For a second time in as many weeks, the Hollister City Council had to postpone agenda items concerning medical marijuana. The first time was because of a clerical error, of sorts. This time, during the June 26 meeting, however, the council could not vote on three related agenda items that would have 1) allowed cannabis dispensary applicants to make presentations, 2) approved dispensary permits for Higher Level of Care and Laylas Landing, and 3) approved cultivation, testing and distribution permits for 12 applicants.
The reason for the delay was because two council members, Karson Klauer and Jim Gillio, had recused themselves from the discussion because of perceived conflicts of interest, and Councilwoman Mickie Luna was out sick.
This left only Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Raymond Friend to carry on. But before Gillio and Klauer could leave the room to watch the proceedings on a television, Velazquez announced that the three agenda items would be moved to the top of the list. This appeared to cause some in the audience, who were obviously present in order to speak their piece and witness how the votes went, to believe the vote would happen sooner rather than later.
City Attorney Soren Diaz then informed everyone that because Velazquez and Friend did not represent a quorum, the three agenda items had to be postponed until a future council meeting, which wouldn’t happen before August because the council was “going dark” in July as it took the entire month off.
Then things got a bit strange.
Normally, there is an agenda item for every meeting allowing for public comments on any topic, as long as it is not related to anything being discussed that evening by the council. This time, however, there was no such provision. It didn’t seem to matter, though, as Diaz said the public had a right to make comments, but only if they were not related to the three agenda items already dismissed.
Audience members asked if that meant they could not talk about a particular street (Industrial Way) and a specific building (817 Industrial Way) that everyone in the room knew from the last meeting had been sold for $2.1 million in cash, and had raised objections from nearby business owners, but could only speak in the most generic terms about marijuana. With a shrug and a grin, the mayor seemed to indicate everyone was in on the joke, but they had to go along with it.
Sean Donahoe, a lobbyist for the marijuana industry, suggested that since regulations for medical cannabis had been implemented in Oct. 2015, and considerable staff hours had already been expended, perhaps there should be a special meeting in July in order to move on the three agenda items.
Anita Pedrazz-Minkel wanted to make a point about the kid-friendly businesses on Industrial Way without actually saying the street name. It wasn’t easy, as she explained her reasoning that the people of Hollister need to understand that Hollister is a bedroom community where kids stay at schools and other facilities while parents commute out of the area.
“If the parents are out of town and the children are here, they need places to go after school,” she started, but quickly realized she was headed for forbidden territory. “I’m going to get into a problem of what you don’t want me to talk about because the place that the children go to after school is where the marijuana place is across the street.”
Velazquez tried to gently nudge her back on track, “You were on the right path, but if you can refrain from specifying an area. Keep your thoughts on the kids.”
“The kids need to have a place to go after school,” she continued. “They need things to keep them occupied, and where they’re going is…see, it’s a problem—“
“It’s very complicated,” Velazquez agreed.
Pedrazzi-Minkel soldiered on, trying to make her case without veering into the forbidden discussion zone. “The kids need a safe place to go, and a safe place is where they are now. But will it continue to be a safe place?”
She related how her own children were involved in numerous activities while she worked.
“They had something to feel good about and this is a good thing in Hollister for these kids, but we do not need to corrupt the area where they’re doing this,” she said, and asked the mayor, “Am I OK with that one?”
“You did good, thank you very much,” Velazquez said.
Lisa Rovella said she and her husband have been in business for 25 years and have worked hard to build their business —Rovella’s Athletic Club, on Industrial Drive — and reputation for providing a safe place for children.
“We have sacrificed through hard times to keep those doors open for people in our community so they have a healthy option,” she said. “I feel like that reputation and all of our hard work is in jeopardy, given the proximity (of the proposed dispensary) to us. I feel it’s your responsibility to use wisdom to make a way that is not like the Wild West for everyone in our little area.”
Elia Salinas, a proponent for the cannabis industry, agreed with Donahoe that a motion should be made favoring a special meeting in July in order to keep moving forward with the applicants.
“There’s an issue with regards to Councilmen Klauer and Gillio recusing themselves, and I understand exactly why they’re doing it,” she said. “I think Mr. Klauer should go ahead with anything that has to do with Industrial Way—“
The mayor interrupted her, “We’re drifting into the area on the agenda.” She started to disagree with him. “Yes, you are,” he insisted. “State your thoughts and that’s fine.”
“Unless Mr. Klauer is directly involved with those properties, I think there’s no reason for him to recuse himself,” she went on that she did not think Gillio had to recuse himself either. “There are numerous property owners and applicants who are waiting for a permit process to move forward before they close escrow and start doing the build-outs.”
Salinas reasoned that for every month of delay, thousands of dollars were being spent on rentals where nothing could move forward unless the permitting process did.
“That’s why I urge the council to have some kind of special meeting in July so we can go forward on some of those applications to help those who are spending money every month and property owners who can’t sell their property because they’re waiting for the tenants to get a permit,” she said.
Brent Hawks said he felt that since there were some obvious conflicts of interest, it would be prudent that every decision made that included Klauer be re-examined.
“Set-backs, in particular, Councilman Klauer played a large role in reducing the recommended set-backs,” he said. “Whatever you do with the set-backs, scoring ought to reflect the set-backs. And that scoring where children are liable to be should play a significant role in the scoring. The larger the set-back the better the score. My recommendation would be between 600 and 1,000 feet.”
Amy Oelrich quipped how the last time she spoke at the June 5 meeting she forgot her notes, and now that she had her notes, she couldn’t talk about them. Instead, she focused on how she loves Hollister. She said she moved to Hollister from Gilroy because of the rapid growth there and gang issues.
“I moved here with my husband to raise our kids in a place that was a lot like Gilroy was when we were growing up there,” she said. “I love serving this community.”
She told the council she was grateful that they took the time away from their own families to represent the residents.
“A lot of what goes on in this town and how this community remains, and the kind of life our kids are going to be growing up with, is decided by you,” she said. “You make those big decisions for the type of town Hollister is going to be and the kind of place I’m going to continue to raise my three boys. I’m asking you to keep doing the awesome job of keeping Hollister a safe and wonderful place to raise a family.”
With that, the mayor called for a five-minute break. When they came back, the room was all but empty for the remainder of the meeting.