California Gov. Gavin Newsom has embarked on what some are calling a “Make America California Tour.” As the governor recently claimed, large majorities of American voters, including 63 percent of Republicans, support California’s new law to fight “gas price gouging.” Those voters might want to check out the details.
The enabling legislation, Senate Bill X1-2, creates an unelected Division of Petroleum Market Oversight with subpoena power to investigate oil and gas companies and to impose regulations and penalties. As Katy Grimes of the California Globe explains, that “would inevitably lead to gas shortages, rationing and price spikes.”
While voters across the country ponder that prospect, they should know that California already deploys an unelected body with vast and steadily expanding powers. The California Coastal Commission (CCC) was established after the 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara. The CCC was supposed to be temporary, but under Gov. Jerry Brown it became permanent.
Led and staffed by environmental zealots, the CCC overrides scores of elected city and county governments on land-use issues, running roughshod over property rights. On the watch of longtime director Peter Douglas, it combined Stalinist regulation with mafia-style corruption.
Back in the 1990s, CCC commissioner Mark Nathanson told Hollywood celebrities that as a condition of building their new swimming pools, they needed to pay him thousands of dollars in bribes. Nathanson was duly busted and served nearly five years in prison.
Under the CCC, the California coast became an enclave for the rich and drove development inland, where energy demands are higher. Always eager to expand its power, the CCC also moved into animal management.
Down in San Diego, SeaWorld sought to expand its current facilities with a 450,000-gallon pool and a 5.2-million-gallon tank for its whales, known as orcas. In 2015, the CCC sought to ban captive breeding of the orcas as a condition for allowing SeaWorld to build a much larger $100 million holding facility.
Courts sometimes had the temerity to rule against the unelected body, so the CCC lobbied for the power to levy fines directly. In 2019, the CCC fined the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay $1.6 million because it “failed to display signs informing the public that beaches are free and open to anyone.” So the fine was for what the Ritz-Carlton did not do, not for any actual “blocking” of beachgoers.
Last year, the CCC rejected a desalination plant that would have provided 50 million gallons of fresh water a day. “The ocean is under attack from climate change already,” proclaimed commissioner Dayna Bochco, president of Steven Bochco Productions and producer of shows such as Doogie Kameāloha, M.D., and Cop Rock.
A Newsom-style national politburo on petroleum would stop other states from adapting their own natural resources to meet the needs of their people. It’s a bad idea but not the only reason to resist making America more like California.
For example, the state’s “bullet train,” projected in 2008 to cost $33 billion, now comes in at $113 billion. The train has yet to carry a single passenger, and even if completed according to plan, it would be slower and more expensive than air travel. In the meantime, the project has a Sacramento headquarters and three regional offices.
California workers also wonder about state leadership. As head of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Julie Su supported Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), a veritable declaration against the independence of California workers. The measure primarily targeted independent truckers and rideshare drivers, but AB 5 also limited freelance writers, photographers, and videographers to 35 submissions per publication per year.
Julie Su also presided over more than $30 billion in unemployment fraud, including $140 million for at least 20,000 convicts, among them convicted murderers. Fraudsters across the country had a field day bilking California’s Employment Development Department (EDD). Rapper Nuke Bizzle even posted a video about it.
Joe Biden wants Julie Su for secretary of labor. Her April 20 appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee should help people across the country decide whether America should become more like California.
Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the Oakland, California-based Independent Institute.