Williams parents concerned about cannabis facility

Williams residents and parents of school-age children say they are struggling with the mixed messages they claim city officials are sending to youth when they call pot users undesirable but pot growers the salvation to the city’s financial woes.

“I think it is an amazing double standard,” said CJ LaGrande, at an informational meeting sponsored by Williams Unified School District on Thursday with Canna-Hub chief Tim McGraw. “I don’t like it at all.”

Only a few dozen people attended the meeting, but many of them were parents of Williams Unified students who heard McGraw’s presentation on the proposed 80-acre cannabis operation for the first time.

Most said they expect city officials to look only at the financial benefit a large-scale marijuana operation could bring to city coffers, while leaving parents and the school district with the task of teaching kids to act safely and responsibly in a world where cannabis is as legal as tobacco and alcohol.

Williams Unified Superintendent Edgar Lampkin organized the meeting with McGraw, whose property development company plans to build the first-of-its-kind marijuana growing operation just off Highway 20 at Interstate 5.

Lampkin said he wished more parents would have attended the meeting, but hopes Williams residents will continue to look at the pros and cons of the proposal, and continue to play and active role in the process.

“As a school district, I think it’s extremely important for our parents to be informed, to be notified, to know exactly and understand the decision that will be made down the road here by our city council,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lampkin said he expects Williams Unified employees and students to follow the Lifeskills & Lifelong Program guidelines the district has adopted.   

Williams officials agree that cannabis growers are already keen to the moneymaking potential of legal marijuana in California, and will likely pay heavily to find their niche in the new market.

City Councilman John Troughton said that once completed, the Canna-Hub facility could generate $1 million or more annually for the city, paid by the growers by way of licensing fees, which could be used to repair and maintain the city’s infrastructure.

“We do not have enough money to fix the things we want to fix,” said Troughton, who said the city is looking at a $20 million cost just to bring city streets up to par.

Yet most residents at the meeting said they struggle with the social and cultural changes the marijuana industry would undoubtedly create in Williams.

“You can’t just look at the money,” said LaGrande. “It’s a bad influence on our children. It’s not good for our community, and I don’t want anything to do with it. My family has lived here since 1870. We farm, but we don’t want pot.”

Sylvia Vaca, Williams Unified school board president, said the school district could face challenges, other than just social, with an industry in Williams that estimates 1,300 new year-round jobs would be created.

With the burgeoning cannabis industry touted as California’s next “Gold Rush,” Vaca said a sudden influx of families moving to Williams for work could have a detrimental affect on an unprepared school district.

But where these workers might live has yet to be determined, city officials said.

“To be honest, we don’t have the houses right now,” said City Manager Frank Kennedy. “We’re in the process of building 60 low income houses, but other than that, we don’t have plans yet to build more houses. Before you have more students coming to town, you would have to have a place for them to live.”

But Kennedy said the city and Canna-Hub are working with school officials to address other concerns, and to find ways to financially support the district.

McGraw said his goal is to help fund the school district’s participation in the Promises Project, part of a nationwide effort to make college more affordable by providing high school students with college-level classes that count toward a degree.