George Boardman: Threatening trees, what pot smokers want, and making nice in DC | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Threatening trees, what pot smokers want, and making nice in DC

George Boardman
Columnist

Caltrans has been catching a lot of flak because it wants to spend $28.5 million to make Highway 174 safer by widening and straightening a 1.9-mile section it thinks is practically a death trap.

Local critics are upset because the project would involve acquiring 14 acres of private land and chopping down over 1,700 trees, but not necessarily make the road any safer. As one writer pointed out in The Union, most of the accidents are caused by speeding, drinking and driving, and inattention — problems the Caltrans project won't solve.

But in the general scheme of things, this is small potatoes compared to what Caltrans wants to do on a 1.1-mile stretch of Highway 101 in Richardson Grove State Park, the most prominent stand of redwood trees that travelers encounter driving north from San Francisco.

The Sacramento Bee reports Caltrans is proposing "minor adjustments" to the stretch of road to better accommodate big-rig trucks with trailers hauling cargo on the highway. The "minor adjustments" involve cutting and paving over redwood tree roots, damaging as many as 100 trees as old as 2,000 years.

Instead of fighting the lawsuits, Caltrans should redirect its limited resources to projects that are truly welcomed.

To Caltrans' way of thinking, the work would allow large trucks with sleeper cabs (currently prohibited) to drive the two-lane stretch without fear of side-swiping one another as they pass in opposite lanes, making it easier for commerce to flow along the highway.

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Caltrans has trotted out the same list of benefits it has claimed for the widening of Highway 174, mainly improved public safety by smoothing the flow of traffic. But as Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis points out, straightening out the roadway will increase speeds that lead to more accidents.

As will probably happen in Nevada County, the Highway 101 project has been delayed by a series of lawsuits. Instead of fighting the lawsuits, Caltrans should redirect its limited resources to projects that are truly welcomed. The state that is trying to set an example in reduction of carbon emissions needs every oxygen-producing tree it can preserve.

Pot marketing

If the experiences of Washington, Oregon and Colorado are any indication (they are), the price of marijuana in California will plunge when recreational pot becomes legal in January.

As the outlaw premium has been removed from the substance and growers flood the market, the wholesale price of pot has taken a precipitous drop. Since peaking in September 2015 at about $2,133 a pound, the average U.S. wholesale cannabis price fell to $1,614 in July, according to New Leaf Data Services, which tracks the U.S. cannabis market.

While this is good news for consumers, the price drop has been painful for growers. But these people — many of them former outlaws — are nothing if not resourceful. Taking a page from the food industry, many growers are pitching their goods to health- and environment-conscious consumers.

Yes, organic pot — free of synthetic pesticides, nurtured by sunlight instead of high-powered lamps, conserving water, and emphasizing fair labor practices — is being promoted to justify higher prices and grab more shelf space in retail outlets. This trend has pitted indoor growers against their outdoor brethren, with the outdoor growers claiming they have nature on their side.

"The socially conscious, premium customer is going to want us because we're sustainable," said Jeremy Moberg, head of the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association. "It only takes me 30 seconds to convince somebody wearing Patagonia and driving a Prius that they should never smoke indoor weed again."

But Jerina Pillert, co-owner of Hashtag Cannabis in Seattle, said smokers are more concerned with another factor, the potency rating of pot's active ingredient, THC. "They want to make sure they're getting the biggest bang for their buck," she said.

Kumbaya moment? Nah

Strange but true: The Republican president of the United States making nice with the "head clown" of the Democratic Party and the mother superior of San Francisco values while the GOP's congressional leaders sulked on a couch in the Oval Office like school boys who didn't get an invitation to the Sadie Hawkins dance.

Meanwhile, the Republican chairman of the Senate Health Committee marked a first in seven years: A bipartisan attempt to repair, not repeal, Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan even suggested he would be willing to work with Democrats on tax reform — up until now, Republicans have been going it alone.

But before you get all warm and fuzzy over the prospect of breaking the partisan log jam in Washington, there's this: Senator Dianne Feinstein, a titan of liberalism in the Senate for 25 years, is getting heat from the left for not endorsing Medicare for all and suggesting that Trump still has a shot at being a decent president. She might actually be challenged if she runs for reelection next year.

The heat Feinstein is getting is more reflective of the general mood of the electorate, where vast cultural, economic and social differences make political differences hard to bridge, according to a new survey of social trends conducted by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News.

Take the opposition's attitude toward presidents. Eight months into the first term of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, 60 percent of Democrats approved of the job he was doing. At the same point in Donald Trump's presidency, the number is 8 percent, according to the survey.

Trump's agreement with the Democrats to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey, avoid a government shutdown, and preserve the government's ability to meet its debt obligations until Dec. 15 had more to do with Trump's desire to notch a win, teach Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Ryan a lesson, and clear the decks for his beloved tax cut than it had to do with forging a bipartisan coalition.

But the Democrats shouldn't get too cocky because Trump will turn on them as quickly as he turned on his fellow Republicans. As for the GOP, it should be more careful in picking presidential candidates.

CORRECTION: Based on inaccurate information provided by KNCO, I wrote last week that Dan Miller was starting his 12th season as a commentator on broadcasts of Nevada Union football games. This is actually his 18th season.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

Observations from the center stripe: No. 2 edition

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