The Regulatory State in Action — California Whale Department

From time to time, we follow the literary convention (or is it a cliche?) of referring to California as “la-la land.” It never disappoints in that regard, and here comes another wacko story that gives every appearance of being true. See Scott Gold and Matt Stevens, Malibu’s Great Blight Whale, L.A. Times. December 7, 2012, at p. A1 — yes, a front-page story this. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-beached-whale-20121207,0,4479393.story

It seems that the Pacific Ocean has washed up a dead whale onto the Malibu beach. A 40-foot, 40,000 pound fin whale carcass to be exact, that — at least when it washed up on shore — was in “really, really great condition,” according to a grand poo-bah of the California Wildlife Center. In a sane place, the next step would be to dispose of the carcass promptly before it became a serious public health problem. It says here that the preferred means of disposal would be to tow the carcass out to sea and let nature take its course, although since everything has a downside, there is a caveat: doing so might only cause the whale carcass to wash up on shore somewhere else. But the opportunity to do so went by as  nothing was done and the rotting carcass started decomposing, raising the risk that an attempt to tow it away would only cause it to disintegrate and render towing physically impossible. And according to the authorities, so it came to pass. By now, disposal by towing is no longer an option — attempting to do so would only make a big mess, says a spokesman for the California Department of Parks. Long story short, it turns out that this is happening because no government entity in California is willing to admit that it has jurisdiction over such things. You’d think that this is the first dead whale to wash up on a California beach. We do have a government department that monitors the procreative activities of kangaroo rats, but evidently none to attend to rotting whale carcases.

So the whale carcass in question has been lying out there among the Malibu grandees, doing what unattended carcasses are wont to do in a warm climate: decomposing and providing fodder for seagulls, crabs and other marine creatures that look upon this event as a fortuitous feast, and don’t seem to mind the fierce stench.

But what about the high-class locals? Aren’t their olfactory sensibilites offended? Aren’t they up in arms over this positively comedic instance of government ineptitude and nonfeasance with public health implications?  Not so that you can tell. ”[D]ozens walked down the beach to pay their respects,” said the Times. “Pay their respects”? To a huge pile of rotting whale blubber? Evidently. See Gawkers Hold Noses, Trek to Rotting Whale Carcass in Malibu, latimes.com/news/local, Dec. 9, 2012. Welcome to California, folks, where whale worship is the official state religion, and  where the government can regulate anything and everything, but claims an inability to perform the most basic of sanitary functions.

Follow up. A follow up to gladden libertarian hearts. Today’s L.A. Times reports on line that evidently tired of this shameless display of government nonfeasance, a group of locals finally did something about the situation. A private group hired a tugboat and had the whale carcass towed 20 miles out to sea, whence it is unlikely to float back to shore. Whale Carcass Quietly Disposed of, latimes.comDec. 12, 20012, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/12/malibu-residents-move-whale-carcass-ignoring-red-tape.html. And as for the bureaucrats, as of Thursday, “a state official said authorities had decided towing the carcas to sea was no longer feasible because it would break apart.” Apparently, the whale carcass didn’t get that memo.

Second follow up. Stop the presses! It turns out that we Californians are not the craziest ones when it comes to disposing of rotting carcasses of beached whales. A letter to the editor (L.A. Times, Dec. 9, 2012, at p. A33) reminds us that back in 1970, the Oregon Highway Division lent a hand in the whale carcass disposal game, and decided to blow up — blow up, like with explosives — a dead whale that had washed up on the beach up there. The result? We’re glad you asked. The explosion scattered chunks of rotting blubber for hundreds of feet, and provided much material for local humorists.

In the joyful spirit of the season (Starbuck’s is serving our morning Americano in red cups so it must be Christmastime), your faithful servant will now kindly pass over the question of what the hell is a state Highways Division doing, blowing up dead whales and managing beaches. Shouldn’t they be taking care of, er, highways? But what do we know?

And speaking of highway types and money, our own California highwaymen once needed a half-acre of land for a highway right-of-way up in Merced Couty, so they took some 54 acres for it on the theory that doing so would — are you ready? — save money. No, we are not making this up. As you can see for yourselves, dear readers, not only did they do it, but that ever-watchful guardian of the public purse, the California Supreme Court said 5 to 2 that this was cool with them, being as the state said it would save money thereby, so why make a constitutional fuss over it? Justices Mosk and Peters dissented, pointing out inter alia that in this case arithmetic trumped the law, with its insistence that more is more, not less, but to no avail. See, People v. Superior Court (Rodoni), 68 Cal.2d 206 (1968).

So how did it all come out? We’re glad you asked. Shortly after the Rodoni case the California Little Hoover Commission investigated the Division of Highways’ excess land program, and — surprise, surprise — discovered that far from saving the state money, the excess land program was a rathole for millions of dollars in public funds, and that the state had thus acquired land that it could neither use nor sell. And as to some 10% of that excess land that the state  was holding, our Division of Highways didn’t even know it owned it.

Your tax money at work.

This post was edited on December 12, 2012 at 12:50 p.m.

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