Our Park Is Not a Dump for Events No One Else Wants

Berkeley City Council wouldn’t dream of staging a marijuana festival in the Rose Garden, or in any other hills park. Why? Because the people that live there — even though many of them consume the herb frequently — don’t want it out in the open. There’s kids there, and young families, and respectable folk. And while almost everyone recognizes the legal right to light up, not that many people want it pushed in their faces, in the park or in any other public place.

But Cesar Chavez Park — that apparently is different. Even though most of the council members are too young to remember when it was the city dump, that dump image still sticks in their heads. Cesar Chavez Park: that’s where porta-potties are good enough. That’s where we have rules regulating kites but none restricting drones. That’s where dog park boundary signs get vandalized and not repaired because, well, it’s just a dump, so let it go to the dogs. And when the cannabis industry wants to hold a commercial promotional event in a park, no respectable park in the city would even come into question. Are you kidding? And so, it gets dumped on Cesar Chavez Park. Cesar would be rolling in his grave.

Shame on Rashi Kesarwani, who campaigned on sweet promises to uphold our parks. Cesar Chavez Park is in her district, and she said not a word in opposition to this disgraceful proposal. And shame on the rest of the council, that went along like lambs.

If the cannabis industry wants to hold a promo event, let them rent a hall where the public can choose to attend or not. What if Phillip Morris wants to hold a cigarette promotion festival? Or if Anheuser-Bush-InBev wants to do a beer festival? Give them the park? This big-money commercial interest does not belong in a prime public space that has multiple user communities, none of them with a link to marijuana. And don’t throw out the window the important no-smoking policy in all Berkeley parks, a rule precious to public health and to fire prevention.

Truly, the onward march of this City Council leaves the label “progressive” further and further behind. Please read the excellent expose by singer-songwriter-pamphleteer Carol Denney just published in the Berkeley Daily Planet. I’t’s so right on I’m reposting it here:

Lighting Up in A Smokefree Park – Brought to You By the Berkeley City Council

Carol Denney Thursday February 21, 2019 – 04:32:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council once had sterling awareness about secondhand smoke’s health effects. But on Tuesday night, February 19, 2019, they punched a hole so big in Berkeley’s smokefree policy that any progress we’ve made in working toward a smokefree generation is effectively over. 

Two holes, in fact; Berkeley was declared a “sanctuary city” for cannabis, and Cesar Chavez Park was declared “an approved location for cannabis events” despite current ordinance making all city parks smokefree. Worse; it passed on the consent calendar. At least one Berkeley city councilmember knows marijuana smoke is carcinogenic, and still didn’t pull the item. That’s what Big Cannabis, like Big Tobacco, can do just by waving money, or the illusion of money, around. 

There was no discussion of marijuana smoke being listed on the State of California’s Public Health website right alongside tobacco smoke as a carcinogen as per Proposition 65’s mandated disclosure of carcinogens. No mention that blood vessel function in lab rats drops by 70 percent after half an hour of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke — similar to results found with secondhand tobacco smoke,” according to researchers from the University of California. 

It gets worse. This is being done on behalf of the wealthiest, whitest, old-school stoner cannabis trade show in existence; the High Times’ Cannabis Cup, which is like the Kentucky Derby of weed. Berkeley’s underage high school kids may smoke weed at twice the rate of other California kids, but that was apparently not worth discussion. Because it’s one thing to wave your hands around and pretend to have confusion about lot line loopholes for developers. It’s quite another thing to get tagged as anti-weed as the big green wave of weed money starts rubbing its hands together over your smokefree park. 

What’s sad is High Times wasn’t even trying to change our city policy. Their event happens once a year all over the country, and there are plenty of parks full of every kind of smoke imaginable to choose from. The Berkeley City Council could have welcomed the Cannabis Cup to come to Berkeley, situate itself in a park – and have a smokefree event. Nobody knows better than High Times the wide spectrum of calibrated edibles, oils, creams, patches, lozenges, infusions, and other more exotic sources of ingestion which are widely available. Berkeley could have taken a stand for its smokefree parks and for safe, accessible, decriminalized cannabis, putting an end to the deadly implication that you can’t have one without the other. 

Keep in mind that High Times wasn’t asking for a policy change. They have nothing against smokefree parks for the reasons I just mentioned. But they are, of course, fifty solid years of fuck-the-rules resistance to over-the-top hostility to cannabis, and their outlaw profile makes them let’s just say unlikely to draw a crowd eager to comply with “smoking tent” rules earnestly being referred to by the planning office to address concerns about unwanted exposure. When they say “smoking tent” it’s okay to giggle, shake your head, and then enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of your earnest planning staff, who has been instructed to keep a straight face. 

