Council approves cannabis ordinance

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez City Council has approved a new commercial cannabis ordinance that establishes how many businesses would be allowed in the city, where they could be opened, and how Martinez will define “youth centers.”

That latter point had been a sticking point in Firefly’s attempt to open a dispensary in the same building next to Power Endurance Training Center, in a building at 4808 Sunrise Drive. The gym’s owner and staff have contended is a youth center since much of the clientele is underage athletes. However, adults also use that gym.

California’s own definition of “youth center” calls it a place that caters “primarily” to minors, but the state law doesn’t legally define “primarily,” giving cities the opportunity to interpret the word for themselves.

The ordinance, adopted on second reading Wednesday night, passed by the minimum number of votes. Councilmember Mark Ross was absent, and Councilmember Debbie McKillop objected to the strict definition of “youth center,” suggesting that some organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club, might not qualify.

Mayor Rob Schroder, who joined Vice Mayor Noralea Gipner and Councilmember Lara DeLaney in approving the ordinance, disagreed with McKillop, saying that adults may raise money for the Boys and Girls Club, but they don’t participate in the club’s activities.

The ordinance becomes effective May 3. It will be reviewed in a year to see if any elements need to be modified.

Prospective businesses would submit their proposals for review and conditional certificates before they would be allowed to apply for planning and building permits in order to operate in the city. Their placement would be in zones where similar non-cannabis companies operate.

Although Firefly’s original application was allowed to be submitted before the Council imposed a temporary moratorium while the ordinance was being crafted, the company would have to apply again under the new law.

However, its application would be reviewed by city staff and the Council before other proposals would be considered, the Council agreed when the ordinance was introduced last month.

Fees would be set by resolution in the city’s fee schedule.

The ordinance allows authorization of up to dispensaries or retail cannabis stores, one manufacturing business, one distribution business, one testing laboratory and one non-storefront retail business. Deliveries in the city limits only by those with a delivery permit issued by the police chief.

In other action Wednesday, the Council unanimously approved on an emergency basis an ordinance in reaction to changes made by the Federal Communications Commission regarding siting of small cell wireless telecommunication equipment as such companies introduce 5G cellular mobile networks.

The Martinez Municipal Code hadn’t addressed 5G networks previously.

The FCC order removes barriers to installation of 5G equipment to accelerate its deployment. Several agencies have filed suit against the Commission because the order preempts local control in several matters.

The results of those suits may not be known for years, according to a staff report presented by Community and Economic Development Director Christina Ratcliffe.

The ordinance had to be adopted before April 14, when the FCC order goes into effect.

In addition, the Council modified a recommended update of its fee schedule, accepting most of the staff recommendations, but agreeing with DeLaney that if Martinez is to encourage development, especially in the downtown business district, fee increases shouldn’t be as high as staff suggested.

“I’m concerned. We want to incentivize development, but we keep raising fees,” she said. Large increases could have an unwanted ripple effect, she said. Instead of a blended increase of 7.7 percent, she suggested an increase of 5 percent.

Those fees are designed to recover costs expended by the city, said Deputy Director of Administrative Services Michael Chandler.

Gipner said she has heard little complaints about fees, which according to Chandler’s report, mostly would be comparable or lower than those of neighboring cities. Instead, she said, business people complain about a lack of efficiency and how long it takes to complete certain procedures.

Fee changes would become effective July 1.

The Council also approved the subdivision called Townhomes at Laurel Knoll, on Mur Station Road near Muir Station Shopping Center. The developer has complied with all requirements. The Council approved a General Plan amendment July 24, 2013, that rezoned the site and made other provisions for the development.

On the Consent Calendar, the Council also authorized its agreement with the Martinez Community Swim Team to use the Rankin Aquatic Center and municipal pool.

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