TIME Drug Policy

California Governor Unsure if Legal Pot is a Good Idea

Gov. Jerry Brown Submits Paperwork For Re-Election
California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters after filing paperwork for re-election at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters on Feb. 28, 2014 in Oakland, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

"How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?" asks Jerry Brown

During California Governor Jerry Brown’s first stint in the job from 1975 to 1983, he earned the nickname “Governor Moonbeam” for his ability to attract the young, idealistic, nontraditional voting block. He once called the Golden State “the world’s largest outdoor mental asylum,” saying in 1979, “If it babbles and its eyeballs are glazed, it probably comes from California.”

Now in the middle of his second act as governor, Brown worries that too many glazed eyeballs might be a bad thing for America’s most populous state. During an appearance on Meet the Press Sunday, Brown said he worried about the ripple effects of fully legalizing marijuana. “The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes,” Brown said. “And all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

Brown said that he will watch Colorado and Washington, which have regulated the growth and sale of recreational marijuana at state-licensed stores, to see if California should extend its own legalization of pot for medicinal use. “I’d really like those two states to show us how it’s going to work,” Brown said. “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Brown will be running for reelection next November for his fourth overall term. Known for his progressive politics, Brown has touted his fiscal discipline, turning California’s budget deficit into a multi-billion dollar surplus. “You’ve got to be tough on spending,” Brown said. “No matter how liberal you want to be, at the end of the day, fiscal discipline is the fundamental predicate of a free society.”

[AP]

TIME National

Google Donates Millions So San Francisco Kids Can Ride Free on City Buses

Protestors blockade private shuttle carrying tech industry employees from their homes in San Francisco to their jobs at the company's campus in Silicon Valley. Katy Steinmetz / TIME

Amid anger at the so-called 'Google buses' that shuttle workers from downtown to Silicon Valley

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Thursday that Google has donated almost $7 million to the city so that low-income children can have free rides on city buses for two years. The move comes as the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant’s luxury buses have become a symbol of stratification in the Bay Area.

Lee’s office touted the $6.8 million gift as “one of the largest private contributions towards direct City services in San Francisco history.” San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said “it’s good to see Google support the next generation of Muni riders.”

“Along with the Mayor, community members and others, I have publicly and privately urged technology companies to increase their civic engagement,” Chiu said in a statement. “We appreciate this positive step.”

In a statement, Google said, “San Francisco residents are rightly frustrated that we don’t pay more to use city bus stops. So we’ll continue to work with the city on these fees, and in the meantime will fund MUNI passes for low income students for the next two years.”

The tech industry has had a serious public relations problem of late in San Francisco, with poor and displaced residents maligning companies like Google as spoiled and out-of-touch with the needs of a city’s struggling underclass. No illustration of that has been more discussed than the private shuttles used by tech companies to ferry workers from their homes in the city to their jobs in Silicon Valley and back again. Though called Google buses, shuttles are also run by companies like Yahoo, LinkedIn, Apple and Facebook, who all have campuses south of town. Protestors have repeatedly formed blockades around the buses, which have been using city bus stops for free, arguing that tech workers flooding into town—even though they work elsewhere—and putting unnecessary strain on the city’s insufficient housing stock. Housing rights advocates have repeatedly called for tech companies to help support less fortunate residents in a city that is a selling point for attracting the tech world’s best talent to the area.

A pilot program that will charge companies $1 per stop is set to begin later this year. Some have criticized that as a pittance considering it costs $2 to ride city buses.

“The media and some of the protests focused on putting the blame on technology workers who were taking buses down to Silicon Valley,” Lee told TIME late last year. “[This] caused the technology company owners to say, ‘Hey, maybe we could be part of the solution, that rather than allow this narrative to just fester, why don’t we… be good philanthropic companies.’”

A parody rap song released in January illustrates some residents’ resentment of the private shuttles that tech workers get to ride for free: “I’m on that Google bus / Hanging with the upper crust / I left my Porsche up at the condo with my poodle pups … High speed, Wi-Fi, lots of leg room / And the seats are plush.”

The question after Google’s latest move is whether the residents angry with tech companies will be assuaged by the donation. Erin McElroy, the director of the San Francisco Anti-Eviction Mapping Project who has organized protests against tech-company shuttles, reacted coolly.

