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That whirring sound you hear is Hiram Johnson, spinning in his grave. Gov. Johnson, as our country’s Westernmost governor, was responsible for turning out the country’s lights every evening from 1911 to 1917, a tradition revived by Gray Davis, who arranged for all the lights to go out early in his second term. Gray thus breathed life back into the state motto by causing Californians to shout “Eureka” if the lights came on when they flicked the switch. Hiram Warren Johnson was also the guy who pushed the tripartite initiative/recall/referendum animal through the California legislature and took back the state from the railroads — an accomplishment that did little to bring him closer to his father, a Southern Pacific lobbyist. In fact, Grove Johnson was so offended by his son’s failure to recognize California’s potential as a 5 million acre siding that the two of them were never friends again. When Hiram ran as Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose vice presidential candidate, his father’s comment was, “Let this prodigal son eat of the fatted calf of repentance.” This is not an expression you hear often today, but as endorsements go, it seems lukewarm to me. So I think it’s fair to say Hiram paid a steep personal price for the legislative Cerberus he introduced to California government. And I’m pretty sure he would have had second thoughts if he’d known how it was going to be misused by Californians. This election was not what he had in mind. I can only hope the huge majority who supported this result will not come to regret it. I refer, of course, to the passage of Measure G in Bolinas. Let the record reflect I am saying absolutely nothing about the newest governor of Colliephonia. Indeed, I’m trying to be the only columnist not named Heloise to remain silent about our recent statewide recall election. I generally make it a point not to make pointed comments about people who could physically throw me out of office. And with everybody from Molly Ivins to Ivan Guerrero chipping in their two cents’ worth, I’m not exactly an indispensable party to this debate. No, I’m talking about Bolinas. I can understand how you might not have understood this right away, since — as far as I can remember — I’ve never previously talked about Bolinas in my entire life. But that’s what I’m talking about now. I’ll leave the other debacle to people who know more about train wrecks than I do. Bolinas, for the benefit of those 300 million Americans not familiar with it, is a wide spot in the road near Stinson Beach in northern Marin County. Latitude 37.909N, Longitude 122.685W for those of you whose Lexus came equipped with GPS. Its population three years ago was 1,246. Bolinians passed this initiative in November: Vote for Bolinas to be a socially acknowledged nature-loving town because to like to drink the water out of the lakes to like to eat the blueberries to like the bears is not hatred to hotels and motor boats. Dakar. Temporary and way to save life, skunks and foxes (airplanes to go over the ocean) and to make it beautiful. Passed it big. With 67.9 percent voting yes; 32.1 percent voting no. 336-159. A landslide. Go back and read it again. Two out of every three voters in Bolinas thought that was a good idea. Two out of every three. We can no longer summon up a majority vote in a presidential election in this country, but we can get almost 70 percent of the populace to agree to a random roll of Boggle dice. I can only assume James Joyce sells well in Bolinas. Read it backwards. Skip every third word. Try it as pig Latin. Take out your copy of “The Da Vinci Code” and page through it to see if there are any symbols you might be missing. It won’t help. It’ll still be the legislative equivalent of Cobb salad. Then imagine the consternation of the utility commissioners in this idyllic, little hamlet who are required by this election to “adopt the language of the measure as a policy of the Bolinas Community Public Utility District.” As a clearly bewildered Phil Buchanan, BCPUD manager, put it, “What that statement is or what everybody might need to do is unclear to me.” Well, Phil, that’s what I’m here for. Statutory Construction R Me. You would not believe what I get paid to make sense out of things like this. It is my considered opinion, as a professional gobbledygook wrangler that Measure G requires you to send all your motorboats to Dakar (the capital of Senegal, a country plagued by periodic lowland flooding) and build a hotel for bears (undoubtedly an endangered species in Bolinas). You must also drink a lot of lake water and eat blueberries. This will make the entire board a lot thinner, which will help you accomplish your next task: gathering up all the skunks and foxes in town and putting them on a transoceanic flight to someplace beautiful. Then I think you have to vote someone off the island, marry somebody named Joe who says he’s a millionaire but really isn’t, plant the magic beans, climb up the beanstalk and help the giant repeal the car tax. Actually, Phil, not all of that stuff is in Measure G, but once we get the statutory construction vehicle into fifth gear, it takes awhile for us to cool our jets. Pity we can’t consider legislative history on this one. If the language were ambiguous, we could actually try to figure out what the voters had in mind. But we’re not allowed to do that when the words are clear, and — with the exception of “Dakar,” which is the capital city of Senegal and can be found in any atlas — these are all pretty common English words. “When the words are clear and unambiguous, there is no need for statutory construction or resort to other indicia of legislative intent such as legislative history.” ( California Fed. Savings & Loan Assn. v. City of Los Angeles (1995) 11 Cal.4th 342, 349.) Too bad. The legislative history on this one is actually pretty interesting, although it won’t do much for the cynics who tend to regard Californians as shallow and materialistic. It’s not funny, but it is pretty revealing. Because the Dakar in this case has nothing to do with Senegal. It is actually the nom de guerre of Measure G’s author, a local performance artist previously known as Jane Blethen. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Jane “moved to Bolinas around 1980 and took up residence in the bushes around town.” That’s right: the bushes. While first shunned, the Chronicle explained, for her “erratic speech, unusual wardrobe and choice of habitation,” she has become the village mascot. Most of the 263 registered voters who signed Dakar’s petition never expected it to come to a vote. Said one, “Most of us signed this because Jane is a town character, and we didn’t want to hurt her feelings.” Said the owner of Smiley’s Schooner Saloon, who doubles as the editor of the town newspaper, “It’s well meaning, it’s open to interpretation, nobody will benefit financially from it, and it makes as much sense as any other ballot measure I’ve read lately. Besides, it means a lot to Jane.” Besides, it means a lot to Jane. It passed 336-159. Because it meant a lot to Jane. No, this is not the kind of election Hiram Johnson had in mind for initiatives. A man who campaigned against his own father and whose statements about political opponents would have combusted asbestos paper would probably not understand a ballot proposition that benefits no one on the planet but a single homeless woman. He’d not understand two-thirds of a town voting for a proposition that made sense only to a person who wears burlap on her legs and chocolate on her face. But I do. And Bolinas did. And maybe, if Darwin was right, you do too. Think about Bolinas the next time you walk by a Salvation Army bell-ringer. Think about Measure G the next time you get a request for a contribution to charity. Think about Jane Blethen the next time you feel like yelling at a co-worker. Enjoy the holidays. Bolinas will. Contributing writer William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be reached at [email protected]. Read more columns like this inA Criminal Waste of Time,” a new book from The Recorder featuring more than 30 of the best columns from award-winning contributor William W. Bedsworth. Order by calling ( 800) 587-9288 or visiting www.therecorder.com/ bedsworth today.

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