Morro Bay staff accused of suppressing business competition

March 10, 2014
Antique shop owner Jeffrey Specht standing next to his Morro Bay store that the city tagged

Antique shop owner Jeffrey Specht standing next to his Morro Bay store that the city tagged

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Antique shop owner Jeffrey Specht and his staff spent months clearing out, cleaning and painting a shop so he could open a business in Morro Bay. But city staff refused to grant him the operating permits for Specht’s antiques and candy store. A city building inspector also tagged the building making it appear that Specht was running an illegal business.

While Specht was kept from opening his business, the neighboring taffy shop owned by Joyce Leage, a relative of Councilman George Leage, was allowed to operate without proper licensing and permitting, a review of city files showed.

Specht says he was prevented from opening his shop because it would have competed with Leage’s relative. He is not the only person to complain about the city staff in Morro Bay. A number of people have filed or are planning to file claims against the city for illegitimately suppressing their business interests at a building few blocks away that formerly housed the Morro Bay Sun Bulletin.

Though the addresses are different, in both cases, when people attempted to open businesses in Morro Bay, Police Officer Gene Stuart came out to the location followed by City Building Inspector Brian Cowen, who tagged the building. City planners also denied the businessmen licenses and permits.

Last year, Specht, the owner of Angry Woodpecker Antiques, attempted to move his business from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. Specht leased a vacant doughnut shop at 1130 Front Street along the Embarcadero last June. In addition to selling antiques, Specht planned to offer ice cream, candy including taffy and possibly a salad bistro.

The salt water taffy shop that sits next door is managed by Leonard Willhite, who has long been in a relationship with Joyce Leage. Joyce Leage was married to George Leage’s brother, Willhite said. George Leage’s brother died, Willhite said.

Joyce Leage and Leonard Willhite

Joyce Leage and Leonard Willhite

The business license on file for the taffy store at the Morro Bay Public Services Office states the name of the shop is West Coast Light Tackle. The store previously operated as a tackle shop but converted several years ago to a taffy store with a sign above the store entrance that reads Salt Water Taffy.

The taffy shop does not have proper licensing, said Cathy Weaver, a Morro Bay permit technician. A business converting from a tackle store to a taffy shop must obtain a new license, Weaver said.

“They have to apply for a new business license because the use is changing,” Weaver said. “The new license would require review by the building, planning and fire departments.”

Willhite said he could not reveal the name of the business he manages.

“I don’t have the freedom to tell you that,” Willhite said.

Additionally, Joyce Leage’s taffy store does not have a use permit, according to the city’s address file for the business. Retail businesses in the taffy shop’s location require minor use permits, said Cindy Jacinth, a Morro Bay associate planner.

“If you can’t show us where your minor use permit is, we’re going to ask that you get one,” Jacinth said.

Nevertheless, Morro Bay code enforcers have let the taffy shop operate without proper licensing and permitting.

Vacant shop Jeffrey Specht rented next to Joyce Leage's taffy store

Vacant shop beside Joyce Leage’s taffy store

Specht says when he tried to obtain a license and permit for his business, Capital Projects Manager Rick Sauerwein refused to even accept his applications.

“He refused to give us any permits or issue us licensing,” Specht said. “He said no matter what we are not going to allow you to open a business in Morro Bay.”

Sauerwein said he remembers the discussion with Specht and Specht’s business partner Fred Lombardi but does not recall any conversation about permits or licensing.

“I don’t have any desire to deny anybody an opportunity to open a business here,” Sauerwein said.

Lombardi attempted to record the conversation, but Sauerwein immediately ordered him to turn off the camera, video shows. Sauerwein said he later learned that the Public Services office is a public place and he did not have the right to order Lombardi to stop filming.

Before Specht’s encounter with Sauerwein, Police Officer Gene Stuart visited the antique shop and pulled Lombardi out of the store, according to a lawsuit Specht filed. Stuart claimed that Specht was running an illegal food service and that an associate of his was on the run from a building inspector, Specht stated in the lawsuit against Morro Bay realtor Addie Pedersen.

Specht sued Pederson for misrepresenting herself to the city as the property manager for the shop he leased in order to trigger an eviction.

