Roundtable: Marijuana Sales Begin, Horton Plaza’s Future, Stories To Watch In 2018
January 5, 2018 1:04 p.m.
Roundtable: Marijuana Sales Begin, Horton Plaza’s Future, Stories to Watch in 2018
Art Castañares, publisher, La Prensa San Diego
Lisa Halverstadt, reporter, Voice of San Diego
Roger Showley, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Steve Walsh, reporter, KPBS News
MS: San Diego's pot shops are seeing green. With the party last? The new threat of a federal crackdown.Horton Plaza's glory days might be gone. What might be done to reinvent the struggling down tomorrow. We will look at the big stores to watch in 2018.
MS: I am Mark Sauer. The KPBS roundtable starts now. [ music ] Welcome to our discussion. The weeks top stories. Joining me at the roundtable today, reporter Steve Walsh, Roger Showley, and Lisa Halverstadt. Marijuana users had a special reason to rejoice on the your stay as marijuana became legal in California. San Diego is among few cities of Fort Worth pot shops are open for business.Business boomed right out of the chute to did not?
SW: The lines were long. We went to the Urbn Leaf in the Bay Park area, it was pretty much a festive atmosphere. Lines -- people were starting to line up as early as 5 AM.
MS: Set the scene. It was kind of a party and you talk to a lot of people there. The folks also who were selling the pot.
SW: There were T-shirts, massages, mostly people that -- were there too badly last week. In fact we were able to sit in on one of the bud tenders who was talking to one of the clients.
MS: We have a bite. Let's listen to that.
[Clip] I think the market is going to expand. A lot of people were waiting in the wings because it was illegal to actually purchase. And they were scared of going on the list getting their medical recommendation. Now eager seeing those people come in to the shop and just today, I was helping check people in and pretty much every single person that walked in had an out-of-state ID which is interesting. I would say 95%.
MS: That was actually a bite we had from the proprietor of that shop.
SW:The owner of Urbn Leaf. He told the UT that he had 1000 customers on that first day. He said there was four times a normal Monday. He was surprised by how many people were there.
MS: Oddly, you encounter a lot of people from out of state. Will this be a tourist draw in San Diego?
SW: They were from all over the country. I ran into one woman from Indiana and ask if you came out just for recreation marijuana, She said is not the only reason but clearly people were curious. The reason why you are seeing such long lines is because they have not quite gotten the licensing together in LA and San Francisco. San Diego is the largest city that has recreational marijuana.
MS: Roger do you think we will have other cities in the county besides the big dog San Diego weapon
RS: There are taxes to read from this so if you are a city with budget problems, you want to get more taxes and sales tax will flow from marijuana. There was sort of a social gap between places that do not mind it and conservatives who do not like it and you have the legal issues that the federal government is throwing in this week.
MS: Will get to that in a minute. To your point, I mentioned a poll that came out and it is a dramatic change from just 10 years ago where you had over 80% of Americans saying that pot should be legal whether medicinal or recreational. Medicinal marijuana goes all the way back to 1996 in California. San Diego is typical of a lot of cities that never quite got a handle on how to work it all out. Are they doing better now with legal recreational pot?
SW: The way it works now, they have traded one set of rules for medical and recreational marijuana. There are some changes. It all has to be in sealed bags as opposed to when it was just medical marijuana. We had some people we saw that were going up the steps to try to figure out how to open up the bags. It was important that they be sealed because if it's in your car, that is just like an open container with alcohol.
MS: We have nothing like a bar. Understand the state of Massachusetts is looking at having parlors or bars.
SW: You still cannot smoke in public or have it at a bar. It is still mostly for private use a your home home.
MS: That brings up another question. We talked about it briefly on the show. Law enforcement officials are trying to figure out a deal where people may be driving under the influence of marijuana and how to test for that.
SW: They are still working that out. In fact, I believe in the law, some of the tax money goes to the University who is trying to work out a field sobriety test for California.
MS: Now, in your reporting the other day, give us a cross-section here. We will get to this in a moment on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and him coming out against it, but it seems from his characterization that these are a bunch of California crazy hippies.
