The recycling and convenience store industries packed Fresno City Hall council chambers for Wednesday night’s (August 2) Planning Commission meeting, hoping to beat back proposals that would increase city regulations on their respective industries. And for the time being, they succeeded.

Two separate but similar proposals, that would restrict where recycling centers and alcohol sellers can operate and impose other regulations, were rejected by the commission.

Recycling Centers

Hoping to address the concerns and complaints Fresno residents have about recycling centers, the city council on December 15, 2016 unanimously voted to direct city staff to come up with new regulations. More than eight months later, staff presented the plan to the commission, which met with resistance from recycling operators and industry representatives.

The main sticking point was increasing the distance between recycling centers and schools or parks. By changing the requirement to two miles (up from a ½ mile). That would virtually wipe out the industry in Fresno, according to Leonard Lang, a consultant who spoke during the public comment period with map in hand.

A representative from the grocery store industry said that a proposed alternative to allow recycling inside the store themselves would upset the cleanliness and order expected with a food shopping experience.

Other problems included no longer allowing stand-alone buildings to conduct recycling (think cargo container in the back alley) and a six-month to one-year requirement for current recycling centers to come into compliance.

The commission was skeptical, no more seemingly so than new member Raj Sodhi-Layne. The commission voted unanimously to deny staff’s recommendations.

Alcohol regulations

Exceeding the passions on recycling regulations were plans to create limitations on what stores can sell alcohol in Fresno and where they can be. The directive comes from a December 2015 unanimous council vote asking city staff to come up with zoning ordinances to bring alcohol sellers in line with city code.

Some of those regulations included limits on the length of permits and location restrictions on alcohol sellers. And, similar to the debate on CRV restrictions, the industry came out and talked about the challenges to their business these rules would impose.

The commission, realizing that more work needed to be done, referred the proposed ordinance back to staff for more work.

Other Planning Commission Actions

-Voted 4-1 to approve an outright ban on recreational marijuana facilities in Fresno. There were a few marijuana advocates who spoke against the ban to no avail.

-Unanimously approved a 115-acre project on southwest Fresno at Jensen & Martin Luther King Blvd. that would combine retail and residential space. Some of the land would be used for a proposed community college campus (to be determined). Residents in the area who spoke at the meeting had mixed opinions. Some were glad to see a large project come to a part of town they felt has long been neglected. Others feared that their homes may be confiscated via eminent domain in order to widen the roads.

-All of the commission’s actions will eventually be voted on by the full city council.

City Council: marijuana

Marijuana came up again at the Fresno City Council on Thursday (August 3). And the council debated the particulars to bring rules on personal cultivation on par with state law. The final decision after a 45-minute debate was “to be continued.”

California voters passed Prop 64 last November. Among the provisions, one was allowing residents to grow at least six plants indoors for personal use. Other particulars on the regulation of growing would be up for cities to decide (by January 1, 2018).

Councilman Dr. Garry Bredefeld, with the support of Mayor Lee Brand, proposed changing city ordinances, which previously banned any indoor growth, to the minimum six plants. There was also a limitation of wattage allowed for lights (1200 watts). In June, council approved by a 4-3 vote.

Bredefeld said that the wattage limitation was to prevent fires. Then he argued, perhaps snidely, “I don’t know how you can vote against that, unless you are welcoming fires.” Council President Clint Olivier immediately responded that he condemned fires and still opposed any regulations.

Per council rules, a second vote was needed. On July 20, with Councilman Paul Caprioglio absent, the second vote resulted in a 3-3 tie, thus the ordnance could not move forward. Bredefeld vowed to bring it back, which happened at today’s meeting. (The prior vote failure resulted in a Twitter battle between Bredefeld and Olivier).

However, Caprioglio was absent again. Even though the agenda said he may call in from Montana to vote, the phone never rang. Knowing this, Bredefeld moved forward with the vote anyway. In addition to Caprioglio gone, Councilman Oliver Baines (who voted against the cultivation regulations in June) was absent as well.

The debate on the council dais devolved into how many plants Fresnans should be allowed to grow. City Attorney Douglas Sloan told the council that six is the minimum allowed. State law has no maximum, he said.

Olivier balked at any restrictions on marijuana. He wondered if the city should tax the right to grow. He wondered why only six plants? Olivier suggested hiring a consultant to determine practices. That argument seemed to sway Councilman Luis Chavez, who voted for the cultivation regulations in June.

Bredefeld relented on the needing more time and a full council for debate. But, he bristled at the consultant idea, telling Olivier to let his staff do it. Olivier then accused Bredefeld of being petty and childish for taunting him and Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria.

Finally, at Bredefeld’s suggestion, the motion was continued to August 24, to determine the need for a consultant.

Other Actions:

-Also at the request of Bredefeld, move the discussion about his plan to allow city employees to carry concealed weapons to August 24.

-The council voted to unanimously approve Peter Vang to the Planning Commission. He replaces Pao Yang, who had to resign because of a residency issue.

-While both Bredefeld and Councilman Steve Brandau voted to oppose a pending state housing law, SB 35, they were the only ones. With Caprioglio and Baines absent, the remaining three members abstained. Thus, the city took no official action.

-On the consent calendar, council approved a raise for the union representing city management and slightly raising campaign contributions for city races

image: Hannah Reilly

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