• Gloves Are Off in Three-Way Electoral Combat for Long Beach City Attorney

    city atty3With Long Beach’s acting city attorney trying to stave off challenges from a sitting city councilmember and an attorney who has filed over a dozen lawsuits against the city, the LBC has never seen such a hotly contested race to head the city’s legal department. And as Election Day draws nigh, neither challenger is pulling any punches regarding their problems with the man currently holding the position.

    That man is Charles Parkin, the longtime assistant and deputy city attorney who was appointed to the lead role when then-City Attorney Robert Shannon stepped down in mid 2013. From the establishment side Parkin is battling James Johnson, the former assistant city auditor who is finishing his first terms at the 7th District council representative. From the anti-establishment side Parkin is besieged by Matt Pappas, whose litigation against Long Beach include successful settlements in use-of-force cases against the police department and the Pack case, which has had a significant impact in the city’s history with medical marijuana, a cause Pappas has fervently championed.

    Despite coming at Parkin from opposite sides, Johnson and Pappas have a nearly identical list of grievances with Parkin’s performance and candidacy. For starters they point to misleading election materials, such as at least one pro-Parkin mailer, sent out by the Long Beach Police Officers Association (LBPOA), that twice urges voters to “re-elect City Attorney Charles Parkin,” even though Parkin has never been elected to the office. Both Pappas and Johnson say such a mailer is tantamount to fraud.

    “You can’t re-elect someone who’s never been elected,” says Johnson. “Now, they said that twice in that mailer. That was not a typo: that was an intentional defrauding of the Long Beach public. And I think what you’re seeing is a complete disdain for Long Beach residents.”

    Johnson and Pappas also bristle at claims by the LBPOA that Parkin has “[a]ggressively and successfully prosecuted cases against drug dealers, prostitution, and other criminals” when in fact the City Attorney’s Office does not engage in prosecutions of any kind.

    “Charlie Parkin has never prosecuted a criminal case, ever,” says Pappas. “He’s never worked for a prosecutor. It’s the city prosecutor who handles prosecutions in Long Beach, and it’s the district attorney who handles felony prosecutions in L.A. County.”

    Johnson concurs, noting that Parkin has no experience in either the City Prosecutor’s Office or the District Attorney’s Office.

    “This is a civil position,” he says. “The city attorney does not prosecute people, period. And I think to state otherwise is, at the very least, highly misleading. […] I think to treat the voters like they’re idiots and put out these blatant lies, whether it’s saying Charlie is a lifelong prosecutor and he’s done all these things he obviously hasn’t, or to make him look like an incumbent when there is not incumbent in this open race, […] there’s basically an attitude that the last city attorney has a right to choose the next city attorney, and not the Long Beach public.”

    Neither Parkin nor the LBPOA responded to Random Lengths News‘s request for comment.

    Johnson and Pappas each give the City Attorney’s Office low marks on several fronts during Parkin’s time there. Johnson, for example, criticizes Parkin for his complicity in obtaining approval for “a retroactive pension spiking formula adopted in 2002” without properly informing the city council of the cost to the City (which Johnson says was approximately $300 million and led to a 20% reduction in police, cuts to after-school programs, etc), along with Parkin and company alert the council to a conflict of interest in recommending this deal, which, according to a Johnson mailer, resulted in a $67,000-per-year increase in Parkin’s pension.

    “The very team that was proposing this deal—the city manager, city attorney, etc.—went home with hundreds of thousands or millions in their pocket that night,” Johnson says. “The last city attorney [i.e., Robert Shannon], I think, brought home around a million dollars. And I think that should have been disclosed to the public: that the people proposing this had a financial interest. It may not have been legally required, but I think ethics is about doing what’s right, not just what the law requires.”

    Johnson also questions the soundness of the legal advice provided the City Attorney’s Office gave to the city council concerning medical-marijuana dispensaries, noting that the council instituted a 2012 ban on dispensaries based on the city attorney’s claim that, based on the Pack decision, the City could not legally regulate dispensaries.

