And they’re on …

Council, via Zoom, opens (very tight) window for more commercial cannabis sectors, discusses housing

The Chico City Council, which met Tuesday night (Dec, 21) via Zoom, discusses adding distribution, manufacturing and testing to city's cannabis business sectors. Clockwise from top left: City Manager Mark Orme, City Attorney Vince Ewing, Councilman Sean Morgan and Mayor Andrew Coolidge. (Screen shot by Evan Tuchinsky)

When Chico Mayor Andrew Coolidge declared himself “virtually present” at the City Council meeting Tuesday night (Dec. 21), he wasn’t making a Christmas-week quip. The city decided to hold the session exclusively on Zoom due to state public health orders requiring council members, city staff and members of the public to participate remotely.

Apart from Councilman Sean Morgan taking the occasional puff of a cigar and bites of a snack, activities not allowed in council chambers, web cameras caught nothing unusual. The nearly three-and-a-half hours of open session (followed by a 90-minute closed session, at which no action was taken) featured a split vote to open a tight window for applications in three commercial cannabis sectors and a presentation on housing that sparked an animated discussion.

The council also approved a letter Mayor Coolidge will sign and City Manager Mark Orme will share with other North State municipalities to rally support for mental health funding and legislative reform. That vote became unanimous when Coolidge accepted changes suggested by Councilwoman Alex Brown to address language concerns.

“A lot of compromises happened,” the mayor told the CN&R by phone Wednesday morning, summing up the meeting.

The most significant give-and-take came on cannabis. Morgan—who reiterated a claim of being the most anti-cannabis member of the council and expressed adamance on limiting deliveries—wound up voting in favor of Coolidge’s motion for the city to accept applications for manufacturing, distribution and lab testing over a two-week period and have City Attorney Vince Ewing bring back more information on delivery services at a future council meeting.

Brown repeatedly pushed against the timeline. Given that the two weeks include two holidays, she advocated for a longer span. Her prime concern was that large outside entities with applications elsewhere would have an advantage over local entrepreneurs starting from scratch.

When Coolidge didn’t relent, Brown asked for a distinction of 10 business days versus 14 business days. Coolidge and Councilwoman Deepika Tandon, who seconded the motion, settled on a deadline of Jan. 7. Ultimately, Brown joined them, Morgan and “reluctant” Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds in support, with Councilmen Michael O’Brien (former Chico police chief) and Dale Bennett opposed.

Coolidge insisted on the two-week window to minimize the number of applicants. As written, the city’s commercial cannabis ordinance allows any business in these categories a permit “by right” as long as they meet all requirements—as opposed to dispensaries, which the ordinance caps at three. Rather than constrict the number by amending the ordinance, he sought to attract fewer applicants.

“Had we not done the time constraint, I don’t believe it would have passed,” Coolidge told the CN&R. “Both sides saw that as a compromise. The vice mayor and Councilmember Morgan saw that as a compromise that would limit, and I think Councilmember Brown saw that as a compromise that would at least let it open. So I think it was a nice middle place to be.”

As for cannabis delivery, Ewing will address a question posed by Reynolds on whether Chico can prevent businesses outside the jurisdiction from delivering within city limits once the city issues local permits.

Housing

At Tandon’s request, Community Development Director Brendan Vieg gave a presentation of housing projects underway and in the works citywide. He said the residential development pipeline consists of 2,040 single-family units and 2,229 multifamily units. Those figures include 469 single-family and 233 multifamily units for Stonegate, a southeast Chico project awaiting permits and potentially affected by litigation over the widening of Bruce Road.

Vieg cited five-year averages of 278 single-family and 210 multifamily units constructed annually. To date, 144 single-family and 355 multifamily have been built this year with 155 and 823, respectively, under construction. They fill almost as soon as they’re completed, he said.

Affordable housing and accessory dwelling units (aka “granny units”) also are spiking—the former due to disaster-related tax credits and grant funding, the latter due to relaxed regulations and free plans from the state. Vieg emphasized, and reiterated at Morgan’s urging, that the city itself doesn’t build housing but rather sets conditions in which developers avail themselves of opportunities.

Brown asked during the presentation and in a subsequent discussion about inclusionary zoning, a requirement for builders to include a preset percentage of affordable housing in a project. Meriam Park, approved in 2007 with this stipulation, is the epicenter of affordable housing growth in Chico. Though the city’s 2014 housing element called for the council to consider inclusionary zoning generally in 2015, it hasn’t … but it will. In response to a request from Brown to agendize the topic, City Clerk Debbie Presson reported that the city’s Internal Affairs Committee discussed inclusionary zoning and will put a report out next month. Future discussions will incorporate other ideas raised by Brown to incentivize affordability as the Community Development Department works on the housing element update for 2022. In addition, Vieg will provide information requested from Coolidge about how Chico’s housing construction compares to similar cities in the state.

Tandon’s focused inquiry wound up kicking off a discussion that will extend at least six months, to when the council is scheduled to approve the housing element.

“It certainly wasn’t slated that way,” Coolidge told the CN&R. “It ended up that way. I’m pleased it took that path.”

In other actions, along with authorizing the mental health letter, the council approved a contract of up to $91,500 for the consulting firm Clifford Moss to develop the city’s strategy for a 1 percent sales tax ballot measure.

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