SW: No, not really. With recreational marijuana it goes from 18 years old to 21 years old. He said that his average customer was more in the ¬27-¬50 range. That is what I saw mostly in line. It was an older crowd. A lot of people do not like the idea of registering for medical marijuana card so they are bypassing that step. It is bringing a lot of folks who may have tried it at one point but felt uncomfortable joining the system before it was legal recreationally.
MS: The news was that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama era directive to U.S. attorney saying look the other way basically. Was put this on the back burner and deal with other crimes. And, it is too early to know. What impact might have?
SW: The so-called cold men around him to came out during the Obama administration where they said, to lay off any of the states where they have become illegal. Jeff sessions rescinded that and that since it back to the local US attorneys general to see if they want to lead prosecution in the sorts of cases. There was one attorney general, one of the new U.S. attorneys out of Massachusetts who did sign a release think they would cases on cultivation, trafficking cases and people using the federal banking system illegally. That could be a sign that and Massachusetts which is looking at legalization, they could see some cases there. It seems like the only thing we don't really know, this could really be targeting the apparatus of legalize marijuana. It doesn't seem likely that it will go to the individual user. Online, the only thing they cannot really stop is people who decide to smoke marijuana.
MS: We have 29 states that have decriminalized marijuana either outright or recreational use or medicinal use. Has that horse sailed already?
LH: You have two dynamics in play. One is that you have people on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers and for example Colorado and Alaska who are coming out against us and saying this is a big business in our state. And then you also have the issue especially in California and other states, there are a lot of interim U.S. attorneys right now. The Trump administration has not appointed everyone. As a result, there is a lot more question of what these folks might want to pursue. San Diego has an interim who has pursued other drug cases throughout his career and believe he may have given out a tepid statement yesterday that didn't really tell us much. But it is hard to say what might be coming next.
MS: Before we leave this topic, I wanted to ask you and you have a story coming out, military use. It is still band about military personnel even if you are stationed in a state like California.
SW: It is still a schedule one drug under military law. The military as a zero tolerance policy. They have seen the sentences going down a down.You do not spend time in the Brigadier anymore, you will probably go to a Captain's mast instead of a trial. Bottom line, it is very likely that you will be kicked out of the military if you test positive for THC.
MS: Lots more to discover and report on as we move forward. We will move on now. It was a retail oasis in the center of a downtown be sought by flop houses and rundown bars. Horton Plaza with its multi level layout and bright pastel colors caught the eye of designers around the world. It opened in August 1985 and was a crowd magnet for years. As downtown San Diego developed around it. Those days are long gone. Shops and restaurants of clothes, anchor stores abandon. Not even Santa Claus showed up at Christmas time. What in the heck happened here? Is a Horton Plaza a symbol of the Internet crushing ritual everywhere? Can we ever bring back Santa Claus?
RS: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, it might show up someday. I think the question is not just Horton Plaza but all regional malls in this period of changing of retail habits. People go to shopping centers for fun, not so much always for shopping.
MS: Sort of a community Plaza but they are ordering stuff from Amazon.
RS: You and I have been watching this, it was a unique concept, a unique approach to shopping in malls that will be a mixed-use multilevel project as you said. It was very popular, a tourist site, national architectural critics come in so and you still running to people from France and around the world to come and take pictures. It is still a tour straw. It just is not doing what it was going to do and that is to provide real shopping in San Diego which left after World War II. It faces a lot of questions that Westfield has not yet decided on what to pursue. Additionally, a French company bought the Westfield chain. Horton Plaza is part of that. There are many questions as to whether they will keep it, remodel or throw it away.
MS: Tell us what it's like down there now? You described in your story. It was built as a fortress. Explain why that was?
RS: This goes back to the early 1970s when Horton Plaza was proposed. San Diego was going downhill downtown. You would not expect the people , South Broadway, full of deep shows and X-rated bookstores and bars and things. It was not as my mother used to say, don't go South Broadway. I guess I didn't. I don't remember. Horton Plaza was the solution, the fuse that sparked redevelopment in San Diego. They needed the fortress concept because they were afraid that people would not go to the new shopping center if the narrator wheels would sneak in from the south.
MS: You had to have a contained parking structure and as you say, this away sis fortress.
RS: Nowadays, is the reverse. Horton Plaza is this sorry state that people do not go to for fun.
