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chronic water pollution, dangerous working conditions on Johnson Pier, unsafe docks, inadequate public restrooms, outdated visitor serving facilities, poor wifi connectivity and compromised trail access.

October 15, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor district appoints new general manager

On Wednesday, Jim Tucker proposed that Scott Grindy be kept at the same salary on an interim basis for the next six months. After that point he could be reappointed, or hired permanently, he said.
He also suggested that Grindy's two assistant harbormasters should be promoted to be full harbormasters, one for each of the district's ports. The district's counsel, Steve Miller, raised concerns that this action would first need to be formally included in a meeting agenda. That action could be taken up at a future meeting.
Commissioner Sabrina Brennan raised several concerns about the appointment. At a harbor commission meeting earlier this month, she made a motion to have the district hire an executive search firm to find candidates for the job. Other commissioners clearly did not favor that approach - her motion died without a second.
On Wednesday, she blasted her colleagues for violating the Brown Act by having improper deliberations on salaries and labor in the closed session that evening.
The commission approved Grindy for the job in a 4-1 vote with Brennan dissenting.

September 25, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Editorial by Clay Lambert

Harbor candidates choose campaigning over duties of office

The San Mateo County Harbor Commission scheduled a meeting on Sept. 17, but three members — all currently candidates for re-election — had other priorities. Consequently, there was no quorum. Voters learned more about candidate priorities from their absence than they ever would have from their presence at the meeting that night.
Jim Tucker was attending services for a friend who died and says he told staff he couldn’t make it. That is certainly understandable.
Instead of attending the commission meeting on the evening of Sept. 17, Robert Bernardo was at the Oyster Point Yacht Club for a gathering that was ostensibly meant to “celebrate the anniversary of the McAteer-Petris Act,” credited with stopping the fill of the San Francisco Bay. The announcement of the event praises Bernardo at least as much as any worthwhile legislation and, whatever the intent, Bernardo acknowledges that he used it to raise money for his own campaign.
When questioned later, he said he had hoped to make both the meeting and the fundraiser, and he acknowledged that attending to the fundraiser — instead of the office he hopes to win with that money — was not his finest decision.
“I was trying to do too many things,” he said.
Will Holsinger said that personal commitments “took me out of the county that day.” That’s strange because he appears in a photo taken that night and posted on Daly City Councilman Ray Buenaventura’s Twitter account. In the photo, Holsinger seems to be having a whale of a time, yucking it up at Buenaventura’s campaign kickoff event instead of attending the Harbor Commission meeting.
Just down the street at the Municipal Services Building in South San Francisco, the commission was to have discussed the soon-to-be-vacant general manager’s position behind closed doors. Staff was prepared to present a special rate for visiting boaters at Oyster Point Marina. Ironically, the commission was going to discuss canceling meetings in December and January.
Forget duty, it would seem to be common courtesy for commissioners with other priorities to tell colleagues Pietro Parravano and Sabrina Brennan they needn’t make the trip from the coast to South San Francisco. Fortunately or unfortunately, you needn’t worry about the district’s contracted attorney, Steven Miller. He plans to submit an invoice for his time, compounding the waste of tax dollars that night. (Reached on Thursday, Miller declined to say how much he would bill the district.)
What are voters to make of candidates who value the money used to attain office more than the duties of the office itself? What is the message from sitting elected officials who don’t bother telling their colleagues, let alone the public, when they have other commitments on meeting nights? What are they saying when they rack up campaign dollars even as they waste yours on staff and consultants called to meetings that don’t take place?
You will decide in November.

September 18, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor candidates spar over district’s future–Crowded field split over financial questions

The stage was set with a particularly momentous backdrop for the evening. Weeks earlier, a civil grand jury report blasted the district in unbridled language for allegedly operating in a state of dysfunction. The grand jury proposed dissolving the district.

That was perhaps the only issue that all candidates could agree on. All of them opposed dismantling the Harbor District. The two incumbents, Holsinger and Tucker, dismissed the grand jury report as inaccurate and flawed. That view was shared by two of their challengers, Rogers and Collins. The other challengers agreed with the report’s findings, if not the recommendations, and they said it signaled that a change of leadership was needed for the agency.

“Handing off the district to the county Board of Supervisors is not going to solve our problems,” Nicole David said. “We need leaders who are enthusiastic and carefully attend to the needs of the taxpayers.”

A disagreement erupted over the district’s environmental stewardship. Will Holsinger touted the district receiving a “Clean Marina” certification, yet others pointed out the district was also listed among the filthiest spots on the coastline. Nicole David pointed out Pillar Point was on a statewide list of fecal pollution hot spots since 2002.
Mattusch took aim at the sitting commissioners for presenting a rosy financial picture while holding back on hiring needed staff and doing infrastructure maintenance. He brought up the Pillar Point Harbor’s dilapidated Romeo Pier as an example of the district wasting money and not following through on projects.
“We don’t have management taking us in a direction to correct the problems,” he said. “What scares me most is that the Harbor District has a history of commissioning a study to see what we'll do, and the district is full of studies that have never been acted on.”
All candidates were effusive in praising the harbor’s commercial fishermen, and more than one described the fleet as the “lifeblood of the district.”

September 9, 2014

Daily Journal - Michelle Durand

LAFCo to review Harbor District by year’s end: Response to San Mateo Civil Grand Jury leans toward dissolution

LAFCo meets 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

September 5, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Harbor District head to retire: General Manager Peter Grenell announces departure amid bubbling controversy

Grenell’s announcement came just weeks after his employment contract was extended another two years and two months before a pivotal election which has three incumbents running against six challengers.
Commissioners Jim Tucker and Will Holsinger said they believe Grenell’s retirement likely coincides with some of his and the district’s legal matters being cleared.
Within the past few years, Grenell has worked amidst a civil grand jury investigation into the district, allegations of harassment and the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s investigation into the California Maritime Infrastructure Bank and Authority, of which he is president.
“I knew Peter was of retirement age and eligible for retirement, so there’s been some question as to how much longer he would serve,” Holsinger said. “I think having those complaints filed possibly delayed his decision to retire. … I think the contract extension perhaps subtlety, without us knowing, was his was of saying he’s going to fight this thing until it’s done.”
Tucker and Holsinger said Grenell has been cleared of any impropriety, however, the District Attorney’s Office recently received a complaint regarding the bank and is making inquiries.
Commissioner Sabrina Brennan filed a harassment complaint against Grenell and expressed concerns about district resources being used for the infrastructure bank. Brennan, Tucker and Parravano each said they were interviewed by an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office.
Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato said a letter was sent to the district’s counsel soliciting information regarding the bank. Serrato said the District Attorney’s Office is making preliminary inquiries and has not committed to or ruled out a formal investigation.
Holsinger and Tucker said they are encouraged it won’t turn into a formal investigation and clouding Grenell’s reputation is unwarranted.
“I think it’s taken an emotional toll to be accused and threatened and challenged the way that he has. Sabrina Brennan has been … punitive in her dealings with him,” Holsinger said. “But the reality is he’s handled himself professionally throughout.”
Brennan previously stated she was discriminated against by Grenell and often felt uncomfortable visiting the district’s office. Brennan said she couldn’t comment on the district attorney’s investigation but was surprised by Grenell’s announcement as his contract was recently renewed.
Grenell said his disputes with Brennan, the civil grand jury report and other investigation did not influence the timing of his decision.
“I had started thinking about retirement before [Brennan] joined the board and, again, there have been things that I was in the middle of that I wanted to see through,” Grenell said.

September 4, 2014

San Jose Mercury News - Aaron Kinney

Grenell, head of criticism-stung harbor district, announces retirement

The grand jury lambasted the harbor district for its financial reporting and budgeting, finding the agency relies too much on property taxes, rather than fees and other revenue sources, to support its operations. The grand jury also chided the district's five-member board for its lack of collegiality -- some members are openly hostile toward Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who is often critical of Grenell and her elected colleagues.
Brennan declined to comment on Grenell's tenure Thursday, instead encouraging voters to oust board members Jim Tucker and Will Holsinger, who in her view have enabled Grenell to lead the district astray.

"I think it's important that new people are elected," she said, "to make sure an excellent new leader is hired for the harbor district."

Tucker, who joined the board one year after Grenell took over in 1997, said Thursday that neither the grand jury report nor Brennan's dissatisfaction have changed his opinion of the long-serving general manager.

"None of this dissuades me from believing he did a great job for the district," said Tucker, "and I'm very pleased and proud to have worked with him."

September 4, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor's Grenell announces pending retirement

Tucker and board President Pietro Parravano both mentioned at the Wednesday meeting that they had recently been interviewed by a district attorney’s investigator. The talks, they said, focused on complaints about the Harbor District’s participation in the California Maritime Infrastructure Bank, an entity for which Grenell served as board president.

September 4, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Op-Ed by Mary Larenas

Law required fuel dock report

On the afternoon of Aug. 17, my husband and I noticed a sheen of fuel near the Pillar Point Harbor fuel dock. Upon further inspection we saw several items that concerned us: fuel-soaked rags, an open bucket containing diesel, the absence of a waste container, and what seemed to us as generally poor waste management practices.

The Clean Water Act, which is law, clearly states: “The discharge of fuel, oil, oily waste and hazardous substances is absolutely prohibited. … Failure to notify a known discharge is unlawful.” This is why we asked the San Mateo County Harbor District to provide proper oversight of fuel dock operations.

After Harbor District management declined to address our concerns, we called the U.S. Coast Guard Response Center and accurately reported what we saw. We made it clear that this was not a major fuel spill. We also sent a detailed accounting of our observations, including photographs, to harbor management and each harbor commissioner.

We returned to the fuel dock two days later and happily found no oily sheen on the water, the fuel-soaked rags were gone, and the open container of fuel was replaced by a fresh container. The fuel nozzle was being replaced and workers were inspecting the condition of the metal pump houses.

That same week we both went before the Harbor Commission to request that members provide more oversight of the fuel dock operation. A representative of KN Properties, which operates the fuel dock, also addressed commissioners. He, too, asked for oversight and guidance. He said that without it his only recourse would be to close the fuel dock until he was certain his company was in compliance with the law. The commissioners thanked him and moved on to the next agenda item. There was no response by either the harbor commissioners or Harbormaster Scott Grindy to our request. The next day KN Properties suspended all fuel and ice services indefinitely.

We, as representatives of the San Mateo Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting oceans, had met earlier in the month with Grindy to discuss water quality concerns. It was apparent during that discussion that the Harbor District does not consider itself the agency responsible for oversight of the fuel dock. Its dismissive attitude reaffirmed our concerns that no action would be taken.

On Thursday of that week we were glad to learn that the Coast Guard inspected the fuel dock and found it in compliance after it underwent the above-mentioned maintenance. We met with the Coast Guard and talked with the person who took our report. He confirmed that all oily sheens should be reported per the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, Harbor District management was engaged in damage control by misrepresenting the material facts, making it seem that the information we provided to the Coast Guard was exaggerated.

We believe KN Properties took appropriate action and the end result is positive. The fuel dock operation is now cleaner and likely to stay that way.