    “As the next city attorney, I would take the time to pick up the phone and call Los Angeles, call San Francisco, call the other cities in the state [that allow dispensaries] and see how they’re dealing with this issue and see if it is accurate that they can’t regulate,” Johnson says. “As someone who supports medical marijuana, my goal would be to help the council—if this is their policy, as I think it is—to get the point where we have safe and regulated access to medicine in a way that helps sick people, but also protects neighborhoods. I think that’s the goal, and I am skeptical that we’re truly prohibited from doing that.”

    Pappas’s evaluation of the performance of the City Attorney’s Office in recent years is even harsher.

    “I think suing the City has given me a unique perspective into the utter incompetence that is present in the City Attorney’s Office,” he says. “In my time doing this against cities in Southern California, I don’t think I’ve seen a bigger group of bozos than I’ve seen in the Long Beach City Attorney’s Office. The idea of acting the way that they do and empowering bad behavior in City employees […] I just think that the behavior’s atrocious and it needs to change. You have to kind of have that unique perspective to come in and say, ‘This is something I can change.'”

    Pappas is running on a series of unconventional platforms. Among the changes he promises if elected are amending City Charter to mandate that LBPD policies are governed by five-member commission with an inspector general who can authorize an investigation of the department for any reason; and to require that all officers wear body cameras (such as LAPD officers began wearing in January). Pappas also to cut the annual salary he would receive from its current level of $269,000 to $150,000.

    For his part, Johnson believes his leadership qualities and his ability to properly break down and explain contracts—which he said account for 90% of the City’s costs—are part of why he is the best candidate for the job, and that he plans to make the position a far more proactive one than it has been.

    “We should demand from all elected officials— whether that’s the councilmembers, mayor, or the city attorney—that part of their job is to go into the community, hear what the concerns are,” Johnson says. “[…] I think one way is being a more proactive city attorney and really going out into the community and asking [residents] how we can improve their neighborhoods. When I’m out knocking on doors, [I find] a lot of people don’t even know we have a city attorney, much less who the city attorney is. And I think that’s a problem. I think part of the reason for that is that for the last 20, 30, 40 years the city attorney has not done things that we expect of elected officials, such as go to community associations, tell people about their vision, ask them what their problems are, etc. [The position of city attorney] has really been seen as sit inside of city hall, go home at 4:30, and that’s your job. I see it differently. So one thing I would do is go to neighborhoods across the city. I want to learn about what’s happening in different neighborhoods in North Long Beach and talk to people in Downtown Long Beach, talk to people in East Long Beach. That helps to give context to being a better city attorney. So I look at a case of someone slipping and falling on a sidewalk and suing the City for a million dollars, and I think, ‘I’ve heard about these problems in the city. How do we actually be proactive and fix these sidewalks, instead of facing all these lawsuits?’ Because by the time there’s a lawsuit, you’ve already lost.”

    Johnson also says he will do a better job than recent city attorneys making choices regarding when to litigate a case and when to settle.

    “I think the city attorney has a critical role to play in saving the city money,” he says. “I think you’re going to see me think carefully about when the city can save money by settling case instead of going to trial.”

    Pappas agrees, saying that several recent cases lost by the City—including the Doug Zerby shooting case—easily could and obviously should have been settled.

    While Pappas and Johnson agree on many points, one point on which Pappas agrees with Parkin in regard to Johnson concerns Johnson’s pertinent experience, or lack thereof.

    “James is running to lead the legal department—which is 50–60% litigation—of the second-largest city in Los Angeles County,” Pappas says. “He lacks the experience to do that. I think you need to be somebody who’s been involved in litigation—gone to court, gone to appellate court, understands how that works—to evaluate what advice you’re going to give your client on whether you should litigate a case or whether you should settle a case.”

    Johnson brushes off this criticism, noting he has 10 years experience as a member of the California State Bar, with litigation experience at two law firms. But he says his more recent work experience is especially pertinent to his being qualified to serve as city attorney.

    “I helped the City of Long Beach rewrite the city constitution, the charter…. That’s the highest law in the City of Long Beach,” he says. “Do I think that’s relevant to [taking on] the position of city attorney? Absolutely. I also served in the office of the city auditor, where I oversaw the City’s contracts, making sure the City wasn’t defrauded.”

