By Nick Diamantides
During its Tuesday night meeting, the Signal Hill City Council took an official stand on three propositions that will appear on the November 2 ballot. After City Manager Ken Farfsing made brief presentations, the Council voted to oppose Propositions 19 and 26, and to support Proposition 22.
Farfsing began with Proposition 19, (the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act) warning that its passage would have significant negative impacts on Signal Hill and all California cities. “Whether you agree or disagree with the legalization of cannabis, one should carefully consider if this potential new law is the way to accomplish legalization and reduce the impacts on local government operations,” Farfsing said. “Poorly constructed propositions create unintended consequences. For example, many local governments, including Signal Hill, are still struggling with the implementation and the unintended consequences of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.”
Farfsing explained that Prop 19 would prohibit the state from taxing or regulating the cultivation, distribution, sale and use of cannabis, but it would allow county and city governments to regulate it. “Proposition 19 will not prove to be the revenue-gusher that proponents are stating, since it only permits local governments to collect business license taxes and fees from the licensing of facilities that cultivate, distribute and sell cannabis,” he said. “In fact, it will result in financial burdens on the state and local governments, especially in the early development and implementation years. The prohibition of taxation on cannabis is contrary to the significant revenues generated by state taxes on tobacco and alcohol.”
Farfsing also warned that delegating the regulation of marijuana to more than 478 cities and 58 counties with no framework to guide development of the regulations would lead to confusion, duplication of efforts, expensive litigation and the added costs of staff time. “We do not see a provision in the Act that allows cities to recoup the costs for the research and development of local cannabis ordinances and policies, which will require careful review by the city attorney and city staff,” he said.
Additionally, according to Farfsing, the Act could prevent cities from applying for certain federal grants that require a drug-free workplace, since marijuana is still classified as a narcotic under federal law. Farfsing also warned that the Act would restrict employers from addressing work plan impairments created by marijuana use and could allow heavy-equipment operators to work while under the influence of marijuana.
After Farfsing’s presentation, Councilmember Ellen Ward said, “I am afraid that a lot of people don’t know how badly this is written.” The Council voted 4–0 to oppose Proposition 19. Councilman Larry Forester abstained.
Next, Farfsing urged the Council to support Proposition 22, which would prevent the state from taking or borrowing city and redevelopment agency funds. “The voters approved Proposition 1A in 2005, which allowed the state to borrow funds from cities under certain limitations,” Farfsing said. “Redevelopment agencies were assured that Proposition 1A and the State Constitution protected redevelopment agency proceeds from state takeaways. However, this promise of protection proved to be false.”
Farfsing noted that, since 2003, the state has taken $8.4 million from the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency (RDA) with almost $8 million of that amount taken since 2005. He added that the state borrowed $355,977 from the RDA last year, and it is unclear when the loan will be paid back.
“Proposition 22 would not reverse past takeaways or the borrowing but would stop future takeaways and borrowing,” Farfsing said. He explained that the proposition would also prevent the state legislature from raiding transportation funds used by local governments for buses, commuter rail, road safety repairs and congestion-relief projects.
After Farfsing’s presentation, Mayor Ed Wilson said he could not support the passage of Proposition 22. “I do believe that our revenues need to be protected, but I don’t think this is the right approach,” he said. “In the long term, it (Prop 22) would create more problems in the future.” The Council voted 4-1 to support the passage of Prop 22, with Wilson voting against it.
In his final presentation, Farfsing urged the Council to oppose Proposition 26, which would require two-thirds of the voters to approve certain state and local fees. “Proposition 26 would further complicate state and local government finances by recategorizing many state and local fees as taxes, imposing supermajority vote approval hurdles for many regulatory fees, such as oil pipeline franchise fees,” he said.
After Farfsing’s presentation, with little discussion, the Council voted unanimously to oppose Prop 26.
In a separate action, the Council voted unanimously to approve a new street-tree policy drafted by staff in the Department of Public Works. The Council, however, removed a provision in the policy that would have allowed the residents of a block to have street trees removed if they unanimously agreed to it. The Council also directed staff to draft procedures for implementation of the policy.
During its September 8 meeting, the Signal Hill Parks Commission had recommended Council approval of the street-tree policy. At that meeting, several residents urged the commission to include provisions for removing trees that blocked views. The policy adopted by the Council has no such provision, and no one came to the Council meeting to request it.
The next meeting of the Signal Hill City Council is scheduled for 7pm on Tuesday, Oct. 19 in the Council Chamber of Signal Hill City Hall.