From the Publisher: The Price of Paradise

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Arnold G. York

Herbicides have always been a big issue in Malibu, and Poison Free Malibu and others have been battling against the use of the Monsanto Company herbicide weed killer, which sells under the brand name Roundup. It is no longer being used in Malibu, we’ve been told. The fears were it was getting into the animal food chain as well as the human food chain and the product was a known carcinogen. The carcinogenic claims were hotly disputed science with numerous well-known and reputable scientists on both sides of the question. Recently, the case of a 48-year-old groundskeeper who worked for a school district in Solano County, Calif., and used Roundup extensively for years, went to trial. He is dying of cancer and only has a short time to live. The question was—did Roundup cause it? A San Francisco jury brought in a verdict of $289 million against Monsanto, and most of that award was for punitive damages, which is pretty much only given for intentional bad conduct. The magnitude of the award staggered the corporate world and also the legal world in particular, since there are about 5,000 other Roundup cases in the pipeline. What’s happened is that modern communications, particularly emails, recorded conversations and internal documents from both the corporation and the government leave trails that never can be completely eradicated and juries today get to see and hear things that never would have made it into the courtrooms in the old days. Even though the World Health Organization had decided that the basic ingredient in the herbicide, glyphosate, was a carcinogen, our Environmental Protection Agency said it was not but documents came out in trial showing Monsanto’s lobbying of the EPA to get that noncarcinogenic determination.

Bayer, which is a German corporation, just completed its $63 billion merger with Monsanto this year and once the verdict broke, Bayer’s shares dropped as much as 14 percent, which equates to a stock loss of almost $14 billion. In our global world, the cost of getting caught is going up. 

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The Coastal Commission struck again—this time in Laguna Beach—and fined two beachfront homeowners $1 million and ordered them to tear down a large seawall, which might very well destroy the house behind it when the winter storms come. The house on Victoria Beach in Laguna was built long before the Coastal Act and a prior owner had built the seawall. It was permitted reluctantly, I suspect, by the Coastal Commission, but with a condition that the seawall had to come down if the house was rebuilt. The new owners renovated the house extensively; coastal staff decided that in its opinion, that constituted a rebuild. The owners said it’s just a renovation, it’s the same footprint and the same size and for that, we didn’t need a coastal permit, merely a Laguna permit, which we have. I must confess that I don’t know all the facts. Whether it was a rebuild or a renovation, it should be tried by someone who is objective, like a judge. But that is not how the system works today. 

First, coastal staff decides what it thinks is correct and then it says essentially “do it,” tear down the wall and pay the fine we assess at $500,000. And as has happened here in Malibu, if you don’t obey the coastal staff, when the matter gets to the coastal hearing the commission doubles or triples or quadruples the staff-recommended fine, similar to what happened here in Malibu with the $4.2 million fine. I don’t know what kind of hearing they had at coastal, but if it had one, I certainly would suspect it was far from unbiased and not very objective. 

In Laguna, the staff-recommended fine was doubled to $1 million, probably for contempt of staff. The hearing is followed by a major press offensive to demonize the homeowner and I know this because as I googled the press coverage, the same phrases kept popping up in the articles that had obviously come from press releases and probably some follow-up phone calls. 

What I’m fearful of is that this is going to get worse because the future looks like more temperature warming, and changes occurring in the ocean and the shore. It’s a disaster for people who live here but an enormous opportunity for governmental bureaucracy that wants to enlarge its turf. We are being inundated by governmental administrative agencies that appear to answer only to themselves and we have lots of these agencies impacting us that throw us into a bureaucratic maze, to which there may be no exit. Today in Malibu we have Broad Beach having lost much of its sand and yet seemingly unable to fix it, even though the homeowners are willing to pay for it. We have probable erosion at the Adamson House. Coastal Commission is sort of a super city council, exercising a great deal of control over us in the name of protecting beach access. A dozen Malibu neighborhoods are now battling the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy over proposed camping sites with campfire sites just above the city line. We are just putting the finishing touches on a wastewater treatment plant, which helps to solve a regional problem of wastewater coming down the Malibu Creek, but only Malibu is paying for it.

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Enough paranoia for one week. I guess paradise comes with a steep price.