“It’s a last-minute PR move on their part, and they’re trying to use youth unfairly to create a better brand image in the city,” she said. “And it’s not actually costing them much money at all. I don’t think that’s going to solve any of the wider problems or mitigate broader impacts.”

TIME legal

The Law of Finders-Keepers and What Happens When You Find Buried Treasure

This image provided by the Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin's, Inc., shows one of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous.
This image provided by the Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin's, Inc., shows one of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous. Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers—Kagin's, Inc./AP

A California couple found $10 million in gold coins, and they're selling the loot

A California couple was out walking the dog around their property last year when they stumbled across eight buried cans—with an estimated $10 million worth of gold coins inside. A year later, the rare coin dealer approached by the anonymous couple went public with the find on Tuesday. The long delay from find to fame was partly because of questions about how strong the couples claim to ownership was for the roughly 1,400 gold coins, dated from 1847 to 1894.

And it turns out that, in many cases, finders really are keepers.

Governments have been issuing rules about lost and found property—who owns it and how it shall be divided—for millennia. If a Roman walking around the Coliseum grounds in the days of Emperor Hadrian’s rule stumbled upon a half-buried pot full of bronze bars, half went to the lucky Roman, half to Hadrian. Today, if an Londoner unearths rare golden coins in his backyard, those belong to the royal family—who would likely pay the digger a handsome fee.

In modern day America, the presumption is “finders-keepers”—though there is a web of statutes and case law that can complicate such a simple maxim.

Generally, “the finder of lost property can keep it against all the world… qualified by the question of where it was found,” says property law expert John Orth, a professor at the University of North Carolina. In the case of “John and Mary” (as they’re being called) and their California coins, the strongest factor in their favor is that they found the coins on their own property. Even if someone could prove that their great-great-grandfather buried those cans, there’s likely little the descendant could do if their grandfather sold that land to John and Mary’s family. “When you buy something, normally you get anything that’s been hidden in it,” says Orth, offering the example of a man who bought a used car for $600 and gets to keep $10,000 he finds in the trunk.

If John and Mary had found the coins while taking a walk on someone else’s property, the booty would likely go to that landowner. But what if someone stumbles across something valuable on public property? Say a San Franciscan strolling across the Golden Gate Bridge finds a bag containing $1 million in cash. In California, there is a law mandating that any found property valued over $100 be turned over to police. Authorities must then wait 90 days, advertise the lost property for a week, and finally release it to the person who found it if no one could prove ownership. Orth says it’s rare for cities or states to make any claim to found property, like the goods that metal-detector-wielding treasure hunters find on public beaches, unless it has some historical or archeological significance.

A legal distinction that often comes to bear is whether property is abandoned, lost or mislaid. Abandoned property is something forsaken by a previous owner, who has no intention of returning for it. Lost property, like an engagement ring accidentally dropped in the street, is something that is inadvertently, unknowingly left behind. And mislaid property is intentionally put somewhere—like money on a bank counter that a customer intends to deposit—but then forgotten. Mislaid property, Orth says, is supposed to be safeguarded by whoever owns the property where it was mislaid until someone with a better claim, like the bank customer, comes back. Abandoned property and lost property are more likely to be dealt with by the easy “finder-keepers” edict.

An Arizona case, in which a man died after having hidden $500,000 in ammunition cans in his walls, helps illustrate the distinction. The man’s daughters, knowing he had a penchant for stashing things away, searched the house after he died before selling it to new owners. Years later, the new owners hired a contractor to renovate the house and he discovered the cans, hidden behind a wall-mounted toaster oven. The new owners said the money should come with the house, that it had essentially been abandoned. But as soon as the heirs found out about the stash they staked their own claim. An appellate court determined in 2012 that the funds were mislaid—having been intentionally put there, not unintentionally lost or thrown away—and awarded the money to the daughters.

A different court could have come to a different conclusion, of course. And cases can get much more complicated, especially when more than two parties are staking a claim. If a diver off the Florida coast happens upon a sunken ship with a trunk full of galleons, for instance, that might yield a legal battle among the finder and the state, descendants of the ship’s owners and any insurance company that paid a claim when the ship went down. “These cases are a mess,” Orth says.

