By CJ Dablo
It’s closer to being official– Signal Hill won’t be welcoming any marijuana dispensaries anytime soon. The City Council voted at its Tuesday meeting to specifically prohibit marijuana dispensaries from operating in Signal Hill. City leaders approved the amendment to the zoning ordinance in a first-reading vote on April 19, however, the change to the ordinance will be effective about 30 days after the City Council votes on the amendment in a second reading at a future council meeting, according to the city attorney’s office.
While the City never specifically allowed marijuana dispensaries to operate within the city limits, two dispensaries in 2009 had opened its doors and were subsequently shut down, according to City staff reports. The City placed a moratorium on dispensaries while leaders considered how the City would handle requests from businesses who wanted to sell medical marijuana. The moratorium will expire on June 28, according to a City report.
The topic has been discussed in public hearings and in past City Council meetings, but no one at Tuesday’s meeting spoke in favor of allowing marijuana dispensaries to open in the city. But if they have a prescription, residents who live in Signal Hill, a city that covers an area spanning about 2.2 square miles, can still get medical marijuana in nearby Long Beach. Last year, the Long Beach City Council voted to approve an ordinance which would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city, but Long Beach has not yet issued permits to fully approve the 26 specific collective/cultivation sites that have applied to stay in business and have so far made it through a lottery process.
The nearest Long Beach marijuana dispensary that is going through the approval process is 1.2 miles away from Signal Hill’s Civic Center.
And while the Council voted unanimously in favor of prohibiting marijuana dispensaries, they did not dispute that some patients could have legitimate medical need for marijuana.
“I will also tell you that I actually have prescriptions for medical marijuana if I want it,” said Mayor Larry Forester just before the Council approved the ordinance change. “With HIV and AIDS and, more importantly, with Hepatitis C, both my doctors, because of my loss of weight and problems I’ve had with some of the treatments and drugs, have advised that I… could take marijuana. I choose not to, but if I chose to, I would go to one of those clinics.”
The Council also addressed concerns that marijuana dispensaries may lead to crime.
Vice Mayor Tina Hansen, who works for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, said she has prosecuted homicide- and gang-related crimes and warned about the effects of marijuana on driving. Hansen remembered a specific tragic case when a mother lost her two young sons after a man driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana drove through a red light and struck their car.
“And the tragedy of that case, still after all these years, stays with me because people really don’t think marijuana is dangerous,” Hansen said. “And it is dangerous. It can be dangerous if [it’s] ingested and then you drive.”
Other City Council highlights:
Larry Forester presented Abode Communities with the First Quarter Sustainability Award for their work to install photovoltaic electric systems at two locations. The systems provide solar electric power to the Las Brisas Community Center and Las Brisas II.
John Keisler, bureau manager for the Long Beach Animal Care Services, offered a presentation on coyotes in the area. Keisler encouraged residents to report to their department if they see coyotes but discouraged residents from feeding the wild animals. More information on how to handle coyotes or other wild animals is available in a report on Long Beach’s website. For more information go to longbeach.gov/acs/urban_wildlife. The Wildlife Watch Program phone number is (562) 570-PETS.
Water department employee
During the public comment section, a few Signal Hill residents voiced concerns regarding a former Signal Hill employee who had worked for the water department. The employee in question challenged the city’s water safety and claimed he was fired for his “whistle-blowing,” according to Matthew Simmons, a Signal Hill resident who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the March election.
Due to employee confidentiality issues, the City is not able to specifically comment on the allegations made by the employee at this time, according to City Attorney David Aleshire. However, the City did indicate that the water had been checked on-site by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on April 11. The CDPH is the agency responsible for overseeing Signal Hill’s water quality. A letter issued by a CDPH engineer to the city’s public works director (now posted on Signal Hill’s website) stated that the water had been determined to be in compliance with federal and state standards for drinking water. The issue will be addressed at a future Council meeting, and the City has sought the services of an independent, third-party consultant who will review the allegations concerning water-quality issues and the City’s water-treatment processes.
New budget adjustments
Maida Alcantara, Administrative Services officer and finance director for Signal Hill, reported that several budget items need to be adjusted. One of the major adjustments to the budget will affect the Economic Uncertainties Fund. According to a City report, interest payments from a loan to the Redevelopment Agency and increases to local sales taxes revenue and other revenue sources eliminated the need to use the $1,000,000 budgeted from the Economic Uncertainties Fund, which will remain at a balance of $2,284,534.
The County Sanitation District No. 29 conducted its meeting just before the City Council meeting Tuesday night. Signal Hill Council members who serve as the board of directors adopted a service charge report in a first-reading vote. A formula that determines how commercial and industrial entities will be charged is based on the charges for a single-family home. The board approved the service charge report, which included an increased fee for service connections for new users. The fees will be increased from $4,150 to $4,270 per year for a single-family home. If the board passes the service charge report at its next meeting in a second-reading vote, the increase will be effective July 1. The rate change for the new service connection fee will ensure that new users of the sewage system are paying the appropriate share for their usage so that existing users would not be subsidizing growth, according to a spokesperson for the Sanitation District.