MUSING WITH MIRISCH--It must be something in the water.

Propagandistic special interest groups such as Restore the Delta are on a single-minded mission to stop the twin-tunnel plan that would ensure a steady supply of water to Southern California.

Notwithstanding the guise of false environmentalism, it is self-interest, opportunism and something else entirely that are at play here.

What is being portrayed as an environmental battle is really something very different, indeed.

Time to tell it like it is, and, even though the discussion finally gives us a chance to use such neglected adjectives as "riparian," it's pretty darn simple. This is about North vs. South. This is about Northern California not wanting Southern California to "steal" what they consider to be "their" water, as characterized on the group's website as "the fight against the L.A. invasion on our water" (by a commenter who in a homophobic aside describes former California Assembly Speaker Angeleno John Perez as "a fat lesbian in drag as a man.")  

In Southern California, we are not brought up to hate San Francisco and Northern California. Sure, some of us Dodgers faithful aren't big fans of Halloween because of the black and orange, but we respect the rivalry and generally have a positive attitude when we think of Northern California - if we think of Northern California.

Not so, it seems with some Northerners in this state. While we Southerners tend to be laid back about nonbaseball intrastate rivalries, Northerners seem to have been bred to hate all things Southern Californian, including the Dodgers and especially the fact that some of our water comes from Northern California. This inborn resentment of Southern California is a bit befuddling to us down here.

Restore the Delta, by the way, has a disingenuous if not downright misleading name. Most of the board members are Northern California farmers and it is the farming over the past hundred-plus years that is largely responsible for such ecological problems as massive subsidence, along with the environmental unsustainability it creates. The farming has caused delta islands to sink to 30 feet or more below sea level. If the members of Restore the Delta were really looking to restore the delta, then they would try to create the ecosystem that existed before farming caused the natural landscape to lose its kilter.

Northern opposition to allowing the conveyance of water in a reliable fashion to Southern California is nothing new. In fact, Restore the Delta board members pride themselves on having successfully opposed the proposed Peripheral Canal in the '70s - all so that the "old ways" of delta farming could continue unabated while the farmland's sea level plays catch up with Death Valley. Ironically, the tunnels would actually do a better job of restoring the delta area than the current levee patch-and-fixes approach.

For all this dumping on Southern California, it is interesting to note that not one member or executive of Restore the Delta seems to have a problem when state resources flow from the South northwards. As protective as they seem to be about "their" water, they don't have any problem taking, for example, our Southern California tax dollars and spending them on delta levee maintenance. Southern Californian ratepayers would finance the tunnels, while the maintenance of private levees is paid for by the state's taxpayers. This is an absurd and unfair situation and the the state's legislators should take immediate action to stop the public financing of private levee maintenance.

Some common-sense proposals for water conservation embraced by the anti-tunnel groups should be (and in many cases already are being) adopted on a statewide basis; but this is a tactical distraction. Water conservation and other efficiencies do not mean that the need for upgraded infrastructure should be dismissed and that Southern California should not be allowed through reliable conveyance to access water to which it has a right.

Perhaps most hypocritical of all, while these groups continue spouting off about "water theft," "death tunnels" and the "vampire plan," we haven't heard a peep out of any of them about the single biggest instance of statewide water-related theft of all. Of course, that would be the damming and damning of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy valley a hundred years ago, which deprived all Americans of an integral part of our greatest national park forever. All so that San Francisco could be assured of ... a steady supply of water.

Let's continue going about our business, keeping the faith that our Dodgers will finally bring us a long-awaited world championship and working towards the Bay Delta Conservation Plan's infrastructure upgrades. Let's ignore the bogus arguments, false eco-concern, provincial selfishness and regional resentment that are the true causes of Northern Californian opposition toward the tunnels.

What else can you do? Haters gonna hate. ...

(John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. This piece was posted earlier at Los Angeles Business Journal and Huffington Post)

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

POT PROGRESS--In 2015, state legislators considered bills to legalize marijuana in 21 states, decriminalize marijuana possession in 17 states, and legalize medical marijuana in 19 states.

Most of the action in 2015 was aimed at achieving substantial victories in 2016, which is slated to be the most successful year in the history of the movement to end marijuana prohibition.

With this in mind, the Marijuana Policy Project is hereby releasing its top 10 list for 2015. I'm excluding international and scientific developments, instead focusing on policy developments in the United States.

10. Local Decriminalization Measures: In Florida, seven local governments (including Miami-Dade County) opted to allow officers to cite, rather than arrest, adults found in possession of marijuana. And in Michigan, an average of 55% of voters in East Lansing, Portage, and Keego Harbor decriminalized marijuana possession.

