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John Peschong

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COLAB Government Affairs Director Michael Brown has a lot to say about the political left — at least, what he thinks the left is. After reading comments that he provides on behalf of the organization’s mostly anonymous membership, one could presume that liberals are godless, elitist snobs with no wherewithal to understand good governance.

I read his recent column, “Our awful sacred civic duty,” on CalCoastNews. It was the kind of rhetoric you would see from a manic street preacher with a megaphone, warning citizens of the end times. It’s not a viewpoint you would normally see from a labor organization spokesperson. He warns readers of liberals and the “enviro-socialist” movement, taking aim at the middle class, the “dream of home ownership,” the “cohesive intergenerational family,” and our “heritage.”

“It is instead an epochal struggle for the very survival of America and civilization,” he writes. That’s an actual quote. Referring to the left as the “alt-left,” Brown believes they are “seek[ing] to undermine human progress of the last half of a millennium.” How? By discussing global warming, which a majority of climate scientists agree is real and catastrophic; by embracing “radical” identity politics, a concept that’s existed since the 1970s to describe political positions based on interests and perspectives of social groups with which people identify; by placing emphasis on “political correctness,” formerly known as “respect”; by promising things people should have, like “free” healthcare, college and retirement. Why shouldn’t Americans have access to these basic, invaluable services? Brown doesn’t say.

In his column, Brown determined that the threat to America and civilization is the unholy alliance of “leftist tax exempt foundations, unaccountable permanent government bureaucrats, arrogant academics,  a corrupt and ideological media, and oligarchical public employee unions.”

COLAB, the organization Brown represents, is 501(c)(6) non-profit, which is tax-exempt. By his own definition, Brown was a “permanent” government bureaucrat who was able to keep his job as Executive Director for the County of Santa Barbara after a lengthy and legal history of workplace harassment. According to Santa Barbara County, Brown’s involvement in their public employee union allowed him to opt for a “golden handshake” pension plan, which awarded two years of service credit after he retired. Brown’s column is featured on an unabashedly ideological website that his organization is financially backing with advertising. Somehow, America and civilization remains unscathed.

Then, he takes aim at left-leaning organizations, such as 350.org, Indivisible, SLO Sense and SLO Progressives for allegedly “recruiting swarms of followers to show up and disrupt conservative officials’ district town halls, office hours, and other events.” The problem is that none of the organizations he mentioned specifically encourage people to “disrupt” events featuring conservative officials.

Brown should know a thing or two about disrupting events with conservative officials, given he was escorted out of a Board of Supervisors meeting in January for yelling, “Point of order!” Prior to that instance, Brown has interrupted several county meetings by invoking “point of order” because supervisors disagreed with his public comment.

But there is one thing in common between all the organizations that Brown singled out. They all have a resoundingly strong and simple message: show up. They’ve asked their members to show up and speak at important events. That’s called democracy. Brown sees this clear exercise of democracy as a threat to natural order. When he learned that progressives were planning to express support for a liberal county supervisor to be chairman of the board, he placed the following on one of his weekly updates:

One person’s “intimidation” is everyone else’s free speech.

You would be hard-pressed to find any urgent bulletins from progressives, alerting members that “far right partisan hack” Michael Brown will “intimidate” the board. Why is that? In SLO County, opposition to the current configuration of the Board of Supervisors is narrowly tailored to opposition of conservative policies, not personalities — and that should be commended. But Brown does the opposite. To Brown, it’s not about liberal policies or ideas. It’s about putting an end to liberals that crave the destruction of civilization. Who would embrace that school of thought?

On March 30, COLAB and Brown will be hosting their 8th Annual Dinner and Fundraiser with featured speakers District 1 Supervisor John Peschong, District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton and District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold.

