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Publisher’s Notebook:

Medical Marijuana

How about this for a brilliant political move? President Bush introduces legislation that approves the use of medical marijuana and, while he’s at it, allows for the cultivation of hemp. This move would immediately make Bush a far more reasonable fellow to the 75 percent of Americans who approve of this posture.

But don’t hold your breath. The powers that are in this country use marijuana laws to keep a lid on things (if you will pardon the pun). Hundreds of thousands of people are in jail today because of strict marijuana laws. How many pharmaceutical company executives do you think are jailed for selling legal drugs that went bad (think Vioxx)? Why is it OK to prescribe Valium, Zanax or Prozac, but not marijuana? What gives?

Enough already-let those that want it, have it.

Marijuana is California’s largest cash crop, with estimates from the farming operations alone over $1 billion. Most of them are small farmers, living on the land and providing great income for many poor rural counties. It’s one of California’s most workable arrangements and prosperous industries. Sonoma makes it easy. Farmers are allowed to grow a set amount, for personal consumption or for selling to medical marijuana outlets. Large growers or growers who park their operations on public land are not encouraged. This makes for an orderly market and allows lots of people to participate.

Total legalization would be a mistake, as the big tobacco companies would then enter the fray and drive out the small growers. In addition, the federal government would have to regulate it, so it can take its tax bite.

Forget it. Just eliminate criminal penalties and let people be. The worst thing you can do is jail users, especially those with medical conditions. In affluent communities, drug abuse is considered a mental health issue, with offenders sent to Betty Ford to get well. Not so in poorer communities where it remains a costly criminal justice issue.

State Budget Mess

This whole state budget “thing” is beginning to look like another government meltdown. The Democratic-run Legislature recently presented a plan to tax the top 1 percent of Californians in order to raise money to help balance the budget. Governor Schwarzenegger is certain to oppose it and would likely veto it.

Too bad, as an article by Michael Hitzlik in the Los Angeles Times, points out, the bill would affect only the top stratosphere of wealthy Californians. I think it’s a good idea and I have a few more for them to consider.

First of all, the state has an approximately $2.5 trillion economy and the state budget is approximately $100 billion or 4 percent of our GSE (gross state economy). If we just increased it to 4.5 percent, all of our budget problems would disappear immediately and our schools would have sufficient funding, not just for buildings, but for teachers and books too!

Schwarzenegger wants an initiative that would freeze state spending. Let’s see him attach this rider to it, so the amount of money the state needs would be available.

As for a new revenue stream, how about a “fee” on all refinancing transactions? It could be a minimal amount, so it wouldn’t hit anyone too hard, and, in fact, it could be limited to refinancing only for those homes appraised at least twice the median home price in the state. This would immediately eliminate fees for the majority of homeowners. The big boost would come from commercial property that is currently realizing special privileges. For instance, a building bought for $30 million 10 years ago and now worth $75 million is still taxed at the old appraisal. I am OK with that, unless and until the owner refinances and pulls an extra $10 million out for reinvestment or just for fun. Then the property deserves to be hit with a refinance fee. Let’s make sure to call it a fee and not a tax because that’s what Governor Schwarzenegger does, particularly when he raises education or recreation taxes, er fees on colleges or parks. Let’s face it, property is the great wealth of this state and if we want to protect homeowners, which I agree with, then fine, but million-dollar homes and commercial properties should not be entitled to this same exemption.

Cool Your Jets

I like our civic center, the cool Streamline Moderne city hall and the architecture of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The mushroom cloud sculpture by Paul Conrad is rather chilling, but it makes a point that needs to be made. With the addition of the new RAND building, the texture of the center has been changed.

As a result, the City should put off approving of the Civic Center Plan until our new 20-year plan is in affect. In that way the old ideas of the past can be put aside for whatever new thinking emerges. Just because a plan has a 15-year history and political investment does not mean it makes good sense now. Obviously, the plan has elements that residents encourage — like open space, soccer fields over parking lots, the renovation of the Civic and retention of the open feel it has now. Why rush to approve an outdated plan?

I am not convinced of the sanity of building an affordable housing complex between the Viceroy and the Maguire building. Clearly, it is a commercial zone and the best thing would be to sell the property to RAND and let it build additional space that it needs (it is now renting space in the Maguire building). The City’s affordable housing should go downtown where the Big Blue bus yards’ expansion is planned. Bingo, right downtown and near transit corridors. The yards need to be relocated at the Airport where there is surplus land in abundance, not in downtown where we need residential housing.

If the current bus yard expansion plans go through, it will be a terrible planning mistake.

Growing Palestine

I recently read through the RAND study on building a Palestinian state. Those folks don’t fool around, Arafat dies and RAND figures out how to grow the place smartly. As a planner myself, I particularly enjoyed the greenbelt ideas and the transit schemes that connect the various communities. Indeed, open space and land must be preserved, new development must be concentrated so as to preserve resources and intelligent planning means growing along transit corridors (no different than here).

The best part of all this is the focus AWAY from violence and toward constructive future thinking. When Israel made peace with Egypt and Jordan, it made sure it was a “warm” peace, meaning trade and commerce were part of the package.You can’t help but be somewhat encouraged by elections in Palestine and Lebanon and plans of opening up in Egypt. The Syrians have pulled out of Lebanon and Hamas has even put down its weapons while elections are being planned. One can only hope that peace may actually arrive.

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