As Stuart held Lombardi for questioning, Building Inspector Brian Cowen arrived and, along with Stuart, accused antique shop staffers of living in the store, Lombardi said. Cowen later tagged the shop with a notice stating the building was unfit for human occupation. He did so without inspecting the building, Specht’s suit alleges.

Specht and his staff had spent two months cleaning and painting the building before Cowen tagged the building, the notice, photos and videos show.

Willhite claims that Specht and his staff were living in the store. Specht and the staff denied they were doing so.

Cowen declined to comment.

A month before Cowen tagged the building, a San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Department employee examined the store. Environmental Health Specialist Denny Brewer told CalCoastNews the store appeared cluttered, but there did not appear to be any occupancy issues.

“I didn’t see evidence of sleeping quarters,” Brewer said. “I didn’t have any problem with them being there. They just needed to solidify what was on their menu and submit a health permit application.”

A week after Cowen tagged the building, then-City Attorney Rob Schultz visited the antique shop. Schultz, too, walked around the store, video shows.

“It did not appear as if anyone was living there,” Schultz wrote in an email to city staff after visiting Specht’s shop.

Specht speaking to Rob Schultz inside the store

Specht speaking to Rob Schultz inside the store

After Specht was not able to open his antique shop in Morro Bay, his landlords evicted him. Specht lost the antiques he had in the building. Specht says that the power of the Leage family led city officials to unjustly target his business while ignoring code violations committed by Joyce Leage’s taffy shop.

The Leages own three nearby restaurants, including two a block away. George Leage also owns a bluff on the same block of Front Street. He plans to build a hotel there, city files show.

Willhite said George Leage has no connection to his business.

“I wouldn’t wipe my ass with him,” Willhite said of George Leage.

George Leage declined to comment.

Willhite refused to provide a contact number for Joyce Leage.

Former Morro Bay councilwoman and current mayoral candidate Carla Wixom owns a restaurant on a hill above the taffy shop. Wixom, a political ally of George Leage, said she knew little about the closure of the antique store other than that Willhite was worried about competition.

“The guy in the taffy store was worried they were going to carry candy,” Wixom said.

 


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jarhead

When are the people gonna realize , that the local government are a crooked bunch of thiefs , if its there relatives or someone in the good ole boy club they can do anything just look at SLO TOWN THE BIGGEST BUNCH OF CROOKS and they just keep on doing what they do , all the way from the mayor to the police chiefs.

.


fishing village

Fortunately, we are having massive changes in MB and I hear the interim manager is doing an awesome job. Moving forward. Getting the job done!!


mbactivist1

Lucky he has a lot of police experience. He clearly will find a use for it as he works to clean up this mess left by the last administration.


MajorityFan

We are fortunate to have him working hard and digging into the long standing corruption. Amazingly direct and working so hard to clean up the corruption.


Human Reason

Haha what has he done


mbactivist1

Well, for one thing, I can confirm from personally experience that service to residents has improved dramatically. It used to take forever to get anything fixed. You reported a problem and then waited, and waited, and waited…. Now, things are different.


Someone I know reported a safety issue a few months back and nothing was done. It was reported again very recently directly to Mr. Kreins, and within 2 days, the problem was fixed.


bobfromsanluis

No matter who makes any assertion about how everyone needs to follow the same rules, the FACT that the taffy shop does NOT have a current, valid, operating permit for that particular business cannot be disputed; CCN has been accused many many times in the past of “making stuff up” to apparently try and paint a picture of a situation with a particular slant- no matter what any of CCN’s detractors want to say though, there is no denying that one business is open and operating without the proper documentation and one business was denied that same required permit and then red-tagged by the building inspector without an inspection to see if the situation even warranted that drastic an action. I seem to remember another business that was re-tagged without an inspection; what exactly does the building inspector get paid for anyway? Is he simply on-call to make life miserable for competitors of his cronies?


mbactivist1

The people who accuse CCN of making things up tend to be the ones who’ve been caught doing something wrong, and others who stand to benefit from their misdeeds.


papertrail

Probably Cowen could see from the outside that the business being conducted inside was not permitted by the City. This is enough to tag the shop. Whether he had instruction to close it down from someone up the ladder is what I want to know. Who? When? Why? Show it to me, please.