Pillar Point Harbor is the only harbor of refuge between San Francisco and Monterey. It services recreational boating and an active commercial fishing fleet year-round. It’s a major tourist attraction that reaches far beyond San Mateo County. It is a gateway to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, and home to Pillar Point Marsh. These treasures are all given the highest level of environmental protection because of their biological diversity and value to ocean ecosystems. We urge Harbor District management to protect the environment and recreational and commercial interests by providing proper oversight of fuel dock operations.

Mary Larenas is a resident of Moss Beach

August 27, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor board denies problems cited in report: Response disagrees with most grand jury findings

San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner James Tucker looks on while fellow Commissioner Sabrina Brennan speaks during a Harbor Commission meeting in South San Francisco on Aug. 20.

August 27, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Harbor District defends itself: Board of Commissioners responds to civil grand jury report calling for dissolution

“I disagree with dissolution as a recommendation at this time. If the November 2014 elections substantially changes the makeup of the board, a new reform board could change policies and fix the problems which the grand jury identified,” Commissioner Brennan said.

August 26, 2014

Daily Journal - Letter to the Editor by Nicole David

Improve our Harbor District

The recent grand jury report presents an opportunity for growth and progress in the Harbor District, but our elected harbor commissioners are going to blow it. Nineteen citizen volunteers spent untold hours learning about our harbors and governance. They produced 12 findings and 11 recommendations to improve operations and oversight. Suggestions such as more frequent lease analysis and forming committees that meet on regular schedules were brought up. Though the report was critical, it was also filled with constructive suggestions.
With distress, I watched the harbor commissioners dismiss the report last Wednesday. Speaking from their high dais, most of the commissioners called the report politicized and unjust. One doubted that such an articulate, professional document was within the level of competence of regular citizenry. Another said the recommendations were nonsensical, unreasonable, and un-American. There was even a suggestion that the grand jury be investigated.
The purpose of the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is to improve local governance by means of unbiased, outside evaluations and recommendations for reform. But in the Harbor District, resistance to change is getting in the way.
We need enthusiastic and competent leaders in the Harbor District who will carefully and responsibly address the interests of taxpayers as well as the interests of harbor and marina communities.
Please vote for change in the Nov. 4 election.
Nicole David, Half Moon Bay

August 22, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Harbor fuel dock inspected by state

Harbormaster Grindy and Commissioner Brennan said they were concerned for the fisherman who began to complain about not being able to conduct business without fuel and ice.
“For a fisherman who needs to go out fishing, or even a charter boat operator, or really any boater, they need fuel and they can’t operate without it,” Brennan said. “Generally speaking, fishermen need ice, you can’t run a commercial fishing harbor without ice and without fuel.”
Grindy agreed there was a lot at stake if the matter wasn’t resolved quickly

August 21, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Letter to the Editor by Tom Monaghan

Harbor District should restore access to west end

The San Mateo County Harbor District restricts access to the disabled and beachgoers at the west end of the harbor. A common entry point the public has used for years is now chained off.
This leaves two narrow openings on either side of poles that are rocky and on unstable ground. Both sides are too narrow for a wheelchair.
I have been living on the Coastside for more than 50 years and use this access each week. I have seen all types of public use through the years, most recently disabled people and other physically challenged people enjoying the area. Now the disabled and the general public are forced to pass through narrow openings on either side of the posts. I asked Harbor employees why and they said it’s to stop cars driving on the beach. I said this is a rare occurrence and this is an enforcement issue they can handle by citing the violator. Roads are not closed because of bad drivers, and this beach entrance should not be closed or restricted either. Don’t punish the public because of these law-breakers. This chain can be removed in the morning and locked again at night as most parks do. This would be a very simple solution and not cost much at all.
A disabled parking place is still reserved at this entrance and yet it is not a safe way to get to the beach. Our harbor management is hindering public access. Don’t make this another Martin’s Beach. The Harbor District is fully staffed and capable of maintaining access.
Tom Monaghan, Moss Beach

August 21, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor fuel dock to reopen following shutdown

The fuel dock has been owned by Nerhan for nearly 30 years, and it provided the only fuel supply available for boats for dozens of miles. Nerhan’s business also reportedly provided the main ice supply for fishing wholesalers and unloaders at the docks. He said it was necessary to shut down the ice plant along with the fuel pumps so that no boats would pull up and potentially contaminate the water, pending further investigation.
Nerhan said he didn’t make the decision lightly, saying he knew the closure affected the local fishing fleet.
“Those folks have their livelihoods and I have my folks also affected,” he said. “It’s not something you just turn the key on.”

August 21, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Letter to the Editor by Georgia Goodo

Is calamari replacing other fish off our coast?

An article in the July 30 edition of the Review applauded the copious amount of calamari caught off our coast — the most, it seems, in recorded history. Has anyone stopped to wonder why?
Coincidentally, a few days prior to the news, I watched a disturbing documentary on giant squid examined for the first time by marine specialists from around the world. The experts predicted that as the climate changes many marine habitats will be destroyed. That will leave a niche for many species of squid to dominate our oceans.
I can remember when cod and salmon were prevalent off our coast, and I commercially fished for them. Their availability has been drastically reduced in living memory.
One can navigate further information by surfing the Web on this issue or by borrowing the DVD “The Giant Squid” at the local library as I did. It can be a bit unnerving. Also be aware of the mercury found in all of the sea life. Many other polluting elements and pathogens find their way onto our plates. It seems we have turned our rich and diverse ocean into one big cesspool. Could this calamari craze be a result of our destructive actions?
Luckily, calamari is one of my favorite types of seafood and can be cooked in numerous ways. If this persistent catch continues, we all best acquire a palate for this species. At least calamari will live on, replacing other fish in all of our dishes.
Georgia Goodo

August 14, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert

State’s economy threatened by rising sea levels: Assembly report issues dire warning

Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes in the report that 480,000 people living in San Mateo County alone will be subject to 100-year flood events due to the base level rise in the sea, which will exacerbate normal flooding events. He estimates in the report that $24 billion in property is at risk in San Mateo County alone.
Another problem: saltwater intrusion. It is caused by the depletion of existing groundwater coupled with sea level rise. Rosemary Knight, a geophysics professor at Stanford University, told Gordon’s committee last year that coastal agriculture could fall victim to the changing environment.
Meanwhile, Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, says in the report that crumbling infrastructure, a more acidic ocean and rising temperatures — all associated with global climate change that will bring higher seas — threaten the fishing industry up and down the California coast.

August 9, 2014

San Jose Mercury News - Aaron Kinney

Embattled harbor district fires back at grand jury

Commissioner Jim Tucker stepped forward Wednesday night with a proposal for the five board members to submit their thoughts on the Grand Jury report to the Harbor District's lawyer. The attorney would then craft the material into a draft response for consideration at a future meeting. But the idea was met with discomfort from attorney, Steven Miller, who worried that he was being asked to step outside his role as legal adviser and formulate policy.

Ultimately the commissioners voted 4-1 to have general manager Peter Grenell's staff incorporate their remarks into a draft for review at the board's Aug. 20 meeting. Brennan dissented, saying she was "disgusted," and announced she would produce a "minority report" for the grand jury.

Brennan said Thursday she is concerned the board will forego public discussion next month on the grand jury report, whose criticism she welcomed, although she opposes dissolution.

"There will be a motion to approve the report, and there won't be any discussion except for me, and I have five minutes, and then they cut me off," Brennan predicted. "I think having meaningful discussion is necessary given the circumstances."

August 7, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert

Harbor commissioners bicker over grand jury response

Commissioner Jim Tucker suggested members of the elected board forward written comments on the report to the board’s attorney, Steve Miller, who would then fashion those into a draft report that commissioners could discuss at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting.

Commissioner Sabrina Brennan countered that she was prepared to discuss the report in open session and thought that simply forwarding written comments to counsel was less than transparent. She said she planned to provide the civil grand jury with a separate, “minority report.”

Brennan wasn’t the only one uncomfortable with Tucker’s suggestion. Miller, whose firm only recently contracted with the district, said repeatedly that was concerned the plan could violate the Brown Act governing public meetings and that he wanted nothing to do with interpreting the wishes of the commission.
“You are proposing something unusual,” he said. “Certainly I would be very uncomfortable making policy recommendations.”

August 6, 2014

Daily Journal - Angela Swartz

Ferry frustration mounts: Officials want South City passenger numbers to grow, higher fares could result otherwise

San Mateo County Transportation Authority Board members, like South San Francisco Mayor Karyl Matsumoto, are expressing dismay over a lack of marketing plan by WETA. The ferry service has a deadline of 2015 for raising its farebox recovery, the portion of ferry costs that are covered by rider fares, and it isn’t close to meeting the requirement. WETA officials said they plan to ask for a deadline extension.
Right now, the majority of the funding is coming from bridge toll money that will go away in 2015. The Transportation Authority board is also concerned WETA isn’t meeting regularly or been responsive to its feedback. Matsumoto has a specific interest because the ferry service runs out of South City. Other Transportation Authority Board members, like Redwood City Vice Mayor Rosanne Foust, have expressed an interest in a public ferry service in Redwood City. The Transportation Authority provides funding through Measure A, a half-cent sales tax in San Mateo County for transportation projects.
WETA needs to meet a farebox recovery requirement of 40 percent by June 30, 2015, and the board decided to send a letter stating its disappointment with WETA staff’s treatment of its discussions and requests to up the marketing plan. The current operating budget is about $2.1 million for contracted operator costs, $708,600 in fuel costs and $737,000 in other costs.
“We have the major players who have access to ferry riders, but with all the efforts we bring forth to WETA and they don’t do anything,” Matsumoto said. “We talked about leafleting, fliers, suggested giving out passes for raffle prizes. Every time, it’s like butting our heads against a wall. ... It would be a great blow to our community if this doesn’t succeed.”
The end of 2013 numbers showed a 17 percent farebox recovery, but this number is up to a little more than 20 percent currently, said Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development. WETA’s total revenue is $3.57 million, while its fare revenue is $294,800. About $3 million of this revenue is from Regional Measure 2 bridge toll funds. Connolly thinks the 40 percent target is unrealistic, but does say that ridership is up 51 percent from a little more than a year ago

August 4, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Maritime bank drawing Harbor District concerns: Commissioner worried taxpayers fund its operations, general manager says no

Harbor District Commissioner Sabrina Brennan said the idea of Grenell running a bank out of the district’s office is inappropriate.
“I’m concerned that the Harbor District has been picking up the cost of the infrastructure bank doing business — including travel, staff, responding to [public records act] requests, using staff time for meetings, those types of things,” Brennan said.

Brennan said she knew little about it as it had never been brought up during board meetings and, because the other agencies are not required to pay dues, worries the Harbor District is footing the bill.

“It seems that memberships of the banking authority should be contributing to costs of the banking authority,” Brennan said. “What it looks like is our district, and I don’t know what others have been using our district’s resources, our staff, our office and trips that we paid our [general manager] to go on to engage in banking authority activities.”

Brennan said even if the CMIB and the authority are operating legally, the issue is the board is unfamiliar with Grenell’s doings. Brennan said she requested the Board of Commissioners receive a report on the CMIB, which will be discussed during its next meeting beginning 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6 at Sea Crest School, Room 19, 901 Arnold Way, Half Moon Bay.

