Midday Edition Roundtable; Troop withdrawal from Iraq, medical marijuana dispensary crackdown and San Diego home foreclosures.
October 21, 2011 1:35 p.m.
Beth Ford Roth, KPBS Military reporter, for Home Post blog
JW August, Managing Editor, KGTV
Roger Showley, reporter San Diego Union-Tribune
Mark Sauer, KPBS Senior News Editor
PENNER: How will the war's end affect military presence in San Diego? And San Diego's home prices are down. Although home sales are up. What does this mean for affordable housing? Plus the pressure is on San Diego's medical marijuana dispensaries to close shop. What impact does this have on state law permitting marijuana for medicinal useless? I'm Gloria Penner, KPBS Midday Edition at the Roundtable is next. First the news.
I'm Gloria Penner. This is the Midday Edition at the Roundtable. It's Friday, October 21st.
We hope that you will join our conversation as we continue with Midday Edition at the Roundtable. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. We're you can tweet your comments at KPBS Midday Edition.
My guests today are Roger Showley, he's the Union Tribune staff writer. And we're delighted he's with us.
SHOWLEY: Glad to be here.
PENNER: And JW August, managing editor for ten News. Welcome.
AUGUST: Good to see you.
PENNER: Mark Sauer is the KPBS senior editor. Glad you could join.
SAUER: Delighted to be here, Gloria.
PENNER: And then we have Beth Ford Roth, who is the KPBS military reporter. And she's with us to report on the news that broke this morning when President Obama announced total troop withdrawal from Iraq by year's end. Beth, I'm glad you can make it. It's going to be a very busy for you.
ROTH: It's great to be here with you.
PENNER: Thank you. Let's start right out for those who missed it all. What did the president say?
ROTH: He announced today that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by -- he said by the holidays. They'll be home for the holidays. So that means by December 31st. And that's really in keeping with an agreement that president George W. Bush made in 2008. So it's not a change in what we were expecting. There had been a lot of discussions in the last few minutes with whether or not we would be keeping troops to help train the Iraqis. And there was a question over whether the troops would have immunity or not immunity. And this were a lot of things going on behind the scene. Today is really the day where we're declared it's over, we're out of there, and it's done after nine years.
PENNER: So Roger, do you see this as a day to celebrate as one of our staffers said? Should we run out into the streets and kiss each other?
SHOWLEY: Well, I don't know if you can declare victory and go back to San Diego or other places. I guess I don't think I understand whether the training question is still out there. Are they going to reach an agreement in the next few months to leave some people there? Or is that a dead issue and we won't be there at all?
ROTH: That's what I understand is the president making that announcement today. It's a dead issue. Our troops, all of our troops will be leaving. That issue that had been in the air was finalized today. We are not staying. We are not helping to train the troops. It will probably be defense contractors.
PENNER: So you didn't see any reports as you were looking through this, Mark Sauer, that indicated we'd leave maybe a handful of advisors?
SAUER: One report I saw was about 100 and 50 in terms of Beth was saying, for arms sales and those kinds. Transitions on the ground. As far as the celebrating notion, it seems to me, certainly if you'll talk to veterans groups in San Diego, are the veterans for peace group comes to mind that this isn't something really to celebrate. We had almost nine years of an invasion then an occupation there. And victory is a very illusive and slippery term. And what there was to wins even a slippery term.
PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Two you agree with Mark Sauer that this really isn't a celebratory event? Or are you ready to go out and celebrate and say, hey, we're going to be out of this final he! George W. Bush wasn't the only one who gave us this kind of a date. Didn't Barack Obama shortly after he was elected also say that he was going to have the troops withdrawn by the end of 2011?
ROTH: Well, he did, and he also declared all -- peaceful the U.S. combat mission would be over in Iraq by August of 2010. I wanted to backtrack a bit on what mark was saying on whether or not this is time to celebrate. The pew research center came out with a report recently interfering post911 veterans. So the veterans, the men and women who fought in wars, basically Afghanistan, Iraq. And only 44% thought the Iraq war was worth it in terms of money, in terms of cost of life.
SAUER: And those are veterans.
ROTH: Those are veterans who enlisted after 911. So these are the people who were fighting in Iraq and less than half actually think that it's worth it.
PENNER: JW August, ten News, is it possible even to weigh the toll that's been taken on the United States? People are saying billions, NO, trillions of dollars. We know the number of leaves. Is there truly a way of saying --
SHOWLEY: I don't think so. It's loss of treasure, loss of lives. Our foreign policy, the image of the United States in the middle east, the whole way the thing was handled. I would say 50's running this country, I would have, like, perhaps a day of celebration would be more of a day of healing for the country and recognize the veterans that fought.