The nightclub/Halloween party thing…again, Cowen does not need to go inside to see that code is being violated. Is that building plumbed and sprinklered for party use? Are alcohol permits in place? Noise permits (if any are required)? Has an engineer reviewed the structure and provided retrofits (if needed) for the new use? If a fire had been started and someone was injured, and Cowen knew the place was nonconforming….well, he’s the bad guy in that scenario, for sure.


Unless there is a communication to Cowen to unravel all competing businesses, I kind of think the guy is doing his job. Let’s get together and make some noise about nonconforming businesses and residences (as is going on here) and get more of them tagged. Is there a way to pull all the Embarcadero & Downtown licenses and go through them?


BTW, I do want to see the City’s letters in regards to the code violation tags. They usually follow up with the business owner or building owner with a letter stating why the tag was issued. These letters list the code sections that were violated.


mbactivist1

Again, more silly evasive maneuvers. They aren’t fooling anyone.


justchuck

The city of Bell would be proud of Morro Bay.


coco

Building inspector bully BRIAN COWEN needs to be fired!


diamond

Yes, but more importantly, who gave the orders for him to do the deed. Cowen would never take this action without a green light from within the city staff. Word is Andrea, Shultz and Yates were major dictators in the abuse of power that has become standard practice. Andrea and her henchmen have run amuck for far to long with the power to ruin peoples lives when they don’t go along with the inner sanctum of corruption. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


papertrail

I must admit I do get a kick out of the he said, she said. I would like to see more paper evidence.


People that feel entitled get sloppy and forget to cover their rear-ends, especially in a small community over long periods of time.


Show us a copy of the West Coast Tackle business license. Show us a police log of activity at these businesses. How about incriminating emails that discuss carrying out this discriminatory activity? Photo or copy of the tag on the building AND, more importantly, the City’s written reasoning for the tag. To me, that is much better material than an old timer parking in a red zone. You could probably hunt down all the council members parking in red zones if you tried hard enough.


Maybe we could have a public records request for all of Schultz’s work emails (and private emails sent on city time)….now that would be fun to read through. But hey, I’m equally opportunistic. How about some digging on Irons? Much like Schultz, he’s always rubbed me the wrong way.


mbactivist1

Diversionary tactics aren’t going to work here. CCN did a good job and gathered and presented more than enough evidence.


OnTheOtherHand

Sorry, but while I suspect that there is at least some truth to the accusations, I don’t know. I have seen enough errors in Friedman’s reporting to not take his views as either accurate or objective. I suspect that he can be manipulated fairly easily by a skilled liar. I agree with papertrail wholeheartedly.


mbactivist1

Of course you do :)


coco

Interesting.

Irons, much like Schult?

Never thought of that, but maybe that is why Schultz was dismissed?

Called power and control.


mbactivist1

Lots of people get big heads when they get a lot of power, and Irons is no exception, but it’s what you do with the power that counts. So far, although Irons is sometimes influenced too much by the old boys and girls, he seems to be trying to do what is right. He just needs to stop listening to that crowd, because they are always going to be steering him in a direction that is bad for the residents of Morro Bay. This article, and the one about the Sun Bulletin building, clearly show what their agendas are.


pigsrule

Cronyism is everywhere and obviously the city of Morro Bay is knee deep. It’s good to see a little light being shed on the cockroaches.


mbactivist1

I keep wondering how the lower-level staff people ended up becoming part of the cockroach network. Were they threatened that they would lose their jobs if they didn’t cooperate? Were they promised some kind of reward if they did? This kind of thing clearly has to be coordinated and ordered by a higher level in the City organization.


coco

MAJOR HOUSECLEANING NOW, MR. IRONS


diamond

Remember! A vote for Carla is a vote to continue the corrupt path and abuse of power.


coco

not convinced of that!


mbactivist1

Read the Sun Bulletin building story.


mbactivist1

Hmmm, looks like we have a pattern here. I trust that it is becoming clearer and clearer why the Council majority decided to get rid of two senior staff people. I trust it is also clear that our local old boy/old girl network benefited greatly from controlling the City. No wonder they are so mad.