July 28, 2014

Daily Journal - Letter by Harvey Rarback

Conflicts of interest

After learning that the San Mateo County Harbor District staff is operating a bank out of the district’s administrative office in South San Francisco (, I wonder if any of the district’s machinations could possibly get more bizarre.
The California Maritime Infrastructure Bank and Authority website lists Peter Grenell, general manager of the Harbor District, as the president of the bank and the chair of the authority. The Harbor District office address, phone number and email address have been included on the bank’s website for many years, but were only removed recently after public attention, including an unfavorable editorial in the Half Moon Bay Review. More than half of the revenue that funds the Harbor District comes from San Mateo County property taxes. How much of the costs of this operation are falling on the Harbor District?
Is there a conflict of interest for the Harbor District? Is there a conflict of interest for Mr. Grenell? Do Mr. Grenell’s terms of employment allow him to hold a position as president of a bank in addition to his management position with the Harbor District? Can Mr. Grenell be trusted when serious questions are being raised about Harbor District finances when he leads a bank that gives loans to harbors? And why don’t all commissioners know about the existence of the bank?
There’s an alarming need for transparency regarding our Harbor District management and its financial operations. Answers to these and other questions from the public would be a good start.
Harvey Rarback, Half Moon Bay

July 25, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Squid are here and fishermen moving fast: Pillar Point Harbor a flurry of activity until state quota reached

There is more pressure to go fishing when squid appear, McHenry said, because, “you don’t know when there’s going to be an end to the season.
Harbor District Commissioner Sabrina Brennan said watching the pace of the activity at the harbor is truly impressive. The plentiful catch appears to be attracting boats from as far north as Canada and up from Southern California to participate in the limited season, Brennan said.
“It’s a derby fishery. They have to fish as much as they can as fast as they can,” Brennan said. “It’s like a gold rush, so you’re incentivized to catch as much as you can because they can pull the plug on it at any time.”
McHenry, who also fishes for salmon and crab, said seeking squid is a whole other ball game, McHenry said.
“It usually takes a bigger operation, bigger boat, more crew, more of an investment in gear. There’s only 62 permits for the state, so it’s pretty hard to get into,” McHenry said.
McHenry said he’s working on a crew of five men off a 65-foot boat that can hold up to 60 tons of squid.
Currently, squid goes for about 32.5 cents per pound, or $650 per ton, McHenry said.
Since the district updated its leases for the pier’s three offloading facilities, as of 2013, the district now takes in $10 per ton of squid that’s brought into Pillar Point Harbor, Harbor District General Manager Peter Grenell said.

July 17, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Grand jury blasts Harbor District: Scathing report scolds leaders’ dysfunction

Speaking on Monday, Supervisor Don Horsley said he had reviewed the grand jury report, but he was undecided on whether the county should step in. The report’s criticisms for lack of financial transparency rang true for Horsley. He said he reached a similar conclusion when he pored over the district’s audited budgets. But instead of dissolving the district, it could be simpler to fix those irregularities, Horsley said.
“I’m not sure that having the county take it over would be best,” he said. “We do have an election coming up; maybe there will be improved governance over there.”

July 17, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert

Harbor plan has a long way to go to find credibility

You had to wonder what Henry Pontarelli was thinking. He is the vice president of Lisa Wise Consulting and the poor guy who drew the short straw for the inaugural presentation of what is to be a yearlong, $270,000 strategic business plan for the San Mateo County Harbor District.

Question after question, and soon Pontarelli’s talking points were all but forgotten.

The script that night provided little defense against the slings and arrows of Harbor District critics who weren’t buying anything sold by a taxation district that has lost all credibility. The consultant presumably knew he was making his presentation the day after the San Mateo County civil grand jury called for the dissolution of his new employer. If he’d been briefed at all by harbor officials, he might have guessed he would face a hostile crowd.

July 10, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Civil Grand Jury report slams Harbor District

Supervisor Don Horsley said, although the district may have reserves, it needs a sustainable financial plan.
“The thing that appears to be missing is that they have some unfunded long-term liabilities both with pensions and with health care and their financial picture in their audit reports is inadequate without those unfunded liabilities,” Horsley said. 

Commissioner Sabrina Brennan said she was particularly interested in the recommendations regarding the budget and the need for transparency by clarifying how tax money is being spent.

Because the district also supports a commercial fishing industry, the report recommends the district clearly separate what expenditures benefit private enterprises.

Geoff Bettencourt, vice president of the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing said he was taken aback by the notion of public money being spent on a private industry. He added the district has done little in the way of improving infrastructure just to the benefit of the commercial fishermen.

Supervisor Dave Pine said it’s important the public is aware of the district’s status and regardless if it’s dissolved, Harbor District staff and officials need to shape up.

July 10, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Parravano takes helm of stormy district: Appointment spurs complaints from fishermen

Some take this criticism further, accusing him of not being a “true” fisherman but using the profession for political gain. Geoff Bettencourt, vice president of the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association, says his organization has lost faith in that Parravano will represent their interests.
“I can’t see him being any help to us,” he said. “The sad thing is the facts are that Pietro sold us out completely for his own self gain.”
On Monday, the fishermen’s association unanimously passed a resolution outlining concerns with Parravano’s voting record and declaring that he should no longer be considered a fisherman.
Asked about this, Parravano said he wasn’t able to get out on the water as often as he’d like. He insisted that he fishes about twice a week, but he declined to discuss specifics of his business.
Many of his detractors are also quick to point to a 2012 incident when Parravano was set to win a government grant to upgrade his fishing boat engine. Parravano withdrew his grant application after learning an anonymous tipster had asked the agency to look closer at his application.
Parravano has weathered these complaints before, although they have resurfaced since his appointment. He explained that he is forced to abstain on decisions where he has a direct financial interest, particularly the harbor’s berthing fees and commercial fisheries.
“There’s no wiggle room here as a public official’s compliance is mandatory,” he said. “I’d be attacked by the other side, if I voted (and didn’t abstain).”
Perhaps ironically, Parravano was once similarly outraged at the harbor officials. In 1992, as president of an earlier Pillar Point Harbor fishermen’s association, he penned a letter calling for the dissolution of the harbor district because it had demonstrated a “disregard for the importance of commercial fishing.”
Asked about that letter, Parravano explained he was serving a different stakeholder group than he does today. Tensions were high at that time, he said, because the Port of Oakland was planning to dump dredged waste off the local coast.
Today, Parravano is nearly unconditional in his praise for the district. He touts the expertise and service of harbor staff. The harbor district aids the fishing community by regularly bringing culinary chefs and others from the food industry out to tour the docks, he said. He also highlighted the educational role the harbor district can serve by introducing people to marine ecology and the local food system. Asked if there was anything about the district he wants to fix, he singled out the high bacteria counts in the harbor waters as his top concern.
Parravano said he was surprised the positive work at the harbor was rarely acknowledged. So why does the harbor district generate so much controversy?
“I don’t know. That’s a really good question,” Parravano said. “I don’t see this at other agencies. Why us?”

July 9, 2014

Mercury News - Aaron Kinney

San Mateo County grand jury blasts 'embarrassing' harbor district, calls for dissolution

"I would hope that the board would seriously re-evaluate a lot of things," said Brennan, who has emerged as a watchdog during her time on the board.
Brennan said she does not support dissolution. Instead, she suggested voters replace three of her colleagues who are on the ballot in November.

July 2, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Editorial by Clay Lambert

We need to know more about bank operating at Harbor District

Have you heard of the California Maritime Infrastructure Bank and Authority? If not, you are surely not alone.
It’s a joint powers authority established more than 10 years ago with a mission to make capital available to public ports and harbors, and it’s administered by a who’s who of the state’s maritime leaders. Here’s something else you didn’t know: San Mateo County Harbor District General Manager Peter Grenell is the president of the organization’s board of directors, and, for all intents and purposes, the bank and authority are run out of the local harbor district offices in Oyster Point.
Grenell’s involvement with a sophisticated public financing tool created a stir among some of his opponents last week. While Grenell didn’t hide his involvement, it’s safe to say it wasn’t widely known. At least one of the local harbor commissioners had never heard of the bank and authority, which lists the San Mateo County Harbor District’s office as its address.
While local taxpayers haven’t realized any benefit to date from Grenell’s involvement in an organization that can serve as a conduit for grants and bond funding, he and others listed on the bank board clearly think the dual organizations might one day be of use. He’s joined on the board by professionals with ties to harbors in Santa Cruz, Stockton, San Diego and Sacramento, to name a few.
It may be wise to have local representation on a board like this, but local taxpayers might have questions about the particulars of the arrangement.
Grenell said the organization should list a Sacramento address and not the local Harbor District. But it doesn’t. In several places online, the bank and authority list Harbor District offices, telephone numbers and email addresses. If bank and authority business is being conducted from the local office, that business undoubtedly consumes Harbor District staff time. And if that’s the case, shouldn’t local taxpayers be made whole?
Does Grenell’s dual role take his attention away from the Harbor District?
Why hasn’t the local district made use of favorable financing instruments available through an organization led by its own general manager?

June 26, 2014

Daily Journal - Letter by Grace Mackertich

Old boys club on the Harbor Commission: No girls allowed

In November 2012, the citizens of San Mateo County elected Sabrina Brennan to the San Mateo County Harbor District Board of Commissioners with the most votes ever received in a Harbor District election. She has worked diligently to fulfill her role on the commission. She is the only woman on the commission. Since her election, the commissioners have held two rounds of selection for the offices of president, vice president, treasurer and secretary.
In each of these rounds, Ms. Brennan has been denied the opportunity to hold any of these offices. In July 2013, her fellow commissioners took the unusual step of assigning two offices (treasurer and secretary) to one commissioner (Jim Tucker), rather than allowing Ms. Brennan to hold one of these offices.
At their last meeting on June 18, 2014, Ms. Brennan was again denied an office, with William Holsinger being selected for the dual office of treasurer and secretary, even though he has served on the commission for less time than Ms. Brennan and failed in his two attempts to be elected on to the commission (he was twice appointed to the commission in May 2012 and June 2013 when elected commissioners passed away).
These actions by the commission are emblematic of the dysfunction that plagues commission proceedings. Ms. Brennan does not receive the respect she deserves as a popularly elected, conscientious public servant. Fishermen and community members receive similar disdain.
This old boys club is running the Harbor District into the ground.
The upcoming election, this November, is an opportunity to break up this old boys club, improve the level of discourse in commission meetings, and get the Harbor District on the right track.
Grace Mackertich

June 18, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor signs new contract with divisive manager: Grenell receives contract extension

“There’s not really much that’s wrong with this district that a new general manager wouldn’t fix,” said El Granada resident Leonard Woren. “It’s appalling that you’re giving him a contract extension to protect him through the next general election.”
Grenell’s new contract did not include any specific priorities or conditions for his employment.

June 6, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Harbor District dips into reserves: Budget reveals need to draw on $2M to cover expenses

A main point of contention between the staff, commissioners and the public is the need to draw on more than $2 million of its reserves to cover its estimated $10 million in expenses for the coming fiscal year.

“We haven’t been managing what we have. Our facilities are in disrepair due to deferred maintenance over several decades and we’re also not improving things to a point where we can generate new revenue,” Brennan said.

One of the biggest wastes, Brennan said, is the district starting projects by hiring consultants or making plans and then simply abandoning them.

In other business, the Harbor District invited Pillar Point Harbor’s three fish buyer lessees to approach the district and discuss the terms of their leases. In 2012, Pillar Point Harbor began to charge some of the highest fish buying fees in the state and has been at the center of upheaval between the district and those in the commercial fishing industry.