9. Everything In Texas: The Texas Legislature and governor's office -- all controlled by Republicans -- enacted a bill to allow specially licensed businesses to sell low-THC marijuana to patients with intractable epilepsy, thereby setting the stage for a broader medical marijuana bill to pass in 2017, which is now more possible since a principal opponent of medical marijuana in the state House announced her retirement. Just as significantly, the key House committee passed a pair of bills to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession and to legalize marijuana like jalapeños; there were enough votes to pass the former bill on the House floor, but the legislature ran out of time.

8. Medical Marijuana Expansion In Four States, D.C., and Puerto Rico: Numerous states expanded their existing medical marijuana laws to cover a larger list of medical conditions. Delaware added certain types of autism; Arizona added post-traumatic stress disorder; Minnesota added intractable pain; and the District of Columbia now allows physicians to recommend cannabis for any condition. In Hawaii, the list of medical conditions remained static, but the legislature and Gov. David Ige (D) enacted legislation to expand the existing grow-your-own law to allow for the sale of medical marijuana by 16 dispensaries. And in Puerto Rico, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (D) signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana.

7. Medical Marijuana In Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Utah: The Pennsylvania Senate passed a medical marijuana bill, Republicans in the state House recently removed the obstacles that were preventing the bill's passage, and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is ready to sign it as soon as the legislature passes a final bill. In Nebraska, the only unicameral legislature in the country passed a medical marijuana bill, which the legislature will need to do two more times before the bill can be sent to the governor. And in Utah, the state Senate defeated a medical marijuana bill by only one vote.

6. Marijuana Decriminalization in Illinois: The Illinois Legislature passed a bill to remove the threat of arrest and jail for marijuana possession, but Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) issued an amendatory veto requesting relatively minor changes, so a compromise bill has been introduced and will almost surely pass in the fifth-most-populous state in early 2016. Also, the state House in New Hampshire and Senate in New Mexico passed similar decriminalization measures, but the two states' other legislative bodies didn't take action.

5. Decriminalization in Delaware: In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell (D) signed into law a measure that removed the threat of arrest and jail for marijuana possession, making Delaware the 20th state to decriminalize or legalize marijuana possession. (And while Louisiana didn't decriminalize marijuana, the state government significantly reduced the penalties for marijuana possession.)

4. Legalization Ballot Initiatives in Five States: Many people were worried that competing legalization initiatives might appear on a few states' ballots in November 2016, but this won't be the case. In Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, it's highly likely that there will be only one legalization initiative on each statewide ballot, which means four or five of these states will legalize marijuana on the same day in less than 11 months.

3. U.S. House of Representatives: An amendment by Congressmen Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) came within nine votes of temporarily ending marijuana prohibition on the federal level; specifically, their amendment would have prevented the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) from interfering with the legalization laws in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the medical marijuana laws in 23 states. The U.S. House also inched closer to fixing the banking and tax laws that are plaguing the canna-business industry.

2. U.S. Senate: Bernie Sanders (D-VT) grabbed some headlines when he introduced the first-ever bill to legalize marijuana in the U.S. Senate. Just as significantly, Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced in the Senate the first-ever, comprehensive medical marijuana bill, which now has 16 co-sponsors. In the meantime, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to prohibit DOJ from spending taxpayer money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, as well as a second amendment to allow physicians in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to vets.

1. Presidential Candidates: All three of the major Democratic candidates for president said they support allowing states to regulate marijuana as they see fit. This was impressive, but it was even more impressive when nine of the 17 Republican candidates said the same thing, and even six of the remaining eight "bad" Republicans said something good about medical marijuana or decriminalization.

In 2015, the table was set in other ways that will lead to a healthy serving of marijuana policy reform in 2016. For example, Alaska and Colorado appear poised to allow some form of on-site consumption of marijuana in private establishments (similar to alcohol bars), which would give these two jurisdictions the two best marijuana laws in the world.

(Rob Kampia is the Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. This piece was posted earlier at Huffington Post.) 

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

GELFAND’S WORLD--When the history of 2015 is finally on the shelf, politics will be among its central stories. In the long run, controlling global warming is more important because survival depends on it, but politics is of immediate interest because it has become a battle over freedom, health, and economic growth. The Republicans concentrate on freedom from taxation, while they demand the power to limit the religious freedom of others. Democrats are less concerned about lowering taxes, and more concerned about holding onto reproductive choice. There's definitely a clash of civilizations, and it's right here at home. 

