Wildomar approves cannabis-related business in city

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The Wildomar City Council on Thursday, May 28 narrowly approved an amendment that would allow cannabis businesses to set up shop within the city. They also approved unanimously the fee structure associated with the amendment. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

After almost four hours of discussion, the Wildomar City Council approved an amendment to the city’s municipal code establishing the adoption of a CEQA statutory exemption for the zoning, use, and licensing regulations of cannabis businesses in the city on Thursday, May 28. 

The motion passed 3-2 with Mayor Dustin Nigg and councilmembers Ben Benoit and Joseph Morabito in favor with Mayor Pro-Tem Bridgette Moore and councilmember Marsha Swanson voting no. 

Later, the council voted unanimously to establish application and regulatory fees for cannabis businesses in the city. 

The council first directed staff to research the idea of a cannabis order in the city on May 8, 2019, and on June 12, 2019, an ad-hoc subcommittee was formed led by Mayor Nigg and Mayor Pro-Tem Moore. 

Two weeks later, the council approved the spending of $50,000 to prepare the amendment for land use, zoning, and licensing procedures and regulations. 

As presented by city planning director Matthew Bassi, the amendment prohibits cannabis consumption and alcohol or tobacco sales on the premises. It also places security requirements on the businesses, including the mandatory notification of law enforcement in the instance of suspected theft. 

Cannabis-related businesses may also only do business with other cannabis businesses. 

The amendment as proposed restricts those businesses to be limited to locations within the city’s two commercial zones and placed restrictions on where the businesses could be located, not within 600 feet of public or private schools, commercial daycare centers, youth centers, or parks. Later in the evening, the council added that the businesses could not be located within 150-feet of a residential unit. 

The businesses will also be subjected to unannounced inspections. 

After several public comments from residents and business owners, councilmembers had an opportunity to speak. 

“Thank you to the callers who said we’re in a tough position because we are,” Moore said. “It really is a polarizing subject and it is 50ish one way or the other.”

“We’re forced to deal with California, and all the flaws that we’ve seen in the last few months, we’re dealing with California,” Nigg said. “I’m not a fan of (Gov.) Newsom right now, by any means. But, this is what was passed statewide and my thinking is for us as a city, how do we do it responsibly?”

Nigg said he believes the public is “going to do what they’re going to do.”

“I would prefer they don’t buy drugs from a drug dealer,” he said, adding that he hoped he could sway some councilmembers. 

“You have not swayed me,” Swanson said. “I am voting the way I am voting because I was elected to listen to my constituents and 60% of mine said no. So, that’s where I am coming from.

“I don’t have a strong feeling either way, but my constituents do.”

Moore asked for a 1,000-foot sensitive area buffer for the businesses. Nigg and Morabito had an issue with extending it for the sake of compromise if it meant treating cannabis differently than other businesses. 

“You have a lot of opposition, you have emails, you have a lot of opposition,” Moore said. “Like I said earlier, if you’re going to shove it down our residents’ throat, then let’s give them a little bit more, a thousand. I understand that it’s a business, but it’s a new category that’s never been here before, it is different.” 

“Let’s not confuse a couple of dozen people with a big public outrage, though I know this is bigger,” Morabito said. “I would like to have seen a larger outpouring from the community than what we actually did get.”

Once the amendment allowing cannabis businesses into the city, the council then heard a staff report about the application fee process. 

The local license application is $20,000, another $20,000 for a CUP deposit, and a developmental agreement deposit of $12,000. 

After the license is approved, a regulatory, non-refundable fee of more than $70,000 is due. After two years, an initial deposit fee of $10,000 is required. 

The numbers were based on an estimated 10 cannabis businesses coming into the city, including a task force required to monitor the businesses. 

Moore pointed out that neighboring Lake Elsinore only has two cannabis businesses and questioned whether it was reasonable to believe Wildomar would have more applications. 

Staff said that the council could adjust items in the amendment to account for costs associated with city expenditures. 

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com