Monday, August 4, 2014
San Mateo County grand jury blasts 'embarrassing' harbor district, calls for dissolution
July 15, 2014
Pacifica Tribune, San Jose Mercury News
By Horace Hinshaw and Aaron Kinney
REDWOOD CITY -- The San Mateo County civil grand jury issued a scathing report Wednesday calling for the dissolution of the county harbor district, citing problems with the district's finances and an overall pattern of dysfunction.
"It is abundantly clear," the grand jury wrote, "that the citizens of the county would be best served, both financially and in terms of better service, if the district were dissolved and its operations assumed by the county and other successor agencies."
The report zeroes in on the budgeting practices of the independent district, which owns and operates Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay and manages Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco. The grand jury claims the district relies too heavily on property tax revenue it collects from the county to cover operating losses that over the past five years have totaled roughly $18.3 million.
Meanwhile, the elected five-member board of commissioners that oversees the district is unable to govern "effectively and collegially," according to the report, which notes that meetings are often marked by open antagonism, even shouting matches, with armed sheriff's deputies sometimes brought in to ensure order.
"This behavior is an embarrassment to the commission and reflects poorly on their ability to manage a $10 million governmental agency heavily supported by taxpayers," the report said. "Body language, tone of voice, and verbal warfare create an atmosphere more often found in reality TV shows than in a governmental agency."
The grand jury recommends that the district undertake various reforms to improve its performance if dissolution is not feasible, including quarterly financial reports and a budgeting plan that reduces the district's reliance on property taxes for operating expenses.
Peter Grenell, the district's general manager, disputed the grand jury's findings in a two-page letter, claiming the report is filled with inaccuracies and exaggerations. He pledged to provide a prompt and thorough response to the grand jury.
"It's quite sad that this particular civil grand jury has chosen to sensationalize this report instead of providing a fact-based, unbiased and well-researched study," said Grenell, whom the grand jury singled out as having received a contract renewal from the district board without undergoing a performance review.
Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who has feuded with Grenell and some of her fellow commissioners since she was elected to the board in 2012, had a different take on the report, calling it a well-earned "smackdown."
"I would hope that the board would seriously re-evaluate a lot of things," said Brennan, who has emerged as a watchdog during her time on the board.
Brennan said she does not support dissolution. Instead, she suggested voters replace three of her colleagues who are on the ballot in November: Jim Tucker, Robert Bernardo and Will Holsinger.
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.