A key piece of common law when it comes to sunken ships might be the same that appears to matter in John and Mary’s case—what is known as “treasure trove.” This is a fourth category—beyond lost, abandoned or mislaid—that refers to any property that is verifiably antiquated and has been concealed for so long that the owner is probably dead or unknown and certainly unlikely to pop out of a grave and demand that his goods be returned. “The obvious fact that these coins had to have gone into the ground in the 1800s certainly helps their case,” says David McCarthy, a coin expert at the dealer that is working with John and Mary.

When someone stumbles upon treasure, the most important question is likely whether someone else has a better claim. In the case of John and Mary and their $10 million pot of gold, anyone else making a claim that trumps their property rights has “a high hurdle” to meet, says Armen Vartian, an attorney specializing in arts and collectible law in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

“When people are arguing over who has a superior claim, the guy who hasn’t pursued his claim is at a disadvantage,” he says, giving the example of someone who said his family had been meaning to come retrieve those eight cans for the last century but just didn’t get around to it. “You might have had a right at some point, but you lose it.”

TIME Drugs

Christian Marijuana Dispensary Reconciles Dogma and Dope While Battling the IRS

Bryan Davies, owner of medical marijuana dispensary Canna Care, leads supporters in prayer before facing the Internal Revenue Service in tax court on Feb. 24, 2014.
Bryan Davies, owner of medical marijuana dispensary Canna Care, leads supporters in prayer before facing the Internal Revenue Service in tax court on Feb. 24, 2014. Katy Steinmetz—TIME

"I prayed to the Lord and God said ‘Open up a pot shop'"

Early in the morning on Feb. 24, a large man with a long white beard and big cowboy hat gathered with about a dozen other people to pray outside the San Francisco branch of the United States tax court. In a kettledrum voice, Bryan Davies led the group in the Lord’s Prayer before asking, “If there is any evil here, let it be sent to the lake of fire!” Then Davies strode into the federal building, where he and his wife, Lanette, took on the Internal Revenue Service in a case that could set an important precedent for the nation’s rapidly growing legal marijuana industry.

At issue is a nearly $875,000 tax bill that the Davies’ have refused to pay on the grounds that a 1982 law meant to prevent drug traffickers from deducting business expenses should not apply to Canna Care, their small “Christian-based” medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento—or any other marijuana dispensary legal under state law. Even if the Davies’ don’t win that argument, there are legal precedents for the dispensary to get a big discount on that bill if owners can prove they’re involved in two trades. So for two days of testimony, the usually staid federal tax court was given over to a detailed examination of what, exactly, constitutes a Christian cannabis business that claims to spend as much time serving the community as it does selling weed-infused lollipops.

The idea for merging marijuana and ministry came through prayer, the couple said during testimony. They had been exposed to medical marijuana when a doctor recommended Lanette Davies’ daughter use it to alleviate symptoms from a bone disease and it “made her life livable,” she said. Bryan Davies became a convert after finding it helped ease an arthritic condition that affects his spine. Trying to live on Social Security benefits and short on cash, Davies says he asked God for guidance. “I got on my knees, and I prayed to the Lord,” he told the court. “And God said … ‘Open up a pot shop.’”

Davies Canna Care

Katy Steinmetz / TIME

The Davies’ set up that shop in 2005, in the back corner of a small industrial complex in a neighborhood of Sacramento called Del Paso Heights. The dispensary is marked only by an illustration of an aluminum can with the word care wrapped across the front. Inside, a security guard mans the door to a windowless lobby. A table offers pamphlets on using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain next to bibles that are given away for free. The walls are a crowded tapestry of American flags, cannabis leaves, eagles, crucifixes and the “Don’t Tread on Me” gear favored by Tea Partiers (though Lanette says she’s a staunch Democrat and Bryan calls himself a libertarian). In the back room, employees sell strains of weed like Hindu Kush, Green Candy and L.A. Confidential, starting at $3.95 per gram.

That work of selling dope, the couple said in response to questioning from IRS lawyers, is consistent with the dispensary’s broader mission to help and heal. A patron might arrive having been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease or terminal cancer, Bryan said: “They’ve been told they have so much time to live … and they’re angry with God.” He and other Canna Care employees would often pray with those patients, they testified, in what he said was an attempt to bring them back from the “precipice.” Bryan also said during testimony that he could exorcise patients who “don’t realize they’re hosting a demon.”

