A majority of City Council members agreed Tuesday night to allow marijuana retailers to open up shop in Mountain View, parting company with other cities in the county that have sought a ban on the businesses.
The 5-2 vote to allow up to four marijuana stores -- two storefront shops and two delivery businesses -- came after hours of public comments mostly mostly from people who were opposed, warning that pot shops would ruin the family-friendly feel of the city and bring a wave of crime and drug use. Several speakers carried signs that said "No pot store in MTV" depicting a crossed-out marijuana leaf.
Mayor Lenny Siegel and council members Chris Clark, John McAlister, Ken Rosenberg and Pat Showalter voted in favor of the proposal, with Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak opposed.
The council's action would allow marijuana retailers, through a conditional use permit, to open up a storefront business in downtown Mountain View, the San Antonio Shopping Center, in North Bayshore and along El Camino Real, as well as in various major shopping centers throughout the city. City Council members agreed not to allow the shops in the Grant Park Plaza, both as a way of appeasing concerns from residents and an acknowledgment of how hard it is to access and park in the plaza.
Rosenberg said allowing marijuana stores follows through on a clear mandate by voters in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of Mountain View residents supported Proposition 64, which cleared the way for recreational marijuana in the state. Detailed election results showed every single precinct in the city at least held a majority in favor of the law. Although many of the 68 public speakers vehemently opposed the idea of pot retailers, he said the city can't ignore the people who didn't come to the meeting.
"I see an opportunity for the city of Mountain View that extends beyond Mountain View, given that the progressiveness of this city is not shared by some of our neighbors. And yet people who live in those cities are going to enjoy shopping here, as they already do," Rosenberg said.
"As much as I enjoy Cupertino, the city itself has no soul. They try to make a downtown and it's basically a mall. Mountain View doesn't have that issue."
Some of the public speakers, however, worried that turning the city into a magnet for recreational marijuana would cause a whole host of problems. Resident Tootoo Thomson told council members that the city isn't ready for the 'new can of worms' that the marijuana retailers will bring, and that the vote on Proposition 64 shouldn't be conflated with residents wanting the businesses in their backyard.
In a statement submitted to the council prior to the meeting, Thompson said the city should follow the example set by neighboring cities and continue the moratorium on marijuana retailers.
"Palo Alto, Los Altos and Sunnyvale have not approved to (sic) open any marijuana outlet. Please learn from them. Otherwise the drug addicts, criminals and homeless people will flock to our city," she said in the statement.
Dozens of comments focused specifically on the effect on children, claiming that exposure to marijuana smoke and the normalization of pot would have a harmful effect on kids and teens. One woman claimed her friends in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is also legal, feel like their kids are not safe, and that they can no longer go to the park because of public use of marijuana and the "inappropriate" behaviors associated with it.
One Sunnyvale resident said the council's decision was fueled by greed and a desire for tax revenue from the businesses at the expense of public health, while others described the acceptance of marijuana in California as a dangerous path for the country. Vincent Zhang, the owner of the Sylvan Learning Center in Mountain View, described the smell of marijuana as "poisonous gas," and that he was strongly opposed to recreational use.
"Legalizing marijuana is evil to me," he said. "I am very sorry I didn't have a chance to vote against Proposition 64, but from now on I'm going to vote against these evil propositions."
Clark said he was surprised about how much disinformation was in the community, particularly the false notion that marijuana stores would look like an Apple store open to all ages, and that pot smoke would be billowing out the front or in an adjacent parking lot. He said the businesses he's seen elsewhere are nondescript, none of the products can be seen from the windows and no one is allowed in without an ID card proving customers are over the age of 21.
"Your kids can walk into Nob Hill and walk down the alcohol aisle and pick up a bottle of wine," he said. "You can't do that in a cannabis dispensary. A kid can't just walk in without swiping an ID, being 21 years old, and even seeing the product, let alone interacting with it."
"When we open up a flashy BevMo we don't have hundreds of people show up and protest BevMo, even though that is a drug that is far more harmful to society and is a lot closer to schools than this is proposed," he said.
Mayor Siegel said he believes residents in Mountain View largely see marijuana use as a socially acceptable recreational activity, but as it stands today it is difficult to legally purchase pot without allowing dispensaries to open businesses. Similar to prohibition, he said, the only way to stop crime historically associated with marijuana is to have a legal, managed system of providing it to consumers.
"There are plenty of people in Mountain View in every neighborhood, near every school, people who are productive, moral citizens, residents of our community who use marijuana," he said. "If you don't believe me, you've been living in a dream world. Marijuana is ubiquitous in Mountain View and that's why people voted for Proposition 64."
McAlister said he took the vote to mean residents want the city of Mountain View to implement the law, which sets up a framework that allows for recreational marijuana stores to open and operate. There's only so much the city should do to prevent children and families from being exposed to something that's legal and available in society.
"No matter how hard you try to buffer your child, it's out there and they're going to be exposed to certain things," he said. "And that's part of growing up in life -- protecting your kids and explaining to them what is important and what's not important."
After a failed effort by Matichak to water down the staff's proposal, bringing down the total number of businesses to two, severely limiting where they could be located and adding a sizable buffer around all medical facilities, council members voted 5-2 to support a total of four businesses at any given time. The majority did, however, agree to remove the so-called "Grant-Phyllis" precise plan area from the list of potential storefront locations.
Under the new law, applications to open marijuana businesses will have to go through a screening process to weed out businesses that don't pass background checks and certification requirements, followed by a lottery system to select which four businesses would be allowed to proceed. Each one needs to have a businesses location set in stone before proceeding through the application process, and will need to mitigate any impacts on the community through a conditional use permit.
Businesses will have to pay more than $100,000 in city fees -- on top of a hefty fee schedule imposed by the state -- which would offset the costs incurred by the city for allowing the budding industry. This includes the cost of city staff time as well as an additional police officer position for "administration and enforcement of cannabis business regulations." This does not include the marijuana tax on the ballot this November, which would put a 9 percent tax on the businesses, the revenues from which could go toward a myriad of city services.
Siegel said many of the people protesting the decision will leave the council meeting disappointed, but said the city will be conscious of the needs of residents during the rollout of the marijuana businesses.
"Come back in a year and see how hard we've worked to make a protective system of legal, regulated marijuana work in Mountain View," he said. "Not only will I think you'll be convinced that it's not turning our kids into reefer madness, but neighboring cities will look at us and say 'Wow, they made it work in Mountain View, we're going to do it too.'"
A second vote on the ordinance, which makes the decision final, is set for Oct. 23.