IMAGE BY LIA KANTROWITZ
From cul-de-sac-fever-dream gone bust to vertically integrated weed opportunity zone, the high desert town of California City is hoping the winds of fate will finally blow its way.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Mayor Chuck McGuire wants his lake back. When McGuire was a kid growing up here in California City in the early 1970s, back when speculators still believed they could sell all 50,000 lots platted into the scrublands 100 miles northeast of LA, the man-made, aquifer-fed lake in the center of town had a bowling alley, swank hotel and boat launch on its shores. Today the pond in Cal City’s Central Park hosts the kind of life you’d expect from a back-bedroom town of 12,000: ducks pecking at McDonald’s wrappers in the weeds and a $1,000 wedding on the Community Center patio. The long-defunct Lake Shore Inn is on the Atlas Obscura abandoned Americana tour. McGuire and his fellow civic leaders have high hopes that the marijuana business can change all that.
McGuire is pushing to make California City a cannabis industry center because he wants the tax revenue to support an expanded lake alive with Jet-Skis every weekend and a fireworks barge on the Fourth of July—that, and at least one urgent care center in town. Former City Manager Tom Weil, under whose administration the cannabis push got started, wants the city police and fire departments to be on solid fiscal ground. City Councilman Donald Parris hopes local veterans will find pain relief right here in their hometown. “It’s a quality of life thing,” the mayor told VICE, repositioning the souvenir Sweet Dreams THC candy container next to the silver framed photo of his California Highway Patrol retirement party on the credenza in his spotless office at City Hall.
In hitching its wagon to the pot business, California City stands nearly alone in Kern County, home to nearly 900,000 people in the lower belly of the Golden State. While California legalized recreational cannabis effective January 2018, the state left it up to municipalities to allow or prohibit sales. Kern County and the City of Bakersfield outlawed all cannabis retail, leading to the closure last May of dozens of dispensaries that had been operating since medical marijuana came onto the scene in the 1990s. But two small outlier Kern communities voted to go the other way: Arvin, a farming town still figuring out its next marijuana move, and California City, which is all in on production, retail and delivery.
Published: November 13, 2019