Marijuana is an unlikely form of outreach to Christians. A new survey of Americans’ attitudes about marijuana released Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute found that the majority of the 3,390 Christians polled, 52%, said they are against legalization. Opposition is strongest among Hispanic Catholics (67%) and white evangelical Protestants (61%), while lowest among Jewish Americans (23%) and the unaffiliated (27%). Robert Jones, CEO of the firm that conducted the survey, partly attributes the opposition among Christians to their view of the body “as a temple” that shouldn’t be soiled with substances like illegal drugs or alcohol or cigarettes.

The Davies’ use the Bible to reconcile selling marijuana with their faith, believing that cannabis was among the “seed-bearing plants” the book of Genesis says God gave man on the sixth day. “You’ve got to remember who created it,” Bryan said recently, shortly after the dispensary employees finished their daily 6 p.m. prayer.

DSC00747

Katy Steinmetz / TIME

Prevailing in tax court will require a different standard of proof. The provision at the heart of the case is an obscure bit of federal tax code known as 280E, which states that taxpayers who are involved in drug trafficking are not allowed to deduct any business expenses—like payroll or rent or health benefits—that would be standard for other legal businesses. The law, put on the books more than a decade before any state legalized medical marijuana, has become an expensive reality for dispensaries; while medical marijuana is now legal in 20 states, and recreational marijuana is legal in two, pot is still a Schedule I controlled substance in the eyes of the federal government. And that means that regardless of state law, all dispensaries are drug traffickers as far as the IRS is concerned.

Canna Care’s disputed tax bill comes from $2.6 million in business expenses that the IRS has disallowed under that code. Getting a ruling that 280E should be revisited and no longer applied to medical marijuana dispensaries, as the Davies’ lawyer argued, would be a landmark decision for the burgeoning marijuana industry. But by the time testimony ended Feb. 25th, that appeared unlikely.

Throughout the two day hearing, the Davies’ were rebuked for using the witness stand as a soap box and rambling rather than giving forthright answers. One of their witnesses was disallowed because the IRS had not been notified of her appearance in advance, and their lawyer could not immediately recall what “THC”—or tetrahydrocannabinol, the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis—stood for. Canna Care employees testified that they did not know how their salaries were determined or by whom. Meanwhile, other attorneys arguing related cases have expressed concerns that a ruling against Canna Care might be “very detrimental” to their efforts to see the code reformed.

A ruling from judge Diana Kroupa may not be forthcoming for at least six months. As testimony ended, Kroupa seemed to acknowledge the shift in popular opinion in favor of legal marijuana, but implied that it would have little bearing on the outcome of a case that hinges, at its core, on an interpretation of fine-grained tax law. “The court is aware that there is a trend,” Kroupa said as the hearing concluded, “but the law is the law.”

Exiting the courtroom, the Davies’ remained upbeat. “I know what we’re doing is the right thing,” Lanette said, “Whether it goes for us or against us, that’s in God’s hands.”

TIME Water

California Is Finally Set to Get Rain, But It Won’t Quench the Drought

Parts of California could receive more rain this week than they've gotten cumulatively over the past eight months. But the state needs much more

How extreme is the drought in California? Right now the federal government says that every square mile of California is in some state of drought—and 14.62% of the state, concentrated in central California’s agricultural heartland, is in the most extreme state of exceptional drought. Rainfall in some of the most populated parts of the state have been all but nonexistent—since July 1, San Francisco has experienced just 5.85 inches of rain, about 35% of what’s normal, and Los Angeles has received just 1.2 inches of rain, less than 10% of the average over the same period of time. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada basin—the water bank for much of California—is less than half below average. By every count, California is in the grip of a truly historic drought that will cost the state and the country billions of dollars.

But there’s no better signal of how severe this year’s drought is than the fact that even a heavy rainstorm will barely make a dent in the big dry. The National Weather Service (NWS) projects that this week a pair of Pacific storms are expected to bring as much as 2 in. of rain to the coast, and several feet of snow to the Sierra Nevadas. The second state in particular is expected drench virtually all of California for 24 hours, as Jim Bagnall, a meteorologist with the NWS, told the Associated Press:

We’re not calling it a drought-buster, but it definitely will make a difference. With these few storms, we could see about an inch total in the valley. So this could obviously have some significant impact.

