Following last Tuesday’s joint meeting of the Colusa City Council and the city’s planning commission, officials from both bodies said that they felt the informal meeting between the two bodies was productive, and that the friction between them – primarily stemming from commercial cannabis projects in the city – would be alleviated moving forward.
Much of the discussion during meeting centered around the planning commission’s role in the approval process for cannabis-related projects in the city. Dating back to February, planning commissioners have expressed frustration over their role – or lack thereof – in that process, as well as with the lack of a clear policy to guide their decisions on cannabis-related development.
The planning commission grew particularly frustrated with the second iteration of the Greenceuticals project, Commissioner Brendan Farrell said, when they considered whether to approve a development agreement for a cannabis cultivation facility at the corner of Bridge and Main streets. The development agreement for that project did not include any site-specific details, which marked a change from all of the previous cannabis-related development agreements the commission had considered to that point.
City Manager Jesse Cain explained that, according to the city’s cannabis ordinance, the site-specific plans were in the council’s hands, and not the planning commission’s.
“When these first started going to the planning commission, everything was given to the planning commission right up front: the building size, the height, the color – everything like that,” Cain said. “But going back and looking at the ordinance, and – to be honest with you – (after the planning commission fought) for four hours on the color of the building and this and that, I said, ‘Well, wait a minute – after reading this, this isn’t even in the purview for them to even look at. When (the Greenceuticals project) went back, that was all taken out.”
According to state law, all development agreements must come before the planning commission before being considered by the city council. As traditionally structured, most development agreements have a significant amount of planning detailed into them, in addition to a financial component, said Russel Hildebrand, legal counsel for the city’s planning commission. Under Colusa’s cannabis ordinance, however, the city is using development agreements more as a mechanism to collect fees from cannabis developers – ensuring that the city has a stream of revenue from the cannabis projects – in lieu of a voter-approved cannabis tax. The city’s planning commission only needs to consider whether a cannabis-related development agreement is consistent with the city’s cannabis ordinance. For cannabis projects specifically, the site-specific details for a project are sorted out by the city council during the special use permit and regulatory permit processes.
After a lengthy discussion, the commission and the council agreed that – while it wasn’t required under the city’s commercial cannabis ordinance – site-specific details should be attached to development agreements, when available.
“I just think the more information we have, the better for everyone,” Commissioner Farrell said. “It just looks better – just the optics. I don’t blame the public for being very wary of this, and I just think the more information they get, and the more often they get it, the better for everyone.”
Mayor Greg Ponciano said he agreed completely, and councilman Tom Reische said it wasn’t too much to ask.
“If for no other reason, as you say, the optics,” Ponciano said. “We don’t want the commission or the public to get the impression that the council as a whole is in some way holding back information, because that’s not the case. I don’t think staff is doing that on purpose, either… Whatever that developer turns in as supporting documents, I think should come before you guys, and then it’s pretty much up to your chair and legal to keep everyone focused on what’s supposed to happen.”
Commissioners also requested that they be included in preliminary meetings with, and presentations from, potential cannabis developers, whether in the form of a joint ad-hoc committee or an individual liaison.
Mayor outlines key goals for city, how cannabis projects can fit in
Mayor Greg Poniano said during the meeting his guiding principal for cannabis projects was to evaluate each on an individual basis, and identify projects that provide sorely needed revenue with the least amount of impact.
“Vision doesn’t work without revenue,” Ponciano said. “In order for us to have anything happen here, the city has to have infrastructure in place, and we can’t afford to take care of the infrastructure we have now… Cannabis is something that we, for financial reasons, have to take a look at.”
City Manager Cain added the city, faced with rising Public Employee Retirement System rates, needs to identify potential revenue streams – and that the economic drive is there with the cannabis industry.
“We’re $400,000, essentially, in the hole this year. You know, is that gonna true up? Is it gonna happen at the end of the day? More than likely,” Cain said. “But with PERS rates going up over the next two to three years, if we don’t start seeing between $500,000 and $700,000 a year in revenue, without doing something horrible like laying off the entire police department and fire department, we are going to be bankrupt in the next 10 years.”
Planning commissioner Richard Selover said that the city needed to explore other options outside of cannabis – namely, looking at annexing additional land into the city. Councilman Markss agreed, and requested that the item be agendized for a future city council meeting.