Once you allow this wealthy group of High Times stoners to violate Berkeley’s smokefree parks law, whom can you turn down? And it gets even worse; Rashi Kesarwani, the new District 1 representative, wanted limitless events instead of only three per year. The rest of the council responded that they might just do that, and would revisit the issue after its first year. Councilmember Kesarwani represents Cesar Chavez Park’s district, and she’s all in for limitless cannabis events- at only that location. The other, traditionally whiter parts of Berkeley thanks to redlining, won’t be affected. 

You’d have to look hard in Berkeley to find anyone who opposes safe access to cannabis and who isn’t thrilled that it has been decriminalized in our state, including me. I salute High Times for the role its journalists have played in confronting marijuana’s stigma, and fighting for a safe place for honest discussion. But there should be no conflict whatsoever between safe access to cannabis and smokefree public parks, which by law must be accessible to everyone. Our parks are difficult enough for people who wish to avoid smoke exposure; I have friends who can only enjoy the parks or local beaches when it’s raining hard enough to ensure the air is smokefree. It’s a bit of a joke with my cancer survivors crowd that when others assume a rainy day is a recipe for staying home, we go out hiking. 

The Berkeley City Council could have welcomed the first smoke-free Cannabis Cup, gotten ten times the publicity of a regular Cannabis Cup event, stood up for our smokefree parks, and educated interested consumers about marijuana’s pulmonary and cardiac issues and the alternative ingestion methods available. Instead, they took protective public health policy decades in the making and tossed it– inexplicably considering that, again, High Times wasn’t even looking to change Berkeley’s ordinance. The Mayor’s office did that without preface, without discussion, without considering alternatives, and apparently without embarrassment. 

Should one park be singled out “as an approved location for cannabis events” in contradiction of our smokefree parks policy? The park furthest from the hills, the park in the working class area that was historically black? Should Berkeley’s City Council’s commitment to public health collapse when money walks in the mayor’s office? It is most definitely up to you. Because if they sell out Cesar Chavez Park that easily, your park is might be next. 

  • Mayor Jesse Arreguin – (510) 981-7100 
  • Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani – (510) 981-7110 
  • Councilmember Cheryl Davila – (510) 981-7120 
  • Councilmember Benjamin Bartlett – (510) 981-7130 
  • Councilmember Kate Harrison – (510) 981-7140 
  • Councilmember Sophie Hahn – (510) 981-7150 
  • Councilmember Susan Wengraf – (510) 981-7160 
  • Councilmember Rigel Robinson – (510) 981-7170 
  • Councilmember Lori Droste – (510) 981-7180 

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3 thoughts on “Our Park Is Not a Dump for Events No One Else Wants

  • February 28, 2019 at 7:38 pm
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    no smoke in public parks, plain and simple
    too many laws broken
    rent a hall, keep it private not public
    city should not break federal and their own laws about clean air sans smoke of any kind!!!
    great articles, BTW

  • February 26, 2019 at 1:14 am
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    clarifying – a warehouse or large space rented which is already a smoking space – typo in last post

    & Please do not consider ANY city of Berkeley parks OR indoor public gathering spaces which are currently Non smoking! The stench of smoke of any kind will linger and forever ruin those spaces.

    I am disabled and love cannabis cream for various ailments so this is not anything against the cannabis community, in fact I fought long and hard to win legalization. And I recognize what a social justice issue it is. However, to host a smoking event (which it will be) in a non smoking public park is breaking federal law. The ADA is still law, and it is a real slap in the face for the city of Berkeley to consider hosting this in the birthplace of Disability rights. Ed Roberts, Cesar Chavez, just to name a few, would roll over this total lack of respect for so many in our community.

  • February 26, 2019 at 12:55 am
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    Could not have said it better myself! I voted for legalization, but that was because the law read that places like public parks, which are non smoking would also remain non smoking for cannabis. it is good medicine, no doubt there, but I have asthma and chemical sensitivities to smoke and cannot be exposed to it.

    Also shocking that the City of Berkeley would go back on it’s own Smoking laws and regulations! None of this makes sense.

    There is so much money in the cannabis community, they could very easily host this in a large private space or rent a hall which is already non smoking. A warehouse or something could work. Not saying cannabis is something that is to be ashamed of, or should go back into hiding, but families, children with asthma, and those of us needing that breath of fresh air should be able to use the public parks easily which our tax dollars pay for.

    I am extremely disappointed in Rashi. I live in her district and expected a lot more from her. Her office has been notified of the stench of burning metal, very similar to what happened when Pacific steel was still open. Next door is Berkeley Tool and forge, and huge plumes of smoke can be viewed on Eastshore. Her office was notified, as was the Mayor’s office and they will do nothing to help the residents of West Berkeley, and the community at large which is affected since the winds blow this burned metal stink all over town.

    We were told to do it ourselves! They would not provide an intern or volunteer and said they “do not have the resources” to find out if the Bay area air management district found any violations over there, which were reported.

    Shame on these public officials for having no pride in the city they reside and govern over, and no caring toward the children, elders, disabled and all other residents of Berkeley. Things need to change and soon!

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