Mountain View's future looks green, after City Council members agreed last year to open the door to a budding industry of legal marijuana retailers.
And although the nuts and bolts for how many dispensaries to allow -- and where they can go -- still need to be worked out, council members generally agreed at a Tuesday study session to err on the side of lax regulation, supporting zoning that would allow pot shops to open up in large retail centers, shopping plazas and downtown.
California gave the green light for recreational marijuana dispensaries to open up shop on Jan. 1, 2018 provided they followed regulatory guidelines provided by the state and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. But council members agreed in December that the city needed more time to craft local regulations on the industry tailored specifically for the needs of Mountain View, and voted to place a moratorium on dispensaries through Dec. 1, 2018.
Council members weighed in on questions Tuesday that would be critical for the future of the industry in Mountain View, including where storefront retail and non-storefront, delivery-oriented businesses would be permissible in the city, and the total number of permits to approve for dispensaries before taking a pause.
The study session had sparse attendance, with council members Ken Rosenberg absent and John McAlister showing up late and zooming through staff's questions, but there was a clear ideological split on how to best approach the city's foray into allowing marijuana sales. On one side was Mayor Siegel, councilwoman Pat Showalter, and councilmen Chris Clark and McAlister, who mostly supported less restrictive policies on retail stores, while councilwomen Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak often spoke up for strong regulation.
City staff asked the council to weigh in on the size of the "buffer" between marijuana stores and schools, day care facilities and child care facilities -- a topic where the city has pretty huge discretion. The state's default buffer is 600 feet, but the city could increase or decrease that amount or implement restrictions on a case-by-case basis. The city of Pacifica, for example, reduced the buffer for child care and day care facilities down to 200 feet, according to a city staff report.
Council members Showalter, McAlister, Clark and Siegel all sought to stick with the 600-foot buffers for schools and reduce the child care and day care facility buffers, noting that it's highly unlikely that kids younger than age 5 in a monitored environment would wander over to a nearby dispensary. Matichak and Abe-Koga argued in favor of ratcheting up the buffer to 1,000 feet from schools -- a move that would be commensurate with tobacco retailers but would severely reduce the number of places marijuana sales could take place in the city.
When asked how many retail marijuana stores should be allowed to open up from the outset, Showalter and Clark suggested a range between five and six, while Siegel questioned why there should be any limits at all. Abe-Koga and Matichak supported having only one or two, while McAlister advocated for "starting slowly" but did not specify a maximum number. Clark said he felt it was important to have a limit up front, given that the city needs to take a cautious approach to a business the city has, up until this point, prohibited outright.
"This is new territory for us, and I think it's important that we have a checkpoint, whether it's a year in or whatever it happens to be," he said. "I was thinking that we would initially limit it to about five and see how things go."
From the outset, Siegel said he advocated for the "most permissible approach" in all of the options laid out by staff during the study session. Although he said he has never used marijuana himself, he argued that it is a normalized activity that many of the city's residents enjoy. He said the city shouldn't stigmatize the industry and treat marijuana retailers any different than other businesses in the city.
"I don't have a problem with people buying marijuana in Mountain View," he said.
Among the long list of questions, a majority of four council members supported allowing retail marijuana storefronts in downtown, in major retail centers including El Camino Real, San Antonio and the Grant-Phyllis shopping center area and in areas zoned for general industrial purposes. East Whisman, North Bayshore and strip malls and plazas throughout the city are also under consideration for allowing retail marijuana.
The same majority -- Siegel, Showalter, McAlister and Clark -- also agreed that the city should not try to create a buffer between marijuana stores and residential areas. Siegel warned that could stymie future housing growth, while Clark said it would be an odd restriction given that he could live next to -- or even right on top of -- a store that sells alcohol.
"I don't think we need to consider that in the ordinance," he said.
Rosenberg, through submitted comments, took a similar approach to the council majority, arguing in favor of downtown cannabis retail, reduced school buffers and imposing an initial cap of five to six permits for pot businesses spread throughout the city. He said storefronts might be best suited in well-established commercial and retail centers in what he described as "gateway" locations -- including San Antonio, East Whisman and the Charleston and Rengstorff areas -- that would be easy to access from bordering cities.
"Because adjacent cities are not presently adopting a permitting process allowing dispensaries to be established, it is likely people who desire to purchase (marijuana) products will be entering Mountain View from good distances away," he said.