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Council set to make cannabis permit changes

HANFORD — After cautiously entering the cannabis game during its first go-round, Hanford is tweaking its strategy moving forward.

The Hanford City Council met Tuesday to discuss possible changes to the city’s cannabis permit process, and has decided to take more of an open-ended approach.

In 2017, along with an application process fee schedule, the Council at the time established a limit to the number of cannabis business permits the city would allow. The decision to limit to number of permits was in an effort to err on the side of caution and not overwhelm city staff.

The limits were two permits for each category of cultivation, manufacturing, lab testing and distribution. In addition, one campus permit was allowed with up to 16 cannabis permits in its first year.

After opening up for applications and going through a thorough review process in late 2017, Council awarded 26 total cannabis permits to three different companies.

Only two of the companies obtained conditional use permits since that time, and only one of them has moved on to get a building permit and has been issued cannabis permits for manufacturing and distribution.

During the Council meeting on Feb. 5, there was a consensus from Council to have city staff to look into opening up the cannabis permit application period again.

Tuesday, Community Development Director Darlene Mata asked Council to give her direction as to how many cannabis permits should be allowed on the city’s second round of applications.

Mata said she and Police Chief Parker Sever have talked about the city’s rigorous application process — which included a three-phase review process with significant costs for the businesses at each stage.

She said they concluded that if a business could get through all the steps and score a high enough total, then perhaps there should not be a limit to how many permits should be allowed, as long as the candidates are qualified.

Councilmember Francisco Ramirez said he saw no problem opening up the process again without limits, as long as only qualified candidates make it to the end of the process. Mayor Sue Sorensen also voiced her support for this idea.

“I do like that flexibility,” Sorensen said. “That does give us the opportunity to maybe attract those businesses that are interested and we’re not limiting what may come to our community in terms of quality businesses.”

Mata reminded Council members that they still have the ultimate authority to award or deny permits, whether or not applicants make it through all the stages.

In the end, there was general consensus to not limit the amount of permits and just see where everything stands after the application period is over.

In addition, Council gave staff direction to streamline the application process for businesses that have already gone through the background checks and vetting process, and to allow microbusiness permits.

Mata said a microbusiness license allows the licensee to engage in a tiered typed of operation. She said these types of businesses could cultivate cannabis in a maximum of 10,000 square feet, but also be a distributor, manufacturer and retailer. Essentially they use a vertical business model with at least three of the four categories.

Future cannabis issues to be discussed

While city staff received clear direction on cannabis permits, there are still several issues relating to cannabis that are scheduled to be addressed in the near future.

Currently, Hanford’s ordinance allows only medical cannabis businesses and Council members must decide if recreational cannabis businesses will also be allowed.

Council is also willing to look into possibly allowing dispensaries within city limits — something Mata said has garnered interest. Along with this subject, Council must discuss what should be allowed in terms of storefront dispensaries or non-storefront (delivery only) dispensaries.

"Waiting Women" showcases the women of the Old West

HANFORD — Local theater-goers won’t have to wait much longer for “Waiting Women.”

The Hanford Multicultural Theater Company’s production of “Waiting Women,” written and directed by artistic director Silvia Gonzalez-Scherer, opens Sunday and runs on weekends through the month at the Hanford Carnegie Museum.

“This play changed my life,” Gonzalez-Scherer said about “Waiting Women,” which mixes real-life history with comedy.

While living in Yuma, Arizona, Gonzalez-Scherer would drive past the Yuma Territorial Prison every day on the way to and from work. Something about the historic spot, which she described as a “stone fortress,” made her think that visiting it would change her life.

“I thought it would it would change my life. It was just this weird feeling I had,” she said.

After finally visiting the former prison and current state park, the writer was struck by life-changing inspiration and worked to create “Waiting Women,” which tells the tale of many of the women imprisoned in the jail.

“The first thing that impressed me was that these were all women of color and different nationalities. Many of them were in [prison] for the strangest reasons and, of course, may for the crimes they committed,”

Gonzalez-Scherer said that she was struck by the realizations that the West was more multicultural than people may realize, with more diversity than was typically shown on “Bonanza” or in John Wayne movies.

The playwright was particularly fascinated by the tale of stagecoach robber Pearl Hart, whom the play “Waiting Women” is centered around.  

“One reason she was so successful is because she was wearing pants,” she said. “The stagecoach driver was in shock, the passengers were in shock, but the women inside were delighted.”

Hart, played by Amanda Braden, would go on to become something of a celebrity, becoming the focus of articles in Cosmopolitan Magazine and other outlets. After prison, she joined the vaudeville act Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

It’s that show that serves as the framework of the play, as it flashes back and forward from her days as an entertainer to her days as a criminal and back again.

The play has been produced before, with productions organized by schools and theaters, once playing in New York at a theater located, as the playwright put it, “off-off-off-Broadway – three ‘offs.’” However, this will be the writer’s first time directing her own script.

Rachel Cook plays many small roles in the show as well as serving as the play’s assistant director and dramaturge, meaning it’s her job to maintain the show’s verisimilitude by ensuring that costumes and dialogue are period-appropriate.

The homeschool teacher has been performing with the HMTC since August when she joined the organization’s free improv acting classes, which are held weekly, free of charge.

One of the roles she plays in “Waiting Women” is that of the male superintendent of the local jail, who lives on the outskirts of the prison itself.

“It’s very outlandish and very comedic. It’s a lot of fun,” Cook said.

The actress has performed at other HMTC/ Carnegie Museum collaborative events, including the recent Edwardian Tea day, where she played an actress and the museum’s ghost tour last Halloween where she portrayed the spirit of a jazz singer.

While those roles required Cook to improvise and interact with her audience, she’ll need to stick to the script while on stage during “Waiting Women.”

