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From ‘Armpit of the Desert’ to Potville USA

Tiny Adelanto planned to become the Silicon Valley of weed

By Ted Rall

Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr was recently cleared of sexual harassment allegations. (Courtesy photo)

Little Adelanto had problems. The biggest problem was location, location, location. Adelanto is as middle of nowhere, a few miles northwest of Victorville, in the ass end of San Bernardino county. “People stay because it’s cheap to live here,” pawn shop employee Nora Patino told The Guardian four years ago. “You can’t really call this a city, or much of a city.”

Mayor Cari Thomas, a rare Republican willing to acknowledge the need for higher taxes, warned that unless additional revenues began flowing quickly, the municipality might be forced to disincorporate — be absorbed back into the county.

There had been scandals. “A mayor and his wife embezzled from the little league between 2004-07. A police chief embezzled funds from the canine unit in the 1990s. Other officers were convicted of beating detainees – they forced one to lick his blood from the police station floor,” reported The Guardian. So they closed the police department.

So when Rich Kerr found himself sitting in the $500 a month mayoral job, you can hardly blame him for thinking big. Big problems require big solutions. Big solutions follow from big ideas.

This, after all, is America. We strive. We’re optimists. We never say die. When dealt a bad hand — a dying city in the middle of nowhere, say — we roll up our sleeves and we get creative. And sometimes we bend the rules.

Kerr had an all-American big idea. “He would make the desert town, with its vast stretches of cheap land, into the Silicon Valley of marijuana. Since 2015, under Kerr’s leadership, officials have worked diligently to attract the cannabis industry. The efforts drew national attention and led to a land rush as entrepreneurs sought to take advantage of Adelanto’s welcoming posture,” wrote The Los Angeles Times. It seemed to be going OK.

Then the feds arrived.

On May 7, FBI agents engaged in an ongoing corruption probe related to the cannabis business raided City Hall, the mayor’s house and a local marijuana dispensary.

Adelanto, about a hundred miles northeast of Los Angeles, hoped that marijuana would come to the rescue of its chronically depleted coffers.

“The existence of the current probe into Adelanto corruption allegations became public in November, when [Jermaine] Wright, the mayor pro tem, was accused of accepting bribes and of asking an undercover FBI agent to burn down his restaurant so he could collect insurance payouts,” the Times reported. Wright flipped and is reportedly cooperating with the government; it’s a safe bet that the raid resulted in part from his parakeeting.

As Jim Morrison would say, it’s been strange days. The remote beleaguered burg of Adelanto made national news a few days later when a bouncy house blew away from a house onto Interstate 395. Fortunately, the nine-year-old boy inside was unhurt.

Now the remaining residents of this shrinking city are preparing to vote for city council tomorrow on June 5th. “Planning Commissioner Joy Jeannette said in March she believed the city had done a ‘great job’ in directing the cannabis industry, although it needed fine-tuning,” reports The Victorville Daily Press in a classic example of understatement.

Billed as a referendum on legal pot, the city council race has shaped up as a discussion about conflicts of interest. Several of the candidates have received payments from cannabis entrepreneurs. But the donations are so laughably small that you have to ask yourself two questions.

First, why would a politician risk being tarnished with an accusation of conflict of interest over insignificant sums? Second, how is it that a place could get so broke that such insignificant sums matter so much? “[Candidate] Holte reported only $35 in contributions through May 19 — from Tim Graston, founder and president of the High Desert Cannabis Association of which Holte is the secretary. Holte appears, otherwise, to have self-financed her campaign, reporting $3,155 spent on advertising and signs, the most updated campaign finance records show. She also reported $100 cash on hand,” notes the Daily Press.

Someone should write these people a real check.

Mayor Kerr wants the citizens of Adelanto to know that he was not arrested, merely detained in handcuffs. “If I would have been guilty, they would have arrested me and that’s what (agents) said,” Kerr told the Daily Press. “‘If we found something, you’d be going to jail,’ and I go, ‘yeah, I know.’” The feds took Kerr’s cell phone and “about maybe 50 pieces of paper. But it made it look like they took my whole house. And I was a little mad about that. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ … making it look like, ‘Oh, look at everything we found, man.’”

I don’t know if Kerr is guilty or not. But for entertainment alone, he is worth more than $500 a month.

 

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