The Kibitzer

By Billy Fried
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Desert Pot Springs

By Billy Fried
By Billy Fried

I recently attended a cannabis trade show in Desert Hot Springs to see how the recreational industry is faring (for a friend, of course). Desert Hot Springs is the white-hot center of it all. This little town that couldn’t – Palm Springs’ black sheep sibling to the north – is now the canna town that can.

In 2014 DHS found itself with just $400 in the bank, a prolonged victim of the recession, depressed property values, and drug and gang problems so pervasive the city had to call in the National Guard for help, and cut city employees and wages. “We looked at various options and decided to open the door to cannabis,” says then and current Mayor Scott Matas. “I was opposed at the beginning. But when I started discussing the medical side of it with people in the community, many of them elderly, sensible businessmen who had been helped in their pain relief by marijuana, I changed my mind.” Oh that Laguna could be this sensible.

These days the city needs the National Guard to haul all the cash around. Businesspeople from Los Angeles, San Diego, and as far off as Canada and New York are coming and planting roots – both in the community – and in their grow facilities. Acreage that once sold for $7,000 is now fetching as much as $200,000.

There are currently eight cultivation facilities up and running, with another 12 under construction. A total of 67 CUPs have been issued for over 10 million square feet of grow, with another four in process that would add another 4.5 million square feet. There’s also eight  dispensaries, with another eight on the way. They envision bud friendly hot springs hotels (“Soak and Toke,” anyone?), tasting rooms, canna-lounges, events and festivals. What’s this doing for the city? Everything.

Their annual budget is $15 million. Within three years cannabis tax revenue will easily surpass it (it’s projected at $5 million this year). Not to mention jobs created, real estate appreciation, and new money for cops, firefighters, parks and education. All the things that lift community up and make it safer. Because with all this cannabis activity, crime is actually down and Palm Springs is now more dangerous.

Meanwhile, back in the self-proclaimed progressive and tolerant bastion of Laguna Beach, you can’t grow your own, make products, or buy it anywhere. And if you’re seen smoking it in public, be it flower or concentrates, you can be stiffly fined. Just look at all the menacing signs around town. The policies are so hopelessly retrograde that it was actually easier to score and puff when it was illegal.

But how does this policy square with a community that voted to legalize pot not once, but twice by high margins?  It certainly doesn’t sound like government for the people, or else the fear mongers who predicted a surge in violence would have been laughed out of council chambers with facts instead of hysteria. And the City Council would have crafted a ballot initiative to permit just two dispensaries (Santa Ana now has 20), instead of mounting a campaign against it with taxpayer dollars. Now we have to drive to Santa Ana to get our medicine.

It’s a glaring trend now that City Council is suppressing freedom, diversity and property rights in favor of re-making Laguna into an exclusive enclave of the rich. Witness the attacks on short-term rentals and the failure to distinguish between professional landlords converting long-term rentals to hotels, and actual homeowners exercising their property rights to occasionally and responsibly rent their place. Or the current travesty to limit granny flats on some arbitrary basis of neighborhood density and safe egress, thereby ignoring the fact that this is without a doubt the quickest, cheapest, and most efficient way to address our affordable housing crisis.

All of these prohibitions fly in the face of a free, progressive society. It’s antithetical to the core values of a town that once celebrated its misfits, freaks and free spirits. That created a tableau vivantthat still has half the town mounting a stage production each summer. That has a 50-year-old arts festival that was a rebellion from a more staid one. That offers feee healthcare for those who can’t afford it. And has welcomed a Krishna temple for 50 years as well.

A lot of people are calling for sweeping change when three City Council seats go up for grab in November. Question is, will any of the new candidates be willing to challenge an ossified and entrenched system that rewards doing nothing? Let’s hope so. Our very soul is at stake.


Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” Thursday at 8 p.m. on radio station KX 93.5 and can be reached at [email protected]



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