Appropriate Ways to Spend Soft Money From Hardhanded Sources

See, we--the taxpayers of Orange County--came into a lot of money the last couple of years from property that was seized in drug raids and forfeited to the county. Which means us. Law enforcement people expect to pick up $17 million that way in 1990, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Naturally when the family comes into unexpected money, the relatives all have pet projects on which they want to spend it. Our godfather, Sheriff Brad Gates, wanted to create a kind of law-enforcement country club on drug-expropriated land. When that didn't fly, he used a sizable amount of the money to build a landing pad so President Bush could fly in and praise the sheriff for his efforts in combating drugs. Presumably this will make a nice parking lot for all of us some day in the next century when the Irvine Co. builds a mall there.

Now Uncle Don Roth--who is an Orange County supervisor--has come up with another jazzy way to use this money. He wants to invest it in a football game.

A little background would be useful here. Some of the movers and shakers in Orange County decided seven years ago that an area as prosperous and fast-growing and visible as Orange County should not be without its own bowl game. So they created the Freedom Bowl (an inevitable name in Orange County), hired away the director of the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex., handed him Anaheim Stadium and their blessing, and said, go for it. What they didn't hand him, however, was either a corporate sponsor or enough money to compete with other major bowls for top-ranked schools.

That's why, for the past six years, we've seen a lot of teams, including Brigham Young, Washington, Iowa and Colorado--before they got rich and famous--that usually ranked somewhere in the second 20 nationally. As a result, crowds, TV revenue and national attention were down; the original director quit last year and a new one was hired whose No. 1 mission is to attract a corporate sponsor who would pump money into the kitty in return for name identification. Something like the Knott's Berry Bowl or the FundAmerica Opportunity Bowl. You get the drift.

Well, sir, Supervisor Roth knows an opportunity when he sees one, so a few weeks ago, Uncle Don said, "Why don't we use the family drug money to spruce up the Freedom Bowl?" He wanted to pump in $800,000 and call it the Freedom From Drugs Bowl. Then maybe we could get Notre Dame or Oklahoma. The sheriff was reportedly interested but cool, but some of the rest of the family members were up in arms, feeling that this was a frivolous way to spend money while a lot of family members weren't eating well--or sometimes not at all. These naysayers keep pointing out that the Orange County family budget is going to come up about $41 million short this year even without buying any footballs.

So there the matter rests at the moment. I don't feel qualified to take a position because I have a clear bias: I've wanted to see Notre Dame play for years. But the dispute did start me thinking about other soft money available around the county and how we might use it for the public good.

Here are a few of the possibilities that occurred to me--and I'm still thinking.

Bill J. Walters, Neil Bush's partner in the belly-up Silverado Banking, Savings & Loan Assn., has a $1.9-million estate in Newport Beach, a couple of Mercedes-Benzes and an oceanfront mobile home, among other necessities of life. Let's say Walters keeps one of the cars and the mobile home--he can probably struggle along on that. Then before the Feds move in on him, he could cash out the rest and fund a chair in business ethics, and thousands of young people could prosper by learning his skills.

Then we have Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who is trying to torpedo the National Endowment for the Arts. If he's successful, we'll lose a lot of symphony orchestras and ballet companies, but the upside is that the federal government will have an unexpected $175 million.

What better use for the money than the creation of a national anti-arts organization? It could start right here in Orange County (maybe with some extra funding from the Costa Mesa City Council) in recognition of Rohrabacher's role in ridding this country of the cancer of people who don't think in his carefully circumscribed patterns. Perhaps the congressman could even get enabling legislation that would require every American who dabbles in any aspect of the arts to be deprogrammed of all creativity first. Life would surely be a lot simpler then.

So many other possibilities come to mind.

The $35 million that Joan Irvine Smith won and the $180 million Donald Bren saved in the recent Irvine Co. lawsuit could be pooled to buy Costa Mesa and make it a walled city.

Or the profits from Rep. William E. Dannemeyer's book "Shadow on the Land" could be used to buy an island where all the homosexuals in Orange County could be shipped.

Or the unclaimed state lottery prize money could be used to buy slot machines for elementary schools so the kids could more quickly learn basic mathematics.

You can add to the list. All that's required is a little laissez faire thinking, and we can thank Supervisor Roth for pointing us in that direction. Just so we keep the money in the family. That's the important thing.

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