Still, despite the fact that Los Angeles could receive more rain this week than it has in nearly eight months cumulatively, the drought will be far from over. Even with the storm, much of California will still be below average for precipitation this month. Since February tends to be the wettest month for California, that means that the state still has a larger and larger rainfall deficit to make up if this drought is to ever end. The good news is that chances of an El Niño event this summer—which could bring heavier rainfall—are rising. But at this point it might take divine intervention to irrigate the Golden State.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Bust California’s Drought

TIME Infectious Disease

California Children Contract Mysterious Polio-Like Illness

Five children experienced sudden paralysis, but all had been vaccinated against polio

A handful of children in California have come down with a paralyzing disease with symptoms very similar to polio.

Since late 2012, California researchers have identified five children who experienced sudden paralysis in one or more of their limbs over a space of two days. Three of the victims had symptoms of respiratory illness before the onset. All of the children had been vaccinated against polio. So far, the paralysis appears permanent.

The illness is thought to be caused by a virus. Two of the children tested positive for a rare virus called enterovirus-68, which has symptoms similar to polio. However, the other three kids tested negative for that, and the cause of their disease remains unknown.

“Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome,” case report author Dr. Keith Van Haren of Stanford University said in a statement. “In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia. These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California.”

California’s Department of Public Health is investigating the cases, and research about the mystery disease was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on Sunday.

TIME States

Q&A: The Man Who Wants To Split California Into 6 States

Tim Draper, managing partner for Draper Fisher Jurvetson, speaks during a panel.
Tim Draper, managing partner for Draper Fisher Jurvetson, speaks during a panel. Armando Arorizo—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Venture Capitalist Tim Draper is the inspiration behind an ambitious, unlikely proposal

This week, the California Secretary of State’s office gave initial approval to a proposal that would split the Golden State into six new ones: Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California and South California. If proponents can gather 807,000 signatures by July 14, the question will go to voters in November.

The man behind the “Six Californias” plan is big-name venture capitalist Tim Draper, known for investment in companies like Hotmail and Skype. TIME spoke to Draper about where this idea came from, how he decided on six states and whether there are any political ambitions behind his novel effort. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview:

Where did this idea come from?

We now spend the most and get the least. We spend among the most for education and we’re 46th in education. We spend among the most for prisons, and we are among the highest recidivism rates … So the status quo is failing. And there have been some very good people running California, governing California. So it must be systemic. At best, the system seems to be on a spiral down. At worst it’s a monopoly, and in a monopoly, they can charge whatever they want and provide whatever service they want. In a competitive environment, people get good service and they pay fair prices.

So you see the current state government as a monopoly?

Yeah. … The strongest argument for Six Californias is that we are not well-represented. The people down south are very concerned with things like immigration law and the people way up north are frustrated by taxation without representation. And the people in coastal California are frustrated because of water rights. And the people in Silicon Valley are frustrated because the government doesn’t keep up with technology. And in Los Angeles, their issues revolve around copyright law. Each region has its own interest, and I think California is ungovernable because they can’t balance all those interests. I’m looking at Six Californias as a way of giving California a refresh and allowing those states to both cooperate and compete with each other.

Do you think some of these factors you mention, like attention paid to copyright law, might seem like rather small problems for such an extreme, potentially expensive solution?

Actually, I think the real extreme and the real expense problem is what’s going on now.

You mentioned all these various desires of people in different areas. Have you spoken to people in each of these six regions who support this plan?

Yeah. I get a ton of emails of support. People are supporting this all over … What I’ve noticed is that at first, people hear it and they go, ‘Why would you do this? This is California. This is America.’ And then I say, ‘This is exactly why I do this. Because I love California, and I love America.’ We are the government. We the people, are the government. And we need to create a system that works.

You said in another interview that if the government of California served residents the way that Google serves employees that it buses down from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, that you wouldn’t have proposed this. Can you expand on that?

