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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diamond

For those of you who are uncertain / unfamiliar about the level of corruption and equality of enforcement of the law in Morro Bay, here are some interesting facts. Councilman George League is still living in the unit above off the Hook. It is in fact against the law for George to live there. So, Brian Cowen, why have you not red tagged this acknowledged blatant violation? You instantly red tagged others who were only suspected of the same offense that turned out to be false. Fact # 2 George still parks in “his” personal parking space on the embarcadero, you know, the one painted red. Hopes that the police department under the new chief might do the right thing have fallen by the wayside. Business as usual in Morro Bay. So average “taxpaying” citizens of Morro Bay, feel free to park in red zones as George does and see if you get a ticket. (George stated that these laws are just for tourists) Apparently the only way to get enforcement is to have Carla call it in.


MajorityFan

He only parks there when he is able to park.


mbactivist1

Good detective work, diamond. Maybe people need to start appearing at Council meetings and asking these questions during public comment.


middleoftheroad

The thing that puzzles me about both of these articles is that they were told by city employees that their application would not be allowed. Has anybody else on here submitted for any permits? The submittal starts with submitting your project package at the counter to Cathy Weaver. You don’t try to submit it to a planner (such as submitting to Kathleen Wold was suggested in the first article) or to a project manager (such as Rick Saverwein was mentioned in this article). Cathy Weaver routes the submittal to all of the departments (Planning, Building, Fire, Public Works….and the person submitting is responsible to submit to County Health if it is a food establishment). There should be a record of an initial submittal with both projects before the project gets to those other individuals. When you come in to talk with a planner, building or public works rep., they will need to see some sort of design of the project, but they can’t give you any definate answers until they have a full project to review. There should be a record of a submittal at the counter to show if the process was ever started……things are date stamped immediatley in front of you upon dropping off the items. Also, there should definately be a record at County Health for any food establishments.


This message in no way is an “evasive maneuver” to deter from the article, just a response to the suggestion that planners and project managers are preventing submittals, when they aren’t the ones who take-in the initial submittal.


mbactivist1

Well, this quote from the Sun Bulletin building story may help answer the question: “When they tried to submit their building permit and business license applications, city staff called them into an impromptu meeting with then-Planning Director Kathleen Wold. Wold refused to accept their applications and architectural plans and instead ordered them to construct a tavern or hotel at the Market Avenue building, Davis and Holliday said.”


It sounds like the staff had been told that when Davis and Holliday came in with their applications, the applications were not to be accepted as usual, and that these specific applicants must be referred to the Planning Director (Wold). That would mean that the City deviated from the standard process that you describe and that Ms. Weaver (or whoever else was at the counter) did not accept the applications when Davis and Holliday tried to submit them.


This reminds me a little of an incident several years ago. A friend overheard staff behibnd the counter at City Hall discussing orders they’d gotten from the City Attorney. They said they’d been instructed not to give any documents to a particular SLO County Grand Juror until the City Attorney had gone over the request and approved giving out the materials. Under State law, that is NOT how the City is supposed to respond to public records requests, but that was what the lower-level staff were saying they had been told to do in regard to requests from a specific individual.


middleoftheroad

How odd….two thumbs down for informing the public of the process one goes through when submitting a project….guess some just aren’t interested in the process.


Human Reason

Not only that you must submit a consent of landlord form. Spreckt never got lease from the owners of the building and gain entrance illegally . He preys on the elderly and has done this numerous times. The owners had to spend their hard earned money to evict him. He never paid them a dime. Please do your own research. City cannot issue permits without a consent of landlord form signed by property owner.


mbactivist1

As you manufacture stories to try to excuse the City’s illegal activities, keep in mind the crux of the entire matter, the last line of the article:


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


diamond

If you believe Carla Borchard Wixom is not involved then why was she personally taking pictures of the Sun Bulletin building last week? She was not alone, there were also official Morro Bay city officials in attendance. I guess she hasn’t realized she was voted out of office when city staff is on call for her personal vendettas and continued bullying tactics. The house cleaning at city hall needs to continue.


mbactivist1

VERY interesting!


