In the Lompoc City Council's first meeting since formally approving a cannabis-friendly marijuana ordinance, the set of regulations faced new opposition from area churches Tuesday night during a contentious meeting in which Mayor Bob Lingl revealed that a group of citizens is preparing a referendum that could put the entire law in jeopardy until next year’s election.

The council chambers were at near capacity for a mostly civil but oft-contentious discussion centered on the cannabis ordinance that was approved by the council at its Oct. 17 meeting. During the nearly 90-minute dialogue, several local church leaders and members requested that the ordinance be amended to include places of worship among the areas with a buffer around them to prevent marijuana sales and use. Several other community members balked at that request, which would limit the number of businesses that can open up shop in the city, and took issue with the reasons given for it.

In the end, the council voted 3-1 — Councilman Dirk Starbuck was absent — to move forward with the ordinance. Lingl provided the lone vote of dissent just moments after he informed everyone about the possible referendum.

Lingl said this group of residents — he did not name any names — would be meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss moving forward with collecting about 1,000 signatures, representing 10 percent of Lompoc voters, that he said it will need in order to request from the Santa Barbara County registrar's office that the ordinance be temporarily blocked until it can be placed on the ballot for a public vote in the November 2018 election.

“Think about the vote you make tonight because you could be stalling everything until November of 2018,” Lingl said to the council members just before the vote was taken.

Although the ordinance passed, the issue is not over. In addition to the concerns raised by Lingl, the council also still needs to adopt resolutions outlining fee schedules and other aspects of the industry.

The combative tone of Tuesday’s meeting did not end after the vote was made. Lompoc resident Joe A. Garcia, the founder of a cannabis coalition and one of the more outspoken marijuana advocates throughout the nearly yearlong process of developing the ordinance, announced during the final public comment period that he would be starting an effort to have Lingl ousted as mayor.

“Starting tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock, the same time that this (referendum) meeting begins, I’m going to begin an exploratory committee to recall you, Mayor Bob Lingl,” he said.

“I am going to actively work to make sure you are no longer our mayor,” he later added.

Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne, who first advocated for bringing the cannabis industry into Lompoc during her 2016 campaign, made the motion to move forward and adopt the ordinance. In response to Lingl’s comments about the potential referendum, Osborne said that “political pressure” had been threatened from both sides of the issue throughout the process of developing the ordinance, which began in December 2016, but that she was comfortable in her position.

“If this group feels that this is their best effort to change the discussion, they have every right to do it and I will respect that,” she said. “But I have been told I’m (on) a policy-making board (and) that it is my expectation to respect and watch the community as a whole.”

She also responded to Lingl’s suggestion that the council was only catering to the 57 percent of Lompoc voters who supported Proposition 64, which essentially legalized adult use of marijuana in the state, and ignoring the 43 percent who were against it. The governing body, Lingl said, should be focused on the entire populace.

Osborne noted that Lingl’s accusation may be accurate, if only because most of the people from that 43 percent minority have been quiet and/or uninvolved throughout the process.

“There has not been a presence of that 43 percent at the discussion, and I’ve looked for you and I’ve invited you,” said Osborne, who, along with Councilman Victor Vega, was a member of an ad hoc committee that held several meetings this year to explore the issue before helping to develop the ordinance.

“I’ve had a phone call,” she added. “I’ve had an email. That’s not participating. Tonight has been the first participation and it wasn’t strong enough to change because it didn’t have any legal boundaries I could respect.”

The primary dispute at Tuesday’s meeting revolved around a request made by Lompoc Foursquare Church to have its building considered the same as a child care center and given protections that include a 600-foot buffer zone in which marijuana sales and other activities are banned.

Pastor Bernie Federmann, of Foursquare Church, submitted a letter to the council and also spoke at the meeting to advocate that the amendment be applied not only to his church.

“We respectfully request that you add churches of all denominations, not just ours, and all religious faiths, not just ours, in the exclusion zone maps and treat us all as you would a youth center,” he said shortly after noting that more than 250 children participate in activities and/or are counseled at his church.

Much of the 45 minutes of public comment was spent with speakers going back and forth at each other over the merits of the church request and the disputed dangers of the cannabis industry.

Osborne noted afterward that the state purposefully stayed away from including churches in its law due to the legal ambiguity over what constitutes a church. She said the city would be wise to follow that same path.

While those who are opposed to having commercial cannabis sales in Lompoc did not get their way Tuesday, members of the council reminded everyone that things can always change in the future.

Both Osborne and Councilman Jim Mosby pointed out that not only does the ordinance contain a provision that allows for changes or amendments at any time, including a complete repeal, but that the makeup of the council could change and spur a major shakeup.

“To those who have supported this, I must remind you: While you have political will currently on the dais, if an election happens and that political will changes up here, someone could move it to change and you lose all your investment,” said Osborne, who noted during the meeting that she had been called “the weed queen and some not-very-nice things” due to her efforts.

“This is a social experiment that we are willing to try,” she added, “but realize that’s what it is.”

The next Lompoc City Council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21.

[This article was amended at 10:20 a.m. Nov. 8 to clarify that Lingl said the referendum petition would need signatures from 10 percent of Lompoc voters, which amounts to about 1,000 signatures, not 10,000.]

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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