According to Californians Aware, a non-profit that educates the public on public forum law, any event featuring a quorum of board members could pose significant Brown Act issues. Three of the five supervisors serving the BOS constitute a quorum. This is problematic, since two of the three supervisors have disclosed — albeit reluctantly — that they’ve had ex-parte communications with Brown on a number of occasions. According to event organizers, the event will not be taped and the press is not allowed to enter. Nothing to see here.

For a seasoned bureaucrat that he is, Michael Brown has a peculiarly dark and incomprensive view of democracy. Now imagine this view encompassing public policy. Worried yet, actvists [sic]?

I’ve been quiet for the past two weeks, watching the contentiousness surrounding the proposed Chumash Heritage Marine Sanctuary. Many people intricately familiar with the local politics weighed in on the board’s sudden push to oppose the sanctuary, despite the fact that their stated opposition does nothing to hinder the sanctuary designation process. To be precise, board opposition was more of a symbolic gesture, which is why proponents of the sanctuary thought the move was ideological at best.

The latest round started when the conservative majority of the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted to draft a resolution that opposed the sanctuary. That happened on Jan. 24. The public and the media reacted unfavorably to the sudden push to formalize board opposition, but that didn’t deter the supervisors from moving forward with gusto. By the time the board discussed approving the resolution on Feb. 9, the public was ready. For approximately four hours, residents supporting and opposing the sanctuary spoke. Supporters outnumbered opponents 2 to 1. The fisherman came out to oppose the sanctuary with backing from the local Republican Party and the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business.

Nonetheless, the board decided to move forward with their opposition, but with two interesting amendments. One of the amendments was to express support for Measure A, a 30-year-old ordinance requiring a simple-majority voter approval of county permits issued for onshore projects serving offshore oil and gas developments. The second amendment, which was introduced by Lynn Compton, was a statement supporting Congressman Salud Carbajal’s (D-Santa Barbara) proposed legislation, which would ban offshore drilling in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. These amendments are not binding, and the supervisors know it. The Carbajal bill is unlikely to pass through the Republican-controlled Congress.

So why go through all the trouble just to make a meaningless statement?

To answer that question, we need to consider the following.

The New Times reported that Lynn Compton has taken campaign contributions from big oil interests, despite angrily insisting that she hasn’t “taken a penny from oil in my campaign.” She even challenged the public to review her campaign finances, which they did. Compton received $4,600 from contributors with ties to the oil and gas industries.

Wrote the New Times’ Peter Johnson: “Among the donations are $900 from energy consultant Bruce Falkenhagen, who was fined $100,000 by Santa Barbara County in 1998 for deceiving regulatory agencies while operating an energy plant without pollution controls. She also received $150 from Robert Poole, who at the time was a public affairs consultant with Santa Maria Energy; $350 from Frank W. Smith, a consulting engineer for Pacific Coast Energy Company; $250 from JB Dewar, a Central Coast fuel distributor; and $2,500 from three propane companies.”

But Compton has even closer ties to big oil. Her campaign manager, Amber Johnson, is a lobbyist that previously worked for the Home Builders Association. After serving as campaign manager, Johnson helped spearhead a campaign against Measure P in Santa Barbara County. Measure P was an anti-fracking initiative that was understandably opposed by the oil and gas industries.  The measure was voted down in Nov. 2014. Johnson is currently behind an organization called “Our Protected Coast Coalition,” which is opposed to federal designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.

Debbie Arnold also has ties to oil and gas interests. Arnold also received campaign contributions from Bruce Falkenhagen for $250 during her 2016 re-election bid; $1,000 from the co-owners of Central Coast Propane; $1,500 from Frank Platz of Delta Liquid Energy, a propane distributor; $100 from Pacific Coast Strategies, Amber Johnson’s consulting firm. Arnold also paid Amber Johnson $1,000 for campaign consulting and received $100 from her. To be fair, Arnold has also received contributions from non-big oil interests opposing the sanctuary, including the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Organization and the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians. In case anyone is wondering if Arnold would vote independently, consider the fact that Arnold paid over $15,000 in consulting costs to Meridian Pacific, John Peschong’s political consulting firm. Arnold appreciates his advice.

