In a sometimes contentious Wildomar City Council meeting Wednesday, June 10, the council ultimately adopted a city ordinance finalizing a resolution that would permit commercial cannabis retailers within certain commercial and retail zones in the city.
The 3-2 decision, which included “yes” votes from Mayor Dustin Nigg and councilmembers Joseph Morabito and Ben Benoit and “no” votes from Mayor Pro Tem Bridgett Moore and councilmember Marsha Swanson, effectively put an end to a process that started back in 2019.
A dozen residents on both sides of the issue called in to the Zoom meeting to express their opinions on the subjects with the majority on the calls in opposition.
Morabito brought up issues with the validity of a survey issued by the city that he said was poorly responded to and designed to estimate whether residents wanted cannabis businesses within the city. He said roughly 900 people responded.
Morabito referenced Measure AA, a city funding tax measure, which was included in the survey, that indicated that most residents didn’t think the measure would pass when it came to a vote. The measure passed ultimately.
“They missed their guess on how many would vote in favor of Measure AA by 17%,” he said. “It’s probably good to just not keep relying on that as the basis of your vote, and/or, opposition, and/or, that it’s the will of the people.”
Swanson said she voted to legalize marijuana in California but talked about putting the ordinance on the city ballot.
“I would have been all in favor of putting it on the ballot then that there was a moratorium that we weren’t going to look at an ordinance, we were going to wait, so why would you put it on the ballot if we already had something that said we weren’t going to move forward?” she said. “When the survey came out, from day one I said, let them have a choice, yes or no. Not what the ordinance should say, that should be up to us.
“It’s 15 minutes from my house, and I am probably the furthest person in Wildomar to get over to Lake Elsinore to one of their dispensaries. If it’s about the money, about the taxes being here, then the people should have the right to have their say if they want it here or don’t want it here.”
Moore agreed with what Swanson said about the council deciding to put the issue off for a couple of years.
“Then all of a sudden it came back, but that’s neither here nor there,” she said. “Prop 64 voters in Wildomar did vote to legalize cannabis in the whole state of California. But when you did a survey of 900 voters in the city of Wildomar, it was still 900 registered voters in the city of Wildomar and they answered no. And they were asked nine different ways and they said no. They did not want a dispensary; they did not want manufacturing; they did not want testing. They did not want it here.”
Moore talked about the survey company used by the city on other ballot measures and the accuracy of the results that were provided.
“You want to throw the survey out, you say it was flawed, it doesn’t work, OK,” she said. “How else are you going to gather the information from your residents whether they want this in their community or not?”
She mentioned several public meetings in which people spoke for and against the ordinance as well as petitions and emails received by the council.
“If you can’t admit that the majority by far of all those emails we received are in opposition – I mean, you’re not reading the emails,” Moore said.
Morabito argued that emails into the city are anecdotal.
“Just like a call in to a radio show, it may give you the temperature of the callers, but it is not scientific,” he said.
Benoit chimed in as well, asking city attorney Thomas Jex whether it was possible for the council to even make changes during the second reading of the ordinance.
Jex responded that they could not make changes.
“I understand the concerns that some folks are having, whether it’s in industrial or retail,” Benoit said. “The bottom line as I see it, and I think this is where the planning commission came to the same conclusion, saying just industrial in our city would be very, very limiting. It probably wouldn’t allow for much of anything.”
Nigg said he recognizes that a lot of owners of retail spaces aren’t open to the idea of having tenants in the cannabis industry. He also expressed frustration with the lack of input from the community on this issue.
“I counted 12 to 15 speakers tonight out of 37,183 people, that’s a little frustrating,” he said. “I look at this issue as being one of those issues that we’re going to have to kind of stand on our own with. I do understand that we would be the first city in our area that will be allowing it in the commercial corridors.
“The next that we will see a cannabis issue is when someone wants to open a cannabis business, right? We are going to have that discussion as far as how that looks, and we are going to need to be judicious as a council because the idea is it needs to be the Apple store of a dispensary. It needs to be well run, well maintained, responsible owners, responsible neighbors.”
The council first directed staff to research the idea of allowing cannabis businesses within the city May 8, 2019, and June 12, 2019, an ad-hoc subcommittee was formed led by Nigg and 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 during the council’s May 28 special meeting, 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 day care 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.
The council also approved the fees for local license applications which is $20,000, another $20,000 for a conditional use permit 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.
Due to the council’s action Wednesday, the city could begin taking applications beginning July 10. Commercial cannabis retailers will be permitted in the C-1/C-P and C-P-S commercial zones subject to the approval of a conditional use permit and development agreement by the city’s planning commission and city council.
Cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing laboratories will be permitted in our I-P and M-SC industrial zones also subject approval.
The council also approved in the consent calendar calling for a general municipal election Nov. 3, for the election of certain officers in Districts 2 and 4 as required by law.
They also awarded a construction contract for guardrail repair and upgrades, approved the fourth amendment to the franchise agreement between the city and CR&R and the second contract amendment between the city and Riverside County for police services.
In general business, the reviewed and considered the fourth quarter budget report and adopted a resolution that authorized amendments to fiscal year 2019-2020 budgeted revenues and expenses.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at email@example.com.