Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Sacramento

Year in review: California budget, L.A. pro team, GOP triple threat

Romney, Gingrich, Paul
It's the season of giving, and in 2011, three stories kept giving, and giving and giving.

(Wait, what, three? Not five? Or 10? No. Good things come in threes.)

Even better, these three stories will  undoubtedly be around in 2012 -– the ultimate in re-gifting, you might say:

California's budget woes. It seems like only yesterday that Gov. Jerry Brown was dealing with the state's budget mess. In fact, it was about yesterday -- Dec. 13, to be exact. 

That's when Brown announced further painful cuts to state services to keep the state budget out of the red. 

It didn't have to be this way. Heck, way back on Jan. 19, I wrote about using The Times' handy-dandy online budget balancing tool to balance the state's budget. It took about 15 minutes.

So, if a math-challenged journalist can do it, why can't the state's politicians?  Because it's not about balancing the budget.  It's about the philosophy of government. California's Republican lawmakers don't want a government at all, really. Californians may want compromise, but it's not easy to compromise with a bus driver whose goal is to drive the bus off the cliff.

Don't think so? Well, in Washington, Republicans in the House resisted keeping the payroll tax cut. In Sacramento, Republicans resisted the governor's attempt to let existing tax cuts expire, claiming that amounted to a tax hike. Sound logical?  Then you need to get back on your medication.

Pro football in Los Angeles. Like those beautiful muses of Greek mythology, the sirens continue to sing their song of professional football in L.A., luring wealthy investors onto the financial rocks and leaving fans brokenhearted. 

But this time, it's really, really going to happen. Really. We have a stadium; or, I mean, we have nice renderings of a stadium.  We have a place to put the stadium. We have a rich company -– AEG -– behind the stadium, and the effort to get a franchise.  

All we need now? A team. And it appears that the only way we'll get a team is to steal another city's. And lots of money will have to change hands. And rich guys in other towns, such as San Diego, may have to be paid. 

And if we actually get a team, the average fan won't be able to afford to go (to see what will probably be a bad team). And we'll probably get fewer games on TV. And traffic will be worse. And no matter what anyone says, taxpayers will probably have to cough up some money.

So tell me again why we need a pro football team? 

The Republican presidential race. And finally (with apologies to Newt Gingrich), we come to the little Tiffany bag under the tree. Nothing has been more entertaining than this year's crop of GOP candidates. The race has had more front-runners than a Kentucky Derby. And it's become the Little Engine That Could of the media industry. Enough trees have been cut down (bytes used?) in covering this campaign to re-forest Haiti.

Two truths have emerged in covering this Alice Through the Looking Glass affair:  No one is really sure what's going to happen, and if you want to make enemies in a hurry, write something nasty about Ron Paul. (Or even something nice about Ron Paul -- his supporters will take offense regardless.)

To recap my personal highlights:

On May 12, I confidently predicted that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee, and that he would lose to President Obama. 

Then, on June 10 -– sensing that the Republicans didn't share my enthusiasm for the Mittster -– I boldly entered the race myself.  The heart of my platform? No taxes. (No, not lower taxes; no, not no tax hikes. Just no taxes.)

I thought it would be a winner. If Michele Bachmann could be taken seriously, why not me? Sadly, I was more a Tim Pawlenty than a Gingrich.

On Sept. 26, my crystal ball was at its clearest: I correctly predicted the demise of Rick Perry, writing that if you can't beat the pizza guy (Herman Cain), you aren't presidential timber.

So now I'm back to Romney. I believe what I wrote May 12. I'm sticking to it. Sort of.

But the new year is almost here. And I'm sure I'll be opening this gift again and again in 2012.

And I'm willing to bet that we'll have a GOP presidential nominee, and a balanced budget in California, before L.A. has a pro football team.

MORE YEAR IN REVIEW:

The most troubling immigration trends

Congress' 10 biggest enemies of the Earth

Photos: Ted Rall's 10 most popular cartoons of 2011

--Paul Whitefield

Photos: From left, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul. Photo credit: Associated Press

Sutter, the Capitol canine

  Sutter is a powerful name in California.

It’s the name of the man who owned the sawmill in Coloma where gold was discovered in 1848, and everyone knows what happened after that.

But that Sutter died nearly broke. The present-day Sutter I’m thinking of is a figure who pops in and out of the governor’s office without knocking, who has the virtual run of the Capitol’s corridors of power. This Sutter is the governor’s dog.

