Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Raucous Medical Marijuana Meeting

Beyond the actual result of the Costa Mesa City council meeting Tuesday afternoon - begun at an extremely rare 2:00 p.m. start time and stretching until just after 5:00 p.m. - we learned a few interesting things.  We learned that the guys moved the girls to the outside on the dais.  I found myself thinking that will put pressure on the inside and, who knows, maybe that pressure will produce some diamonds...

We learned, for example, just who was in charge at that meeting - and it wasn't who you'd guess.  It wasn't rookie Mayor Steve Mensinger, nor pushy, pontificating Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer.  Nope, the person in charge was new council member Katrina Foley.  It was great theater...

We also learned that Gary Monahan - who has begun his final two years on the council - can probably be a force to be reckoned with on this council given the right topic and the right circumstances.   This afternoon meeting was one of those times.

And, we learned that Sandra Genis continues to do her homework and ask tough questions and will not easily be dissuaded from getting answers.

As the meeting began it looked like we might have trouble meeting a quorum.  Both Righeimer and Monahan were tardy - Righeimer by a few minutes and Monahan was 40 minutes late.

There were only four people who signed up to speak during Public Comments.  Flo Martin asked for better fencing around the vernal pools at Fairview Park and spoke of clear footprints through them yesterday.  Riganista sycophant Jim Fitzpatrick used his three minutes to plant a big smooch on the fannies of Righeimer and Mensinger as he spoke of the arrest of Private Investigators Chris Lanzillo and Scott Impola, and quoted from the transcript of the investigation.  Beth Refakes wished all a happy holiday and reminded us of the Snoopy House event ongoing at City Hall from now until December 23rd each evening.  Jeff Arthur, Chairman of the Pension Oversight Committee and a self-proclaimed PERS retiree, made a brief presentation using slides to demonstrate that our unfunded liability is getting worse, not better.

For the first time in my memory none of the council members had comments to make.

CEO Tom Hatch was also brief, announcing that services for former Mayor Jack Hammett were pending and that the Senior Center would have its grand re-opening this Friday, the 19th, at 10:00.  As it turns out, that event will directly conflict with the services for Hammett, which begin at St. Joaquim Catholic Church on that date at 11:00 a.m.  You can read about the all-day event HERE.

We hoped the brevity was a sign of a short meeting.  Nah, it was not to be.  So, the five dozen people in the chambers settled in as the only item on the agenda - the future of Medical Marijuana in our community - was addressed.
Deputy City Attorney Chris Neumeyer was the lead presenter and he went through the staff report, capsulizing each segment in a brief, efficient manner.  The staff report can be read HERE to understand the issues involved.  You'll note there are 33 attachments.  Item 33 is a map of potential sites for Medical Marijuana facilities using a 500 foot radius.  Foley had asked the staff earlier for the same map with 1,000 foot radii, which was presented later in the meeting.  That's important, because it became foundational to her discussion later.

Neumeyer explained that the task before the council today was to determine how to handle the two competing initiatives that have qualified to be placed on a ballot for a vote of the people.  He also explained the conflicting laws in play because the two initiatives have a taxation element in them, which requires them to be placed on a ballot at which council members will be chosen.  That means November, 2016.  There is also a statute that requires initiatives to be placed before the voters promptly - in this case within a few months.  And, adding to the joy of the afternoon was Gary Monahan's ordinance - rejected by the council earlier this year.  They had some difficulty looking for a name for it and eventually called it the "city ordinance".

Bradley Zint did a good job, HERE, in describing the meeting in the Daily Pilot. He gave you most of the facts, but not the fun.

After the staff presentation a spirited half-hour discussion took place between the council members, sorting out definitions and staking out philosophical territory.

At 3:20 the Public Comments began.  Sixteen (16) people turned in cards.  Seventeen actually spoke - a dozen in favor of Medical Marijuana and the remainder against.  I won't try to give you every word of every speaker, but will capture some of the comments.

Flo Martin described herself as a 40-year marijuana user and, as a senior citizen, she uses it for pain now.

Harold Weitzberg, whose wife operated a dispensary in Costa
Mesa, spoke with great articulation, suggesting a study group be formed to create a proper ordinance.

Paul Lucas suggested contact with the Orange County Health Department, and said patients shouldn't be forced to go to industrial areas to get their medicine.

Virginia Vargas, a young mother, spoke about the availability of drugs to kids and was concerned about dispensaries being sources for those drugs.

Ann Parker suggested that kids will get the drugs regardless, and described anecdotal information about Newport Harbor High School students and drugs.

Randall Longwith, an author of one of the initiatives, expressed concern that it has gotten this far.  He told the council he would have preferred for the city to create an ordinance, but when it didn't he moved forward with his.

Gay Royer referred to the old movie, "Reefer Madness", was in support of Medical Marijuana and suggested that the dispensaries should be in safe places.

Gary Parkin told us his father used Medical Marijuana and suggested we "go small" to start.

Sue Lester, a former dispensary owner, stressed the importance of a proper ordinance, and indicated zone the hell out of it".  She indicated that, since recreational Marijuana use is still against state law, any operator who is NOT licensed should be closed.  She said, "You guys have to do something because it's being rammed down your throat."
that Monahan's ordinance was a good start, but needed some fine-tuning - safeguards.  She suggested a strong permitting process and "

Michael Alexander said his father was a police officer for 26 years and that we shouldn't worry about the money.

Jay Humphrey agreed with Lester "110%".  He stressed that the creation of a "testing lab" - which
has been part of the earlier discussion - was a horrendous undertaking.  He wondered about California standards for cannabis.  He suggested we "do the things we can actually do."

A Newport Beach lawyer named Lance Rogers presented his personal history in Medical Marijuana in the state and suggested he might be helpful to the City.  He said we have a "fantastic opportunity".

Resident David Kincaid, a supporter of Medical Marijuana, wondered about nearby cities, and whether we would be "going it alone."

Robert Taft, Jr is a "main proponent" of one of the initiatives and referred to the Santa Ana ordinance, which had been presented for terms of comparison in the staff report.  He expressed concern that, as a result of its new ordinance, Santa Ana's dispensaries will be moving into Costa Mesa without any controls.  He said we don't want to see 100 rogue stores in Costa Mesa.

Undertaker Bruce Lamb described attending to those who died of overdoses and referred to marijuana as a threshold drug that could lead to harder drugs and overdoses.

Former council member Wendy Leece referred to a recent New York law as something that should be part of any discussion of the issue in Costa Mesa.

Travis Acevedo suggested that we get ahead of this issue, and also referred to the Santa Ana ordinance and the fact that rogue dispensaries will be coming to Costa Mesa.  He said, "It's coming and you need to be ahead or behind it."

Just after 4:00 the comments ended and Righeimer just shoved his way right into the discussion.  He went off on a tirade, speaking of the fact that "anybody in this room could go get medical marijuana" without a prescription.  He referred the anticipated influx of dispensaries to the Sooners of Oklahoma, waiting for the land rush.  He suggested that, with the "Santa Ana experiment" going on next door we should give it a couple years to figure it out, and talked about the costs of litigation.  Well, he should know -  he's the reason for our litigation season.  He suggested a study group of all stakeholders and mentioned being in Colorado recently and it's a mess.  He then, without practically taking a breath or giving any other council a chance to even speak, made a motion to move the initiatives to the 2016 election and to form a task force to study it.  He said he's not in favor of ANY of the initiatives.  Genis seconded it for discussion.

Then Foley took over.  With Genis' permission, since she had the floor to discuss her second of the Righeimer motion, she launched into a carefully-crafted monologue about an alternative to that motion.  She spoke of her concern about the children of the community and safety of customers.  She shared about her family members who have used marijuana and how it was a gateway drug.  She worried about the ancillary effect on neighborhoods, referring to liquor stores as an example.  She mentioned Department of Justice guidelines for such establishments.  She suggested we move forward slowly, then suggested adopting Monahan's ordinance, HERE, with some changes. 

At this point we all had the new attachments, which are not part of the online staff report.  The one in question would be #33, but with 1,000 foot radius from protected sites.  That ended up showing seventeen (17) possible locations within the city for dispensaries.  So, she offered a substitute motion to use Monahan's ordinance as the foundation and her changes involved:
1 - Using the 1,000 foot buffer from all residential areas , R-1, R-2 and R-3, leaving it to industrial/manufacturing zones.
2 - Operators must obtain a permit.
3 - Minimum age of purchasers would be 21.
4 - Council could amend or repeal the ordinance.
5 - No felons with such records the past 10 years could operate or work in a dispensary.
6 - A Conditional Use Permit would be required.
7 - No product delivery within the first two years.
8 - An annual review and report required by code enforcement.

Additionally, there would be placed on a special election ballot in March, 2015 a Special Tax proposal that, if approved by 2/3 of the voters, would assess a 10% tax on the gross receipts for such businesses, which would be earmarked for the following uses, in order.  Foley stressed that if money ran out as it was distributed down the list, then those uses further down would receive no funds.
1 - reimbursement for the cost of the special election.
2 - code enforcement costs to manage dispensaries, ensuring compliance.
3- paying down the unfunded pension liability and any subsequent pension contributions
4 - drug abuse education
5 - homelessness prevention.


