Harbor District

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.


Determining a Majority Vote with Absences & Abstentions

New Opinion on Majority Vote:

At the July 16, 2014 Harbor District meeting two of Commissioner Brennan's motions to place an item on a future agenda "failed." On Aug. 1, 2014 Hanson Bridgett, the District's new Counsel, release an opinion that both motions actually "passed."

  • Two similar motions were made by Commissioner Brennan and seconded by Commissioner Bernardo to place items on a future agenda, an update/informational report regarding (a) an ongoing fish buying fee audit conducted by JJACPA, Inc., and (b) a separate ongoing audit conducted by the Dornbusch consulting firm. Watch the meeting video to see both motions fail, click here:  58:26 and 1:04:40

  • Commissioner Brennan questioned the decision by Counsel and asked that the rules for a majority vote on a motion be reviewed.  

  • On Aug. 1, 2014 Attorney Steven D. Miller of Hanson Bridgett reversed his opinion. Read Steven Miller's Memo, "Determining a Majority Vote When There are Absences and/or Abstentions." The memo says, "Item No. 19 concerned agenda setting for future meetings. Two similar motions were made and seconded to place on a future agenda an update/informational report regarding (a) an ongoing fish buying fee audit, and (b) a separate ongoing audit conducted by the Dornbusch firm. The roll call of the vote was two in favor and one opposed, with one abstention and one absence. Under the rules discussed in this memo, a quorum existed regardless for the reason for abstention (which was not stated). A majority of those voting voted for the motion. The motion therefore passed."

Grand Jury Report on Special District Websites

San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report: 

Transparency of Independent Special Districts’ Websites →

San Mateo County Harbor District 2013/2014 website costs:

  • 2013:  $14,230.45
  • 2014 (1st quarter only):  $2,610.40

Invoices from Web Market Consulting →

SMC Harbor District website →

Harbor District Meeting: Nov. 20, 2013

Agenda Item 6: Commercial Activity Permits for non-lessee fish buyers

The following questions were asked at the Nov. 20, 2013 Harbor District meeting regarding the Commercial Activity Permits For Non-Lessee Fish Buyers policy approved by the board of Harbor Commissioners in 2012.  

How this relates to current business at the harbor in real terms:

  1. How are these "buyers" defined? Do fishermen who are berth holders count? Are they exempt as suggested by memo from Commissioner Hollsinger? Are these companies with multiple trucks? Single people with a private vehicle? Anyone with a Fish & Game book? Is there a threshold for volume? A permit if you buy one time? 100 lbs or more? only semis full?
  2. How are buyers identified? Assuming that a definition is determined, how are buyers identified? How is a truck owned by Three Captains or Morning Star and a truck owned by a non-lessee buyer differentiated? What about unmarked vehicles?  Is this for private vehicles? Semi trucks? When one buyer has multiple trucks how is that handled? What about fish walking off of the pier on a hand truck or driving off on a fork lift etc? Does that count?
  3. How will fees be assessed? Assuming buyers can be identified (which is a big leap) how will the quantity/volume purchased be reported and verified? How will the buyers pay fees? Who will calculate the fees due? Is there a minimum volume? Are "buyers" supposed to pay for purchasing 100 lbs? Stop by the office and pay $1.00? Will they receive a bill in the mail? Is it the leaseholder at the end of Johnson Pier's job to invoice their non-lessee partners?
  4. How will this be enforced? Assuming buyers can be identified and volume can be verified (which is hard to fathom) how will this be enforced? Is there a penalty if the three leaseholders allow people to buy fish without a permit? Is there going to be additional harbor staff hired to inspect and enforce? Is there going to be a gate at the end of the pier, video camera at each hoist? Is every vehicle leaving the pier going to be inspected? What happens if someone is unaware of the system? What if someone knows about the system, but doesn't have 30 days notice to get a permit? Will harbor staff impound the truck full of fish? 
  5. Will this hurt commercial fishermen and small buyers?  Who will pay for the enforcement? The fishermenWill the District start enforcement with "non-lessee" buyers with large scale businesses that have partnered officially or unofficially with existing leaseholders, and installed equipment on Johnson Pier? When CAP permits be required for non-lessee fish buyers?  When will non-lessee fish buyers be required to pay fees include in the policy approved by Harbor Commissioners in 2012?

GM's Compensation Increase: Sept. 18, 2013

Agenda Item 11: District General Manager's Compensation Increase


Approve a 2.5% pay raise for the General Manager, commencing with the pay period starting Sept. 27, 2013


During the Sept. 4, 2013 Harbor District meeting, Treasurer Jim Tucker moved to place an item on the Commission's Sept. 18, 2013 meeting agenda regarding the General Manager's compensation. He called for a 2.5% increase in the General Manager's pay. Parravano seconded the motion. The motion passed 5-0 to place the item on the agenda.

At the Sept. 18th 2013 Harbor District Meeting Commissioner Brennan voted NO to a 2.5% pay raise for the General Manager for the following reason:

"I don't support a raise for the General Manager because I have reasons to be concerned about his ability to do his job. 

He has demonstrated a history of bias against women and this continues to this day. Currently I have a pending complaint involving bias against women and an investigation is in progress."

Harbor District Meeting: Aug 20, 2013

Agenda Item 4

Evaluation of Possible Alternatives to Current Audio/Visual Recordings of Harbor Commission Meetings

Commissioner Brennan's comments: 

As an elected representative, serving a four-year term on the San Mateo County Board of Harbor Commissioners, it’s my goal to improve transparency, accountability and inclusiveness at every opportunity.

The Harbor Districts is a countywide special district. Over 50% of the Harbor Districts revenue comes from property tax.  The Board has an obligation to provide San Mateo County citizens with governance that is truly transparent, effective and accountable.

In recent decades, civil society and governments around the world have made great advances in increasing transparency at both the local and national levels. Yet there is still a need for greater and more meaningful participation and accountability, particularly when it comes to how public resources are allocated.

As good stewards of Oyster Point Marina and Pillar Point Harbor we should always strive to increase transparency and access to government data and public information.

Please support Transparency and Accountability by voting NO on terminating videotaping and voting NO on terminating public access television broadcasting on Pacific Coast TV. 


Harbor District Meeting—Video & Articles: June 19, 2013

VIDEO—Information requests blocked by the General Manager
Video Start Time: 2:22:00 — End: 2:30:05

Public record costs draw scorn at harbor: Commissioner argues staff ignores queries
Half Moon Bay Review - July 3, 2013

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.

Harbor commission cuts off colleague, tightens rules: Board approves limits on public complaints
Half Moon Bay Review - Aug. 15, 2013

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.

Harbor board at odds over manager: Grenell may get raise despite complaint
Half Moon Bay Review - September 19, 2013

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.”

Spring Committee Meetings: May 29, 2013

The following two committee meetings were organized by Sabrina Brennan and held at the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club. 

SMC Harbor District Marketing and Promotions Committee

Pillar Point Harbor Shoreline Erosion Committee (AKA Coastside Beach Coalition, renamed July 2013)