Mountain View set itself apart from neighboring cities in 2018 by welcoming retail marijuana stores to open inside city limits, with companies already starting the lengthy permitting process for opening shops this year.
It was a pot-heavy year for the city's planning department, which had to cultivate regulations, zoning maps and a multi-phase permitting process for a brand new type of land use. The decisions along the way were guided from the outset by a clear majority on the Mountain View City Council that saw little reason not to allow the nascent industry into the city.
While some cities in the county are still considering allowing dispensaries -- including Santa Clara and Campbell -- Mountain View and San Jose are the only ones with laws on the books allowing dispensaries.
Voters in California cleared the way for recreational marijuana dispensaries in 2016 by passing the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, known at the time as Proposition 64. Mountain View residents in particular supported decisively, with nearly two-thirds of voters favoring the measure.
Though council members overwhelmingly agreed to put a temporary moratorium on pot stores shortly after the election, they gave assurances that the brief ban was simply buying time for planning department staff to pull together new laws to regulate the businesses.
Weighing how residents felt about the nuts and bolts of allowing dispensaries in the city took extensive work, with city staffers soliciting feedback for months through community meetings and an online survey that collected more than 1,500 responses. To say the community was divided puts it mildly: When asked how many retail cannabis stores should be allowed, a majority of residents chose either no limits or no pot shops at all.
The frustrated contingent of residents opposed to cannabis retailers showed up in force during the final vote on the plans in October, arguing that permitting the businesses would bring a host of problems to the city. Many of the 68 people who spoke at the meeting said that pot shops would pose health concerns, cause secondhand smoke, normalize drug use and promote underage, illicit use of marijuana. By being one of the few cities in the county to allow dispensaries, it could also turn Mountain View into a magnet for unsavory characters and crime, some residents warned.
In the end, a majority of the council agreed on zoning laws that allow four cannabis stores, two of which can be standard storefront retail businesses and two deemed "non-storefront," essentially a warehouse and delivery business that can operate within the city but can't make sales to walk-in customers.
The city has a map showing the areas in which storefront and non-storefront businesses are zoned. It includes the San Antonio shopping center area, the city's downtown corridor, El Camino Real and the North Bayshore area, along with several smaller islands of retail throughout the city.
Just one month after the council's decision, Mountain View voters agreed that marijuana sales in the city ought to be taxed to pay for city services. Measure Q, which was on the November 2018 ballot, proposed a 9 percent tax on cannabis business sales that would generate an estimated $1 million annually, and it passed with 81.4 percent of the vote.
On the horizon for 2019 is seeing how many businesses will apply for a permit and which ones will win approval. Currently, the city is in the middle of the first of four phases for marijuana business applications where interested applicants have to undergo a screening process. This includes a written description of the business, the proposed location of the store and a background check with the Mountain View Police Department.
Businesses have until Feb. 1 to wrap up the first phase. "Several applicants" had begun the process as of mid-December, according to city officials, and Mountain View's planning department is still receiving inquiries about applying.
For Phase 2, set to begin in March, the city will hold a lottery to see which applications will move forward on the conditional use permit process, which sets the rules and conditions under which the marijuana businesses must operate. These rules could include security plans, lighting, appearance, parking and considering "compatibility with surrounding similar uses."