This year has been fairly predictable on the Democratic side. There is the possible exception of the Bernie Sanders story, but I predict that Sanders will finish pretty much where he is right now, with an honorable second place finish. I could be wrong on that. Bernie's public apology to Hillary and to his own supporters over the Democratic National Committee files is indicative of somebody who feels more comfortable telling the truth than relying on comfortable white lies. There is a certain resemblance to the Obama candidacy in this. It's the sort of virtue that appeals to a lot of voters. But Sanders is carrying three decades more of life than Obama was at the same point, and I think this will be the issue that Sanders can't defeat. 

The story of 2015 will be recorded on the Republican side for how bizarre it has become. I offer my own humble interpretation of what has been going on. It's a spin on my interpretation of the 2004 election, a view that went entirely contrary to Republican crowing, and also to the Democratic crying and sobbing. But this interpretation fits the puzzle pieces together better than other interpretations I find. 

The 2004 election involved a legitimate war hero in the form of John Kerry, running against the fairly inadequate George W Bush. When the dust cleared, and Bush was the victor, Democrats figuratively wandered the desert in confusion. They bought into the explanation that Bush had won on family values and all that stuff. God, Guns, and Gays is how the left wing described the Republican approach. Democrats talked in whispers about trying to slice off a larger percent of the evangelical voters. It wasn't obvious how Democratic Party values and policies were supposed to accomplish that, but people like Marc Cooper saw through the futility of that approach. 

My view was that the American people were more than willing to engage in bloody vengeance against the entire ethnic group they saw as guilty of the September 11 attack. They just didn't want to have to look into the mirror and admit to themselves that they were willing to countenance mass killing. But deep down, they knew they could trust George W Bush to be the bad guy they needed, and they could rationalize it all by telling themselves that they were really supporting Christian values. 

No wonder the Democrats were confused. 

Now we have a situation that is not all that different. There is actually an eerie similarity to 2004. When it comes to the Republican primary battle, those Iowa saints sure do love their sinners. At least that's the interpretation you have to adopt if you want to explain the Trump story. Here's a guy who is profane and doesn't believe in that love thy neighbor stuff, particularly when the neighbors are standing alongside him on the debate stage, or are the inhabitants of an adjacent country. I don't think we've heard this level of spiteful contempt since the days of George Wallace. 

Of course there is also Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas who has taken the role of the religious obsessive. The Republican voters are split between a New York bad boy acting out the juvenile delinquent role, and the senator who plays at being the holiest of all. Holiness is running second in most of the country. 

What's running first is fear and anger. When Tea Party voters, now Trump supporters, explain that they want to take their country back, you have to ask, "From whom?" The answer, I think, has become pretty clear. They mean that they want to take it back from the people who aren't exactly like them. 

A change of subject: LA is still an NFL-free zone 

The year 2015 has been notable for the discussions about bringing either one or two professional football teams to the area. Luckily, the possibility of a stadium at the intersection of the 10 and the 110 freeways died a quiet death. This was not for lack of bowing and scraping by the city's elected officials. They were willing to turn downtown into an even worse traffic nightmare than it is now. This was in spite of the weight of evidence that shows that professional sports teams don't bring in net revenue or jobs to the areas they move into. 

As of now, NFL owners in Oakland, St Louis, and San Diego are talking about moving to Los Angeles. Predictably, the elected officials in these towns are bending over backwards to try to keep their teams. 

St Louis just voted to spend $150 million of its taxpayers' money to build a new football stadium for the once-Cleveland Rams, who then became the Los Angeles Rams, and more recently became the St Louis Rams. The real dollar total would be a lot more, since the proposal would involve state money and forgiveness of local taxes. The whole ugly story is summarized neatly by USA Today

As the story explains, "In addition to the city's $150 million and $300 million from the league, the St. Louis stadium proposal calls for $250 million from the team owner, $160 million in fan seat licenses, and the rest of the money from the state, either through tax credits or bonds." Notice that curious item about fan seat licenses. A seat license is the fee you have to pay to be allowed to pay for tickets. 

For many years, NFL owners have been using the existence of Los Angeles to extract money from cities and states in order to build stadiums. It still seems to be working, as recent events in Minnesota and now Missouri demonstrate. The question is whether the NFL has more to gain by putting a team in Los Angeles than it has to gain by retaining the status quo. 

Keeping L.A. free of professional football provides economic benefits to the majority of NFL owners. As new stadiums grow older, the local NFL owners will want to extract money from their cities to build even grander structures. The owner of a team playing in a stadium that 15 years old will be thinking about getting a new one in another 10 or 15 years. 

