Epic Mountain View Meeting Leads to Cannabis Ordinance Changes

UPDATE: Mountain View City Council May 23 scrapped a plan to allow two retail marijuana stores and two delivery services to open in town, instead deciding to allow three delivery businesses. Source.

The Mountain View planning commission had voted to amend the ordinance to only allow one cannabis business in the city’s downtown area, prohibit the businesses in and around the San Antonio Center shopping area and mandate a 600-foot buffer zone between storefront cannabis businesses. Source. 

March 6, 2019 – At a six-hour hearing held on March 5 in Mountain View, the city council voted against banning cannabis dispensaries in the city, and directed staff to bring back potential amendments to their ordinance allowing for four cannabis businesses that has already seen 10 Phase 1 applicants for licenses.

The council voted to delay the lottery scheduled for March 27 to determine which applicants could enter the next application phase. The City Attorney will prepare an Urgency Ordinance, requiring six votes, to suspend the application process. In the meantime the existing ordinance is in place.

The epic meeting came after newly elected councilwoman Ellen Kamei agendized an urgency measure to repeal the existing ordinance. That measure wasn’t brought to a vote; instead several amendments will be voted on at a future meeting, possibly on March 19 (unless they go to the Planning Commission first).

Staffer Clarissa Burke reminded council members that 68% of Mountain View voters had approved Prop. 64, and that the council had held 8 public meetings / study session plus conducted a survey that found 1/3 of respondents wanted no limits on the number of cannabis businesses in Mountain View, 1/3 wanted some limits, and 1/3 did not want canna businesses. The council subsequently approved their ordinance allowing for four cannabis retailers in October 2018 by a 5-2 vote.

The November 2018 election that saw 81% of Mountain View voters approving a tax on cannabis businesses also saw a shakeup of the council, and a new mayor is in town.

Vice Mayor Abekoga asked City Attorney Jannie Quinn about the legal ramifications of making changes to the ordinance. Quinn replied that since the city has not yet issued business permits, the legal concept of “vested rights” is not in play.

The room and hallways were packed with both supporters and opponents, and all were asked to indicate if they lived in Mountain View when they took the mike for their two-minute comments. Those in opposition argued that the majority vote in Mountain View did not mean that people wanted cannabis stores in their neighborhoods. However, the survey said otherwise. One opposition speaker said, “Data always lie. Follow your heart.” He accused those giving facts as having a vested interest.

Bruce Humphrey, President and CEO of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of a member he said had made a substantial investment in opening a business. “It’s a matter of trust between government and business,” he said. “Please keep fairness in mind.”

Jim Araby of United Food and Commercial Workers also spoke in support of the existing ordinance, which he said would bring “good jobs and careers in an industry that in 10 years will be a multimillion dollar industry.” This comment drew some scoffs from the opposition, which argued again and again that the money brought into the city wasn’t worth the harm to public safety and children they feared dispensaries would bring.

Both sides pointed to the fact that delivery services located in neighboring cities were making cannabis available in Mountain View. That may not be the case if a bill pending in the state legislature allows locals to ban deliveries made by state-licensed businesses situated outside their borders (though Mountain View would be hard pressed to pass an ordinance to ban such a thing after what was said at the meeting). Many in opposition said they were in favor of medical marijuana, but not recreational, and argued that those with medical need could get their cannabis somewhere besides Mountain View.

Several Mountain View residents spoke out in support of the existing ordinance, asking city council to respect their vote and pointing out the benefits of regulation in keeping untested cannabis away from children and others.

Ellen Komp from California NORML brought summaries of studies showing that crime, traffic incidents, and youth use have not increased following medical or recreational legalization. She pointed out that results of the Biennial State California Healthy Kids Survey are consistent with data from other states that have legalized marijuana, where students have also reported declining or flat cannabis use rates following the end of prohibition for adults. Lifetime marijuana use declined of 4 points in 7th grade and 6 points in both 9th and 11th grades, the survey’s authors found. (See Cal NORML’s letter to the Mountain View council.)

