REDWOOD CITY — Despite some hesitation, planning commissioners have agreed that the city council should allow up to six cannabis businesses to open in Redwood City — a move that would create a cannabis oasis on the Peninsula.
The 5-1 decision on Tuesday comes two weeks after the city council expressed support during a study session for expanding access to the popular drug in a region that has historically restricted it but become more welcoming over the past decade to the nascent industry.
The plan the commission agreed on would allow dispensaries to open virtually anywhere in the city zoned for commercial and industrial uses as long as they are at least 600 feet away from residences and schools. At the same time, the commission noted that downtown might not be the best place for a dispensary.
Still, Redwood City residents appear to want dispensaries to open up. Some 66.2 of Redwood City voters approved Proposition 64 — the Nov. 2016 ballot measure that legalized marijuana in California. And in 2018, a local cannabis tax measure was approved by 78.69 percent of Redwood City voters.
After the statewide vote, Redwood City Council embarked on a now three year-long, four phased process in 2017. And, despite staunch opposition from neighborhood groups, local school districts and other cannabis skeptics, Redwood City remains one of the friendliest places for the cannabis industry on the Peninsula.
Sean Kali-Rai, President of the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance, said during the commission meeting Tuesday that the process to open dispensaries in Redwood City has been “longer than any other city” he has worked with since pot became legal.
“There’s a number of articles that have been written about Redwood City’s cannabis business and it’s unfortunate that folks have been so slow,” Kali-Rai said. “It’s been a long time.”
Even so, several people who commented at Tuesday’s meeting thought he city was moving too fast. One man who identified himself as Winston H. on the Zoom meeting said he was “appalled” at the possibility of a dispensary opening about half a mile away from where he lives.
“I don’t agree that cannabis retail shops should be classified as regular retail businesses and I think the 600 foot rule is way too relaxed,” Winston H. said. “Homeowners could be hurt by this and city could lose property tax revenue because of bad property values. I don’t know why we would have to have physical storefront when we have delivery.”
Planning commission Vice Chair Ernie Schmidt — who voted against recommending that the city open six dispensaries — said he’s worried that cannabis businesses might take over downtown restaurants or retailers that shutter amid the current economic crisis.
“If you told me maybe allowing one downtown, I’d say let’s talk about that,” Schmidt said. “But I’m not feeling that we can actually accomplish that. Council is going to ultimately decide, but I’m not ready for multiple cannabis retail places downtown.”
Planning commissioner Bill Shoe fully supported allowing cannabis stores to open. He said he respects some concerns about location, namely whether a dispensary should be allowed downtown, but generally disagreed that dispensaries should be barred there altogether.
“I don’t see it as something that takes away from our downtown,” Shoe said. “Not all downtown locations are the same. By allowing this it doesn’t mean we want a dispensary in the most highly trafficked area downtown, but there are side streets that may not be as prominent and still allow proximity.”
Reacting to the commission’s decision during an interview on Wednesday, Mayor Diane Howard said she was happy to see the city is moving ahead, if rather “cautiously and conservatively.” She said she did not buy into criticisms that the city is taking things too slow, it is instead looking at past failures of other cities.
“We learned from San Jose, for example,” Howard said. “They opened it up for dispensary applications and they got stampeded. They told us to ‘go slow you can always add up as you go.’ I don’t think we are behind the eight ball. We’re moving in a good direction, a cautious and conservative direction but a good direction.”
The Redwood City city council is set to discuss the Planning Commission’s recommendation during a public meeting Oct. 12.
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Author: Aldo Toledo