Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson on July 25, outlined his legislative priorities, which include creating a municipal bank that could serve the cannabis industry.
Wesson’s speech to the full City Council followed the panel’s first meeting since re-elected council members were sworn in for their new terms along with Monica Rodriguez, who was elected in May to represent District 7, on July 1.
A municipal bank could be used to help finance entrepreneurs in the city and also to allow owners of cannabis shops to be customers, Wesson said.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand on the issue of recreational and medical cannabis legalization. Instead we must strive to reasonably regulate the emerging industry while creating opportunities for Angelenos,” Wesson said.
Cannabis, which has been legal for medical purposes for more than two decades in California, will become legal for recreational use in 2018.
Owners of cannabis shops often have trouble finding banks that will do business with them because the drug remains illegal at the federal level. Legalized cannabis could bring the city up to $100 million in new tax revenues per year, according to a motion passed by the council in January that sought to find ways for the city to collect cannabis taxes.
Wesson said he has directed the necessary city departments to explore the creation of a municipal bank and that the proceeds could be leveraged to build more affordable housing citywide.
Councilman Paul Krekorian expressed his support for the idea.
“This is a great opportunity to invest in our infrastructure and support small local businesses,” said Krekorian, who chairs the Ad Hoc Jobs Creation Committee which would be tasked with developing the bank. “I’m ready to get the Jobs Committee to work on creating a municipal bank that will serve the people of Los Angeles and keep our money right here in the city.”
Wesson thanked his colleagues for re-electing him to another two-year term as council president on July 1. He was first elected to the City Council in 2005 and has served as council president since 2011.
The council needs to continue to work on civil rights issues through its new Ad Hoc on Immigrant Affairs and Civil Rights Committee, Wesson said. The committee was created last year, after Donald Trump was elected president with promises to increase deportations of immigrants in the country illegally. The committee has passed numerous motions opposing Trump’s immigration policies.
Wesson recounted how he, as a 12-year-old black boy in a Cleveland movie theater, was accosted by two white men who threw a milkshake at him and called him “every name imaginable, telling me to go back to Africa and using the n-word, the n-word, the n-word. Members, I cannot tell you how it felt to be a 12-year-old boy and to recognize that the very sight of you would repulse someone like that.”
Fifty years later, such encounters still happen, he said. Wesson noted that NBA star LeBron James’ home in Los Angeles was recently vandalized with a racial slur and cited other acts of recent racial violence, including a report that hate crimes are on the rise in California, to illustrate how race relations still have a long way to go in America.
Wesson praised the diversity of the council — which includes three blacks, two Latinos, two Latinas, two openly gay members, an Armenian and the council’s second Asian American.
“Bad people are born into every generation. Many people spent many years and many sacrifices to create an environment that would elect a council that looks like us … We cannot stand by to allow bad people to roll back the progress that we have made not just in this city but in this country,” Wesson said.
As part of an effort to fight discrimination, Wesson said he was calling on the expansion of the embRACE LA program, which seeks to create an open dialogue on race relations, in partnership with Community Coalition, a local nonprofit.
Wesson also said he was going to appoint an independent commission, in partnership with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, to advise the council on affordable housing issues.
Other top priorities, he said, are enacting recommendations for comprehensive civil rights legislation from the city’s recently hired immigrant advocate and continuing to improve internet access for low-income residents and students through the OurCycle L.A. program, which refurbishes old computers and donates them to qualified participants.