Parkinson’s Navy

August 1, 2014
Sheriff Ian Parkinson

Sheriff Ian Parkinson


Sheriff Ian Parkinson told San Luis Obispo County Supervisors in April that he needed an extra half million dollars to buy and operate a 27-foot Defender Class response boat to tow drug smuggling boats, known as pangas, an expense he said would save the county money.

Parkinson noted in his request the nearly $10,000 cost of towing one panga boat as one of the reasons the county would benefit financially by purchasing its own boat for ocean towing. Supervisors approved his request for the $493,013 budget increase and permission to acquire federal funding to match the budget increase.

But officials from both the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security said they have never charged the county for bringing in any suspected drug smuggling boat or for assisting or leading in criminal investigations.

“We have never charged for towing a panga boat,” said Lori Haley, public relations spokeswoman at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of Homeland Security.

And Paul Amaral the operator of Vessel Assist Ventura, a salvage company that tows vessels for the Department of Homeland Security in Ventura and Santa Barbara, says the numbers Parkinson used just don’t add up.

“The sheriff’s request being reviewed here is somewhat misleading in its information and I think the intended use of that $343,000 boat is impractical in real world application,” Amaral told the board at the April meeting. “I feel this proposal is a misuse of taxpayer funds.”

The rest of the $493,013 budget increase would go to buy license-plate readers, night-vision goggles and a thermal-imaging camera to detect pangas at sea, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Sheriff’s Spokesperson Tony Cipolla has made several statements addressing “cost savings” the county would gain by buying a vessel to tow panga boats.

However, since the first panga boat was spotted beached on the San Luis Obispo County coastline, federal agencies have provided aquatic towing at no charge to the county.

Still, the county would save money by spending almost half a million dollars to purchase, outfit and staff the patrol boat this year, Cipolla said.

“Some cost savings will be achieved by reducing the amount of overtime our personnel will incur safeguarding the panga boats while they wait for it to be towed,” Cipolla said. “Sometimes this is done by the Coast Guard, other times it’s contracted out to private vessels sent by Homeland Security from Ventura.”

The time it takes for a tow vessel to reach pangas varies depending on the agency. If the Coast Guard is assisting the sheriff, which can only occur in certain situations, officers leave Morro Bay within 30 minutes of receiving a request. In other cases, where Homeland Security is the lead agency, a boat is dispatched from the Ventura area and takes about three hours to arrive.

Even so, local Homeland Security agents usually wait with the boat, Amaral said.

The Sheriff’s Department did not say whether deputies would have to stay with abandoned drug boats using the new department tow boat.

Parkinson also said the boat could be used to patrol the coastline in the future, though he does not have the staff to man the boat for regular patrols at this time.

“My job is to protect the citizens of the county and we do not have a boat to respond,” Parkinson told the board. “When these boats hit the beaches of San Luis Obispo County, they become our problem, specifically my problem.”

Parkinson told Supervisor Frank Mecham that the Coast Guard detachment at Morro Bay was focused on water safety.

“The primary mission of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Morro Bay is search and rescue, and local authorities have had little to no ability to conduct interdiction operations,” Parkinson responded.

But U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Adam Stanton said his agency’s mission combines coastal security, drug interdiction, search and rescue, defense readiness first line defense, migrant interdiction, ICE operations and general law enforcement.

Amaral told supervisors that he questioned the cost effectiveness and safety of Parkinson’s proposed purchase, as well as the accuracy of Parkinson’s presentation.

Parkinson responded at the time by claiming his agency had seized the majority of the 12 boats that had beached in San Luis Obispo County before April 22. He said Amaral was misinformed.

Amaral said the county had handled the investigations and retained evidence for only four or five of the 12 panga boats that had landed on the San Luis Obispo County Coast, a statement confirmed independently by SLO County Sheriff Chief Deputy Rob Reid.

“Since May 2012, the sheriff’s office has been involved in 14 incidents with ‘panga’ boats,” Reid wrote in July in response to a CalCoastNews public records request. “Of those, the sheriff’s office conducted the investigation and retained the evidence involved in five incidents. The remaining incidents were handled by federal agencies which took control of the evidence involved.”

In several of the six cases handled by homeland security, sheriff deputies first drove the boats to Morro Bay where they were met by a towing company that transported the boats to a storage facility in the Dana Point area for Homeland Security.

In those five or six cases the county handled, either the U.S. Coast Guard towed the panga boat to Morro Bay for the sheriff at no cost, or local law enforcement officers have pushed boats back into the ocean and then driven the pangas to Morro Bay, or the boat was collected off the beach and transported by land to a sheriff storage area.

Supervisor chair Bruce Gibson voiced concerns about future costs to the county and asked Parkinson if private salvage operators couldn’t remove the boats more skillfully and at less cost than the sheriff’s department.

Parkinson rejected that suggestion, saying that in the past Homeland Security has had to pay “close to $10,000” for a tow. In addition, he noted the cost of about $2,000 the county paid a local tow company to transport a panga by land from Morro Bay to the sheriff’s department, a cost that the purchase of a sheriff patrol boat will not affect.

