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chronic water pollution, dangerous working conditions on Johnson Pier, unsafe docks, inadequate public restrooms, outdated visitor serving facilities, poor wifi connectivity and compromised trail access.

Filtering by Tag: fees

Three Captains Lawsuit Nonsense

 John Dooley

 John Dooley

John Dooley and Larry Fortado are suing the San Mateo County Harbor District after Fortado's fish buying business was ordered to relocate a controversial hoist.  John Dooley is paying Fortado's legal fees because Dooley stands to profit from the hoist.

Larry Fortado, owner of Three Captains Sea Products, filed the lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court on Tuesday, June 4, 2015 alleging loss of income because he was denied use of a hoist he installed to offload fish from boats at Pillar Point Harbor.

 John Dooley

Larry Fortado and his not so silent business partner John Dooley are mad as a hornets nest because a group of fishermen turned them in for neglecting to apply for a Coastal Development Permit for the hoist. 

After Coastal Commission staff met with fishermen a permit waiver was pulled off a 2014 Coastal Commission meeting agenda and a full permit was required. Three Captains neglected to provide the Coastal Commission with a complete permit application before or after the hoist was installed.

In 2015 the Harbor Commission passed a resolution that denied renewal of a one year probationary hoist agreement.

Larry Fortado and John Dooley swore to get even and filed a meritless lawsuit.  

Harbor District Legal Fees By The Hour

In 2014 six law firms responded to a Harbor District RFP for general legal counsel. On May 21, 2014 three of the six firms were recommended by then General Manager Peter Grenell to replace Aaronson, Dickerson, Cohn & Lanzone.

Harbor Commissioner Robert Bernardo loves corporate lawyers

The following three firm were recommended by Peter Grenell and considered by the board of Harbor Commissioners:

  • Mark C. Watson  $185.00 per hour  (Peter Grenell's personal attorney)
  • BBK, Christopher J. Diaz  $275.00 per hour
  • Hanson Bridgett, Steven Miller, Partner  $345.00 per hour

On June 4, 2014 Harbor Commissioners met at Sea Crest School in Half Moon Bay to discuss hiring a new law firm. Nothing was reported out of closed session.

After concerns were raised by Commissioner Brennan about an apparent conflict of interest regarding attorney Mark C. Watson and his business relationships with Peter Grenell and Commissioner Jim Tucker the board decided to hire Hanson Bridgett.

 On June 18, 2014 Harbor Commissioners voted in open session to hire Hanson Bridgett.

  • Agenda Item 5—Selection of Law Firm Hanson Bridgett LLP to Provide Legal Counsel Services & Approval of Contract  18:00
  • Commissioner comments  19:48

Hanson Bridgett's rate ($345.00 per hour) is significantly higher than the rate Aaronson, Dickerson, Cohn & Lanzone charged ($190.00 per hour) the Harbor District.

Do the Math

Based on the above legal expense report it appears BBK would have saved the Harbor District almost $30,000. in general counsel legal fees from July 2014 through March 2015.  BBK's hourly rate of $275.00 adds up to significant savings over time.  Hanson Bridgett's hourly rate of $345.00 is above what the District can reasonably afford. 

Grenell charges District $14,856.25 for personal attorney Mark Watson

Did Peter Grenell force Jean Savaree out so he could hire his own attorney?  

Peter Grenell (AKA The Ole Beardo) created a sexually charged drawing of an  administrative employee who worked at the Harbor District. Peter Grenell was the employees boss at the time. The drawing depicts the female employee  nude, lying in bed,  partially covered by a sheet.  Grenell  presented the   employee with his artwork at the Harbor District office.

Peter Grenell (AKA The Ole Beardo) created a sexually charged drawing of an administrative employee who worked at the Harbor District. Peter Grenell was the employees boss at the time. The drawing depicts the female employee nude, lying in bed, partially covered by a sheet. Grenell presented the employee with his artwork at the Harbor District office.

Why did Peter Grenell recommend his personal attorney Mark C. Watson as a suitable replacement for Jean Savaree of Aaronson, Dickerson, Cohn & Lanzone?  

Why didn't Mark C. Watson disclose his attorney-client relationship with Peter Grenell in advance of his interview with the board of Harbor Commissioners?  Why didn't Mr. Watson disclose to Commissioner Brennan that he was representing Peter Grenell regarding a pending sexual orientation and gender harassment complaint she made against Grenell?

Mark C. Watson is  Peter Grenell's personal attorney

Mark C. Watson is Peter Grenell's personal attorney

May  21, 2014

Six law firm responded to a RFP, three of the six firms were recommended by Peter Grenell, and all three recommended firms were interviewed by Harbor Commissioners.

  • Mark C. Watson  $185.00 per hour  (Peter Grenell's personal attorney)
  • BBK, Christopher J. Diaz  $275.00 per hour
  • Hanson Bridgett, Steven Miller, Partner  $345.00 per hour

June 4, 2014

Harbor Commissioners met with Peter Grenell to hire a law firm to replace Aaronson, Dickerson, Cohn & Lanzone.  Commissioner Brennan left closed session early.  Nothing was reported out of closed session.  

 June 18, 2014

Harbor Commissioners voted in open session to hire Steven Miller of Hanson Bridgett.

  • Agenda Item 5—Selection of Law Firm Hanson Bridgett LLP to Provide Legal Counsel Services & Approval of Contract  18:00
  • Commissioner comments  19:48

Aug. 20, 2014

The board of Harbor Commissioners approved Peter Grenell's request for reimbursement for his personal attorney Mark C. Watson.

Read the $14,856.25 invoice

Why did Mr. Watson charge his client Peter Grenell a higher rate ($425.00 per hour) than the $185.00 hourly rate he proposed the Harbor District pay if Commissioners agreed to hire him to replace Jean Savaree?

If Mr. Watson had been awarded a job as the District's new legal counsel would Grenell have requested reimbursement?  

Birthday card artwork by Peter Grenell (AKA The Ole Beardo).  Mark C. Watson is Peter Grenell's personal attorney.

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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