Rambunctious

Carla…get rid of that camera!!!…lol


Myself

Maybe she is applying for a permit.


NuttyBuddy

Did anyone look into the antique guy’s interesting history?


mbactivist1

When people start looking for ways to blame the victim, you know they’re getting desperate. The story is about the victim receiving unfair and illegal treatment because somebody with pull didn’t want business competition – pure and simple. The victim’s history is not pertinent.


racket

I think he’s referring the clashes with SLO City officials over sleeping in vehicles, which might cast a different light on his issues with MB officials (one of which was a suspicion of using the commercial space for residential purposes).


I have no insight into his history, nor any dog in this fight, I just googled him.


mbactivist1

Evidently, nobody was using the commercial space for residential purposes


“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.””


My guess is that making false claims that Mr. Specht was using the space illegally was just a strategy by those who didn’t want his business competing with the taffy shop.


Human Reason

The building was never tagged. A notice was put on the window that siad the building did not have permits. Which it did not.


MajorityFan

Exactly… another example of staff not doing their job. Ms. Wold sure was smart to bail out of town before she was caught with her hand in the cookie jar.


NuttyBuddy

I’m referring to his previous location in SLO, where he was known to live illegally in the business location along with a woman and children, wasn’t open during the posted business hours, had regular clashes with neighboring business owners, and was eventually asked to leave, according to people in that area.


Myself

I now understand that there was some people living in that building,he had no lease, and had to be evicted, so there just might be another side to this story.


racket

Not for sycophant mbactivist; for her there is only one side to the story, and that is break down the opposition to her cherished Irons.


mbactivist1

We all know that this has absolutely nothing to do with Irons. It has to do with illegal activities by City officials and staff. Your diversionary tactics are not going to fool anyone.


SLOBIRD

Compared to who, Bill Yates and his lifestyle, George Leage, etc. Since when does opening a business require you to be an upstanding citizen. This would probably eliminate after the business people in all communities between drinking and smoking habits, cash transactions, good ole’ background deals, painted curbs, multi marriages/divorces, cheating on spouses, etc. Censorship is not a requirement for operating most businesses in America but maybe that is an unspoken law in Morro Bay. We don’t like you skin color, the car you drive, the shirt you’re wearing, the type of business you want to open. Where is your logic?


Gordo

I wonder where the police chief(s) figured into this story? Surely Officer Stuart must have been directed by somebody to take an interest. Chief Olivas is probably counting his lucky stars that he was hired by Sheriff Parkinson as the undersheriff. I understand from friends from the courthouse who are deputies in the department that Olivas has been slipping his Morro Bay officers into the sheriff’s department which is rubbing the rank and file the wrong way. I’m not sure why, but they don’t seem to care for these Morro Bay officers.


mbactivist1

That’s how the old boy/girl system works in the County. When someone gets caught doing something wrong, the system makes a new place for that person.


Pelican1

I see politicians of greed…….. businessmen too

I see em campaign…. for me and for you

And I think to myself…. what a very strange world


I see skies of blue….. a counsel that’s not right

Bright blessed days….star filled nights

And I think to myself …..what a very strange world.


The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty ..in the sky

Are also on the faces…..of people ..going by

I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do

They’re really sayin……I hate you.


The sunsets and seagulls….so pretty ..in the sky

Are there on the faces…..of people ..going by

I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do

They’re really sayin…I hate you


coco

welcome to Pelican Bay…..


mbactivist1

If you’re talking about hating crooked, corrupt government officials and staff, you’re right. We need this mess cleaned up, and we need fair and equal treatment for everyone; no more special favors and deals for the old boys and girls.


Myself

So what are these special favors and just who are the good old boys and girls,besides Carla and George, I don’t believe either one of them have gotten any special favors,but hey you got it all dialed in so tell us about it.


MajorityFan

We would need at least one other website for that list.


mbactivist1

You nailed that one, MajorityFan. People have been complaining about crooked Morro Bay City government for years. That other Web site have to be a very big one to cover all of the bad behavior of City officials and staff.


