Ready, set, grow

The Chico City Council finally approves residential medical-marijuana cultivation ordinance

To say Larry Wahl was disappointed with the City Council majority’s vote to regulate residential medical-marijuana cultivation would be a colossal understatement.

Wahl isn’t one to mince words, but during the outgoing city councilman’s last full meeting Tuesday evening (Dec. 21), just before members cast their votes, he let his colleagues know exactly how he felt about the issue.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s not kid ourselves, this is a farce,” he said.

Wahl said that the proposed ordinance paves the way for legalization of pot, which he pointed out is illegal at the federal level. He went on to say that it sets a terrible example for young people, and he warned about the public-safety dangers associated with using cannabis, citing the death of a local jogger who was struck and killed over the summer by an allegedly high motorist.

Minutes later, Wahl was joined by freshman Councilman Mark Sorensen in casting the dissenting votes in a motion to go forward with an introductory reading of the ordinance. That vote took place during the panel’s last regular meeting of 2010, a full seven months after the group reviewed the first draft ordinance.

Most of what was initially proposed remained the same in the approved draft.

The ordinance will allow for limited outdoor residential cultivation by qualified patients (those with a doctor’s recommendation who live on the property) for their personal use. A permit would not be required, but there are caveats. The plants cannot be visible from a public right-of-way, for example, and must be at least five feet from the property line. They also must be maintained within a 50-square-foot area.

Patients will be allowed to cultivate indoors only in cases where outdoor cultivation is deemed unfeasible. These grows will require a permit, which may not come cheap. Mark Wolfe, the city’s planning services director, said the permitting fees likely will be in the range of $200-$1,000.

Approval of the ordinance came with a couple of last-minutes adjustments, and didn’t appear to be taken lightly. A majority of the panel agreed to strike language in the ordinance that they thought would preclude cultivation by so-called primary caregivers. They also agreed that cultivation should be allowed at homes that fall outside of residential zones.

Councilman Andy Holcombe pointed out that, while the intent of the law is to serve patients, it’s also to protect the interests of the greater community by setting standards.

“People can grow willy-nilly right now, and do,” Holcombe said. “This provides a remedy.”

The council did not move forward during the evening on a proposed city ordinance regulating marijuana dispensaries, and it was clear that the discussion on that issue has a ways to go before resolution.

Councilman Scott Gruendl, who was absent during the last deliberations, was concerned about the suggestions his colleagues floated at that meeting to cap the size of a collective’s facility to 10,000 square feet and to allow only two such entities to operate. (There has been speculation that imposing those restrictions would lead to insufficient supplies for the community.)

“I don’t have any evidence that 20,000 square feet is too much or too little to meet the needs of qualified [medical-cannabis patients],” Gruendl said.

It was during that meeting that the council came up with the idea of forming an ad-hoc committee dedicated to vetting the organizations seeking to run dispensaries.

Only four members of the public addressed the council on the matter, three of them medi-pot activists. The other person, Medy Beauchane, wanted to know whether he and his wife would be notified when someone living nearby their home received an indoor-cultivation permit. The answer: nope. There would be none, because the permits are ministerial, explained City Attorney Lori Barker.

The other lingering questions will be discussed next year, likely in February, when the city staff comes back with a new report.

There was other news out of the pot-centric meeting. The panel for the first time took part in a new process to choose the members of city boards and commissions. Using paper ballots took longer than the old hand-raising technique, but worked quite well despite one small glitch.

City Clerk Debbie Presson had not expected it to take four separate attempts to settle on the five appointments to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, so she printed only three sets of ballots. This required the panel to reuse one set for the deciding vote.

When all was tallied the biggest stunner was that the council did not re-appoint long-time Planning Commissioner John Luvaas.

Here’s a list of the appointees:

• Planning Commission: Daniel Allmon, Matt Juhl-Darlington, John Merz, Mike O’Donnell, Ken Rensink.

• Airport Commission: Bob Koch, Robert Michels, Thomas Nolan-Gosling.

• Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board: Michael Borzage, Kris Zappettini.

• Arts Commission: Muir Hughes, Geraldine Mahood, Monica McDaniel-Berg, Travon “Tray” Robinson, Lucille Wanee.

• Bidwell Park and Playground Commission: Clay Craig, Lisa Emmerich, Mark Herrera, Jim Moravec, Richard Ober.