Half Moon Bay fishing company requests Grand Jury investigation of the Harbor District, alleges mismanagement of leases

Bettencourt Fisheries has made a formal request to the San Mateo Grand Jury to open an investigation into mismanagement at the Harbor District. Bettencourt alleges widespread problems with the District’s management of leases and it singles out its own experience attempting to win one of the three slots on Johnson Pier reserved for the unloading of fish.

According to Bettencourt, there are three unloading stations on the pier where fish from commercial fishing boats are unloaded in Princeton Harbor. The prior twenty-year leases for the three incumbent companies, Pillar Point Seafood, Morningstar Fisheries, and Three Captains Sea Products, expired last year. For nine months they operated without a new set of leases.

Bettencourt Fisheries applied in 2012 for a lease in response to a public bid process managed by the harbor and, despite being the only submission which met the minimum requirements of the bid process, the three leases were again awarded to Pillar Point Seafood, Morningstar Fisheries, and Three Captains Sea Products.

The new leases will last for 15 years, effectively giving control of the unloading stations to the same three firms for a total of at least 36 consecutive years, from 1992 to 2028. (According to sources two of the three firms had leases prior to 1992 but I have not yet documented those earlier leases.)

According to records of Harbor Commission meetings during the bid process supplied by the Bettencourt in its request for investigation, the commissioners and the general manager Peter Grennel seemed perplexed by the Bettencourt’s bid, expressing frustration that the entry of a challenger had made the process more difficult than expected. In the end, three commissioners (two recused themselves) voted to continue the contracts with the incumbents and to reject the Bettencourt bid. Loyalty to the existing lease holders seemed to be the decisive factor to sway the board.

As reported last June by Mark Noack at the Half Moon Bay Review:

“We’ve done business with the existing three tenants, and I didn’t feel that this was the right time to jump ship,” said Commissioner Robert Bernardo. “Obviously we’re gong through tough economic times, and the way I approached it was we needed to reaffirm our commitment to stability and sustaining diversity.”

Chairman Tucker went along with that reasoning, even though he said at face value the Bettencourts made a better offer.

“We had these incumbent lease owners, and I felt we owed loyalty to them,” he said. “If we wanted to bring in the Bettencourts, it would have been good for us, but which one of the three tenants do we throw out?”

Bettencourt claims that their own experience is but one of many examples of mismanagement by the Harbor Commissioners and manager Peter Grennel.

Requests for investigations can be submitted to the Grand Jury by anyone–submitting is not guarantee that a specific issue will be taken up.



Bettencourt request for investigation

Copies of all four lease proposals submitted to Harbor District, in 2012

Morningstar Fisheries 1992 lease

Morningstar Fisheries 2013 lease

Pillar Point Seafood 1992 lease

Pillar Point Seafood 2013 lease

Three Captains 1992 lease

Three Captains 2013 lease