Towards a quieter dine-and-dope experience in central Merced

 Merced City Council members Jill McLeod and Michael Belluomini advocated for quieter trains at last week's council meeting. They targeted the BNSF tracks in the northern part of central Merced because Amtrak adds more trains to the already busy tracks. But when Ms. McLeod, known in some central Merced circles as "Strawberry Jujube," repeatedly said that the area has an "industrial" feeling, we wondered how long before the council would mandate the Strawberry Jujube Aesthetic for our neighborhoods. Would we all be required by ordinance to die our hair orange and wear a pigtail to escape the onus of looking "industrial," the way many working people employed by various industries do look.
We don't think McLeod and Belluomini are going after the worst aspect of the trains. The dirt, the dust, and the grime that both BNSF and Union Pacific trains kick up pose worse problems for health and housecleaning than their noise. And the hazardous materials constantly traveling through town on frieght trains pose potentially catastrophic dangers to public health.
This noise issue has just a faint echo of property owner/property management company impatience in the new UC Merced/high-tech/bio-tech engine-for-growth Merced. How quickly they forget about the great bubble-and-bust in Merced real estate that put our city on the map as one of the top three per capita foreclosure rates in the nation--a true measure of the reckless greed and church-sanctioned civic abdication of responsibility that transformed central Merced into the top crime area of the city. 
Nevertheless, from the ashes of the foreclosure crisis has come a class of industrious renters. You can best tell their places from others when, strolling down our alleys in central Merced, you see solid fences eight feet high and smell the aroma of faraway skunk. We thought these alley patches ought to be included in the ambitious new plans for expanded ag tourism. We thought these products of the local industry nestled between the tracks of the two largest railroads in the nation ought to be included on the menus of our fashionable central Merced restaurants, where they could be paired with regional wines, beers and salad dressings.
Therefore, we could have a local government pairing of marijuana-legalization laws and happy, stoned central Merced gardeners with a quieter, gentler BNSF.
How wonderful!


Merced Sun-Star
Merced supportive of railroad quiet zones, depending on the cos
Thaddeus Miller
 Merced City Council took early steps on Monday to adding quiet zones to the city’s northernmost railroad, an improvement to the “quality of life” of those that live near the tracks, according to the council.
Several members of the council spoke in favor of quiet zones assuming the city can find the money to pay for safety improvements. The council is set to talk again about the zones at a priority setting meeting at 7 p.m. March 29 at City Hall, 678 W. 18th St.
The roughly 4-mile stretch of BNSF railroad in Merced is crossed by eight roads used by cars, according to a report from Councilman Michael Belluomini. The city’s general plan projects the city will see 60 train trips per day by 2030, he notes, compared with 40 today.
Belluomini estimates it will cost the city between $200,000 and $600,000 at each crossing to pay for extra arms, lights and other requirements for quiet zones.

Atlanta Constitution
Pot to pair with wines? Sonoma embraces possibilities

Thomas Fuller - The New York Times

SANTA ROSA, Calif.  —
In the heart of Northern California’s wine country, a civil engineer turned marijuana entrepreneur is adding a new dimension to the art of matching fine wines with gourmet food: cannabis and wine pairing dinners.
Sam Edwards, co-founder of the Sonoma Cannabis Co., charges diners $100 to $150 for a meal that experiments with everything from marijuana-leaf pesto sauce to sniffs of cannabis flowers paired with sips of a crisp Russian River chardonnay.
“It accentuates the intensity of your palate,” Edwards, 30, said of the dinners, one of which was held recently at a winery with sweeping views of the Sonoma vineyards. “We are seeing what works and what flavors are coming out.”
Sonoma County, known to the world for its wines, is these days a seedbed of cannabis experimentation. The approval of recreational cannabis use by California voters in November has spurred local officials to embrace the pot industry and the tax income it may bring.
“We’re making this happen,” said Julie Combs, a member of the Santa Rosa City Council, who is helping lead an effort to issue permits to cannabis companies. “This is an industry that can really help our region.”
Of the many ways in which California is on a collision course with the Trump administration, from immigration to the environment, the state’s enthusiastic embrace of legalized and regulated marijuana may be one of the biggest tests of the federal government’s power.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has equated marijuana with heroin and, on Wednesday, mentioned cannabis in the context of the “scourge of drug abuse.”
“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” he said. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana, so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”
To the ears of many in California and other states where marijuana use has been legalized to varying degrees, the stigma Sessions attaches to cannabis feels like a holdover from the distant past.
Marijuana, which has been legal for medicinal purposes in California for two decades, can be ordered online for home delivery in the state’s largest cities. A former mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, recently applied to open a marijuana dispensary in San Francisco.
The industry is immense. Arcview, a company that conducts cannabis research, estimates that the California market alone is worth $7 billion.
The United States’ divided views on cannabis have produced a strange and uneasy stalemate. Recreational use is legal in eight states, including all those along the West Coast. At the same time, state governments are watching closely for hints on what the Trump administration plans to do.
In the past, federal authorities have destroyed fields and prosecuted growers. Federal law still calls for a minimum prison sentence of five years for growing more than 100 marijuana plants, although under the Obama administration, the law was enforced only in cases involving violence or gangs.
The White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, recently warned of the possibility of “greater enforcement” against recreational use of marijuana.
Those working in the industry are constantly reminded of the federal government’s power to intervene in their business dealings, including severely limiting their access to the banking system.
“They can come in and ruin your whole life,” said Edwards, the marijuana entrepreneur. “They can throw you in prison, take your property.”
Yet, like so many others in the cannabis industry here — there are an estimated 9,000 growers in Sonoma County — Edwards is pressing ahead with his company, which specializes in growing and selling pesticide-free cannabis products. And he is planning more cannabis and wine pairing dinners.
“History favors the bold,” he said.
His business’ name, Sonoma Cannabis Co., makes no attempt to hide what industry he is in.
Some are skeptical that the Trump administration has the wherewithal to carry out a widespread crackdown on such a huge industry in the United States’ most prosperous state.
“I think it’s kind of doubtful right now, looking at the Trump administration,” said Terry Garrett, a manager at Sustaining Technologies, a marketing company that researches the cannabis market in Sonoma County. “Let’s see them do health care first, round up immigrants, build a wall.”
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, a cannabis industry group, said the mood among growers was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Their primary concerns at the moment have more to do with local tax rates than possible federal intervention, he said.
A ballot measure that passed this month in Sonoma clears the way for the county to issue permits, a big step in bringing the industry out of the shadows.
The policy, known as Measure A, favors small-scale artisanal growers by taxing the acreage under cultivation rather than tonnage and by charging lower rates for smaller plots. But it also gives the county wide latitude to raise taxes without further voter approval.
Even at the lowest rates, state and county taxes add up to half the gross income of a typical grower, Allen said.
“At the highest rates, the tax would be a de facto prohibition,” he said.
The combination of high taxes and the threat of federal intervention could push growers back underground, Allen and others say. And many regulations still need to be written before the full rollout of recreational marijuana in California.
“Generally speaking, I’m feeling encouraged,” Allen said. “But it’s a huge, huge experiment.”