I strongly suspect that this, and the Sun Bulletin building story, which implicated Carla Wixom and Nancy Johnson, are just the tip of the iceberg. I hope other victims of City government corruption will come forward to CCN and tell their stories.


Myself

Re read the article,it looks to me that the county inspector looked at it and found nothing wrong and Rob Schultz looked at it and found nothing wrong so what or how did Rob shut this store down,it looks to me that it was the building inspector and code inforcement,and just what do the police have to do with any of this, they need to be looked at also.


mbactivist1

As I said in an earlier post, this kind of thing has to be coordinated at a high level in City government, and given the number of people in involved, it was very obviously a coordinated effort.


Human Reason

Heres the coordinated effort. City receives complaint from citizens and visitors that a shop has open up and it does not have permits. Also allegations are made that they are selling food, sleeping in the place and harrassing people. Staff investigates and determines no one is living there ( Schultz was asked by Spreck to come down to the building a verify no one was living in the building and he did verify that). Staff and Shultz tell Spreck that he would need a CUP/CDP for the business to open and posted Notice that the place doesn’t have the correct permits. Spreck never files applications with the City. That is the facts that is the coordianted effort and that is what happen. You cannot change it.


Black_Copter_Pilot

Wow, you just can’t make this stuff up.


givemeabreak

WRONG…..much of it is MADE UP~~~~~~~~and HIGHLY embellished.


mbactivist1

The sound of desperation


willnose

So there IS substance to the story by your own admission, hm-mm…! Sounds like you know something about the going-on’s in M.B. to be able to render judgement on a journalists professional high standard. Personally, I trust a journalist more than your missive as far as that goes.


Why don’t you respond with facts, witnesses, proof so one can ascertain the truth.


Black_Copter_Pilot

Enlighten us, please


SLOBIRD

The gift that keeps on giving! Since when does a City Attorney make a walk through inspection. And now, more revelation on why Mr. Shultz is history for all you defenders of his. This City is almost as good as Gibson and his fluffy, Hill and his fluffy, CAPSLO, Pavoo and his fluffy, and the rest of the County corruption. Better yet, we now know why George Leage is not running for re-election. He would be on the City Council when all this corruption is exposed in lawsuits. And of course, Ms. Wixon playing the fairy godmother role here when she did the same thing to potential businesses. What a shame for Morro Bay!


Human Reason

I will make the same statement that I made about Holliday. Do your own research about Sperck and do a public records request to see what permits and licenses they have asked for from the City. It’s so sad that hard working city employees are being accused of illegal activities for political gain by Irons supporters. Before you vote go back through these articles and learn the truth about Irons and the damage he has caused by Election Day . The outfall payment, the Davis Holliday Story and this Story will all turn out to be false accusations. So sad what a few people have done to this fine City. As one who will be called to testify as to each of these matters and have personal knowledge I look forward to the day that Irons is run out of town. It will happen.


mbactivist1

“request to see what permits and licenses they have asked for from the City.” Nice try at tricking people, but a little too obvious.


Read the stories again,and you will see that the City REFUSED TO ACCEPT THEIR APPLICATIONS for permits and licenses. So naturally, there will be no record of any applications. Very sneaky, and just like something that a recently-departed high-level city employee would have said in an attempt to fool the reader.


Human Reason

Then ask Sprecht to produce the applications. He never filed out any applications. he never attempted to file any applications. His exact quote. “I am in a dispute with the landlord who is evicting me so why would apply for permits for a business when I am going to be evicted in a few months. He has done the exact same thing in other cities.


mbactivist1

“Specht says when he tried to obtain a license and permit for his business, Capital Projects Manager Rick Sauerwein refused to even accept his applications.


“He refused to give us any permits or issue us licensing,” Specht said. “He said no matter what we are not going to allow you to open a business in Morro Bay.””


Human Reason

Why don’t you call Schultz and ask him he always takes my calls. He will tell you exactly what happen and why he was there. Notice from the article that Sperck does not accuse Shultz of any wrongdoing. Why did Josh post a picture of Shultz but no qoute from Shultz. Did Josh not like what Shultz told him about the truth.


mbactivist1

Probably because very few people would believe a word he said


Human Reason

haha because you can’t handle the truth. But it will come out in court. And when you are proven wrong will you aplogize to the City employees that you have defamed.


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