Is the city council out of touch with the public?

Is the city council out of touch with the public?

One of our members suggested in a recent thread that the council is “unable to relate” to the public. Let’s examine that.

“Unable to relate” to the general public. Hmmm. According to the IT, “In the 10 opioid-related deaths that happened in 2020 in Sonoma Valley, half included fentanyl. By comparison, between May 2017 and 2018, not a single overdose death involved fentanyl.” According to the Department of Public Health, Sonoma County has the sixth-highest rate of opioid overdoses in the state, per capita. As little as 2 mg of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person’s body size, tolerance, and past usage.

Last Wednesday night, the CC adopted without comment a resolution to participate in the national opioid settlement. Perhaps accepting $350,000 over the next 10-20 years for intervention, treatment, and education services helps them to feel they are doing their part to combat the opioid crisis. Fine, but never mind the $350,000 a second dispensary would help bring the city in one year alone that could be used for almost anything the city cared, *plus* the community benefits offered by an additional retail outlet.

But even more importantly:

A number of studies have shown that patients being treated for pain may successfully substitute cannabis for opioid medication. Still more studies show that cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, opioid-related drug treatment admissions, and opioid-related overdose deaths. This could help curb the opioid epidemic.

Unfortunately, the trend for opioid and fentanyl abuse in the Valley is clearly rising, yet the City continues to limit the options for anyone who might benefit from cannabis in their fight against pain or addiction. So, what’s the answer, I ask sarcastically, fix the cemetery problem in order to make more room for those who succumb to opioid addiction?

And let’s not stop there. According to the Salinas Californian, “More than 80% of illegal cannabis seized by Monterey County law enforcement officers failed official laboratory testing due to contamination in 2021.” If one buys and consumes cannabis from the black market, there is a likelihood of ingesting contaminated cannabis.

To be safe, experts suggest people should buy cannabis from a medical/recreational dispensary. Unfortunately, many consumers are buying from the illegal market because they simply can’t afford it otherwise. But, when consumers go to the illicit market, they don’t have access to established brands and the benefits of rigorous testing. It’s important to find a way to bridge the gap between the price points and bring those consumers over to the legal market. Allowing a local monopoly that excludes competitive pricing and product availability only exacerbates the problem.

Both of these concerns, opioid abuse and deaths, and black-market cannabis contaminated with molds, pesticides, and heavy metals, are serious public safety issues. People didn’t vote for Prop 64 for some tax revenue windfall, they voted out of concern for public safety and public health. Californians understood the importance of extending basic consumer protections to the millions who are consuming cannabis.

Though city government is charged with working for the safety, health, and welfare of its citizens, the city council prefers to minimize the benefits of supporting a safe, competitive, legal market in favor of managing parklets, creating Plaza “enhancements”, coming up with new parking strategies and making an art upgrade to the council chambers.

Mayor Agrimonti Response to public comment – City Council, 17 Nov 2021

Dave Eichar’s final question during public comment at the Nov 17 meeting. Inquiring minds *do* want to know. Note the raised eyebrows as the mayor said, “I don’t think so.”

Though Staff had a clear opportunity to respond to Dave’s question, no one dared answer…

Accountability is a cornerstone of good governance.

California Public Records Act Request

California Public Records Act Request

Accountability is a bedrock of representative government. It is about trust between government and citizens. The appearance of questionable behavior hurts public trust. This is why we filed a PRA request with the city for all documents related to the second dispensary process from the last year.

Regarding the PRA request, per Government Code Section 6253, the City of Sonoma must respond to all requests for records within ten calendar days of receipt of the request. The response may include the production of records but alternately may also specify an extension of the production time or an exemption from public disclosure.

The city acknowledged receipt via email on the day it was filed, Nov 21. Ten calendar days takes it out to December 1. Today’s date is, of course, December 9.

We have yet to receive further communication regarding the City’s determination on whether it has records that are responsive to my request under the Public Records Act.

We also have received no communication regarding the City’s right to extend the response time beyond the ten-day period, which should state the reason or reasons for the extension and the anticipated date of the response within the 14-day extension period.

The City appears to be in violation of the Act. We, of course, will follow up…

Important Question for the Sonoma City Council

Important Question for the Sonoma City Council

We wrote the following to each city council member and carbon copied all, so they all can see that each of them received this email:

November 28, 2021

Sonoma City Council

City of Sonoma

No. 1 The Plaza

Sonoma, California, 95476

To the Sonoma City Council,

Needless to say, the members of the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group are disappointed with the decision made by the council to table the second dispensary process.

It was also extremely discouraging to group members and members of the general public that their outreach to the council was not recognized in any way.

Each council member received over 40 (!) unique postcards with personal messages. That’s over 160 post cards, total. We believe that, in all its history, the city council has never seen such a campaign.

It’s difficult to understand why the council was unable to publicly recognize the scale of citizens’ concern for the issue, especially after some council members suggested that perhaps there was no appetite for a second dispensary among the public.