Sutter’s bio has been added to the governor’s state website, and he already has a Facebook page. Like his "dad," Sutter is a Zen Jesuit, one who is "not burdened with dogma [but I do like dog bones]."

Dharma, the governor’s black Lab, died last year, and Sutter had belonged to the governor’s sister, Kathleen, from her and husband Van Gordon Sauter’s place in Ketchum, Idaho. The governor doesn’t like small dogs "as a general rule," but in specific, Sutter has star power and serves as a more genial foil to his "dad."

The Times has some irresistible video of the little guy making the rounds.  

He was recently photographed watching the governor do push-ups. This, yoga fanciers, is the real "downward-facing dog" position.

Queen Elizabeth II has Pembroke Welsh Corgis too. They are excellent herding dogs and probably not averse to nipping at the heels of an unruly prime minister.

Thus, Sutter is an opportunity who should not be wasted. He’s already a Capitol favorite, but a little dental persuasion from Sutter might persuade lawmakers and lobbyists who step out of line.

Moreover, the good people trying to get California to pass mandatory spay and neuter and microchipping laws should enlist Sutter as a lobbyist. Unlike other lobbyists, he might not be regarded as a fourth branch of government, but is certainly a four-legged one. 

ALSO:

Occupuppy L.A.

Let dogs have their day in Santa Monica

Lynn Jones: Treated like a dog for trying to help a dog

-- Patt Morrison

More concealed guns for the Golden State?

Banana gun
In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the open carrying of handguns in public.

For several months before that, "open carry" proponents had been especially visible in the South Bay, making their 2nd Amendment point by packing heat in public on the beach and at a fair, among other places.

The sight made some people nervous, including the police; the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from La Canada Flintridge, said police "felt strongly that 'open carry' is not safe and that someone could get hurt or worse."

California became the fifth state to ban open carry. Arizona, right next door, is an open-carry state, except where other laws restrict carrying weapons near schools or in parks.

The open-carry issue in California has an odd history. In 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which prohibited anyone from carrying a loaded gun in public. Yep, Ronald Reagan.

The back story of this is stunningly dramatic. The Black Panthers had become poster people for the 2nd Amendment. California law at the time allowed them -– and anyone else -- to carry long guns as long as they were in plain sight and not being aimed at anyone.

The Mulford Act, sponsored by a conservative Berkeley legislator named Don Mulford, was the Legislature’s response. And the Panthers’ response to the Legislature was this -- a group of armed Panthers, in berets and leather jackets and carrying their weapons, staged the PR coup of marching up the Capitol steps and into the Assembly. As I like to say, I imagine there wasn't a dry seat in the house.

Concealed weapons are another matter.

California counties issue concealed weapons permits. Some sheriffs, like Los Angeles' Lee Baca, approve very few, which ticks off gun advocates; onetime Orange County sheriff Michael Carona rewarded his supporters with concealed weapons permits.  After Carona was indicted on federal corruption charges and resigned -– he was convicted of felony witness tampering -- some of those concealed weapons permits were revoked by the new sheriff.

Now the secretary of state's office has announced that there's a petition ready to circulate in search of  half a million signatures to rearm Californians with concealed weapons.

If it gets on the ballot and passes, it could create a gunslinger's paradise, throwing out virtually all current requirements for getting a concealed weapons permit and letting almost anyone who's not under criminal investigation or indictment or restraining order carry a hidden gun.

Here's what the initiative would do, according to the secretary of state's website:

  • Eliminate good cause and good moral character requirements for license to carry concealed firearms.
  • Compel sheriffs and police chiefs to issue licenses to carry concealed firearms to any eligible applicant with no history of mental illness, substance abuse or domestic violence, who is not currently under criminal investigation or indictment or currently subject of restraining order.
  • Eliminate sheriffs' and police chiefs' option to require applicants to complete up to 24 hours of firearms training, and prohibit them from imposing reasonable restrictions or conditions when issuing the firearms license.

Not even "reasonable restrictions or conditions." Not even a 10-minute course on gun safety. Ready, fire, aim.

Odds are this won't get on the ballot, but the collateral effect of social-issue ballot initiatives in big election years shouldn't go unnoticed. An anti-gay marriage measure on Ohio's 2004 ballot spiked conservative voter turnout and contributed to John Kerry losing the state to George W. Bush.