SAUER: The loss, yeah.
SHOWLEY: Moms and dads that lost their sons and daughters. I'm sure they are twisted on this one.
AUGUST: There are two things that occurred to me about this, Gloria. One is we're still in Afghanistan next door. So I wouldn't celebrate until they're out of there too. And secondly, this is longer than the Vietnam war, and we didn't lose nearly as many people as we did back then. And part of that has to do with the improved medical services that go to the troops. So if you get injured, you're not going to die as you might have in have Vietnam. And I guess the other thing you can say is Saddam Hussein isn't there. We don't know whether Iraq will be a better place when we're gone but for whatever you say about our policy and how we conducted the war, we did manage to get rid of him.
PENNER: But what did we get out of it? Did we get anything out of it, Roger?
AUGUST: I think we got a country that we can deal with in a positive sense instead of a negative sense.
RIH1: I think you have to look at cost benefit analysis when it comes down to the cold hard look back on this thing. If we look at it from the standpoint if we had not gone into Iraq, Saddam may be there, maybe not. He was contained. We had contained him for 12 years am he was a dictator. The people dealt with that, and dealt with the aftermath of that in a very bloody way. Will a civil war by any objective standards. So if the United States had not gone in, where would we be now in terms of our own treasure, our own folks who were not lost. All of these veterans who were back, and maimed and suffering from PTSD. And what did we benefit? It's going to be very difficult to sell that the cost benefit is some balance.
ROTH: And the monetary cost, the associated press said it cost $800 billion.
SAUER: And if you go back to the original discussions in Congress in the discussion administration saying oh, the oil will pay for no more than 80 billion. Sensecky was relieved of duty when he said this is gonna be 400 and first, 500,000 troops to do this properly. It's going to cost a lot. And of course, they shunted him aside, and now we look back and see that a lot of this was prescient. It was predicted, and it was predictable what the outcome would be.
PENNER: This is the Roundtable and you are welcome to join us as we're discussing whether Iraq was worth it. Now that it looks as though we are going to pull out our troops by the end of the year. And whether you think we should have a day of healing as J. W. August suggests or whether we should go out and celebrate in the usual way. 1-888-895-5727.
ROTH: I just am having a memory of back when the war started. And it sort of -- could tell the tale of how we would be as a country. And our involvement, civilian involvement in the war. I was out at a restaurant with a group of people, and the television was showing that we were actually invading Iraq.
SAUER: Shock and awe.
ROTH: And one reporter was saying turn it up, and people were turning around and looking at him and telling him to shoosh. No one was interested that we were starting a war.
PENNER: Even then.
ROTH: Even then, March 2003, no one cared. They were more interested in their chicken fingers. So that seems to have been the case ever since. We don't know, we don't have victory gardens, we're not collecting tin. It's not that kind of feeling. There's not that celebratory feeling because have we had to sacrifice the way the military families have?
PENNER: According to the president, Nouri Al-Maliki, agrees with the decision. Is there something special about the timing of all of this?
ROTH: Well -- a cynic might say that one would want to juxtapose the end of this war that cost $850 billion, more than 4,700 troop, and nine years, with the fact that another dictator fell yesterday. What? Five months we had a coalition, no boots on the ground. Not one American life was cost. And so maybe a cynic might say that those two events, back to back accident were not convince dental. But --
PENNER: Not convince dental, and politically very desirable for the president of the United States who's running for reelection.
ROTH: You might say that.
PENNER: Well, if you were one of those cynics.
PENNER: You might say that.
ROTH: Not saying I am. But --
PENNER: However, this is, I find really interesting, one report also says that the U.S. wants to retain legal -- legal immunity for its troops but that the Iraqis refuse to agree to that. What's at stake here JW?
AUGUST: I think that was a way for us to get out of the thing gracefully. No general is going to have one of their soldiers dragged up in it a civilian Iraqi court and put up against the wall and shot. They're not going to allow their people to be in harm's way like that. So the military would never go for that. And I just think it was a way for us to get the heck out of there and save face.
PENNER: So immunity is not a major issue?
AUGUST: It is for us. We're saying it is.
SHOWLEY: Gloria, I think there are a lot of lessons to draw from this. And that's why we should be talking about this now and in the next year or two. Including what kind of wars we should go into, how should we pay for them, what are the objectives, what is the exit strategy. There are a whole range of things that Iraq for whatever you make of it should give pause to the presidential candidates and everybody in the country about --
SAUER: That's a very good point. And some -- U.S. officials, top U.S. officials in the last year have made the point outgoing secretary Gates said that you ought to have your head examined if you ever go into another land war.