Myself

Use a little space here we’re waiting.


mbactivist1

Let’s let the professionals at CCN handle that. They’re doing a great job so far. :)


BeenThereDoneThat

With everything going on from SLO, clear north to King City, it would be easier to just open an F.B.I. office locally. We can probably keep them busy for quite a few years cleaning up all the local bullshit.


Rambunctious

Phwhat? bring in the Feds? Sorry we have been there and done that. We can handle our own affairs thank you.


BeenThereDoneThat

We can handle it? Please show me examples. It has been one thing after another in recent years. Have you been living in a cave??


Rambunctious

I’ve watched as the NSA has become a domestic spy agency…I’ve witnessed the tax collecting agency of the United States of America turned into a political weapon. I have seen the EPA walk all over the US constitution. I’ve witnessed the federal government treat the Bill of Rights as if it were never drafted. Until Washington DC cleans up their act they can stay the heck away from Morro Bay.


mbactivist1

We have seen Morro Bay staff and officials walk all over the rights of residents in order to implement the self-serving schemes of a small group that has been using City government for personal advantage. I’d trust the Feds way more that that bunch.


mbactivist1

Ah yes, and they have obviously been handled so very well….


mbactivist1

Sounds good to me, Beenthere, but if we can’t do that, maybe we can get the State Attorney General in here.


This article and the Sun Bulletin building story reveal a pretty shocking disregard for the law by City staff and officials, and demonstrate the degree to which a small group of people have been manipulating and using City government to achieve their personal agendas. There is undoubtedly a whole lot more corruption that we have not heard about – yet.


Human Reason

What laws were broken and what was the personal agenda of City Staff. Explain. The guy tried to open up a store without a Permit. city Staff told him he had to obtain a permit before he could open up. The guy never applied for a permit so he could not open his store.


mbactivist1

Clearly, you have not read the article.


Real story, as documented by CCN: Guy tries to get permits and license to open store. Staff refuses to even accept his applications (EXACTLY what happened to applicant in Sun Bulletin building story).


Meanwhile, staff allows business next door (run by someone with “connections”) to operate without valid license and permit.


Pelican1

My advice to the residents of Morro Bay…INVEST heavily in tin foil stock!


Rambunctious

Wow that’s a pretty convincing article. I decided to think of any new businesses that have opened up in Morro Bay over the past decade and there have been numerous start ups. Most of them are eating establishments. A couple of BBQ joints (both very good) a burger master has opened his restaurant in the old Margies diner spot. A new candy store opened on the Embarcadero just to name a few.

If the police and the League family are keeping new businesses from opening in our town, how did they miss these stores? What happened with these businesses? How did they get to open when others can not? Maybe it comes down to having your ducks in a row and presenting a sound business plan. First rule…don’t pick the wrong location. Make sure the building you want to occupy is safe and sane for what you would like to use it for. If someone truly feels he or she has been mistreated by the League family or the city then bring a law suit. Complaining to the media is a joke and makes this story political and weak in my opinion.


kayaknut

And it seems part of your “First Rule…. don’t pick the wrong locations” also includes don’t pick a location near a business that owner feels is competition to them and they have friends in high places.


mbactivist1

Nice try, Rambunctious, but your evasive maneuvers aren’t going to fool anybody, and they are the very essence of “political”. This kind of obvious attempt to confuse readers just won’t work. The facts are clear, well-documented, and speak for themselves.


The City staff, clearly working under the direction of someone fairly high up in City government, targeted businesses that members of the old boy/girl network did not want competing for customers and/or parking (the latter was pretty obvious in regard to the Sun Bulletin building story).


Trying to throw people off track by saying other businesses managed to start up will not work. As Kayaknut’s post indicates, the problem seems to be with businesses opposed by people in high places.


The point is that we now have two very-well-documented stories of the very same things happening – City staff absolutely refusing to consider issuing permits/licenses, even when the applicants clearly had plans to fix up a building, the same police officer showing up and causing trouble, the same building inspector following along behind and tagging a building, etc. No doubt there have been more such incidents, and I hope the victims will come forward and tell their stories too.