And in 1982, Los Angeles' Democratic mayor, Tom Bradley, unexpectedly lost a squeaker of a governor's race to Republican Atty. Gen. George Deukmejian. Some analysts now think that -- whatever may have been a closet race vote against a black man trying to become governor, now known as the "Bradley Effect" -- the conservative turnout against a handgun control initiative generated the losing margin for Bradley.

Proposition 15 –- which Bradley, the former cop, endorsed -– would have required some handgun registration and limited handgun purchases. It lost -– and so did Bradley.

RELATED:

Gun control that won't

Guns and states' rights

Gun safety, Texas-style

Open carry: Would-be Yosemite Sams are shot down

Cartoon: Why state legislators needn't carry concealed weapons

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Tammy Cude of San Pedro wears a banana in her gun holster as she passes a Redondo Beach police officer while participating in an "open carry" event at Redondo Beach Pier in August 2010. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

L.A.'s Michael Antonovich and can-do government

Antonovich with the old county seal -- but that's another story
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich rarely gets angry, at least in public, and when he does, it's often hard to tell. He uses the same calm, avuncular tone as he does when dishing out praise, so it's sometimes hard for people to know they've been criticized until they later read a transcript of the remarks.

So it was noteworthy -- no, it was fun -- last week to see him dress down a representative from Southern California Edison for poor response and poor customer outreach in the wake of windstorms that left thousands of people without power, especially in Antonovich's north Los Angeles County district.

For example, when Edison spokeswoman Veronica Gutierrez said her company tried to get the word out to customers without power by using the media, Antonovich lashed back:

"But the media only works if you have electricity to turn on the television. So that's stupid."

Times staff writers Rong-Gong Il and Abby Sewell did a good job in capturing the scolding. But it was especially interesting to note how this conservative Republican, a critic of big government and a proponent of public/private partnerships, kept returning to this surprising theme: Government got the job done. You people in the private sector failed.

"But you're not responding effectively," Antonovich told the Edison rep. "That's why you need to have exercises -- these drills to be coordinated with public/private partnerships. When we do earthquake preparedness, we involve the hospitals, we involve the law enforcement, we involve the entire community, we involve the town councils, we involve the cities."

The public sector did pretty well in the windstorm. There were plenty of complaints against the municipally owned Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, but the DWP got the lights back on in northeast Los Angeles in most cases well before Edison did in San Marino, San Gabriel and other cities it serves.

There's something about a Republican who serves in a nonpartisan position in local government, as Antonovich has since 1980. He's comfortable with government's role and doesn't seem to mind tooting its horn when it does better than the private sector. You won't find that attitude as much among GOP representatives in Sacramento or Washington.

RELATED:

Federal officials criticize MTA for not reaching out to riders

Gov. Jerry Brown declares state of emergency over windstorm damage

Windstorm damage estimated at $40 million

 --Robert Greene

Photo credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

California kids -- not quite as unfit as you're led to think

PE
Time for the annual alarm bulletin from the state Department of Education about the allegedly woeful state of physical fitness among California students. Fewer than a third, it tells us, passed the state's physical fitness test this year.

And it will be time for Californians to take this seriously when the state devises a reasonable system for determining who "passes" the test. Right now, students have to be up to par on all six segments of the test to be considered passing. How many tests do you know that call anything less than 100% a failure?

Able to run a marathon and do stomach curls all day, but lacking in flexibility? You're a failure. Able to jump, twirl and bend for a couple of hours straight in a high-energy dance class, but lacking in upper-body strength? Another failure.

Looking at this a little more realistically, let's examine the pass rates of ninth-graders,  who were the most fit of the three grades -- five, seven and nine -- tested. Only about 37% passed all six tests, but 59% passed five of the six. Five out of six is, in percentages, an 83%, or a B. Close to 80% passed four of the six tests. That would still be a passing grade, though a low one, on, say, a math test.

It's not helpful to the public, students or educators to measure fitness this way, and it tends to mask the more serious problems among the state's youth. In all tested grades, for example, less than 60% of students were within the target range for healthy body composition, and the scores were the worst among the youngest students. Is this a marker of a growing obesity problem among the youngest students? If so, it doesn't represent a failure among school physical education programs, but it's a matter for societal worry. No matter how many pushups an overweight child can perform, serious health problems are more likely to be in his or her future.