ROTH: That's a quote actually.
PENNER: We'll start with John in San Diego. John, you're on with the panel at the Roundtable.
NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to comment. I thought it was an interesting discussion that you're having. And you threw out the statistic that 46% of the people that served in Iraq actually thought that it was worth -- that it was worth being there. And I think probably what you would find, and I served 13 months in Vietnam, was that anybody who goes to war, after they have been there, they not only realize the futility of that war, but how stupid any war is. The price tag and the suffering that comes with the aftermath is never worth it.
PENNER: Thank you so much for that, John. And Beth, I think he was talking about what you wanted to say.
ROTH: Yeah, exactly. That was the pew research center's report that just came out recently. Yeah, that 44% of veterans who have enlisted since 911 felt that the Iraq war was worth it. What's interesting is only 34% felt both wars were worth it, both the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan. So he's got a great point. I can't -- I thank him for his service, and he's got an amazing perspective that perhaps sheds some light on what these men and women who were poled have to say.
PENNER: Different attitude, though, obviously between Iraq, the attitude of the American public toward Iraq and Vietnam.
PENNER: Distribute that make a difference?
ROTH: Well, I don't know for someone returning. I know that a lot of the families who communicate with me on my blog don't believe that civilians understand exactly the kind of sacrifices not just the service members make but that their families make. Women are raising children basically on their own for 12-month, 16 months at a time. And that's a huge sacrifice. And there's no one there who can really understand or help them except another military family.
PENNER: Just one sort of final thought, Roger, picking up on something that you had to say about learning from this whole situation. We're still in Afghanistan. Is there anything that we have learned from this Iraq situation that's going to play over to what we might do in Afghanistan?
SHOWLEY: I think it's a completely different kind of war, it's a different geography. And the surge idea in Iraq, I don't know if that's -- if it's working as well in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's bye-bye a problem for a thousand years for many invaders and imperial power, you know? And I think we're just going to have to take each one on its own.
SAUER: Another development yesterday with second of state Clinton made a very blunt show of force along with the head of the soy saying the insurgents on the Pakistani border on in Afghanistan have to make a choice, whether to stop. So that may be changing dramatically too.
PENNER: I appreciate this interesting discussion. And I know our listeners do too. We're going to be back in a moment. Coming up, we're going to switch gears and talk about how San Diego's housing market is looking. We're going to look at foreclosures, and sales, and prices. Stay with us, please.
PENNER: Our next story could be an optimistic one depending on how you read the housing numbers. Reports from Bloomberg news and associated press show a surge in apartment construction in September. In September, foreclosures in San Diego dropped. But throughout the year, they increased. So how is the San Diego region doing? Sometimes these numbers can be befuddling. Roger Showley from the Union Tribune, how is the region doing?
SHOWLEY: Well, actually we're doing better in 2011 on the default and foreclosure count than we did last year. This time last year, there were about 17,500 defaults, and 9,500 foreclosures. And this year, it's down to about 14,000 for defaults and 8,000 for foreclosures. And so instead of looking at it by month or quarter, I like to look at the year to indicate, or 12 months ago. So we are going down a little bit. And it tells me that we peaked. The troubled housing market is not worsening, it's levelling off, and you say why is that? That's because the worst home sales were in -- 5 or 6 years ago. And all those were the subprime mortgages or the people going over their heads to buy something. Those properties are now in play, you might say. And they're being dealt with one way or the other. So that anybody who bought since 2007 shouldn't be in issue. We are kind of getting out of the woods. It's still very bad, but the future is a lot better than it was a couple years ago.
PENNER: Clarify that for me. That's really interesting. You're saying if you bought in that sort of that little doughnut hole in 2006?
SHOWLEY: I'd call it a black hole.
PENNER: In 2006, 2007, you probably got a lousy deal on your mortgage, is that it?
PENNER: And if you bought since 2007 --
SHOWLEY: You're fine.
PENNER: They have clean up their act so that you got a decent mortgage?
SHOWLEY: It isn't so much the decent mortgage is that the people who were getting mortgages were in better shape financially. Of they had to meet the criteria more strictly, had to have a job, income, savings. So the under writing standards tightened a lot. And that's why --
AUGUST: No more robo signing, that sort of foolish business.
PENNER: So that stopped after 2007.
SHOWLEY: Then you mentioned apartment construction. That is true in it San Diego as well as nationally. Most of the -- I think year to date, we've built more apartments than houses. Of people who are thrown out of their homes have to rent some place, and they're renting apartments or other houses. So that's just a matter of the mix. What I find anything, if I can go on a bit is that when I was looking at this yesterday and comparing commercial development to housing development, one of the consultants said look at the office market, how it is stabilizing, how more people are getting jobs, how office spaces are filling up, the vacancies are going down. That is going to trigger housing decisions by people. If you're in an area of San Diego like UTC or UCSD or Sorrento Valley and you work there, you're going to want to buy a home near there, so those markets where the jobs are doing well should lead to housing doing well.
