

My online Photography Gallery and Picture Shop had a bit of a makeover this past week, so it seems like a good excuse to tell the story of one of my favorite floral images.

Consider The Lily

In Carmel, California at the Church of the Wayfarer, there is a Biblical Garden featuring plants mentioned in the scriptures. I have often gone there in the spring and summer to see what's blooming. One foggy August day in 1995 I found this lily. I was trying out the 25 speed Kodak Royal Gold film, to see how it worked with flowers. There are very few color-print films that properly capture the subtle tones of a flower, at least to my satisfaction. As you can see, this film was a winner.

The summer fog of the Monterey Peninsula is a blessing for this type of work. It provides a soft, even light, avoiding harsh shadows and highlights. There was a slight breeze, so I had to be careful with movement. I set the aperture as small as I dared without getting too slow a shutter speed, and waited several minutes for the breeze to subside long enough to make the photograph.

Keeping with the theme of the Biblical Garden, I gave this a title based on a passage from the Sermon On The Mount, specifically Matthew 6:25-33. A good thought to reflect on as you enjoy this colorful display of nature.

If you'd like to have this photograph click the image above to be taken to the magic place where you can order framed or unframed prints for your wall. You can also get it on an oh-so-soft blanket, throw pillow, tote bag, or greeting cards customized with your own message.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Moviegoer plays Superman.

This happened 40 years ago this week.

It was late December of 1978, I was 19 and working the snack bar at the Elsinore Theater in downtown Salem, Oregon. For those not familiar, the Elsinore was built in 1926 and had a seating capacity of about 1,350 spread on three levels. The main floor had about 700 seats or so, a luxury loge section on the mezzanine level had another hundred, while the upper balcony had over 500 seats. Being the largest theater in town, we got most of the big blockbuster movies, and for this Christmas season we were playing the first Superman movie.

One night somewhere between Christmas and New Years we got the crowd in for the final showing of the day. We closed up the snack bar, I filled out my time sheet, and was ready to go home. I went out to my car, a 1976 AMC Lemon, er, Pacer, and it wouldn't start. I went back inside and asked my manager, Mr. Proctor, if he could give me a ride home since we lived barely three blocks apart. He said he'd be happy to. I would deal with my car in the morning.

We sat in the office for about an hour shooting the breeze until the show broke. We then stood in the lobby watching the crowd exit the building when some frantic ladies came running up to us saying “Someone just fell out of the balcony!”

Mr. Proctor and I ran into the auditorium. He followed the women down the aisle they came from. For reasons I don't remember I went down the far right aisle. Maybe it was to stay out of the way, or maybe to get a different perspective on the scene. I don't know. I watched Mr. Proctor quickly assess the situation before heading back towards the office. I followed.

In 1978 we didn't yet have a 911 emergency system. We had to dial a seven-digit number for emergencies, which meant we had to open the phone book and read it. Mr. Proctor was so flustered he couldn't focus his eyes on the phone book and he asked me what the number was. Of the two of us I seemed to be the calmer one so I said “I'll call.”

While I talked to the dispatcher Mr. Proctor went back to the auditorium and realized that in addition to the man who fell there was another man hanging motionless over the seat in front of him. Mr. Proctor's first thought was “Oh my god, he killed someone.” But then he saw his fingers move, one at a time, then his arms and legs, one at a time. The man was a body builder who had enough sense to test each limb before attempting to move his whole body. Eventually he got up and he was OK.

Medics soon arrived and took the fallen man to the hospital. We later heard that he got off with just three cracked ribs. Meanwhile, Mr. Proctor began getting witness statements. He started with the victim's female companion who said he fell asleep, then woke up not knowing where he was. In his disoriented state he accidentally stumbled over the edge of the loge section. Upon hearing this another witness standing behind Mr. Proctor leaned into his ear and whispered “Bullshit.”

The other witnesses were all in agreement. The man was seated on the aisle three rows back from the balcony's edge. When the credits rolled and the lights came up he got up and ran straight off the balcony, no doubt thinking he could fly like Superman. He landed on the main floor about four rows in front of the balcony. Had he stumbled off as his companion stated he would have landed directly below the balcony's edge.

Several days later the local newspaper ran a brief article about the incident, playing up the man-thinks-he's-Superman angle. But the story was not complete until one day several weeks after the fact. Two girls who looked to be about 13 or so came up to buy some popcorn. One of them asked me “Did someone jump off the balcony here?” When I answered in the affirmative she informed us “That was my uncle. He was on acid.”* I shared that bit of information with Mr. Proctor who, like me, was not surprised but mildly amused by how I learned it.


*Acid is a slang term for the psychedelic drug LSD.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Measure J Deception

Until a few days ago, I thought I knew what I was going to say about Measure J, which relates to a public buyout of our privately owned water utility California-American Water, or Cal-Am. Based on what I had been reading about it in the local press, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about it. But now that I've had a chance to read the complete text of Measure J I find it is far different from what has been advertised and much worse than I ever imagined.
The formal title of Measure J is “The Monterey Peninsula Water System Local Ownership Feasibility Study Initiative.” That's how it is being sold to Peninsula voters, as a “feasibility study.” But surprisingly, the word “study” is nowhere to be found in the body of Measure J's text.
Although the text of Measure J spans two full pages of the Monterey County Voters Guide the bulk of it is devoted to spelling out J's purpose, a list of “findings” or statements used to justify the measure, and some housekeeping legalese related to the circumstances of the ballot measure itself. The actual meat of Measure J involves just a few short paragraphs. Read them carefully:
The following Rule 19.8 shall be added to the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, Rules and Regulations, Regulation I, General Provisions:
Rule 19.8. Policy of Pursuing Public Ownership of Monterey Peninsula Water System
A. It shall be the policy of the District, if and when feasible, to secure and maintain public ownership of all water production, storage and delivery system assets and infrastructure providing services within its territory.
B. The District shall acquire through negotiation, or through eminent domain if necessary, all assets of California American Water, or any successor in interest to California American Water, for the benefit of the District as a whole.
C. The General Manager shall, within nine (9) months of the effective date of this Rule 19.8, complete and submit to the Board of Directors a written plan as to the means to adopt and implement the policy set forth in paragraph A, above. The plan shall address acquisition, ownership, and management of all water facilities and services within and outside the District, including water purchase agreements as appropriate. The plan may differentiate treatment of non-potable water services.
As you can see, there's no mention of a feasibility study. None! Instead, it firmly establishes a public buyout as official Water Management District policy. It also mandates that the agency immediately draw up plans to buy out Cal-Am and carry out the plan “if and when feasible,” in other words, as soon as possible. Furthermore, the word “feasible” is undefined, leaving it open to a broad range of interpretations which will no doubt lead to unnecessary political and legal squabbles. 

This is no mere fact-finding study to aid us in making an informed decision on whether or not to buy out Cal-Am. No, it is an open-ended commitment to buy out Cal-Am regardless of whether it saves Peninsula ratepayers money or ends up costing us a bundle!

Just so you know where I stand, I really don't care if the water company is publicly or privately owned. I am completely neutral on the issue. If Measure J was really just a buyout feasibility study, with no obligations or strings attached, I would vote for it without hesitation. Having good data specific to local circumstances, as opposed to aggregated statistics about public water systems in general, would bring clarity to the public debate and help our community decide whether or not to pursue public ownership.

But Measure J doesn't do that. Rather it assumes that public ownership will benefit local water customers, forces the Water Management District to pursue it, and relies on the vaguely worded phrase “if and when feasible” to hopefully act as sort of an emergency brake just in case the assumption is wrong. That is bad public policy, so I urge a NO vote on Measure J.

Friday, October 26, 2018

$1,000 gas tax?

State senate candidate Rob Poythress has been running attack ads against incumbent Anna Caballero on local TV. In one ad Poythress criticizes Caballero's support for the 12 cents per gallon gasoline tax increase which took effect earlier this year. Poythress claims this tax increase is costing motorists $1,000 a year.


Let's do some math. $1,000 divided by 12 cents per gallon works out to 8,333 gallons of gas consumed per year. Divide that by 365 days and we discover that one would have to burn through almost 23 gallons of gas per day, every day, in order for the tax to add up to $1,000 annually. For a car that gets 30 miles per gallon on the open road, 23 gallons would take you all the way from Monterey to Eugene, Oregon, which for all practical purposes is a two-day drive.

I could be charitable and say that Poythress is being misleading, but since this claim of his is so blatantly false it really falls into the “lying weasel” category.