They were asking specifically about the attacks on the Google buses. And so I said, look, the whole thinking is if California were able to provide the kind of service that it should be able to provide for the costs that they spend, then I wouldn’t feel this obligation. But there is an additional benefit of being six Californias, in that we will be closer to our government. Our government will be more in touch with our individual constituents.

Presumably the state’s needs you are most familiar with is Silicon Valley, where you would reside. How much of your inspiration for this proposal was about that area being its own state?

I’ve always had a real interest in California, and I’ve always had an interest in how to improve the state. I live in the Silicon Valley, but I have business interests all over the world. So I do visit all different parts of California, so I’m interested in the whole, not necessarily any individual part. I love the energy and technology that comes out of the Silicon Valley, but I believe that when these six Californias come together, that we will all be surprised at how much innovation and spirit comes out of all six of these states.

How would you like to see things done differently in Silicon Valley, if it had its own government?

The issues of Silicon Valley are things like when Napster came out. No one knew how the law should be handled. It was a new technology. And no one quite knew whether it had some violation of copyright or not … And the people who were making those decisions were very distant, and not familiar with what Napster was. Now we have Bitcoin. We have very uncertain laws around Bitcoin. I believe if there were a government closer to Silicon Valley, it would be more in touch with those technologies and the need for making appropriate laws around them. Silicon Valley is seeing great frustration. They see how creative and efficient and exciting life can be in a place where innovation thrives, and then they see a government that is a little lost.

In the state’s legislative analysis, they pointed out that Silicon Valley would become the richest per capita state in the U.S. And another part of California would become the poorest. What about the issue of income inequality this would create among states?

The issue is very interesting. For one thing, I’ve noticed that the people most adamant about creating their own state or being a part of their own state are the poorest regions, and in the current system, they are not happy, because it is not working for them. So if they had their own state, I believe all of those states would become wealthier. And I believe by managing their own state, they will become much more successful. A lot of those regions are rural, and they feel they’re being unduly influenced by the urban population.

Why six states, rather than four or five or seven?

Well, seven is a question. We did consider five and we did consider more than six. We felt that we needed at least enough states so there could be this cooperative, competitive environment where each of the states could watch and benefit from the actions of the others and each could compete for their constituents and their counties. A lot of people have asked me why not two or three? My belief is with two or three you’d end up with the same kind of environment, where you’d end up with two monopolies or three monopolies.

When you say “we,” who worked on the proposal?

I’ve worked with quite a few of these biggest experts in the world in constitutional law, in political thinking, in demographics, in water rights. It’s come after a lot of research and a lot of work.

Can you give an example of someone you’ve worked with?

I’ll let them talk for themselves. My goal is to get this put on the ballot and then allow Californians to see what it could do for them.

What does California have as a whole that it would lose when broken into parts?

There’s some feelings people have of being Californians, although when I’m generally talking to people, they make it specific. ‘I’m from Southern California. I’m from Northern California. I’m from Central Cali.’ People’s identity might be an issue. But once they get over that, I think they’re going to start thinking, ‘What would my state look like? And what could be better? And how should it be governed?’ And then it’s just a matter of doing crowdsourcing on what the flag’s going to look like and what the state bird is and what the state constitution looks like. The Internet has disrupted a lot of industries and it has changed a lot of things, and I think that it might be not a bad idea to have six fresh states that can respond well to this new world we live in.

What about something like clout on the international scene that California has as a result of being this giant, powerful whole?

I don’t think it ties to state identity. I think it ties to individual corporations that are benefitting the world. Apple and Google and the Hollywood groups. They have a large influence on the world. I think that will continue to be a large influence on the world. I don’t think it has much to do with being one, individual state.

How do you think having these new states, and presumably so many more senators and different leanings, right and left, would affect the American political landscape?

I know a lot of people are thinking about that. I actually think that once California has created six new states, my guess is that New York will create three and Texas will create five. We might end up with a total of 60 states. If we really think about the world in two political parties, I think we are missing something … I personally have become an Independent, I don’t really pick a political party anymore.

Even if California approves the measure, how likely do you think it is that Congress and the president would pass and sign a law approving the separation?

I think if Californians really desire to have six states, the whole national scene will starting looking at what really is a better way of government. And if all 30 million people feel this is what they want to do, it would be fairly difficult for a president to deny that.

Presumably you’re gearing up now for gathering signatures. Will you be donating or gathering money to support those efforts?

