[Originally published in the Orange County Register on August 7, 2016]
The American people are increasingly convinced there are two sets of rules in this country: one for the elites, and another for the rest of us. This conviction cuts across partisan, ideological and demographic lines. It is fueled by innate distrust of the actions of powerful elites in and out of government. It is the tectonic force underlying the political upheavals of the past year.
In Southern California, we have seen this dynamic at work regarding the Southern California Air Quality Management District, which is responsible for regulating stationary sources of pollution in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. While everyone supports sensible laws to ensure a clean environment, the SCAQMD is a powerful unelected body of bureaucrats historically prone to siding with elites over the interests of the general public.
In 2013 for example, the SCAQMD sided with wealthy beachfront property owners who didn’t want the “riff-raff” (read: people who cannot afford beachfront properties) using public beaches near their homes. Despite overwhelming public opposition, the agency’s board of directors voted 7 to 6 to remove our beloved beach fire rings. The issue was not about dirty air at the beach. It was about an unaccountable government agency colluding with a small group of wealthy individuals against the public good.
I led the fight against this blatant government overreach, and we succeeded in saving Southern California’s historic experience of a beach bonfire for generations to come. It is of note that this victory came at a price – it took significant time and energy from all interested parties, and ended up being an international PR nightmare for the state of California. This was only three years ago, yet the agency once again is brazenly coming to the Legislature with another overt power grab.
A bedrock principle of American government is the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judicial branches – each acting as a check on the power of the others.
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