PENNER: Are those office occupancies going at the same rate or are they cheaper because there was a glut of offices on the market? Give us a picture.
SHOWLEY: Well, people are -- it's a great bargain for people who want to rent an office because there's a surplus. And typically tenants are going from bad buildings to better building, better locations and so forth. So it's a chance to move up in the office market.
AUGUST: Isn't mission valley the worst? Doesn't it still have a very high --
SHOWLEY: Actually Carlsbad is the worst.
PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. This is the Midday Edition at the Roundtable. And we're talking about the housing market in San Diego right now because there have been some developments. Of subtle developments, but developments nevertheless that tell us maybe there is a change afoot and before I go to Mark Sauer or senior editor of KPBS, I'd like to ask you. Do you sense a change in the housing market, and if you do, for better or worse? 1-888-895-5727.
SAUER: Well, I wanted to ask my colleagues about this good news, bad news. We're at the lowest interest rates in memory, maybe in history right now. But so many folks are still under water and can't qualify. They'd like to lower -- maybe try and stay in their homes, lower their payment. But because their homes are worth so much -- I'm sorry, the mortgages are worth so much more than their homes, they can't take advantage of what? Three and a quarter% right now? So it's a double edged sword for these folks.
SHOWLEY: It's ironic to me, if you're in trouble with your mortgage, you can't get the bank to give you a lower mortgage percentage rate. This has been an issue from the time of the merge dealt down -- meltdown or housing meltdown from 2006 on, that people in trouble are the ones who need the most help and they can't get it.
AUGUST: Look how the banks drag their feet on short sales. They made it impossible for people to make deals to get out of them. They haven't made it easy on them.
SHOWLEY: Yeah, so it's -- on the other hand you have to understand, it's a very complex situation about how this whole thing works. The problem is that all the mortgages were sold off to investors. If you get rid of the mortgages, the investors lose their shirts. So it's a chain reaction. That's why we haven't had this giant melt down of people dumping houses on the market. There are several million still distressed in the market. But they're not being offered for sale or foreclosed on, because it would be counter productive.
AUGUST: The banks are holding stuff back.
PENNER: I'm thinking about the consumers right now. I'm thinking about people who have said for years, I've wanted to go in and buy a house. And that I am looking for an affordable house. And here we have downward pressure on prices in the market, and yet we are seeing an up tick in the number of sales, are we not?
SHOWLEY: NO, the sales are pretty flat. They haven't proved much. It's really people should go back to their own standards in finance, personal finance, which is if you want a home, you can afford it, and you're going to live in it for 7, 8, 10 years, and it makes sense compared to renting it, buy it. And the interest rate thing is really a key benefit and a reason to act now. I'm afraid people are going to look back five years from now and say, gee, I should have bought that house because now interest rates are 7%, and it's costing me twice as much.
SAUER: The difficulty is unemployment uncertainty. If you could you or your spouse is going to lose a job here soon, it's hard to pull the trigger.
SHOWLEY: I guess the way I hook at it is if you're going to be laid off, you've been laid off, San Diego is doing better off than the state or the nation. Unless you're in an industry that is in trouble. If you're in a solid company, you shouldn't be fearing for your job as you were 3 or 4 years ago.
PENNER: I think it's interesting that we're talking now about potentially buying homes if you can afford it. 1-888-895-5727. I'm wondering if that's what is keeping people from actually moving into the housing market. If we see construction increasing, Roger Showley, if it's apartment construction or any other, this means more jobs doesn't it?
SHOWLEY: Yeah, I think that's -- the construction job outlook I think is going to be better in 2012 in residential. Commercial is still pretty flat.
AUGUST: I was playing on the beautiful Balboa golf course.
SAUER: Have you been out there?
AUGUST: It's lovely. They fixed it up nice. And I'm look at our skyline, and I see four cranes. Four big cranes downtown. I said wow! It's been a long time since I saw four cranes downtown.
SAUER: Used to be the official bird of San Diego.
SHOWLEY: Except they're a courthouse and a library.
AUGUST: Nevertheless, that says something. It's nice to see some cranes out there.
PENNER: All right, well, I want to go back to our subject for a moment. And I was thinking about the homeowners' tax credit that expired a while back. And wondering, you know, what has happened since then, how helpful was it, did it really help escalate the numbers of home sales?
