Press "Enter" to skip to content

A Farm in the City

"My liaison to the medical marijuana community" is how District Attorney Terence Hallinan sometimes introduced me. "Public Information officer" was the job description, and I gave the City and County of San Francisco their money's worth. I returned every phone call and answered every email, and not just from the media types and pot partisans. More than half the calls directed to the PIO were from concerned citizens, many of whom were pleasantly surprised when they got a call back from somebody at a government agency interested in what they had to say.

In 1996 Hallinan had been the only DA in California to support Proposition 215, the ballot initiative that legalized the medical use of marijuana. Implementation of the new law had been constricted by the "narrow interpretation" imposed by the prohibitionist Attorney General Dan Lungren. In 2000 Kayo wanted me to help him implement Prop 215 in San Francisco according to the letter and spirit of the law. 

When it came to marijuana, he was still a Communist at heart. Our plan was a literal and figurative pipe dream: San Francisco should grow its own! Organically! The Health Department could provide it at cost to medical users! Jobs for growers! Sanity in one city! "The cut flower industry used to be very big around South City," Kayo recalled. "There are still some glasshouses standing."  

Back at the office I obtained a list of "Real Property Owned by the City and County of San Francisco." SF's holdings in other counties are mainly water and electrical right-of-ways, but there were some outliers. Thanks to a bequest, San Francisco owned a "park/library" in Fresno County and another in Kern County. Too far away and not suitable for cannabis cultivation. There was Camp Mather near Yosemite, but most of all we've got to hide it from the kids.  In San Mateo County, SF owned, in addition to the airport, and the Log Cabin Ranch School, a 484-acre jail site. 

One afternoon in March I drove down Skyline Boulevard to visit the facility, which included a 12-acre organic farm tended by inmates and run by a remarkable woman named Catherine Snead. She had a waiting list of 50 inmates hoping to join her crew. Many at the jail had Hep C and/or were HIV-positive. "It's not a healthy population," Snead said, "But working here with us, they become healthy. What this really is is horticulture therapy." 

The farm produced whatever was in season and supplied the jail with fruit and vegetables. Some surplus produce was distributed through the police department's Bayview and Mission stations. Captains Harper and Ross were among Snead's fans; ditto Chief Fred Lao and Commander Heather Fong (who would succeed Lau). Snead said the farm had employed 3500 people since 1992. "Most people leaving the jail are homeless," she said. "The shelters are full of drugs." She tried to arrange housing, help people get off probation and parole.

Sheriff Mike Hennessy let Snead to bring ex-offenders out to the jail to work side-by-side with the prisoners (for better pay). Hennessy had done a recidivism study that documented the benefits of Snead's "horticulture therapy."  But she didn't think he'd go for a marijuana garden, no matter how secure she could make the site. "Not a chance," was her assessment. 

Another option we considered was Hunters' Point Naval Shipyard, which had been decommissioned, along with Treasure Island and the Presidio. Kayo was of the opinion that there had been a divvying up of the spoils, with Nancy Pelosi getting to decide the fate of the Presidio and Willie Brown making the big decisions on Hunters Point. "The Supervisors have some sway on Treasure Island" he said. He wanted it to be the site of housing for those homeless people who could fend for themselves and a mental health hospital for the homeless who could not.  I thought his idea was great but the real estate would prove too valuable. Kayo said, "You have no idea how miserable it gets when the wind comes whipping off the bay —which is half the time." He had me draft a press release emphasizing the suitability of T.I. for housing and treatment of San Francisco's homeless population.

The Treasure Island Development Authority was executive-directed by Annemarie Conroy, a rightwing former Supervisor. (A young woman named London Breed was employed by the TIDA as a "development specialist.")  Matier & Ross reported:

"Annemarie Conroy Willie Brown's commodore of Treasure Island has two words for District Attorney Terence Hallinan's much publicized ideas of setting up drug rehab centers out on the island. 'No dice.'  And those are the nice words...

"'Here we are, getting ready to hold a pre-bid conference for people interested in developing the island, and he comes out with idea of dumping drug rehab programs our here,' Conroy fumed. 'It's a public relations nightmare."

"Hallinan isn't showing any signs of backing down. 'Annemarie should keep in mind that Treasuyre Island belongs to the people of San Francisco not the developers,' Hallinan said. 'Its use will be decided by the Board of Supervisors not by Conroy or her staff..."

"It turns out that Hallinan's office leases space out on the island for a check-bouncing program. 'Those leases are up this week,' Conroy told us 'and I'm sending him a termination notice right now. As far as I'm concerned he's been voted off the island."

But I digress. Kayo figured that Willie Brown would have to approve any plan to grow medical marijuana at Hunters Point, and planned to pitch him on the idea. The farm we had in mind would grow fruit and vegetables for the community, and ornamental flowers; marijuana would be a small sideline in terms of acreage. My friend Scott Madison had leased a commercial kitchen at the Point and I drove out there to interview him about the internal politics and the land itself. (There is some excellent topsoil and it is the sunniest spot in San Francisco.) I met with Espanola Jackson, a very sharp leader of the Black community and attended meetings of the Bayview NAME, to hear people from the neighborhood express their hopes for the base. I gave Kayo news clips about the Russians growing hemp at Chernobyl to leach radioactive toxins from the soil — all in preparation for his appeal to The Decider, Willie Brown, Jr. 

They had a long, complicated relationship. Kayo once told me that he knew Brown "through the DuBois Clubs," a political group set up by the Communist Party to attract radical young people who would not have joined the CP itself. Kayo had been a founder and was a leader of the DuBois Clubs in the Bay Area in 1964 when Brown, a 29-year-old defense attorney, made his second run for state assembly from the district comprising Hunters Point. As Wikipedia tells it: 

"The key to Brown's 1964 campaign was voter registration in the black neighborhoods. Brown's registration drive in the Eighteenth Assembly District netted 5,577 new Democratic voters in three months, a staggering number for the era. Many of the frontline troops registering voters had been among those arrested in the civil rights demonstrations. Terence Hallinan organized his radical friends from the W.E.B. Du Bois Club into the 'Youth Committee for Assemblyman Brown,' which worked primarily on voter registration. Hallinan kept the youth committee active for two years, helping Brown to permanently harden his base of support in his district."

That was then — another millennium. By Y2K Willie Brown had it in for Terence Hallinan and was trying to pin the blame on him for all the poverty and mental illness plaguing San Francisco. I can't recall the occasion on which their paths crossed and Kayo pitched the plan for a farm at Hunters Point. Back at the office he told me it was thumbs down. Kayo said, "I told him what I had in mind and he seemed to be listening with interest. But then he said, 'Where I come from, African-Americans were relegated to doing agricultural labor. I would be very careful if I were you about telling African-Americans they should aspire to do farm work.'"

It was the perfect squelch, because nobody was more Politically Correct than Terence Hallinan. That night I told my astute wife how our utopian dream had been shot down. She said, "He could have told Willie Brown that his stepdaughter and Coppola's daughter and all their Pacific Heights friends think that nothing is more chic than organic farming."  But the moment had passed.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *