Monterey County Board of Supervisors resist any change in assignments

SALINAS — A slim but historically united Monterey County Board of Supervisors majority indicated Tuesday it would favor keeping current assignments on a series of committees, boards and commissions to which the supervisors are appointed, rejecting a call by new board Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Wendy Root Askew to consider changes in an early test of her leadership.

But Askew got the public debate she said she was seeking on the issue and could prompt another debate during the county board’s next meeting on Tuesday next week when she makes formal recommendations on the nearly 60 appointments to the full board and could also force board votes on the matter.

During Tuesday’s meeting this week, Askew said she hoped for a public discussion on the assignments in the hopes of reaching a consensus among board members to help her make recommendations, which is a duty of the board chair, after requesting all supervisors list their preferred assignments in a public document made available before the meeting. She said she wanted the public to be able to weigh in on the issue ahead of the board’s eventual approval of the assignments, adding that she believed it was important for different supervisors to have the opportunity to weigh in on the decision-making process on key local and regional issues.

Askew specifically mentioned the Monterey One Water board, which has authority over the much-debated Pure Water Monterey expansion project proposal, and the Local Agency Formation Commission, which has broad regional influence on land use matters and will ultimately consider the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District’s application for a public takeover of California American Water’s Monterey-area water system.

Askew also recommended that new affordable housing, homelessness and COVID-19 communication committees be established, and the disbanding of the Fort Ord and Ad Hoc 2020 Census Steering committees. New board Vice-Chairwoman Supervisor Mary Adams called for rotating the board representatives to LAFCO every year to include the current board chair and vice-chair in an effort to allow all areas of the county to weigh in on land use and other issues, and also recommended the COVID-19 Non-Hospital Medical/Personal Services committee be disbanded because the state’s tier system now provides guidance.

While Askew will make recommendations on assignments, the full board is ultimately charged with approving them.

In response to Askew’s recommendations, Supervisors Luis Alejo, John Phillips and Chris Lopez called for maintaining the “status quo” and keeping nearly all of the board’s 2020 assignments with a few exceptions. The trio have regularly voted together on key issues for years, forming a slim three-vote majority that has often left Adams and Askew’s predecessor, Jane Parker, on the short end of votes, and could obviously ultimately decide the assignments.

“A lot of us have expressed an interest in keeping our current assignments,” Alejo said, noting that past discussions on assignments had been acrimonious. “I think we should focus on the work ahead of us.”

Phillips and Lopez agreed, specifically rejecting Adams’ LAFCO appointment proposal by arguing current reps Alejo and Lopez form a good “team,” while Phillips said he would decline to give up his Monterey One Water board seat because he had “invested” a lot over the years to get a handle on key issues. Alejo said the rotation proposal could be made for any of the assignments but it is important to “build expertise.”

Adams argued that the LAFCO assignment had become so “politicized” that it should be subject to an automatic, rotating process.

Alejo also argued against the formation of new affordable housing and homelessness committees, arguing that those issues are already covered under the existing Health, Housing and Human Services committee and that progress is beginning to be made on them after a staff reorganization and the influx of state funding. Askew said she was concerned the committee only meets on a quarterly basis, but Alejo noted that committees can always call a special meeting if there is an urgent issue to be addressed.

Lopez and Alejo also rejected a bid by Adams to join the county’s cannabis committee, which she said she wanted because of her district’s long history with the herb. They argued their districts, which include the city of Salinas and the Salinas Valley, have the local industry’s most activity and related issues.

Askew said she appreciated the “open and transparent conversation” on the issue, and promised she would try to incorporate it into her recommendation.

During the board’s consent agenda consideration, Corral de Tierra activist Mike Weaver questioned a $1.275 million contract for temporary workers at Laguna Seca, arguing that it was difficult to justify given how the current management team had “alienated” Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula volunteers, and questioning why so many track rental events with multiple participants and many from out of town are being allowed to occur during the pandemic lockdown.

In response, County Counsel Les Girard and Laguna Seca general manager John Narigi explained that the temporary workers would be taking on duties not conducted by volunteers, and Narigi said no county money would be used because track renters would pay. Narigi added that he was proud that the county-owned facility was allowed to continue operating under “extremely” strict safety protocols — like local golf courses — and had contributed some economic input despite the canceling of much of last year’s racing season.

The county board unanimously approved the item along with the rest of the consent agenda.

Contributed by local news sources

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