Don't believe it? Check out the age of the stadium that the Rams say isn't good enough, or read this paragraph from that USA Today article: "But there was plenty of opposition. Alderwoman Sharon Tyus recalled it was just 24 years ago when the same governmental body approved financing to build the now-outdated Edward Jones Dome, the Rams' current home." 

On the other hand, there could be economic incentives to moving a team or two into the basin. There are television revenues to be multiplied, or so it is said. This is a curious claim because Angelenos watch plenty of pro football on television already. It's not obvious that having a local team would bring in that many more viewers. This would be especially true if the team isn't winning. There would, however, be a whole new round of football jersey sales. 

Will the possibility of spectacular new traffic jams in the L.A. area on game days depend on the possibility of shirt sales? We'll get a better idea after the NFL owners meet in January.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)  

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-On a Saturday night after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, a plastic replica hand grenade was left in the driveway of Baitus Salaam Mosque in Hawthorne, a municipality near the Los Angeles airport. Someone also spray-painted “Jesus” on the mosque’s front gate and crosses on the windows.

It would have been understandable if the Ahmadiyya mosque community had responded by erecting new walls or adding security. Instead, its members decided that the vandalism was an opportunity to connect with neighbors. So the mosque held an open house. “Extremism,” the community president Jalaluddin Ahmad said in an invitation to the event, “will not scare us into locking our mosques. Rather we will open the doors wider to educate all.”

If only the rest of California were responding to this moment in the same spirit as that mosque.

So far, we Californians—from everyday citizens to our top leaders—have demonstrated an abundance of ignorance and cowardice. But if we reversed course and thought of San Bernardino as an opportunity to reach out to others, we could emerge from these terrorist attacks as a better, safer, and even richer place.

Since the attack, California has seen a surge in vandalism and threats against mosques. And we’ve seen public authorities spread fear by overreacting to threats. Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District committed the cardinal sin of responding to terror with terror by closing all of its 900-plus schools, serving 640,000 students, because of an implausible threat that other cities were quick to dismiss. Even more shamefully, local officials, instead of acknowledging their obvious error, are still defending the closing, which is sure to undermine public confidence in official statements during real emergencies.

We’re also seeing political opportunists of both parties use the attacks to advance law enforcement agendas. Take U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s attempts to capitalize on the attacks on two fronts. First, she and others in Congress seek to force Silicon Valley to weaken the encryption that protects all of us from hacking so that law enforcement might more easily track terrorists, criminals, and missing persons. Second, she is demanding onerous new fingerprinting and visa requirements for visitors to California that will discourage foreign tourists—and hurt the millions of Californians who make their living in tourism-related businesses. In both cases, Feinstein, who has aged into a tool of the security state, effectively argues that millions of innocent people should be punished for the sins of a few terrorists.

Feinstein’s response is also a symptom of what might be diagnosed as the double fear complex: Politicians fear they might lose politically if they don’t cater to the wildest public fears of Muslims and terrorism. So we see some California Congressional Democrats joining Republicans in linking the attacks to concerns about Muslim refugees—an especially cruel and thoughtless response during the largest worldwide refugee crisis in decades.

Our state needs a hard and immediate U-turn, which starts with recognizing how the attacks connect California to the rest of the world.

Watching all of this is to observe Californians, in just a few short weeks, put the lie to all the values that used to define us as a state—our embrace of diversity, our welcoming stance towards outsiders of all kinds, our pride in our global connectedness, and our faith in decisions made on data and science instead of superstition and prejudice.

Stop the madness, California. Our state needs a hard and immediate U-turn, which starts with recognizing how the attacks connect California to the rest of the world. While we have always been connected by who we are—27 percent of us are foreign-born, twice the national percentage—and by our globally oriented economy, San Bernardino now connects us to people around the world as fellow victims of terrorism. We all saw the fear and horror and disruption of just one attack in one building in one small city of a state of 39 million. Imagine such scenes repeated far more often in places like Syria. How can we not respond by seeking to help our fellow victims—especially the refugees fleeing the same terror we’ve experienced?

California, more than any other place in this country, has been defined by its readiness to integrate people fleeing wars and other horrors. Most tellingly, California communities have often welcomed refugees even in the face of opposition from our leaders. Back in the 1970s, Gov. Jerry Brown was as wrong to oppose the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees here as President Reagan was a decade later to oppose the taking-in of refugees from Central American wars. Both Vietnamese and Central American arrivals have enriched California immensely. In more recent times, our state and its communities have responded to callous inaction in Washington, D.C., by giving what public services and legal status they can to undocumented immigrants and to child refugees coming over our border.