June 5, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Julia Reis

County releases Plan Princeton report on existing conditions

The latest Plan Princeton report also finds that Princeton could attract more business in the form of tourists and seafood wholesalers. The report suggests that Princeton could market itself as a source of local and sustainable seafood, and that while additional infrastructure such as a boat haul-out facility could also lead to economic growth, it would be costly.

June 5, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Local shores may inform tsunami timeline: Researchers study Pillar Point for clues

“We want to know whether larger tsunamis have hit Half Moon Bay in the past,” Jaffe said. “Using the geological record holds the promise of detecting ancient tsunamis that will improve the assessment of hazards.”

June 4, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Harbor District stuck in South San Francisco

“The coastside really doesn’t have a lot of buildings large enough to accommodate for what we need. Ideally, we want to have a meeting hall so we can have community meetings and storage space and there just aren’t a lot of buildings on the coast that fit that profile. So that’s the challenge that we face and that’s why it’s taken so long,” Bernardo said.

Tucker said now that the word is out, he’s been contacted about a vacant lot that may be for sale near the harbor, where the district belongs.

Bernardo and Tucker said the district is set on relocating and will continue to search for its new home.

“The true Harbor District started at Pillar Point Harbor,” Tucker said. “Pillar Point is the harbor of refuge, a lot of things have happened, but that’s the anchor. That’s where the district is.”

June 3, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert

Mavericks surf contest acquired by management company

Cartel Management is well known as a boutique management agency representing entertainers and athletes, but Mavericks is its first foray into the surfing world. Mavericks Invitational President and CEO Rocky Raynor characterized the deal as a partnership that he hopes will carry the contest to a wider audience and protect the brand going forward.

Raynor declined to discuss financial terms of the deal.

May 29, 2014 

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Critics worry harbor could sink in red ink

Local resident Bud Ratts believes the district could default by 2016 and fall into receivership unless drastic efforts are made now to balance the costs. He insists he wants to help the board get on solid financial footing.

“They're going to run out of money in 18 to 24 months, and so far I see no change in their operating practices,” he said. “They're either going to have to right their ship or someone's going to do it for them.”

Ratts started paying attention to the district's budget process in recent months. He had a solid background in accounting, having worked previously as the director of financial management and planning at Stanford University. But the Harbor District's budget figures were more opaque than other financials he’s reviewed, he said, and he wondered if commissioners fully realize the imbalance.

Among the problems he noticed, capital projects were approved at a specified price, but there was a lack of follow-up on the actual costs after the work commenced. In the 2014-2015 budget, he was astonished by how figures would vary as the district issued new draft revisions. The pages of his binder were riddled with comments and questions he made in red ink.

May 29, 2014 

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Harbor improvement grant lacks fishermen support: Frustration boiling over about Pillar Point Harbor control, district decision-making

“There’s just an ongoing bit of distrust and frankly, our association has not been really happy with the way the harbor district has been conducting itself,” Steve Fitz said. “We simply want to be considered because the decisions they make, they impact our businesses directly. And therefore, we feel like we deserve to be at the table and we feel like we haven’t been.”

May 29, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor bid for grant money spurs mutiny

The 25-member Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association urged the U.S. Department of Transportation not to give any grant money to the Harbor District.

May 29, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Op-ed by Michael Koepf

Tearing down Romeo Pier ignores region’s history

Currently, the Harbor District informs us that Romeo’s dock is falling apart. Why? The Harbor District reports that “dry rot” is the problem. But when did this problem start? They’ve been in charge of this dock for decades.

The Harbor District says it’s ready to spend $61,000 for a study on how to tear the Romeo Pier down, with up to an estimated $650,000 to actually remove it from the bay. That’s your money they’ll be using, but, like kids at a Monopoly game, what’s a hundred thousand here or there when it comes to public agency spending?

May 22, 2014

KQED Science - Shara Tonn

Seven of 10 of California’s Most Polluted Beaches Are in Northern California

The polluted beaches that made the “Beach Bummers” list below suffer from problems like poor circulation.

Here they are, listed from worst to, well, maybe you’ll get a sinus infection.

  1. Cowell Beach, at the wharf (Santa Cruz County)
  2. Marina Lagoon (San Mateo County)
  3. Marina del Rey, Mother’s Beach (Los Angeles County)
  4. Cabrillo Beach, Harborside (Los Angeles County)
  5. Stillwater Cove (Monterey County)
  6. Clam Beach County Park (Humboldt County)
  7. Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)
  8. Pillar Point Harbor (San Mateo County)
  9. Capitola Beach, West of jetty (Santa Cruz County)
  10. Windsurfer Circle, Candlestick Point (San Francisco County)

May 20, 2014

Daily Journal - Michelle Durand

Civil grand jury knocks special district websites: Report recommends greater transparency 

The grand jury’s investigation looked only at independent special districts, like the San Mateo County Harbor District, which have commissioners elected by voters. 

The websites of all 23 San Mateo County independent special districts lack information like meeting agendas and financial data and more than half are substantially inadequate, the civil grand jury concluded in a new report on transparency.

May 19, 2014

Half Moon Bay Patch - Nicole David

Harbor District Should Reconsider

The Harbor District should reconsider its fee structures to promote (rather than discourage) the use of its facilities, provide fair treatment of all fishing companies on Johnson Pier, and make decisions that are in the public interest by soliciting and carefully considering public input. 

May 9, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Romeo Pier might come down

On Wednesday, the Harbor Commission approved spending $61,000 to hire engineers to draft initial plans for disassembling the structure. Fully removing the pier could cost $650,000 or more, according to San Mateo County Harbor District estimates.

May 8, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Faulty buoy to be replaced

Huli Cat charter boat owner Tom Mattusch first highlighted the problem last year, pointing out he had to cancel numerous fishing trips because he wasn’t sure about the safety at sea.

Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office reported that a new buoy would be installed at the same spot. The new buoy should be in place by Friday.

May 1, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Divided board rejects site for fire station: Directors differ over El Granada site

Rarback said the El Granada property was not suitable for a future station. He pointed out that the property was in a riparian zone and would present permitting challenges. Assessing the property would be “wasting money,” he said.

“They’d never get a coastal development permit,” he said. “The residents would give us hell, and the Coastal Commission would give us hell.”

The harbor district last month declared the vacant El Granada property as surplus land, offering it first to public agencies before opening it to other buyers on the market. One such public agency that could be interested would be the Granada Sanitary District, which is currently seeking voter approval to assume recreation responsibilities. The Obispo Road property has been talked about as a possible site for a Midcoast community center, a use that Rarback viewed more favorably.

“That would be a good use for this site,” he said.

May 1, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

Reeling in the season: Commercial salmon fishermen at work in Half Moon Bay

About two years ago, the San Mateo County Harbor District raised Pillar Point Harbor’s fish buying fees to some of the highest in the state.

Now, Pillar Point Fisheries, Morning Star Fisheries and Three Captains Sea Products all pay an extra $400 a month in base rent and for the first time became subject to offloading fees.

McHenry said depending on what he’s unloading, he’s having to pay a third of his profit to the harbor. Anderson and McHenry say the inflated costs trickle down to the fishermen and are driving some away.

“My thoughts are [the district is] in the harbor business, the berth business, the lease business, etc. Don’t try and get a piece of the fisherman’s action. They’re the guys taking the risk, they’re the ones that don’t come home at night,” McHenry said.

Anderson and McHenry said the San Francisco and Moss Landing harbors don’t charge any offloading fees. They fear local fisherman will go elsewhere and Pillar Point Harbor will find it’s pushing out those who have supported it for decades.

“When they raised the slip fees and the overnight fees they pretty much drove the salmon fleet away,” Anderson said.

When the fish buying leases were redrafted in 2012, a provision allowing the three renters to have a second hoist was included and last month the Three Captains installed another in the center of the pier. Some have speculated the private new hoist in a prime location was a perk, will be inconvenient for others and gives Three Captains an unfair advantage.

April 28, 2014

Daily Journal - Letter to the Editor by Nicole David

Safety at Pillar Point Harbor should come first

The Harbor Commission needs to listen to the stakeholders impacted by their decisions. The Harbor District should make every effort to support small fishing businesses and their desires to keep Pillar Point Harbor a safe workplace. It is unacceptable that the Harbor District’s answer to the earlier collapse of an existing hoist was that “it was not clear who was at fault in that accident because the maintenance logs could not be located” (Half Moon Bay Review, April 16, 2014). The Harbor District is a public agency that has to ensure public safety and not jeopardize it.

April 23, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

New harbor hoist raises an uproar: Fishermen warn location could choke traffic

Harbor denizens first noticed electrical work starting under the pier as early as last year. Spurred by rumors of a new hoist, the 22-member Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association warned in a letter that it should be consulted on the matter. The harbormaster has the sole authority on locating any hoists, freezers or other dock equipment, but harbor officials pledged earlier this year they would confer with the fishing community before taking any actions.

Responding to the letter at a January commission meeting, district General Manager Peter Grenell emphatically denied decisions on a hoist were being made confidentially.

“I take the concerns that we’ve heard quite seriously,” he said. “No one’s operating in a black box or a vacuum. That’s not how we do business.”

Over the next three months, the San Mateo County Harbor District never reached out to the seafood marketing association, said Board President Porter McHenry. Last week, they felt “blindsided” when they saw the hoist being mounted with the district’s blessing. The organization later sent a second letter expressing unhappiness.

“They pretty much lied to us,” McHenry said. “If there’s a boat unloading there, it’s going to be hard for any trucks or forklifts to get by. People here are going to start freaking out.”

April 18, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

New fish hoist raises concerns at Pillar Point: San Mateo County Harbor District approves fish buyer’s request, fishermen don’t like it

District staff had assured fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor there would be consultation with those affected by the location of the hoist owned by a private fish buyer, said Porter McHenry, president of the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association, which represents more than 20 commercial fisherman.

“They should have just asked the people who it directly affects, their whole life is about being able to unload our fish or our bait or our crab pots, we’d have to move. If it was replacing the same hoist or something minor, OK that’s fine, but this is a pretty major change,” McHenry said. “They don’t seem to really care that much about the fishermen and without the fishermen, the harbor is dead.

April 17, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor officials inspect pier following sewage spill

The problems in the sewer line first surfaced last week. A plug popped out of a new sewer line underneath Johnson Pier, spilling as much as 160 gallons of wastewater into Pillar Point Harbor. The plug was quickly replaced and the 2-month-old line was useable once more, harbor officials say.

Valentine Corporation has consistently emerged as the low bidder for projects at Pillar Point Harbor. The firm was also involved in a separate project last year to install a fishing hoist that broke loose at Morningstar Fisheries in February. At the time, some fishermen blamed the firm for not mounting the hoist property. Grindy said it was not clear who was at fault in that accident because the maintenance logs for the hoist could not be located.

April 10, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Letter to the Editor by Nicole David

Want to buy fresh, local seafood? There’s an app for that!

The FishLine app has been connecting visitors to Pillar Point Harbor at no cost for more than two years.

April 10, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Commission brings back meeting video: District restores contract with PCT

Seven months ago, a majority of the harbor commissioners voted to end video service.

