Government / Politics

OPINION: Hollister almost ready to approve medical marijuana. Maybe.

The Hollister City Council decided not to vote on last-minute changes to ordinance at its Nov. 21 meeting. Herein are a few reasons why.

The Hollister City Council agendized Ordinance No. 1131, an ordinance of the city council amending and restating Chapter 5.42 "Medical Marijuana Facilities Regulatory Permit" of the Hollister Business Code at its Nov. 21 public meeting with a recommendation by staff to waive the full reading and adopt the ordinance which was crafted after extensive research and review by the City Attorney. As written and published by the city last week, the ordinance would provide for cultivation, dispensing, manufacturing processes to be performed in Hollister pursuant to California's Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act of 2015. But then the City Council decided not to vote on the ordinance after all.

So why not?

On Thursday, Nov. 17, the ad hoc committee consisting of Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Ray Friend met with opponents of the original medical marijuana ordinance, Jack Kirk and Steve Becerra, to craft additional and "substantive" changes to the ordinance in the spirit of compromise for four hours early in the day at the mayor's office in downtown Hollister. "Substantive" being the legally operative term, according to the city attorney, which may subject the city to further scrutiny including CEQA review which would prolong the ordinance process six to 18 months.

CEQA applies to projects that require discretionary approval by a government agency. A discretionary approval requires the use of judgment or subjective criteria on the part of the approver. For example, if you wanted to have your property rezoned so that you could subdivide for housing, a discretionary action would need to be taken by the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. This simply means that the board could approve or disapprove your request. Your proposal would be considered a project and would need initial CEQA review.

CEQA does not apply to non-discretionary (ministerial) projects. A ministerial approval simply involves a comparison of a project with specific standards or checklists. For example, the County building department will check your house plans against electric and plumbing standards to make sure that the plan complied with adopted safety and sanitary regulations. This type of approval is not considered a "project" requiring CEQA review.

So, after meeting with the anti-marijuana opponents, the mayor invited a few pro-medical marijuana advocates — who were given no opportunity to prepare for such a meeting because the invitation was extended that same day — to a 4 p.m. meeting to deliver the news of the so-called final compromise in the form of a directive to those with potential business interests of investing in medical marijuana operations in Hollister. In attendance at that meeting were Taylor Rodriguez, Tony LoBue, Elia Salinas and myself. 

We were told by the mayor that the proposed ordinance would now allow for medical marijuana operations only to be located north of the intersection of Hwy. 25 and San Felipe Road in the city of Hollister, with one notable exception. According to Mayor Velazquez, medical marijuana dispensaries would be restricted to operate only in one building within 1,000 feet of the Hollister Police Department, apparently to appease the vocal minority of anti-cannabis advocates who lobbied for such restrictions through a succession of closed-door meetings with the mayor.

Objections from the pro-medical marijuana advocates were raised immediately to such a proposal for obvious business concerns. Primarily, restricting medical marijuana dispensaries to one location as proscribed would codify a de facto real estate monopoly for one or two property owners; the City of Hollister being one such property owner thereby creating an immediate conflict of interest. Other concerns included the unnecessary dilution of business branding among competing dispensaries under one roof and potential cross-contamination of biological pathogens amongst competing medical marijuana products including fungus, mold or pestilence.

After that meeting, at approximately 5 p.m., I called Councilman Friend to object to these proposed ordinance provisions. He told me that he wasn't aware the mayor had called for a second meeting that day which, if true, suggests that the mayor had a unilateral agenda outside the ad hoc committee to manipulate the ordinance revisions in favor of the Jack Kirk and Steve Becerra compromises and against LoBue, Rodriguez, Salinas and myself at the last minute.

But after some consideration, apparently the mayor and Friend decided upon a secondary compromise. According to an e-mail forwarded to me by Councilman Friend from Mayor Velazquez: 
On Friday, November 18, 2016 9:13 AM, Mayor <mayor@hollister.ca.gov> wrote:

Pamela, lets go with allowing two dispensaries in the same area of the other cannabis facilities North of Airline Hwy.  

Best Regards,
Ignacio Velazquez
Mayor, City of Hollister
 

To the best of my recollection and time-stamped e-mail documentation, these are the political negotiations and machinations that led up to the Hollister City Council deciding not to vote on the original published ordinance in favor of studying further ordinance revisions negotiated by the medical marijuana ad hoc committee and thereby calling for a "First Reading" of a newer ordinance which includes so-called "substantive" changes for the Hollister City Council to consider, against the advice of the city attorney. 

I'm not sure the rest of the City Council was aware of these circumstances leading up to their decision not to vote on Ordinance No. 1131 at the Nov. 21 City Council meeting or whether they support the mayor's apparent agenda to compromise and favor one group of lobbyists over another. But it seems clear to me that the Hollister Business Code is being unduly influenced by a vocal minority of anti-marijuana activists who seek to control medical marijuana public policy which will impose restrictions and other hardships on medical marijuana businesses and potentially create monopolistic real estate opportunities for a limited number of property owners who would then benefit from potential price-fixing of rental and leasing agreements to medical marijuana business operators in Hollister . 

These facts and circumstances were not shared by the Hollister City Council by the ad hoc medical marijuana committee at the Nov. 21 city council meeting and so, in an effort to provide some transparency to the public process, I am sharing my opinion with the community based on my personal experiences for the record. 

 

Michael Smith

Pro-economic growth, pro-music, pro-science, pro-retirement.