SHOWLEY: NO, it was a dumb idea. It was a short-term thing that moved everybody's purchase decisions a few months ahead. And it cost us billions of dollars in subsidies at the state and national level. And the short-term fixes that Washington seems to look for is just -- they should learn their lesson.
PENNER: What should be the managing factor, Roger?
SHOWLEY: I think we should let the market detect what's going on. We we're not so smart that we know how you to fix things these day the. We can help people in trouble, give them new mortgages, and help people one at a too time. To try and manage the whole housing market from Afar is fool hearty.
PENNER: And you agree with that?
AUGUST: Absolutely. When I was researching -- when I heard this was the subject, I called data quick, because the question, somebody asked me the question how do default notices relate to foreclosures? And in fact, in other words, what percentage of defaults actually go to foreclosure. And I found out that's tough to find because of all the variables. But one of cheeses over there at data quick said they just last year ran some data from the second quarter of last year to now. And they said that of those homes that had had the default notice in the years since, 41% had gone into foreclosure, and 21% had been sold.
PENNER: Give me those numbers again.
AUGUST: 41% went into foreclosure, and 21% were actually sold.
PENNER: Of the houses that went into foreclosure?
SHOWLEY: That went into default. He said a rough goes is about 50%. When you see the default figures, it's going to be up 50%, maybe more. It's difficult to track.
PENNER: So here you have, let's say, a young couple that's just gotten married, and they're both lucky enough so that they're actually earning something. And their dream is to own a house. Sooner rather than later?
SHOWLEY: If they can afford it, and they're going to be here for a long time, and they like the house or the condo, why not? I think the -- you shouldn't buy a house for investment purposes. You should buy it for using purposes. And that whole formula of real estate investing in the last 10 or 20 years was sold by real estate agents and so on and financial people saying it's part of your portfolio, and your personal wealth. In San Diego historically it has been an excellent reason to build your own estate. But I don't know if that's going to be the case in the next 20 years.
PENNER: You don't do it for an investment.
SHOWLEY: Some people say we're going to have this huge bubble of prices again because we're not building enough. And in five years, we're going to have this big shortage and we'll be back to where we were in 2005.
PENNER: 1-888-895-5727. Are you taking some pleasure out of a sense that maybe the housing market is turning around? And I want to talk about the role and responsibility of the banks here too. Upon but let me know what you have to say.
SAUER: One other thing that's interesting, a story we're working on for Monday, is that a trend that plays into this is the lowest birth rate in America since the great depression is happening right now. The figures are rather dramatic in California and across the country. And for couples, as you just described, who may be considering a home, not having children or putting off having children also factors into that. The cost of children is $225,000 to raise to age 18, according to that report. And that all plays into whether you can afford a home.
SHOWLEY: And I think another point is the aging baby boomers who are not being replaced by the next generation. Some people have wondered whether the suburbs are going to be the disaster of housing in the next 20 years because people will be stuck with their four bedroom, five bedroom housing in some place in Poway and they can't sell them.
PENNER: Let's take a look at the other side of the picture, which I think we have to do out of fairness of the a lot of blame has been placed on the lending institutions and the practices of the lending institutions and the banks. Is that under troll now, mark?
SAUER: Well, there was just a story this week about another huge fine for Citibank, bank of America, earlier had been fined for some of the shenanigans in financial instruments and defrauding investors and betting against them while they were selling these packaged mortgages out as derivatives. It's complicated. But woo hope that's balanced in the sus. The political balances in Washington, we got stern regulations coming out of this, and stopped a lot of this. And you have the dod frank bill which Republicans are trying to repeal or water down. And a lot of Democrats and progressives are saying it didn't have enough spine anyway. And it's ineffective. So that's an open question. I think that's a work in progress there.
PENNER: From your point of view, JW, you cover so many things on ten News, do you see that the banks have learned their lesson and that the lending institutions have learned their lesson and that we can expect to go forth and find that we are saddled intractable mortgages?
AUGUST: I don't think that.
PENNER: That we can't afford.
AUGUST: I don't think they've learned their lesson. They never learn their lesson. We haven't beat them up enough. They haven't paid enough of a price for the sins they committed.
SAUER: Nobody's gone to jail.
AUGUST: It really ticks me off that the big boys are still walking around. You pick Madoff, and you haven't really done anything. What about these bankers?
SHOWLEY: I think they've learned their lesson too well, which is not to lend. So you have people who can -- should be able to buy a home and qualify, have all the financial things they need, and they can't get a loan. You can't get a refinance loan, a home equity loan. And only the best of the best who don't need money and get money.
AUGUST: Isn't that typical firefighter a bank?
