Ukiah City Council will take final vote on dispensary Feb. 15; talked ice skating and fire at last meeting

The council had some discussion and two letters of opposition to matters on the agenda.

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UKIAH 2/11/2017 — The Ukiah city council voted unanimously to provide provide administrative services to the Ukiah Valley Fire District; to move forward with a medical cannabis dispensary ordinance; and to plan for another ice rink next holiday season.

Though the votes were all 5-0, each item presented some controversy and discussion. Council members Doug Crane and Steve Scalmanini questioned Interim Fire Chief Kirk Thomsen, of the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority, and Dan Buffalo, the city’s finance director, closely before agreeing to allow the city to lend its finance personnelle to the district. Crane also hesitated before voting to move the proposed medical marijuana dispensary ordinance closer to becoming law, after a local doctor spoke up against it. And Scott Cratty, the market manager for the downtown farmers market, sent a letter to the council, stating that the farmers market suffered as a result of being displaced by the ice rink.

The dispensary

The council voted 5-0 to take final action on the proposed medical cannabis dispensary ordinance at their next meeting on February 15. The council also voted to approve an alteration to the proposed ordinance that would clear up an internal inconsistency about which city body will have the authority to grant permits for dispensaries. The matter was opposed by one member of the public.

Dr. Robert Werra, a Ukiah resident who sent the city council a letter on Monday, approached the body in person to deliver his objections. “The train is almost ready to leave the station, [and] I want to encourage you maybe to cancel the trip,” he began. “I realize you’re under great pressure to give permission to these businesses.” He went on to express his view that marijuana is dangerous to children and has little or no medical use. “The few people who might really need medical marijuana can readily get it” elsewhere, he stated. He concluded his comments by urging everyone to get their flu shots, as this is a very bad year for the flu.

The fire district

The Ukiah Valley Fire District and the City of Ukiah Fire Department have a partnership whereby they provide joint fire and emergency medical services under an interim agreement, with the possibility of an eventual merger. That agreement expires at the end of June. Mayor Jim Brown and Councilmember Kevin Doble are on a council ad hoc committee that is working on developing the terms of the merger. The process of merging has been complicated by a variety of factors, one of which is that district and city employees have different retirement benefits. The two agencies form the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority, which has one fire chief. Shortly after the resignation of Chief John Bartlett in December, Kirk Thomsen became the UVFA fire chief. With the recent loss of a long-time administrative employee, the district requested that the two-year interim partnership agreement be amended to allow the city to provide budgeting, payroll and accounting services to the district until the agreement expires. The district offered pay the city $16,461 for the services. Thomsen said he thought the amendment would be “a huge step” in moving towards the much-discussed merger.

Crane expressed concern that “The fire district has lost the self-sufficiency to provide the service for itself,” and that he did not believe the city could continue in the partnership if the district is not able to change its funding model, which relies largely on property tax.

Scalmanini was also dubious, asking, “If this district can’t figure out how to do this, how is any other district going to figure out how to do it?”

Doble replied that “We’ve had setbacks because we lost a chief…we need leadership in that department…to have a positive and fruitful conversation, because there are a lot of questions.”

“What we don’t know, we don’t know,” Crane summarized.

While this appeared to be the case, Brown said he hoped to “be able to give you some real solid reporting out” before the agreement expires in five months.

If the deadline in June isn’t met, Scalmanini asked, “Then what happens?”

“We have a choice to make,” Doble told him. “Either extend the contract or don’t.”

Three members of the public spoke in favor of the proposal. Mark Hilliker, who is on the Ukiah City Planning Commission and is a volunteer firefighter, said he “would totally support the chief’s efforts to get this taken care of by the city’s finance department.”

Roger Vincent, a city resident, said he had woken up Saturday morning to discover that a house in his neighborhood on Cypress Street was in flames. He commended the UVFA for putting the fire out, and implored the council to “push hard to make this work,” perhaps by bringing in an expert who can figure out how to get the retirement systems to work together.

Supervisor John McCowen, who said he was speaking as a private citizen, also voiced his hopes that lending city resources to the district would “build momentum for further progress.”

The proposal passed unanimously, with Scalmanini characterizing his vote as “a vote of faith in the ad hoc.”

The ice rink

All five council members agreed to start planning for next year’s ice rink, though its location in front of Alex Thomas Plaza prevented the farmers market from setting up under the pavilion on rainy market days.

Shannon Riley, a senior management analyst with the city, presented projections for next year’s event, which could include a bigger rink but did not factor in the $40,000 sponsorship the rink received this year from Ukiah Valley Medical Center. This year, the rink realized almost $17,000 in profit, which was put into a trust fund to pay for future ice rinks.

Not everyone was pleased about the ice rink, though. Scott Cratty, the farmers market manager, sent a letter to the city council, saying that losing access to the covered pavilion caused the market to lose a total of $5,500.

“Not surprisingly, customers do not like to shop while standing in a downpour,” he wrote. He also noted that “The market has become a significant year-round attraction for downtown Ukiah,” and offered the opinion that “It is a poor outcome to transfer income from our struggling small family agricultural businesses to a non-local skating facility concession.”

Councilmember Maureen Mulheren suggested that, “The farmers market and the city have some work to do in terms of communication.” Scalmanini said he “was curious to see what we can do to accommodate the farmers market.” Crane contributed that he had gotten mostly positive feedback about the presence of the ice rink, with the exception of complaints about difficulty finding a parking place.

Sarah Reith sreith@mendovoice.com

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