April 8, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert

Sewer spill reported at Pillar Point

The line is new. The district replaced a failing line under the pier earlier this year at a cost of $187,000. Before that work was done, the 50-year-old existing line under the pier ruptured allowing an undetermined amount of waste to spill into harbor waters. Scott Grindy said the contractor who replaced the line had been called and was expected to ensure that a similar accident doesn’t recur.

April 4, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert

Harbor District plans to move offices back to coast

Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who has pushed for the district to move its administrative offices to the Coastside, said she hopes the GSD continues to be a tenant in the building.

“We don’t need the entire building,” she said. “One of the advantages of owning it is that we can lease out space, and hopefully have our meetings there in the future.”

April 4, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

San Mateo County Harbor District Commission moving headquarters back to coast

“I’m very pleased with the unanimous decision to return [the] Harbor District management back to the coastside,” Brennan wrote in an email. “The Harbor District owns Pillar Point Harbor and the city of South San Francisco owns Oyster Point Marina. It makes sense for the Harbor District to invest in a facility it owns and buy an office building near that primary facility.”

“Pillar Point Harbor is the Harbor District’s primary facility because it’s the only commercial fishing port in San Mateo County, it’s a Bay Area tourism and recreation destination, it has high slip occupancy, it’s next to [the] world-class surf spot Mavericks, and it provides excellent access to the California Coastal Trail,” Brennan wrote.

March 21, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Op-Ed by Sabrina Brennan

There is a battle to preserve our fishing heritage

Request for grand jury investigation: In 2013, Bettencourt Fisheries, a fourth-generation commercial fishing company, asked the San Mateo County civil grand jury to investigate leasing deals in Pillar Point Harbor. As the highest bidder for a fish-buying lease, the company is angry the district gave leases to companies bidding considerably less.

March 21, 2014

Daily Journal - Samantha Weigel

San Mateo County Harbor District seeks help: Commissioners looking to hire facilitator

Brennan has advocated for seeking professional help and said she went through a helpful state special district program. But she is concerned to learn the last facilitation only entailed interviews with each individual commissioner and a final report no one can seem to find, Brennan said.

“I was thinking more in terms of board dynamics which means learning how to work together, with a group, building trust,” Brennan said. “I’d like to see us go from a dysfunctional board to a successful board.”

Yet, after Wednesday’s four-hour-long meeting, the board didn’t allot time to interview one of the candidates.

“The fact that we had somebody there waiting and we didn’t even get to them, it’s just awful,” Brennan said. “He wasn’t even allowed to speak to the board. That was just so rude and I’m embarrassed to be part of a board that treated someone like that.”

Tucker agreed he felt bad the board voted to end the meeting at 10 p.m. forgetting the candidate had been patiently waiting to speak.

“He drove from Tracy to Monterey to us just for that meeting, so I felt like a horse’s patootie,” Tucker said.

March 20, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Attorney to part ways with harbor: Law firm severs ties after 25 years

Commissioner William Holsinger directed Savaree to investigate whether Brennan’s use of social media links on the district’s website violated any state rules. After Savaree determined no rules were broken, Holsinger called her legal research into question.

After months of working with a quarrelsome board of directors, the San Mateo County Harbor District’s longstanding law firm announced last week it would not renew its contract.

March 18, 2014

Daily Journal - Guest Perspective by Sabrina Brennan

Preserving the fishing industry at the Harbor District

Does a vibrant local fishing industry add to your quality of life? If so, you should know fees at Pillar Point Harbor are so high that some of our commercial fishermen are going to ports in other counties.

In 2012, Harbor Commissioners Jim Tucker, Robert Bernardo and Will Holsinger approved the highest fish buying fees in California and local fishermen are outraged over it.

Commercial fisherman Steve Fitz, and the HMB Seafood Marketing Association, oppose the new fees for fish offloaded at Johnson Pier. No other harbor in the state imposes fees as high as those at Pillar Point. Monterey Harbor charges much lower fees and Pier 45 in San Francisco does not charge any fees.

In 2012, fishermen were promised the Harbor District would evaluate and adjust non-competitive fees tied to long-term leases. The commissioners have had ample time to correct the problem, however, they appear unwilling to reconsider their policy decision.

In 2013, Bettencourt Fisheries, a fourth generation commercial fishing company asked the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury to investigate leasing deals in Pillar Point Harbor. As the highest bidder for a fish-buying lease, they’re angry the district gave leases to companies bidding considerably less.

March 5, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Free Wi-Fi coming to harbor

“I don’t know what you’d do without the Internet these days,” said Porter McHenry, president of the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association. “It’ll be helpful to look for the weather conditions before you head out, especially for fishermen who are traveling or living on their boats.”

The idea to bring free Wi-Fi to the harbor has been floating around the district for more than a year. Commissioner Sabrina Brennan made it a top priority, saying local fishermen needed better connectivity, but the project was sidelined amid other priorities.

February 22, 2014

Daily Journal - Guest Perspective by John McDowell

Special district dysfunctions

What job would pay $1,100 per hour? At more than $2 million in annualized pay, one would think it would require a high level of skill, education and experience. One might think a ballplayer, surgeon or top tech talent would fill the bill.

One would be wrong. To make $1,100 per hour all one needs to be is a part-time politician.

That’s right. As reported last fall, one San Mateo County harbor commissioner in 2012 received pay and benefits working out to $1,100 per hour for attending commission meetings.

Of course, attending meetings actually required some work. A former harbor commissioner received $18,348 in benefits, and she’s dead. Lifetime benefits for commissioners require payment to her son, who is on her health insurance policy until he is 26.

The San Mateo County Harbor Commission is one of the more egregious examples of special district dysfunction. As reported in this newspaper, the Harbor Commission has devolved into a morass of personal recriminations, finger-pointing, dueling harassment complaints and public outrage. Things have gotten so bad that armed sheriff’s deputies must attend their meetings.

In just one example of district dysfunction, the newly hired finance director found almost $38,000 in uncashed tenant checks in the desk drawer of an employee. Due to the mismanagement, some tenants were wrongly charged with being in arrears while others weren’t billed for their berth fees at all. The district is one of 24 independent special districts in the county. These exist to provide such services as sewer, water and fire protection, as well as health care, vector control and more. They have their own elected board members and employees.

February 19, 2014

Daily Journal - Letter to the Editor

Commissioner Brennan and the Harbor District 


Commissioner Sabrina Brennan is fighting the San Mateo County Harbor Commission to make the public marinas better for boaters, merchants and taxpayers.

Pietro Parravano and Will Holsinger take full health, dental and life insurance benefits for a part-time job at $40,000 per year for each of them for life. A relative of a former commissioner may be getting these benefits for life even though the former commissioner is dead.  

Commissioner Brennan doesn’t take these benefits. The state Legislature is proposing to stop benefits like this for part-time government officials.

The commission and marina staff are very strongly aligned against Commissioner Brennan. Board members are on record complaining about the lengthy meetings that have resulted from their blockading Commissioner Brennan. The board members average $1,100 an hour for the few hours they spend doing their job.    

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is investigating the district. Only Commissioner Brennan is asking for an investigation into the “pile of missing checks” and requested the leaky sewer pipe under Johnson Pier be replaced. Commissioner Brennan pushed for Wi-Fi at both marinas. Commissioner Brennan has pushed for a new strategic plan to replace the outdated 1991 Master Plan. Commissioner Brennan requested an outside consultant to help the board overcome their disfunction.   

Commissioner Brennan has repeatedly requested the board to reconsider three commercial fish buying leases. This is at the request of the three fish buyers.   

Commissioner Brennan is against downsizing the Harbor Patrol because of the many lives it has saved.  

Vote these bums out of office. It won’t stop their benefits for life, but it will save money and improve the marinas. 

Paul Mahler, Redwood CIty

February 14, 2014

Daily Journal - Letter to the Editor

Commissioner Brennan takes fishermen’s side


Having commercially fished for 55 years and being the oldest active fisherman in Half Moon Bay, I must stick up for Harbor Commissioner Brennan. I also lease one of the unloading stations at the end of the pier. After being hit by a 10-fold increase in rent over the competing ports of San Francisco and Moss Landing, I found I had to attend the San Mateo County Harbor District meetings.

My first meeting, I couldn’t believe the total disrespect the other members and harbor manager showed Brennan. She would ask pertinent questions to educate herself and the audience. Most of the other commersioners seem upset that she would ask questions and not just vote with the rest of them. She’s the only fresh breath I’ve seen in the harbor for 20 years — a public servant who cares about the public. While some commissioners are padding their retirement with benefits, she chooses not to. She’s the only commissioner I’ve seen in a row boat inspecting the underside of the dock to see any problems for herself.  She questions why the harbor needs expensive, luxurious offices when a smaller office would work just fine.

The final kicker is that the harbor wants a percentage of all fish caught by fisherman at Pillar Point Harbor. I’m in charge of adding a missing fisherman’s name on the plaque at the harbor. The Harbor District is running a marina. I feel they shouldn’t get a percentage of the men’s and women’s livelihood who untie their boats with no guarantee they will return home.

Commissioner Brennan has taken the fishermen’s side and I personally give her all my support.

Mike McHenry, San Mateo County

February 4, 2014

San Jose Mercury News - Aaron Kinney

Harbor district bid to destroy records viewed with suspicion

The initial list of documents proposed for destruction, however, contained items that the district's records policy never allows to be destroyed, such as board meeting agendas and minutes. The district has since removed those records from the list.

The district's proposal raised eyebrows because it followed several unusual occurrences over the past year, including the reported discovery last summer of $38,000 in checks from district tenants that had never been deposited and the board's decision in November to stop videotaping its meetings. 

Harvey Rarback, a member of the Coastside Fire Protection District board, wrote an email to the district last month calling its proposal to destroy documents "suspicious."

"The decision of the (district) to stop the videotaping of your meetings," he wrote, "was another step in reducing the transparency of your agency and causing the public to wonder what you have to hide."

January 23, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Bill takes aim at health perks for part-time officials: Proposal would affect harbor district

Harbor Commission Chairman Robert Bernardo and Commissioner Sabrina Brennan both indicated they wanted to go further than Mullin’s bill in scaling back the board members’ benefits. Both commissioners have declined to take the district’s benefits except for the monthly salary.

January 23, 2014

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor faces backlash over shredding request: Critics say move thwarts transparency

“This seems like an odd time for document destruction to be on our agenda,” Brennan said. “It would be unseemly to go forward with this at this time.”

January 7, 2014

San Jose Mercury News - Thomas Peele

Bay Area legislator proposes ending health benefits for former part-time politicians

Kevin Mullin said he was still exploring whether the legislature could force former officials who receive the benefit through the state Public Employees Retirement System, CalPERS, to pay a larger share of the benefits of the cost.

In some cases, governments are contributing less than $1,500 a year for that health coverage with the former officials paying the bulk of the cost. But others, such as Palo Alto, are paying 100 percent of the expense. That city spent more than $115,000 in 2012 to cover 13 former politicians.

A CalPERS spokesman, Brad Pacheco, said in an email on Tuesday that local governments could require people to pay more of the cost. The legislature could also force such a change, he said.

December 30, 2013

Contra Costa Times - Editorial

It's time to end elected officials' self-dealing on their compensation

"San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Pietro Parravano's compensation, $25,757 in cash and benefits for attending 21 meetings that lasted an average of 77 minutes each, came out to $955 an hour."

