California notebook: New highs, new lows

dojeradicationSan Francisco’s Tom Ammiano, a former city supervisor turned state assemblyman, wants to go green to help bail out the state from fiscal crisis. His plan would boost weed farms not wind farms. He introduced a bill Monday to legalize recreational marijuana and regulate it in a manner similar to alcohol, with a potential tax windfall of more than $1 billion. (The fragrant green stuff is thought to be a $14 billion cash crop in the state. Then there’s the potential savings in law enforcement costs in the hundreds of millions.) Not likely to fly, despite California’s reputation for cutting-edge policy and a devastating $42 billion deficit. But credit the San Francisco maverick for thinking creatively in a time of crisis. And credit the political opposition with the Most Mangled Cliché Award — said Calvina Fay, executive director of Save Our Society From Drugs, in the LA Times: “This would open another door in Pandora’s box.” (What’s she been smokin’?)

It’s been raining in the Bay Area for almost a week straight, happy news after a bone-dry January. But 2009 is on track for a third straight year of drought in California, with reservoirs still sitting at alarmingly low levels. It’s not just the prospect of shorter showers and less lush front lawns. As Jesse McKinley reported on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, the twin calamity of recession and drought is hitting the Central Valley, the nation’s biggest agricultural engine, hard. Even as your income may be headed south, you’ll soon be paying more if you want almonds and avocados.

The once venerable San Francisco Chronicle may be the next casualty of the besieged newpaper industry. The paper lost more than $50 million in 2008 and is on pace to fare worse this year. Its owner, the Hearst Corporation, is demanding deeper cuts among an already downsized staff. If that doesn’t stem the tide of red ink, Hearst execs say, “we will have no choice but to quickly seek a buyer for The Chronicle, and, should a buyer not be found, to shut down the newspaper.” As with many others the publication’s reporting capacity has been shriveling as it struggles to survive the industry’s upheaval. But San Francisco without its oldest and largest newspaper? At the very least, another clarion call for digital journalism 3.0 to really get cranking.

Update: David Cay Johnston explains how the Chronicle, tellingly, failed to report adequately on its own serious situation.

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