So why do we allow ourselves to be limited by the United States’ decision to accept indefensibly low numbers of refugees from Syria (just 10,000) and other theaters of American warfare? California, as a global power in its own right, would do well to set the goal of leading the world in accepting refugees.

Sweden, with fewer than 10 million citizens, has accepted 200,000 refugees in the current crisis. Germany, with 80 million citizens, has taken in approximately 800,000 this year. California leaders and citizens, as a start, should express our willingness to accommodate a number that would put us in that class—say 500,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. And our demand for more refugees should also include the request that the laborious and bureaucratic process of screening refugees—it lasts two years—be expedited. We need to save as many lives as we can, as fast as we can.

Of course, Washington, not the state, makes refugee policy, as a federal matter. But a push by California to fulfill its historical role as America’s America would change the conversation nationally. And if we were to get such a number of refugees, there would be huge challenges—but also huge payoffs. Our welcoming stance would distinguish us internationally—and offer a competitive advantage over the lily-livered cowboys in Texas and 29 other states who are so consumed by fear that they’re seeking to block the arrival of even tiny numbers of refugees. It’d be much easier for California, as a generous and welcoming place, to make connections of trade and commerce to the many Muslim countries that are, despite tremendous challenges, on the path to greater wealth and democracy.

We’d also win at home, since refugees would be assets in a state that needs more people. Immigration is flat here, the birth rate is down, and our increasingly homegrown population is aging, with fewer children to support it. Refugees would provide a shot in the arm to our culture and our economy—and the human capital to make up big deficits the state faces in its number of skilled workers.

The fact that such a movement in California sounds unrealistic—I can already hear the fear-mongers accusing me of wanting to give California its own Islamic state—shows just how far down the road of unreasoning fear we’ve already gone. Let’s turn around, and send the vital and very Californian message that, in this great place, the doors are always open—and that we don’t punish the many for the heinous crimes of the few.

(Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.) *Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, via AP.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

TIME TO COME HOME?-Okinawa officials on Friday filed a lawsuit against the central Japanese government in a new bid to block the slated construction of a U.S. military base in the prefecture's Henoko region.

"We will do whatever it takes to stop the new Henoko base," Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said during a press conference Friday. "Okinawa's argument is legitimate, and I believe that it will be certainly understood."

Residents and officials charge that the Japanese government's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism illegally intervened in Onaga's order earlier this year that halted preliminary work on the base. The prefecture said that the ministry acted unlawfully when it suspended Onaga's permit cancellation for work needed to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma to its slated spot in Henoko.

The legal challenge is the latest effort to block the continued militarization of the southern Japanese island, which has long served as home base for more than half of the 50,000 American military service members in Japan, as well as over two-thirds of U.S. bases in the country. In late October, hundreds of Okinawa residents, largely elders, linked arms and physically blocked vehicles transporting building materials to the base.

"Don't the people of Okinawa have sovereignty?" one protester, 70-year-old Katsuhiro Yoshida, told Japanese paper  The Asahi Shimbun at the time. "This reminds me of the scenes of rioting against the U.S. military before Okinawa was returned to Japan (in 1972). Now we are facing off against our own government. It is so contemptible."

Residents have long expressed anger and frustration over the crime and pollution they say comes along with the presence of foreign troops.

"Democracy and local self-determination in Japan are in severe condition," Onaga, who was elected on an anti-base platform, said Friday. "We want the rest of the world to know how the Japan-U.S. security treaty is affecting us."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams where this report was posted earlier.) Photo: AFP Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

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POLITICS--If the 2016 U.S. presidential election were held today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would win by a landslide over GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, according to a new poll just released by Quinnipiac University.  

With voters favoring Sanders over Trump 51 to 38 percent, Sanders would win the general election by 13 points—more than any other candidate would get squaring off with the Republican favorite, including Sanders' chief rival for the Democratic nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, while Clinton would likewise sail to victory over Trump, her lead would be approximately half as much, with voters favoring her 47 to 40 percent.

Columnist Brent Budowsky writes for The Hill:

If this margin held in a general election, Democrats would almost certainly regain control of the United States Senate and very possibly the House of Representatives.

It is high time and long overdue for television networks such as CNN to end their obsession with Trump and report the all-important fact that in most polls, both Hillary Clinton and Sanders would defeat Trump by landslide margins.

[....] It is noteworthy that in this Quinnipiac poll, Sanders runs so much stronger than Clinton against Trump.

Meanwhile, Budowsky says, "analysts would be talking about a national political realignment and new progressive era in American history if an enlightened candidate such as Sanders would defeat a retrograde race-baiting candidate such as Trump by a potentially epic and historic margin."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams where this report was posted earlier.)

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

 

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