December 26, 2013

San Jose Mercury News - Thomas Peele

Former part-time pols in Bay Area reap medical benefits at taxpayer expense

Bay Area taxpayers spent more than $1.5 million last year on health benefits for former part-time elected officials -- and, in many cases, their dependents. In fact, the newspaper discovered, in 19 instances, taxpayers still paying for dependents' health care for politicians who not only are no longer serving the public -- they are no longer alive.

"I really don't think that voters in California know about this," said Sabrina Brennan, an elected commissioner for the San Mateo County Harbor district, one of 13 agencies providing benefits for dependents of deceased politicians.

December 19, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor officials explain suspicious credit card bills

In a memo sent out Wednesday afternoon, Peter Grenell announced that the agency was canceling as many as 24 Visa cards issued through the state “Cal-Card” program. New credit cards would be given out to employees starting next week, he wrote.

In an interview on Thursday, Grenell gave assurances that the credit cards were being used appropriately.

“What you’re going to find is the cards are used for district business in almost every single case,” he said. “The cards are there to be used for the purpose intended and they’re used this way with rare exceptions.”

There are some curious exceptions in the 2010 credit billings released to John Ullom. On a single day in May of that year, Grenell’s own credit card showed more than $2,100 in credits from, an Internet URL that links to a German video game website.

Grenell said those transactions occurred after his credit card information was stolen and was being used fraudulently. Officials at U.S. Bank investigated the charges and ultimately reimbursed the district, he said. The transactions on the bills appear to be credits from the company rather than charges.

“There was this brief period of time when fraud was being committed by some people somewhere,” he said. “When this was first noted, it was reviewed and gone over with the bank. It’s old history now.”

During the same period, former Harbormaster Dan Temko also had his credit card information stolen, according to Harbor Board President Robert Bernardo. It was not immediately clear what, if any, charges were made to that card.

The billing release comes at a time when the harbor district’s financials are being put under the magnifying glass. Earlier this month, the district’s bookkeeping received a clean bill of health in an independent auditor’s report. However, Ullom and other critics say the district has not been forthcoming when asked about its monthly revenues and expenses. Ullom said he filed his records requests after being disappointed with how the district handled a pile of missing checks and errors in its autobilling system uncovered earlier this year.

Grenell said the district would release more credit card bills for the intervening years within the next week.

December 19, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review - Letter to the Editor by Merrill Bobele

Harbor commission approves speaking limits

The only thing that can be said about the minutes of the meeting is that they are indeed “minute.”

If a Coastside citizen wants to know what actually is said at a Harbor District meeting, the only reliable way is to view the video at www.citizenaccess.TV. Not to miss the point of this, a five-minute time limit for commissioners wishing to speak on a motion does not do much for “openness and transparency” of elected public agencies!

December 12, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor board approves speaking limits: Contract changes made for senior employees

“Once again, this is aimed at stifling one commissioner, Sabrina Brennan,” said Granada Sanitary District Board President Leonard Woren. “This wouldn’t be a problem if staff didn’t stonewall her.”

December 05, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor board considers time limits: Proposal would limit commissioner comments to 5 minutes

“I could sell you a washing machine in five minutes." 

-Jim Tucker, SMC Harbor Commissioner

November 21, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Digital divide evident at harbor meetings: Local governments struggle to adopt new technology

“I’m concerned by the level of scholarship by our legal counsel,” said Will Holsinger, himself a practicing attorney. “By maintaining these links, the district is tacitly approving the information to which the individual is being directed.” 

October 31, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor district details missing checks

$38,000 in tenants’ checks were missing. The 37 checks, some dating as far back as early 2012, were never deposited and had been sitting for months in an employee’s desk drawer.

The checks were first discovered in July by the district’s newly appointed finance director, and the incident was related to the commission two months later. Harbor General Manager Peter Grenell said then that time was needed to fully investigate the problem before going public with the details.

“No information was disclosed prior to going to the treasurer to make sure it was thorough and to protect the integrity of the investigation,” he said.

But the incident generated problems for the district’s tenants. More than $5,000 of the missing checks comprised monthly payments from several boat owners renting at Oyster Point Harbor. In some cases, boat owners who had paid rent had ended up falling in arrears according to the district’s records. Other tenants were never charged their monthly berth fees.

October 25, 2013


Part-Time Government Workers in Special Districts Earning up to $1,100 an Hour

Part-time jobs are generally low-paying with few, or no, benefits unless you’re lucky enough to land that choice $1,094-an-hour gig as a San Mateo County harbor commissioner.

October 24, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor board seeks mediation

Commissioner William Holsinger suggested the board could appoint a psychologist or psychiatrist to watch the board meetings and deliver a report with ideas on how to improve. Regardless, he warned he would abstain on any vote because Commissioner Pietro Parravano was absent. He also questioned whether the board could take action on an item not listed for such on the agenda. The Harbor District attorney said it would be legal to give staff direction on how to move forward with a mediator.

As she has so many times of late, Commissioner Sabrina Brennan took the minority position. She fully endorsed the idea of bringing on a mediator, saying it was appropriate to have such discussions in public.

“The sooner, the better,” she said.

October 19, 2013

Mercury News

$1,100 an hour? Part-time service at little agencies means big bucks and benefits for politicians

San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Pietro Parravano got $25,757 in cash and benefits last year for attending 21 meetings that lasted on average 77 minutes each, the analysis shows. That's $1,094 an hour.

Parravano, 64, a commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay who also serves on several national fisheries commissions, said he's never questioned receiving full benefits for the part-time office he's held for nearly two decades. The harbor commission oversees two marinas and a park and employed 27 workers in 2012.

"It's what was offered when I got here," said Parravano, whose 2012 compensation included medical insurance worth $18,500 and $7,200 cash. "I am an employee and it's part of the policy."

Pietro Parravano was among 69 elected officials at special districts in the region whose total compensation exceeded $20,000.

"If that's not milking the system, I don't know what is," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "It's mind-boggling. Anywhere else they'd get $100 a meeting and that's it."

Commissioner Sally Campbell had a longevity benefit that made her eligible for medical coverage at commission expense after she left elected office. That benefit entitles her dependent to the insurance even after her death. The district will be responsible for it until her grandson's 26th birthday in May 2019, said Marietta Harris, the commission's human resources manager. The policy could cost taxpayers nearly another $100,000 before it ends.

Commissioner Robert Bernardo said questions from this newspaper caused him to ponder whether special districts like his should offer medical benefits to elected officials at all. When compensation like Parravano's is compared to the amount of time spent in the job, "it makes you look at it differently," Bernardo said. "It's a very large amount of money. I've never thought about it this way before, but I have to say that we shouldn't (provide benefits)."

October 04, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Amid complaints, harbor board votes to keep SSF office

“We haven’t taken this item seriously, given how much we’re spending on this per month,” Brennan said. “It feels like from the comments that the board is not serious about investigating our options.”

Brennan chided her fellow board members for assuming Grenell’s recommendation was the best option. She pointed out the general manager didn’t follow her request to bring the district’s real estate agent to take questions on their options. At her request, local Realtor Dave Worden presented an office space in El Granada that could lease or buy.

Instead, Commissioner Jim Tucker made a motion to extend the harbor district’s lease by three years, adding that the district should investigate breaking this up into three one-year leases.

September 26, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Commission sinking into very harbor it governs

The San Mateo County Harbor Commission has lost its way, and constituents are paying the price. The most disappointing fact of all is that violations of law, breaks in decorum and offenses to the practice of good governance are too numerous to mention in this space.

Let’s start with illegal and ineffectual meetings. Last week, commissioners traded at least one email over whether to move administrative offices out of their current cavernous space in South San Francisco. That email, from attorney and appointed commissioner Will Holsinger, is an attempt at an electronic backroom deal. (You can read it for yourself attached to the online version of this editorial.) In that email, which was forwarded to the Review, he clearly advocates a position. And that is a clear violation of the state’s Brown Act, which demands such muscle be applied in public. Regardless of whether it was their intent to conduct this crucial and potentially costly business out of public purview, seasoned elected officials and their counsel surely know better — and it’s hard to believe that was a first offense.

In addition, on at least one occasion in recent weeks, one commissioner called another who suggested calling a third about financial irregularities in the office. That is called a serial meeting and is expressly outlawed in the Brown Act.

The public meetings themselves have become increasingly bewildering. The voices in the chorus of public dissent have grown so loud that the hosting hotel politely asked the district to hold its meetings elsewhere. (That problem was apparently solved when the hotel put the district in a more discrete meeting room.)

Now consider the case of the found money. Last week, we learned that a stack of checks made out to the district had been discovered in a desk drawer. That hasn’t been adequately explained, and, as of late last week, it appeared district officials were still trying to figure out where the money belonged.

Next, hear harbor tenants and fishermen who have increasingly complained about unsupportable fees, electrical problems at the docks and the harbor’s complicity with strange Homeland Security actions. (See the odd story of Andy Scherer in the June 12 newspaper.)

Then there is bad legal advice. Just as it did in the recent Coastside Fire Protection District debacle, the contracted legal firm Aaronson, Dickerson, Cohn and Lanzone has attempted to obscure its fees through all this. The firm heavily redacted its bills in response to a citizen’s public records request. The briefest descriptions of those expenses cannot be considered work product nor are they subject to attorney-client privilege. Even the beleaguered fire board eventually realized that and ordered the same firm to release explanation of its charges.

There is every reason to believe the district has been lost at sea for some time now. The only change of late is the 2012 addition of Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who has rocked the boat in the harbor by sounding the foghorn when she sees trouble rather than simply huddling below deck. The district has long paid extraordinary salaries and even health benefits for elected officials. Last week, in the midst of all these improprieties, the tone-deaf commission voted 4-1 to give a raise to the district’s general manager. So much for accountability.

So how do we fix all this? The next election is next year. We’ll remind you. Until then, elected commissioners must admit all of the above and resolve to do better. That begins by abiding by the Brown Act. It includes releasing those legal bills. But mostly, it demands that commissioners begin to think of those who speak up at meetings as constituents and not opponents.

September 26, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor staff uncovers missing checks: Commission notified 2 months after discovery

Tucker said harbor staff first informed him about the missing checks Sept. 17, 2013 when he went to review the district’s bills and claims. There was no indication of criminal activity, he said.

“No money was missing, but obviously the employee wasn’t doing her job,” he said. “(The checks) were laying in a desk drawer, and they just kept piling up.”

The checks were primarily from Oyster Point Harbor and totaled $37,996, according to district General Manager Peter Grenell. Most of that amount came from one large check for $29,400 for an abandoned vessel grant reimbursement. More than $5,100 of the missing checks comprised monthly payments from several boat owners renting berths at the harbor.

Some checks in the pile dated back as far as last year, Grenell noted in an email to the Review.

September 19, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor District’s decision adversely affects marathon

When I asked Mr. Grenell on Aug 17 about the re-rerouting of the marathon to avoid the harbor, the conversation ended with him shaking his finger about 3 inches from my face and saying angrily, “Those people don’t belong there.”

On 9/18 Harbor Commission Agenda, the General Manager recommended approval of the South San Francisco Fun Run through Oyster Point Marina and waving of fees, per request of SSF. Go figure.