The state should set aside its annual headlines of disaster and start measuring fitness in reasonable and informative ways. We can almost always measure results in ways that make schools look like failures, but that's not helping us develop a realistic picture of the ways in which schools should improve. 

ALSO:

Teachers and test scores

Teachers who just don't care

Ex-porn star Sasha Grey in the classroom -- or not

Back-to-school night: A shift away from 'passion for learning'

--Karin Klein

Photo: Students at Van Nuys Middle School do an exercise called the "can can" as part of a self-defense class, one of several fitness classes offered. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

D.C. adopts California's meat-cleaver approach to budgeting

Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington

So the "stupor committee" failed.  Surprise.

Democrats wouldn't budge on cuts to social programs without tax hikes. Republicans wouldn't budge on raising taxes. Voila: A no-budge(t) collapse.

Where have we seen this before?

Oh, right: California's Legislature.

The "super committee" was supposed to make the hard choices that Congress couldn't.  The nation's future was at risk, our political leaders warned.  This time it's serious. We can't kick this can down the road any more.

Oh yes we can.  Heck, we've been kicking this can down the road in California for years.

Remember all the brinkmanship during Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration?  How many times did we hear that we had to get our fiscal house in order?  How many times did someone say "it's now or never"?

But it wasn't.  And it isn't. 

California did what Washington is about to do:  Take the meat-cleaver approach.

Our state budget  calls for automatic cuts if revenues don't come in at a certain level.  And guess what? Revenues aren't keeping up.

So the cuts are coming -– but only to stuff we don't need, like schools. That allows the politicians to point fingers -– while the arms and legs of our kids' futures are being lopped off.

It works so well, Washington has basically agreed to do the same thing:  The super committee couldn't come up with a plan, so automatic spending cuts will kick in.

But wait, there's more: Things are so messed up that, because the committee failed, the average American may see a tax increase of nearly $1,000 in January.  Oh, and unemployment benefits for about 2 million people may run out. (Not to worry, though: The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are safe!)

Good plan.  Thanks, Congress -– now that's leadership.

Still, there's one bit of  good news for California. At least we won't be the butt of all those jokes about how screwed up our state has become.

Because now the whole country will be as screwed up as we are.

RELATED:

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Some delight in demise of 'super committee'

Obama says Republicans to blame for 'super committee's' failure

Super-committee failure may be new blow for unpopular Congress

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is co-chair of the congressional "super committee." Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

California's state senators see the light: No 'free' lunches

Steinberg rich pedroncelli AP oct. 9 2009
On Sunday, Times staff writers Shane Goldmacher and Patrick McGreevy reported that members of the state Senate had treated themselves to taxpayer-financed lunches, in addition to their $95,291 salaries and their $143 per diems. We followed up Tuesday with an editorial ridiculing the senators and calling on them to pay back the money. As McGreevy reported Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, met by phone late Tuesday and voted to start billing themselves, and not the taxpayers, to stock the lunchroom.

Some readers were unimpressed. YankeeMikeBravo noted that the money spent comes to about 0.001% of the state budget. I haven't pulled out the calculator, but yes, the amount is small by comparison. And tod503 calls it a "non-issue" given too much focus by The Times, and says that we ought to be going after bigger things.

Well, sure, it's a tiny amount of money in comparison with the mess the state is in. But it's important to hold our representatives to account for nickle-and-diming us, and it's not an either/or. This lunch thing was blatant, obvious and easy, so we said so.

By the way, they aren't (yet) paying back what they already spent on "free" lunches, but they've taken a step in the right direction, and good for them. It's good to see elected officials respond to Times reporting and editorializing with such alacrity. Because this worked out so well, we'll update our list of other things we'd like to see them do.

But first a note of appreciation to Julie Sauls, spokeswoman for Republican Sen. Jean Fuller of Bakersfield. Fuller missed the vote due to illness, but her stance toward taxpayer-funded lunches was summed up by  Sauls, as quoted Wednesday by McGreevy: "There is a cafeteria in the Capitol."

As cafeterias go, it's not that bad.

RELATED:

Editorial: About that free lunch

State Senate dines at taxpayers' expense

Take this bullet train. Please.

--Robert Greene

Photo: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg outside then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office during a 2009 budget battle. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

 

Raising taxes: Why California needs its two-thirds rule [Blowback]

Sac
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., responds to state Sen. Kevin de León's Oct. 18 Op-Ed article on removing the Legislature's two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes, "End minority rule in California." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) seems to mistake our Golden State for the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, as he claims California could be returned to prosperity if only it were easier for politicians to raise taxes.