The SVCG Team

We have more questions we’ll explore in upcoming posts. Stay tuned…

Digging Deeper

Digging Deeper

Let’s dig a little deeper regarding our previous post.

According to the November 17 Staff Report, “Staff recommends that the City Council consider the second “RFP” process after receiving tax data/reports following a 6-month operational/finance reporting period. This would allow the City Council to not only determine the fiscal benefits of authorizing a second commercial cannabis business to operate in the City, but also provide adequate time to evaluate any community-wide benefits or impacts associated with the use. Staff anticipates being able to report back to the City Council in Fall 2022 regarding any potential impacts and would return to the City Council for direction on the timing of the release of the RFP, ostensibly prior to the end of the calendar year.

So, according to Staff, the RFP will not go out after six months from sparc’s opening (likely in August, 2022). Rather, Staff won’t even report to the council until roughly a year from now. Then perhaps an RFP will be issued before the end of the year. And, if the RFP is finally issued, it will be another year of process and permits. There will likely be no second retail outlet for another two years from now, if at all.

Given the history of the city council on this issue over the past five years, we are very dubious of its stated intent to move forward in the fall. There is a lot to the story.

As we reported in the previous post, on September 8, Erich Pearson of sparc asked the Sonoma City Council to place what in essence is a de facto moratorium of one year on any new dispensary. Though the city council did not give Staff the direction to do so, it made a recommendation to that effect on November 17.

There is little doubt that Mr. Pearson and his lobbyist, Amy Jenkins, have been working to influence the city council on this matter.

Meanwhile, leading up to the November 17 meeting, a huge postcard campaign was mounted by the 200+ members of SVCG in support of moving the second dispensary process forward without further delay. Over 160 individual cards were sent by US mail, over 40 to each of the four sitting city council members. Though this most likely was the biggest campaign of its kind in the history of the city council, no member even acknowledged it.

We were blindsided by the sudden, unforeseen recommendation from Staff to postpone the process. It was inserted into the Agenda at the direction of someone behind closed doors. None of this may be illegal, but appearance is everything.

We have made a Public Records Act request for all documents and communications regarding the second dispensary.

We have a number of questions we’ll explore in upcoming posts. Stay tuned…

A brief history of cannabis in Sonoma

A brief history of cannabis in Sonoma

The following column was written by SVCG member Josette Brose-Eichar:

My personal journey with cannabis began in 2017, just after Prop 64 passed in 2016 for adult-use cannabis dispensaries in California. After years of health issues, unsatisfactory treatment from conventional medicine, and four surgeries, I decided to follow a new path. I began to seek out natural medicine practitioners and to add medical cannabis to my quest. Dispensaries were making the transition from medical use only, so I got a medical card. Fast forward to 2021 and I find I have made the right choice. I’m not problem free, but finally able to lead an almost normal life. 

I had to travel out of the Sonoma Valley or pay more for delivery, to get the medicine I needed. I got involved with the Sonoma Valley Cannabis Group to get a dispensary in Sonoma.

Many are not aware of the long and winding road to getting a dispensary or two here in Sonoma, so here is a brief history of the Sonoma cannabis quest.

The city of Sonoma began to study the dispensary issue in 2016, as they realized that Prop 64 was going to pass and they would have to have a policy in place. The makeup of the city council at that time was conservative, “kick the can down the road” in dealing with this issue. They studied the issue and put a moratorium in place, no dispensaries in Sonoma. In 2017 they extended the moratorium. But, lo and behold, one Jon Early created a ballot measure and began gathering signatures. It was clear that kicking the can down the road was not a good strategy. 

By 2018 the makeup of the city council changed. Three progressives were now on the council and realized that it would be better if Sonoma wrote its own ordinance, setting rules for cannabis, rather than a ballot measure that benefited its creator. The council decided to push the ballot measure to the November 2020 election to buy time.

Thanks to the three city council members, a consultant was hired in February 2019. An ordinance for one storefront and one delivery service was passed in June 2019. The consultant advised that Sonoma could support two storefront dispensaries. The selection process completed in August 2020 selected SPARC as the permitted dispensary and measure Y was defeated in November 2020.

Many of us realized the needs of the community, plus fair and open competition, demanded that the ordinance be amended to permit a second dispensary. In April 2021 that became a reality. But, once again the makeup of the city council changed. The three progressive council members who worked so hard were gone. SPARC now wants a year to see if they are profitable before the city starts the process to select a second operator. Some new city council members are on the fence, citing there may be dispensaries opening up in the unincorporated area of the valley or really don’t believe there is a need for two.

Would this be the discussion for a restaurant, retail or tasting room? Of course not.  Be sure to attend the November 17, city council meeting. Let’s stop kicking the can down the road and move forward on a compassionate and realistic approach to cannabis for Sonoma.