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Editorial: The Dilworth phenomenon

Published: June 15, 2007

THE SAN Francisco Chronicle printed side-by-side pictures this week of two prominent Monterey Peninsula residents.

On the right was Clint Eastwood, an international movie star, Oscar-winning director, conservationist, philanthropist, former Mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, land owner, developer, partner in the Pebble Beach Co., and one of the driving forces behind that company’s plan to eliminate potential homesites in Del Monte Forest while building a new golf course and hotel rooms.

On the left was David Dilworth, a high school graduate whose personal accomplishments wouldn’t fill a postage stamp.

Yet it is Dilworth who was treated like an expert, if not a hero, in the Chronicle, as he has been in numerous other media outlets, including national and international newspapers, local TV stations and, of course, the Monterey County Herald. Whether the subject is the county general plan, the water shortage or the pine forest in Pebble Beach, you can often find Dilworth being fawned over by a reporter. Last weekend, the Herald even bestowed an advanced education on Dilworth, calling him an “environmental biologist.” Never mind that he doesn’t actually have so much as a bachelor’s degree in any scientific field.

What Dilworth does have is a lot of opinions and a lot of free time on his hands. He attends nearly every meeting of the Pacific Grove City Council and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and shows up at many sessions of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. When the public is invited to speak its mind on whatever is being deliberated, Dilworth nearly always has a comment to make. Some meetings, he goes to the lectern five or six times. Once, when an EIR for a complex development project was under consideration, he submitted a set of objections and criticisms that included 600,000 words. The opinions he offers are mind-numbingly repetitive, and when he speaks, officials on the dais can often be seen rolling their eyes or staring at the ceiling.

But when Dilworth opens his mouth, somebody in the audience is invariably paying attention: a reporter. Supposedly, it is the reporter’s duty to impartially and competently explain to his readers what is transpiring. But he may be new at his job and not have a clue. Or he may have a tight deadline, be under pressure not to put in for overtime, or simply be daydreaming about going out with his friends or getting home to his family. Not infrequently, reporters are seen napping at public hearings.

In any event, a reporter may decide to take the easy way out — not by delving into the substance of what the Pebble Beach Co., Cal Am or LandWatch is up to, or putting some elbow grease into finding out what the public is really thinking, but by simply reporting what a few individuals who spoke up at a public meeting had to say. Someone like Dilworth, who probably speaks more than anyone else at public hearings in Monterey County, thereby gets his name in the paper a lot. And those stories end up on the Internet.

Thus, when an out-of-town journalist does a Google search, the name “Dilworth” is associated with “Eastwood” and “Pebble Beach.” Not only do reporters who are unfamiliar with local politics end up attaching great importance to Dilworth, they usually swallow hook, line and sinker his rap that he is “executive director” of a organization called “Helping our Peninsula’s Environment.” The reporters who parrot this line apparently never ask Dilworth if his group has any members.

During the debate over the Pebble Beach development and open space plan, plenty of people with credentials or credible public support have spoken for and against. The P.B. Co. has experts on its side — actual experts with advanced degrees or the backing of large organizations. And the coastal commission staff has plenty of expertise backed with certificates from major universities. Groups such as the Sierra Club, for all their extremism, at least can honestly say they have thousands of dues-paying members.

But Dilworth has nothing except himself and a knack for getting his name in the paper. He declares himself an expert on many subjects. And, thanks to gullible reporters, he has become one.