Fix Our Harbors

San Mateo County Harbor District

The Half Moon Bay fishing, boating and surfing community would like facilities modernized at Pillar Point Harbor. It's time to fix crumbling infurtructure, chronic water pollution, dangerous working conditions on Johnson Pier, unsafe docks, inadequate public restrooms, outdated visitor serving facilities, poor wifi connectivity and compromised trail access.

Robert Bernardo brags about screwing fishermen

President Bernardo's response to John Ullom. Later General Manager Peter Grenell confirmed that the "2006 market study" Commissioner Bernardo referenced in his email below was never produced.

From: Robert Bernardo

Subject: Echos of Mosquito and Vector Control District Mismanagement and Harbor District Manager Peter Grenell Obfuscation

Date: Dec. 16, 2013 

To: John Ullom

Cc:  Don Horsley, Dave Pine, Carole Groom, Warren Slocum, Adrienne Tissier, Peter Grenell, James Tucker, William Holsinger, Pietro Parravano, Sabrina Brennan, Jean B. Savaree, Mark Noack, Aaron Kinney, Thomas Peele, Jon Mays, Samantha Weigel, Michelle Durand

Hello Mr. Ullom,

Thanks for writing the San Mateo County Harbor District.

I know that the District's General Manager, Peter Grenell has already been working with you on your Public Records Act (PRA) requests. Please continue to work with him directly.

With all due respect, I find it deeply offensive that you have compared our San Mateo County Harbor District to the Mosquito and Vector Control District because it implies that my fellow Commissioners (Sabrina Brennan, Jim Tucker, Pietro Parravano, Will Holsinger) and I have done something improper or illegal.

Since you have raised the issue of finances, let's talk about numbers:

In 2000, the SMC Harbor District borrowed $19.7 million from the State Department of Boating and Waterways (now a division of CA State Parks) for key infrastructure projects. By 2013, we have reduced that debt amount to $7.1 million.  Additionally, we are on track to pay off the remaining debt amount one year early (in 2018). 

How did we accomplish this?

In 2006, there was a market study that showed how our leases were undervalued and that the District was providing generous long-term leases to our tenants. Basically, we weren’t charging enough consistent with the San Francisco Bay Area's very high cost of living.

So, when tenant leases came up for renewal, we modified each of them to maximize District revenues. For example, we've raised monthly ground rents for our Pillar Point fish buyer tenants and we have added a new revenue stream by collecting unloading fees from fish buyers--which had not been done previously. That translates into $50,000 of new revenues from the just the period between April – October 2013!

When the South San Francisco Commuter Ferry terminal was created, General Manager Grenell got the Water Emergency Transit Authority to give $3.6 million to the Dept. of Boating and Waterways to cover a projected loss of revenue for the removal of 2 docks. This $3.6 million went to help retire our debt principle even further. Plus,San Mateo County benefitted by receiving another commute option: a regular ferry service to the East Bay.

Additionally, we have set aside a restricted fund of $1.5 million--which cannot be touched by the District--toward paying off our debt principle.

These are just some examples of how the San Mateo County Harbor District has shown effective leadership and strong fiscal management over the years. I have not even mentioned the superior search and rescue work that our harbor patrol does on a daily basis (On October 30, 2013, the California Association of Harbor Masters and Port Captains recently bestowed their 2013 Distinguished Service Award to three of our deputies for rescuing 2 people trapped by incoming tides in a coastal cave).

We continue to be both fiscal and environmental stewards (NOTE: We were recently bestowed the status of "2013 Clean Marina" by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

We’ve accomplished all of the above through strong adherence to governmental accounting standards and best practices. Last month, an independent auditors’ report (JJACPA, Inc.) stated that our finances are in “accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America” (see page 2 of the auditor’s report).

I am proud to serve as the Harbor District’s president this year, and therefore, I do take strong offense at any attempt to discredit the great work that Harbor staff has been doing over the years—and continues to do.

