Tax Pot and Save the Parks 

Plus, going to the Coliseum is about to get much more expensive, although your trip might be safer — at least for now.

The economic crisis could have one significant upside. It might convince Californians to legalize marijuana, so it can be taxed and raise much-needed revenues for the state. Earlier this year, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco introduced a bill to decriminalize pot and tax it. And now backers of a measure that would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and allow the state to tax its sales hope to put their initiative on the statewide ballot next year.

Oaksterdam University, a medical marijuana education center and dispensary in downtown Oakland, is backing the pot legalization measure and founded, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Supporters plan to start gathering signatures in August. The measure would allow adults to maintain a small growing space and legally possess up to an ounce of pot for personal use.

Too bad we can't pass the measure now. Those marijuana revenues sure would come in handy before the legislature and the governor slash vital state services beyond all recognition. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the state's leading Democrat, told the Chron that the legislature is ready to go along with nearly all of the more than $20 billion of cuts proposed by Schwarzenegger. Steinberg said that the only things Democrats won't agree to eliminate are health care for poor children, cash grants to college students, and programs that help single mothers find jobs. As for the governor's proposal to close most of California's state parks and raid the coffers of city and county governments? It's unclear what is going to happen, although we should find out soon. Steinberg predicted that they'll have a budget in place by June 30.

Ticket Prices Are About to Soar

In Oakland, four city council members have decided that one of the best ways to offset the city's massive deficit is to raise ticket prices at all events at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Oracle Arena. The plan would add an additional 10 percent tax on tickets at the two facilities, including Raiders, A's, and Warriors games, and concerts, according to the Oakland Tribune. The tax purportedly would raise about $9 million annually for the city, although there is strong reason to doubt it will generate that much money. In fact, it may do more harm than good.

The problem is that tickets are already overpriced, and a new tax likely will only depress event sales even further. In fact, as the Express reported last fall, concert promoters cited the existing city and county 5 percent ticket tax as one of the biggest factors for why the arena consistently underperforms in comparison to similar facilities around the nation, including San Jose's HP Pavilion. So increasing the ticket tax could actually decrease the total revenues the city receives from the facilities, rather than increasing them.

Plus, many Coliseum and Arena goers are already going to be digging deeper into their pockets thanks to the decision by the BART board of directors to raise fares by 6.1 percent across-the-board. The board also voted to slash weekend and evening service. In other words, expect to be stuck at that expensive concert, or ballgame, later than you wanted.

Crime Is Down, but It May Rise Again

But it's not all bad news in Oakland. According to the Trib, major crimes have dropped 15 percent in comparison to last year. However, it may not last. The Trib also reports that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors plans to cut fourteen prosecutors in its effort to balance the county's budget. The board also plans to eliminate 49 positions from the Probation Department, which means that convicted criminals on probation will have much less supervision, thereby increasing the likelihood of recidivism. Let's hope that both the district attorney and the probation folks prioritize their resources well. Suggestion — eliminate minor drug crime prosecutions and relax supervision of those convicted of minor drug offenses. And, oh yeah, legalize pot.

Express Execs Sued by Ex-Owner

Speaking of legal issues, an entity controlled by the newspaper chain that formerly owned the Express sued two of the paper's current owners, claiming that they owe $500,000 as part of the 2007 sale of the paper. According to the suit, President Hal Brody and editor Stephen Buel agreed to pay the money by May 17, 2009. But Brody said he and his partners decided not to pay because Village Voice Media has repeatedly poached the paper's advertisers and employees in violation of the 2007 sale agreement. Brody estimates that the chain owes the Express more than $2 million.

Three-Dot Roundup

A minor uproar occurred in Oakland last week after the Chron erroneously reported that the city council was seriously considering bankruptcy. ... Meanwhile, the media almost completely overlooked the fact that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to cut general assistance to the poor. ... At the same time, the East Bay MUD board voted for a steep water-rate increase to raise revenues after too many people conserved water during the drought. The board again decided to penalize water conservationists just as much as water guzzlers. ... The state Supreme Court upheld Berkeley's school integration plan, opening the door for other school districts to finally bring an end to segregated schools. ... Chevron's Richmond refinery expansion suffered a big blow when a judge threw out the project's environmental report. The decision puts the whole project in doubt because the oil giant no longer controls the Richmond City Council. ... And a federal judge ruled that a US citizen who was tortured during the Bush era can go forward with his lawsuit against UC Berkeley law school professor John Yoo, the legal architect of the nation's torture policy.


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