Essential California: Compton firefighters lack medical skills, restrictions on sex offenders relaxed, big payouts for workers compensation claims
Robin Abcarian Commentary, news and analysis
Pot farm a template for strapped Indian tribes -- or a cautionary tale?

It's quiet this time of year in Mendocino County.

The marijuana plants are still tiny, so the air is fresh and unmarred by the skunky smell of ripe weed. Day workers have not yet invaded the area in search of lucrative work trimming the county's famous resiny buds. "Helicopter season" — when skies thump with the sound of cops hunting down illegal "grows" — is months away.

Still, pot is very much on the mind of Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.

Right now, sitting in his cluttered office, he's concerned about a new venture involving a local Indian tribe, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation; a Kansas company called FoxBarry that helps Native American tribes develop for-profit ventures; and United Cannabis, a Colorado company that develops strains of pot.

The Pinoleville marijuana farm could be the first large-scale medical pot cultivation and distribution enterprise on tribal land in California, if not the country.

The tribe would devote 2.5 acres of its 99-acre rancheria to the venture, which...

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Here's a banner headline: UC Irvine's flag flap has gotten absurd

It's not clear exactly why the American flag went up in the sitting lounge of UC Irvine's student government center. By one account, it was leftover decor from an America-themed party.

In any case, sometime in mid-January, it was tacked to a pale blue wall, where it soon became the object of a power struggle between students who wanted to leave it up and students who wanted to take it down.

On March 5, by a vote of 6 to 4, the take-it-down forces prevailed. The student government's Legislative Council passed a resolution banning the display of any flags in the lounge. The two students who wrote the resolution, Matthew Guevara and Khaalidah Sidney, used stilted, easy-to-mock academic jargon to explain why flags don't belong in the cozy space.

Flags, they wrote, "construct paradigms of conformity." The Stars and Stripes "has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism." The lounge is supposed to be "culturally inclusive" and while hanging the flag might be seen as free speech,...

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Groundbreaking textbook makes the case for reproductive justice field

In Boalt Hall's faculty lounge the other day, UC Berkeley Law professor Melissa Murray was telling me about some of the cases she and her colleague Kristin Luker included in their groundbreaking legal casebook about reproductive justice.

Of course the book includes benchmark Supreme Court decisions that everyone's heard of, the ones that struck down laws against abortion, contraception and sodomy. But it also includes less familiar cases, sometimes significant but often overlooked markers — or bumps — on the road to equality.

I'd never heard of Susan Fejes, a Colorado blackjack dealer and new mother who unsuccessfully sued a casino in 1997 because it would not accommodate her lactation schedule.

"There was no place for her to express milk, and the court's like, 'There doesn't need to be!'" said Murray, 39, who was once accused in a Berkeley restaurant of feeding her infant son "poison" because he was drinking from a bottle.

"We may have a culture that prioritizes breast feeding," she...

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No regrets: Reclaiming abortion as a force for social good

You’d think from the frenzy of anti-abortion regulations that have swept the country in the last few years that Americans have decided abortion should be outlawed.

They have not, although it’s become wildly unfashionable, if not downright revolutionary, to speak of abortion as an unmitigated social good.

And now, here come two authors, physician and abortion scholar David Grimes and essayist Katha Pollitt, to do just that.  Each has written a new book aimed at countering the dire messages abortion opponents have tried to pound into our psyches: abortion is murder, abortion causes lifelong regret, fertilized human eggs are people, too.

If you examine the statistics about families, health and abortion, as Grimes does in “Every Third Woman in America: How Legal Abortion Transformed our Nation,” it’s clear life is better for women and their families when abortion is legal. (The title refers to the number of women who will have had an abortion by the time they reach menopause.)

Among the...

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Amid drought, a turf war between residents and homeowners associations

Rancho Pacifica, a gated community of spectacular multimillion dollar homes in the hills east of Del Mar, is not immune to the ravages of the California drought. Residents, who can easily afford massive water bills, have sought to reduce their water consumption — not just because they have to, but because they want to.

Brian and Frances Holloway, retired custom home builders who live in a palatial 9,000-square-foot Mediterranean, installed artificial turf in their backyard five years ago. After Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency last year and urged Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20%, the couple decided to get rid of their water-sucking front lawn as well.

Not so fast, said their homeowners association. Like many HOAs in upscale neighborhoods around the state, it keeps an iron grip on issues like house color, alterations, parking and landscaping. Now, the Holloways are locked in an escalating struggle with their HOA.

"They have to control everyone's life,"...

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Women are setting the stage for a red-carpet rebellion

The red carpet, I've always thought, is Hollywood back-scratching at its best.

Celebrities, treated more or less like objects, get free publicity, free dresses and the warm glow of knowing that they've reached the top. In turn, fashion designers and stylists get the kind of exposure that only enhances their businesses and reputations.

Everybody's happy, right?

OSCARS: The movies, the actors, more

But even viewers who don't know a peplum from a pothole can see that something is amiss when a star is asked about her dress and pretends not to understand the question.

"I don't know what to say," Nicole Kidman told Ryan Seacrest on the Grammys red carpet Feb. 8, when she and her husband, country music star Keith Urban, paused to chat.

Kidman is a fashion icon. She has worn some of the most spectacular haute couture that has ever appeared on the red carpet, and has been richly rewarded with fashion and cosmetics contracts. Was she just in a bad mood? Had she actually purchased her Thierry...

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