Folks in this dusty little delta town have never shied away from a fight.
They've got a doozy on their hands right now.
Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully has subpoenaed the entire city brass, from the police chief, mayor and city manager on down to former planning commissioners, to testify today before a grand jury - or possibly face jailing.
The reason? Isleton's leaders are being summoned because they approved a medical marijuana farm on the edge of town that Scully thinks in some way could violate state law, which would in essence make them a bunch of dope dealers.
At least that's how the city brass is reading the subpoenas.
This is a city that last drew headlines for liberally issuing concealed-weapons permits to anyone who asked. Over the past 16 years, it has also managed to rebuff seven scathing grand jury reports, including one in 2008 that called for the city to disband on the grounds that it was in "a state of perpetual crisis."
The district attorney's latest insinuations have residents spitting mad.
"I guess you couldn't print the kinds of words some people are using around here, but let's just say I have never seen anything like how the district attorney is treating us - it's over the top, downright hostile," said City Manager Bruce Pope. "We're not going to just take it lying down."
He said he and the other dozen people ordered to testify today in Sacramento intend to refuse to talk.
Taking the Fifth
"Oh, we'll show up because we legally have to, but we are going to plead the Fifth," Pope said, referring to the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which protects citizens from testifying on matters that incriminate themselves. "If the district attorney has a problem with medical marijuana, maybe she should just arrest herself, because the county already has dispensaries it's collecting money on, and the county pays her salary."
Scully's spokeswoman, Shelly Orio, said her office has no comment. But a curt letter to the City Council that preceded the April 13 subpoenas said Isleton's decision to establish the pot farm probably "violates state and federal statutes" and could lead to charges against all local officials associated with it.
Orio wouldn't say how many subpoenas were issued, but townsfolk guess at least a dozen went out.
'We want to remain a town'
The flap is the biggest thing in years to hit this low-income city of 800 people.
Isleton - about 15 miles northeast of Antioch, alongside the Sacramento River - is happily known for its annual crawdad/Cajun festival, great striped bass fishing, Old West Chinese heritage, and a quaint main street of 1920s-era buildings, several of which used to be whorehouses and gambling halls. But it's also drawn an outsize number of headlines, considering the city's size, for unpleasantries, including five recall elections and the grand jury probes for everything from the weapons permits to financial irregularities at City Hall.
The city's budget is balanced today only because Pope - hired four years ago to clean up the sloppy books that led to the '08 probe - laid off nine people, which was most of the municipal staff. That brought the City Hall workforce to five full-time employees, including Pope.
One of those is the city's lone police officer, hired last week. The Fire Department is all volunteer. Two-thirds of the businesses on Main Street are shuttered.
"We are one of the smallest towns left, and we want to remain a town, so we need this money from that marijuana farm," said lifelong resident Christine Lubner, 45. "We've all asked around, and nobody can tell me what the problem is.
"We are anything but dull here, sure, but why can't they leave us alone?"
Isleton's pot farm is being built by Delta Allied Growers, co-owned by Michael Brubeck, nephew of jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. It is eventually to include 14 greenhouses encompassing 4,000 square feet. Under the city contract approved in October, Delta Allied will pay Isleton at least $25,000 a month in fees, or 3 percent of gross receipts, whichever is higher, for the right to operate the pot farm.
That annual stream of $300,000 into Isleton's $1.3 million city budget is the most significant source of revenue since the late 1990s, when the then-police chief grabbed national attention by issuing the concealed-weapons permits. Before he was fired and the state shut down the practice, the permits brought in as much as $400,000 annually.
Scott Hawkins, spokesman for Delta Allied Growers, would not speculate on any motives the district attorney may have for examining the agreement.
"This is a small-scale, secure, R&D-focused facility operating under a legal permit from the city of Isleton," he said.
Under state law, medical marijuana being grown has to be either used by a patient or dedicated to specific cannabis dispensaries. Delta Allied's agreement with the city directs that the pot be sold to certified dispensaries and that no cannabis or money change hands within the city limits.
The farm sits at the eastern edge of town in a field alongside 18 brightly painted houses that fell into foreclosure when the city's last big revenue plan, a 350-unit housing development, went belly-up in 2008. Five of Delta Allied's 14 planned greenhouses are almost finished, and the operation is surrounded by two stands of barbed-wire fence.
The farm is to begin growing pot this summer.
Hoping for the best
Meanwhile, it's hard to find anyone who thinks the farm and its cash are a bad idea.
"Times are hard here, and that money would put this city back on its legs," said Bill Cox, a retired planning commissioner who was subpoenaed because he was in office last year when the pot farm was approved. "Maybe the D.A. thinks she'll find the Mafia is behind this plan or something like that. Who knows?
Isleton, Sacramento County -
Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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