Dear LAFCo Commissioners and Executive Director Martha Poyatos,
My name is Mike McHenry, I'm a 71 year old fisherman at Pillar Point Harbor. I'm also a fish buyer, and leaseholder on Johnson Pier.
I started fishing at the harbor before the breakwater and the pier were built. As time marched on, Johnson Pier was constructed and it was first run by the County, then it went to the Harbor District.
In those early years fishermen had a great relationship with Harbor District Staff and the Harbor Commission. Our Harbormasters were all seafaring people who knew the ocean like the back of their hands. They saved many lives and the fishermen assisted them when needed.
About 20 years the District changed when a Commissioner who also served as the Treasurer of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen's Marketing Association embezzled over $100,000 from our association's bank account. At the time fishermen were disgusted with the Harbor Commission and they stopped showing up for board meetings. As a result the Commissioners got bolder and bolder, with no checks and balances in place. Our association melted away to nothing and the dark side of the harbor leadership emerged.
Three years ago, out of the blue, the highest fish unloading fees on the West Coast, from San Diego to Seattle, were levied on Pillar Point Harbor Commercial Fishing businesses. In 2012 the Commissioners and the General Manager admitted the fees were high but refused to adjust them to be competitive with the rates in Moss Landing and San Francisco. These high fees paid by fishermen are ultimately passed on to the consumer, and have resulted in driving business away from San Mateo County to other neighboring ports.
After Harbor Commissioners hurt our local fishing businesses I began to attend board meetings and contest the fees. In 2013 I observed newly elected Commissioner Sabrina Brennan being ridiculed by the old boys club on the board because she dared to ask questions.
I immediately formed a bond with Sabrina because of her integrity, and because she asked for fiscal responsibility and transparency. Our newly formed fishermen's association, The Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association, also sided with Sabrina, and needless to say this upset previous board members.
Then came the illegal installation of a new hoist on Johnson Pier for the fish buying business Three Captains, with dock space included. A total of three fish-buying businesses are located on Johnson Pier, and we all pay the same rent. However the new hoist location and dock space was never offered to the other two fish-buyers. It was clear to local fishermen that Three Captains was receiving preferential treatment by the Harbormaster and General Manager. To allow more room for Three Captains new hoist, we were told to move our bait lockers and bin storage from the end of the pier. The cost to the Harbor District was $175,000.
The new Fishermen's Association and others asked Sabrina to look into this, which she did. At the time the old board and General Manager Peter Grenell would not even answer our questions. I also started checking into who paid what and I noticed that Three Captains' fee payment schedule was in disarray and appeared to be short a considerable sum of money. It was odd that the fish buyer with the new hoist location appeared to be short paying fees.
In early 2013 the General Manager Peter Grenell slyly buried a sentence into all three fish-buyers' 42 page lease agreements, under the Use and Limitations section. The leases allowed the installation of a new hoist at the Harbormasters discretion, strangely Three Captains knew all about it, but the other two buyers were unaware of the new provision because the changes were never redlined in the draft leases.
When I started reading my new lease more carefully I noticed that the General Manager had left out all the perimeters that designate the areas we operate within. This change was also not redlined in the draft lease agreements. The new leases changed 35 years of operations on Johnson Pier without any redlines in the draft agreements. Every fish unloading station on the West Coast of the US has well-designated perimeters except Pillar Point Harbor. And now Three Captains is suing the Harbor District over the new hoist.
Those of us who felt burned, decided to campaign to unseat the board in the November 2014 election. We succeeded in electing Commissioners Mattusch and David. Thankfully Commissioners Jim Tucker and Will Holsinger, both notorious for voting to end videotaping and public access broadcasts of board meetings, were swept out.
After many high-fives the new board was seated. As expected it didn't take long before they realized what a mess was left behind. Not surprisingly longtime General Manager Peter Grenell bailed out just before the new Commissioners were seated. After 17 years of mismanagement he retired and left the sinking ship before his corrupt business practices were fully discovered, and his girl Friday, the human resources lady, resigned.
Berth holders and fishermen are excited about our new board. We feel that dissolution at this time is foolish.
Don Horsley's recent public statements in support of an appointed board are ludicrous. It appears some poor losers are putting pressure on the Board of Supervisor. Politically appointed representatives who lack wildlife credentials are the reason why the State Fish and Wildlife Commission is nearly defunct. Why would we want somebody from Hillsborough to represent a harbor?
With an appointed board we would wind up with the same old Commissioners who were voted out. We haven't forgotten who gave the deceitful past General Manager a raise last year in a 4-1 vote before he retired.
Give this board a chance.
One more election and the new board will be a well oiled-machine. If the voters had not spoken we would still be grounded on the dark side.
LAFCo, you have looked into all the problems at the Harbor District and none of them were created by the new Commissioners.
Michael D. McHenry
Merva W (60-foot fishing vessel built in 1971)
Pillar Point Seafood
223 San Clemente Rd., Half Moon Bay, CA
Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association