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Hotel guests put on alert to dangers in California

California has received a lot of nicknames over the years: Lotus land, land of fruits and nuts, the “Left” Coast. I was struck by another during a recent trip to the Golden state: Theater of the absurd.

When I arrived at my hotel, a sign that read: “Warning: This Area Contains Chemicals, Including Tobacco Smoke, Known to the State of California, to Cause Cancer and Birth Defects or Other Reproductive Harm” was taped to the entryway.

When I checked in, I was asked to sign a statement promising I would not smoke in my non-smoking room. I almost expected to see a sign on the TV: “Warning: The State of California Has Determined This Device Can Cause Damage to Brain Cells.”

California's farmers complain crop protection chemicals are about a year later getting to them because of more stringent regulations of the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation. The pests are not any deader nor the environment any more degraded than in any other state, but DPR has to put its stamp on them.

The attitude that government must take extra steps to protect farmers, consumers and, yes, hotel guests from themselves has long prevailed in California. Even the “Governator,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, hasn't been able to temper the regulatory zeal of state agencies.

Californians have a history of environmentalism — the Sierra Club, one of the nation's oldest environmental organizations, has its roots in San Francisco. And Californians have some treasures to protect.

As a result, it's not surprising the state would require the posting of placards containing warnings about hazardous chemicals, as if no one had read about the dangers of tobacco smoke. The signs also remind that any number of bad chemicals are lurking in the building.

If it were just a matter of innocuous signs, the situation would be laughable. But this thinking spills over into areas with far reaching consequences for farmers.

Take water, for example. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have spent the last several years trying to negotiate new water contracts with the federal government. Water is the lifeblood of an area that typically receives less than 7 inches of rainfall a year.

Some farmers have had 40-year contracts for water from reclamation projects at about $8 per acre-foot. But demand from growing urban areas has forced water costs up to $75 to $80 per acre-foot.

Farmers thought they were close to completing agreements for new contracts before the old contracts were scheduled to expire this fall. But, a few days ago, several environmental groups filed a request that the green sturgeon be listed as an endangered species.

Rather than reject the request as an eleventh-hour ploy to disrupt the contract negotiations, the government told the farmers it would have to begin a new environmental impact assessment. The result: the contracts will not be completed by the end of the year, and farmers will have to operate with interim contracts with higher costs.

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