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Merrilees: Pollution, too much sand, fiscal mismanagement threaten our Harbor (Op-Ed)

Most people don’t follow Harbor District issues, but here are some reasons you should.

Reason #1: Water Pollution

Put your coffee and blueberry muffin down. Ready?  People live full time in Pillar Point Harbor, but their boats don’t have sewer connections.  As you read this, someone may be emptying their sink or toilet into the harbor.  How can this be stopped?  By doing what other harbors have been doing for decades, from not allowing live-aboards (Coyote Pt Marina) or requiring dye tablets in boat holding tanks (Avalon Harbor), to installing individual sewer connections on special live-aboard docks (Sausalito).  Living on a boat can be an affordable choice for some, but this is not the third world, and it is not 1910.   We owe it to our marine life, our swimmers, and fish consumers to raise the level of harbor water quality consistent with America, in 2012.   This has been a problem for decades, and it is time to step up.

Reason #2: Sand

Pillar Point Harbor is quickly filling with sand, while our beaches surrounding the harbor are losing sand. Coincidence?  Sand would normally migrate down the coast to replenish county beaches, except the harbor breakwater is in the way.   This puts our downstream beaches, roads, bike paths, surf spots, and neighborhoods at risk.

Whose responsibility is it to move the sand? The County of San Mateo or City of Half Moon Bay can’t move the sand, it’s not in their jurisdiction.  The only agency that has the authority is the Harbor District, which puts the future of much of our coastline right in the hands of the Harbor District Commissioners. As every day passes without action, our local beaches get smaller, and our bike-paths, roads and neighborhoods are increasingly at risk from erosion.

Reason #3: Your Money

When the District talks about a balanced budget, they mean balanced after we add more than $4 million dollars of our property tax dollars to their 3 million dollar annual income.  Fees from slip rentals and building leases bring in only forty percent of the cost to maintain slips, buildings, and to pay for the debt used to create slips and buildings.  You are subsidizing sixty percent of the cost of every slip, every building, and every parking lot that the Harbor District provides. Even if you don’t own a boat or lease a harbor building.  Where does all the money go?  In the past, Harbor District Commissioners–who meet once a month largely out of sight of the public–have voted to give themselves lifetime health benefits.  In the future, they may vote to have you build them a new harborfront office building.   If used wisely, our tax dollars could be used to improve water quality, replenish beaches with sand, and provide beach access and recreational opportunities for the public.  4 million dollars a year is a lot of money.

Sewage, Sand and $ are three important reasons to care look carefully at the Harbor District election this year, and into the future. The health of our children, harbor marine life, beaches as well as our wallets, are at stake.

Op-Ed by Neil Merrilees. Neil is a candidate for the San Mateo County Harbor District.

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Send all of our kids to college and pay for it, too

Would a $4,200 a year scholarship for college–just for finishing high school–make a difference to you? To the community?

People in Kalamazoo, Michigan have asked themselves these very questions and their answer is, “Let’s find out.”

Starting in 2006 every graduate from their two high schools and three alternative schools has been eligible for a four-year college scholarship which they can use to attend any state school or community college. To get the whole amount you have to start in their schools in kindergarden but even if you start as a freshman in high school you still get sixty-five percent.

How’s that for a deal? The money comes from the Kalamazoo Promise, an organization funded by secret donors in the community.

It all sounds too good to be true, a fantasy for parents, students, and cash-strapped school districts alike. But it’s no urban legend–the fund is profiled the the New York Times.

There’s even a WikiPedia entry, laying out the details of the program in more detail.

If you read the New York Times article I know what you are thinking right now. You thinking that Kalamzoo isn’t an especially rich city. It’s got a big minority population. If they can do this…

The good people at the New York Times wondered as well. What would a similar program, paying out $5,000 per student per year, cost to cover New York City’s 52,000 graduates? (Side note: Fifty-two thousand graduates a year–think about that for a second–Wow.) They crunch the numbers and come up with a figure required to fund an endowment that would pay out enough money each year to cover the tab. Endowment = $25 billion.

That’s real money. That’s huge. But, of course, New York is huge. Think of those fifty-two thousand students. Whereas Cabrillo Unified has only about two hundred and fifty graduates a year.

What size of an endowment would we need? Taking the New York Times’ numbers are scaling them down (that is to say, saving me the actual math part) our endowment would need to be about $120 million.

That’s also a huge number, at least in relation to our community’s size. But think. This assumes that one hundred percent of graduates would go to college. It assumes all kids start in kindergarden and receive the full scholarship award. It assumes that all would go to a qualifying state school or community college–no Stanford or Harvard-bound students need apply. I would not be surprised if in practice only half of the graduates ended up receiving money. That’s a $60 million dollar endowment.

And due to the design of the program, it’s money well spent. Those who still don’t attend college, even after a $5,000 a year offer, have obstacles in their life that will not be easily solved, or maybe they simply choose not to go. Some students will receive only a partial scholarship. For those destined for the Stanfords and the Harvards of the world, the money won’t change their trajectory either way. But for the other kids it may very well give them a chance to go, or to go to a more expensive school than they otherwise could afford.

That would certainly seem to have the potential to make a dramatic difference to the students and a difference to the community as well.

Maybe half of that $60 million could come from a bond measure and half from our own secret group of wealthy citizens? The Coastside Promise?