SW: Wife and I went there for the San Diego film Festival it was the first time I had been there. It was hard to figure out where it was and where the entrance was. We ended up going to the 4th floor and the shops were all close. You had to sort of figure out --
MS: That was the idea.
SW: Mission accomplished.
RS: Used -- the still talking about the parking garages that are fruits and vegetables. When I went there, I always pick the same fruit to go to. So I don't forget.
LH: Good strategy.
RS: If I did forget, always wondered around.
MS:Her story talks about the developer -- your story.
RS: There have been tweaks, different companies have gone in and gone out and as you say, the original department stores are all gone. Macy's was not Macy's in 1985. It was the probably. Nordstrom's is completely gone and Robinson's building was demolished. Mervyns is now a grocery store area. The gap is also leaving. One after the other, these tenants are leaving with their terms expire and why is that? It is because normally in real estate, it is to bridge taken empty space than to pay somebody to leave the lease. I think Westfield is let these leases expire and they want to empty out the mall and they can sell it or redevelop and not have to pay somebody to stay there.
MS: That brings us to the looking for questions. What are some of the ideas? It seems like it is and many version of the QUALCOMM Stadium site where it comes an opportunity of what to do with this?
RS: The easiest thing would be to read tenant and put in all new restaurants and shops.
MS: And change the structure?
RS: Just superficially remodel. That is the easiest and probably most problematic. The next element is can you demolish pieces of it and replace it with other structures? That is expensive and the most radical will be to demolish the whole thing.
MS: Just to have a lot and build it from the ground up?
RS: Westfield has been talking about this for a decade. They have been hiring architects and considering different approaches. I ask every few months were you doing? And they said they are still discussing it. Now that the ownership has changed and now is this a foreign company that is very adept urban development going to keep it and use as a model for the US small redevelopment picture.
MS: They are caught with the music stopped in terms of the Internet rapidly changing and taking over retail. How many people just bought stuff and had it delivered to the house? I didn't really go shop.
RS: The just spent $600 million to upgrade ETCs. That has been a booming success. There are lots of great things to go and do their.
MS: You can see people with packages and they are eating. It is still alive. It is still a business that works.
SW: It seems like a generation ago malls were pulling business away from traditional compounds which had a mixed use of retail and housing. Seems like that would be a good mix. People now want to live downtown and put some condos in there so you have all of that wonderful parking and you have people living there.
MS: A lot of people do live downtown.
SW: I think that is the most likely thing. They will introduce residential, office space users into these things and there is already a hotel and office space there to some extent. I'm guessing that is probably what they will do. Will Westfield do it or sell it to somebody else?
MS: One last quick question. What is the timeframe on this?
RS: I have been asking for six years.
MS: You are going to be retiring soon. You have to keep asking.
RS: I am thinking this year they will have to decide something.
MS: Maybe they are waiting for you to go. [ laughter ] Speaking of the future and looking for, let's move on to the next topic. The time to catch her breath in 2017. 2018 hit the ground running. A new book is blasting him and his family this week. Controversial policies continue to have a big impact in San Diego. Let's start with the dreamers. The clock is ticking on the shunt undocumented -- on these young undocumented people.
AC: We remember when Trump came in and canceled DACA.
MS: Remind listeners of who we are talking about.
AC: DACA was the deferred action on childhood Americans. They are undocumented but now they have registered, with their fingerprints and backgrounds. They have gone to school, some have served in the military. They are graduates, they are working, they are taxpaying adults and they are at risk of being deported starting in March.
MS: They had protections under a plant that was from the Obama administration and Trump let that lapse. We are coming up on the March deadline.
AC: Even the original applications took 90 days to process. The danger is that the Republicans and Trump are connecting the 2 funding the border wall. That will be very divisive. It is an issue that has to be taken care of on its own.
MS: That brings me to my next question. We were showing some of the border wall prototypes that is there near the existing order wall which we have talked about on the show. Will that be built this year?
AC: Congress has not funded any of it at all. They say it could be $20 million to $40 million. A lot of experts say it is unnecessary. The border crossings are down at historic levels. Technology and drones and all of these things that can be used instead of during this massive wall along our trading partner.
