City Council approves dispensary ordinance

Takes ‘baby steps’ by limiting number of medical-marijuana outlets to two

Somehow the Chico City Council’s discussion Tuesday night (June 7) of a medical-marijuana ordinance came down to a debate over “baby steps.”

At issue was whether the number of dispensaries should be limited to two, as several council members preferred, or be determined by the land-use restrictions governing their location, which could ultimately allow several dispensaries.

To Councilwoman Mary Flynn, who preferred the former, it was a matter of taking “baby steps” at first. “This is something we’ve never done before,” she said. “My inclination is to start small.” She said the council could allow additional dispensaries in the future, if they were warranted.

Councilman Andy Holcombe, on the other hand, favors letting the land-use designations be the determining factors. “I’d like to see the baby take a few more steps,” he said.

Later, Chamber of Commerce CEO Jolene Francis gave her own riff on the “baby steps” theme, telling the council she believed a lot of folks thought it was “letting the baby take steps toward a cliff.”

And so it went. This was the first reading of a revised ordinance regulating medi-pot dispensaries (the council has already approved an ordinance regulating residential grows). In the end the council voted, 4-3, with Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Bob Evans dissenting, to approve the two-dispensary concept. It will return for adoption on July 5 and take effect Aug. 5.

Schwab’s opposition was to the inclusion of a provision in the ordinance allowing dispensaries to sell product grown off-site. As Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey had testified, the law does not allow the transportation of marijuana from grow site to dispensary, and she was loathe to approve an ordinance that seemed to condone law-breaking.

The ordinance allowed facilities to be up to 10,000 square feet in size, which is more than large enough to grow plenty of product on-site, she contended, thereby avoiding the legality issues.

And yet cities all over the state allow off-site growing, Flynn noted, asking Ramsey how that was possible. District attorneys in other areas where medical-marijuana was strongly supported had simply made the political decision to look the other way, he said.

A number of speakers joined Holcombe in advocating for allowing the land-use designations to be the determining factors. Others, particularly representatives of the Citizen Collective, a planned dispensary, pushed for the two-facility concept.

In some ways limiting the number of dispensaries is more complicated than simply letting the zoning and other land-use restrictions apply. Now the council must establish a set of criteria to determine which two businesses will be given permits (it will meet on Aug. 2 to do so). Oversight and annual-renewal provisions also complicate the picture.

As it stands, the ordinance has a number of restrictions, including that a cooperative or collective operate the dispensary, that it be at least 300 feet from residences and day-care centers and 1,000 feet from schools, and that it keep adequate records and have a security plan.

Other council stuff: There’s good news and bad on the city infrastructure front. The good news is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has determined that the levees along Sycamore and Mud creeks protecting northeast Chico are sufficient to withstand a 100-year flood event. That means that about 15,000 property owners in the area with federally insured mortgages won’t have to purchase flood insurance, something the city estimates will save them each as much as $1,000 annually.

Mayor Ann Schwab praised city staff for working hard to convince FEMA of the viability of the levees.

The bad news, at least for city residents, is that sewer fees are going up by 22 percent (or $6 a month) over the next three years. After a spirited discussion during which several property owners, including owners of apartment complexes, objected to the steepness of the hikes, especially during the first year of implementation ($3.69), the council endorsed them. No vote was taken, as not enough residents formally protested (1,000 out of 9,000) via the prohibitively complex system laid out by state law.

The increases are needed because of rising costs and flat revenues, city officials said.