Parkinson said that the cost to maintain the boat would be about $800 a year. However, other local law enforcement agency representatives have told CalCoastNews that the average annual maintenance cost for a patrol boat is about $4,000.

Gibson said he would approve Parkinson’s request based on the sheriff’s statements, but added that he wanted more oversight. He requested the board require information about the marine enforcement unit’s successes and expenses for the next budget cycle.

Amaral questioned why supervisors did not ask Parkinson to document his statements.

“The board of supervisors already had their minds made up,” Amaral said. “It is really frustrating that an elected official would bend the truth to get his way. If they had just taken the time to research the information, but no they trusted him blindly.”

Panga boats have become a popular vehicle for smugglers to bring drugs and people from Mexico to California’s beaches.

According to arrest statistics reported 2011-2013 by ICE, the number of maritime smuggling events spiked, with most of the panga seizures occurring in Southern California. The majority of the boats moved people, though some were used to transport marijuana and methamphetamine.

The numbers of panga boats retrieved is now declining. From Oct. 2013 through March, 85 boats were seized along California’s coastline. A year earlier, during the same period, there were 96, according to ICE statistics.

In May 2012, the first panga boat was discovered beached in SLO County, there were four beached that year. In 2013, law enforcement seized six pangas.

To date, in 2014, four panga boats have been discovered beached in SLO County, two since Parkinson requested the patrol boat for towing pangas. In one case, the Coast Guard towed the panga for the county at no cost. A group of men pushed the other boat back into the water so that Fish and Game wardens could drive it to Morro Bay for the sheriff’s department.

And while Reid says the county has only taken custody of five of the 14 pangas that have beached in SLO County, his list does not include the last two pangas the county seized.

Sheriff Parkinson declined to discuss the contradicting statements and said he would decide what he would do after CalCoastNews published this story.

“We will wait to review the story before determining our course of action,” Parkinson said.


Watch the SLO Board of Supervisors meeting here, then click on April 22, and go to Item 28.

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Leave the ocean to the Coast Guard…

Focus on the County Streets.

post more Officers in the North Coast where you never see Officers….

Herion & Meth is a bigger problem then the pot coming from pangas.


“Leave the ocean to the Coast Guard…” How’s that working for you! Feeling Secure?


Reading all these comments has been highly informative. It sounds like this was a matter of

“use it or lose it”, where the grant monies are concerned.

Regardless, he still told some BIG LIES to get more unnecessary toy’s. Why didn’t he just tell the truth? The BOS probably still would have agreed to the tug boat since it was fully paid for by the grant monies and he wanted to take advantage of those funds ? Why lie, I’m starting to wonder if there is something seriously wrong with him as this isn’t the first time he told some big lies. What makes him think he can keep getting away with that?


Has anybody looked into where the pangas got once they are towed to MB are they piled up at the Sherriffs yard or dismantled,where is the money off of those big outboard motors,Mecurey doesn’t give those away they’re pretty pricey. This money could be used for their coastal watch program,without the boat,this would pay for night vision equipment,they most likely have this already from a previous grant but want more,or other eq they deem necessary to watch for intruders.


This is hilarious !

The FUD conservatroids in a food fight with the fiscal penny-pincher conservabots.

Very entertaining !



After viewing item 28 of the 04/22/14 BOS meeting I felt that the emphasis for the boat purchase justification was more on patrol and prevention of drug smuggling into SLO county with a much lesser discussion on salvage.

You made some very good points as to why the county should not be involved in maritime salvage operations. I especially like your comparison of private enterprise towing vehicles for the county, as in this scenario would justify the SLO Sheriff’s Department purchasing and operating tow trucks.

I think that since this has now come to light the SLOSD will be less inclined to use this ‘asset’ as a tow boat and your company will continue to receive that work in the private sector as it should be.


Regarding patrol and prevention, did you catch the part where Sheriff Parkinson stated he did not have the staff or budget to do regular patrols. If that vessel is not manned 24/7 and doing patrols, how effective can it be in interdicting pangas? If a panga is spotted somewhere offshore, by the time they mobilize this boat, it will be long gone.

If the Coast Guard, with all of it’s specialized vessels and well trained personnel, says that offshore patrols are ineffective in the SLO area, what makes someone think a single $343,000 27 foot boat sitting on a trailer will be a cost effective tool.

Again, spend the money on proven methods that have worked in the past and increase landside assets and patrols along the coast. The smugglers must have a means of unloading and transporting the contraband and if the coastline is being heavily patrolled not only will you increase the chances of catching them in the act but it will also serve as a deterrent. It’s not as sexy as operating a fancy go fast boat but it’s the way all the arrests have been made in SLO County.


Guarding the Coast is what Coast Guard is paid to do. I say they are about as effective as the Border Patrol. Why should the SLOSD worry about patrolling the coast. After all it is not their job…..