SHOWLEY: When they scoot up, so badly, they're going to say on the opposite side and say we're going to be so strict that nobody can rent or --
SAUER: Right, there's a pendulum swing there. Can't the government be the lender of last resort? Prime the pump. Get this thing going. Guarantee some loans. There are things that could be done. It's the political will, and as we know now, in the U.S. Senate, dysfunction is the rule of the day.
PENNER: Mark, there are families that are looking to help from loan modifications, a way to help them save their homes in San Diego. And the results are mixed on that one.
SAUER: They certainly are. I think Roger touched on that. The results are mixed. The program hasn't happened. There are some things being put forth now where you can partner with the banks, the government pays a certain amount. The banks pay a certain amount, they make these adjustments, keep folks in their homes am there are ideas being put forth. What do you think, Roger?
SHOWLEY: I think you got $3,000 for making a deal which doesn't sound like much of an incentive for a basic. I think the other thing we're forgetting about is that the price of homes in San Diego while it's gone down is still way above the national average. 316,000 or something for a median price. So the economists are saying San Diego, your prices are still too high. Don't wish for prices to go up.
SAUER: Go to Detroit, you want a cheap house.
PENNER: Thank you very much, gentlemen, and we'll be back in a moment. But first some headlines to sort of keep you up-to-date with the top stories of the hour.
PENNER: This is KPBS Midday Edition at the Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner. My guests today are Roger Showley, staff writer for the UT. J. W August, managing editor for ten News, and Mark Sauer, KPBS senior editor. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. As we talk about the increasing squeeze on medical marijuana dispensing clinics in San Diego. City attorney Jan Goldsmith is notifying dispensaries that they must shut down. Okay, JW, it really appeared for months as though those dispensaries were going to be in operation. There were objections that were raised but they were moving along. What happened to change that?
AUGUST: I think one thing, are the feds are stepping up the heat. Four U.S. attorneys in California have sent out letters to the dispensaries and the landlords, what they're doing is maybe illegal, and look out, we're going to fall on top of you like a ton of bricks. Then a judge told Goldsmith that buzz there was no cheer zoning guidelines for these dispensaries that it's the city's decision whether they can stay or go. And Goldsmith jumped on that. He was looking for something when the judge Brager said that -- ruled that the city can move them out because of zoning regs, that's exactly what he did. He's warned them, they're going to move. They're going to shut them down.
PENNER: Well, are the city attorney has insisted throughout his tenure, mark, that his job is to enforce the law and not make the law. Is that what he's doing now? He stood back for a while as the city got a task force together, and they worked for a long, long time in Ernest with folks on the medical marijuana side the collectives, and also with the concerned citizens in various neighborhoods, etc. And they came up with a plan, guidelines, very difficult guideline, so many feet from a school, so many feet from churches and various other zoning restrictions. It limited the number severely. We had almost 200 dispensaries by the best count at one point. And we were going to be down to I think just a couple, a dozen under that rule. What happened was it appears the folks on the dispensary side may have over reached. They weren't happy with the restrictions, they were chafing under them. And they actually voted and got the council to set aside these guidelines, these land use rules. And they were going to go back to the drawing board and come up with something better. In the meantime, the city attorney stepped into that vacuum, and we've got what we have here with the U.S. attorneys and the city attorney threatening landlords, shelling out the ability to have a store front. And store fronts weren't participated going back to 96 and prop 215. You were entitled -- it was a compassionate vote by the people of California, if you have MS, you're suffering from chemotherapy, you might benefit from marijuana. But there was no provision on how you're going to distribute and come up with the pop pot.
AUGUST: The law was ambiguous.
PENNER: The law came out of a people's initiative.
AUGUST: 1996, 215.
PENNER: And those initiatives rarely are comprehensive.
PENNER: They're usually written by advocates in some fashion. And they don't cross all the Ts and dot all the Is.
AUGUST: Look what San Diego County did. The board of supervisors. They didn't like it from the get go, and did everything they could. They didn't want it to happen.
SAUER: And they ironically did come up with land use guidelines that squeezed down to, like, two places in the county where you can have them. But they do have them, and now the city is gone.
PENNER: 1-888-895-5727. If you are a patient who has been dependent on getting your medical marijuana from a store front dispensary in San Diego, what is your plan now? 1-888-895-5727. So Roger, we know that the state has this law that allows marijuana for medical purpose, 215 as the gentleman said. How is closing dispensaries now in conflict with that law?
SHOWLEY: I don't know about the legal standing. I think the issue or the interesting thing to me is the federal versus state question. If you believe in, what do they call them? The laboratories of democracy, why can't the states manage this? What do the fed vs to do with it?
