Op-Ed by Captain Mike McHenry: Reform Our Troubled Harbor Commission
I’ve been an active Half Moon Bay commercial fisherman for 56 years and a leaseholder at Pillar Point Harbor for over 30 years.
Grand Jury Report
After reading the July 2014 Grand Jury recommendation to dissolve the San Mateo County Harbor District, and the arrogant response by Harbor Commissioners, hopefully voters will begin to understand the difficulties commercial fishermen, leaseholders, live aboard tenants, and sports fishing interests are up against.
DA Investigation & General Manager's Retirement
On Sept. 3, 2014 the District Attorney mailed a letter to the law firm representing the Harbor District. The letter is part of an inquiry into the California Maritime Infrastructure Bank & Authority and followed recent interviews with senior members of the Harbor Commission. At the Sept. 3rd Harbor District meeting Commissioner Jim Tucker said a DA investigator interviewed him regarding Harbor District general manager Peter Grenell's activities as president of the bank and chair of the authority. At the same meeting Peter Grenell announced his retirement from the Harbor District after serving 17.5 years as the general manager. Grenell's last day will be December 30, 2014.
A thorough executive search for a highly qualified General Manager has the potential to fix the Harbor District’s management problems. To ensure the best candidate is hired, we must elect new Harbor Commissioners.
Commission Out of Touch
In 2012 the Harbor Commission levied the highest fish unloading fees on the West Coast. The fees are passed onto fishermen and ultimately onto consumers. For the past several years I’ve attended countless Harbor District meetings to raise awareness regarding the harm these fees are having on small fishing businesses and the local economy. Commissioners Jim Tucker, Will Holsinger and Robert Bernardo stubbornly insist they are entitled to a percentage of the commercial fishing fleet's catch without the risks involved in going to sea. Commissioners are aware that the fees they’re imposing are inconsistent with market conditions at other commercial fishing ports. Commissioners should understand that requiring arbitrarily high fees for unloading fish at Pillar Point Harbor isn't a sustainable approach to generating revenue.
The Harbor District recently misplaced $40,000 in tenant checks for berthing, and $30,000 in fishing fees are missing. Over the past few years members of the public have asking numerous questions about accounting irregularities. When bank records were requested management made excuses and refused to provide useful information. When the missing fishing fees were brought to light, management slapped leaseholders with an audit handled by a consultant. The consultant was uninformed regarding which documents were needed to perform an audit and neglected to include a due date on requests.
Culture of Favoritism
At Pillar Point Harbor, three business owners lease three fish unloading stations. Oddly, preferential treatment was granted to the fish unloading business that came up $30,000 short paying fees in 2013. The Harbormaster approved installation of a new hoist outside the designated lease area. This windfall doubled the leaseholders' dock space yet their rent did not go up. Currently each leaseholder pays an equal amount in rent regardless of this new special arrangement for only one of the lease holders. Two of the three leaseholders were never offered a chance at expansion and the District’s Harbormaster was in such a rush get the new hoist installed that he completely forgot to apply for permits from the Coastal Commission and the County Planning Department.
Shredding & Videotaping
Recently we learned that Harbor management has a bad habit of shredding documents. The District’s own document retention policy requires that many of these documents be retained. Last year Commissioner Jim Tucker argued that public access television broadcasts of board meetings was like a “fungus.” In response to Tucker’s groundless concerns the board majority voted to discontinue meeting videos.
Complaints from tenants and fishermen have grown over the past few years, and in response the board majority has taken steps to stifle public comment and move it to the end of four-hour meetings. The General Manager and the board president intentionally schedule agenda items relevant to Pillar Point Harbor's commercial fishing fleet for meetings held in South San Francisco, and they intentionally stack agendas for Half Moon Bay meetings with items relevant to Oyster Point Marina. At every opportunity, they block the public’s ability to participate. A few weeks ago Commissioners rewarded poor performance by voting 4-1 to give the General Manager a raise and a contract extension. Now we learn he’s retiring under the dark cloud of the Grand Jury Report and a DA investigation.
November 2014 Election
Incumbent candidate Jim Tucker has a new campaign website that lists his endorsements. I was surprised and disappointed to see who’s on his list of supporters. I wonder whether those endorsements were made prior to the June 2014 publication of the Grand Jury report.
Vote only for Nicole David (4 year seat) and Tom Mattusch (2 year seat) and reform our troubled Harbor Commission.
Please contact me with any questions 650-703-5498.
Michael D. McHenry
Merva W (60-foot fishing vessel built in 1971)
Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association
Leaseholder, Pillar Point Harbor
Berth Holder, Pillar Point Harbor
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