By Chris Frost
Oxnard—The conversation about retail cannabis shops in Oxnard continues with a shift in manufacturing, testing, and distribution.
The authority will be from a special-use permit that was going to go to the city council. It will then go to a development design permit that will go through the community development director.
The Oxnard Planning Commission passed a text amendment to the cannabis ordinance with a 4-3 vote on Aug. 15.
"That would modify sections 11-442 and 444 to clarify M, T, and D," Planning & Sustainability Manager Kathleen Malloy said. "If you can imagine, when you were cross-referencing cannabis processes for four different types of land uses. You want to make sure they are all squared and given the same permit authority."
The hearing would be through a development design review (DDR) permit, which is consistent with the approach to regulating through a hearing with the community development director.
"We would still have a 600-feet public hearing notice," she said. "We'd post the site and mail it to all the property owners, and that is greater than what is typical for a special use permit. The state heavily regulates the volume of volatile chemicals and the way those chemicals need to be reported yearly and contained on-site. The standards for fire and the state permit authority is the same. We're not getting additional regulations through the special use process. The permit is the same, and the same conditions of approval would be imposed on a special use permit for manufacturing and distribution as it would for a DDR."
All retail dispensaries require a special-use permit, she said, and the city does not propose any change to that rule.
"Additionally, the retail ordinance creates operating requirements and standards," Mallory said. "This is based upon work with HdL (the city's consultant) and what provisions need to be put in place to protect not only the retail facilities but the surrounding neighborhood. The ordinance contains those provisions. It also creates a retailer vehicle requirement. All of the standards in the ordinance are based on collaboration with all impacted departments, fire, police, and the finance department in cooperation with HdL and discussions with the city manager's office."
The city will work with the police department to determine where the buzz-to-enter system at the retailer will work best.
"For example, is it right at the door before you go into the facility, or once you are waiting in the waiting room going back to where the product is," Mallory said. "The police and planning department both feel the buzz-to-enter system is a logical and smart requirement."
Commissioner Orlando Dozier asked about the flexibility of the ordinance.
"Do we have a lot of ongoing projects, and as they're being developed, are they subject to change," he asked. "An example would be an area we have mixed-use, and originally it was just retail, and now they want to put some apartments in there."
Mallory said the city bases its decision on land uses at the time, and it becomes part of the four-step application process for a permit.
"That's the things we will be looking at through the application review process," he said. "Once a cannabis use gets a permit, they would be allowed use. Should another use come in that's sensitive in proximity, the use would be considered legal and non-conforming."
HdL Representative Tim Cromartie said the ordinance has a specific provision, section 11-448, which speaks about the promulgation of additional regulations.
"It's designed to have the flexibility and anticipate additional regulations over time to address changed conditions," he said.
Commissioner Jim Fuhring asked what cities Oxnard looked at when developing its best practices and Mallory said it they looked at many different cities.
"We looked at cities up in the bay area, we looked at Pasadena and many different cities that have added regulations," Mallory said.
Fuhring asked if a manufacturer, or distributor could also be a retailer and create a mixed-use at the location.
"They could have distinct licenses," Mallory said. "How that operates between the two, we'd have to look and make sure it doesn't function as a micro business which we don't allow."
Cromartie added that the business in question would need two separate state licenses.
"The city would have to allow for those specific types of uses," he said. "A single owner with multiple license activities at the same location; you have the discretion whether or not you want to allow that."
Fuhring also asked about the security systems at the different types of locations and wanted to know why.
"Usually, you want to have diverse security systems," he said. "If you have a single point of failure, everybody loses."
Mallory said there are different types of security measures for different types of cannabis uses.
"Each licensed activity has to have its security plan and contractor," Cromartie said. "It depends upon the specific applicant. If it's a micro-business and a single facility, then it makes sense to have a single contractor. There is no cookie-cutter approach in terms of requiring the businesses to have the same security plan or to use the same security contractor."
Fuhring wanted to know if any of the manufacturing would have an impact on the city's water and wastewater and Mallory said no because it is industrial use.
"That's a good question regarding cultivation," Mallory said.
Commissioner Robert Sanchez feels fortunate that Oxnard is not going down the path of Santa Barbara County that had a bad start.
"I think it's brilliant that the cultivation is along the freeway," he said. "We should embrace it and its easy access for people to come to purchase it. I am curious why downtown Oxnard is excluded? Of all the neighborhoods that encompass Oxnard, downtown has struggled to get foot traffic."
Mallory reminded Sanchez that the council created three new downtown zones beginning in early Sept. and they don't have the designations yet.
"You have to write the regulations based upon the zoning that you have," she said.