    And while Johnson does not claim to have Pappas’s litigation experience, nor Parkin’s experience as a bureaucrat (“If your position is you want to have the bureaucrat who’s sat at the desk the longest and pushed the most paper, I’m not your candidate”), he notes that he is the only one of the three with elected experience, and that he is the most proven leader.

    “it really comes down to how you see this position,” he says. “I hope that everyone takes the time to really think about this race, think about this office, and make their choice about who shares their values and who is more likely to show leadership and really move this city forward.”

    Johnson and Pappas agree that having a seriously contested race for city attorney—something they say hasn’t really happened in Long Beach during the last half-century—is good for the city and for democracy.

    “Even though [Pappas] is my opponent, he makes some interesting points about how this is an open, democratic seat, and everyone should be able to choose,” Johnson says. “I think having three candidates—or frankly, even if you had more candidates—is good for democracy. The reason I think that is that this is an elected position, and that’s a strength. By having various people run and explain their vision for the office, people have choices.”

    (Image: An altered detail from a pro-Parkin Long Beach Police Officers Association mailer stating implying that there are only two candidates for city attorney.)

    View the RLn Long Beach 2014 Election Blog Here.

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  • ANNOUNCEMENTS: Neighborhood council meetings, City council meetings, 5K walks

    March 17
    Coastal SPNC Board, Stakeholder Meeting
    Community members are invited to attend the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s board and stakeholder meeting, starting at 6:30 p.m. March 17, at Cabrillo Marina Community Building.
    Venue: Cabrillo Marina Community Building
    Location: 224 Whalers Walk, San Pedro
     
    March 24
    NWSPNC Board Election Candidate Filing Deadline
    The deadline to file your application to be a candidate for the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council Board Election is March 24.
    The Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council will be holding Board Seat elections May 6.
    Some key topics they will be focusing on this year may include:

    • GREEN AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
    • PUBLIC SAFETY AND SECURITY ISSUES
    • HOMELESSNESS

    Details: www.nwsanpedro.org, http://empowerla.org/nwspnc/northwest-san-pedro-nc-2014-elections/ (more…)

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  • Communities Outraged At Opportunities for New Gas Power Plants

    SAN FRANCISCO — On March 13, the California Environmental Justice Alliance expressed outrage at the California Public Utilities Commission approval of a flawed plan to replace the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating System.

    The approved decision passed unanimously giving utility companies such as the San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison the option to build more dirty natural gas power plants. The commission released changes last minute with no time for public input.

    The commission’s final plan allows utilities to choose where the bulk of the energy need comes from, which includes natural gas. In addition, the final plan increases the total projected energy need. Though it does require some clean energy development, it backs away from the commitment to “preferred resources,” clean energy, energy efficiency and other programs that promote conservation and renewable energy.

    Less than a month ago, over the alliance’s strenuous objection, the commission approved a proposal to build the Pio Pico power plant in the Latino, low-income area near San Diego. Pio Pico is projected to emit 685,000 tons of greenhouse gas pollutants per year from burning natural gas. According to the California Air Resources Board, greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2012 for the first time since 2008 because of increased reliance on gas plants after San Onofre closed.

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  • Papered Over

    Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    Perhaps you have noticed that large fluffy cloud floating in the window of the Angel’s Ink Gallery on 6th Street in San Pedro.

    With each exhibit, gallery owner Robin Hinchliffe is building the reputation of her gallery, along with the 7th St. gallery row. Her objective is to communicate with visitors to her gallery and the district.

    The point of the First Thursday Art Walk in San Pedro is to connect artists with the public. The exhibit Papered Over, brings six accomplished artists whose works in this show share a theme of the many layers of life that humans experience throughout the society. Hinchliffe states the title refers not only to the collage process used by several of the artists, but also that the term “papered over” refers to hiding the real essence of an object.

    “It is the joy of bringing ideas to people visually,” Hinchliffe said. “I could be seeing something that makes you feel wonderful or joyful, and you can’t even figure out why. When that works it is wonderful.