SAUER: When the Obama administration came in, they said that was exactly what it was going to be. But according to these California prosecutor, federal prosecutors, the problem is into these vacuums, and there's all sorts of vacuums with prop 215, stepped folks who have turned these collectives in, and they're selling drugs out of them fairly blatantly. And so the people on one side say, oh, it's just a bunch of drug dealers, and they're simply selling them and hiding behind the law. The other folks say the legitimate patients aren't getting it. There's truth to all sides.
AUGUST: I think so too. It's always the middle ground or something in between. When the U.S. attorney made this announcement, the other U.S. attorneys about what they were doing --
PENNER: The same thing.
AUGUST: They said you got to stop doing this. Upon they filed a case, which is probably -- they picked a poster child guy, out of San Marcos called club one collective, and they tracked this guy for a while. Because they said 750 persons under the age of 21 bought marijuana at this guy's clinic. And he has growing fields all over the North County. So he's the guy they're mad at. He's the guy that they want us to focus on. But what about the people that have legitimate needs for the marijuana? I mean -- as usual, I think they're over stepping their bounds.
SAUER: And the marijuana advocates will say, hey, children take medicine of all sorts. If this is truly medicine, what's wrong with people under 21 being prescribed by a doctor or being given a doctor's letter if it's helpful to them? That's a stretch argument in our political climate. But that's what the other side would say.
PENNER: Let me ask you this part, Roger, if advocates -- if opposition by advocates have the unintended consequences of potentially shutting down all dispensaries, do you think that that's really what the point of all this was to shut them all down?
SHOWLEY: KPBS had the series on prohibition a few weeks ago, and I was watching that, I said this is exactly what we're going through on the drug side. I'm not defending it in any way. But if you chase it out of the light, it's going to show up in the dark. And why can't the doctors at Kaiser and other hospitals be authorized to prescribe marijuana if it's called for or something else? If you just leave it to the free market with these dispensaries, of course you're going to run into problems.
AUGUST: We're talking about getting out of Iraq, the longest war ever, yada yada, but we've been in a 40-year war that president Nixon started 40 years ago. You want to talk about treasure and the waste of resources and misfocus on policy?
AUGUST: The international drug policy is totally wacky.
PENNER: Before we get to that, I think there's a segment of all of this that we're leaving out. There had been regulations passed by the City Council and zoning. And then there was a referendum that was passed overturning the zoning and the regulations; is that correct? Because they were too restrictive?
SAUER: That's what I was saying. And the folks ironically who were pushing to do that were the advocates of medical marijuana.
PENNER: Right. Now it appears they apparently over reached, and --
PENNER: So we're talking about unintended consequences.
SAUER: Exactly. So they create a void, and into that void step four federal prosecutors.
SHOWLEY: The referendum didn't go to the voters. It was just qualified for the ballot, are and the council had the chance to withdraw the regulations. So that's what happened.
AUGUST: They tried to play hard ball but they didn't have a bat or a glove.
PENNER: Let's give our listeners I chance to join us. John in lake side, please join us while you can. And my panel is waiting for you.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I'm a member of a dispensary. And as far as I know, they've shut that down. And my plan now is to go back to getting it on the streets where -- virtual, commercials not long ago saying if you're buying this stuff off the streets, you could be supporting Al-Qaeda or drug lords south of the border. You know, I guess the federals prefer that plan because that's what they're telling everybody to go back to.
AUGUST: He's right. Where you going to get it? If you need it, if you have an issue, health issues, someone needs to step in to it right now and maybe the hospital should -- somebody stand up.
SHOWLEY: We have to be honest about this. I think a lot of people who are getting it are not on medical purposes. It's something else.
PENNER: But there are those with the need.
SHOWLEY: Of course. But we can't be -- chose our eyes to the fact that the drug business is there. And this is the way to get to it.
SAUER: Well, the federal or the state guidelines from the previous attorney general who is now the governor, anticipate that these are collectives, you grow your own. I think it may be a stretch for someone who's dealing with chemotherapy, someone who's dealing with MS or any debilitating disease to grow their own, protect their own, secure it from somebody who might hop the fence in the neighborhood. If you have a collective and you can come together in some sort of plot, now you're moving toward the dispensary problem. It's still fraught since 96 with all sorts of questions.
PENNER: You talked about hospitals. But wouldn't hospitals be in danger of crossing federal guidelines? Federal law?
PENNER: If they started handling narcotics in that way? They're very careful.
SAUER: The federal government drug schedules have this as on the par with heroin. There's no medical benefit, according to the feds on this. They're not going to touch it. Interestingly, over the weekend, the California medical association stepped in and said that you should decriminalize this, allow the research to proceed, find the efficacy of this, and come up with some sort of solution. And it goes back to what the caller was saying, it's the violence associated with the street drugs.
