2012-2016 Litigation Against Harbor District


  • Attorney Martin M. Horowitz made two unsubstantiated claims against the Harbor District, one in 2014 and another in 2016. In 2015 the District agreed to a sizable payment to the past Finance Director on the day she submitted her resignation.
  • Three Captains filed a lawsuit against the District in 2015 and dropped the suit in 2016. Three Captains was ordered to pay the Harbor District’s legal fees.

2016 - Horowitz & Rubinoff Demand for Grindy Payment

Seven months after accepting Mr. Grindy’s resignation, the Harbor District received a “demand” letter from attorney Martin M. Horowitz. In the February 18, 2016 letter Mr. Horowitz stated, “Mr. Grindy is willing to execute a release of all claims arising from his employment relationship in exchange for a reasonable severance package.” The letter also stated that Mr. Grindy intends on filing a formal claim in the event the District does not contact him by March 4, 2016.

On February 25, 2016 Harbor District counsel declined Mr. Horowitz’ invitation to explore an “informal” payment agreement to Mr. Grindy.

On April 8, 2016 the Harbor District received a tort claim from Horowitz & Rubinoff seeking an unspecified monetary payment.

A tort claim is not a lawsuit. At this time Mr. Grindy has not filed a lawsuit against the District. It appears that Mr. Grindy, like Ms. Galarza, is seeking a settlement payment from the District without filing a lawsuit. The difference being that Mr. Grindy no longer works for the District — he resigned to take a new job in 2015. 

Baseless Allegations

Mr. Grindy’s claim against the District suggests he’s entitled to a monetary settlement because he was not offered the permanent General Manager position. However there's nothing in his offer letter, his employment agreement, or in any documents related to making him the Acting GM, which indicates that he would get the permanent GM position.

In April 2012 Mr. Grindy began work as Harbor Master at Pillar Point Harbor and Oyster Point Marina.

At the September 4, 2014 Board meeting, the District’s General Manager Peter Grenell announced his retirement. In October 2014 Mr. Grindy was promoted to Acting General Manager. Mr. Grenell's last day was Dec. 31, 2014. 

On January 7, 2015 the Harbor Commission hired a consultant to conduct a national search for a permanent General Manager and an ad-hoc committee was formed to review resumes and conduct interviews. Mr. Grindy was eligible to apply for the permanent GM position but declined to apply.

In February 2015 Mr. Grindy sent a letter to the board requesting that he return to his former position as Harbor Master. In response the search committee comprised of Commissioners David and Mattusch refocused their search on finding an interim GM.

In May 2015 an interim GM was hired, the committee resumed the search for a permanent GM and Mr. Grindy returned to his position as Harbor Master per his request.

The claim is filled with baseless allegations; for example Mr. Grindy implies that I expected an immediate response to an email sent at 1:00am. Yet he provides no evidence to support this illogical assumption.

The term “Brown Act” appears 13 times in the claim. Each Brown Act allegation is unsubstantiated and no evidence of any violations is provided.

The claim discloses confidential testimony Mr. Grindy says he provided to the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury in 2014.

“In or about Feb. 2014, CLAIMANT disclosed to the San Mateo County Grand Jury that Commissioner Brennan made numerous statements in violation of the Brown Act. Commissioner Brennan had knowledge of these Grand Jury proceedings and the CLAIMANT believes that a grand juror who was a crony of Ms. Brennan disclosed to her the substance of his complaint.”  

Mr. Grindy’s Brown Act violation allegations are untrue and the allegation that a “crony” disclosed Grand Jury testimony is untrue.

It’s my understanding that Grand Jury interviews are strictly confidential. The San Mateo Civil Grand Jury website states the following, “By law it is a misdemeanor to violate the secrecy of the Grand Jury room. A Grand Juror must not confide any information concerning testimony of witnesses or action of the jury even to a spouse or close friend. "Leaks" concerning Grand Jury proceedings inevitably will impair or even destroy the effectiveness of Grand Jury efforts.”

Last week I asked an investigator with the SMC District Attorney's office for clarification on the law because it appeared Mr. Grindy's tort claim may have violated the secrecy of Grand Jury proceedings. The investigator pointed me to the California Grand Jury System Guide, page 40, “Compliance with confidentiality by witnesses is largely unenforceable, although a breach could lead to a contempt of court citation. Grand jurors must always keep their oath of confidentiality.”

