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Residents fear Mtn. View going to 'pot' under new law


Screenshot from Mountain View City Council broadcast
A Mountain View High School parent warns city council members about the dangers of marijuana access during last week’s lengthy council meeting on the city’s cannabis ordinance.

In a repeat of last October, more than 100 residents lined up to speak at the Mountain View City Council meeting last week, mostly in protest of an ordinance allowing retail cannabis sales.

Speakers seemed to be most concerned with the prospect of a cannabis retailer setting up shop downtown on Castro Street. Several parents at the March 5 council gathering pointed to such stores’ negative influence on their impressionable children.

“Why us?” asked resident Julia Tam. “The incentive behind this proposal is strictly business. … To have it open downtown is not a good thing.”

“Other cities have banned pot shops – we hope you’ll do the same,” Emily Wu said. “You will drive away high-tech companies and bring homelessness.”

Resident Brian Taylor, who favors the retail sale of cannabis, “counterbalanced” the objections of what he called a “vocal misinformed minority in the community.”

“Tens of thousands voted for this, by my math,” said Taylor, referring to overwhelming Mountain View voter approval of Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state.

Taylor acknowledged that children should not use cannabis, but they shouldn’t drink alcohol, either.

“Should we close all the bars on Castro Street?” he asked.

The council, comprising two different members, passed a cannabis ordinance last October that allowed two retailers and two delivery services, with the businesses selected through a lottery. The following month, voters approved a tax on cannabis sales even as they voted out two council members who voted in favor of the cannabis ordinance.

The council held a public hearing on the issue after newly elected Councilwoman Ellen Kamei suggested last month bringing the ordinance back for review and some tweaking. She suggested amendments that would prohibit establishment of cannabis retailers in the San Antonio area, which the Los Altos School District is targeting for building a new campus.

Coordinated effort?

Revisiting the approved ordinance did not sit well with Matthew Mahaffey, CEO of Silicon Valley Farms, a cannabis retailer. Mahaffey’s group is among 10 applicants seeking to set up shop in Mountain View.

“I’ve invested money, locking a business down based on the council’s recommendation to do so,” he said. “It’s terrifying for me. … I would urge you not to change your position.”

Many in the large gathering wore or carried “No pot shops” signs, prompting former Councilman Ken Rosenberg to wonder about “the most coordinated effort I’ve ever seen from an opposition group. I’m wondering if (many of the opponents) live here. … What is the bad thing that is going to happen?”

Rosenberg, along with former fellow Councilman Lenny Siegel, voted for the original ordinance at the council’s Oct. 2 meeting, when a similar-sized crowd gathered to protest cannabis retail stores.

Siegel reminded the council that local voters supported cannabis use and retail sales in the city, and intimated that an opposition group had privately influenced council members.

He warned that if the council reneged on the ordinance, he would “do my damnedest” to bring the issue back to voters through a referendum.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga took exception to Rosenberg’s and Siegel’s comments. Picking up on Siegel’s remarks about “a foreign language flier,” she emphasized, “This is not a racial issue – I’m really disturbed by this.”

She also questioned why Rosenberg was concerned about whether the protesters were from Mountain View, when this was never a question raised when considering other issues.

Abe-Koga and Mayor Lisa Matichak joined many of the speakers in opposition to retail cannabis sales.

Abe-Koga motioned for a ban on “commercial establishments,” seconded by Matichak, but that vote failed 5-2.

The council did not take action to change any part of the ordinance. However, members approved motions to give staff guidelines for amendments down the road, including no cannabis sales within 1,000 feet of schools and a limit of one cannabis retailer in the downtown area, and no other competing retailer less than a half-mile from the other. Another proposed amendment called for council review of the ordinance one year after issusing the first permits.

In the wake of impending changes, city staff may return with an “urgency ordinance” for the council to approve to suspend implementation of the current ordinance so that amendments can be made.

Under the current ordinance, a lottery for accepting applications from potential retailers was scheduled to open later this month.

City staff, citing a busy workload, anticipated not bringing the issue back to the council before next month.

Currently, Mountain View is the only city between San Francisco and San Jose to allow retail cannabis sales.

Los Altos does not allow retail cannabis sales in the wake of a city council decision last October. However, the city does allow for deliveries from outside Los Altos’ borders.

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