PENNER: Pat in east county. You're on with the panel.
NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to comment that I have Parkinson's, my neurologist recommended me to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. I have a card. I go to dispensaries, and what I feel this is doing is forcing me, really, to go under ground to a thriving under ground economy and become a criminal to buy the medication I need.
PENNER: I have a question, and I'm asking this because I really don't know. When you went through legal means, through the dispensaries, did you pay a tax on the marijuana?
NEW SPEAKER: You know, I honestly don't know. I can tell you it's extremely expensive. But I don't know.
SAUER: I can answer that. Some of the dispensaries in San Diego voluntarily did set up a sales tax just to -- as a show of good faith and hoping to keep in good standing with the city. So some did.
PENNER: All right. JW?
AUGUST: And I just want to point out there's eye new wild card in this, the State of California attorney general, miss Harris sent out a press release late yesterday or today saying to the U.S. attorneys, okay, just don't over step your reach on this thing.
PENNER: Meaning what?
AUGUST: I think he was warning them, hey, don't -- we do have this proposition approved by the voters on the books.
PENNER: That was my first question to you.
AUGUST: It's California law. Ms. Harris said to them, hey, don't over step, don't over reach.
PENNER: Meanwhile, you have these patients who are unable to get their medicinal marijuana of the let's hear from Josh in Point Loma. Josh? You are on with the panel.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much. Hi there. I just wanted to talk about it seems like marijuana in the last decade is fairly more accepted than it used to be. We know the medical benefits of it, and earlier, you guys brought up the fact that a lot of people are not using it for medical purposes but recreational. But being a first responder in the county, I can attest to another recreational drug, alcohol, and how much damage that does to both families and the community. And I just wanted to throw that out there, that maybe we as a society should start waking up to the fact that marijuana, the risk versus gain factor in legalizing it, is just something to be looked at.
PENNER: It seems to me that this program has been focused on what we as a society should be looking at in terms of what's right and wrong.
SAUER: It's an interesting point. Just yesterday there was a pole that for the first time, Americans are over 50% in wanting marijuana decriminalized.
PENNER: The Gallop poll. Thank you very much, Josh. We appreciate that. Let's go to Dave in Spring Valley.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I have colon cancer. And I use our dispensary here in -- and it's been closed now. So I'm not a marijuana person, but it was -- it was prescribed to me, so I tried to use the ventilator, and it really does give me some relief from the chemo, and it has -- not a lot of -- it's better for me than the oxycodone. But it's not -- it's not right that they should just take this away. I have a prescription for it, and I have a card for it. I don't understand why I'm not allowed to just get it at Rec sol.
PENNER: Thank you, Dave, you're right, in terms of it is trying to understand all the complexities of state law versus federal law versus local law. In this case, Jan Goldsmith has been saying this is a land use decision. And that is entirely up to the City of San Diego. Roger?
SHOWLEY: Well, yeah, that's true. It sounds more political to me than good government planning on his part. I think we should go back to what mark said, and we should leave this medical stuff to the medical people. Why are the politicians and the city attorneys and the -- so on, trying to dictate to all of us our healthy needs and requirements when it's the medical world that ought to know best?
SAUER: 81 problem is that the federal government as JW was pointing out, since the 30, really, has fiercely fought any sort of research on this. There's some folks here at UCSD that tried to set up a clinic and do a double blind study of this, and they simply won't allow it. The hoops they make you jump through to simply grow some pot to test is beyond ridiculous.
PENNER: Let's try to answer if we can some of the questions that were raised today. By the listeners. And they really focus on what can patients do who says physicians recommend they use marijuana for their medical conditions?
AUGUST: I don't have a supplier, so don't look at me.
PENNER: You're our key person on this story, J. W August of ten News.
AUGUST: I think they're at a hard way. It's really unfair, particularly for the people that are legitimate need for this. Just because the bad guys abuse the system just because bad guys made a lot of money over this, does that mean we have to punish these people? What are they going to do?
SAUER: We get a chuckle out of this, but there really is a black market. We have a war zone here, a neighbor to the San Diego, 42,000 dead in the last few years. Upon it is serious business.
AUGUST: They're planning our national forest now. Cartel, in our national forests growing weed.
PENNER: Whatever national forest is left after the wildfires right?
AUGUST: Well, yeah, but Cleveland, you name, they're planting their weed.
PENNER: I thank you very much for this discussion, and certainly J. W August of ten News, and our senior editor at KPBS, Mark Sauer, Roger Showley, Union Tribune staff writer. Thank you all.