Before he was elected supervisor, John Peschong received $262,313 from Phillips 66, the oil company behind the oil-by-rail plan, which is being to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. Phillips 66 retained Peschong’s services to craft a communications campaign called “Protect Our Jobs.” Peschong has offered to recuse himself from voting on that appeal item.

There’s a lot to glean from Peschong’s campaign contributions. Many of his contributors are from out of the area and out of the state — many of whom are public relations, public affairs and political consulting firms with confidential clientele information. For example, Peschong received $2,500 from Washington D.C.-based FP1 Strategies LLC, a Republican political consulting firm co-founded by former officials of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign.  Peschong also received $850 from Richard Claussen, who is a consultant for Redwood Pacific Public Affairs, a Sacramento-based firm that’s behind several Republican communications campaigns and clients.

In a way, receiving a contribution from a political consultant firm is similar to receiving a donation from a Political Action Committee: the public doesn’t know what companies are benefiting from that individual contribution. Peschong is someone who’s been in the political consulting game for years, so he knows how to make his benefactors happy while staying legally afloat. But it’s unmistakable that he’s beholden to a lot of people and companies, including Phillips 66. After all, he is a lobbyist that ran for public office and won.

We can talk about the merits of having a national marine sanctuary, but it would be disingenuous to discount the special interests involved in the debate, especially when said special interests have contributed to the conservative board majority; especially when it’s big oil interests.

Mike Brown of COLAB (Source: Paul Wellman – Santa Barbara Independent)

Leading up to the Jan. 10 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, there was a lot discussion about something that’s not normally contested.

For decades, deciding who becomes chair of BOS was particularly uneventful. The board decides who would be chair and vice-chair. The motion is made, passed and board business proceeded as usual. For the past two years, that decision-making process has turned into a partisan debate — and it’s all centered around one supervisor.

District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill was supposed to serve as chair of the board in 2015, but residents filled the chambers to complain about him. Hill, an outspoken supervisor, has come under fire for his unfiltered candor and criticism of political extremism. His frustration is understandable, given he’s been associated with various conspiracy theories — from being involved with the United Nations in a conspiracy to take away personal liberties to somehow orchestrating the DUI arrest of self-styled “reporter” Karen Velie.

Being the outspoken supervisor that he is, Hill mocked the extremism that he faced in a Jan. 2014 New Times editorial. Though he rattled off cartoonish depictions of the opposition, Hill never referred to anyone specifically. As his critics caught wind of the editorial, they appeared before the board to complain about his “abusive behavior,” asserting they were personally targeted in the editorial. Critics felt they were personally attacked, yet in communicating their talking points, they would often speculate about his behavior — whether or not his behavior was exacerbated by alcohol or drugs. At times, they would mention some of the unverified accusations published on CalCoastNews.

When it was time for Hill to become chair in 2015, they were ready to oppose him.

Leading the effort to bypass Hill as chair was the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB). COLAB’s Government Affairs Director Mike Brown is one of the leading voices in Hill’s opposition.  Brown was once criticized by Hill from the dais for mocking low-income families (he referred to Brown’s comments as “bloviating foolishness”). Brown was referring to an agenda item that proposed sending a letter to the Federal Communication Commission supporting the public benefit of affordable high-speed internet service for low-income households. Hill was also critical of Brown for his ex-parte lobbying of Hill’s conservative colleagues, District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton and District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold.

Brown urged residents to appear before the board to complain about Hill, his New Times editorial, his behavior, and the notion that approving Hill was reinforcing the “good ol’ boys club.” This is the same Mike Brown who was accused by several subordinates — including a number of female employees — of workplace harassment for over two decades. His employer, Santa Barbara County, paid over $1.3 million in settlements from lawsuits filed against him.

