January-March

JANUARY Considering Jan. 1 was the first day of California's brand-new smoking ban, we didn't know what to expect when we entered our neighborhood sports bar to catch the college bowl games. We pictured something along the lines of a Mel Brooks fight scene, with bartenders using soda-water nozzles to douse lit cigarettes, bouncers ignoring fights between drunken patrons so they could break up fights between waitresses and smokers, and confused medicinal-marijuana users weeping in the middle of the melee because they don't know whether to side with health advocates or smokers'-rights supporters. Instead, we witnessed something from the past-as in 10 hours past. Nothing had changed. Drinks were ordered, watered down and distributed. Waitresses were overworked, propositioned and stiffed. Patrons got loud, loaded and then more loaded. And hanging over it all was that familiar blue cloud that's as much a fixture at bars as Norm's fat ass is in the corner stool at that place where everyone knows your name. This sports bar's employees were not about to tell some inebriated construction worker with a Megadeth T-shirt and Manson-esque squint in his red eyes that he'd have to put out his cigarette or else. Smokers didn't even get dirty looks. Okay, everyone got dirty looks, but not because they were smoking. Thus, California's don't ask/don't tell policy (don't ask them to stop smoking/don't tell them to stop smoking) was the butt of many a joke on Day One. . . . Led by Supervisor Todd Spitzer, the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 8 voted to implement a 32-hour workweek requirement for OC's 100,000-plus welfare recipients, many of whom are single mothers already working minimum-wage jobs. Health and welfare advocates had supported a 26-hour week proposal, but Spitzer and Chairman Jim Silva defeated that plan in December 1997. With a federally imposed deadline looming, the Supes endorsed the 32-hour workweek-one of the strictest in the country. "We are not in a competition to see if we can be the county that is the most restrictive and most punitive [to welfare recipients]. Are we?" OC resident Carla Henderson asked the board. Clearly, the answer was yes. . . . Guess who helped the Marine Corps get the green light to build officer homes on a pristine bluff overlooking world-famous surfing hot spot Trestles? None other than that archenemy of development, the California gnatcatcher. A federal judge on Jan. 13 rejected the Surfrider Foundation's request for an injunction to halt a Marine housing project on San Mateo Point, paving the way for the construction of 120 duplexes on 32 acres surrounded on three sides by San Onofre State Park and bordering the San Mateo Creek wetland reserve and President Richard Nixon's former Western White House. Surfrider's volunteer attorneys contended the Marines violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately evaluate less environmentally sensitive land. Surfrider even suggested an on-base site next to San Clemente, but an assistant U.S. attorney representing the Marines said that plot is in a flood plain and would have destroyed a habitat of the endangered gnatcatcher.

FEBRUARY Having earlier convinced the San Diego Regional Water Control Board that an environmental-impact report was not needed, Southern California Edison on Feb. 11 won the board's blessing to discharge warmer water from the San Onofre nuclear-power plant into the Pacific Ocean. Edison, which flushes about 1.2 million gallons of sea water daily, completed a less onerous negative declaration, a simple checklist that concluded that discharging water that's up to 25 degrees hotter than the ocean's natural temperature won't significantly impact the marine environment. Environmentalists called the negative declaration bogus and countered that the hotter cooling water will further cloud the ocean and harm everything from plankton to kelp. . . . Is there anything more bitchen than OC's Libertarian streak? Bar owners here who were still pissed over California's new cigarette-smoking ban hit the state where it hurts most. Modesto? No, silly: the wallet. The barsters, who reported business was off because of the smoking ban, launched a one-week boycott on Feb. 15 of the state's popular "Hot Spot" lottery game, which patrons played on terminals inside taverns. The statewide effort was expected to cost the less Golden State between $80 million and $150 mil. . . . The Trabuco Canyon Water District blamed El Niño for the Feb. 16 failure of an electrical pump station that sent 480,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean. The worst spill in OC in three years, the shit closed a two-mile stretch of Aliso Beach. Capistrano Beach, Salt Creek County Beach and Dana Point Harbor breakwater/Doheny State Beach also experienced El Niño-induced sewage-spill closures. Mark Cousineau, president of San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation, urged surfers and swimmers to stay out of those waters until contamination tests could be completed. One local surfer who spoke with us needed no convincing. "Fuck this," he said. "I'm going snowboarding." . . . Thomas F. Riley's death at age 85 on Feb. 19 prompted real-estate developers, politicians and journalists to get all misty-eyed over the concrete-loving former county supervisor. As if reading the same cue cards, OC powerbrokers praised Riley's "integrity" and "honesty" in the local dailies, which chose not to touch on the fact that the Newport Beach supervisor's public office was an ethical cesspool. Some praise was downright laughable, such as an unattributed line in a Times OC news story: "Riley's attention to the nuts and bolts of office holding was legendary." Of course, this is the same Thomas F. Riley who chaired the Board of Supervisors when Orange County lost $1.7 billion in the world's largest municipal bankruptcy.

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