Are you interested?

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Antietam Day, today

The West Woods and Bloody Cornfield, Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland (photo by Darin Boville)

If there is a day that needs to be a holiday that day is today. One hundred and fifty years ago Union and Confederate forces faced each other just outside the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, and changed the course–and the very cause–of the Civil War. It was the bloodiest day of the entire war, with more casualties than D-Day and 9-11 combined. Yet it is largely forgotten.

In honor of this occasion I’d like to share with you two extended excerpts from my essay, Antietam, written in 2004.

First, the South’s hopes for victory:

Earlier that year, the Union army had been camped within earshot of the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia. Union victory seemed assured. By the Fall, in a stunning reversal, Lee had chased the Union forces all the way back to Washington, DC. Again Lincoln felt assured, but only of the defeat of his party in the upcoming mid-term congressional elections. He talked of ending the war after the election but before the more pro-southern opposition party took office in order to negotiate better terms for the North.

Lee and Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States, had high hopes for Lee’s invasion of northern territory. It would, above all, give the final assurances to England and France that the Northern cause was hopeless and that the only option to avoid a long, pointless, costly, and trade-disrupting war was a settlement separating the two nations and preserving the peculiar institution of slavery in the South. Attack into the north, hit a major trading center like Harrisburg, Pennsylvania or Baltimore, demoralize the North even further and then sue for peace. It probably would have worked.

But, uncharacteristically, the Union army moved on Lee from Washington. George B. McClellan, the leader of the Northern armies, was known to excel in preparing soldiers for battle but lacked a will to actually fight. So the timely movement of his forces was something of a surprise. Lee’s main army was in Frederick, Maryland when McClellan suddenly advanced, but important parts of the Confederate force were scattered at the time, partly in an attack on the Union garrison in the rear at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

So it was that day in mid-September, 1862, Lee’s troops took a stand with their backs to the Antietam Creek, hoping for yet another victory against their larger Union opponent. Hoping to complete their march northward for all the world to see.

Second, Lincoln waits:

Lincoln wrote his Emancipation Proclamation several months before he issued it. This was a dangerous thing, this Proclamation. The North was not unified in its opposition to slavery in the South. For that reason Lincoln had been clear up to that point that the war was a war about reunification, about turning back the clock and putting the country back together again how it was before the war, not about ending slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation would change all that, making it official policy that one of the primary goals of the war was to abolish slavery in all the states. It was no longer possible for the North and South to kiss and make up.

He wrote it and then put it in a drawer, still secret from all but his advisors. Lee was pushing Lincoln’s armies northward. Defeat followed defeat. Despondency set in. Issuing such a bold policy in the face of such losses would look foolish and weak. So Lincoln waited for a victory. And he waited. And then came Antietam.

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Going Coastal: Rich Gordon, Part 2

Going Coastal with Neil Merrilees

Rich Gordon, the outgoing member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors who represents the Coastside continues his conversation with Neil Merrilees. This video, part two of two, runs about twenty minutes.

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Going Coastal: Rich Gordon, Part 1

Going Coastal with Neil Merrilees

Neil’s guest is Supervisor Rich Gordon. Gordon is the long-time representative of the Coastside’s district on San Mateo County’s Board of Supervisor’s and is poised to win a seat in the State Assembly this November. Rich talks about his tenure on the board, his marriage, coastal development, and offers advice to his replacement.

The video, part one of two, runs about twenty minutes.

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Going Coastal: Matt Grocott

Going Coastal with Neil Merrilees

Neil’s guest is Matt Grocott, the San Carlos councilman who ran this year for a seat on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Matt didn’t make it to the run-off but he did manage to obtain almost every newspaper endorsement in the County. (The Half Moon Bay Review was one of two newspapers which did not endorse Grocott). Matt talks about the race, his views on planning and his vision for the coast. The video runs about twenty minutes.

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Going Coastal: How we passed Measure “E” (Part 2)

Coastside voters passed the first school parcel tax in over ten years. That’s a long time even by coastside standards. How did they do it? How did we do it?

Neil Merrilees chats with Nadia Bledsoe, co-chair of the Measure “E” campaign, on his new show, Going Coastal with Neil Merrilees to find out.

This episode runs about fifteen minutes.

Note: Part 1, with Measure “E” co-chair Chris Dobbrow, can be found here.

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Going Coastal: How we passed Measure “E” (Part 1)

How did they manage to pass the first parcel tax in over a decade and in the face of the worst economic climate in generations?

Join Neil Merrilees as he talks with Chris Dobbrow about Chris’ experiences helping to lead the Measure “E” school levy campaign, the first successful attempt to pass a tax measure for local schools since the 1990’s. The episode of Going Coastal with Neil Merrilees runs about twelve minutes.

In the next episode we will hear from the other co-chair of the Measure “E” campaign, Nadia Bledsoe.

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Going Coastal: Gaskill on Measure E

School Superintendent Rob Gaskill sat down with Neil Merrilees to talk about Measure E, the proposed Parcel tax to fund the local school district, and to inaugurate Neil’s new show, Going Coastal with Neil Merrilees.

In this half hour video Gaskill explains the thinking behind the parcel tax ballot measure and makes his case why residents–both those with kids and without–should vote for it.

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