By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
So why not temporarily re-install the old benches — which for years served as, among other things, the bleachers for a covey of elderly practitioners of the duchgeredt, the Jewish art of street-corner discussion? "The old benches were still here," Smith says, "but we could not disperse them, because of a directive from the county Parks and Recreation after a tragic accident in Laguna Niguel, where several children playing on a bench toppled it over and one of the little fellows was killed. Benches must be cemented to the ground, and the new benches are bigger than the old ones, so we didn’t want to have the extra expense of fastening them down and pouring concrete twice to accommodate the old benches and then the new benches."
Of course, by the time the new benches finally arrive, it may be too late to revive the old meeting place for the neighborhood’s talkative cranks — not to mention the cranks themselves.—Greg Goldin
Rate Wars, Nothing But Rate Wars
Those wacky insurance-industry guys, whose big-ticket politicking and deceptively named front groups have kept California’s premiums near the national ceiling for a decade, are at it again. This time, it’s under the auspices of the so-called CalFAIR (Californians for Affordable Insurance Rates), which ran full-page ads over the last two weeks in, among others, the L.A. Times, attacking a consumer bill backed by the Ralph Nader–affiliated The Oaks Project in Santa Monica.
The bill, SB 1237, would restore so-called third-party lawsuits in which drivers sue the other guy’s insurance carrier for lowballing claims or deliberate foot-dragging. Hardly radical, yes? Not according to CalFAIR, which warns that the bill is a ploy by trial lawyers to increase frivolous lawsuits and jack up our insurance rates all at the same time. In its pricey (a full-page Times ad runs up to $70,000) campaign, CalFAIR also has charged that the bill would expand suing rights for drunk drivers.
Both arguments are preposterous, says Oaks organizer Paul Herzog: Proposition 213, the voter-approved insurance-rate rollback initiative, would prevent the industry from hiking rates just because they lose on the bill. And 1237 has a rider specifically prohibiting drunk drivers from benefiting, he adds.
"It’s high-level political deception," charges Doug Heller, consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. (The Oaks is the foundation’s organizing and educational arm.) "What the insurance companies want to do is take away our day in court."
CalFAIR claims to be a coalition of business, labor, health and education groups. But the only labor interest named in the group’s 800-number recording is the California Correctional Officers Association, which backed the GOP during much of former Governor Pete Wilson’s prison-construction bender. The real powers behind CalFAIR are the insurance companies, including Farmers, All-State and USAA, Herzog says. (An exception is Mercury, which signed off on 1237.)
CalFAIR spokeswoman Gina Stassi insists that the coalition is broader than that, although she concedes the correctional officers are CalFAIR’s only labor backers — and that the withdrawal of the state boards of education brought the committee’s education membership down to zero.
"Yes, the insurance industry is part of the coalition, and they do have a stake, but so do taxpayers. Latin and black business associations have a stake in this bill," Stassi says. Mothers Against Drunk Driving also oppose 1237, she adds. Of course, the single-issue group has little expertise in incredibly baroque insurance-rate setting.
The kind of confusion created by the CalFAIR ads — "You’re screwing the little guy," "No, you are . . . yadda, yadda" — is not new in California politics. In 1996, similar tactics were used to defeat an Oaks initiative that would have eliminated a $28 billion bailout of state utility investments in nuclear and coal-fired power plants. (The industry group that time was called Californians Against Higher Taxes and Higher Utility Rates.)
Third-party lawsuits used to be allowed, until the liberally cleansed California Supreme Court — after Chief Justice Rose Bird’s ouster — said they had to be authorized by the Legislature. (A little-known piece of California history is that the 1986 "Dump Bird" campaign, while pushing a pro-death-penalty line, was quietly funded by business interests angered by the Bird court’s support for consumer rights and environmental protections.) With the Governor’s Office finally in Democratic hands, The Oaks Project is hoping to win back a bit of lost ground. SB 1237 is on Governor Gray Davis’ desk. You’ll be seeing Oaks organizers outside your local grocery or farmer’s market.EDITED BY GALE HOLLAND