Mr. Grindy's untrue allegations and demands for public funds exemplify the District’s past management problems. A pattern of attacks on my credibility were first initiated by past General Manager Peter Grenell. For over 17 years a culture of hostility flowed down the chain of command. Today, the District’s culture has shifted in a positive direction and General Manager Steve McGrath is building a cohesive management team focused on accountability.

2015 - Three Captains Sea Products Lawsuit

On Dec 17, 2015, the District prevailed in its Anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss one of the Plaintiff’s two causes of action. San Mateo County Superior Judge George A. Miram ordered Three Captains to pay the Harbor District  $38,000 in legal fees for the District's Anti-SLAPP motion.

Feb 25, 2016, Three Captains dropped their lawsuit against the Harbor District by formally dismissing their writ petition. This on top of winning the anti-SLAPP motion and $38,000 in attorney’s fees was good news for the Harbor District.

2014 - Horowitz & Rubinoff Demand for Galarza Payment

The District’s Finance Director Debra Galarza and her attorney Martin M. Horowitz made a groundless, unsubstantiated complaint against the Harbor District in October 2014.

Ms. Galarza never filed a lawsuit against the Harbor District.

On September 4, 2015, Ms. Galarza signed a $295,000 settlement agreement drafted by the Harbor District’s employment counsel, and resigned from the District. This sizable payment in exchange for Galarza’s resignation was approved in closed session on a 4-0 vote by Commissioners: Pietro Parravano, Robert Bernardo, Tom Mattusch, and Nicole David. Commissioner Brennan did not attend the closed session meeting per a recommendation by the District’s employment counsel.

Settlement decisions set precedent. An unintended consequence might result in other employees making groundless complaints with the expectation of six-figure payouts.

It appears that the past Finance Director and the past Harbor Master structured their claims against the District in a similar way.


District Wins Anti-SLAPP Motion in Hoist Lawsuit

Winning the anti-SLAPP motion and $38,000 in attorney’s fees is a win for the Harbor District, democracy and our First Amendment right to free speech.

SLAPP lawsuits stifle public debate, threaten news reporting and diminish civic engagement – principles fundamental to our democracy. 

SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are filed against people or organizations because they have exercised their First Amendment right to free speech or to petition the government. A SLAPP lawsuit is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.

The rights to speech and petition are enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Free speech and healthy debate are vital to the well-being of a democracy. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has said that the right to petition the government is the very foundation of our democracy.

Events & Documents

April 12, 2016 — General Manager Steve McGrath sent a hoist removal letter to Three Captains 

Feb 25, 2016 — Three Captains dropped their lawsuit against the Harbor District. They formally dismissed their writ petition against the Harbor District. This on top of winning the anti-SLAPP motion and $38,000 in attorney’s fees is great news for the Harbor District.

Dec 17, 2015 — San Mateo County Superior Judge George A. Miram ordered Three Captains to pay the Harbor District  $38,000 in legal fees for an Anti-SLAPP motion. This came after the District earlier prevailed in a motion to dismiss one of the Plaintiff’s two causes of action (the Anti-SLAPP motion).

Oct 22, 2015 — Three Captains Sea Products Opposition to Motion for Attorneys' Fees

Oct 5, 2015 — Harbor District Memo in Support of Motion for Attorneys' Fees

July 13, 2015 — Harbor District Special Motion to Strike under the Anti-SLAPP law

July 13, 2015 — Harbor District Declaration in Support of Special Motion to Strike

July 13, 2015 — Harbor District Notice of Motion to Strike

June 2, 2015 — Three Captains Sea Products Complaint (lawsuit)

May 21, 2015 — LAFCO Executive Director Martha Poyatos emails attachments to Three Captains attorney Mark Scheer.

March 13, 2015 — LAFCO Executive Director Martha Poyatos has email correspondence with to Three Captains attorney Mark Scheer.  Ms. Poyatos sends attachment/s, a link to a newspaper article about the Harbor District and requests Mr. Scheer provide information about campaign contributions for Harbor Commissioners.

May 6, 2015 — Item 12, Harbor Commission Resolution 11-15—Adopting and Affirming Factual Findings made During the Harbor District March 4,2015 Public Meeting Regarding Three Captains Sea Products' Request to Maintain a Second Hoist on Johnson Pier.  

