Monday, January 18, 2010

The Petty Tyranny of Bureaucrats

2009 was, unfortunately, a routine and devastating year for California wildfires. Hundreds of thousand acres burned.

The Station in the San Bernadino Mountains started on August 28 and continued until October 16. 160,557 acres burned, 209 structures, including homes, were destroyed, and 2 firefighters lost their lives. The famous Mount Wilson Observatory was threatened, as were most of the LA basin’s transmission towers.

A 57 mile stretch of the Angeles Crest Highway on the mountain was closed for 3 months. Newcomb’s Ranch is the only restaurant on this stretch of this road. Electricity from Southern California Edison, the local utility, was cut off for an extended time; the transmission system was burnt to a crisp in the fire.

Several employees live above the restaurant. The owner kept the structure functioning by operating his emergency backup diesel generator while the hills burned. He used 40 gallons of diesel daily.

His reward: The South Coast Air Quality District announced it would impose a fine on him for operating the diesel generator.

One of the largest generators of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide, are forest fires. For example, the October 2007 wildfires in California produced 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equal to one week of fossil fuel generation.

He is to be fined for consuming 40 gallons a day during an emergency to continue functioning. If the bureaucrats at SCAQMD had looked out their windows, they would have noticed the huge plumes of smoke coming from the fire. Had they simply watched the evening news, they would have observed the tremendous devastation of the fire.

Any pollution he might have created during this public emergency was microscopic compared to that of the Station Fire.

But no; they had to fine a survivor.

Clearly the restaurant can hire a lawyer, and perhaps successfully fight the fine. To do so though would cost large legal fees, and leave the owner in a state of Kafka for an extended period.

The restaurant has survived natural disasters over seven decades, fires, mudslides, downpours and blizzards, and road closures, but SCAQMD may be too much.

The current owner is a pediatrician, Dr, Frederick Rundell. The power of medicine is as naught compared to that of the law or bureaucracies.

Businesses complain in California of the high costs of doing business, high taxes, and the thicket of overzealous and petty regulations.

Dr. Rundell has about $1.5 million invested in the restaurant, which he may tear down.

Just more jobs and property tax losses for California!

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