MS: There are a lot of politicians from border states who were not all that keen.
AC: Democrats and Republicans.
MS: Let's talk about immigration reform in general. There is a lot of talk about Trump bending travel. What about bipartisan immigration reform? That was all set to go a few years ago and the GOP killed it.
AC: We have not seen any bipartisan work on anything. The Republicans go behind the scenes. When you look at the things that cause division, people that have been under what they call a temporary ID number for filing taxes, 4.4 million people fight for the child tax credit last year. They are now exempted or excluded in filing under the new tax plan. That is about $6 billion I got sucked out of the pockets of people like dreamers. So, when you try to get bipartisanship report, one of the things you Barry is hurting the people but you want to buy and get buy-in from. In leads to this division and mistrust. I don't think it will get done in a bipartisan way. I think Republicans have to come to the table and come up with a solution.
MS: Lisa, I wanted to turn to homelessness and our housing crisis. It is an election year and will see some ballot proposals locally here are we not? Without exhausting us, voters might start preparing themselves.
LH: Yes, get ready. That is one measure that is going on the ballot and that is a state-level measure, a $3 million bond they could generate about 20,000 homes. There are discussions about a handful of different measures in San Diego. One City Councilman David Alvarez is looking at potentially holding onto all of the excess additional hotel tax revenue that comes in specifically for homeless housing services and needs. Then you have this group of business folks and labor leaders who are negotiating on a potential convention center measure which would also actually be an increase in hotel taxes that would have different portions of it go to fund a convention center expansion and also road repairs and homelessness. You may remember that the mayor had a similar measure last year and votes on the levers that did not think there was enough money going to homelessness. That will be a big sticking point in those negotiations. Then you also have a measure that the San Diego Federation is working on which will be about a $900 million bond, a property tax increase which is similar to what other communities passed in 2016. They were thinking that they can build at least 7500 homes with this money with a portion of that on to homelessness, also to folks who are disabled, seniors, families, housing for all of the above. The family, there is the 5th measure that is being thrown about by a couple of businessmen that would fund both temporary and permanent housing.
MS: And that is just locally.
LH: Get ready for some studying.
MS: It is going to be a crazy ballot. Quite the election you're moving for. That will be one of the huge stories, the election itself and the aspects. Roger, what big issue do you seek making news this week or this year, we did touch on the whole opportunity challenge in Mission Valley.
RS: You mentioned the ballot measure. There will be to measures on the redevelopment of the QUALCOMM Stadium. People are about to file their signatures.
MS: And they will have enough. Next week is what we hear. You mentioned the convention center which may also be on the ballot. There are a slew of things going on. I got an update on the Manchester's -- who are hoping to start construction on this one point $2 billion to redevelopment of the waterfront. Harbor Island redevelopment, the question is will that be done? Comic con is opening a museum in 2019. Downtown besides Horton Plaza, 1 but that's my favorite things to look for is the old courthouse that was vacated when they moved to the new one. That three block area on Broadway is going to be the subject of an RFP.
LH: It could be housing.
RS: Another it will be very much in the news is the San Diego unified school district wants to trade in standard education center for another headquarters someplace.
LH: And they are also talking about a ballot measure.
RS: There is also talk about measures to regulate how people get on the board. The final big issue in development world is AirBnB -- what will happen to vacation rentals? Will they finally select something. That is another big one.
LH: Another one I am lucky enough to work on.
RS: Steve, around us out, maybe we are going to have a wart was somebody.
SW: -- A war. As a military reporter, the big question has been how seriously do you take Donald Trump? There was talk of a 355 ship Navy which would need a lot of money in San Diego. Could we actually be in a war by this time next year? It is hard to get a sense of what may or may not stick. Look at the ban on transgender people entering the military. Is unlike Trump was not going to allow that in the military seems to have overlooked that and it went into effect at the beginning of this week. How much of what Donald Trump says will translate into policy?
MS: We will find out. We are out of time but a lot a fascinating stuff. It will keep us here in business in the show in 2018. That wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to thank my guest guesstimate -- guests, Roger Showley, Steve Walsh , Lisa Halverstadt . I am Mark Sauer. Thank you for joining us on the ground table -- on the Roundtable.