UKIAH 1/24/2017 — At a hearing on medical marijuana dispensary use permits on Wednesday, January 18, the Ukiah City Council agreed, by a 4-0 vote, to introduce the ordinance. Council member Douglass Crane was absent by pre-arrangement. If the council votes to approve the dispensary ordinance at its next meeting, on February 1, the the ordinance could become law as early as March 1. The council also voted to transfer leftover bond funds from a city agency that was dissolved in 2013 directly to the city, for use in affordable housing projects.
The Ukiah City Planning Commission voted on September 27, 2016 to recommend that the council adopt the dispensary ordinance, which would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the commercial and downtown zoning districts. Hours of operation would be limited to 9am to 9pm, seven days a week. Consumption of marijuana on the premises would not be allowed. The environmental determination of the ordinance, prepared by the City of Ukiah Department of Planning and Community Development, is a negative declaration, which means the department found no substantial evidence that the project would cause significant damage to the environment. Would-be dispensary operators would have to come before the Ukiah City Planning Commission to obtain dispensary use permits, which would be renewed annually through a public hearing process.
One issue that has been hotly contested is the distance between dispensaries and youth-oriented facilities. State law requires a 600-foot distance between dispensaries and schools. But the council agreed to adopt the medical marijuana dispensary ad hoc committee’s recommendation of a 250-foot distance between dispensaries and youth-oriented facilities. Youth-oriented facilities are defined as public parks, churches, museums, libraries, and licensed daycare providers. Previous discussions, which included the possibility of a 500-foot distance, revealed that the center of town would be virtually off-limits to dispensaries with the requirement of a larger distance between dispensaries and youth-oriented facilities.
Unlike the planning commission meeting where the commissioners voted to recommend that the city council adopt the ordinance, public comment at the city council meeting was light. Ukiah City Planning Commissioner Christopher Watt, who cast the lone dissenting vote at September’s planning commission meeting, spoke during public comment about how his position on medical marijuana dispensaries had shifted. He said he was “still mixed on the setback for youth and the inclusion of the downtown zoning district, but I think that the folks who are going to come forward who are going to comply with this level of scrutiny are going to be the caliber that will address some of those concerns.” He also said he believes the passage of Prop 64, which was still uncertain at the September planning commission meeting, will eventually result in a state bureaucracy that will provide the necessary oversight of dispensaries, “which they’re not going to have right now.” While he did not appear confident that state regulation would be a speedy process, he said he thought that if the city’s dispensary ordinance could “Create an incentive to be aboveboard and not purchase illegal supply, that’s a good thing.”
Aeolian Vincent de Paule,* the shelter coordinator at the emergency winter homeless shelter and an advocate for homeless people in Mendo County, asked if the definition of a youth-oriented facility included non-profits that serve children. Thompson and Mayor Jim Brown agreed that administrative facilities where children are not present do not meet the definition.
Dispensaries and homeless shelters could soon be in competition for some of the same properties.
Affordable housing projects received a few million dollars, though specific projects have yet to be determined. A dissolved city agency had $2,752,762 in housing bonds left over from 2011. The city council, in a 4-0 vote, agreed to transfer this money directly to the city, which must use it for low and moderate income housing projects.
Vincent de Paule spoke again, telling the council that housing is in such short supply that only 30% of people who receive housing vouchers from the Community Development Commission, which subsidizes rent, are able to find a place where they can use those vouchers.
Ukiah City Manager Sage Sangiacomo agreed that the shortage of housing at all economic levels has wide-ranging impacts, including “the hospital filling positions, new teachers coming into the area, and getting families out of the rental and into home ownership...it’s unbelievable how high the housing is.”
While less than three million dollars is unlikely to solve the housing shortage, Shannon Riley, a senior management analyst with the City of Ukiah, said it could be used to incentivize developers, who could use it to leverage funding from other sources, as well.
*A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that Vincent de Paule was the chair of the Homeless Services Action Group. He is an employee of the organization.
Sarah Reith [email protected]