“Memorizing lines and being able to get into your character is new to me. I enjoy it but it is more challenging,” she said.

The HMTC’s plays have been hosted at various spots including the Carnegie Museum. The company’s previous show, “Boxcar” was performed at the Kings Arts Center and can be seen March 8-9 at Dianna’s Studio of Dance in Fresno.

“Waiting Women” will be performed in the garden of the Carnegie Museum.

“Even Shakespeare started outdoors,” Gonzalez-Scherer said.

Zuckerberg promises strides in privacy

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook, which grew into a colossus by vacuuming up your information in every possible way and using it to target ads back at you, now says its future lies in privacy-oriented messaging that Facebook itself can't read.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO, announced the shift in a Wednesday blog post apparently intended to blunt both criticism of the company's data handling and potential antitrust action. Going forward, he said, Facebook will emphasize giving people ways to communicate in truly private fashion, with their intimate thoughts and pictures shielded by encryption in ways that Facebook itself can't read.

But Zuckerberg didn't suggest any changes to Facebook's core newsfeed-and-groups-based service, or to Instagram's social network, currently the fastest growing part of the company. Facebook pulls in gargantuan profits by selling ads targeted using the information it amasses on its users and others they know.

"All indications are that Facebook and Instagram will continue growing and be increasingly important," Zuckerberg said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

Critics aren't convinced Zuckerberg is committed to meaningful change.

"This does nothing to address the ad targeting and information collection about individuals," said Jen King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society. "It's great for your relationship with other people. It doesn't do anything for your relationship with Facebook itself."

Facebook's new orientation follows a rocky two-year battering over revelations about its leaky privacy controls. That included the sharing of personal information from as many as 87 million users with a political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Trump campaign.

Since the 2016 election, Facebook has also taken flak for the way Russian agents used its service to target U.S. voters with divisive messages and being a conduit for political misinformation. Zuckerberg faced two days of congressional interrogation over these and other subjects last April; he acknowledged and apologized for Facebook's privacy breakdowns in the past.

Since then, Facebook has suffered other privacy lapses that have amplified the calls for regulations that would hold companies more accountable when they improperly expose their users' information.

As part of his effort to make amends, Zuckerberg plans to stitch together its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messaging services so users will be able to contact each other across all of the apps.

The multiyear plan calls for all of these apps to be encrypted so no one but senders and recipients can see the contents of messages. WhatsApp already has that security feature, but Facebook's other messaging apps don't.

Zuckerberg likened it to being able to be in a living room behind a closed front door, and not having to worry about anyone eavesdropping. Meanwhile, Facebook and the Instagram photo app would still operate more like a town square where people can openly share whatever they want.

While Zuckerberg positions the messaging integration as a privacy move, Facebook also sees commercial opportunity in the shift. "If you think about your life, you probably spend more time communicating privately than publicly," he told the AP. "The overall opportunity here is a lot larger than what we have built in terms of Facebook and Instagram."

Critics have raised another possible motive — the threat of antitrust crackdowns. Integration could make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to later separate out and spin off Instagram and WhatsApp as separate companies.

"I see that as the goal of this entire thing," said Blake Reid, a University of Colorado law professor who specializes in technology and policy. He said Facebook could tell antitrust authorities that WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger are tied so tightly together that it couldn't unwind them.

Combining the three services also lets Facebook build more complete data profiles on all of its users. Already, businesses can already target Facebook and Instagram users with the same ad campaign, and ads are likely coming to WhatsApp eventually.

And users are more likely to stay within Facebook's properties if they can easily message their friends across different services, rather than having to switch between Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. That could help Facebook compete with messaging services from Apple, Google and others.

Creating more ways for Facebook's more than 2 billion users to keep things private could undermine the company's business model, which depends on the ability to learn about the things people like and then sell ads tied to those interests.

In his interview with the AP, Zuckerberg said he isn't currently worried about denting Facebook's profits with the increased emphasis on privacy.

"How this affects the business down the line, we'll see," Zuckerberg said. "But if we do a good job in serving the need that people have, then there will certainly be an opportunity" to make even more money.

Assemblymember Salas Advances Valley Fever Bill to Improve Worker Safety

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Committee on Labor unanimously approved Assembly Bill (AB) 203, authored by Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), which would strengthen and improve education and protections for workers from valley fever by requiring construction employers in endemic counties to provide effective awareness and prevention training to employees.

“The heightened risk posed to outdoor workers from valley fever is well-documented,” said Assemblymember Salas. “Those who are infected often do not recognize the symptoms or are not diagnosed right away, this can result in lengthy and costly hospital stays, and in the worst-case scenarios can even result in death. AB 203 is a critical step forward in educating employees about recognizing the symptoms of valley fever and in the best practices for preventing infection.”

In a study that looked at valley fever outbreaks in the U.S. and worldwide between 1940 and 2015, it was found that more than half of the total outbreaks were associated with occupational exposure. In another study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine that looked at an outbreak at Camp Roberts near San Miguel in San Luis Obispo County, it was found that occupational Valley Fever incidences have nearly quadrupled in California from 2000 to 2006.

Furthermore, it concluded that multiple risk-based measures are needed to control occupational Valley Fever in endemic areas.

AB 203 represents a continuing effort on the part of Assemblymember Salas to enhance protections, awareness and research surrounding valley fever. Last year, Salas authored and passed three bills that improved valley fever reporting and provided enhanced education for physicians and the public about valley fever (AB 1787, AB 1789, and AB 1790). In addition, Salas secured $3 million for valley fever research at the University of California, $3 million for the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical, and $2 million for a public awareness campaign conducted by the California Department of Public Health.

AB 203 moves next to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.