—Lisa Ketcham, Midcoast Community Council member

September 19, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor board at odds over manager: Grenell may get raise despite complaint

About two months ago, Brennan filed a harassment complaint with the district against Grenell, which is now being investigated by an independent law firm. She said could not provide details on the complaint because it was a district personnel matter, but she noted that Grenell “has demonstrated a history of bias against women.”

At a June harbor commission meeting, Brennan lashed out publicly at Grenell for allegedly ignoring a series of her requests for information. Her complaint was filed soon afterward.

"He is demeaning, demoralizing, rude, condescending, arrogant, and it ends in an unpleasant experience for me," she said to other board members at the time. "The general manager is capable of providing answers and he chooses not to do it.”

In recent meetings, Brennan has pointed out that district policy designates the general manager as the person in charge of judging all harassment complaints and determining whether to investigate. She asked her colleagues to consider revising the policy. It was not immediately clear how her complaint ended up with an independent arbiter.

"It appears by reading this policy that commissioners would need to make a complaint potentially to the person they’re making the complaint about," she said.

Tucker said he did not know details about Brennan's complaint, but to his knowledge she was the lone critic on the board of the general manager.

"Four out of the five commissioners are very supportive of Grenell's work and his accomplishments," he said.“The only one who's said anything verbally is Brennan.”

September 18, 2013

Montara Fog

Harbor to hold secret meeting tonight in South City, General Manager to get $4,000 raise

The Harbor Commission plans to meet tonight in South San Francisco without video coverage of their meeting. The governing board, by a 3-2 vote in late August, accepted old-timer Jim Tucker’s recommendation to cancel the video due to either a) the audience acting dramatically or, b) to protect the staff from insulating comments from the audience. Jim’s rationale changes from time to time.

In that meeting Commissioner Holsinger, seemingly waking up from a nice nap, lectured the audience that he didn’t like publicly funded videos being linked to by political web sites (he cited that of Commissioner Sabrina Brennan). He doesn’t like the links. Public shouldn’t pay for it. Videos must stop. A copy of Computers For Seniors For Dummies has been ordered for Holsinger. It explains all those fancy words like “Internet” and “links” and “Democracy.”

Parravano didn’t say anything. Smart guy. But he still voted to cancel the video. Not so smart.

Bernardo, who looks and acts more and more like a well-trained puppy with every passing meeting, agreed with Tucker that the meeting behavior was a problem but then pointed out that maybe they just weren’t used to interacting with the public, period. He likes democracy. Good boy, Roberto, good boy.

End of recap. In tonight’s meeting, which you will never see, the Harbor District will extend for three years its $7500/month lease of 3675 square feet of South City office space for the few employees who work there. Each employee has about two Holiday Inn hotel room’s worth of space. The US average is 176 sq ft of space per employee.

Congratulations to the Harbor District office employees!

Later in the meeting Harbor Manager Peter Grenell will get a raise of about $4000–a 2.5% raise on his approximately $142,000 salary. Grenell is tight with Tucker and it shows. Last meeting the board handed out raises to the Harbor Master (a raise of $5,906 to $118,128, hasn’t had a raise since he was hired in April 2012), to the Human Resources Manager (a $3,037 raise to $121,492, hasn’t had a raise since January 2012), and the Director of Finance ($2,375 raise to $95,031, promoted to that position in July 2013 with a pay bump at that time).

Congratulations to “Ole Beardo” Peter Grenell and the senior staff of the Harbor District!

Want one of those jobs? You are in luck, my friend–they are hiring. Grenell is asking to hire two more employees, one for the position of Deputy Harbor Master the other for the position of Accountant (the old accountant is now the Director of Finance, who just got a promotion, a pay bump, and a raise).

Congratulations to all the future employees of the Harbor District! (You know who you are, wink wink.)

And finally, what meeting wouldn’t be complete with another formal effort to SHUSH! (Shut Her UP, Sabrina Hush!). In this episode of SHUSH! Harbor Manager Peter Grenell proposes approval of a “meeting protocol,” which further limits Brennan’s ability to place an item on the agenda and further limits the public’s ability to have its voice heard.

Congratulations Commissioners Tucker and Grenell! Tell Commissioner Holsinger the good news after his nap.

September 05, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Noisy meetings prompt harbor board to move

As recently as last year, the San Mateo County Harbor Commission meetings would regularly wrap up by 8 or 9 p.m. at the latest. But these days, it’s common for meetings to run past 11 p.m. A packed house of public speakers and a fractious harbor board have made for some raucous meetings that sometimes descend into shouting matches.

September 04, 2013

Montara Fog

Harbor Commission, the most secretive government body on the coast, to hold “public” meeting with no audio or video recordings

They will also be shutting down Brennan’s questions tonight. Agenda item 5, under New Business, is titled “District Chain of Command.” The proposed action is to “Reaffirm chain of command for communications.” Which is another way of saying, “Brennan can’t ask any questions unless the board majority says she can.” So much for democracy–Brennan won more votes than any other harbor commissioner in history, as far as I can tell. Tucker got 71,000 or so. Brennan got 120,000. They hope she will just go away if they make it tough enough for her. She’s a girl, after all.

But you won’t get to see or hear any of this. The board majority, over Brennan’s objections, voted to terminate the video recording at the last meeting.

August 22, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor board cancels video service

“It's like a fungus; once it happens it won't stop.”

—Jim Tucker, San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner

August 22, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Podcast would be harder to understand

My concern is that podcasts lend themselves to one or two people talking, such as an interviewer and interviewee, when the listener can’t see who is talking. At harbor district meetings, there is a cast of five commissioners, six staff members, plus members of the public. Listening to such a podcast, it will be nearly impossible to keep track of who is saying what.

—Lisa Ketcham, Midcoast Community Council member

August 21, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor commissioners would be wise to save video coverage

And if that logic doesn’t sway a majority of commissioners, they might consider the message they would send by turning off the video cameras. Whatever the rationale for replacing video with audio, the perception will be that commissioners are afraid of the light that comes with those cameras. Good politicians know better than to court that kind of perception.

—Clay Lambert, Editor

August 15, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor commissioner in midst of Herculean task

It appears the fifth task of shoveling the s--- created by the *five men of the commission, might be more than even Commissioner Sabrina Brennan alone can handle.

—Lee Engdahl   *Peter Grenell is the 5th member

August 15, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor commission cuts off colleague, tightens rules: Board approves limits on public complaints

Over the first six months of 2013 those record requests cost the district $50,000 in legal fees, according to Commissioner Will Holsinger, an attorney who was appointed to the board earlier this year. He indicated those costs were inappropriate, reading into the record how the state defines the misuse of public funds.

"I'm not prepared to say whether (Brennan's costs) were for the business of the district or whether they were for her personal interest,” he said. “I do know they were not authorized by the district.”

Brennan countered that her legal costs were being overstated. A June expense report found her 2013 requests resulted in 55.8 hours of legal time — the most of any commissioner — but at a cost closer to $10,000. She described herself as a scapegoat even though larger legal expenses had been accrued by redundant staff requests.

Holsinger admitted his figure was inaccurate, but he re-emphasized the legal protocols should be tightened. His colleagues sided with him, mandating that any requests made to the district legal counsel needed majority approval.

August 12, 2013

San Mateo Daily Journal

Harbor Commission meeting dysfunction

As one observer commented, the meeting could be summed up in one action, when Commissioner James Tucker asked a staff person, whose imminent maternity leave had just been approved, to waddle across a crowded room to get him a glass of water.

August 08, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Blasting colleague, harbor trustees tighten rules

Harbor commissioners agreed to tighten rules for placing items on the board agenda and making requests from the district’s contracted attorney. Under the new rules, either action would first require majority approval from the board. The board majority also approved new rules for creating and dissolving committees.

The changes came amid months of combative meetings with Commissioner Sabrina Brennan squaring off against some or all of the other elected board members. A long six-hour meeting on Wednesday was no different — Commissioners blamed Brennan for wasting money and staff time on excessive records requests and reviews at public hearings. Brennan defended her actions saying she was left with no other means to make informed decisions.

Over the first six months of 2013 those records requests cost the district $50,000 in legal fees, stated Commissioner Will Holsinger. He indicated those costs were inappropriate, reading into the record how the state defines the misuse of public funds.

“I’m not prepared to say whether (Brennan’s costs) were for the business of the district or whether they were for her personal interest,” he said. “I do know they were not authorized by the district.”

Brennan countered that her legal costs were being overstated. A June expense report found her 2013 requests resulted in 55.8 hours of legal time — the most of any commissioner — but at a cost closer to $10,000. She described herself as a scapegoat even though larger legal expenses had been accrued by redundant staff requests.

Holsigner admitted his figure was inaccurate, but he re-emphasized the legal protocols should be tightened. His colleagues sided with him, mandating that any requests made to the district legal counsel needed majority approval.

August 03, 2013

San Mateo Daily Journal 

Something smells fishy

I call upon the commission to replace Grenell for his repeated unethical behavior, upon county residents to demand a commission and general manager that support transparency, cooperation and actually work for the best interests of their residents, and upon the voters to replace Holsinger, who lost two county-wide elections and only served after being appointed. Replace him with someone the people want to see on the commission, someone more professional.

July, 17 2013

Reorganization of Harbor Commission Officers - Agenda Item 1 

Commissioner Robert Bernardo was elected board president. Following Commissioner Jim Tucker's 19 month term as president. Commissioner Pietro Parravano was elected Vice President, and Jim Tucker was elected Treasurer and Secretary.  

Historically Jim Tucker has served terms that stretch over 12 months as board president on multiple occasions.

July 03, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Public record costs draw scorn at harbor: Commissioner argues staff ignores queries

Asked by the Review, Brennan forwarded more than 80 email requests sent by her to harbor staff, seeking information on issues such as a harbor dredging project, a shoreline access report, a fee schedule for harbor tenants and other items. Saying she wanted all the information in order to do the job she was elected to do, she complained that her requests were routinely ignored by harbor administration. She said that filing formal public records requests with the district's attorney became her only alternative. She saved special criticism for district General Manager Peter Grenell, alleging he was deliberately withholding information and acting unprofessionally.

"When I ask for an item that comes before the board, and I ask the general manager, he doesn't respond and doesn't provide information,” she said.“I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place.”

She also reminded her colleagues that she was saving the district money by not signing up for the harbor commission's provided health care.

June 25, 2013

Montara Fog

Half Moon Bay fishing company requests Grand Jury investigation of the Harbor District, alleges mismanagement of leases

Bettencourt Fisheries has made a formal request to the San Mateo Grand Jury to open an investigation into mismanagement at the Harbor District. Bettencourt alleges widespread problems with the District’s management of leases and it singles out its own experience attempting to win one of the three slots on Johnson Pier reserved for the unloading of fish.

June 13, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Holsinger appointed to harbor board once more

Holsinger was also appointed last year to fill the unexpired term of longtime Commissioner Sally Campbell. Like Padreddii, Campbell died in office. After that appointment, Holsinger subsequently lost his bid for re-election in November.

Last week, Holsinger was the top choice of three of the four sitting commissioners. Commissioner Sabrina Brennan favored Half Moon Bay marine biologist Nicole David. Half Moon Bay residents Lauryn Agnew and Dorothy Baughman also interviewed for the position, as did Charles King of Brisbane.

June 05, 2013

Montara Fog

Holsinger wins appointment to Harbor District board in secret voteJune 05, 2013

The vote was by a controversial written ballot system, a form of which was declared illegal last year.

