City Council moves forward on possibly introducing cannabis businesses to the city

Tuesday night was a busy one for City Council, who held a regular meeting in City Hall. Although there were many conversations that took place amongst the Council, a few of their discussions led to some important decisions.

The meeting began with the Council’s routine reports.

Mayor Martha Flores began by reporting to her fellow Council members about the most recent Tulare County Task Force on Homelessness (TCTH) meeting which took place on Feb. 20. Flores stated that there were three items on the task force’s agenda, and at the meeting the dangers of allowing the use of individual tents was emphasized. Flores explained that the task force’s recommendation is to use alternatives to individual tents, as this type of living arrangement still allows drug addicts to access and use narcotics.

Once the reports portion of the night concluded, the Council moved forward to oral communications. After oral communications was opened to the public, Greg Shelton approached the podium to address the Council on agenda item number 16, the cannabis ad-hoc committee report. Shelton stated that because there would not be a public hearing open for this item, he wanted to offer some feedback to the Council. After reading the reports in the agenda packet, Shelton said that limiting the amount of licenses permitted to the size of the city’s population has some setbacks. He also stated that he wasn’t a fan of the lottery system when it comes to choosing applicants.

The final speaker to address the Council was Brock Neely. Neely was concerned that homeless Veterans were not included in the regional strategic plan to address homelessness, and looked to Flores to address this at the next TCTH meeting.

Oral communications was closed, and the Council proceeded to the consent calendar. All nine items were quickly approved, with none being pulled for further discussion.

The first of two public hearings for the night concerned a newly passed bill (SB 946) that decriminalizes sidewalk vending, but allows for cities to adopt their own regulations for the vendors. The bill prohibits only five things: 1) Cities cannot require a vendor to operate within specific parts of public right-of-way, 2) Cities may not prohibit from selling food or merchandise in a city owned entity, 3) cities may not require consent or approval of any non-governmental entity before selling food or merchandise, 4) cities may not restrict sidewalk vending to designated neighborhood or other area, and 5) Cities may not restrict the number of sidewalk vendors permitted in the city.  

Community Development Director Jenni Byers briefed the Council on the suggested regulations the city adopt. These included prohibiting stationary sidewalk vending in residential areas, limiting roaming sidewalk vendors within residential areas to select hours, prohibit sidewalk vending within 500 feet of permitted community civic events. She also suggested that City use a detailed permitting process which includes a list of items vendors plan to sell, a criminal background check on each applicant, and a graduated schedule of fees.

Once Byers concluded her report, Mayor Flores opened the public hearing at 7:05 p.m. Neely came forward and said that a percentage of each permit fee should go towards code enforcement as they will be the ones having to enforce all of the regulations. 

Shelton stepped up after Neely and said that he thinks this will bring a competitive disadvantage to established brick and mortar businesses, and questioned if a current business owner would have to purchase a separate business license to operate a “non-motorized” vending cart.

The public hearing was closed at 7:06 p.m., and Council member Brian Ward stated that he agreed with the statement Shelton made about the competitive disadvantage. Council member Monte Reyes stated that the City should look at maybe enacting a spacing limit between each vendor. In the end, the regulations were adopted with a vote of 4-1, with Ward standing as the only opponent. 

The night’s second public hearing was presented by Parks and Leisure Director Donnie Moore. At a previous meeting Council had discussed the possibility of raising park pavilion rental fees, and requested different fee options. At Tuesday night’s meeting, Moore had put together three options: 1) a flat rate of $40 for an uncovered pavilion and $60 for covered, 2) fees based on half days at each pavilion, and 3) $10 per hour for uncovered pavilions and $15 per hour for covered, with a minimum of two hours. 

The public hearing was opened for public comment at 7:41 p.m. and a woman who lives in the Meadow Breeze apartment complex stepped forward. She stated that the city should enact a usage fee of $19.99 for those who rent the pavilions, as this is the only place residents of the apartment complex can go for recreation. She was the only one to speak, and the public hearing was closed at 7:43 p.m. 

As Council discussed the issue, Council member Milt Stowe made it clear that he was not a fan of the half day or hourly fees, and preferred the flat rates. Reyes agreed with Stowe. 

Ward suggested that there be a higher fee for non-residents, and Stowe agreed with this. A motion was made to approve the flat rate fees, with the addition of a non-resident fee of $50 for an uncovered pavilion and $75 for covered. The motion was passed with a vote of 4-1, as Council member Daniel Penaloza stood alone in opposition.

The Council approved an upgrade to the police department’s communication and 9-1-1 systems, and voted in favor of Flores representing Porterville as the large city representative on the Tulare County Local Agency Formation Commission board.

The final scheduled matter for the night concerned cannabis and brought to the dais a lengthy conversation. After a recent visit to Valley Pure, a recreational marijuana dispensary out of Woodlake, Reyes and Penaloza were asked to provide the Council with a recommendation on how they should proceed with the issue of recreational marijuana businesses. Reyes and Penaloza suggested the city place a measure on the 2020 ballot, and see how the votes come in. They also suggested that trying to open a strictly medical marijuana facility would prove to be obsolete and there has been a shift in the industry. 

When Council began their discussion, Ward stated that he is not opposed to a tax measure but doesn’t want the city to rush into things. He also noted that web-based services would soon rival the standing dispensary.

Stowe stayed firm in his opposition to a recreational dispensary, as he has from the beginning of the cannabis conversation.

Flores said that she was not opposed to a medical cannabis dispensary, but knows it will generate little to no revenue for the city.

Ultimately, the Council voted in favor of bringing forth an ordinance dealing with recreational cannabis dispensaries in a vote of 4-1, as Stowe wouldn’t budge in his opposition.

Before the meeting adjourned, Penaloza announced a community groundwater workshop taking place Tuesday, March 26 at 466 E. Putnam Ave. from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. He also announced that he will be holding office hours every first and third Tuesday from 11 a.am to 1 p.m, in the City Hall, and invited the public to come and speak with him and discuss their concerns or requests for the Council. 

Ward gave thanks for the rain, and welcomed Mr. Tree from Porterville Transit back home from China. Flores announced that the month of March is Women’s history Month. City Manager John Lollis wrapped up the meeting by reminding the room that Sunday is when the time changes.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for March 12 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers in City Hall located at 291 N. Main Street.

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