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Local
Fallen CHP officer remembered
Corcoran native memorialized at freeway interchange
 Mike Eiman  / 
 10.29.16

HANFORD — State and local officials remembered a Corcoran native Friday who died more than 40 years ago while serving as a California Highway Patrol officer.

The interchange at state routes 198 and 43 was designated as the “CHP Officer Keith M. Giles Memorial Interchange” during a ceremony at Koinonia Church.

Giles was born in Tulare and raised in Corcoran, graduating from Corcoran High School in 1958 before attending College of the Sequoias and California State University, Fresno. After college, he served in the Army and worked as a farmer.

He graduated from the CHP academy in 1970 and was assigned to the Santa Fe Springs area.

On Aug. 25, 1974, Giles made a traffic stop around 2 a.m. on Interstate 5 near Valley View Avenue. A drunken driver drifted off the roadway and hit Giles killing him almost instantly. Giles was 34 years old.

CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said the tradition of dedicating memorials to fallen officers didn’t exist when Giles died. At that time, officers were mostly given promises that they would not be forgotten. Those promises, Farrow said, have been assured with the new memorial.

“The state of California doesn’t just give these away,” Farrow said. “They’re given to extraordinary people. And everyone who passes the location of the sign won’t know they whole story. They won’t know exactly what happened. What they will know is that an extraordinary man who displayed valor, who represented the California Highway Patrol, was killed in the line of duty.”

Lt. Dave Knoff, commander for the CHP’s Hanford area office, said freeway memorials are typically placed in the area where the fallen officer worked at the time of their death. Knoff said officials made an exception at the request of Giles’ family, who mostly live in the Kings-Tulare counties area.

“They wanted Officer Giles’ memorial to be in a location they could see and appreciate the sacrifice he made,” Knoff said.

Wilma Giles, Keith Giles’ widow and mother of their three children, recalled her husband’s first day as a CHP officer. He was working a graveyard shift patrolling a student protest at a nearby college. Giles said she worried for Keith Giles’s safety and couldn’t sleep. The sounds of helicopters and sirens made her fear for the worse.

“Early that next morning,” Giles said, “I can still see him now in my mind as he walked through the door with this huge smile on his face, and said, ‘Wow, that was fun. I can’t wait to do it again tonight.’ ”

Giles also reflected on the pain of having her husband taken away by a drunken driver. She said she only recently learned that the driver who killed Keith Giles was convicted of felony manslaughter for drunken driving and sentenced to just “a few years in jail.”

In 2014, Giles said, her brother’s wife was killed by a drunken driver. The driver was convicted for causing a death while under the influence of alcohol and sentenced to five years in prison. Giles said she is hopeful that laws regarding deaths caused by drunken driving will eventually carry more severe sentences to discourage people from drinking and driving.

“It seems my children and I were the ones who received punishment, of a lifetime of living without my husband, and our children living without their father,” Giles said. “And Keith did not have the opportunity to watch his children grow up.”

Farrow presented Wilma Giles with an American flag that was flown over the state capital in honor of her late husband. Farrow said he was fresh out of high school in 1974 and had his sights on a career with the CHP. He recalled his father reading him the article in the Salinas Californian about Giles death.

“My father reminded me of the hazards of a law enforcement career,” Farrow told Wilma Giles. “I was proud that my pursuit of my career choice was going to be the same job that your husband did.”

Capt. David Moeller, commander for the Santa Fe Springs area, said that in 1974, there had been 136 CHP officers killed since the agency formed in 1929. There were 15 officers killed during the four years Keith Giles served.

“I think that’s where the real bravery of being a police officer is," Moeller said. "Every day going back, putting that uniform on to serve people that you don’t even know. That’s exactly what Keith did.”


Local
Coalinga gambles on medical marijuana
Depressed economy driving the decision
 Seth Nidever  / 
 10.29.16

COALINGA – As Hanford officials consider whether to approve a proposal for a large-scale medical marijuana cultivation and manufacturing business in the Hanford Business Park, Coalinga is already moving forward with the idea.

If you ask Coalinga leaders why, the answer you’re most likely to get hearkens back to the famous Bill Clinton presidential campaign slogan from the 1990s: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Make the 50-mile drive to Coalinga from Hanford on Highway 198, and you’ll pass through dry Westside farm fields idled by drought and tightening environmental restrictions on water deliveries from Northern California.

As you get into the Coalinga hills, you roll through oil fields dotted with well pumps on both sides of the road.

