While California state legislators pay lip service to local decision-making, they also claim a divine right to intervene in local conflicts by siding with one faction or the other, even when it means overturning ordinary governmental and legal processes.
State Sen. Juan Vargas, who made it back into the Legislature last year by the skin of his teeth, embraces that dubious, time-dishonored practice with measures that would intervene in two local development flaps.
The one-time San Diego assemblyman defeated fellow Democrat Mary Salas by just 22 votes after one of the hardest fought and most expensive legislative primary contests in California history. He then coasted to an easy win in the November election in the heavily Democratic 40th Senate District, which sprawls along the state’s southern border, and he may run for Congress next year.
Business groups poured money into Vargas’ campaign, while Salas was favored by labor unions and other elements of the party establishment. One of her financial supporters was the California Tribal Business Alliance, a coalition of casino-owning Indian tribes.
However, one Vargas bill, Senate Bill 833, takes the side of the casino-owning Pala Band of Mission Indians in a bitter fight over a 308-acre landfill disposal site in San Diego County called Gregory Canyon.
Gregory Canyon Ltd. has been working nearly two decades to secure multiple state and local permits, including two successful ballot measure campaigns, and establish the site over the objections of the Pala Band and some environmental groups.
The landfill was on the cusp of final approval when Vargas stepped in with SB 833, which would block the project and thus give a win to the tribe and other project opponents who had lost in other arenas.
Meanwhile, a second Vargas bill, SB 469, inserts the state into a long-running controversy in San Diego over development of “superstores” by Wal-Mart and other big retailers, taking the side of grocery store unions and Wal-Mart’s competitors who were losing at the local level.
The measure would require such superstores to undergo economic impact analyses, giving opponents more legal ammunition. His bill would apply to Wal-Mart but exempt Costco and similar stores.
It is bothersome that legislators who can’t balance the budget or otherwise perform their legitimate duties would blithely interfere with years of exhaustively detailed permit procedures, as the Gregory Canyon bill would do, or overturn local land use processes, as the Wal-Mart bill would do.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.