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It’s Weird Out There

Photo by Debra DiPaolo

It was the kind of week when you thought that if you bumped into just one more political candidate, you’d run away and barricade yourself in your home. It always gets that way during election time. You realize that you have not heard an original public utterance since sometime last year, and can barely keep from choking hapless friends who, in all innocence, ask who might make it into the runoff with Jim Hahn.

Thank heavens that a few uncampaigning incumbents last week found ways to divert us from the flow of seasonal drivel, and to remind us just how absurd politicians can be, even when they are not out there running for office.

On Thursday, there was this 48-point headline on the front of the Pasadena Star-News: “Polling Location Shocks Senator.” Boxer or Feinstein, one would imagine, purely from the top-of-the-fold placement and type size.

But no. The senator in question was none other than my former Eastside representative — and sometime Cal State L.A. teaching colleague — Gloria Romero.

And the atrocious location was — get this — an El Sereno neighborhood pool hall. “With smoke in the air and nude pictures on the wall, she said,” in the paper’s mode of attribution. Also beer, which made this North Mission Road establishment, in Romero’s words, “a bar.”

Actually, according to Marcia Ventura of the county Recorder’s Office, the sale of beer was not permitted in the Mis Compadres establishment during election hours. Nonetheless, Romero is said to be demanding an investigation. She claims that many potential voters would not deign to cast a ballot in a place where beer was served yesterday and might yet again be served tomorrow.

As it happens, the balloting she feared tainted was the very March 6 election which Romero won in her bid to succeed 24th District state Senator Hilda Solis, who last year ascended to the U.S. Congress. So you might have assumed that Romero would be the very last person on Earth to complain about how the election was run. You would be wrong.

“Would you vote this way in San Marino?” the senator-elect queried. “The people of El Sereno should be treated with the same dignity.”

Well, now, senator, you would not vote “this way” — I assume Romero really means “in such a place” — in San Marino, simply because that Moloch-ridden enclave happens to be dry. And to have no pool halls. In my opinion (and that of some of the racier San Marinans of my acquaintance), San Marino would actually be a far better place to live in if only it had somewhere to drink beer, let alone shoot snooker. As it stands, about all there is to spend your money on is frocks, stocks and certificates of deposit.

I don’t play much pool. But I see nothing really wrong with voting in pool halls. Or even saloons. Indeed, voting in saloons and billiard parlors is a historic American urban tradition. It dates back more than a century, to when inner-city dwellers mostly lived in tenements and there were few public buildings to house events like elections.

There is also an obvious and growing dearth of public accommodations all over the Eastside that is probably resolvable in Sacramento by fresh legislation that would offer places like El Sereno more funding for their badly needed new senior centers, youth clubs and recreation buildings. These locations also make fine places to vote in.

Somewhat to its credit, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors discarded an attempt last week to rehabilitate one of its most ridiculed institutions. This was the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The idea was to deal with the state-of-the-art child-abuse legends of kiddie porn and Internet pedophilia.

What could a handful of diverse souls meeting on county premises do to abate these allegedly widespread phenomena? Well, they could meet now and then, pore through various prurient exhibits and issue lurid but meaningless periodic reports. In short, they could do pretty much as little as their predecessor panel did for its many years of life — at a cost that Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said could be some $80,000 per year for staffing.

The board voted 3-2 against it, with Republicans Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe for. Okay, so far.

Just after that, however, the board voted 4-1 to pass a measure that health department staff said would create a clear and avoidable hazard to the young — and many others beside. It voted to allow the increased sale of raw milk.

The county Department of Health Services’ Dr. Jonathan Fielding testified that unpasteurized milk is supposed to go through a state inspection process intended to determine that it is free from harmful bacteria before it is sold. But he said that this process was turning out to be faulty, and contaminated milk was getting to market. (The most common contaminant was said to be fecal coliform bacteria, a problem resulting from an aspect of the bovine anatomy that is far too familiar to former farm children who got to help with the milking.) Commercial raw milk could therefore be contaminated with salmonella bacteria whose “strain most associated with milk is serious,” with up to 25 percent mortality in severe hospitalized cases.

“Our concern is primarily with children,” Fielding said. Supervisor Yvonne Burke asked whether she correctly recalled that there were salmonella outbreaks in 1973, 1985 and 1995. Fielding said yes, and “that there may have been a lot more, but they were not reported.” He noted that unpasteurized milk packages are supposed to carry a warning label to alert “children, pregnant women and people whose immunity may be low. The concern [however] is that people oftentimes don’t look at these warnings.”

And that was about as far as Fielding got with his arguments. Raw-milk fanatics had arrived in strength, and some boosters testified that they had drunk the stuff for all of their long lives without apparent ill effects, although none of them, to my recollection, actually said why anyone might want to do so. Mayor Mike Antonovich (as he likes to call himself when it’s his turn to chair the board) said he “didn’t see the evidence” that the sale of raw milk made any difference to public health. Supervisor Don Knabe called the DHS’s objections “basically differences of opinion.” And the board voted 4-1 (Gloria Molina holding out for common sense) that the public be allowed freer access to something potentially far more lethal than even those Internet molesters.

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