As always, thanks for your continued interest in our Harbor finances and operations. Happy holidays to you and yours.

Warmest regards,

Robert Bernardo

President, San Mateo County Harbor Commission 

On Sunday, December 15, 2013 9:27 PM, John Ullom wrote:

Hello All,

I hope this one finds you all well. Now some facts that to me indicate a huge mess. The following numbers are derived from the San Mateo County Harbor District Audits.

In fiscal year 2008-2009 Harbor District Revenue Operating Revenue were 3,461,953 and Receivables were 12,408.

In fiscal year 2009-20010 Harbor District Revenue Operating Revenue were 3,286,209 and Receivables were 19,582. 

In fiscal year 2010-2011 Harbor District Revenue Operating Revenue were 3,406,534 and Receivables were 64,259.

In fiscal year 2011-2012 Harbor District Revenue Operating Revenue were 3,524,119 and Receivables were 104,174.

In fiscal year 2012-2013 Harbor District Revenue Operating Revenue were 3,428.764 and Receivables were 175,665.

As can easily seen, even though revenue has been static over that 5 year period, Receivables are up by a factor 14 and some change.

So I asked for the AR Reports. What I got didn't make sense. There are tens of thousands of dollars in negative balances on the AR Reports that represent liabilities to the Harbor District. When I first asked about them at a District meeting, I was told that those negative balances represented deposits. I was told that when people leave the Marinas, they often leave their deposits behind. I pointed out that some of the those negative balances were for 5000 and 10,000 dollars. "Who," I asked, "Would leave a 10,000 dollar deposit behind as they sailed off into the sunset?"

Their story changed. Now they are asserting that those large negative balances represent "Prepayments". I figured if that was the case, I'd be able to track the prepayments and see the balances reduced from month to month. But, that does not appear to be the case.

Here is the problem. I can't definitively say what is going on because Grenell has ordered staff to redact both the customer names and customer ID's from the report. Thus I can't compare totals from month to month.

Next I asked Mr. Grenell to supply the AR Reports with Account ID's unredacted. First he said this:

Re: your #1: You were previously provided with the unredacted AR Reports from Jan. 2012 to present to inspect at the District Administration office. When you were in the Admin office you chose not to look at these reports. -- Peter Grenell

I never got the chance to see any of the data that day as two staff members berated me, accused me of slander, and threatened to file harassment charges against me. And that was in the first five minutes! Here is how staff reacts to questions: -- LINK

The thing to notice is that Mr. Grenell told me that his staff had given me access to unredacted AR Reports.

Now compare what I was told by Mr. Grenell a couple of days later:

For your information and understanding, Government Code Section 6254 (c) of the Public Records Act provides that disclosure of certain personnel information would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The AR reports you request contain individuals’ names and account numbers which can link to their tenant information which can include social security numbers and driver license numbers which are confidential. Hence the requested reports are again redacted.

Got that folks? First Grenell says I blew my chance to see the unredacted AR Reports then he cites a California law that per his logic, proves that his staff violated personal privacy laws.

So here is where I am at. The accounts receivable have increased 14 fold even though revenue has remained flat. There are tens of thousands of dollars in negative balances on the AR Reports. The story has changed as to what those balances represent. I can't verify the new story with the redacted data I have been supplied. Grenell's excuse for not providing unredacted reports keeps changing and appears to be contradictory.

Some of you may be aware of what happened at the Mosquito Control and Vector District. The parallels between the Harbor District and the Bug and Rat District become more obvious each day: --  LINK

Notice that in the above story, the District Trustees and Manager were blamed for enabling the embezzlement. A contention bolstered by the fact that the Board's Insurance Company declined to pay for the fraud. The Board Members themselves may very well end up paying restitution.

Here is more background on the scandal that was exposed only after a board member asked some questions of staff and then the attorney for the board: --  LINK

Is there anything any of you can do to help me get that unredacted AR Reports without having to resort to a Public Records Act lawsuit?


John Charles Ullom


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