Human Reason

So this guy moves into and tries to open a store. Staff tells him he needs to obtain a permit. Tells him cannot open until he obtains a permit . Guy never applies for a permit but now accuses city staff of wrongdoing. So show us what you filed with City to get permits. The guy would have copies of the application he filed. This guy like holiday and Davis never even filed for permits. Were operating businesses without licenses and permits but somehow they are victims.


mbactivist1

Uh, did you read the story? It sure doesn’t sound like it.


However, if you did, you clearly missed a few things – like this: “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.”


You also refer to Holliday, but don’t seem to have read the Sun Bulletin Building story either. If you had, you would have seen this: “When they tried to submit their building permit and business license applications, city staff called them into an impromptu meeting with then-Planning Director Kathleen Wold. Wold refused to accept their applications and architectural plans and instead ordered them to construct a tavern or hotel at the Market Avenue building, Davis and Holliday said.”


Just how does one file with the City to get permits when the City refuses to accept one’s permit applications?


Human Reason

You show copies of the actual applications that they refused to accept. That is what you do. FACT: Both Holliday and Spreck have tried to do the exact samething in other towns and cities. They try and open businessess without proper permits and when they are told they need permits that scream foul. Do your homework. They never even submitted applications for permits. But go ahead a blindly believe the article. When the true facts come out will you apoligize to the City employees you have defamed.


mbactivist1

Fascinating, and how do you explain the fact that a respected longtime local business owner was present at that “impromptu” meeting that Davis and Holliday were ordered into when they tried to submit their applications, and that confirmed that the meeting took place? Does he go to other towns and cities and falsely claim that other such meetings took place?


Of course they never submitted applications for the permits. They weren’t allowed to get that far. Thus, there will be no record of the submissions.


If you are so worried about people running businesses without proper permits, why are you not complaining about the taffy shop owner running a candy store under an old bait and tackle shop permit and the City turning a blind eye?


Myself

What do you care about someone else being at that meeting, there is more to these two characters than meets the eye but you won’t open yours to see that.


Rambunctious

“Nice try, Rambunctious” ?

Mb when and if this complaint ever goes into litigation and it shows people were maliciously harmed then you can spout off all you like but until then it’s just a political which hunt aided by a fledgling internet news blog.


mbactivist1

It doesn’t take litigation to show people were maliciously harmed. Political witch hunt? How silly.


A “fledgling internet news blog”? Even sillier. CCN has done its homework for this story just like it did for others, such as the Kelly Gearhart story (he’s now facing criminal prosecution) and CAPSLO – Torres lost her SLAPP suit that claimed slander.


Rambunctious

If the League family, the city or anyone else did something like this to me and I wanted justice I would run as fast as I could to a Lawyer. If all I wanted to do was to score political points in advance of an election, then I would skip the Lawyer and find a reporter.


mbactivist1

That’s what you would do, but some people believe they have a duty to expose government corruption. Election? Does Specht even live in Morro Bay?


Rambunctious

I would be doing my duty by running the scoundrels through the court system where they would undoubtedly be exposed. That would be a far cry better in my estimation than screaming foul to the media. If you have truly been dealt with unfairly there are many legal avenues one may take. Just making a fuss in front of a camera prior to an election is just political theater. IMO


mbactivist1

Again,does Specht live in Morro Bay? I don’t know, but if he doesn’t, then there is clearly no political theater here, and there might not be anyway. Do we know which candidates he supports? It might be Carla and Nancy


MajorityFan

Which which?


kelpo2

“Complaining to the media is a joke and makes this story political and weak in my opinion.”


I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but utilizing the investigative media is a great way to fight the power structure that is, hopefully, being exposed for the bullies they

have been for so many years in this town. Being a longtime resident, I’ve been sick

and tired of the cronyism and pandering to the interests of a few business owners

for a long time.


Rambunctious

You’re going to “fight the power structure” with today’s news media? good luck!


mbactivist1

That’s what Gearhart thought :)


Rambunctious

lol