Sea surface height (SSH) altimetry observations for 1992 to 2009 off California are used to show that observed quasi-zonal jets were likely driven by near-resonance interactions between different scales of the flow. Quartet (modulational) instability dominated and caused non-local transfer of energy from waves and eddies to biannual oscillations and quasi-zonal jets. Two types of quartets were identified: those composed of scales corresponding to (a) quasi-zonal jets, annual and semiannual Rossby waves and mesoscale eddies, and (b) biannual oscillations, semiannual Rossby waves and mesoscale eddies. The spectral centroid regularly shifted into the domain of low-order modes. However, the spectrum of SSHs does not demonstrate a power behavior. This says that the classical inverse cascade is absent. For a case with bottom friction, quartet instability required
the existence of a certain level of dissipativity in the flow.