CalCoastNews’ top stories of 2014
December 23, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A late night rendezvous in the Arroyo Grande City Hall led to neighbors battling neighbor’s over the makeup of the Arroyo Grande City Council.
Exposure of the coverup commenced the longest-running most contentious story of 2014. Yet the story of how a sex scandal led to the unseating off a 16-year-incumbant is only one of many entertaining, disturbing, informative and interesting CalCoastNews’ stories.
In 2014, CCN achieved its best statistical year with more than 520,000 views in a month from 87,342 unique users. Several long-running CCN stories, such as Kelly Gearhart pleading guilty in federal court, continued to unfold in 2014.
Arroyo Grande mayor unseated by write-in-candidate amid sex scandal
1. What beats city officials partially dressed in the middle of the night at city hall? The year’s top story, stemmed from a late-night encounter on July 3 between Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish.
After McClish’s husband called 911 out of concern for her condition, Arroyo Grande police found her partially clothed with a “dishelved” Adams in a dark city hall office.
City Hall then morphed into the scene of a verbal civil war, as the police turned on management and, in particular, Mayor Tony Ferrara. Friendships in Arroyo Grande soon turned into acquaintances, and the sheriff had to come keep the peace at council meetings.
The dust settled with Adams resigning and Mayor Tony Ferrara losing his reelection bid. Write-in candidate Jim Hill scored a stunning victory in the Arroyo Grande mayor’s seat, trumping incumbent Ferrara by 95 votes.
Ferrara left hurling accusations of unethical behavior on the part of the police officer’s union, the police chief, his opponent, CCN reporters and what he deemed an “unethical social and fringe media campaign.”
In addition, Ferrara was forced to forfeit his seat as president of the League of California Cities. He also promised to stay involved in community issues.
2. Parkinson’s navy
Panga boats have arrived fairly frequently on Central Coast shorelines in the past few years. Of course, smugglers tend to abandon their boats, so that leaves the county sheriff’s office with the responsibility of handling some of the smuggling vessels.
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 the drug smuggling boats, an expense he said would save the county money. He justified the expenditure by saying the county was once charged nearly $10,000 for the cost of towing a single panga boat.
However, officials from both the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security insisted that they never charged the county for towing a panga boat.
In 2014, five panga boats have been discovered beached in SLO County, three 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 one of the other boats back into the water so that Fish and Game wardens could drive it to Morro Bay for the sheriff’s department.
3. Supervisor takes on Forbes Magazine, bureaucrat does too
County Supervisor Adam Hill began 2014 with a bang by penning a piece in the New Times that described his critics as conspiracy theorists with habits ranging from speaking in spittled spurts about the Constitution, to owning 66 books on terror to using their cats as food tasters. Commentary on Hill’s remarks promptly appeared in a Forbes Magazine article, which described relentless bureaucracy using SLO County’s air pollution control district as an example.
Hill, in turn, accused author Steve Hayward of making up facts and possibly getting paid by someone in the county to write the piece. He demanded a retraction.
APCD chief Larry Allen, too, demanded a retraction, claiming none of the information about him or his agency was true.
Hayward responded by writing that Hill had no knowledge of libel law and by challenging Allen to a public debate. Hill never sued, and Allen did not accept the challenge.
4. CAPSLO, Torres’ messy divorce
In 2013, the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo came to the defense of its homeless services manager Dee Torres after CalCoastNews reported on allegations of theft brought forward by numerous former employees of CAPSLO.
But, in 2014, CAPSLO demoted Torres and let her take a leave of absence. Torres then left CAPSLO, started her own nonprofit and sued her former employer. In her suit, Torres claimed she was a whistleblower whom the agency retaliated against for raising safety concerns.
The messy breakup included an episode in which Torres’ new husband, Supervisor Adam Hill ordered his legislative aide to deliver a speech to the CAPSLO Board calling them “obnoxious” and warning that their egos would cause problems in the community.
CAPSLO returned the favor by sending a letter to Board of Supervisors Chairman Bruce Gibson saying Hill was running a misinformation campaign in the community.
5. A nasty battle for a supervisor seat
The 2014 battle over the District 4 supervisor seat included the most spent in a county campaign and arguably included the most mud-slinging. Lynn Compton and Caren Ray’s campaigns raised more than $675,000 in combined cash, non monetary donations, and loans.
Compton defeated the incumbent, whom Governor Jerry Brown appointed, but not before Ray’s supporters delivered numerous blows in the South County sign war. Ray signs made appearances all over county right-of-ways, from freeway off-ramps to public parks, and other signs popped up saying, “Lynn Compton is a fraud!”
During a debate, Compton said that contractors who have worked in both Bakersfield and San Luis Obispo counties say the process is more efficient in Bakersfield. Ray fired back with a flyer trashing Bakersfield for its “poor air quality” and “urban sprawl” and asking voters not to let Compton turn San Luis Obispo County into Bakersfield, which led to a Bakersfield columnist trashing Ray.
Ray suffered another blow to her campaign after she said a BB shot threw her window appeared to be politically motivated, causing many to question if Ray’s claim was politically motivated.
Not to be outdone, Compton made national news, albeit largely due to the efforts of the opposing campaign. Compton held a “hobo stew” fundraiser, which Ray’s treasurer jumped on as appalling and offensive. The Huffington Post’s coverage of the story launched it into a nationally covered event.
Others questioned the close to $100,000 in donations Ray received from developer Gary Grossman, people he does business with and his employees.
6. Cal Poly students behaving badly
Certain Cal Poly students, particularly male ones, did not make the best impression on community members in 2014. In August, a group of Cal Poly football players allegedly robbed a fraternity house at gunpoint. San Luis Obispo police promptly arrested five football players.
Amid allegations of a pot turf war between fraternity members and football players, a month later, officers arrested the past-president of the fraternity for selling marijuana out of the same frat house.
After another controversy, Cal Poly officials temporarily discussed selling the school’s radio station.
Two student DJs offered to sell photos of their genitals in return for cash donations. For $20 dollars, the students would make the sexually explicit photos available on Snapchat.
Campus officials dsided not to shut down the station while KCPR management yanked “Getting It In” off the air.
7. Water war makes for unlikely bedfellows
A bill pushed by Supervisor Bruce Gibson and carried by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian made its way through the state legislature and gained the governor’s signature, paving the way for the creation of a water district in the North County’s Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. If the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission gives final approval to the district, it will operate with a board consisting primarily of individuals representing large landowners.
Though the bill advanced through the legislature with little electoral opposition, a diverse group of opponents protested it in Sacramento. The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations stood side-by-side with conservative Supervisor Debbie Arnold and agriculturalists in opposition to the proposed district.
A CalCoastNews series authored by senior correspondent Dan Blackburn explored the water war fought over the Paso Robles basin. It also revealed the ties of individuals seemingly representing small landowners, who in certain cases, were closely connected to wealthy, water banking interests.
8. Three young men die in San Luis Obispo County Jail
A 28-year-old, 29-year-old and 35-year-old each died in San Luis Obispo County Jail this year. Each died shortly after being found incapacitated in their cells.
The sheriff’s office says one of the inmates died of a heroin overdose. Two of the three had staph infections at the time of their deaths. Several former inmates and local attorneys claim jail conditions are very poor and staph infections are widespread.
One of the inmates who died had filed a $1.5 federal lawsuit against the San Luis Obispo Police Department, claiming officers assaulted him. Two weeks later, SLO police booked him into the jail for resisting arrest, and an hour later, he was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell.