It remains unclear if Huntington Beach voters will be able to decide if they want a limited number of cannabis shops in Surf City after the city council delayed a November ballot proposal in an effort to do more community outreach.
“As a resident, I’d never like to be blindsided, and right now we’ve had one town hall and one study session,” Councilwoman Kim Carr said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“The robust response we’ve received from the community highlights the need to do more outreach, more town halls, more community meetings and [get] more input from the residents,” she said.
City officials have until August 12 to submit ballot proposals to the Orange County Registrar of Voters for the November election.
The council meets again August 2, and it’s unclear if the proposal will pass because city council members still have questions, along with some potential changes.
One of the main reasons the council wanted to push back the vote for cannabis business regulation details was because of the disagreement between some members on the dais on where the shops should be located.
A major point of contention is buffer zones for cannabis business — how far away these shops should be from sensitive uses like schools, parks and daycare centers.
According to state regulation, the shops must be 600 feet away from sensitive uses, but some council members say it should be increased to 1,000 feet.
“I like that the 1,000 foot was put back in, but I just don’t think this [item] is ready for primetime,” Councilman Erik Peterson said.
Other council members expressed concerns with increasing the buffer zones, saying it would limit the number of available areas for cannabis businesses – producing a concentration of cannabis shops in certain areas and affecting property values.
“One of the things we have to do is balance the legitimate concern that folks have of how close these things are to sensitive uses against how expensive the real estate is going to be,” Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton said. “Because if this is going to happen, part of the rationale for it is to get rid of the black market. It can’t be so expensive that it can’t compete with the black market.”
Some councilmembers floated the idea of creating a residential buffer zone, a regulation not brought up among the council in previous discussions about cannabis businesses.
This buffer zone would create a minimum amount of distance between a cannabis shop and a residential area.
Bolton described looking into a 1,000 feet residential buffer, but Councilman Dan Kalmick said this change would effectively shut out nearly all potential sites for cannabis shops.
“For retail [and] residential, it would be zero,” Kalmick said. “We looked at it for non-retail, and I think it eliminated everything but a little small cluster up in [the] northwest.”
Many people at the meeting spoke in favor of allowing cannabis businesses with fewer restrictions, with most of them working in the cannabis industry.
“We heard a lot from the industry this evening,” Carr said. “The residents have a much different approach.”
In the meantime, city council members okayed a ballot measure for a general tax on cannabis shops at their Tuesday meeting.
It’s similar to the one that just appeared in the primary election.
In June, voters failed to pass a measure that would have created a special tax for cannabis businesses. Because it was a special tax proposal, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It failed by just a small percentage short at 64.6%.
At their Tuesday meeting, the Huntington Beach City Council voted to place a general tax on cannabis businesses on the ballot. This measure would only need a simple majority — more than 50% — to pass.
The council voted 5-2 to put the item on the ballot in November. Councilmembers Mike Posey and Peterson were the dissenting votes.
“This train needs to be slowed down,” Posey said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m still disinclined to support legalized marijuana sales in Huntington Beach, and I’m certainly not going to support the tax.”
The city’s cannabis subcommittee will continue working on regulatory and land use ordinances to present to the planning commission and city council throughout the year.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.