Government / Politics

City Council votes no, then yes on cannabis ordinance

Vote reversal happens after Councilman Karson Klauer asks for more information on legislation after it was initially shot down
After the ordinance failed to pass initially, Councilman Karson Klauer asked for a reconsideration.
Councilman Roy Sims said some wording in the ordinance was confusing and even backwards.
Councilwoman Mickie Luna was upset by comments about crime on the West Side.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez sought, and got, more public comments.

In what has to be one of the more confusing bits of local legislative maneuvering, the Hollister City Council’s Medicinal Cannabis Administrative Ordinance that was up for a vote Dec. 19 was defeated 3-2 during the first few minutes of discussion. Then an hour-and-a-half later, it passed, also in a 3-2 vote.

After temporary city counsel Pamela Epstein went over the changes to the ordinance that the council had requested during its Dec. 5 meeting, Councilman Raymond Friend immediately said he wanted to make a motion to vote on the ordinance. But Mayor Ignacio Velazquez told him that they had to allow public comment before they could do so. Friend appeared irritated and said there had already been three meetings in which the public had commented.

Epstein interjected that since the current meeting was a “second reading,” it was not necessary to hear public comments again. The mayor relented and stated there was a motion to adopt the ordinance “as-is,” and asked for a second, which Councilwoman Mickie Luna provided. When the votes were counted, Luna and Friend were the only ones in favor of the ordinance, meaning it was rejected for lack of a majority from the five-person council.

Then, Councilman Karson Klauer started to ask if the city had cleared up some issues in the ordinance when Friend interrupted him.

“A point of order,” Friend said abruptly, noting that a motion had been made and defeated, stating the discussion was over, and then summarily declaring, “That’s the end of it.”

Apparently not.

Velazquez asked City Clerk Tom Graves if the discussion was, in fact, over. Graves said he thought it was, but deferred to Epstein, who, in turn, passed the buck to City Attorney Brad Sullivan —who typically stays out of medical marijuana discussions because his law firm represents clients in the medical marijuana industry — to determine a “procedural point of order.”

“Anyone who voted in the majority can ask for a reconsideration or re-opening,” Sullivan said. “I understand that Councilman Klauer asked to hear public matters. That acts as a motion to reconsider. You can now take the public matters and revisit the motion.”

“And we can do it tonight?” Velazquez asked.

After the nod from Sullivan, Klauer said, “I’d like to reconsider it and then have an answer on the question of 18 versus 21 and if there is some confusion of a 19- or 20-year-old working inside a medical marijuana facility.”

Epstein told him a person had to be 21 in order to obtain medical marijuana and 18 to obtain a medical marijuana card. Klauer asked her if 18 was fine and she said it was.

Councilman Roy Sims brought up the issue of 600 feet between churches, residence and cannabis operations as a standard in the ordinance based on state law. He said after researching it he discovered it was not a state standard. He questioned the reason it had been added to the city’s regulations and not the ordinance. Epstein told him the distance from homes is something the city determines on its own. She said it was decided to remove the 600-foot limitation from the ordinance to the regulations because of churches located in an industrial zone in order to give priority status to future applicants. Sims said it made more sense to keep the 600-foot rule in the ordinance and then allow for exceptions. He told Epstein that her recommendations didn’t seem to be consistent with what he had seen in Monterey’s ordinance that contains a 600-foot stipulation.

Epstein said Monterey likely does not have religious institutions within industrial zones, as Hollister does, so their ordinance may not be pertinent to Hollister’s. She said it’s up to the council if they wanted to put it back in the ordinance.

Mayor Velazquez added that non-conforming churches located in the industrial zone would not prevent cannabis operations from locating there. Sims questioned the logic that a cannabis facility would have to conform to regulations where a non-conforming church would not. He said the language was confusing and backwards, and, perhaps, should not even be included. Epstein said it was the ad hoc committee’s position that there be a unilateral 600-foot boundary between a cannabis facility and any church or home.

“What we’re talking about now is allowing for a non-conforming use to not count against the medical marijuana operation,” she said. “This change would allow the dispensary to be there if religious institutions or houses were within a zoning district they were not conforming.”

Councilman Friend asked her if having houses on one side of the street and light industrial was on the other side would that prevent the entire industrial area from being included in the ordinance. She told him he was correct.

“That’s exactly what we didn’t want,” Friend said. “You’re taking out three quarters of the usable land in the city, which is what this is all about because they’re residential. I’m not concerned about the churches because that’s the (state) law. There must be 600 feet. But there are residential areas in the town that are next to light industrial and they would be precluded from being used for medical marijuana.”

When the mayor tried to explain that if the residential neighborhood was conforming, he was right. When Friend said there were only a couple of places along San Felipe Road that would qualify, Velazquez said he disagreed.

“There is actually quite a bit of property and land throughout the city that would meet these needs,” he said. “There are several hundred places that could be doing this.”

Asked by Councilwoman Luna how long after the ordinance went into effect could changes be made to it, Epstein told Luna it would be 30 days after the council approved it and any time after that they could reconsider it. Luna said she felt that the ordinance, as it stood, was something they could begin with, and if changes needed to be made later, they could do that.

Klauer then asked for public comments. For more than an hour, residents, lobbyists, landowners and potential cannabis operators — most of whom have spoken at every meeting on the topic — came up to re-state their positions. Not much new ground was covered and everyone remained entrenched in their various views.

When the debate returned to the council, Velazquez said that after looking at maps of the city, that even though a few areas might be inconvenienced, many would not.

“My concern has always been how we do something and do it right,” he said. “I can see us coming back in one year and looking at this and seeing what we could adjust again. Maybe we were too strict in certain areas. I think it’s tough to come back and try to implement new rules later rather than earlier.”

Velazquez was noting what might happen when he suddenly detoured and turned the spotlight to Hollister Police Chief David Westrick, asking for his opinion about the 600-foot rule between cannabis facilities and houses.

“I don’t have an opinion on it,” Westrick answered matter-of-factly, “because it’s gone back and forth so many times. It’s up to the council to decide what’s best.”

The mayor said he thought there could be a consensus between the differing parties and congratulated those present for showing respect for one another. Then the conversation took yet another curious turn when Luna took umbrage at someone’s comment about “crime on the West Side,” and called them out, though not by name.

“When you look at this city, crime has come down a lot,” she said. “But don’t mention a special area in this city. It’s very highly Latino populated and I take offense to that. Any time you mention negative things going on in the West Side, I’m going to disagree because we keep a real close eye on the West Side.”

With that, Friend asked Klauer if he was making a recommendations for more changes to the ordinance. Klauer said he would make the motion after everybody on the council had their say.

“I’ve spoken my piece at least 10 times and it doesn’t seem to matter,” Friend said.

Klauer moved to accept the ordinance with changes to one specific section that stipulated the distance between structures. The motion passed 3-2, with Friend, Luna and Klauer in favor of it and Velazquez and Sims voting against it.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.