Frank wanted to know why the commission is looking at retail cannabis in Oxnard because of the future zoning designations.
"The timing seems real off to me," she said. "Especially with what I consider to be short notice to interested parties in the middle of summer coming on the tail of an STR (Short Term Rental Ordinance) and before a Fisherman's Wharf hearing. Everyone, where I live, is preoccupied with those issues. Our neighborhood council didn't have any information on this. It was presented to the INCO, and I don't know if any neighborhood reps were there."
Planning Director Jeffrey Lambert said the ordinance is entirely relevant for the entire rest of the city, less the three new downtown zones.
"As the new zones go into effect in Sept., we can come back and look at those new zones," he said. "It's a council priority to move this forward."
Mallory interjected the city had gone multiple times to the INCO starting in Jan. and any members of the public who emailed and asked questions.
"We made it clear along the way what the schedule is and what we would bring forward to the commission and the council," she said. "At INCO, there were several neighborhood chairs present asking questions. There was also an INCO survey where there were questions about cannabis within the city. It was not initiated by staff, but there was a survey. That was their process, and we didn't initiate that."
Sanchez then asked about the smell associated with growing cannabis, and he wanted to know if that is true.
Mallory said smell is an issue around the Carpentaria area.
"I drive home a certain way, and I am smelling hemp plants," she said. "Odor control and the standards you put in place to address that, that's a genuine issue."
Placing the plants inside an industrial building is more advantageous because you can maximize the leaf grow and get a greater number of growing harvests, six versus three, during the year.
"That would also address the issues of odor and odor control, as well as theft and recycled water provisions," she said. "This is a complex issue in terms of cultivation."
Commissioner Wilfredo Chua wanted to know how the city will control the people who obtain cannabis products.
"Do we have any safety measures in place that make sure those people who are buying this aren't convicted of a DUI," he asked.
"State law has specific provisions about who can buy cannabis," Cromartie said. "There's no criminal background check if they walk into a retail outlet. However, if you are 21 or older, you can purchase cannabis for adult use without restriction. There are daily purchasing limits that are controlled by electronic data; this is on an individual's card."
That concerns Chua.
"I've known people who were killed by DUI's," he said. "I am concerned about perpetrating a business that will contribute to that."
Commissioner Jeremy Meyer asked about the social equity program discussed at a council meeting and asked where the dispensaries are in that equation.
"These are the pieces that will be developing over the next six months," Mallory said. "We don't envision that we are going to be securing a retail license over the next six months because there is a process to get the ordinance into effect. Our equity program will look at the five different types of cannabis uses and who is responsible for paying what."
Commissioner Daniel Chavez Jr. wanted to know how much the proposal resembles the City of Port Hueneme's ordinance.
"It has some similarities, certainly," Mallory said. "We did look at other cities and their ordinances."
He wanted to know about the 1 percent donation to charities, and Mallory said that amount is equal to Port Hueneme.
"What is the city's primary role in the cannabis community investment fund," Chavez asked.
"The thinking at this point is that it can be seed money to help offset the cost to apply for a permit," Mallory said.
Chair Diedre Frank wanted to know what the zoning verification letter is.
"An applicant comes in a verifies the property they are interested in using, along with the types of use they want to place in the building," Mallory said. "We ask questions generally in terms of chemical amounts they intend to store on the property. We will be doing some verification on the age of the building and whether or not they are sprinklered. They are not deal killers if someone wants to go in a fire sprinkler it, but that is an added cost."
Frank wanted to know why the Oxnard City Council did not look at a residential buffer.
"The state law doesn't consider residential as a sensitive use," Mallory said. "We followed what the state law does, and we also looked at other cities."
During Public comments, INCO Chairwoman Jackie Tedeschi said Mallory visited the organization three times, and Lambert visited the group at the last two meetings about cannabis.
"The INCO represents all the neighborhoods, and we did give input when Miss Mallory visited," Tedeschi said. "It was also done under surveys, and the fourth vice-chair of the INCO was Gabe Tehran, and he facilitated the survey that was put out."
She said a lot of things the commissioners stated was brought up to the INCO and the answers were the same thing.
She wanted to know how the retail locations jumped from eight to 16.
"When it comes to notifying people for the community, are notices mailed to chairs of neighborhood councils, or are they mailed to all neighbors," she asked.
Downtown merchant Robert Mulder said cannabis is an excellent opportunity to look at downtown and focus on that community.
"We've been suffering down there for as long as I've been down there, which is approximately five years," he said. "I see a possibility to bring a group of retail cannabis stores to downtown Oxnard and making it a destination as other cities have done."
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