    “People can go by on their sidewalk; they own it. They own that sidewalk. It is their space. But they can walk past this space, look in the window and say ‘Is that art? I didn’t know I liked art!’” (more…)

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  • San Pedro Arts Community Memorializes Debbie Marr

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer
    Friends, family and artists from throughout the Harbor Area gathered to celebrate the art and life of Debbie Marr.

    Marr was memorialized March 8, in an exhibition of her art at the Croatian Cultural Center in San Pedro.  She was an award-winning artist and owner of the Lazy Dog Gallery at 361 W. 7th St. in San Pedro.

    Michael Caccavalla prepared a sumptuous buffet for the gathering while friends shared stories and watched a video tribute created by Valerie Smith-Griffin.

    The art exhibit, curated by Ron Linden of Transvagrant Gallery, demonstrated the talent of the well-loved artist. Several paintings were loaned by local collectors for the celebration. Many of her paintings focused on the rich history of San Pedro, which she wished to preserve.

    Marr published art book San Pedro: Faces and Places. The volume displaying iconic San Pedro location is a compilation of work by five local artists portraying local landmarks and residents.

    Marr’s ability as a photo-realist artist was acknowledged just before her death through her inclusion in a national photo realism exhibition in Tempe, Ariz. (more…)

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  • News of the Week: Ponte Vista, Murders, More

    SAN PEDRO
    LA City Council Approves Ponte Vista
    LOS ANGELES — On March 4, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the Ponte Vista development in San Pedro.

    This project has an almost decade-long history. It began in the early years of the 2000s as a 2,300-unit mixed-use urban village on a hill and through the recession has become the master-planned residential suburban neighborhood that is embodied in the plan that was approved.  At 676 – 700 units, it is a fraction of the size that was originally proposed.  It will have publicly-accessible walking and jogging paths, recreation centers and a variety of for-sale housing type that speak to the current generation of homebuyers.

    In addition to the critical mitigation measures for traffic and other impacts  that will be imposed as a result of the environmental review process, the project applicant has agreed to a number of additional community benefits;

    • a permanent access road from Western Avenue to the Mary Star High School property which abuts the property
    • a Project Labor Agreement with the Building Trades Council
    • a Local Hire program facilitated through the City’s Worksource Center and PV Jobs
    • Streetscape Improvements to Western Avenue
    • Two-and-a-half acre park along Western Avenue, designed, constructed and operated by the developer and the subsequent homeowner association, but fully accessible to the public. (more…)

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  • MoLAA Brings Frida Kahlo to Long Beach

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    The Museum of Latin American Art, MoLAA, is set to unveil what may be the most important exhibition in their history.

    Frida Kahlo, Her Photos, 247 images culled from Frida Kahlo’s personal Casa Azul archive in Mexico City opens to members, March 15,. The photos offer insight into Frida’s daily life, showing her with family, friends and at work, painting. They provide a stark contrast to the collective image of Kahlo that has been largely generated by her self-portraits.

    A little-known side of the artist and lifelong resident of Coyoacán, Mexico is revealed in this exhibit. The collection of photographs in this exhibition reflect Kahlo’s tastes and interests, the experiences she shared with those close to her, and her complicated and also electrifying personal life. Viewers get a look, not only through the photographer’s viewfinder, but also through the annotated writing found on the back of many of the photographs.

    Kahlo is one of the most recognizable Mexican artists, known for her surrealist paintings as well as her turbulent marriage to Diego Rivera. The two artists lived in post-revolutionary Mexico, an environment infused with political and creative turmoil.

    Kahlo lived her life as art. Her esthetic permeated her home and all these elements are evident in her personal photo collection.

    The excitement at the museum reverberates throughout the building. (more…)

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  • Melville Boys

    By John Farrell

    The Melville Boys is Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s second work.

    Since then he has written a few more plays, more than 50 others in all, and has had more than 150 plays produced every year for 20 years (including plays at the Torrance Theater recently and at the Long Beach Playhouse). He hit his stride early: The Melville Boys is delicious, a four-member situation-comedy with more than a little bite, more than a little food for thought in its two-hour length.

