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Tuesday, July 30, 2002


This is an old April Fools joke, right?

The Oakland Tribune reports that State Senator John Burton is pushing a bill which would give Indian tribes a veto over public and private development on any California land that they consider sacred.

I did a double take when I read this. It sounded almost exactly like an April Fools joke we pulled off back in 1997.

Back when my wife [actually we live together, and tomorrow we're celebrating the 25th annual renewal of our cohabitation contract, but that's another story…] Sandi Webb was on the Simi Valley City Council, a local landowner was trying to get approval to build a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. on his property. He'd managed to jump through all the regulatory hoops, and everything seemed to be clear sailing, just as April 1st rolled around.

So we composed the official-looking notice shown below (click on it for an enlarged version). At 5 am I drove over to his house, parked, and waited till the newspaper was delivered. Then I snuck over and inserted the notice in his paper.

At 6:30 am he sat down on the pot, opened his newspaper, saw the notice, and had a real shit-fit. The timelines we'd put in the notice would delay the project past certain contractual deadlines, causing the entire deal to fall through. He panicked. He began frantically calling Directory Assistance in Washington, D.C., trying in vain to locate the mythical "federal Board of Native Antiquities". As soon as City Hall opened, he rushed over there to find out what was going on. The Assistant City Attorney called in the Assistant City Planner, who looked at the notice and said, yeah, he remembered something about sacred Indian holes.

After more frantic phone calls, including to the local Chumash tribe, they began having their doubts. No one else remembered seeing that insert in their morning paper, and none of the papers in the news rack contained it either. It finally penetrated that it must be a practical joke. "But who could have done it?" the landowner asked. The City staffers just looked at each other and together said "Sandi". (This was not exactly the first April Fools prank she'd been responsible for.)

Fortunately he had a great sense of humor, and wasn't upset (perhaps was even a bit flattered?) that a Council Member would go to all that effort to hoax him.

It used to be considered hyperbole to warn that tobacco lawsuits would someday lead to junk food lawsuits. And five years ago "U.S. Code Section 38.1551(a)(5)" in the above notice was merely a joke. Now it's been reincarnated as a bill that has already cleared the California State Senate.

These days is any parody safe from government intrusion?

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