Motion by David, second by Mattusch to adopt Resolution 11-15. The motion passed. Ayes: Brennan, David, Mattusch Nays: Bernardo, Parravano

March 5, 2015 — Email from LAFCO Executive Director Martha Poyatos requesting the Harbor District provide a letter from Three Captains attorney Mark Scheer.


March 3, 2015 — Young deNormandie Letter to Harbor Commission

Feb. 11, 2015 — Coastal Commission Letter to Three Captains

Jan. 8, 2015 — Young deNormandie Letter to SMCHD counsel

Dec. 12, 2014 — Coastal Commission Letter to Three Captains

Dec. 9, 2014 — HMB Seafood Marketing Association Letter to Coastal Commission

Nov. 7, 2014 — Coastal Commission Letter to Three Captains

Nov. 6, 2014 — HMB Seafood Marketing Association meets with Coastal Commission in San Francisco office.  Waiver recommendation is pulled and full permit is required.

Oct. 30, 2014 — Coastal Commission Proposed Permit Waiver

Sept. 24, 2014 — SMCHD Permit Letter to Three Captains

Sept. 23, 2014 — SMCHD Counsel Letter To Pillar Point Seafood Counsel

Aug. 24, 2014 — Video: Three Captains Hoist offloading Salmon

July 9, 2014 — Grand Jury Report Released: "What is the Price of Dysfunction?"

May 21, 2014 — HMB Seafood Marketing Association Letter to Harbor Commission

April 18, 2014 — Daily Journal article: New fish hoist raises concerns at Pillar Point

2014 — SMCHD Letter to the Coastal Commission (no date on this letter)

April 15-16, 2014 — New hoist was installed on Johnson Pier

March 28, 2014 — SMCHD Probationary Agreement with Three Captains (this letter not provided to the board until Jan 2015)

March 18, 2014 — SMCHD Letter to Fish Buyers

March 5, 2014 — Meeting Video: Report on Morning Star Fisheries fallen hoist

Feb. 21, 2014 — The Morning Star Fisheries hoist falls into the harbor

Feb. 5, 2014 — Three Captains Letter to Harbor Commissioners

Jan. 15, 2014 — HMB Seafood Marketing Association delivered Letter to Harbor Commission during regular board meeting.

Jan. 15, 2014 — Peter Grenell emphatically denied decisions on a hoist were being made confidentially during a Harbor District meeting. “I take the concerns that we’ve heard quite seriously,” Grenell said. “No one’s operating in a black box or a vacuum. That’s not how we do business.”

Jan. 7, 2014 — Agenda Item 12: Informational Report - Hoists on Johnson Pier

Dec. 16, 2013 — County Supervisor and LAFCO Commissioner Don Horsley emails LAFCO Executive Director Martha Poyatos and says that the Harbor District is on his “radar for potential dissolution in the future.”

Nov. 6, 2013 — Peter Grenell's email to Commissioner Brennan:  "Mr. Fortado does not have approval to install another hoist on Johnson Pier. As you will discover upon reading the pertinent lease language, the Harbor District must give prior approval; that means the Harbor Commission. Mr. Grindy and I have discussed another hoist for Mr. Fortado, and possibly for Mr. Mallory, or some shared arrangement. Alternative locations have been discussed with Mr. Fortado but nothing has been finalized. The idea of a public hoist has also arisen for consideration."

Oct. 30, 2013: Three Captains pulls County electrical permit #BLD2013-01869.

June 25, 2013 — Bettencourt Fisheries/Snyder Miller & Orton Letter publicly requesting Civil Grand Jury investigation

March 27, 2013 — Lease between SMCHD and Fish Buyers 

Three Captains Lease Agreement 9.0

Nov. 13, 2012 — Fourth buying/offloading lease email from Peter Grenell

Sept. 10, 2012 — Bettencourt Fisheries fourth buying/offloading location follow up letter

Aug. 22, 2012 — Bettencourt Fisheries proposal for a fourth buying/offloading location

Feb 10, 2010 — Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission Complaint and Jury Trial Demand against Three Captains' Sea Products

Maps, Drawing & Photo

Maps provided by the Coastal Commission

  • Local Coastal Program (LCP) certified Map 1 and Map 2

Drawing Provided by Harbor District

Pillar Point Harbor 1972

Pillar Point Harbor photo from 1972