June 05, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

San Mateo Attorney appointed to harbor board again

The Commission took heat after Holsinger’s 2012 appointment because commissioners used a secret numbering system to make their decision. Counsel ultimately determined that system was illegal, and the commission subsequently voted on the issue in public.

“When people asked me about my service on the San Mateo County Harbor Commission last time I told them I was having boatloads of fun,” Holsinger said with a smile.

June 04, 2013

Montara Fog

Questions for the Harbor Commissioner Candidates

4.  Do you think the Harbor District should develop a strategic plan? If so, why?

8.  Do you support switching to District wide elections? If so, why? If not, why?

May 31, 2013

Montara Fog

Three women–all Coastsiders–apply for seat on Harbor District board, two others apply, decision to be made this Wednesday

Five people–three of them women–have submitted letters of interest to join the governing board of the San Mateo County Harbor District. They will be interviewed this coming Wednesday, June 5th. One of these candidates will be appointed to fill the space formerly held by Leo Padreddii, who died this past April shortly after his re-election.

The odds on favorite to win the appointment is attorney Will Hoslinger, a former member of the Harbor District’s board. Holsinger, who came in fifth place in the 2004 Harbor District election, was appointed last May to sit on the Harbor Commission, filling a seat left open by the death of commissioner Sally Campbell. He then ran but lost in the 2012 election in November.

The current commissioners have decided to use their “scorecard” method of selecting the winning applicant despite the fact that this method was largely discredited last year when it was revealed that the cards were filled out in such a way to give the impression that Holsinger was “wired” for the appointment. The scorecards were only made public at the insistence of Sabrina Brennan (prior to her election to the board) and resulted in negative press and a critical op-ed by Half Moon Bay Review editor Clay Lambert

May 31, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Five vying for open Harbor Commission seat

Following that episode, harbor district officials drafted formal procedures for making board appointments. But over recent days, harbor district officials were still apparently confused over details of their appointment policies.

Harbor General Manager Peter Grenell explained in a memo sent last week that commissioners would score the candidates on a 1-to-10 scale, the same process used for Campbell's seat. But Brennan pointed out the district's new policy for filling empty seats called for the commission to make a vote. Grenell subsequently revised the process in a follow-up memo sent Monday, noting that harbor commission would instead make its decision through a vote, either oral or written.

May 15, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor board to appoint new member: Commissioners expect selection in June

The Harbor Commission voted 3-1 on May 1 to make an appointment. Commissioner Sabrina Brennan dissented, saying she preferred deferring the appointment decision to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

“The (last) appointment was so botched and just so challenged; I’m really concerned about this board’s ability to conduct an appointment appropriately,” she said. “I feel more comfortable letting the Board of Supervisors make the appointment.”

May 02, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review - Mark Noack

Harbor Commission to appoint new member

The most recent appointment came last year following the death of former President Sally Campbell. The commission selected San Mateo attorney William Holsinger from among eight candidates to fill the seat. After the decision, rejected candidates, including Brennan, who was ultimately elected in the next balloting, balked at the appointment process. The secretive score tally between the commissioners was illegal and subsequently the Harbor Commission re-appointed Holsinger in a public vote among the commission.

Following the controversy, the Harbor District amended its procedures, mandating that any future appointments had to be nominated and given final approval through formal commission votes.

May 01, 2013

Montara Fog

Harbor District pays commissioners far above what directors at other local governing bodies receive

A review of compensation practices among nine governing bodies that serve the Coastside shows that the San Mateo County Harbor District, which is responsible for both Oyster Point Marina and PIllar Point Harbor, offers its commissioners pay and benefits that dwarf those of any other district.

April 03, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review

Harbor commissioner sheds light on what happens behind closed doors

Brennan, who was elected to the countywide post in November, has set herself apart in many ways, not least being her commitment to a more transparent public agency. It was her pre-election plea that led the commission to begin broadcasting board meetings over Pacific Coast Television. She wants to post staff reports on the district website. And it was Brennan who had the guts to expose what she says was a violation of California’s Brown Act governing open meetings.

At issue is what the board said it was doing behind closed doors on Feb. 6. The agenda lists a single subject: “Public employee performance evaluation, general manager, pursuant to Government Code Section 54957.6.” Such an evaluation would qualify for closed-door discussions, but by law, the board must stick to that single scheduled discussion.

Brennan says General Manager Peter Grenell’s performance didn’t even come up in the closed session. Instead, she says, the sole focus of the closed-door session was her demand for background material prior to voting on staff proposals. She says she has had trouble getting issues on the agenda and even had to file a public records request to get district documents prior to votes.

July 12, 2012

Half Moon Bay Review - Sara Hayden

Resident suggests new format for harbor elections: Brennan recommends switch to district contests

Brennan, who has previously run for a seat on the board, believes that the switch would cut down costs for taxpayers and people interested in running for elected positions.

The Harbor District was billed $469,073.32 by the elections office for the November 2010 election. But $281,444 could have been saved had by-district elections been conducted, she said, drawing on data from the county elections office.

San Mateo County Elections Manager David Tom confirms that there are significant cost savings for by-district elections.

According to Brennan, lowering the cost would not only relieve the burden on taxpayers but also encourage more qualified candidates to run for board positions.

May 31, 2012

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert, Editor 

Harbor Commission tallies reveal embarrassing lack of thought

Well, the vote tallies were finally sent to candidate Sabrina Brennan — nine working days after her first request. (Apparently, they were sent via email to the wrong Sabrina several days earlier.) Above, you see the evidence of the incredible thought that went into that decision for one sitting commissioner.

The plan was for the four sitting commissioners to rank their candidates — 10 being their favorite and so on. This commissioner thought only one of the seven people who presented themselves for interview deserved any consideration at all. That sort of subverts the process of ranking candidates, doesn’t it? What if all four commissioners had done that? You could have had a four-way tie, for goodness sake.

The vote tallies provided to Brennan don’t cast much light onto the processes of the commission. Only one of the four members — Robert Bernardo — put his name on his sheet.

I continue to think it’s a ridiculous way to appoint the people who control the public’s money, and I’m annoyed that they make engaged citizens file formal written requests when the commission’s own work looks like something a second-grader would turn in.

Let’s put an end to secret, ranked voting at the San Mateo County Harbor Commission.

May 31, 2012

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert, Editor 

Appointment to replace Sally Campbell: vote tally sheet

May 17, 2012

Half Moon Bay Review - Clay Lambert, Editor 

Time for the harbor district to see a little sunshine

Well, one of the candidates not chosen asked to see the tally sheets. Grenell made her file a California Open Records Act request. He says he turned over the sheets three business days later; she says she still hadn’t gotten them more than a week later. In either case, the vote and the subsequent stonewalling were anything but transparent and needlessly create the impression that the commission has something to hide.

March 29, 2012

Half Moon Bay Review - by Lily Bixler

Investigation spurs Parravano to terminate grant

“I didn’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I’d used my role as harbor commissioner to (leverage) getting the grant,” said Parravano.

March 16, 2012

Half Moon Bay Review - Lily Bixler

Air quality board investigates harbor grant

The Bay Area Air Quality Management Board is investigating San Mateo County Harbor District board member Pietro Parravano’s application for a grant to improve his commercial fishing vessel.

August 25, 2010

Half Moon Bay Review

Late filings spark Harbor Commission race: Two more candidates file, race is on

The day before the filing deadline, two incumbents and a newcomer were on the county’s election roster to compete for the two open Harbor Commission seats. But things got interesting when Ken Lundie, a three-term veteran to the board withdrew his name in the eleventh hour in an attempt to save the Harbor District an estimated $500,000 to $700,000 in county election fees. But when an incumbent fails to file — or in this case, withdraws — the law allows an extended period for nonincumbents to join the race.

During that window, newcomers Sabrina Brennan and Robert Bernardo stepped in, making a total of four Harbor Commission candidates for the November ballot.

“Ken Lundie thought there wasn’t going to be an election,” said San Mateo County Harbor District Board President Sally Campbell. And “until (they) stepped in there wasn’t going to be an election.”

Moss Beach resident Sabrina Brennan joined the race at the last minute when she learned that Lundie wasn’t going to file. “It was hard to figure out what was going on because Ken’s name was still on the elections Web site,” said Brennan, who owns her own digital printing and graphics business.

February 5, 2003

Half Moon Bay Review - Letter to the Editor

'Good old boy' politics at the harbor district

Dear editor:

Recently, Harbor Commissioner Ken Lundie wrote a letter to the editor regarding the flawed process of the election of officers on the San Mateo County Harbor Commission. Commissioner Lundie's letter has, naturally, drawn rebuttals from the three commission members who currently control the commission and their supporters.

During the January meeting, the presidency of the commission - for the third consecutive year - went to James Tucker by a 3-2 vote.

The importance of the presidency of this board far exceeds the title. On the harbor commission the chairman, or president, basically sets the agenda and, thereby, determines the "direction" of the district. Last year, during Commissioner Tucker's second consecutive term as president, serious consideration was given to allowing only the president and general manager to place items on the agenda. This would effectively squeeze out input from the two independent members. The accepted procedure on most public agencies nationwide gives all members a right to place items on the agenda.

With a guaranteed three-vote majority on the commission, you may wonder why the majority would bother to attempt such a "squeeze play." I believe it was an obvious attempt to stop Commissioner Lundie and myself from bringing up a proposal to fire the current general manager, Peter Grenell, for alleged sexual harassment and failure to undergo a physical/ drug screening as required under his employment contract. Other important items loom in the future, such as the hiring of a person to "run the office" at a salary of $85,000 annually, plus benefits. Commissioner Lundie and I agree that such an expenditure of taxpayer money is totally unnecessary, as the proposed "manager" would oversee the work of only six experienced, union employees.

This management task is one of the responsibilities covered by General Manager Grenell's current salary. If Mr. Grenell were doing the job the public is paying him for, an additional manager would be unnecessary. I feel the actions of the majority are an unacceptable use of taxpayer's money, especially in these difficult financial times.

For the record, on behalf of the voters who elected me, I object to this type of "good old boy" politics and will continue to publicly do so as long as I am an elected member of this commission.

Sally Campbell, Harbor Commissioner

April 22. 1999

Half Moon Bay Review

Brown Act violations alleged in harbor election

"We had a process. (Lundie) didn't know about the process. He's acting on an assumption," Grenell said. "If he had a question, he should have come to me, like the other commissioners would have done. I'd chalk it up to the fact that he's new on the commission."

On the day of the meeting, Lundie said he swung by the harbor district office about 4 p.m. to check on his mail.

On a counter, he spotted the press release that named Pietro Parravano as president, Jim Tucker as vice-president and Sally Campbell as secretary-treasurer.

"I had two choices: I could either go to the election and see if it all lined up. It didn't sit well with me. I wanted to give them a chance to do what's right," Lundie said.

When the commission took up the matter of the election at the meeting, Lundie told commissioners about the release.

With little discussion, the commissioners went ahead and voted for the offices. Lundie chose not to participate in the election because of his concerns that the votes were predetermined.

Two officer positions were once combined before, Tucker noted, when former Commissioner Don Sherer was on the commission.

*Don Sherer pleaded guilty of embezzlement on Dec. 8, 1998 while serving as a San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner.

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