De León's "solution" to California's terrible economy and resulting revenue shortfalls is to eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases, a taxpayer protection put into place by Proposition 13.  Without the two-thirds requirement, the political establishment could raise taxes through a system of one-party rule, in which far-left Democrats impose punishing tax increases without a single Republican vote and even bypass more clear-thinking members of their own party.

A local businesswoman recently told me that the happiest day of her life was the day she and her husband closed down their furniture store and retired. California's high taxes and meddlesome bureaucrats made running their store such a headache that it was no longer worth it. One attorney I know likes to joke that he's a Dr. Kevorkian for businesses, because so many frustrated entrepreneurs retain his help to close up shop, the business version of suicide.

Indeed, in the last decade California lost one-third of its industrial base as factories packed up and moved to more welcoming nations or more welcoming states such as Texas, where pro-jobs policies enabled the state to create more than half the nation's new jobs over the last five years. A survey of CEOs by Chief Executive magazine ranked California the worst in the nation in which to do business; we have the highest sales taxes, the highest gas taxes, the third-highest corporate taxes and energy costs that are 50% higher than the national average.  Our unemployment rate is near 12%, the second highest in the nation.

Yet even as overtaxed and overregulated businesses commit figurative suicide, shutting down and laying off California workers, De León thinks the answer is even more taxes. Perhaps as scary as the consequences of higher taxes on job creation is the fact that De León does not understand the basic fact that tax increases are a burden on struggling families, those on fixed incomes and on the small-business owners who are our main driver of economic growth. De León cannot have resources for the generous government services he wants without a healthy economy. He is in effect proposing that the political establishment kill the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg when the Goose is already on life support.

De León also makes the absurd claim that the Legislature's Republican minority thwarts the electorate's will. But when the voters are actually asked if they want higher taxes, they repeatedly vote no. In fact, in 2009 voters rejected by nearly 2 to 1 a $16-billion tax extension proposal that De León still wants to impose.  Since 2004, California voters have rejected every tax increase proposal on the ballot.

"The Gipper" may have rolled over in his grave when De León bastardized his famous quote, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," to call the two-thirds taxpayer protection a "Berlin Wall" keeping California from returning to prosperity. De León writes, "Mr. and Mrs. Voter, please help us tear down this wall."

Ronald Reagan addressed sticky-fingered politicians such as De León when he said: "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

De León's article proves Reagan's point.

RELATED:

End minority rule in California

Newton: A meeting of California minds

Yes to the California Dream Act

-- Jon Coupal

Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Don't tax me bro [Most commented]

Deleon

Should Californians make it easier for Sacramento to raise taxes when doing so reflects the will of the majority? State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), in his Times Op-Ed article Tuesday, asks Golden Staters to do precisely that by voting to eliminate the Legislature's two-thirds' approval requirement to boost tax rates, a rule the senator called a "Berlin Wall of budgeting that leaves us all on one side saddled with lingering troubles." And the reader response? No. Varying degrees of no, maybe, but still -- no. In fact, the commentary was so one-sided and heated that reader "Dave in NoHo" expressed dismay over the tone on the discussion board: 

This is depressing. Not the Op-Ed piece, but all of you bozos who drive on deteriorating highways and don't understand that tax dollars are used to make repairs, and there's lots more stuff like that. I have no idea what it would take to make you understand that your reluctance to pay taxes is part -- a big part -- of the problem.

"Dave in NoHo" was the exception. Read the rest of the comments by clicking on the link to the discussion board above; below is a sampling of responses, which have been edited only for spelling and minor grammatical tweaks.

More taxes? Maybe, but not before you....

Stop whining. You and your political cronies (the public sector unions) already rake in ridiculous amount of money and do no work. All you do is pad your pensions. Meanwhile, our roads, infrastructure, education system and anything else the public sector takes part in are crumbling. This state has gotten to the point of being a national embarrassment. So before you come to the taxpayers wanting more money, I want you to personally agree that you will support the following:

1. Roll back all public sector compensation by 25%.

2. Pledge that you will not lay off one single public employee.

3. Ban political contributions from public sector unions.

4. Prohibit the practice of mandatory union dues. 

5. Convert all public pensions to 401(k) and repeal existing defined-benefit laws.

Do those things and then we'll talk.

