The Holiday News: O.J., the Beaches and Local Wines

Nice holiday break? How do you like your new (choose one according to your tax bracket) Humvee? DVD player? The Clapper?

In all the holiday goings-on, you may have missed a few news stories, so here's a quick update for you.

Political news: The Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians has been sued by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. These are Indians who are winning back North America one poker chip at a time. In less than five years, they've spread around more than $13 million in California politics, and now they've thumbed their noses at state campaign law requiring them to explain how they spent those millions. We're a sovereign nation, the Agua Caliente say, so we don't have to obey your rules. And the FPPC, hand-wringingly, has gone to court to pit itself against people who have $13 million to throw around Sacramento.

Forget the courts. This is easy. You say you're a sovereign nation? Fine. Under federal and state law, it is way illegal for U.S. candidates or parties to take contributions from foreign governments. You're outta the game.

Environmental news: The Coastal Commission was declared to be an illegal assembly by the courts. In nearly 90 years of ballot initiatives, the 1972 measure creating the Coastal Commission is the one that Californians say they're proudest of. These rulings mean commissioners will have to have fixed terms, not get the hook at the whim of the bigfoot legislators who appoint them.

This started when a 74-year-old Frenchman wanted to help the ailing ocean along by creating artificial reefs. This he did with old tires and plastic jugs, but without the Coastal Commission's OK. While the idea was worthy, the stuff used to create the reef was adjudged not to be so. After the commission said the Uniroyal Reef violated the Coastal Act, the Frenchman sued over the commission's constitutionality.

Right about now, a lot of rich people are asking themselves, "Why didn't my overpaid lawyers think of that?" They had agreed to give public access to public beaches in exchange for being allowed to build fabulous beach houses, but now are dragging their feet in the sand.

Take David Geffen, the G in DreamWorks SKG. He agreed to public easements to the public beach in exchange for getting to build a seawall, a bigger garage, a guest house, deck, pool and maid's quarters. Now he's keeping the public gate closed. He says it's for our own good -- how could we possibly enjoy the beach without parking, bathrooms, lifeguards and waiters bringing us mai tais? (I made up the mai tai part.)

A decade ago, when the fair and flush city of San Marino had to meet low-income housing requirements, it considered paying some poorer city nearby to take over San Marino's affordable housing quotas. Which is kind of what some of the coastal rich are doing -- making deals that don't happen (a stairway to another beach that never gets built) or even trying to buy up coastal land elsewhere so the public will go there and leave them alone.

As long as the commission is hung up in court, why not swap the entire 1,100-mile California coast for 1,100 miles of beaches in Chile?

Automotive news: The L.A. Auto Show is up on blocks for your viewing pleasure at the Convention Center, a once-on-the-calendar chance to see the razzle-dazzle future-on-wheels and the fossil-fuel boneyard at the same time.

Obituaries: The Saudi sheik who shocked has died. In 1978, he paid cash for a Beverly Hills mansion, painted it a shade of regurgitated green, forested it with plastic flowers and colorized the white Italian statues in lifelike skin and hair colors, right down to the genitalia. He left the U.S. and later was banished from Saudi Arabia -- for his politics, not his taste.

Food news: There's a wine crisis in California, cradle to the fermented fruit of the vine since the Civil War, when a ballad called "The Wines of Los Angeles County" was popular. For decades, California wines have given French vintages a run for their francs, but now Australian and South American imports are crowding Golden State shelves. Baby boomers are drinking all they can, but need your help. Be patriotic. Drink Californian.

Local news: In Santa Monica, Harry Shearer's "home of the homeless," there's a challenge to a new law essentially making it legal to feed flocks of seagulls, but not groups of homeless. The law is either meant to clear the homeless off the streets, or to get them into social services agencies, depending on whom you talk to.

Sports news: At a player's invitation, O.J. Simpson showed up at USC football practice before the Orange Bowl, and the team cheered him. Whose judgment was worse -- Simpson's, for going, or the players', for cheering a man who has both a Heisman trophy and, in the real world, a $33.5-million civil judgment for liability in the slayings of his ex-wife and her friend? The player who invited Simpson said, "To us, he's just a former star." (And in Beverly Hills, the Menendez brothers are former tennis players.)

Entertainment news: The new film "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is based on autobiographical claims by game show creator/host Chuck Barris that his double-life career was as a hit man for the CIA. Can't be true -- Barris had more hits than the CIA, even if they did include "The Gong Show."

Financial news: See obituaries.


Patt Morrison's columns appear Mondays and Tuesdays.

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