Additional coastal patrol “may” increase the likelihood of marijuana smuggling interdiction when tons are being smuggled. Not all pangas contained marijuana.

Some were strictly human smugglers while others, no one knows what their payload was. Could have been a nuclear bomb for all we know. In which case, it does not take hours to unload into multiple vehicles.


I just watched the April 22 BOS meeting regarding:

“accept a Stonegarden Federal Grant in the amount of $493,013 for coastline monitoring/detection and response equipment related to interdiction of coastal smuggling activities;



I interpret this to mean that the county will be reimbursed for every penny!

I am aware that federal grant money is still tax payer money and there will be associated operating costs but:


You can see for yourself about 01:50 in at:


You are absolutely correct. Please read my reply to your previous post.

My argument has always been that this grant money should be put to better use. With regards to the panga boat smuggling, history has shown that landside interdiction has proven successful, whereas using small boats patrolling offshore has yet to succeed.

I also made the point that having the Sheriffs Department performing salvage work competes directly against the private sector and, in my opinion, they are not properly trained or equipped to engage in vessel salvage. Per the written request, “The purpose of this boat will be for the specific patrol, response and recovery of pangas along the coast of San Luis Obispo”.

Even though the boat is free to the county, there will be considerable costs in operating, maintaining, training, and it will take manpower away from other patrol duties. Does the payoff justify the expense?

Whether or not Sheriff Parkinson provided accurate information to the Board of Supervisors, I’ll leave to the judgement of the readers.


You dont seem to get it SloHeadintheSand. You are stuck on the issue of SLO “gets its money back” but you dont see the forest from the trees.

You minimize the issue of operating costs which we wont get back

Just think if this half million dollars and other boondoggle grant moneies were used for appropriate purposes …. FOR INSTANCE road repairs in the various cities that are trying to put forth sales tax increases or bonds.

THINK !!!!!!! ……….. its what god gives us a brain for


The intent of the Operation Stonegarden (OPSG) Program is to enhance law enforcement preparedness and operational readiness along the land borders of the United States. THUS IT CAN’T BE USED FOR ROADS!

You are probably correct in that the operating costs of the boat will be significant but the BOS are aware of this and thought it prudent if it were to stop the flow of ever increasing dangerous illegal drugs coming into SLO County.

Please put your ‘THINKING CAP’ on and realize there is virtually NO GRANT MONEY designated to repair RESIDENTIAL roads… only main arterials.

If you only had a brain….


Your thinking is that of bureaucratic bean counting.

Of course you can’t take certain grant monies and swap them for other purposes. The issue is that certain grant monies are boondoggles and they drain the countries coffers.

Think of it this very simplistic way …If someone spends the majority of their families money on beer and cigarettes then they have less to spend on family necessities.

Nationwide we spend money on frivolous projects while our infrastructure (roads and bridges for instance) suffers.

Google frivoulous government spending and educate yourself.


Grant money is required to be used for the purpose stated on the application. It can not be diverted to your favorite pet peeve, pot holes or other.


of course this is recognized but what is the source of grant money? That’s right bucko its revenue from taxes the same tax monies they are trying to raise through sales tax initiatives and bonds ……….. Apparently you just dont get it so just go back to counting your paper clips

Theo P. Neustic

It’s still our money being squandered. It’s not like SLO county taxpayers don’t have to pay federal income taxes along with a multitude of other taxes and fees.


It’s just a money grab. Ian is being an idiot.


what bugs me here is that we keep hearing about the lack of money for street repair here in Grover Beach for instance. Potholes everywhere so we need to convince the public to raise taxes to fix them.

Yet now we hear that the county uses federal funds to buy a half million dollar boat (expensive toy for the sheriff’s image).

This is why there is no money to fix the roads because our govt officials (all over the nation) allow this BS to go on and on and on.

I guess its not their own money so they spend it like drunken sailors on liberty (pun intended)


Grover Beach Tax and Spend Alert :

1. Automatic Water Rate Increase [ without public vote] $

2. Automatic Property Tax Increase. $$

3. Road Tax. $$$

4. Automatic Sanitation District Tax Increase. $$$$ [ wait until after election-hope you will vote for tax and spend incumbents]

5. Cuesta College Tax Increase. $$$$$

$ Can You Really Afford All These Tax and Spend Increases $

Do not forget failed Fire Tax Increase and Pension bailout.

Pension Spiking for Current Police Chief,- Assistant City Manager. $$$$

Vote NO on New Tax Increases in November.


Apply for a “GRANT” to fix your pot holes. Grant money can not be used for any purpose other than that stated in the application.


Let’s all chip in and buy Ian a nice little captains hat, maybe an ascot to complete the look. Oh, and a full length mirror on his new boat.


I’m sure the sheriff has plenty of full length mirrors, around his house, around the sheriffs department, in his office, and if possible even in his car.


I will be more appropriate to replace that Captain’s hat with an Ass hat.

This boat is a tax wasting boondoggle.

Fraud, waste and abuse of the taxpayers dollars.

Pure and simple.