Some of the distinctive machines are chugging away, moving up and down like playground see-saws. Many others have been shut down.

The impression of a struggling economy continues as you get closer to town.

Before you reach the downtown area, hang a right on West Gale Avenue, and you’ll come to the dilapidated Claremont Custody Center, a former private prison that shut down in 2011 and has been empty ever since.

Dead lawns and falling-apart signs mark the entrance to what officials hoped would be a permanent economic boost to Coalinga when they proudly dedicated the facility in 1991.

Now there’s new life in store for the sprawling, barbed-wire enclosed property – and it’s coming in the form of medical marijuana.

Ocean Grown Extracts, which describes itself as a cannabis concentrates producer on its website, www.oceangrownextracts.com, is buying the facility for $4.1 million.

The website lists locations in Los Angeles, Coalinga and Olympia, Washington.

The business could start up operations in Coalinga as early as January 2017, according to City Manager Marissa Trejo.

To allow Ocean Grown to come in, the Coalinga City Council had to pave the way with a series of votes that made it legal.

The culminating vote came in June when the council voted 4-1 to immediately allow for medical marijuana cultivation and to approve the property sale to Ocean Grown.

The lone holdout was Ron Lander, a longtime barber in the city.

Lander couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

The council’s action opened the floodgates.

In addition to the Ocean Grown proposal, other medical marijuana cultivation businesses came calling with offers to buy land in the city’s industrial park and build indoor medical marijuana cultivation/processing facilities there.

City Councilman Steve Raine described the council’s decision as a “no-brainer.”

“We don’t really have any businesses that are just wanting to come into Coalinga,” Raine said. “What are we going to do, start designing golf courses?”

Trejo, expressing similar thoughts, cited setbacks in the oil industry.

A few years ago, when oil prices were at near-record highs, the heavy crude under the ground around Coalinga was profitable to extract. Well pumps were cranking up and down like nobody’s business, and there were jobs to be had.

Now that the price of oil has dropped dramatically, many of those positions have disappeared.

“We just had massive layoffs again in the oil fields,” Trejo said. “Those jobs always fluctuate. It’s just not stable. That’s what we need here, something that’s stable.”

Then there’s the economic argument about the 77,000-square-foot Claremont Custody Center.

Trejo said its demise took out 98 full-time jobs, 20 part-time jobs.

The city lost $1 million in annual revenue and was stuck with upkeep costs necessary to keep the buildings in usable condition.

“It was just sitting here waiting to be used,” Raine said.

Measure E, which Coalinga voters will decide on Nov. 8, would require medical marijuana-related businesses that want to locate in the city to pay an annual tax based on square footage.

The formula is $25 per square foot for the first 3,000 square feet and $10 per square foot after that.

Trejo said it's impossible to give an accurate estimate of how much money Ocean Grown will bring in. She said the site plan for how they will use the facility hasn't been submitted yet.

Ocean Grown plans to subdivide the space out to other businesses, each of which would start paying on their square footage footprint at the $25-per-square-foot rate.

"Until we get an idea of everything that's going in, it's hard to put a number on it," Trejo said.

The uncertainty is even greater for the businesses that want to go into the industrial park.

Officials feel they have a better handle on the jobs estimate.

When you add up the impact of all the medical marijuana facilities proposed for Coalinga, the projection is that it could bring the city as many as 500 full-time jobs.

All the growing would be done indoors in temperature-controlled environments, which means the businesses would churn out product regardless of the season.

Economic arguments are also foremost in the mind of Councilman Nathan Vosburg.

Vosburg noted that there was significant community opposition to the council’s move.

But after a series of meetings designed to educate the public about a number of factors – including the expected economic benefits – Vosburg thinks people who personally might not relish the idea have come around.

“I think where we’ve been able to find a medium ground is on the economy,” he said. “People will debate back and forth … but more people are willing to decide we need jobs more than anything else.”

“We had opportunity where we didn’t have opportunity in other areas,” Vosburg said. “We didn’t have a Wal-Mart coming.”

Police Chief Michael Salvador, who’s been in office for a year, was among the early opponents.

When the council voted 5-0 in January to unanimously approve medical marijuana cultivation, deliveries and dispensaries, Salvador, like most other police chiefs in the Valley, asked the council to ban all three.

But once city government sent a clear message to move forward, Salvador says he’s been working on ways to accommodate the medical marijuana operations while also seeking to ensure that they are safe and don’t cause public safety problems.

