Martinez City Council may offer cannabis waivers to Firefly

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Firefly, the company that has been attempting to open a marijuana dispensary in Martinez since 2017, could get some waivers from the city’s new commercial cannabis ordinance requirements, according to a resolution under consideration today by the City Council.

An amendment to the new ordinance could be introduced at tonight’s meeting, and public comment will be taken on the matter.

The company submitted its application Sept. 24, 2017, more than a month before the city placed a moratorium on cannabis businesses to give city staff time to develop a commercial cannabis ordinance that now is in place.

During the moratorium, Firefly was exempt from the business ban. However, the company’s application stalled when the Planning Commission learned it wanted to open next to a gym whose owners said most of its clientele are minors.

At the time, the city had no definition of a “youth center.”

The Planning Commission considered that the definition in California’s cannabis law, that also provides for a 600-foot buffer between cannabis businesses and such places as schools and youth centers, was too vague. Processing Firefly’s application was put on hold until the term was defined in the city’s new cannabis ordinance.

That panel and the Council finally agreed that a youth center should serve minors exclusively, criteria the gym does not meet.

However, the new law that replaces the city’s previous ordinances requires applicants respond to request for proposals for the limited number of cannabis businesses the Council decided should operate in Martinez.

Firefly principals have argued that since their applicant predates the city’s new law, the company shouldn’t be sent back to “square one,” but should be given some consideration since the company has paid application fees and has been working with city staff for more than a year.

The Council agreed April 3, when it adopted the ordinance. It also asked the city staff to formulate an alternative for Firefly.

At tonight’s Council meeting, Community and Economic Development Director Christina Ratcliffe will describe staff’s proposal, that Firefly would withdraw its current use permit application and submit a proposal under the new audience.

But Firefly would not need to pay costs related to staff time, so long as all existing fees owed for the processing of the use permit and development agreement are paid, she wrote in her report to the Council.

Ratcliffe wrote that Firefly’s existing application contains most of the information that would be required for a proposal under the new ordinance, and she promised staff members would work with the business to determine what additional information is needed.

In addition, the Council told employees to accelerate the Firefly proposal so it’s reviewed by both staff and the Council before other proposals are considered.

The Council also asked that an ordinance amendment be presented today to record the reasons for the waivers and accelerated consideration, Ratcliffe wrote.

The Council also will be taking additional steps in ending the Martinez-Pleasant Hill Joint Facilities Agreement (JFA), a pact that dates to 1975, but which apparently never worked as designed. Pleasant Hill backed out of the agreement early on, but Martine workers were still considered JFA rather than city employees.

Ultimately, authorities said the workers indeed were city employees, and the city anticipated owing a steep debt for their benefits payments the city should have been making for decades.

A settlement with Social Security, the Internal Revenue Service and the California Public Employees Retirement Service (CalPERS) has been negotiated, and as a result, the city owes three years of retroactive Social Security payments to the IRS.

the city has established a $4 million line of credit to pay its obligations incurred because of the dissolution of the JFA.

The city also terminated its JFA resolution Dec. 19, 2018, although the actual dissolution won’t become effective until July 1, 2020, Deputy Director for Administrative Services Michael Chandler wrote in his report to the Council.

In its next step, the Council will consider a resolution saying it intends to amend its contract with CalPERS, stating an intent to merge the JFA with the city. he wrote.

In other matters on tonight’s agenda, the Council will conduct public hearings on seven landscaping and lighting assessment districts – Village Oaks Terrace, Muir Station Park, Creekside, Brittany Hills, Vista Oaks, Center Martinez, Terra Vista and Alhambra Estates.

While most districts won’t see any changes, the for Alhambra Estates would increase from $19,099.35 to $19,653.23, or by 4.5 percent.

In its role as the Board of Directors of Contra Costa County Sanitation District No. 6, the Council also will take public comment on a proposed ordinance that would prescribe the district’s annual sewer service charges for Fiscal Year 2019-20.

On the consent calendar, the Council will consider accepting the bid from McGuire and Hester for $2,573,971 for the 2019-21 on-call repair and resurfacing of certain streets and agreeing to hire Jacobs Engineers for $59,000for construction support as part of the city’s overall effort to maintain and repair its streets using Measure D sales tax revenues.

By the same vote, the Council may approve a nearly $1.6 million contract with Star Construction of San Bruno for improvements to Alhambra Park, Golden Hills Park, Highland Avenue Park and John Muir Park, using voter-approved Measure H bond revenues.

Also on the consent calendar is a memorandum of understanding with the Martinez Police Officers Association that would last through June 30, 2020.

More work remains to complete the language the verbiage of the successor memorandum which will include financial provisions and noneconomic “housekeeping” items, according to the resolution under consideration. However, the city and the labor group have agreed on a contract term, wages and retiree health savings account.

Provisions include a 3 percent cost of living adjustment effective May 1 and a 3 percent cost of living adjustment Oct. 1, the establishment of the retiree health savings account to which the city would contribute $100 a month for each new account member, revisions in shift signups, breaks, shift choice, overtime and the team concept patrol shift plan.

Cost of the negotiated agreement is an adjustment of $42,500, which would come from the city’s General Fund reserves.

Similar amendments are proposed for the Management Compensation Plan, for employees who aren’t in a recognized bargaining group. The cost of these changes would be $8,800, which would be allocated from General Fund reserves as well.

The Council will meet at 6 p.m. today to discuss labor matters with representatives of the Martinez Police Officers Association and Martinez Police Non-Sworn Employees Association, two legal matters and a real estate topic.

The two existing litigations are Martinez vs. Kerry Kilmer, Tim Platt, Mark Thomson and up to 25 unspecified others and Friends of Pine Meadow, an unincorporated association and Tim Platt as an individual vs. the city of Martinez, the City Council, DeNova Homes, Civic Martinez and up to 20 individuals.

The Council and staff members will be negotiating with Richfield Real Estate Corporation for the price and terms of payment for Alhambra Highlands, acres of land the Council wants to preserve as open space.

The regular meeting will start at 7 p.m. today in the Council Chamber of Martinez City Hall.

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