Snapshots of life in the Golden State. : City Without Police Has Weapons to Arm Them

Just as the top burghers of Stockton were voting not to let their townsfolk carry concealed weapons, the city parents of the peaceable town of San Juan Bautista, north of Salinas, found to their dismay that they already owned concealed weapons enough for a small insurgency movement.

San Juan Bautista doesn't even have a police department anymore--they had to disband it because they couldn't afford it. But before the SJBPD folded, someone bought it a concealable, fully automatic 9-millimeter machine gun that can spray 1,200 rounds a minute and be fitted with a silencer. At that rate, the gun could shoot everyone in the town of 1,630 in a little over one minute--quietly.

Other weapons turned up too--10-millimeter pistols and a sniper rifle--to the great perplexity of the City Council, which had already refused to sell the big gun to gun dealers and a movie company. So the city decided this week to destroy its "mistempered weapon." San Juan Bautista is now patrolled by one sheriff's deputy, who finds a .357-caliber revolver adequate to the task.

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I'd New York if I could find it there in New Jersey: First, the New York Times declared California to be not of this Earth. Now, it has named a nonexistent place as the heart of Los Angeles.

When the space shuttle set down at Edwards Air Force Base in October, the Times' headline was:

"After Detour to California, Shuttle Returns to Earth."

And last Sunday's magazine cover story on the wonders of New York (what, again?) asked the press agent's question, what could rival the up-and-surgent 42nd Street as the capital of the world? "The Tokyo Stock Exchange? CNN Center? The intersection of the Hollywood and Santa Monica freeways?"

We would never suggest that, in part because we are a modest people, and in part because there is no interchange of the Hollywood and Santa Monica freeways.

They don't intersect--just like real California and the New York version.

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Voting Absentee

Voting by absentee ballot continues to rise, more than tripling in California since 1980. In this month's election, an estimated 25% of the 8.8 million ballots cast were absentee. Here is a voting breakdown in the last five November elections and the June, 1994, primary.

Total Ballots Absentee Pct. Election (in millions) Ballots Absentee 1986 7.6 685,574 9.0 1988 10.2 1,434,853 14.1 1990 7.9 1,452,139 18.4 1992 11.4 1,950,179 17.2 1993* 5.3 1,156,214 21.9 1994** 4.9 1,011,563 20.4

* Special election

** Primary election

Source: California secretary of state

Researched by TRACY THOMAS/Los Angeles Times

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Animal rites, simian and sylvan: Koko the verbal gorilla--she who can "sign" several hundred words and understand about 2,000, which would put her in an honors program these days--may have saved the forest primeval. Residents' opposition was joined by a plea from the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside that logging 36 adjacent acres of old-growth redwoods on the San Francisco Peninsula could induce a heart attack or imperil Koko's breeding chance--and the state agreed to deny a logging permit.

And up Gilroy way, the law doesn't wear a badge--it wears antlers.

RoboDeer, a kind of audio-animatronic deer, has a forest beat to keep real deer from illegally becoming venison. Robo has already taken a bullet from a man who mistook it for the real thing, backed up his pickup to illuminate Robo with the headlights, and cranked off eight shots. Game wardens videotaped the encounter and charged the man with four offenses.

Rewired from his battlefield wounds, RoboDeer--one of three donated by the Mule Deer Foundation--is on duty again, a decoy for snagging poachers, who kill about 60,000 to 70,000 deer each year here.

Prediction: Koko and Robo get hired as lobbyists by the Sierra Club.

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Parking parallels: First it was Berkeley, with parking meters in one shopping district programmed to accept a little plastic debit card so you needn't tote around nickels and quarters that weigh you down as surely as a dozen jelly doughnuts.

Now Oakland is embarking on the same experiment--and lest you think that parking meter currency is necessarily small change, the Oakland "cash key" will be selling in denominations of $10, $20 and $50.

Here, in car heaven, we still do it the traditional way. We swear that meter was broken.

EXIT LINE

"Unfortunately, they're still playing second fiddle to the Donner Party. Their success will always be overshadowed by the failure of the Donners."

--The musings of Jim Rose of the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission, on the widely uncelebrated sesquicentennial anniversary of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party, which blazed the first covered wagon trail into California through the Sierra. A plaque honoring the achievement sits near Donner Pass, named for the more famous travelers who didn't make it.

California Dateline appears every other Friday.

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