Leading a maritime infrastructure authority and bank that provides financial leverage for several ports and harbors throughout California is nothing unusual for San Mateo County Harbor District General Manager Peter Grenell, but one commissioner believes the local agency may be too involved.
Harbor District Commissioner Sabrina Brennan said the idea of Grenell running a bank out of the district’s office is inappropriate.
“I’m concerned that the Harbor District has been picking up the cost of the infrastructure bank doing business — including travel, staff, responding to [public records act] requests, using staff time for meetings, those types of things,” Brennan said.
Grenell is listed as the president of the California Maritime Infrastructure Bank and chairman of the California Maritime Infrastructure Authority’s board.
The CMIB is not a commercial bank and in 1995, after then state Sen. Milton Marks carried legislation, was established by ports and harbors in Sacramento, San Diego, Stockton and Humboldt County, Grenell said. The authority has helped fund various projects such as wharves, berths, docks, jetties and industrial facilities, Grenell said.
The CMIB serves as a financing mechanism by securing bonds its members can use for infrastructure development, maintenance or repair as well as for private entities that wish to construct maritime businesses on public land, Grenell said.
“I’m not running a bank, period. I work for an agency (Harbor District) that is a member of an agency (CMIB) along with eight other agencies. And the Harbor District joined because we see it as a potential alternative source of financing for projects at both of our harbors that we operate,” Grenell said.
Any public maritime agency can join the authority at no cost and the Harbor District’s Board of Commissioners voted to join in 2000, Grenell said.
The CMIB had its address listed as the Harbor District’s South San Francisco office. However, it was recently changed to the Eureka address of its Executive Director David Hull.
Grenell said years ago the CMIB had a Sacramento address and phone number, but as the organization became less active and because he’s the president, they used the South San Francisco address. Hull came to work for the CMIB about a year ago and Grenell said they changed the address to assuage people’s misimpressions.
Brennan said the timing is suspicious and wonders where the CMIB’s documents have been stored. Brennan noted the district’s website designer is the same as for the CMIB and questions if the district is paying for it. She added she’s concerned Grenell is working on CMIB projects while on the district’s dime.
Grenell said he only spends approximately a half-hour a week on the CMIB and county taxpayers are not paying for him to work on other maritime projects.
Grenell and Hull said the CMIB is not very active, the authority only meets a few times a year and it hasn’t funded a project since 2003.
Currently, there are nine members that are all representatives of public harbors or ports and the general manager or harbormasters are automatically on the authority’s board, Grenell said.
To date, the district has never received any financial benefit, although several years ago a hotel sought help through the authority to build at Oyster Point Marina, but the deal fell through, Grenell said.
The last deal the authority conducted was in 2003, when it helped secure funding for the Santa Cruz Port District to construct several multipurpose buildings, Hull said.
Hull is the only paid staff member and said his costs are covered by residual funds from previous projects. The most substantial of those projects was when the CMIB helped secure funding for a $110 million project to assist the Port of San Diego redeveloping an old power plant in the late 1990s, Hull said.
CMIB staff also includes a financial advisor, Douglas Charchenko, and legal counsel, Lawrence Mallon. Hull and Grenell said they work pro bono.
Hull said he’s been working for the CMIB for less than two years and has been attending seminars and giving presentations to inform other maritime entities what the organization has to offer.
“The infrastructure bank is kind of an unknown and low key and it’s not meant to be that way. But it’s pointed to a very special business in the state. … It’s a very special activity that a lot of people don’t cross paths with,” Hull said. “It was one of the first in the U.S. that was set up specifically for maritime purposes.”
Brennan said she knew little about it as it had never been brought up during board meetings and, because the other agencies are not required to pay dues, worries the Harbor District is footing the bill.
“It seems that memberships of the banking authority should be contributing to costs of the banking authority,” Brennan said. “What it looks like is our district, and I don’t know what others have been using our district’s resources, our staff, our office and trips that we paid our [general manager] to go on to engage in banking authority activities.”
Grenell said with the Harbor District setting out on its strategic business plan, the CMIB and the authority could be an asset to the district as it seeks funding opportunities to improve Pillar Point Harbor and Oyster Point Marina.
Although there are other agencies like the state Division of Boating and Waterways or the Coastal Conservancy, infrastructure improvements cannot always be funded on federal or state grants alone.
“[The Harbor District board] joined because they see this as a potential mechanism for financing things and given the fact that is has minimal impact on my work for the district, … it’s Dave Hull who is busy, there’s relatively little impact for potentially a big return,” Grenell said. “And there’s nothing suspicious about it. I think that just reflects a lack of information more than anything else.”
Brennan said even if the CMIB and the authority are operating legally, the issue is the board is unfamiliar with Grenell’s doings. Brennan said she requested the Board of Commissioners receive a report on the CMIB, which will be discussed during its next meeting beginning 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6 at Sea Crest School, Room 19, 901 Arnold Way, Half Moon Bay.
For more information about the San Mateo County Harbor District visit www.smharbor.com.
For more information about the CMIB and the authority visit www.californiamaritimeinfrastructureauthority.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106