Mountain View City Council members agreed Tuesday to revisit regulations for cannabis businesses in Mountain View. The decision comes just months after the laws were approved, and less than two weeks after pot businesses filed applications to open in the city.
The council members seeking to revise the marijuana business regulations include Mayor Lisa Matichak and Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga as well as the two newly elected council members, Ellen Kamei and Alison Hicks. None of them revealed at the meeting what they wanted to change, but agreed they wanted to review the ordinances as soon as possible.
In October, council members agreed to allow up to four cannabis businesses in Mountain View, two retail storefronts and two "non-storefronts" -- essentially warehouse and delivery businesses that can operate within the city but can't make sales to walk-in customers. A total of 10 businesses applied to go through the permitting process, but only four will be allowed to move forward.
Kamei, who raised the idea at the end of the Feb. 12 City Council meeting, told the Voice in an email that she was interested in revising which areas of the city pot businesses can open, particularly the San Antonio area where the Los Altos School District plans to open a school. While both city and state law applies "buffer zones" around schools and child care facilities, Kamei said the council may want to consider a larger setback.
While it's unlikely the council could make any substantive changes to the ordinance prior to the lottery next month, the rules could change before any permits are granted. City Manager Dan Rich said the permitting process could take six months, and that the council could consider a "pause" that puts applicants for conditional use permits on hold.
After the meeting, Abe-Koga told the Voice she had a handful of concerns she would like to see revisited, including a ban on downtown pot businesses. She also said allowing cannabis shops in the San Antonio area may be ill-advised with a future school planned at the corner of Showers Drive and California Street.
Abe-Koga said she also wasn't aware just how much of a hands-off approach the council would have with the law as it's written, and that she would have liked elected officials to have more of a say in which companies move forward and where they will be located. After looking at the applications, she worried Mountain View might end up with a cluster of businesses all in one spot in downtown.
"(The council) didn't talk about whether we really want that," Abe-Koga said. "I wouldn't want three liquor stores next to each other."
Polling data collected by the city shows residents are remarkably split on the topic of pot shops. When asked how many cannabis businesses should be allowed in Mountain View, 33 percent of the more than 1,500 respondents said they believe no marijuana should be sold in Mountain View, while 29 percent called for no limits at all. The rest were sharply divided between allowing anywhere from one to six shops.
That significant divide was on full display at the Oct. 2 City Council meeting when the laws were approved, when the vast majority of the more than 60 public speakers urged the council to scale back or completely ditch plans to allow marijuana sales within the city. Residents from Mountain View and neighboring cities argued that the businesses would amount to a public health hazard -- particularly for children -- and that it would cause an unpleasant odor in town. Some argued it would also attract a sordid group of people to the city.
At that October council meeting, Matichak made clear she would be okay with no retail cannabis in Mountain View at all, and put forward a failed motion to allow up to two cannabis businesses and exclude them from San Antonio and downtown Mountain View. She also sought larger buffers around child care centers and medical facilities.
Matichak told the Voice that her position hasn't changed since then, and that she has been hearing frequent concerns from residents over the last four months about cannabis stores opening too close to residential areas and downtown Mountain View. She said allowing up two businesses -- rather than four -- also seems like a good compromise.
"Given how everyone on council wanted to go slow with this, having just two businesses to me seemed like a full approach to start with," she said.
Former City Council member Lenny Siegel told supporters in an email Wednesday that he believes reopening discussion on the ordinance is the first step toward "outlawing" marijuana sales in the city. Doing so when close to two-thirds of the city voted in favor of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016 runs afoul of the voters' intent, he said.
"It would make a mockery of the democratic process," Siegel said. "It's one thing to try to reverse policies that one has campaigned against. It’s another to propose surprise changes."
The Voice reached out to multiple applicants seeking to open cannabis businesses in Mountain View, including a company called Defonce, which seeks to sell its cannabis-infused chocolate bars in a currently vacant storefront on Castro Street.
Defonce CEO Eric Eslao said that his goal was to design cannabis edibles with an eye toward attractive branding and a product that actually tastes good. While a large majority of Mountain View residents supported marijuana legalization, Eslao said he took notice that many local residents are still uneasy with the idea of cannabis businesses in the community. His hope, he said, is that selling inoffensive chocolate bars that don't produce a heavy odor will take the edge off the opposition.
"I think it's something that will be welcomed," he said. "I think it's going to be a good compromise for the people who are worried about the smell and the visual nuisance."
Eslao said he wasn't wild about the lottery process, and the lack of city discretion over who can open up pot shops. He said his company took the application process very seriously, squared away a lease far ahead of time and put significant resources into the 150-page application. His best estimate is that the company is out $125,000 so far trying to get the proposed Mountain View business off the ground. The building he's leased was briefly used for a pop-up artisan market in December.
"I know it's a lottery system but it's important for me to show that we're taking this very seriously," he said. "It's not something we're doing on a whim."
The city's cannabis business application process requires that interested companies list an address where they plan to open, along with proof that they have a legal right to occupy the space. They are:
275 Castro St., storefront retail
Northern Erudite Ventures
278 Castro St., storefront retail
Castro Care Center
298 Castro St., storefront retail
660 W. Dana Street, storefront retail
1411 W. El Camino Real, storefront retail
Element 7 Mountain View, LLC
1970 W. El Camino Real, storefront retail
==BThe Blvd. Dispensary==
440 Moffett Boulevard Unit D, storefront retail
Nourish Mountain View
355 Pioneer Way, storefront retail
161 E. Evelyn Avenue, non-storefront
229 Polaris Avenue, non-storefront