: Power Struggles Shake Up Monterey County Democracy

Sara Rubin here, thinking about how elections get a lot of attention—and for candidates, they take a lot of effort—but it is not until after officials are elected that the work actually begins. Some of the first tasks are usually mostly ceremonious. That includes appointments to various committees, boards and commissions, where much of the actual policy work is done.

Who gets powerful appointments is naturally a matter of politics. It is also a matter of representation. And sometimes, those things collide.

When Salinas City Council met on Jan. 10, Mayor Kimbley Craig recommended appointments to a range of boards and commissions. She described a process that incorporated a range of factors: What councilmembers requested; scheduling and availability; getting new voices on boards that had had years-long representation.

Councilmember Anthony Rocha arrived ready for a political battle over who would represent the city on the board of Monterey One Water, the regional wastewater treatment agency that lately finds itself caught in the highly political saga of the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply future and Cal Am’s role in it.

Craig recommended appointing herself, previously an alternate, to serve on the board of M1W, and Rocha advocated to appoint himself instead. “The one area where [Craig and I] disagreed was M1W—it was my belief that her and I have a very different philosophy…as it relates to water policy,” Rocha said.

Then he addressed Craig directly: “I think you’re an intelligent person, a competent person—I think that’s something you and I both share, but this is not about intelligence or competence, this is a matter of vision and values. The reality is we have a different council majority that has a different vision for this city.”

Rocha was referring to an upset in District 5, where Councilmember Andrew Sandoval ousted incumbent Christie Cromeenes. The thinking was that Sandoval—who’d received endorsements from Rocha and the other three Latino members of City Council—would solidify a voting majority of 5-2. But in the first test of what had been viewed as a prospective voting block—whether or not to appoint Rocha to M1W, instead of Craig—the test failed.

Councilmembers Rocha, Sandoval and Carla Viviana González voted for Rocha. Two of Sandoval’s political allies, Tony Barrera and Orlando Osornio, voted to keep the mayor in her seat, and she prevailed, 4-3. The political winds do not always blow in the direction you expect them to blow.

Votes like this are happening everywhere, when it comes to appointing electeds and also regular people who serve in various leadership roles. In Pacific Grove, Mayor Bill Peake faced criticism for his recommendations to remake the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, despite interest from former members in continuing to serve—even as their short track record so far has been impressive.

Most appointments happen with little discussion. Appointments to the regional planning agency LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) are routinely a hot issue due to the importance of the commission, and especially now, given than LAFCO has been thrust into the public spotlight for highly charged and consequential decisions about the Monterey Peninsula’s water purveyor and growth in Soledad.

At a meeting of the County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 17, the board chair, Supervisor Luis Alejo, submitted his recommendations for who should be appointed to two LAFCO seats: himself and Supervisor Chris Lopez, both of whom previously served on LAFCO.

Supervisor Wendy Root Askew offered up her own suggestion: Appoint herself and newly elected Glenn Church, axing Alejo and Lopez from the influential commission. Lopez suggested a compromise plan: Reappoint himself, and add Church to the roster.

It was a political hot potato, testing the alliances on the new board. Glenn Church chose to upend the power structure. The new LAFCO board is meeting for the first time right now, including swearing in the new commissioners and congratulating the old ones. You can participate in the meeting online at this link.