“The council, they want it here,” Salvador said. “At that point, my personal feelings go away. The commercial [medical marijuana] side is a done deal here.”

Still, Salvador has some misgivings.

For one thing, he thinks the state isn’t ready to regulate the rapidly expanding medical marijuana business.

He said he and other Coalinga officials have spent months trying to figure how to make sure Coalinga is in compliance with state law going forward.

“This industry is taking off like a freight train,” he said.

Salvador has security and crime concerns due to the high cash value of the marijuana.

Salvador said he’s approaching the security situation with the medical marijuana proposals in the same way he would think about security at a casino. He said that similar measures – 24-hour surveillance cameras, alarms, controlled-access doors, background checks for employees – will be required of the medical marijuana businesses coming into Coalinga.

In the case of the Claremont Custody Center, Ocean Grown’s proposal to move into a former prison may have allayed some of the concerns that Salvador and others have raised about security.

All the security measures already in the facility -- observation booths, a centralized camera monitoring post and controlled access doors, among others– can rapidly be converted over to monitoring a medical marijuana growing operation.

Based on that, Salvador said it was tough to argue that the proposal should be rejected on security grounds.

But, like other Coalinga officials, Salvador also brought the discussion back to Coalinga’s lack of jobs.

“I know I’m not going to win that fight,” he said. “The city of Coalinga’s economic condition situation is not the best.”

Trejo said a continuing operating deficit in the city’s general fund is likely to result in police and fire layoffs unless new sources of revenue are identified.

Coalinga voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether to approve Measure E, which would tax medical marijuana businesses based on square footage.

“It forces you to look at the greater good,” Salvador said. “My personal feelings got put away on this issue a long time ago. My job is to make it as a safe as possible, and I think we’ve got a decent formula.”

Trejo stood recently in the city’s industrial park, waving her hand toward vacant properties waiting for some kind of business proposal to bring them to life.

Trejo said medical marijuana operations have made offers to buy virtually every one of the properties, some of which are already in escrow.

“These lots have been vacant forever,” Trejo said.

Vosburg said the city took a chance years ago on bringing in Pleasant Valley State Prison and Coalinga State Hospital.

He doesn’t think that gamble has worked out very well for economic and social well-being of the town.

The general consensus in Coalinga is that, while the prison and the hospital created high-paying jobs, the people who took those jobs didn't live in Coalinga and therefore didn't bring the tax revenue and economic base city officials hoped would materialize.

What's more, when people such as secretaries and janitors who previously lived in Coalinga got jobs in the state facilities, they moved out of town, thereby drying up the occupational talent pool available in Coalinga for non-prison-related work.

Vosburg is hoping the medical marijuana cultivation industry will produce better results.

“Let’s hope this doesn’t turn out to be the same thing as the prisons and prove to be a flop,” he said.

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This article is part of a series on marijuana and how it affects Kings County.

Medicinal cannabis: Helping to treat disease, drug addiction?

State, federal pot laws remain at odds


Local
Bastille proposal on hold
 Seth Nidever  / 
 10.29.16

HANFORD – An official business proposal to fill the Bastille and occupy the third floor of the Old Courthouse has been put on hold due to the need to replace the courthouse’s failing HVAC system, according to Hanford officials.

“We need to know that we’re going to be able to heat and cool the courthouse,” said City Manager Darrel Pyle.

The city put out a request for proposals for the Bastille in July.

The city owns both historic buildings. The courthouse is partially occupied by tenants, while the Bastille, a former jail, has been vacant since 2009.

By the time the deadline to submit proposals for the Bastille came on Aug. 19, only one concept had been submitted — a plan by local developer Jerry Irons to turn the Bastille into a microbrewery and to install a restaurant on the courthouse’s third floor.

There’s just one major catch: Irons’ proposal would require the city to spend a lot of money up-front to put in improvements to the run-down Bastille interior such as a larger kitchen, disabled-accessible restrooms and an elevator.

Irons’ estimate is that the city would need to invest $2 million-$2.25 million to get the Bastille, the courthouse and Courthouse Square to the point where he could bring in a microbrewery and restaurant.

Some of the money would be in the form of loans to Irons, while the city would be on the hook for the rest.

Irons would agree to lease the building from the city for 32 years, and he would invest some of his own money in Courthouse Square improvements.

Irons’ official proposal hasn’t been discussed by the City Council yet.

Pyle said the main hold-up is the failing HVAC system in the courthouse. Officials estimate it could cost around $500,000 to replace it.

