Mike McHenry: Reform Our Troubled Harbor Commission

[Note: This letter was received from local fisherman Mike McHenry. It appears here unedited.]

I’ve been an active Half Moon Bay commercial fisherman for 56 years and a leaseholder at Pillar Point Harbor for over 30 years.

Grand Jury Report

After reading the July 2014 Grand Jury recommendation to dissolve the Harbor District, and the arrogant response by Harbor Commissioners, hopefully voters will begin to understand the difficulties commercial fishermen, leaseholders, live aboard tenants, and sports fishing interests are up against. Grand Jury volunteers perform checks and balances and this oversight function helps keep local government on track.

DA Investigation & Grenell’s Retirement

On Sept. 3, 2014 the District Attorney mailed a letter to the law firm representing the Harbor District. The letter is part of a preliminary inquiry into the California Maritime Infrastructure Bank/Authority and followed recent interviews with senior members of the Harbor Commission. At the Sept. 3rd Harbor District meeting Commissioner Jim Tucker said a DA investigator interviewed him regarding Peter Grenell’s activates as the president and chair of the bank/authority. At the same meeting Peter Grenell announced his retirement after 17.5 years with the Harbor District. His last day will be January 3, 2015.

Cautious Optimism

A thorough executive search for a highly qualified General Manager has the potential to fix the Harbor District’s management problems. To insure the best candidate is hired we must elect new Harbor Commissioners.

Commission Out of Touch

In 2012 the Harbor Commission levied the highest fish unloading fees on the West Coast. The fees are passed onto fishermen and ultimately to consumers.
For the past several years I’ve attended countless Harbor District meetings to raise awareness about the harm these fees are having on small fishing businesses and the local economy. Commissioners Jim Tucker, Will Holsinger and Robert Bernardo stubbornly insist they are entitled to a percentage of the commercial fishing fleets catch without the risks involved with going to sea. Commissioners are aware that the fees they’re imposing are inconsistent with market conditions at other commercial fishing ports. Commissioners should understand that requiring arbitrarily high fees for unloading fish at Pillar Point Harbor isn’t a sustainable approach to generating revenue.

Fiscal Mismanagement

The Harbor District recently misplaced $40,000 in tenant checks for berthing, and $30,000 in fishing fees are missing. Over the past few years members of the public have asking numerous questions about accounting irregularities. When bank records were requested management made excuses and refused to provide useful information. When the missing fishing fees were brought to light, management slapped leaseholders with an audit handled by a consultant. The consultant was uninformed about which documents were needed to preform an audit and neglecting to include a due date on requests.

Culture of Favoritism

At Pillar Point Harbor three business owners lease three fish unloading stations. Oddly, preferential treatment was granted to the fish unloading business that came up $30,000 short paying fees in 2013. The Harbormaster approved installation of a new hoist outside the designated lease area. This windfall doubled the leaseholders’ dock space yet their rent did not go up. Currently each leaseholder pays an equal amount in rent regardless of this new special arrangement. Two of the three leaseholders were never offered a chance at expansion and the District’s Harbormaster was in such a rush get the new hoist installed that he completely forgot to apply for permits from the Coastal Commission and the County Planning Department.

Shredding & Videotaping

Recently we learned that Harbor management has a bad habit of shredding documents, which the District’s own document retention policy requires, be retained. Last year Commissioner Jim Tucker argued that public access television broadcasts of board meetings was like a “fungus.” In response to Tucker’s concerns the board majority voted to discontinue meeting videos.

Poor Performance

Complaints from tenants and fishermen have grown over the past few years, and in response the board majority has taken steps to stifle public comment and move it to the end of four-hour meetings. The General Manager and the board president intentionally schedule agenda items relevant to the commercial fishing fleet for meetings held in South San Francisco and they intentionally stack agendas in Half Moon Bay with items relevant to Oyster Point Marina. They block the public’s ability to participate at every opportunity. A few weeks ago Commissioners rewarded poor performance by voting 4-1 to give the General Manager a raise and a contract extension, now we learn he’s retiring under the dark cloud of the Grand Jury Report and a DA investigation.

November 2014 Election

Incumbent candidate Jim Tucker has a new campaign website that lists his endorsements. I was surprised and disappointed to see who’s on his list of supporters. I wonder if those endorsements were made prior to the June 2014 publication of the Grand Jury report.

Please don’t vote for incumbents.

Vote for Nicole David (4 year seat) and Tom Mattusch (2 year seat) and reform our troubled Harbor Commission.

Please contact me with any questions 650-703-5498.

Michael D. McHenry
Fishing Vessel Merva W
Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association Leaseholder, Pillar Point Harbor
Berth Holder, Pillar Point Harbor

5 Responses to Mike McHenry: Reform Our Troubled Harbor Commission

  1. NEIL MERRILEES Sep 18, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    Great letter! There is no elected board in San Mateo County that is in such need of reform as the San Mateo County Harbor District. I agree. Vote for Nichole David and Tom Mattusch.

  2. FOGGY Sep 18, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    Grennell’s Big (Unwarranted) Raise smacks of Pension Spiking


  3. FOGGY Sep 18, 2014 at 9:34 am #


    The Harbor District doesn’t just need “New Blood”… It needs a Transfusion of new ideas and dismissal of the entrenched cronies. Tucker gets a $400.00 per month “stipend” in lieu of health benefits, for a friggin’ PART TIME Job. As a Treasurer who somehow misplaced $40K in tenant Berthing fees and $30k in “Gone Missin'” fishing fees, I smell a really rotten fish and that fiscal mis-management almost seems intentional. The District’s sloppy finances and lack of fiscal transparency rests squarely on Tucker and Grenell’s shoulders. The cozy relationship is just too fishy, and makes me uncomfortable.

  4. Peggy Emrey Sep 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    Is this letter being sent to local and over-the-hill media as well? If not, it should be. The letter would make a good op-ed piece in the Review and elsewhere. We know that Coastsiders are becoming increasingly dissatisfied by the incumbents’ behavior and actions, but what about the rest of the county? They’re still in office because the public hasn’t been paying attention, and it’s really critical that they wake up and see what’s been going on.

  5. R Smith Oct 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    The stated values Bernardo and Tucker on their campaign pages are at odds with what has transpired at the Harbor Commission over the last several years. Vote out the incumbents, and stop this expensive cost outlay to the voters of San Mateo County.

    One reason why: http://www.montarafog.com/2013/09/harbor-to-hold-secret-meeting-tonight-in-south-city-general-manager-to-get-4500-raise/