Forward & back

The last thing you probably need right now is another trite “Gee, 2001 was quite a year” wrap-up. Well, tough luck, folks, because that’s exactly what you’re gonna get, and you’re gonna read it and like it and maybe learn a thing or two, because this is just what columnists do this time of year: reflect, predict and try to get this damned space filled so we can join the masses for a last minute run through the mall.

Happy holidays!

City beat: Some have said that if both sides are mad at you, then you must be doing something right. Well, both liberal and conservative groups are plenty pissed at the Sacramento City Council, but Bites just isn’t willing to see virtue on the daises.

How this notoriously cautious body resolves this left-right assault—focused on issues raised this year that will come to a head in 2002—could define both the city’s future and the political careers of councilmembers.

Lefties have been pushing for a living wage ordinance and more money for affordable housing, while the starboard-leaning Sacramento County Taxpayers League is trying to slash the city’s utility user tax.

Both sides have been officially slapped back, and both are planning aggressive offensives in the coming year in the form of protests, ballot measures, arm twisting or even burning city leaders in effigy if that’s what it takes to turn up the heat. Yup, it’s gonna be an argumentative time in our old town next year.

Regional view: Also expected to generate more than a few sparks among cities in the Sacramento region will be the fight over regionalism. The idea is to make cities cooperate more than compete for big sales tax generators, but the discussion has already broken down into a haves versus have-nots paradigm even before Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg’s regionalism bill has its first hearing.

Wealthy cities like Folsom and Roseville have found forceful allies in their Republican Assembly representatives Dave Cox and Tim Leslie, the former having pledged to Bites that Steinberg’s bill would never make it out of committee.

Yet it’s going to take more than bluster and bravado to kill this effort, which is strongly supported by cash-strapped cities like Sacramento and Citrus Heights, as well as the county of Sacramento. Bites predicts the bill won’t become law, but this shot across the bow could force agreements and alliances that could make regionalism a de facto reality anyway.

State of war: Part of what’s likely to prevent serious consideration of Steinberg’s bill is the nasty budget crisis that will face lawmakers when they reconvene on January 7. Because coming up with $12 billion to close the gap means a lot more than a nip here and a tuck there.

And this drama of fiscal priorities will be acted out against the backdrop of a heated gubernatorial race. A year ago, Gray Davis’ re-election seemed like a mere formality, but that was before the energy crisis revealed Davis for the spineless conniver that Bites has always known he was.

Today, polls show that Davis trails Republican-ish challenger Richard Riordan, who is cut from the same centrist cloth as our guv, and will therefore likely serve a similar role in this column as cannon fodder.

War of state: Can Bites really end this wrap-up without talking about the War on Terrorism? Yes. Well, yes and no, because Bites has an idea for how to better focus our country’s military resources, stimulate the economy and alleviate suffering on the home front, all at the same time.

In its annual report, the California Campaign Against Marijuana Plants (CAMP) last week announced that its soldiers and policemen seized 313,776 pot plants worth approximately $1.25 billion this year. Yes, that’s billion with a capital “B.”

That’s a billion bucks that just went up in smoke—and didn’t even get anybody high—rather than being circulated through the California economy, where it would have jingled cash registers in grocery stores, head shops and everywhere else.

Sure, our country has devoted enough resources to the military to fight two wars simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean we should. And if we declare a ceasefire in the War on Drugs, just think how many more troops we’ll have to throw at Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Libya or wherever the hell President Bush is planning on staging the second act of his international drama.

Talk at you next year. Peace-out.