Actually, we are deciding whether to go for 2014 or 2016 on this. It’s a heavy topic and it affects a lot of people, and people have to bring it into their consciousness. We’re thinking that it may be 2016, but we haven’t made a final call on that … I’m very serious about it. It really has to be a grassroots effort, and that’s the way we’re going to focus the campaign.

What are potential drawbacks to this proposal? What could go wrong?

If we hurry it, that’s the one thing I’m concerned about. That’s the one reason I might not go for 2014.

Have you discussed this proposal with the current governor, Jerry Brown?

Yes, I have.

And what did he say?

He said, ‘Send it to me.’

If all this proposal does is start a conversation and never becomes a reality, will you consider that a success?

I’ve got a mission now. And I can’t think about it that way.

Do you have any ambitions to run for elected office, if this proposal becomes a reality or otherwise?

Oh, no. Oh, no. I’d let all the states run themselves.

So no plans to be part of the future Silicon Valley state’s government?

No, no, no. I just want a good a place to live.

TIME weather

1-in-1000 Chance California’s Drought Will End This Spring

The National Weather Service says there's a slim chance of enough rainfall to bring the state back to normal precipitation levels, leading to concerns that California is in for another rough summer season for wildfires and other problems

NOAA/NWS California Droughts
NOAA/NWS

The National Weather Service has some discouraging news for anyone hoping California’s drought might end soon: the chance of enough rain falling in the next three months to bring the state back up to average precipitation levels is now 1-in-1000. That’s down from the 1-in-200 odds it estimated back in January.

California is experiencing the driest conditions in the state’s history, and Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Jan. 17, as reservoir levels approached disturbing lows.

MORE: California’s Farmers Need Water. Is Desalination the Answer?

TIME Disasters

Oklahoma Shakes—Is Fracking to Blame?

Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas
Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas. Travis Heying—Wichita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images

A normally calm state is hit by a wave of minor earthquakes—causing some to point the finger at fracking. But wastewater disposal wells likely play a bigger role

It’s been a shaky week in Oklahoma. The Sooner State has experienced more than 150 earthquakes over the past week, far more than the Okies usually get. And while the vast majority of the quakes were fairly minor, one, on Feb. 16 measured 3.8 on the Richter scale, followed by a number of aftershocks. There’s been little damage reported, but the quakes jolted folks in a part of the country who aren’t accustomed to the Earth moving under their feet. “[It] felt like bombs going off,” central Oklahoma resident Nancy York told ABC News affiliate KOCO-TV. “It’s just a huge noise and then it’s like a reverb from that boom that just shakes the entire house.”

Something is clearly going on in Okalahoma—and has been for a while now. Residents have experienced more than 200 quakes with a magnitude of at least 3.0 since the beginning of 2009, and more than 2,600 tremors altogether during 2013. (A 3.0 magnitude quake is considered the threshold at which most people can feel shaking.) According to a recent analysis by EnergyWire, Oklahoma is now the second most seismically active state in the continental U.S., after California.

So what’s happened? Suspicion has turned to the energy sector. Oklahoma is the center of the country’s hydrocarbon industry, with tens of thousands of oil and gas wells dotting the state. Some of those wells have been drilled with the use of hydrofracking, in which explosives are used to generate cracks in a layer of shale rock thousands of feet below the surface. Millions of gallons of fracking fluid—most of which is water—are then pumped underground to keep the cracks open, allowing oil and natural gas that had been trapped in the shale rock to flow back to the surface. Surely it’s not too difficult to think that a process meant to break up the ground could end up triggering an earthquake.

(MORE: Your City Might Not Be Ready for the Next Big Quake)

But while a few studies have linked the act of fracking to minor earthquakes, there’s no definitive proof yet that fracking by itself can cause noticeable quakes. What’s more likely at fault are wastewater disposal wells. When an oil or gas well has been drilled, millions of gallons of wastewater—tainted with hydrocarbons and any number of other unhealthy contaminants—flow back up to the surface. That wastewater needs to be contained, so companies drill new wells, and inject the liquid underground at extremely high pressures. It’s entirely possible that the high water pressure used in these injection wells—and there are more than 10,000 of them in Oklahoma—may nudge previously dormant faults out of their locked position. A study published in Science last year linked unusual earthquakes in Ohio to the presence of nearby disposal wells, and other research in Oklahoma has raised similar concerns.

