MARTINEZ: Council extends commercial cannabis moratorium

The Martinez Gazette Reports…

Martinez’s ban on commercial operations, adopted on an emergency basis in 2017 and extended until Oct. 31, was put in place to give staff time to craft a cannabis management program.

The sole exception to the ban has been Firefly’s application for a medicinal marijuana dispensary, itself stalled while staff crafts a definition of “youth center.”

The place where Firefly wants to house its dispensary is next door to Power Endurance Training Center that caters, in part to junior high school and high school age children.

Unless Martinez adopts an ordinance that changes the distance, Firefly by state law must have a 600 foot buffer between its dispensary and a youth center. However, the question remains and is expected to be answered in the city’s commercial marijuana law, whether Power Endurance Training Center is a youth center.

In legalizing both medicinal and recreation use marijuana, California officials have said they deliberately avoided defining “youth center” too precisely, so local governments could define the term for themselves in their local regulations. The buffer distance and the “youth center” definition are two of many elements to be addressed in the Martinez regulations.

In her report, Community and Economic Development Director Christina Ratcliffe asked the Council to extend the moratorium a full year, because no further extension would be allowed.

However, the extension needed at least four “yes” votes from the Council. Vice Mayor Lara DeLaney and Councilmember Noralea Gipner said they couldn’t support an extension that long.

Gipner, who spoke first on the matter, said she didn’t want the ban extended at all, noting the city has had since 2016 to put a law in place under provisions of Proposition 64 that made adult recreational use of the drug legal in California.

“Enough is enough,” she said, explaining that other local governments have their laws in place, and Martinez could borrow elements from those laws to get its regulation in place faster.

Those commercial operations could generate income for the city at a time Martinez needs new revenue sources, since it’s mostly built out, has no big hotels or car dealerships or room to lure any large-scale retail operations that could generate taxes paid to the city.

She also disagreed with characterizing dispensaries as “evil,” saying her own research of smaller towns indicated crime hasn’t risen with the addition of marijuana businesses.

Gipner said she wants the new law in place before City Manager Brad Kilger retires, and said she’d only be willing to extend the moratorium three or four months.

DeLaney praised Gipner’s “well thought out” statements, and said she agreed with much of her colleague’s thoughts. Saying she didn’t support the original moratorium, DeLaney said, “I don’t support this.”

But Councilmember Mark Ross wasn’t sure the Council should impose such short limitations on its staff.

Ratcliffe’s report indicated city employees, including Police Chief Manjit Sappal and members of the city’s legal staff would be in an “all hands meeting” Monday with representatives of HdL, Martinez’s consultants on the marijuana law.

Putting the law in place involves modifying the city zoning code, repealing the previous ordinance, undertaking a fee study, drafting guidelines and a time frame for these acts to take place, Ratcliffe said.

In addition, California has made changes that may force Martinez staff to review the direction existing work has taken. For instance, the state recently added a provision that cities can impose fines for illegal cultivation, Ratcliffe said.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Veronica Nebb said if the city’s regulations aren’t in place before the moratorium expires, Martinez would have no laws in place to govern commercial marijuana operations and could be a target for litigation.

The Martinez Planning Commission must weigh in because the local law involves zoning. That panel also must conduct at least one public hearing on the law, if not two or more. In addition, the City Council must have its own public hearings on the proposed law, Nebb said.

Acknowledging that, Ross said, “Let’s give ourselves leeway.”

Mayor Rob Schroder defended the city staff, saying it had been handed “curve balls. It’s been preparing a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), which the Council had indicated is a high priority, he said. “Another curve ball is district elections,” he said, adding that the city spent plenty of time and money getting voting districts adopted before legal protection from a threatened lawsuit from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman expired.

Settling a dispute with Social Security, the Internal Revenue Service and California Public Employee Retirement Service about the authenticity of a joint facility agreement with Pleasant Hill was another matter – and expense – that has taken staff time, he said.

Another unexpected “curve ball” was the need to increase Martinez Police compensation to recruit and retain officers and fill some longtime vacancies, which also motivated the draft of Measure X, the half-cent sales tax voters will decide Nov. 6, he said, and on the horizon is the development of the city’s marina. A trust land use plan, mandated in legislation that gave Martinez responsibility for Waterfront Park, is due soon, he added.

“We give direction to get something done and it doesn’t get done,” DeLaney said, pointing out that Community and Economic Development staff wasn’t involved in working on all of those matters.

The panel finally agreed unanimously to a nine-month extension of the moratorium. It cannot be extended past July 31, 2019.

In other matters, the Council proclaimed Oct. 18 “Feet First Day” in recognition of the work being done by the Feet First Foundation to use principles of boxing to teach students self-respect and courage to deal with bullying, trafficking, substance abuse and thoughts of running away. Prior to the meeting, the Foundation welcomed community members to wear blue to show solidarity with Feet First students and to stand with them in front of Martinez City Hall.

The panel unanimously approved a resolution declaring a shelter crisis so Martinez could receive emergency funding to expand services to homeless people and endorsed the reappointment of Richard Philbrook to the Martinez Veterans Commission.


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