Cannabis-related businesses inched closer to becoming a reality in Vacaville Tuesday, as the Planning Commission narrowly approved recommendations on changes to the Land Use and Development Code for the Vacaville City Council to vote on in June.
Since the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, which effectively legalized cannabis use in California, Vacaville has spent the last five years determining how to address it. In 2017, the council voted to establish an emergency moratorium ordinance to allow time to further explore the topic. With the moratorium set to expire in 2019, a series of workshops were held to solicit public input. On June 25 of that year, the council voted to replace the moratorium ordinance with a prohibition on cannabis-related activities to answer questions the council majority still wanted to see resolved.
Following the passage of Measure V, which imposed a tax on cannabis deliveries from outside Vacaville, in 2020, Senior Planner Christina Love said the city began reanalyzing the process. A presentation was delivered at the April 27 City Council meeting, and some amendments related to land use regulations for cannabis.
The approval of cannabusinesses, Love said, was a two-part process. The first step was a regulatory permit process, which is tied to the owner and operator of the business and is conditional on the approval of a land use permit. The second step is the land use permit process, which focuses on factors such as the physical site location and design. Since the Planning Commission votes on land use matters, this process would fall under its purview.
In its last meeting on the subject, Love said the council was supportive of staff’s recommendations of allowing storefront cannabis retailers in general commercial areas and all other licensing types — testing labs, manufacturing, nonstorefront deliveries — in industrial or business parks. The only exception was cultivation businesses, which neither staff nor the consultant are recommending due to the industry having more supply than demand can keep up with.
Love said the city was recommending defaulting to the state-recommended buffer of no less than 600 feet between cannabis retailers and youth-oriented institutions like schools or day care centers.
Commissioner Wendy Breckon asked if the commission would have discretion to suggest alternate locations for cannabis retailers. Fred Buderi, interim community development director, said the commission could recommend different features in the ordinance if it chose to.
Commissioner Brandon Kline said stately had a sunset provision and asked what would be the latest for the city to push the matter back to have more time to study it. Buderi said the council would need to take action in June to take advantage of the timeframe for California Environmental Quality Act exemptions and meet the July 1 sunset deadline.
“An action by the Planning Commission tonight would enable the ordinance to be considered by the City Council at their June 8 meeting,” he said.
In a public comment, Alicia Minyen asked if the city reached out to any of the schools to see if they were comfortable with the 600 foot buffer. Don Burrus, director of economic development services, said the city did not converse with Vacaville Unified School District “not because we didn’t think it was a worthwhile conversation” but because “we were using the state’s default as 600 feet, knowing that we have the ability to either make that 600 feet shorter or actually longer.”
Breckon said she was concerned about having cannabis retailers in commercial shopping centers, particularly near family friendly establishments, and also felt the 600-foot buffer was too short for high schoolers.
“600 feet seems really way too close for at least the high schools,” she said.
Breckon said she felt a one-mile buffer from high schools would be more sufficient.
Burrus said retailers being in traditional locations would diminish potential criminal activity.
“Who wants to try to rob someone or something in the middle of the day next to a Safeway or any of the other major retail outlets?” he asked.
Burrus also said relegating retailers to industrial areas would decrease their visibility and not provide an economic benefit.
“What we’re actually going to see is less revenue being generated by those businesses, which means they may not succeed, as well as the city coffers may not benefit from that sales tax revenue,” he said.
Both Breckon and Kline suggested postponing the action, which most of the commission did not agree with.
“I think it needs to be allowed in a general commercial entity,” Vice Chair Michael Fortney said. “The hiding and putting it in the industrial area isn’t fair or safe for the residents of Vacaville that will be shopping.”
Regarding the buffer, Love said the commission would have the discretion to not approve a permit if they felt it was too close to a school. Commissioner Jan Aldrich felt a buffer would not matter because many high schoolers are able to drive.
“I think it’s time to move on,” she said.
Burrus later clarified that cannabis retailers would have strict security measures, and nobody would be able to enter without a valid ID. The minimum age for recreational cannabis purchases in California is 21, although people in the 18-to-21 range are able to buy medicinal marijuana with a medical cannabis card provided by a doctor.
The commission voted 4-3 to recommend the proposed amendments to the council, with Breckon, Kline and Doug Beaumont voting against.