    The story centers around Owen Melville (Michael Hanson) and Lee Melville (Bill Wolski) who have come up to their uncle’s cabin at the lake for a weekend of fishing before they have to return to the real world where Lee has to have a serious medical procedure and Owen is soon getting married. (more…)

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  • Raining On The Ukrainian Parade

    By LIONEL ROLFE

    I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but let’s get off this thing about poor picked on Ukraine standing up for freedom against the big evil Russians.

    Would you feel sympathy if poor picked on Texas decided they wanted to secede? Maybe that might not be an entirely bad idea, given the reprehensible politics of the place. But still we’d probably object.

    My best insight into the Ukraine came a couple or so years back when I stood in front of the National Library in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. I was fascinated by the statue in front of two brothers, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, credited with inventing the Cyrillic alphabet which is used not only in Bulgaria but in Russia  and a lot of other places.

    The Cyrillic alphabet, based on the Greek alphabet (Greece is a neighbor of Bulgaria), was created as a way to spread Orthodox Christianity in the eighth century. So, little Bulgaria gave Eastern Europe the basis of the Slavic language.

    Not far away from the library is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, named after the great saint of the Orthodox Church who defended Mother Russia from the Germanic invaders in the 13th century.  (more…)

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  • Long Beach’s Proposed Medpot Tax: Legitimate Revenue or Mere Money-Grab?

    Long Beach’s history with medical marijuana has been, to put it mildly, inconsistent. In 2009 the City had an official “wait-and-see” attitude, tolerating the operation of over 50 medpot dispensaries. In 2010 the city council passed an ordinance officially sanctioning them, albeit at exorbitant cost and restrictions many regarded as overbearing. In 2012 the council reversed course and banned them outright. Now, after instructing city attorney draft a new medpot ordinance, the council seems poised to reverse course once again.

    The motivating factors for such zigzagging are open to speculation. But considering that the city council placed Measure A on the ballot, it’s a fair surmise that money is one. Measure A, “General Tax on Medical Marijuana Sales,” would compel dispensaries to pay, in addition to business-license fees and the regular 9% sales tax, a city tax of up to 10% on gross annual receipts, along with a tax of up to $50 per square foot of real estate. The starting figures would be a 6% tax plus $15/sq. ft., with the council empowered to raise each at any time.

    Is the proposed tax is a legitimate part of bringing medpot back to Long Beach, or is the City simply trying to cash in, regardless of who bears the cost? One councilmember who is not shy about accusing her colleagues of the latter is mayoral candidate Gerrie Schipske. Never afraid to chart her own course, Schipske is apparently the only councilmember to oppose the tax, saying so not only by casting the lone “nay” vote for putting Measure A on the ballot, but subsequently using her blog to enumerate the reasons for her opposition.

    Those reasons are varied. She argues that the tax is unfair to dispensaries because it would make them the only business in Long Beach taxed on gross sales receipts. She says it’s unfair to patients because “[n]o other ‘medicine’ is taxed in California,” and that this would be “the largest tax ever paid by residents for a product sold in the City,” a cost “passed along to those with medical conditions who can least afford it.” And she says that, because the tax “cannot be estimated as a steady source [of revenue, i]t cannot be used for police, fire or other essential services and will become a slush fund for City Council.”

    According to City Budget Manager Dennis Strachota, some of Schipske’s claims are more accurate than others. While Strachota doesn’t know whether the proposed tax will give medpot the distinction of being the city’s highest-taxed item ever, he confirms that, aside from vending machines, Measure A would make dispensaries the only business taxed based on gross sales receipts. However, he doesn’t see any reason why the tax would need to be considered one-time money.

    “We don’t segregate license taxes and identify whether one is more predictable and reliable,” Strachota says. “We look at the source in its entirety. And if this particular tax were making a regular contribution in terms of increased revenue, most likely the City would consider that an ongoing source of revenue, not a one-time [source].”

    However, Schipske is correct regarding the taxation of medicine. While prescription medication is exempt from state sales tax, in 2011 the California Board of Equalization ruled that medpot does not share the exemption, and so the passage of Measure A would mean Long Beach medpot would be taxed at a rate as high as 19%, in addition to the square-footage tax.