Pyle said other businesses expressed interest in the Bastille before the Aug. 19 deadline, but Pyle said they decided to wait until after the city spends $600,000 on seismic retrofitting to the building’s exterior.

The city is expected to start soliciting bids soon from outside contractors to complete the job. Pyle said the work could begin as early as February.

The last tenant in the Bastille, a bar that was evicted by the city, left in 2009.

Pyle acknowledged that a lot of other interior renovation to the Bastille is needed in addition to the $600,000 for exterior work.

Irons said that his $2 million-$2.25 million estimate of how much work is needed in Courthouse Square — much of it focused on the Bastille — doesn’t include the $600,000 already allocated for Bastille seismic retrofitting.

“I believe … they’re going to have to fix [the interior],” Irons said. “You have to fix it for somebody to be able to come in.”

Pyle said that Irons’ estimate includes knocking out a wall of the Bastille and expanding the building to accommodate a commercial kitchen.

Pyle estimated that if the existing floor space of the Bastille is kept at its current size, it could cost up to $500,000 to renovate the interior.

City Councilman David Ayers said there would likely have to be a deal hammered out with Irons over how much the city would pay up-front and how much Irons would have to shoulder in rent or lease payments.

“If we do the tenant improvements, it would be with the idea that we would be able to get rent in return for the improvements,” Ayers said. “That would be something that would have to be negotiated.”

Hanford Mayor Justin Mendes said at this point he’s against the idea of the city spending as much money up-front on the Bastille as Irons’ proposal calls for.

Mendes thinks the city might be better off focusing resources on the courthouse, which he said has “active businesses in it.”

Mendes, who has proposed that the city should sell the Rabobank building to help pay for work on the Old Courthouse and the Bastille, said his “overall goal is to get the city out of the property management business.”


Contributed 

Savanna Deavult appears with models wearing her Prodigie clothing line during the recent Phoenix Fashion Week.


Gary Feinstein/The Sentinel  

Jerry Irons in front of Courthouse Square in downtown Hanford earlier this year. Irons has submitted an official proposal to the city to bring in a microbrewery to the Bastille and a restaurant to the Old Courthouse, but city officials say consideration of the proposal is on hold until the courthouse's failing HVAC system gets replaced.


Gary Feinstein The Sentinel 

The sign, to be erected at the interchange of Highway 43 and Highway 198 is unveiled at the end of the dedication ceremony at the Koinonia Church in Hanford on Friday morning.


Local
State, federal pot laws remain at odds
California marijuana businesses face big hurdles
 Mike Eiman  / 
 10.29.16

As laws regulating medical marijuana in California evolve, the clash between state and federal laws continues to pose legal and financial gray areas for marijuana-related businesses.

In 1996, the passage of Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana. The act gave “seriously ill” residents the right to use marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s recommendation. Patients, caretakers and prescribing doctors were protected against criminal prosecution under the new law.

Gov. Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 420, also known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act, in 2003 to clarify the earlier law and create the state’s medical marijuana program. The bill spelled out the current distribution model where patients and caregivers form nonprofit collectives or cooperatives to cultivate medical marijuana.

Late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law three bills collectively known as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. According to the Department of Consumer Affairs, the bills aim to establish a system of licensing and regulations for the medical cannabis industry by Jan. 1, 2018.

As proposed, the new system would seek to replace the current distribution system with a more regulated commercial business model.

Under the new laws, marijuana-related businesses would need approval from their local government and apply for a state license.

While more than two dozen states have laws allowing medical or recreational marijuana use, federal law continues to view the drug as a Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs, which include heroin, LSD and Ecstasy, are classified by three criteria:

  • No currently accepted medical use in the United States
  • A lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision
  • High potential for abuse

Edward Wicker, a San Diego-based attorney who specializes in helping new medical marijuana businesses to follow all applicable laws, said his clients face numerous challenges. The biggest challenge, he said, is that federal authorities won’t acknowledge “medical marijuana,” regardless of state law.

“That’s always the big white elephant in the room,” Wicker said.

After Colorado and Washington legalized the drug for adult recreational use in 2012, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a four-page memo clarifying how the Department of Justice would enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug in some form.

