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Dear Matthew Alice: I was driving up PCH the other day, just south of Carlsbad State Beach, where a new bridge is being built. Out of idle curiosity, I read the “Your Tax Dollars at Work” sign and was shocked to see that funding for the bridge is coming from federal highway funds and the PORT OF LOS ANGELES! What’s the deal? Is this L.A. ’s way of getting their foot in our door? Should we put the Marines at Pendleton on alert? — Dwight Lada, Vista

Just keep driving, Dwight. The Marines are alert enough already, and old Smogfoot isn’t any pushier than usual. Actually, the sign means the Port of Los Angeles is paying us for the right to further foul its own nest. It’s a complicated and controversial program called mitigation. If you plan to screw with nature by dredging a harbor or building one of those instant cities, you must “mitigate” that destruction by financing the preservation or restoration of an equal habitat somewhere else. Scientists call it bad science, businessmen call it bad business. And project approvals seem to require debate and paper-pushing by virtually every board, commission, committee, agency, service, and department at every level of government. So bureaucrats are happier than light-footed clapper rails in a wetland or California gnatcatchers in coastal sage scrub. The booming Port of L.A. showered $55 million on us to restore the Batiquitos Lagoon area. Having paid for their transgressions in advance, the port can now get even boomier by dredging new ship channels or something. The restoration of fish habitat in Carlsbad “mitigates” the destruction of same in San Pedro. Or so the logic goes.

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