Righeimer reacted by saying something like, "Oh, great, now the whole city will have to get stoned to pay pension liabilities!"  Foley's retort was, "Well, at least I'm trying to do something about it.  You're doing nothing!"  As I said earlier, it was great theater.

Amazingly, Monahan seconded the motion and suggested some modifications.  He expressed concern about the 21 age limit, suggesting that younger users with prescriptions could be accommodated if accompanied by a parent.  He also suggested a minor Conditional Use Permit, citing that these were just like any other business.

Genis seemed supportive.  Monahan expressed concern for the probability of yet another petition being circulated and being forced to place it on another ballot.  Foley invited the two petition authors up to speak... Righeimer balked, but was out-voted, 3-2, to let them speak again.  I smiled.

During that conversation they confirmed Monahan's concerns.  Longwith said he was 100% behind what the city was trying to do.  It was observed that the petition cannot be withdrawn now, but Foley indicated that the supporters could actively NOT support it at the 2016 election.

In the end here's what happened.  The council voted, 3-2 (Righeimer and Mensinger voting NO) to support Foley's idea to bring forward Monahan's ordinance with the modifications cited to a January Study Session, where the issues would be hammered out and finalized and presented to the council in a regular meeting in January - probably on the 20th.  The council also voted, 4-1 (Righeimer voted NO) to place the two initiatives on the 2016 ballot.

A couple observations...  First, Steve Mensinger had a rough outing as the first-time operator of that meeting.  It was much like Johnny Manziel last week when he started for the Browns for the first time and they were blown out by the Bengals.  Sorry, but Steve is a football guy, right?  He completely lost control of the meeting several times.  He even broke out the gavel Righeimer gave him when he was anointed as Mayor to try to restore order.  You can blame part of that on Righeimer's difficulty of letting go of the reins and also on Foley's strong position on the issue at hand.  She was clearly the best prepared of the group... the word "leadership" comes to mind.

Second, it's going to be a long, long couple years for Mensinger and Righeimer if this meeting was any indication.  I smiled a lot.  I don't know how successful Genis and Foley will be in trying to change the course in our city, but we know now that Monahan can, and sometimes will, listen to an argument, so there's hope.  That's enough for now.

No more meetings until next year.... I think we all need a little respite... So, to give you a little taste of how if felt at times in this meeting I leave you with an appropriate YouTube video clip.  Enjoy...

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Does Monahan have ties to the medical marijuana industry?

12/17/2014 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I'm glad Mrs. Fitzy has a good job so Jimmy can come to council in the middle of the day and lick his masters' boots.

Let's chip in and get him boot leather lollipops for Christmas!

12/17/2014 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Marquis said...

Gary Monahan as a "force to reckoned with"!!

Oh, puleeeeze.

He's been on the council for 14 years and has never done ANYTHING at all. The only time he didn't vote with Riggy and Mensingturd was on the model train engineers lease extension.

Every once in a while Monahan stirs from his stupor of go-along-to-get-along uselessness for things he likes, such as trains and weed, but let's not get carried away.

12/17/2014 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous davidonlorenzo said...

It's disheartening when council people are so passionate about agenda items only when they seem wanting to possibly to personally profit from them....

12/17/2014 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Marquis: I agree with you about Gary! The ONLY reason why gary "listens" is purely personal interest and gain. He only voted to extend the Fairview Park train's lease for 5 years, instead of the one year extension the RIGmeister was counting on (with the CCM vote), solely because in 5 years, Gary's kids will be too old to ride the train. He stated so when the RIGmeister and Mensinger almost gave themselves whiplash swiveling their heads around to glare at gary for not voting with them for the one year extension of the train lease. (That's a very enlightening cc meeting clip, by the way!) If he didn't have train-riding aged kids, he would have voted with the other 2 for the one year extension. He couldn't have cared less about the fate of the FP train, or that the residents wanted the train's lease be extended for as long as possible (forever, basically), only that it's there for as long as his kids are young enough to ride it. After that, he won't care what happens to it. He'll "listen" about the medical marijuana issue, too, again only out of personal interest and gain. .....And he represents the citizens of Costa Mesa how exactly...?!??

12/17/2014 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

There's a new deputy in town, the new sheriff lost control of the meeting and the outcome was not more of the same.
Experience and preparation trump bullying and intimidation- I like it!
It's going to be a very interesting two years to come.

12/20/2014 01:59:00 PM  

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