Concord moves ­toward cannabis expansion in 2020

The Concord City Council made a few modifications on Nov. 5 to staff recommendations for how cannabis will factor into the community’s future on various commercial fronts.

The first quarter of 2020 is the earliest the council will adopt ordinances outlining cannabis rules and regulations.

The council’s most notable alteration from the staff input involved deciding to keep retail storefronts out of Todos Santos Plaza when mapping where cannabis businesses can operate in the city.

By a slim margin, the council also directed staff to draft regulations to allow up to three recreational storefront licenses. Mayor Carlyn Obringer and Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister voiced the dissenting views among the five-member panel.

Obringer said she wanted to receive more information about the experiences of surrounding communities. She also expressed concern about the security for the “cash-basis nature’” of retail cannabis and wondered if the city could revoke licenses in the future.

Council members were largely unanimous about additional licenses for storefront non-retail, manufacturing, testing, distribution and delivery. At the same time, they sent a clear message to the industry that the city will dictate terms for those seeking operations in Concord.

“It is better for us to be controlling it,” said Councilman Dominic Aliano.

For storefront and non-storefront retail, the council plans a rigorous Request for Proposal (RFP) process that includes police scrutiny, public identification of the site, advance notice to neighbors and a council vote for approval.

More than four hours of ­discussion included public and council input that city staff can evaluate as work continues in the coming months.

Next Steps

“Our next steps are to take the development code to the Planning Commission and then return to the council with both the cannabis code and the development code amendments,” said city manager Valerie Baron. “Given the amount of feedback and direction we received, we don’t yet have an exact timeline.”

A council standing committee, headed by the mayor and vice mayor, will work on RFP language for the council to review.

Aliano and Hoffmeister defended city staff, whom some called paid lobbyists working for the cannabis industry with ulterior motives for their recommendations.

There was also much scrutiny and even a harsh rebuke of the overlay map for the city’s three cannabis districts – West, North and Downtown – due to apparent inaccuracies and missing information related to sensitive use locations that determine where different cannabis businesses could locate.

“The consultant gave wrong and bogus information,” Hoffmeister said. “My confidence level is not real comfortable.”

Staff said every effort will be made to ensure that sensitive use locations will be identified, whether by city personnel or the applicants themselves. Applications from those seeking licenses “would be (determined) invalid if they don’t give correct information,” Barone said.

Public comment seemed split between those who thought council members had lost their minds to even consider “the slippery slope” of cannabis expansion and speakers who see it as a viable industry and said the council was taking a thoughtful approach. Many were willing to share their knowledge with city staff, and proponents with business interests encouraged the elected officials to visit their operations.

Stephanie Siri, a 32-year-resident of Concord, was among those adamantly opposed. “I fear we’ll become a very different city if approved.”

Have Faith

Aliano said residents should “have faith” that the city will act in the community’s best interest, specifically the youth.

Concord resident Mike McDermott, who is opposed to recreational sales, was at least pleased that the city defined a retail zone mostly on the west side of town – away from most homes and schools – and that taxes were not a motivating factor.

Obringer questioned if cannabis was a way to solve the city’s budget woes, to which Barone called future revenue to the city “not significant.”

Councilman Edi Birsan, who represented the most progressive voice on the cannabis issue, noted there will always be 30 percent opposition to this issue. He said it is critical that those who disagree find common ground.

This happens “when we begin respecting and understanding each other,” he added.