Monday, October 31, 2005

Regulating the pot clubs: What's the problem?


In today's edition of BeyondChron, Randy Shaw expends almost 1300 words on the medical marijuana club issue and still sheds absolutely no light on the subject. This is partly because Shaw prefers the blind quote to attributing an opinion to anyone in particular. Actually, even "blind quote" doesn't accurately describe his modus operandi, since Shaw doesn't have the anonymous opinions in actual quotation marks. Instead, he refers to even vaguer sources: "The feeling was...," "more complex than many anticipated...," "The Mayor and others...," "Most progressives...," "The Green Party's stalwarts...," etc. (emphasis added). In short, his readers are justified in concluding that Shaw's riff was nothing but his opinion thinly disguised as representing a significant segment of the city's progressive community. Beyond the Chron? The San Francisco Chronicle has much higher journalistic standards than this.

The primary intent of Shaw's piece is to scold Supervisor Mirkarimi for trying to negotiate a sensible ordinance to regulate the city's many marijuana clubs. Shaw adopts Supervisor Daly's line in his latest blog entry: "When you deal with the Devil, it usually comes back to bite you." The "Devil" in this context, of course, is Mayor Newsom. Daly accuses Mirkarimi of "ill-advised compromises" and crafting "fundamentally flawed" legislation. In fact, for Daly there can be no flawless legislation to regulate the city's pot clubs---or "dispensaries," as he calls them---since he evidently doesn't believe there should be any regulation at all.

Shaw provides some clues about what happened here: Daly wanted to water down Mirkarimi's ordinance, but the Murk and the mayor, being more or less reality-based on the issue, wouldn't go for it: "...Mirkarimi persisted in seeking to maintain control of the legislation...In hindsight, Mirkarimi made the classic mistake of responding to his opposition's agenda rather than pushing his own." For "opposition's agenda" read "Mayor Newsom" and all those who think the clubs need to be regulated. Mirkarimi's real mistake in the opinion of Shaw/Daly was negotiating with the mayor at all. By definition, in real negotiations you listen to your opposite number's concerns and try to incorporate them into a compromise agreement. But real negotiation is not Daly's way, his shakedown of Rincon Hill developers notwithstanding. Did Jesus negotiate with Pilate? Did John Brown negotiate with anyone? Instead, Daly stakes out the "right" and "progressive" position---the same thing in his mind---and his opponents can take it or leave it. Daly doesn't want any real regulation of the pot clubs, because he thinks that's a surrender to those who oppose medical marijuana.

Shaw tries unconvincingly to put the pot club kerfuffle in the wider context of city progressivism:

...passing new medical marijuana regulations had not been an issue in the District 5 Supervisors race, and it was certainly not a priority for Mirkarimi's Green Party...Mirkarimi's progressive and Green District 5 base did not see pot club regulation as a critical issue, yet Mirkarimi was...trying to hammer[out] a consensus proposal...those who worked hard to elect him did not support the ordinance...I spoke confidentially with some of the city's Green Party stalwarts, and none supported the Mirkarimi legislation.

Shaw's claims are suspiciously lacking in specifics. Who did he talk to in District 5? Who did he talk to in the Green Party? Are District 5 voters so stupid that they don't think the pot clubs need to be regulated? This is city politics at its worst---political gossip, backstabbing, and plain old smoke-blowing bullshit.

"The measure would also cut in half the amount of marijuana a patient could purchase from a single club." Shaw doesn't provide any specifics here, because if he did his readers would understand that Mirkarimi's ordinance would restrict purchases to a half a pound as opposed to the full pound advocated by Daly and Shaw. This is preposterous. No one but a dealer needs to buy a whole pound of marijuana at one time---or half a pound, for that matter---and even dealers would presumably find buying a pound from a club prohibitively expensive. Like dealers, the pot clubs make money by buying pounds wholesale from growers and then charging high prices for small quantities.

"Mirkarimi's legislation would close 15 current pot clubs, and result in concentrating pot clubs south of Market. This understandably aroused Chris Daly's ire, for while Daly opposes the new restrictions included in Mirkarimi's measure, he was not about to transform a District 6 neighborhood into little Amsterdam." What Daly says on his blog is quite different: "I believe in medical cannibis and will not vote for legislation that zones any dispensaries out of existence...I continue to oppose all of the zoning regulations that affect any existing or future dispensaries including those in the South of Market." (emphasis added) The map Daly attached to his blog post shows that there are now 17 pot clubs in his district alone. By Daly's own account, Mirkarimi's ordinance would close only five of these, which is still unacceptable to him. In fact, it's fair to say that Daly does indeed want to make San Francisco into something like Amsterdam. What else can his "future" terminology mean?

It's fair to say that Chris Daly does not want any regulation of pot clubs in San Francisco.

Like a true demagogue, Shaw plays the AIDS card: "And what do progressives stand for if they sit silent while misguided legislation affecting people with AIDS is about to be passed by the Board?" If Mirkarimi's ordinance was passed, it would, even according to Daly, close 14 existing clubs, leaving the city with 19. The idea that 19 marijuana clubs aren't enough to serve the city's genuinely sick people is outrageous bullshit.