The August 2013 document, known as the “Cole Memo,” said the department won’t likely prosecute marijuana-related criminals who follow state laws and don’t fall under certain “enforcement priorities.” The priorities include distribution of marijuana to minors, revenue from marijuana sales going to criminal enterprises, shipping marijuana from states where it’s legal to other states and using state-authorized marijuana activity to cover other illegal activity

Wicker said the marijuana businesses that follow state laws are not likely to be prosecuted by federal authorities. However, he said, that stance could change “at the whim of any administration.”

“The federal prohibition is a huge cloud that looms over medical marijuana in California,” Wicker said.

Federal laws also preclude marijuana-related businesses from using banks to handle their finances.

Wicker said marijuana businesses can deal in cash only, or adopt sophisticated business models that work around federal laws. The latter approach, he said, can place business owners at risk of violating other federal laws.

Some nonprofit marijuana collectives hire a management company, Wicker said. The company is a separate business that provides services to the nonprofit, including access to a bank account. Wicker said management companies can be legal in “certain circumstances.”

The risk of violating federal money laundering laws, Wicker said, is a big reason why major corporations haven’t ventured into the marijuana business.

“Each and every transaction is a violation of federal law,” Wicker said.

Wicker said he urges his clients to work with a certified public accountant to ensure that they pay all appropriate taxes, which can provide additional hurdles.

Tim Lavelle, a CPA with the Poway-based Lavelle & Associates, said the financial challenges for medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries can be particularly daunting. Lavelle said prospective clients who want to open a legitimate marijuana-based business are often shocked to learn that they can’t open a bank account or deduct most expenses on their taxes.

Some, he said, walk out of his office and never come back, while others are willing to “bite the bullet.”

Like all businesses, marijuana-related businesses must pay state and federal taxes. The state Board of Equalization accepts cash payments for sales tax payments. Conversely, the Internal Revenue Service won’t take cash, forcing marijuana-related businesses to use roundabout methods to pay taxes.

“It’s almost like they don’t want them to pay taxes,” Lavelle said.

Payroll taxes for employees pose an additional hurdle. Lavelle said businesses typically use a bank account to make federal tax deposits.

Lavelle said payroll providers that serve marijuana businesses often have to use escrow accounts to complete payroll transactions. Escrow accounts allow a third party to receive the money and disburse it to the IRS.

“Some attorneys will tell you that’s illegal,” Lavelle said.

The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency describes money laundering as the “criminal practice of filtering ill-gotten gains or ‘dirty’ money” to make the money look like proceeds from legal activities. Money laundering involves placing unlawful proceeds into the financial system, using complex transactions to separate money from its criminal origins and using other transactions to make the money appear legal.

Lavelle said California’s shift toward licensed commercial operations will likely attract investors and more money to the industry.

“It’s going to be even more chaotic,” Lavelle said.

Lavelle said one of his clients recently began using a service that allows their businesses to have a bank account by following strict guidelines outlined by the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in 2014. The guidelines ask banks to keep extensive records and watch out for any activity consistent with the priorities listed in the Cole Memo.

The service, which Lavelle did not name, is currently working with a single bank.

“If it goes well for one bank, I’m sure other banks will sign up,” Lavelle said. “So there is some light at the end of the tunnel.”

The clash between state and federal laws has left local law enforcement in a tricky situation. Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson said the county receives a federal grant of $50,000 per year for marijuana enforcement.

Robinson said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considered a request to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which would acknowledge a “currently accepted medical use” in the United States. The DEA denied the request in July 2016 and reaffirmed its position that marijuana has no accepted medical use.

“If marijuana is such a wonder drug, why aren’t there more people in Kings County who have gone down to get a medical marijuana card,” Robinson said.

The state Department of Public Health administers a voluntary identification card program to help law enforcement identify patients who can legally possess certain amounts of the drug. According to the department, more than 90,000 medical marijuana identification cards have been issued since 2004.

There have been just 42 cards issued in Kings County since the program went into effect in 2008. The cards, which are issued by the county health department, are valid for one year and must be renewed annually.

As of September, only one card had been issued in Kings County this year.

Local law enforcement, Robinson said, doesn’t hassle citizens who have a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana for legitimate medical conditions. However, he said, the drug has no established dosage or guidelines for how much is safe to use.

Robinson said the amount of THC, the main psychoactive substance in marijuana, has continued to increase over the past several decades.

On Nov. 8, California voters will consider Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over.

“Regardless of what happens in the election,” Robinson said, “marijuana will still be illegal.”

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This article is part of a series on marijuana and how it affects Kings County.

Coalinga gambles on medical marijuana

Medicinal cannabis: Helping to treat disease, drug addiction?