Christmas in Sacramento lasts all the year long.
Instead of thank-you notes, legislators write reports of what they got each year. While 1997's totals are down from the year before, oh that frequent flier mileage:
Trade trips and conferences took legislators to Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Hawaii, Italy, Israel and . . . Baltimore. (Fledgling Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa led the Legislature with $13,600 in gifts, much of it for travel. "Antonio," said his press secretary, "has always had an interest in foreign countries.")
At home, the cornucopia poured forth (apart from the usual rounds of golf) a snowboard, flowers, free parking, artwork, circus and rodeo tickets, oranges, turkey jerky, T-shirts and, for newlywed Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), $565 in donated wedding invitations.
Elsewhere in the Capitol, state officials' total take was up from last year. The single largest gift went to Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, who spoke at a floating Alaska cruise-conference sponsored by the conservative magazine National Review ($10,878).
By contrast, a lame duck evidently gathers no goods; Gov. Pete Wilson reported only $264 worth of presents: a robe from the Turkish consul general, a holiday wreath and six poinsettias.
Sixteen legislators chose to just say no to gifts, as did Lt. Gov. Gray Davis. Davis likewise places a truly poor third in the three-way Democratic gubernatorial sweepstakes, behind the meta-millions of Al Checchi and the family fortunes of Rep. Jane Harman.
How far behind? Of the outdated and undetailed economic interest statements the trio filed, Checchi's ran to 37 pages, Harman's was 16, and that of Davis--whose only listed investment was a state of Israel bond--was three, including the cover sheet.
Who shot Willie? Dallas has the second gunman theory; San Francisco has the no-gunman theory.
Mayor Willie Brown's police escorts have raised the question "Why?" The answer--threats. "There have been threats," the mayor said in a January TV interview. "They've even caught people with guns. That's not known by the public."
The San Francisco Examiner reported finding no evidence of such a threat--just a disabled Vietnam vet who has not been accused or questioned in connection with such threats. During last year's U.S. Conference of Mayors, he was arrested for possessing many weapons, all right, the Examiner reported--but outside a Tenderloin hotel, not a mayoral event.
There was no evidence that he had threatened Brown or other dignitaries, according to records. The only man ever prosecuted for threatening Brown, the newspaper found, was a longtime mental patient arrested on a felony charge of making a terrorist threat: calling the mayor's office and threatening Brown with a chain saw, which he evidently did not even own.
They choked: El Nino, serial killer, strikes again. This time, it's the Castroville Artichoke Festival. It's kaput, canceled, nixed--all on account of rain, too much of it. Instead of a bumper crop, the artichokes have come a cropper.
"Artichokes," says Mary Comfort, the state Artichoke Advisory Board manager, "can stand a little water, but they can't swim."
The decision to reschedule the festival for May 1999 surely plunges into mourning, or at least consternation, the fabled town of Castroville, supplier of eight out of 10 artichokes on American tables. The rains have turned a full 40% of the crop into so much vegetable fiber muck, leaving precious little to be festive about.
Too bad. This would have been a big anniversary year for the thistle, which provides one of the dwindling number of acceptable excuses to eat mayonnaise and melted butter.
Fifty years ago, even before the festival began, a budding starlet was adorned with a satin sash and proclaimed Castroville's first Artichoke Queen. Her name was Marilyn Monroe.
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In 1996, the most recent year for which statistics are available, reported crimes were down compared to 1993, the year before the "Three Strikes" law took effect.
1993 1996 % change Homicide 4,095 2,910 -28.9% Forcible rape 11,754 10,238 -12.9% Robbery 126,347 94,137 -25.5% Aggravated assault 193,904 167,390 -13.7% Burglary 413,671 311,778 -24.6% Motor vehicle theft 319,225 242,196 -24.1% Larceny-theft 944,094 828,838 -12.2% Arson 20,343 17,948 -11.8% State pop. (in millions) 31.7 32.4 +2.0%
Source: California Department of Justice, Sacramento
Researched by TRACY THOMAS / Los Angeles Times
One-offs: Several Palm Springs teenagers were detained on suspicion of stealing video equipment after one teen's mother found a videotape of the boys recording themselves in the act. . . . An Oakland man has filed a complaint about police officers who arrested him for allegedly stealing a $2.25 ginger pecan cookie, then subjected him to the "degrading and humiliating" experience of being forced to listen to one cop sing "Escape, the Pina Colada Song." . . . An 81-year-old substitute English teacher accused of whacking an unruly San Francisco teenager during a test has been found not to be a threat to society and will not be prosecuted.
"No questions that will embarrass me or make me look bad in front of my kids."
--State Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) to reporters after a speech launching his candidacy for California attorney general. There were no questions.
California Dateline will appear every other Tuesday beginning March 24.