On Tuesday night, more than a dozen citizen orators beleaguered the school board in Carpinteria about – what else? – marijuana.
The latest outbreak of hostilities over the conflict that increasingly dominates public life in Carp (no truth to the rumor that the city is trying to change its area code to 420) aimed at the board’s recent acceptance of a $189,000 grant from the influential industry group Carp Growers to pay for a middle school, um, drug counselor.
Outrage among the anti-weed witnesses, who on this evening outnumbered the pro-ganja deponents, focused as much on the cluelessness of Superintendent Diana Rigby and a posse of four district suits -- who together mugged for a photograph inside a local pot greenhouse, an image that swiftly made its way into the local Coastal View -- as on the grant itself.
As Tracy Lehr, Josh Molina and Nick Welsh all note in their accounts of the event, for grassroots types already scandalized by the pot industry’s transformation of their burg into Skunktown, the image went wayyy over the line.
“On what planet does this photo not make the subjects look like monkeys on a string? Bought and sold? Utterly compromised?" is the way the Angry Poodle his own self put it.
Here are three key takeaways from the latest front in the pot wars:
The first rule of photo-ops. Not since 1927, when President Calvin Coolidge famously donned a headdress while visiting Deadwood, S.D., and in the process made himself a national punchline, has a public figure made such a millinery miscalculation as Superintendent Rigby.
Not only she, but three school principals and the district's IT Guy, made themselves look foolish, and provided greenwashed marketing for the industry, by donning logo-festooned ballcaps and company shirts for the picture, a tableau that combined with their goofy rictus grins to make them look like a gang of overage stoners who’ve just gotten baked and are heading to 7-11 on a Ding Dongs and Little Debbie Swiss Rolls run.
As former advance man Josh King makes clear in his seminal piece, “Dukakis and the Tank,” the first rule of photo-ops is: Never put anything on your head.
Had the board just quietly accepted the growers' money, or taken one of those stock grip-and-grin photos with a giant facsimile check (remembering to let THE POT GUYS WEAR THE HATS), sure there would have been some grumbling, but far less grounds for the entirely understandable charges of "appalling judgment" on Rigby's part that freely flew at the board meeting.
Das vs Laura, Chapter 856: Because Laura Capps’ upstart challenge to the re-election of Das Williams came about following published revelations about the supervisor’s cozy relations with the pot industry, any public discussion of the cannabis controversy now carries resonance in the First District supervisor's race.
So it was that on Tuesday night, when longtime public schools advocate Joan Esposito took to the microphone to ask the school board why they have been AWOL in fighting for amendments to the cannabis ordinance that require moving cultivation operations further away from Carp schools.
Esposito recalled raising the question with Rigby at a recent event and being stunned at the response she heard: “Das is my man."
Supervisorial politics resurfaced at the end of the meeting, when board member Rogelio Delgado blasted Williams from the dais for his alleged lack of concern about pot's effect on school kids.
"Drugs and children do not mix," he said. "Das Williams should have been here tonight." Then he promptly announced his endorsement of Capps.
This earned a rebuke from board chair Andy Shaeffer, who further took the opportunity to dismiss the public's concern about the grant, amid the district's serious financial problems, as "superfluous and superficial in the scheme of things."
The ubiquitous Mr. Farrar. As the Indy made clear in its recent, favorable cover story profiling pot industry poobah Graham Farrar, the guy is ever-present and everywhere in the story of how Santa Barbara County came to be a cannabis capital of California, from his high-volume Mission Street retail joint to his Glasshouse Farms greenhouse in Carp, where the offending photo was staged.
So it was not a huge surprise to learn from Tracy’s reporting that no less a figure than Farrar himself snapped the unfortunate photograph of school suits on their pot field trip and then provided it to the View, which obligingly printed it.
Das and Graham have a bit of a bromance, but the supervisor recently told Newsmakers he will not accept any more campaign money from Farrar and his allies in the business, after getting bashed by the anti-cannabis forces for accepting tens of thousands to date.
Hannibal ad portas.
Images: Carpinteria Unified School District leaders pose at Glasshouse Farms (L-R) Principal Jamie Persoon; Superintendent Diana Rigby; Principal Michelle Fox; Principal Lisa O'Shea; Technology Director Aaron LaPlante (Coastal View); Cool Cal in South Dakota, summer 1927; Das Williams; Graham Farrar (Paul Wellman Santa Barbara Independent).