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 

Editor,

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

Editor,

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

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 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 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 26, 2013

Half Moon Bay Review - Editorial by Clay Lambert

New Year’s resolution No. 1: Finding common cause

Local politics can be nasty. The next year brings elections for Half Moon Bay City Council and San Mateo County Harbor Commission and both promise to be spirited. There are legitimate issues before every elected board on the coast. Elected leaders should expect to hear from constituents. They may well be voted out of office if they fail to heed the will of the majority.

But the healthy back-and-forth must be tempered by a willingness to compromise and an understanding that all of us want what’s best for the community. If we can’t agree on that much, politics turns black, as in recent battles over the soul of the Coastside Fire Protection District. It’s easy to lose sight of our better instincts when we feel insulted or railroaded.

The responsibility begins with elected leaders. They set the tone for debate. They set the agenda. They decide how seriously to take the concerns of constituents. Public agencies become embattled public agencies when leaders turn arrogant. Dismissing public concern is the surest way to be dismissed from your public responsibilities.

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 looki.de, 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 - 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

AllGov

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

San Jose Mercury News - Thomas Peele

$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.