Jackie McGowan of K Street consulting said that the eyes of the statewide cannabis industry were on Mountain View. She questioned the tactics of opposition that had derailed licensing efforts in Milpitas. Sean Kali-rai of the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance pointed out that the number of dispensaries proposed in Mountain View was far less per capita that those existing in San Jose.

Former Mountain View mayor Manny Siegel summed it up well when he said, “We’ve heard a lot of things about marijuana. I know a lot of people who live in Mountain View who use marijuana they are productive and moral members of our community. No one is convincing you to use marijuana.” He pointed out that the topic of marijuana was never brought up in candidate forums. Saying he had no personal agenda, he pledged to take the matter back tot he voters should the council reverse course.

That might have to be the solution, since Measure Q did not specifically address dispensaries. Meanwhile, the small operator is being bled nearly to death by lack of regulatory and market stability, and 2/3 or more of cities and counties haven’t figured out if and how to regulate. A delay for the 10 applicants could be another nail in the coffin of the California cottage cannabis industry that has raised so many boats, now facing overregulation and corporatization.

At 9:30 PM, four hours after the public comment began, there were 58 who spoke in favor of the ordinance and 57 who spoke against it. It was hard not to notice that almost all of those in opposition were older people of Chinese decent, although a few younger Asians spoke in favor. One said he had been taught that cannabis was just like cocaine or heroin, but he had come to learn that it had benefits.

At the end of the public testimony, Councilwoman Kamei said she is in favor of marijuana decriminalization and only agendized the issue because of new information that had come in: that there would be a new school in the San Antonio district, and that the 10 applicants were clustered in the downtown area.

Mayor Lisa Matichak said she had been listening to residents on the issue, and had concerns about the survey taken, which included people who only worked in Mountain View. She opined that those who voted in favor of the tax on the November ballot may have wanted to drive businesses out by taxing them. However, the 9% tax in Measure Q is in line with other cities in the Bay Area.

Matichak said she was in favor of zero dispensaries; however a motion to ban failed to carry the council, gaining only her vote and Vice Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. Several other votes carried to direct staff to bring back language limiting the number of dispensaries to one in the downtown area; establishing a buffer of one-half mile between dispensaries; and changing the buffer zones from sensitive uses to the San Jose model using 1000 feet instead of 600 from schools, and adding other sensitive areas like drug rehab facilities. Staff said that model could make citing nearly impossible in Mountain View; they were asked to bring back maps to demonstrate.

With Councilmember Ramirez recused, the Council voted 6 to 0 to ban cannabis businesses from the San Antonio area (None have been proposed there). And council voted unanimously for Councilmember Kamei’s proposal to require a report-back on program progress one year after each business receives a police permit.

Vice Mayor Abe-Koga took offense to someone saying that Asians are against cannabis because of the Opium Wars. She admitted she didn’t know what the Opium Wars were, saying she had to ask her daughter, who was studying it in history. (In the Opium Wars, the British forced opium upon the Chinese in order to restore their balance of trade over tea. The result was an addicted population.) She also took offense to a former councilperson saying he thought much of the opposition didn’t necessarily live in Mountain View. She pointed out that speakers had identified that they lived in the city and opined that this charge wouldn’t have been made against whites.

The hearing was strikingly similar to those held in San Francisco, Contra Costa County, and Milpitas where large numbers of Asians turned out holding signs and opposing cannabis, some of them apparently bussed in and given meals in exchange for testifying (in SF; in Contra Costa it was residents who spoke and it seems it was the same in Mountain View). In San Francisco, the Pacific Justice Institute took credit for fighting off dispensaries in predominately Asian districts of the city here and here. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified PJI as an anti-LGBT hate group in 2014.

Last week, Frank Lee, who has been a spokesperson for PJI, held a dubious press conference in Mountain View along with Lynn Fox, a former Special Education professor with no particular expertise in drugs, and Chad Norris of the CNOA (California Narcotics Officers Assn, a group that profits from the drug war), all making specious claims about marijuana and legalization. (The only outlet that seemed to cover it was The Epoch Times.)

A Silicon Valley NORML organizing meeting will be held soon; those interested in attending can write here.

Stay Informed! Join California NORML’s Email Alert List