Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Letter from California-November 18, 2003

Just a few weeks ago, California’s display of direct democracy in removing Gray Davis from office kept the world watching the news from the Golden State and launched this column. Little did I know that we would have another great example to talk about even before Schwarzenegger took the oath of office.

Last week, the small town of Bolinas, California went to the polls, and among the issues the voters decided was Measure G or the “Bolinas Socially Acknowledged Nature Loving Town” measure. As you may know, California has a very strong tradition of ballot propositions, where the voters make decisions about important policy at the polls. Every election day, California voters get to decide how the state will handle important issues like immigration, taxation, and higher education. Despite this long history, I feel comfortable in saying there’s never been a decision quite like the one faced by the 915 registered voters of the town of Bolinas this week.

Picture yourself closing the voting curtain behind you and facing this question, which I have included (no kidding) exactly as it was on the ballot in Bolinas:

Shall the following language constitute a policy of the Bolinas Community Public Utility District? 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.

Gosh, where to start? Let’s start with the results: by a vote of 314 to 152, the people of Bolinas voted “Yes” on G. A landslide! A tremendous victory for, well, no one really seems to know. What we do know is that the Measure was written and proposed by a homeless woman who wanders the 1 square mile town of Bolinas wearing a hat made of bark and who, as a practice, smears chocolate on her face.

Check the calendar. This isn’t an April Fool’s joke. (By the way, when April comes, don’t say I didn’t give you a warning.) I’m not sure anyone could have planned a gag this weird if they were trying. I’ve taken the time to read through the Measure a few times, and for a couple lines, I can pretty much walk the crazy, granola-covered path it’s taking. It sounds like the work of a gentle-hearted hippie with a love for water, blueberries and bears.

Then it dawned on me that rather than just being some meaningless, nicely crafted, and well-intentioned sentiment, it was actually a meaningless and insane sentiment whose intentions probably weren’t even fully understood to the woman who wrote it. I particularly like the part where it suddenly just says “Dakar”. I did a little digging and found out that Dakar is the name that ol’ chocolate face/bark hat is known by around town. I suppose she just thought it was important that she get some credit for her work. Who can blame her?

I’ve never actually been to Bolinas, but I’ve been nearby. In fact, I spent a full day driving all over the area a few years back, and I saw no evidence of the place. In researching this story, I found out why. It seems the 1200 or so people of the town are constantly fighting the Department of Motor Vehicles to keep their town off official maps, and every time the DMV puts up road signs pointing to Bolinas, the townsfolk get together and tear them down. A socially acknowledged nature-loving town they may be, but don’t drop in uninvited. I guess hospitality’s not their thing.

On the other hand, there’s probably nothing scary about the place. Sure, there could be a lot of potential explanations for a Measure like this actually becoming a law. There’s the back-to-nature urge that drives some Californians to seek a simpler life. It could be the result of a small town struggling to retain its identity in the face of the sprawling San Francisco metropolis. It could also be the heart-felt expression of someone at the bottom of society and the sympathy of a tight-knit little community. On the other hand, maybe the people of Bolinas just go for the wacky tobacky a little more than most. If forced to wager, I’d probably put my money on that last one.

Best not to think about it much, I guess. The whole story just re-affirms my long-standing belief that to like the bears is not hatred to hotels and motorboats.

Whatever that means.


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