Controversies on two coasts

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From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

I’ve been following the fate of Terri Schiavo, watching it swing back and forth, from the courts to the Congress to the president and back again; secure in the knowledge that this was never going to happen to me. After all, Karen and I had signed all the necessary documentation-no resuscitation, no heroic measures, all that kind of stuff. I mean, when it’s your time, it’s your time. Right?

Right, except I keep getting this persistent nightmare that I am lying in bed, unable to move or speak, kind of staring at the ceiling tiles when this cheery nurse comes bounding into my room and says, “Good morning Arnie, I’ve got exciting news for you. Today we’re going to pull the plug.” According to everything I signed, you could assume that my reaction would be, “What a wonderful idea.” However, until that day comes, who actually knows. It just might be the opposite. It could be, “Let’s not rush into this thing. Let’s sleep on it because we can always pull the plug tomorrow.”

Sometimes, things can look different lying in a hospital bed in the ICU, hooked up to a bunch of machines going ping, bong, pink, than they did a few years earlier in a lawyer’s office. I mean, Karen and I could arrange a secret signal, like in the old days when people were buried with a bell above their grave and a cord ran into the coffin so they could yank on the bell chord if they woke up. I always sort of simply assumed those gravediggers were not the brightest group and kept trying to bury living people, so it was sensible to have a little escape line with the bell.

Then I got to thinking of some overworked ICU nurse, working a double shift at night, giving me a quick once over and saying, “He’s gone. Pull the plug, besides we need the bed.” Or, worse yet, my HMO Utilization Committee saying, “Sorry Arnie, you’ve exceeded the allotted average time allowed to linger so, according to our statistics, you’re dead and, although we deeply regret it, sayonara. Besides, we have profit projections to meet.”

As I said initially, it may very well look different from the other side, so to be safe, Karen and I now have a secret “out” signal. She told me, “Not to worry. Juan and I are going to take very good care of you before we leave for Antigua.”

On the brighter side, next Week, April 6, at 2 p.m., No. 1 item on the afternoon calendar, the California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Marine Forest Society v. the California Coastal Commission. The courtroom is located in the Ronald Reagan State Office Building, 300 South Spring St., 3rd floor, North Tower and is open to the public, but seating is limited.

This is a case involving a man who built an artificial reef out of tires, which the California Coastal Commission told him he had to remove or face all sorts of penalties. He was a stubborn, gutsy old guy who saw this as a matter of principal, and next week he’s finally going to get his real day in court before the California Supreme Court. The challenge is that the Coastal Commission is unconstitutional as made up because it is an executive agency with executive powers and yet two-thirds of the 12-person commission is appointed by the Legislature. The basic concept is the Legislature, which is composed of the people who make the laws, doesn’t get to enforce them. That’s the job of the Executive Branch. In other words, we split the power. Conversely, the Executive Branch, that’s the governor and his executive appointees, gets to enforce the law but not make the law.

That’s the basic concept. Of course, in practice it gets a lot muddier and the lines are not so clear, and every agency tries to spin their use of delegated power as legitimate. For years, some lawyers have been using this argument about the illegal separation of powers, but to no avail. But in the last decade or so, the Coastal Commission, and the likes of their Executive Director Peter Douglas and former Chair Sara Wan, have virtually read the Coastal Act as giving them a mandate to do whatever they want; and they haven’t hesitated to use their powers, often excessively.

Well, as happens in politics, if you reject moderation, in time, you begin to pick up enemies, which the Coastal Commission has managed to do. It has locked horns with the coastal counties and cities like Malibu. It’s caused major splits in the environmental movement. It’s gone toe-to-toe with a number of other state and federal agencies and, in its insistence, the Coastal Commission was the lead agency in anything coastal and has managed to really annoy the other agencies enough that many of them wouldn’t mind seeing the Coastal Commission get its wings clipped.

Still, it’s very difficult to predict how this will end up. There are some very difficult legal questions involved that may not only impact the California Coastal Commission, but perhaps a host of other state agencies. The Supreme Court is probably going to proceed very carefully and it’s possible it could come down with a major decision and change everything. Or, instead, it just might open the door a crack and then wait for other cases to come down over the next few years to write the details. No one knows, but it’s going to be exciting, and I’ll bet there are a whole bunch of coastal bureaucrats swigging a lot of Maalox this week.