    Schipske’s opposition to Measure A may not be motivated by an interest in securing patients’ safe access in Long Beach to medicinal cannabis (which may be hinted at by her referring to marijuana a “medicine”—i.e., with quotation marks). Between 2010 and 2012, for example, Schipske, O’Donnell, and the 3rd District’s Gary DeLong formed a voting block that consistently worked to block the presence of dispensaries in Long Beach.

    But there’s no such ambiguity in the position of the Long Beach Collective Association, an advocacy group for ensuring patients have safe access to medicinal cannabis. The LBCA supports passage of Measure A, going as far as to author the sample ballot’s “pro” argument.

    “The majority of the people we’ve talked to do not seem to have a problem with the [proposed] tax,” says LBCA Boardmember Adam Hijazi. “And if it’s going to help public funding—whether it’s police, fire, parks, potholes, whatever it is—I think everybody is kind of okay with it.”

    Well, not everybody. Erstwhile 7th District council candidate and dispensary manager Larry King speaks for many in the medpot community when he echoes Schipske’s objections in his anti-Measure A argument.

    “This new measure was hastily pushed through Council to create an issue for this election and is ill conceived,” King writes. “No other prescribed medicine is taxed in California. And no other business in Long Beach has even been taxed on both gross sales and square footage combined. […] A tax on marijuana would be acceptable for recreational purposes, just like alcohol. But this is MEDICINE, which is not taxed in California.”

    The LBCA concedes all of King’s points, admitting that Measure A “is by no means perfect, and the unprecedently high taxation rate does raise alarm on many levels [… creating] the possibility that the cost will then be passed onto and perhaps out of reach for the truly sick patients. […] Also true is that the measure did get fast tracked onto the ballot even tough the actual medical marijuana ordinance itself has not yet been crafted.”

    And as Hijazi notes, the council could have placed a “tax and regulate” ordinance on the ballot, thus allowing voters to approve dispensaries along with an accompanying tax in one step, as the LBCA attempted to do with a proposed ballot measure that, according to the City, failed to collect the necessary number of verifiable petition signatures for inclusion on the ballot. If given the opportunity, Long Beach residents would almost certainly approve allowing dispensaries. In 2010, for example, residents voted in favor Proposition 19, which would have legalized the use and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes (as is currently the case in Colorado and Washington) had it passed statewide.

    As it is, even if voters pass Measure A, the council will still have to pass an ordinance allowing dispensaries in order for the tax to take effect. And Hijazi admits to being “very concerned” that the council may back away from allowing dispensaries in Long Beach if Measure A fails.

    Hijazi’s concern does not seem unwarranted. For example, despite having been the council’s staunchest opponent of dispensaries over the last three years, in September 4th District Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell voted along with the rest of the council to have a new medpot ordinance drafted. Might he turn around and vote against the pending medpot ordinance if Measure A fails? Random Lengths News posed this question to him but received no reply.

    Regarding the severity of the proposed tax, Schipske is not the only councilmember who seems to regard it as too high. For example, 6th District Councilmember Dee Andrews called the tax “out of proportion” during the January council meeting at which the ballot initiative was approved.

    So how does one justify taxing medicinal cannabis at such a high rate when it already does not enjoy the sales-tax exemption given to other medicines? Random Lengths News posed this question to Councilmembers Robert Garcia, Suja Lowenthal, and Al Austin, the three co-sponsors of the agenda item that became Measure A, but we received no response to that question, nor to whether their ultimate support for a medpot ordinance would be affected by Measure A’s fate.

    Hijazi admits another concern regarding Measure A: that if it passes, the council will immediately exercise the latitude the new law will gives the and raise the taxes from their starting rate—a move he says would definitely negatively impact patients.

    “Right now, at 6% and $15 per square foot, [the proposed tax] will be creating a pretty [noticeable burden],” he says. “If it goes up from that, I’d rather give out medical cannabis for free than have to tell patients, ‘This is the minimum [donation for medicine] because the taxes are so high. So it’s a big concern. […] We’re trying to educate the council that [the proposed starting tax] has pretty much hit the peak of what [the tax can be] without really being a burden on the patients.”

    Long Beach residents vote YES or NO on Measure A on April 8, 2014.

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