It’s not yet clear exactly how disposal wells might be causing or contributing to these unusual “swarms” of earthquakes. It’s possible there’s something more natural at work. Austin Holland, Oklahoma’s state seismologist, has raised the possibility that historically high water levels at Oklahoma’s Lake Arcadia may be playing a role, perhaps by placing additional stress on dormant faults. In any case, though, Oklahoma is not alone—other normally calm states like Kansas, Arkansas and Texas have experienced unusually heavy seismic activity in areas near oil and gas drilling and disposal wells. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced on Feb. 17 that he would appoint a committee to study what role oil and gas activity might be playing in a recent spate of minor quakes in the state. Given that oil and natural gas production is on the rise in the U.S.—and that there are more than 30,000 deep injection wells throughout the country—that’s a question that needs an answer.

(MORE: How Earthquakes Heal Themselves — and Why That’s Important)

TIME Environment

Obama Plays Water Guzzling Desert Golf Courses Amid California Drought

US-POLITICS-OBAMA
US President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Palm Springs International Airport, Feb. 17, 2014 in Palm Springs, California. President Obama is returning to Washington,DC after spending the holiday weekend golfing in California. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. president flew to California Friday to highlight the state's growing water crisis, then turned around and spent the weekend hitting local aqua-hogging links while some Republicans and environmentalists cried foul

President Barack Obama traveled to California Friday to highlight the state’s drought emergency at two events near Fresno, calling for shared sacrifice to help manage the state’s worst water-shortage in decades. He then spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the hospitality of some of the state’s top water hogs: desert golf courses.

Vacationing with DVDs of his favorite television shows and multiple golf outings with his buddies, the duffer-in-chief played at two of the most exclusive courses in the Palm Springs area. On Saturday, Obama played at the Sunnylands estate, built by the late billionaire Walter Annenberg, which features a nine-hole course that is played like 18 holes. The following day he golfed at billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s 19-hole Porcupine Creek. On Presidents’ Day, Obama hit the links at Sunnylands once again.

The 124 golf courses in the Coachella Valley consume roughly 17 percent of all water there, and one quarter of the water pumped out of the region’s at-risk groundwater aquifer, according to the Coachella Valley Water District. Statewide, roughly one percent of water goes to keep golf courses green. Each of the 124 Coachella Valley courses, on average, uses nearly 1 million gallons a day due to the hot and dry climate, 3-4 times more water per day than the average American golf course.

Of course, golf is a vital industry to the tourist paradise with streets named for presidents and Hollywood stars, but the two courses Obama selected are among the most exclusive, seeing far fewer rounds-per-year than nearby courses. Sunnylands, owned by a trust, is not open to the public. Ellison’s course hosts charity events, but is also closed to the general public. Ellison himself has said he doesn’t golf.

Local golf officials realize they have a problem and are working to reduce their consumption. Water utilities are trying to transition the courses to using non-potable reclaimed water, instead of groundwater, for irrigation. In recent years, the 200-acre Sunnylands has cut back on the amount of turf grass and installed a more efficient irrigation system, according to a press release from the course operators. The course has prepared to transition to an as-yet-unfinished city-wide reclaimed water system. “The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands has taken significant measures to reduce water usage,” Geoffrey Cowan, the president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, said in the release. “In consideration of the conditions that led Governor Brown to make a drought declaration, reducing water consumption is a more important priority than ever,” Cowan said. A spokesman for the foundation did not immediately respond when asked how much water the course consumes.

Water data for Porcupine Creek was not available, though the 246-acre property reportedly features an “80-foot-diameter fountain ringed with 90 individually lit jets that shoot water up to 80 feet high.”

“It can’t just be a matter of there’s going to be less and less water so I’m going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water,” Obama said Friday in Los Banos. “Instead what we have to do is all come together and figure out how we all are going to make sure that agricultural needs, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed.”

Republicans were quick to pounce on Obama’s water-intensive golf weekend. “We have seen this brand of hypocrisy from President Obama before — this time it seems his soap box doubles as a tee box,” said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. A White House official declined to comment on the record for this story.

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