The City of San Fernando now has some data as far as public opinion on whether to allow the cannabis industry to operate within the city limits — but not much.
At Monday’s council meeting, July 2, the consulting firm hired by the city, HdL, presented its report that included community views on cannabis, as well as the ad hoc committee’s recommendations on various options on to what extent the city might allow the industry to operate.
The data was collected from surveys that were available at city facilitated workshops — four in total since November 2017. The surveys were also available at City Hall and on the City website. But only 180 people (out of an estimated city population of 25,000) responded.
The results showed that more than half of respondents supported all types of regulated medicinal and commercial cannabis activity, with preference to cultivation (growing) and manufacturing (distributing cannabis products like oils and edibles) over selling marijuana and its derivatives.
But that small sampling of city residents, at least on the surface, would not appear to give the council much to go on as far as the true level of support for allowing the cannabis industry to legally come into San Fernando.
The report also stated the city could profit $30,000 to $1.8 million per year, depending on what types of businesses are allowed.
Although those figures were not available on the survey, respondents indicated they would want to see that money go toward street and sidewalk improvements, youth education programs, parks, play equipment, and sports fields.
These are optimistic numbers, considering the city is hoping voters will extend the half-cent tax, known as Measure A, this November to keep city services running. However, there is no indication when or if Measure A would be repealed; it is being placed on the ballot to be extended indefinitely “until voters decide to end it.”
Measure A is projected to have generated $15.9 million in the six years it was approved for, an approximate $2.65 million per year.
The presentation also included the ad hoc committee’s recommended allowable act-ivities, which were medicinal, and adult-use commercial cultivation and manufacturing, as well as cannabis testing. Cannabis testing is the analysis of cannabis plants and products to detect any harmful solvents, contaminates, and potency of the products.
Although cultivation and manufacturing were re-commended, the survey showed a strong support of selling cannabis within the city, with 64.8 percent in favor of medicinal sales and 52.5 percent in favor of commercial sales.
The ad-hoc committee also suggested there is no need to limit the amount of permits offered since the available space available for the industry is already limited; the industry would be allowed to function in the city’s manufacturing and commercial zones as long as they are at least 300 feet away from schools and youth centers.
The council discussion afterward was probably more revealing than the public survey results.
Councilmember Robert Gonzales asked the staff to look into possibly organizing a record expungement event, where individuals with past marijuana convictions could clear their records, a procedure made possible by the legalization of cannabis. He also stated that if the city does approve the sale of marijuana, he prefers a delivery service over a storefront, saying some people might be less intimidated by that type of availability.
Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez also said he isn’t a proponent of storefronts in the commercial area, but he believes it will be a missed opportunity to not allow the micro-businesses, “because those can be controlled, and can be something that actually can produce revenue as well as an environment that businesses can actually succeed.”
With micro-businesses, city officials might approve multiple licenses, meaning a business could have multiple activities like cultivation, manufacturing, delivery, and a storefront, all on one property.
“At the end of the day it’s about business, right?” Lopez stated. “And as good shepherds of this community, we have to see where we can assist the businesses.”
It was Councilmember Joel Fajardo’s comments, though, that got the most attention.
He said his biggest concern is that if the cannabis industry is allowed in San Fernando, it will be “the biggest industry in town” and it would have an enormous influence on the election.
“My biggest concern is that there are pre-existing relationships and that promises have been made as to who is enriched and who isn’t,” he said. “Just so that it’s clear to the people here, I do want cultivation in San Fernando. But I want it to be a fair process so that one person isn’t benefited by whom he or she donates to, and the other person doesn’t get a license because they weren’t willing to make certain donations to certain individuals.”
Fajardo alluded to but did not name a HVAC company that contributed to a political action committee that supported Councilmember Gonzales in a previous election.
He then asked for a list of who could potentially benefit, and was there is a way to find out what contact council members have had on an individual basis with people who are planning to apply.
“Because I do worry about this not being a fair process, all I want is for this to be fair and transparent so that the small guy doesn’t get pushed out because he is not willing to funnel $20,000 for a PAC or for campaigns,” Fajardo said before leaving the meeting due to another engagement he was scheduled to attend.
Fajardo’s remarks led Mayor Sylvia Ballin to question the validity of respondents to the surveys, asking if they collected data that identified the respondents. City staff said the surveys did ask for names and addresses.
Lopez quickly condemned Fajardo’s remarks as “irresponsible,” while Gonzales distanced himself from the PAC, saying although they may be true he has never met with them nor have they ever asked for a meeting with him.
Ballin then decided that no action will be taken at this meeting regarding the item since she wants all council members present before any direction is given or action taken.