Lots of innuendo but little substance in the ‘Los Angeles’ magazine article

ALL BARK, NO BITE: Some stories are so bad they’re good. Some stories are too good to be true. The heartbreaking 4,000-word narrative written by writer-turned-journalist Mitchell Kriegman in the most recent Los Angeles magazine about the corruption caused by cannabis in Santa Barbara, it turns out, are both. The article is, undoubtedly, an excellent read. Unfortunately, this is also false in its very essence.

The article – “In Sleepy Santa Barbara, Town Hall Insider Raises Eyebrows” – is an indefensible game of one-sided warts through the landscape of Santa Barbara city politics in which dirt is deliciously served on Mayor Cathy Murillo, City Administrator Paul Casey, City Attorney Ariel Calonne and former Police Chief Lori Luhnow.

SBPD PIO Anthony Wagner | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

But most of the dirt is dumped on Luhnow’s right arm, Anthony Wagner, whom Kriegman describes as a tyrant, jester and con man – an official who rigged the bridge on behalf of his former business partner to secure one of the three lucrative cannabis dispensary licenses. The partner then returned it, making millions in untold profits.

The people were aghast. “How could this happen?” they demanded.

Good question. The short answer: no.

If Mitchell Kriegman had only picked up the phone, he might have found out. He did not do it.

Instead, in response to my question, he said he had emailed “all parties affected by the article … well in advance of publication, several more than once …. Questions were also submitted directly and a request for interviews and comments was also made. No one responded, ”he said.

Kriegman understood one thing perfectly; Wagner is a great story. He’s a big guy who packs a lot of carbonation. He speaks loudly; he wears heavy shoes and loud socks. But Wagner walks on his toes.

Before leaving San Diego in 2017 to work with retired chef Luhnow, Wagner had never been a cop, or even worked for a police department. It was strange. Even stranger, Luhnow cannibalized the post of deputy chief to pay Wagner’s salary. Unsurprisingly, many cops never fell for Wagner.

Wagner’s professional background was as a planning commissioner for San Diego and as a land use consultant specializing in converting farmland to integrated cannabis farms. Her partner in this consulting firm was a guy named Micah Anderson, who in Kriegman’s tale plays the role of “smoking room”. Anderson, it is important to note, is now a major supplier of cannabis statewide.

When Santa Barbara City Hall solicited competitive bids for three cannabis licenses in 2018, five assessors were chosen, approved by City Administrator Casey, Fire, Planning, Administration, Lawyer and city ​​police station. Wagner was the group’s public spokesperson. After all, he knew the industry. Together, these five people ranked the candidates according to their respective areas of expertise. Wagner, for example, classified candidates’ security plans.

Kriegman focused on the license obtained by Golden State Greens, a very successful San Diego dispensary owned by a guy named Adam Knopf. Wagner had known Knopf from his days on the San Diego Planning Commission when he voted to approve a Knopf cannabis project.

Knopf’s proposal – for a dispensary near State Street and Ontare Road – would be one of three finalists to win the Santa Barbara cannabis beauty pageant. Knopf got all the necessary building permits, but he never built the dispensary or opened the business. Instead, he took advantage of a questionable provision in the Santa Barbara Cannabis Ordinance that allowed him to sell his licenses for millions to a Florida-based operator.

Lost in the whirlwind of Kriegman’s many innuendos is a veritable explosive accusation. Kriegman alleges that Wagner’s former business partner, Micah Anderson, was a partner of Knopf in his Santa Barbara dispensary project. If this were true, it would mean that Wagner helped evaluate a former business partner’s project. This, in any book, constitutes a major conflict of interest. Wagner’s failure to disclose such a fox-keeper-henhouse relationship would be grounds for immediate termination and possibly legal action.

Acting Police Chief Barney Melekian placed Wagner on paid administrative leave on Monday so that an outside entity hired by City Hall can investigate Anderson’s role in the deal and determine whether Wagner failed to disclose a conflict to his officials. superiors.

I have covered the dispensary selection process and have no recollection of Micah Anderson. His name does not appear on any of the documents. If Kriegman had spoken to Wagner, Wagner would have told him – as he told me – that Anderson had absolutely nothing to do with the deal.

If he had called Anderson, Anderson would have told him the same. I know because I called Anderson on Tuesday night. Anderson said he had nothing to do with the Santa Barbara deal and that he had no business relationship with Adam Knopf or Golden State Greens anywhere else. Anderson said he and Knopf tried to get a dispensary approved in Pasadena a year after Knopf won the Santa Barbara dispensary, but Pasadena’s proposal did not survive the verification stage.

Anderson also said he had never been contacted by anyone in connection with the Los Angeles magazine article either by phone, email or SMS. “It’s a bit unusual,” he said. “You do not think ?”

Kriegman wrote that he had tried to contact Wagner by email, but Wagner never responded. Wagner categorically denied this, insisting that Kriegman had never tried to contact him even though Wagner had given him his cell phone number and email address.

The reason I believe Wagner is because Wagner is one of the most hyper-accessible people in city government. Kriegman also wrote that he sought comments from City Attorney Calonne, but was unsuccessful. Calonne said Kriegman sent her an email asking her to comment on an article Kriegman had previously written. Calonne said he didn’t see the point in answering. Calonne showed me the email.

Kriegman now lives in Portugal. He’s a gifted screenwriter. The moral of the story? Don’t send a screenwriter to do a journalist’s job.

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