Going soft

Erin’s irony: This column was supposed to start with a slap at Erin Brockovich—that busty, brassy legal assistant who got so lucky pursuing a toxic tort case that Hollywood made a movie about her—and those who have used her 15 minutes of fame to push their causes.

But then a funny thing happened at her Sacramento news conference last week: Bites was touched by her story.

No, no; not in some kind of sappy, emotional way. C’mon, people, this is Bites talkin’ here. No, Bites was touched by the irony of her story. Emotionalism and sentimental pleas have little effect on this cynical heart, but Bites is a big sucker for irony.

Brockovich was one of several victims of toxic mold trotted out by state senators Deborah Ortiz and Sheila Kuehl, who are pushing for better regulation of mold, which is usually caused by faulty home construction.

Sad tales all; blah, blah, blah. Yet Brockovich’s story was striking not so much for the flu-like ailments she suffered in her moldy house, but for the fact that she bought said house with the bonus she received for the career-launching legal fight portrayed in Erin Brockovich, a Best Picture Oscar nominee.

In case you missed it, or were too distracted by Julia Roberts’ pushed-up breasts to pay attention to the plot, Brockovich was the untrained legal aide who forced Pacific Gas & Electric to pay a record-setting settlement to the residents of Hinkley later uncovering that the water supply was contaminated with Chromium VI.

Not only did Brockovich use her million-dollar bonus to buy the moldy house, but the woman who promos say “brought a huge company to its knees” has been unable to get any remedy from the far-smaller company that made her sick.

“I’m stuck in my home,” said Brockovich, who said her star status hasn’t translated into wealth or power.

Yet Brockovich also finds herself starring in another piece of Ortiz-sponsored legislation this session. Senate Bill 351 seeks to set a drinking water standard for Chromium VI, which has recently been found in wells in Sacramento, Davis and other cities.

Although a known carcinogen when inhaled, there is disagreement within the scientific community about whether it causes cancer when ingested in water. Science aside, expect big support for SB351 if Erin Brockovich takes Best Picture honors this month.

Call it politics imitating art imitating life.

Bedside table: Bites hasn’t read the thick proposed budget from the Governor’s Office, nor the equally weighty “Analysis of the 2001-02 Budget Bill” penned by the Legislative Analysts Office (LAO).

Truth be told, Bites barely skimmed LAO’s “The 2001-02 Budget: Perspectives and Issues,” which, at a mere 180 pages, is like the $100 billion budget’s Cliffs Notes.

But when the LAO’s Dan Carson boiled “P&I” and “Analysis” down to an 11-question quiz for the Capitol Press Corps—the fourth such annual quiz this year won by Capital Public Radio’s Mike Montgomery—Bites read some fascinating nuggets of information.

Some of the quiz’s revelations: the Department of Conservation intends to purchase seven new vehicles, but is requesting funding for 32; 91 percent of the local land use programs reviewed by the Coastal Commission are overdue; the typical UC professor teaches an average of just 2.6 undergraduate classes per year; last year’s state subsidy of California’s intercity rail system was about $25 per passenger; and Department of Transportation spent $500,000 each rehabilitating 39 historic homes that will be relocated to make way for a new freeway in South Pasadena.

Whoever said budgets have to be boring?

Shameless self-promotion: Last week’s column item slamming the UC Davis student newspaper’s unnecessary apology for running an ad that some saw as racist was quoted by John Leo, a conservative columnist for U.S. News & World Report.

“Left criticism of left censorship is rare, but a column in the liberal Sacramento News & Review regretted that ‘both young editors rolled over like trained dogs … running apologies in the face of public pressure,’ ” Leo wrote in the magazine.

Labeled a liberal and praised by conservatives; it’s nice to be enjoying broad appeal, especially since Bites strives to be an equal opportunity offender.