San Ramon appears on its way to prohibiting the cultivation and delivery of marijuana after the City Council gave initial support to a proposed ordinance establishing the ban Tuesday.
All five councilmen voted to introduce the ordinance and advance it forward for final consideration next month, endorsing the total ban as recommended but also leaving open the possibility of future allowances for people who use marijuana for medical reasons.
"If we pass what we have in front of us right now, and then a few months down the road we decide we want to allow other things, we can come back and change the ordinance," Vice Mayor Scott Perkins said during the meeting Tuesday night at City Hall.
The prohibition proposal stems from health and safety welfare concerns regarding negative impacts and secondary effects of cultivation and distribution of marijuana, according to Alicia Poon, deputy city attorney.
The city code is currently silent on marijuana growth and delivery, but in light of new state law, the city is facing a March 1 deadline to choose whether to administer a local conditional permit program for marijuana operations before that power is granted to the state's Department of Food and Agriculture, Poon said.
With the deadline approaching, San Ramon officials opted to draft a proposed ordinance that prohibits all marijuana delivery and cultivation -- indoors and outdoors -- for all people, including qualified patients and primary caregivers growing marijuana for medical use.
Violations would be punishable as a misdemeanor and subject to other available remedies, including civil penalties enforced through administrative citation provisions in the city code.
Similar punishments were part of a ban on marijuana dispensaries the council enacted just over two months ago.
Council members debated the merits of the proposed cultivation and delivery prohibition during a public hearing Tuesday night.
They heard from a sole citizen speaker, Patty Hoyt of the San Ramon Valley Alcohol Policy Coalition, who said she and the coalition support the ban, especially because of how it would affect youth access to marijuana.
"Allowing (marijuana) to be cultivated and delivered in our city indicates an acceptance of its use. It becomes a social norm," Hoyt told the council. "As for perception of harm, it fosters the notion that if it's medicine, it must be OK; if it can be grown in my city, it must be OK. When you increase access to marijuana through cultivation and delivery, youth access is going to increase as well."
Following Hoyt's commentary, the councilmen discussed the difference between commercial grow operations and people who have a legitimate medical need for medicinal marijuana.
"I think we know what we want -- we don't want grow houses," Councilman Harry Sachs said. "But I think that there's a sense that we'd like to understand the issue of a qualified patient and their ability to take care of their medical needs in a transparent way that is legal and also non-threatening."
Councilman Dave Hudson expressed the need for medical marijuana among seniors and his concern about whether the ordinance would affect their overall health and lifestyle.
"It's not the kids, it's the seniors," Hudson said. "For them, it's medicine. I don't know how to do it (enact an ordinance), other than what we're talking about here, and just hope that our police have the good discretion and better things to do than go looking for 70-year-olds who are trying to make it through the day."
The councilmen also talked about the notion that they did not see medical marijuana as being culturally accepted in San Ramon, but they said they understood having respect toward personal rights and a person's ability to take medicine.
They stood firm on the ordinance regarding the ban of delivery of medical marijuana, but they took into consideration whether a qualified person should be able to cultivate and use a certain amount indoors only.
"If we don't fundamentally agree on specific guidance tonight, then we'll keep kicking it down the road, and I'm not convinced that we will reach consensus on what that is here and now," Perkins said of the debate to add allowances for medical users.
"If it takes us two or three council meetings to reach that consensus on a future adjustment to the ordinance, that's fine. But in the meantime, we have this ordinance in place," he added.
The councilmen agreed to moved forward with the total ban as presented and set their final vote for Jan. 12. In the meantime, city staff was asked to look at the policy to see if anything could be gained by allowing qualified patients to have two marijuana plants.
In other business
* The council approved agreements with Waste Management for new waste collection services -- recyclable and organics service for commercial customers and school organics collection, all soon to be required under state mandates.
Students from several San Ramon schools, including Windemere Ranch Middle School and Dougherty Valley High School (DVHS), attended the debate and presented their thoughts on ways that local schools can improve in composting efforts.
The students explained that by composting at San Ramon schools, they and their classmates could begin to help both landfills and the environment. The students expressed concern that other students didn't seem to care about whether they should dispose their waste in the garbage or the recycle bin, and they offered ideas to begin to alleviate the problem.
The councilmen offered their advice in the next steps to take and recommended the students representing DVHS' Petals for People Club further discuss their ideas with school board members and Waste Management representatives.
City program manager David Krueger then presented on the current commercial recycling program in San Ramon, explaining that in January a mandate will require businesses to implement a program regarding their organics.
"Businesses need to do it, and the city needs to provide them with the opportunity to do so," Krueger said.
The mandate will be implemented in phases, affecting businesses, schools and public entities. Businesses must sign up by April. By that time, businesses that have eight or more cubic yards of organics per week will have to recycle.
In 2017, businesses with four or more cubic yards of organics per week will have to recycle. In 2019, the mandate will apply to anyone who has four or more cubic yards of any kind of solid waste.
"In San Ramon, there are 32 businesses we believe will need to have to recycle organics in 2016, and 65 total in 2017," Krueger said.
Krueger recommended new programs in regard to commercial recyclables, commercial organics and school organics collection in San Ramon including the use of carts, bins, and roll-off compactors for commercial organics.
With the new mandates, businesses will be able to have up to one cubic yard per week of commercial recyclables at no charge and up to 96 gallons per week of commercial organics at no charge.
* At the end of the meeting, the five-year financial forecast for San Ramon was presented by administrative services director Eva Phelps.
The general reserves are projected to decrease from 2016 to 2020, then start "trickling back up" with a positive increase in 2021, she said.
The report also predicted that over the next five years, there will be 19 staffing positions that will need to be filled -- 17 of those positions will be new and two will be vacant positions.