Frustrated with the criticism from Hill’s opposition, then-District 1 Supervisor Frank Mecham made a motion to support Arnold as chair and Compton as vice-chair. The media characterized the move as “surprising” at best and petty politics at worst.

On Jan. 10, 2017, history repeated itself. On a 3-2 vote, the board overturned last year’s resolution to make Adam Hill chair. With COLAB’s coaxing, the board appointed newcomer, District 1 Supervisor John Peschong, to the chairman position one week after he was sworn in. Arnold and Compton supported the move.

“I really believe we need a chairperson who’s respectful to all the other board members,” said Arnold.

The decision came after several public comment speakers supported and opposed Hill’s chairmanship. Hill supporters urged the board to continue the rotation as previously approved in a nonpartisan manner. Hill’s opponents — many of whom contested Hill’s potential chairmanship in 2015 — urged the board to abandon tradition and recycled their previous criticisms of Hill.

But something was different.

Arroyo Grande resident Jeannette Watson opposed Hill’s chairmanship, stating in part, “The future of this country needs wise leadership and not someone like Adam Hill who has been in the pockets of developers and is now involved in a lawsuit. Watson concluded, “He is in the minority with current legal problems.”

Lawsuit? Current legal problems? Apparently this was a theme among a Hill’s critics.

In addition to speculating on whether or not Hill has alcohol or drug problems, Templeton resident and frequent Hill critic Bill Pelfrey stated that Hill “fails to show up for depositions and lawsuits.”

Morro Bay resident Sandra Tannler claimed Hill is costing taxpayers with lawsuits.

San Luis Obispo resident Elsa Dawson said that making Hill chair was risky because a lawsuit was in progress.

Turns out, Hill’s opponents meshed two lawsuits together. Hill was subpoened to be deposed in a defamation lawsuit filed against CalCoastNews, which is ongoing. Hill challenged the subpoena, stating that he’s not involved in the case and doesn’t understand why he would be deposed. After all, the article CalCoastNews is being sued over doesn’t mention Hill as a source or a relevant party to allegations they made about Arroyo Grande businessman Charles Tenborg, the lawsuit’s plaintiff.

The second legal challenge is a lawsuit filed by CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie. With no fanfare, SLO County Counsel Rita Neal revealed on Nov. 8 last year that a claim was filed against Hill by Velie. The announcement was not covered by the local media. For now, court records about the case are sealed.

While we don’t know for sure why Velie filed, we do know that the board’s conservative members have close ties to the website.

When he was chair of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Party, John Peschong authorized ads that ran on CalCoastNews, urging readers to join. After he announced his candidacy for District 1 Supervisor, Peschong’s campaign paid the website $500 for advertising. District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold also contributed to the website during her campaign, having chipped in $2,000 toward advertising. If you think they were playing politics by stonewalling Hill at the Jan. 10 meeting, what makes you think Peschong and Arnold would be remain impartial when the item is discussed during closed session?

On Jan. 11, Velie wrote about the meeting but didn’t mention her lawsuit or the deposition subpoena. Transparency, am I right?

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Adam Hill and his politics, this is unusual. It’s unusual because it’s an obsession that leads nowhere and bears no consequence. He’s not chair and clearly he won’t be chair — despite District 3 voters soundly rejecting the false, unproven accusations as well as tactics used against him at the meeting — but he’s still on the board. He still has one vote. He won’t be able to facilitate the conversation on the board, but everything remains the same. Should partisanship continue to rear its ugly head, it will be a 3-2 vote on important resolutions for the foreseeable future. Even if he was chair, that wouldn’t change either.

In SLO County politics, there is a flawed notion that disagreement is a personal attack, and that disagreement somehow disqualifies leaders to lead — as if criticism poses an existential threat to the people being criticized. The notion wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t influence public policy. The notion wouldn’t be a problem if Mike Brown, a lobbyist, didn’t curate it for personal and political gain.

At least we got to see Brown getting thrown out of the meeting. See? Democracy still works.