The Santa Maria City Council voted Tuesday to officially ban cannabis activities within its borders, although some council members believe the new ordinance does not go far enough to eliminate the presence of marijuana.

With a 4-1 vote, the council approved the first reading of the new ordinance that only allows one exception -- deliveries of medical marijuana from dispensaries located outside Santa Maria. 

In casting the lone "no" vote, Mayor Alice Patino said the ordinance needs to be more restrictive. 

"I feel that we should ban deliveries," she explained. 

Tuesday night’s vote mimics previous actions the City Council has taken for more than four years.

In September 2013, the council adopted an ordinance that banned medical marijuana dispensaries within the city’s limits. Two years later, the city amended that law to allow the delivery of medical marijuana.

Then in preparation and reaction to the passage of Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California, the council approve two consecutive urgency ordinances that banned the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, labeling, wholesale, retail sales and distribution of marijuana in Santa Maria, the last being approved in July.

The current urgency ordinance is in effect until August, but city staff decided to bring a new permanent ordinance to the council now in order to have enough time to prepare in the event any changes were made. 

“We don’t want to wait until we are close to August and have the council then want to change the status quo,” Assistant City Attorney Phil Sinco said.

Though she voted with her fellow council members, Councilwoman Etta Waterfield agrees with Mayor Patino.

“I really feel strongly about eliminating marijuana in Santa Maria as much as we can,” Waterfield said.

Patino and Waterfield could get their wish.

Along with voting to approve the first reading of the permanent cannabis regulations, the council instructed the City Attorney’s Office to research how to ban cannabis industry billboards and other signs within city limits.

Any changes or additions to the ordinance approved Tuesday could be made when it comes back before the council for its second reading, which could happen at the end of February. 

If the council amends its pending law, it would require a third reading before it can be adopted. For now, the urgency ordinance stands. 

Council approves towering downtown project

After stalling the plan last year, the Santa Maria City Council voted to approve a four-story mixed-use building to be built on the northwest corner of Broadway and Main Street in the heart of Santa Maria’s downtown.

Contributed image
A two-dimensional rendering depicts a four-story, mixed-use building slated to be constructed at the corner of Broadway and Main Street. The view is from Broadway. 

Developer Ben Nikfarjam plans to build a four-story building with commercial and parking spaces on the first floor and residential units on the remaining floors.

The project, which the city’s own Community Development Department called a catalyst for change in the city’s downtown, was stalled last year when the council voted to continue the project for later review because of concerns about parking.

When the project came before the council the first time, the plans called for 31 residential units, about 4,000 square feet of commercial space and 12 parking spaces.

Councilman Mike Cordero said the plan was a “serious mistake,", explaining that parking was his main concern.

The remainder of the council agreed, voting to allow Nikfarjam time to go back to the drawing board. 

On Tuesday, the developer presented a plan that includes 27 residential units, about 2,000 square feet of commercial space and 27 parking spots. The reduction in commercial space allowed Nikfarjam to add the additional parking stalls. 

Councilman Jack Boysen and Michael Moats praised the project and Nikfarjam for accommodating the City Council’s concerns.

Though the project passed with a unanimous vote, Cordero confessed his real concerns about the project have to do with a fear of the unknown.

“It scares me. We are moving in something there that is totally brand new,” Cordero said. “I wonder how big a risk we are taking.”

Nikfarjam acknowledged that the project is a risk but said he has faith it will work and help revitalize Santa Maria's downtown area.

The building will be the first of its kind in the area, with commercial space on the first floor and residential above. The architecture is also vast departure from what is currently in Santa Maria's downtown, akin to structures that can be seen in the city of Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. Though different, it is in line with the city's Downtown Specific Plan, which aims to bring people to live, work, shop and eat in the city's center. 

“I believe in this product. It is dynamite. It will help the future of the downtown,” Nikfarjam said.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.