Around the state


From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

Sara Wan versus just about everyone

One of the better political battles shaping up around here is the one between Sara Wan, former chair of the California Coastal Commission, now reduced to being just another member, and Marshall Grossman, a former California Coastal commissioner many years back who also happens to be a very prominent litigator and has a home on Broad Beach. The battleground is Broad Beach, and the most recent volley involves Grossman’s exchange of letters with the Coastal Commission and his demand that Wan recuse herself from any Coastal Commission decisions about Broad Beach because of her outspoken advocacy on the issue and thusly her inability to be objective. The commission, of course, poo pooed this line of reasoning since no one ever expects any commissioner, let alone Wan, to be objective about anything.

In fact, as we speak, Wan is engaged in a battle royal with the city of Dana Point, which was outraged when Wan, after losing a commission vote, allegedly got off the dais and proceeded to counsel the loser on how to sue the Coastal Commission to upset the decision. The city of Dana Point was a bit upset and wrote the chair of the coastal commission protesting what it thought was unfair and unseemly, and possibly illegal behavior. The commission and its staff, of course, responded with “shock and awe” that any right minded citizen might believe that the commission or any of its members might be less than “fair and balanced,” and explained that there are no rules concerning what any member does after a vote.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide

The Marine Forest Society case is before the California Supreme Court and we’re all waiting for it to set the case for oral argument. The case challenges the constitutionality of the Legislature appointing two-thirds of the Coastal Commission, which is an executive agency. The Legislature in its infinite wisdom tried to fix the problem by giving all legislative appointments fixed terms so they would theoretically be free from legislative interference, the thought being if they can’t be replaced, they can’t be told what to do. What the Legislature apparently didn’t consider is that some of the appointers, like the speaker and the Senate pro tem, get term limited out, but their appointees go on. Sen. John Burton’s term ends at the end of December, and even though he’s leaving, Wan is not because she has a multiyear fixed term. So whereas before Wan at least had to answer to Burton, an elected official, now she answers to no one, which might explain why she roams around picking fights wherever she pleases. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will take notice and figure out that this solution may be as bad as the original problem.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation audit

One of the more fascinating aspects of California politics is a rule called the Rule of Unexpected Consequences. For example, the California secretary of state is Kevin Shelly, who hails from San Francisco, and in this moment he appears to have a bit of a political, if not legal, problem because some state grant funds that were to go to some local group allegedly ended up in his campaign account. The San Francisco Chronicle, which is now owned by the Hearst organization, is all over the story. Although I don’t yet know the back-story, I suspect the paper has a long history with Shelly and his dad who was a former mayor of San Francisco. Once the paper started digging into the woodpile, it turned out that the dollars came from the California Department of Parks and Recreation and that much of the money spent didn’t look like it had much to do with parks or recreation. In all fairness to the parks department, it may very well be that it didn’t have anything to do with how the dollars were spent. Its job was merely to write the checks when the bill was presented. The investigation grew rapidly . In fact, the Chronicle headline read, “Millions in Grants, but Scant Oversight,” “State is Auditing Funds to Nonprofits.” The feds from the state controller’s office are getting into the investigation, which is growing to include moneys going to nonprofits. It hasn’t yet gotten to the bond money, but when you read terms being bandied about like “scant government oversight” and “questionable business practices,” you can expect that the criminal prosecutors are going to be sniffing around pretty soon.

It’s not been a very well kept secret that bunches of bond money goes to organizations like environmental groups with very minimal oversight. I’m sure many others are feeding at the trough, some legally, some not. The Legislature just voted for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which is a heavy weight committee to look into this. We may be seeing the beginning of a whole new level of scrutiny of these bonds, which to my mind is long overdue. There are a great many agencies that use grants and bond moneys to reward their supporters and, in effect, help pass the next money bond they want.

Again, serious legislative scrutiny is long overdue.

P.S. Breaking News: State Controller Steve Westly directed state accountants to return $15 million in unspent grants from the parks department to the state’s general fund.

“We found problems every step of the way,” Westly said in a press release. “Some groups didn’t know they were getting a grant. Others didn’t know what to do with it. It’s time to pull the plug.”

More next week.