Like Daly in his blog, Shaw insults Mirkarimi with his condescension: "But the job of Supervisor involves a learning curve. In his inexperience, Mirkarimi lost control of the pot club legislation and then became too invested in its passage to recognize that it deviated too far from its original goal." The real lesson that Mirkarimi needs to learn is that Chris Daly, Shaw, and the fringe left are unreliable political allies. If the Murk has any notion of running for higher office, he'll need to distance himself from the fringe left---the anti-car bike nuts and Critical Mass, the graffiti-is-art crowd, the Muni fare-strikers, etc. And what about the learning curve for would-be journalists like Randy Shaw? Surely he's been on the BeyondChron job long enough by now to know better.

What Daly and Shaw are doing is discrediting the whole medical marijuana movement in San Francisco, providing the Feds with justification to come in and shut all the clubs down, if they were so inclined. While they are at it, they are discrediting the city's left. Add regulating the pot clubs to the growing list of issues that city progressives are clueless about: homelessness, graffiti/tagging, Critical Mass, the garage in the park, and housing.

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The UC Extension: Playing the PC Card

Last Thursday night AF Evans went all-out by playing what it evidently thought were the politically correct cards in a futile attempt to win over the neighborhood for its latest version of a for-profit housing project on the old UC Extension site. Evans, selected by UC to build the housing project, emphasized every possible issue to attract support for the proposal, talking about "opening up" the site to the neighborhood, along with a bunch of "public amenities" and open space in the latest revision of the proposal. There will now be a new mini-park on the Waller St. side of the site; apartments for seniors, with 20% of the units overall to be "affordable"; a community center and a community garden; services "targeted to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community." And there will be $1 million a year in tax revenue for the city if they are allowed to build the project.

With few exceptions, those who spoke during public comment still opposed the plan. Speakers pointed out that the housing project would remove the site from its "public use" zoning and put it in private hands for 75 years, the term of the proposed lease, effectively ending the site's long history of use as an educational facility. Middle Hall---which now houses the gym and the computer lab---would be demolished completely, and only Richardson Hall's shell would be retained. The dense housing development---now 420 units---is a bad idea, given the many new housing units already planned for the neighborhood on the old freeway parcels and from the city's Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan.

The most important speaker after the Evans presentation was D5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who affirmed his earlier opposition to the project. He mentioned a meeting he had earlier in the day with reps from Evans: A meeting originally planned for four of the developer's representatives morphed into a meeting with eleven Evans people, as a full-court press was put on the Murk. Nevertheless, Mirkarimi called the proposal a "very weak project"; he still opposes changing the site's zoning from Public Use to allow a for-profit housing project to be built. This is the key for opponents of UC's plan: If there is no zoning change, no housing project can be built on the site.

New College was present again---they have been at all the HVNA-organized meetings on the issue---with a full-color handout of their proposal for the site, which has the great virtue of retaining the property's historic educational mission and doesn't require a zoning change. New College also offered many neighborhood amenities, and, given the school's history of genuinely progressive community involvement, their proposals are more credible than an outfit whose main function is building housing. Along with providing classes, New College's proposal offers a long list of neighborhood services, including access to the basketball court, a playground for children, childcare for the neighborhood, a theater, a computer lab, space for the LGBT historical archives, a family literacy program, and a legal clinic.

The Evans people seemed rather nice, and their presentation was sincere and professional, but they're shackled with a partner in the project, the Unversity of California, that has little credibility in the neighborhood. UC started off with a dubious justification for abandoning the site as a location for the extension when they claimed that they could no longer afford to maintain the property for use as an educational facility. They insisted that they had to maximize their return on the site; otherwise, they would have to raise tuition and cut programs for UC students. But, as they disclosed last May under pressure from the community, they are now paying $1.26 million and $846,000 a year to lease space at 425 Market St. and nearby Third St. in SF to house the extension program that used to occupy the Laguna St. site. Why not put that $2,106,000 into rehabbing the old site? Obviously, UC wants to cash in on the property they have had tax-free since 1958. A massive housing development in the heart of San Francisco will provide a much better cash-flow for the UC regents than night classes for working people.

And there's evidence that UC deliberately allowed the Laguna St. property to deteriorate before shutting it down several years ago. See a District 5 Diary interview with Eliza Hemenway, who worked at the old UC Extension as it was shutting down: (http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2005/07/district-5-diary-interview-eliza.html).

There was an air of near-desperation in the Evans presentation Thursday night, as they methodically went down a laundry list of PC accessory services in their revised proposal to appeal to the people of the neighborhood. If the reaction of those attending last Thursday night is any indication, the proposal still lacks community support.

UC and Evans would save themselves and everyone else a lot of trouble if they gave up on the housing idea, cut their losses and leased the property to New College, which would be good for the city and the neighborhood, especially the folks in the nearby public housing.

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