-- MarcinSoCal

It's the property taxes

Yes, removing artificial barriers to adults being able to make decisions certainly seems to make sense.  But even as a lefty, I'm concerned about the idea that the most important part of the solution to California's financial mess is to allow for more taxes. In my opinion, Prop. 13 must be addressed first. At the very least, let's consider a split roll, so corporations start paying something close to their fair share.  Then let's see where we're at on the revenue side. Next, let's take a step back and really consider whether all our state programs and mandates are not just cost-effective, but cost-beneficial. Are they actually doing what we need them to do? If not (for example locking up way too many non-violent offenders), then let's scrap them in favor of other efforts.  Also, let's get rid of artificial term limits, consider a unicameral Legislature (the Senate provides no equalizing effect as in Congress, but simply duplicates the Assembly), and a part-time Legislature that does business and then goes home, as in many other states. My point is that there's much more to budget reform than just removing barriers to taxation, and I think we should broaden the conversation.  

-- Clare Mont

California doesn't exist in a vacuum

The article is so nearsighted that it's painful. It looks at California as if it existed by itself. It doesn't. Even being able to increase state taxes will not change the fact that unless the federal government changes laws -- such as removing the benefits given to companies that send manufacturing and jobs overseas -- our tax base, no matter the tax rates, will continue to fall. 

Until federal laws that make it better to manufacture and have jobs overseas and keep billions of dollars in profits offshore rather than reinvesting locally, your solution is, at best, a small bandage placed on a broken arm. Rather than fix the broken arm we can jury-rig temporarily by simply allowing the governor to declare a "fiscal emergency" allowing a temporary 50%+1 vote to change the law for 1 year at a time.

-- DonaldMichaelKraig

We just don't trust you

Hey Kevin, you should read The Times' article about the  city of Vernon's abuse of city officials and their families living in low-rent beautiful city homes.

And you wonder why people are skeptical about paying more taxes and growing the government.

-- PinoyLANative

RELATED: 

End minority rule in California

Newton: A public meeting of minds

Yes to the Claifornia Dream Act

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Kevin de León speaks in the California state Senate on Aug. 29. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Shark fin ban: Yes, a distraction, Sheriff Baca

banchinese americanchinese chamber of commercefinjerry brownlee bacasharkshark finshark fin soupveto

Lee Baca

Sheriff Lee Baca has inexplicably picked up the preservation of shark fin soup as a pet issue, according to a press release from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles. The chamber lauds Los Angeles County's top cop for his "concerns" about legislation that would ban trade in shark fins, the key ingredient in the very expensive and prestigious dish shark fin soup, sometimes served at Chinese weddings as an indication of affluence that honors the guests.

The problem with shark fin soup is that the larger Chinese middle class, both in the United States and abroad, has been able to afford the food like never before, with the result that an estimated 70 million sharks are killed just for their fins each year. The fins are cut off, and the shark is thrown back in the ocean to die.

Sharks might not have many fans, but they do serve an important ecological function in the ocean, and their plummeting numbers are reason for environmental action. The Times' editorial board has supported the legislation, which awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Hawaii, Oregon and Washington already have passed bans.

According to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Baca opposes the proposed ban as "a distraction from more pressing employment issues and suggested that the Legislature refocus on the economy." He went to Sacramento to voice these concerns in person to the governor, the release says.

The Chinese American community has called the bill discriminatory. There is not much demand outside that group for shark fin soup, to be sure, and they point out that other shark goods, such as shark skin wallets, have not been banned.

Fair enough. If banning those wallets would save tens of millions of sharks, I'd certainly agree, those should go as well. But that's no reason for vetoing the ban. The idea of the legislation was to focus on a limited item that causes a tremendous amount of damage and that requires extraordinary waste -- the disposal of an entire animal for one small part.

Is the proposed shark fin ban more a distraction for the Legislature or for Baca himself, plagued with a report  claiming that his deputies are abusing jail inmates and allegations by the FBI that a deputy was bribed to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate?

State government, meanwhile, has many important functions. One of them is to tend to the budget and the economy. Another is environmental protection and, especially in a state whose identity is so closely entwined with the ocean, marine protection. Brown should sign the bill.

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'Parenthood parole' pitfalls

L.A. supervisors' inconvenient public

Get ready, California counties, here come the inmates

Criminal justice: These guys are in serious need of marriage counseling

--Karin Klein

Photo: Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press

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