After a five-week layoff, the Fresno City Council reconvenes on Thursday with a jammed agenda dealing with high-profile issues such as marijuana and gun rights.
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Last month, the council voted 4-3 to revamp regulations for marijuana businesses to operate in Fresno. The council will introduce a revised plan, with a final vote scheduled for later this month.
Mayor Lee Brand vetoed the measure, citing a desire for a supermajority (five votes) approval; to have locations maintain security video recordings for 90 days (a prior version was 60 days); for the police department to recommend changes in security language; and his opposition to a social equity rule requiring a labor peace agreement.
An override, requiring five votes, is not scheduled on Thursday’s agenda. However, the co-authors of the ordinance — Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria — say the mayor had input on the revised version.
Mayor Supports Latest Version
“This brownie was already baked for us, not once but twice. The first was when the council approved the original ordinance. … The second came in January 2019 when the state adopted regulations allowing delivery services to sell cannabis in every California city and town.” — Fresno Mayor Lee Brand
Brand supports the new version, saying it will help with public safety.
“While I remain morally opposed to adult-use cannabis sales, I am also pragmatic,” Brand said in an emailed statement. “We will never be able to significantly reduce the marijuana black market that funds gangs and human trafficking without allowing legal sales and then using tax revenue from those sales to fund a new full-scale Drug Task Force. This task force would aggressively go after human traffickers, gangs, and drug dealers who peddle heroin, meth, opioids, and other poisons on our streets.”
Brand noted that voters supported Measure A in 2018, which established a tax rate for marijuana sales. The measure passed with 71% approval. By comparison, just 51% of Fresno voters approved the statewide legalization of recreational cannabis in 2016.
“The introduction of these amendments improves the safety and security of this process. It is also important to note that this brownie was already baked for us, not once but twice,” Brand said. “The first was when the council approved the original ordinance in December 2018 allowing medical and adult-use retail sales, and the second came in January 2019 when the state adopted regulations allowing delivery services to sell cannabis in every California city and town.”
Those regulations permit state-licensed firms to deliver marijuana in cities that have banned pot shops. Twenty-five cities, led by Clovis, challenged the regulations in a lawsuit filed April 4 last year in Fresno County Superior Court.
Changes in the New Ordinance
While the latest version agrees on the video recording aspect, it also keeps and clarifies the social equity component and labor peace agreement.
Instead of leaving the social equity component “at the discretion of the applicant,” the ordinance spells out what it expects. That includes dedicating one-third of employees’ hours to those who either meet poverty guidelines; prior conviction for a marijuana crime; veteran status; or be a foster home youth.
Marijuana businesses with 10 or more employees are required to sign an agreement allowing their employees to unionize.
At least one of every seven retail applicants will be “equity” applicants, which essentially applies the equity employee rules to potential owners of a marijuana business.
The changes though, are doubtful to win over councilman Mike Karbassi who voted no last month.
“I’m mulling it over now. It’s possible but unlikely. The social equity component is still too prescriptive,” Karbassi said. He added that he is still concerned about impaired driving and how law enforcement would deal with it.
A Second Amendment Showdown
The council delayed the vote on adopting Mayor Lee Brand’s plan to bar concealed weapon permit holders from entering city buildings last month. The bill is scheduled for introduction this week, with a final vote at a future meeting.
But that didn’t stop the mayor’s administration from implementing the plan when new security features went into effect this month.
Councilman Garry Bredefeld is strongly opposed to the policy, as he wrote in an op-ed last week, supporting Second Amendment rights.
Another aspect of the new security policy that could be debated — whether employees should have to go through security screening the same way the public does. City Hall security is on the closed session agenda. Brand told my colleague Bill McEwen that he is amenable to that change.
For comparison, Fresno County only allows peace officers to carry weapons in its buildings.
Stairway to Nowhere
Fresno City Hall’s new security features went into place on Jan. 2. In addition to the metal detectors and baggage screening, elevators are the only passage from the first-floor lobby upward. Access to the staircase requires a key card.
A door from the lobby enters into a hallway, with a door to the stairwell to the left. However, a keycard is required to access the stairs. The door to the lobby locks behind you, meaning the only way out is through doors that lead to the back parking lot.
City officials say security is the reason for the change in stair policy, which was open to the public before the new measures.
Thursday will be a test of patience. The Central High football team will be honored, meaning dozens of players and supporters will enter through the screening and the elevators.
For comparison, the Hugh Burns state building across the street from City Hall has an accessible stairwell through the first floor. Even though the sign says “Employees Only,” a security guard says the public can use it.
At the county courthouses and the Fresno County Plaza building, the public has access to the stairs from the first floor. In those facilities, both the public and employees go through screening.
Arias to Become President
Councilman Miguel Arias is slated to take over as council president. By council policy, the vice president ascends to president the following year, so there isn’t much drama there. The vice president is the councilmember who is next in line to become president. In this case, that would be District 4’s Paul Caprioglio.
Last year, when District 2 councilman and president Steve Brandau resigned to take his seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, council by-laws prevented Arias from taking over, because he had less than one year of experience on the board. Caprioglio then leapfrogged the line to fulfill the rest of Brandau’s council presidency.
By city charter, the vote to determine the new president was supposed to take place Jan. 7. But the council hasn’t adhered to that rule in years.
Gavin Returns to Fresno
Give Gov. Gavin Newsom credit. He is stopping again in the Central Valley.
He will be here Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. as part of his statewide tour, meeting with people receiving homeless services.
Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, who serves on Newsom’s statewide homelessness task force, will be on hand as well.
Esmeralda Soria continues to gain the support of Democratic politicians in her effort to unseat fellow Democrat Jim Costa in Congress.
Joining the Soria parade are Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula of Fresno, his father and former Assemblyman Juan Arambula, and two colleagues on the Fresno City Council, Miguel Arias and Luis Chavez.
Low Says No to Dyer
Assemblyman Evan Low
Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Cupertino) contributed $1,000 to an independent expenditure committee that opposes Jerry Dyer for mayor.
The Silicon Valley legislator transferred the money from his campaign account to the “Rising Together” committee. The group is producing a series of online videos against the former police chief.
Low’s office did not reply to Politics 101’s question as to why he is against Dyer’s candidacy.