Less than two months after deciding not to impose any additional taxes on local cannabis operators, the Lompoc City Council changed course Tuesday night and voted unanimously to introduce a ballot measure that would outline a taxation schedule for the burgeoning industry.
The change of heart regarding marijuana taxes was the main topic of discussion during a meeting that also included an update from a Lompoc Police captain on the city’s plan to clear out the homeless encampments in the Santa Ynez Riverbed and an announcement from the interim city manager that the Lompoc Valley Kennel Club will not hold its long-running dog shows in Lompoc this year.
The cannabis discussion was brought back by Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne, who had expressed disappointment with the council’s March 20 decision to not impose any city taxes on cannabis operations. Osborne defended the decision to readdress the issue by noting that new information, particularly regarding the city’s finances, had come to light since that March meeting and suggested that cannabis taxes could be used to increase revenues.
After more than an hour of discussion, the council voted 5-0 to follow Osborne’s recommendation to have city staff draft a ballot measure that would set a tax rate of 6 percent of gross sales for retail operations, 1 percent taxation for nursery and cultivation outfits, zero taxes on testing, and flat fees for manufacturing and distribution of $15,000 for businesses with less than $2 million in net income and $30,000 for those with more than $2 million in net income.
The taxes, according to Osborne’s motion, would not apply to medical businesses. The plan is to include the measure, which will cost the city about $20,00 to produce, on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“I think that is a healthy solution to moving forward a fair tax base that isn’t going to drive away those of you that have put in an application,” Osborne said, addressing some of the potential cannabis operators who attended the meeting. “If you’re serious about this and you’ve planned for this, that fee shouldn’t turn you away.
“I don’t want to lose you,” she later added, “but again, I’m trying to walk that fine line and balance it.”
The notion that heavy taxation could lead business owners to choose to operate elsewhere was brought up by many of the 10 speakers who addressed the council prior to the vote. Several of the speakers noted that they had submitted license applications to the city or were planning to do so and suggested that it was because of the no-tax plan that they chose the city in the first place.
While some of the speakers implored the council to stick with zero taxation, many asked the council to keep taxes, if they were deemed necessary, at a conservative level at least below those being proposed in other municipalities in the region. Having Lompoc introduce taxes at the same rate as places like Goleta or Santa Barbara, for example, would just lead operators to move to those cities, which are more attractive due to the ease of being off Highway 101, among other factors, the speakers suggested.
Councilmen Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega each voted in favor of no taxation on March 20, but all three were in favor of the new plan introduced by Osborne on Monday night. Starbuck said he was “embarrassed” by the “flip-flopping” in front of all the potential business owners who were looking to invest in the community.
“I firmly believe that government should move within its means, and it’s hard to do that, so to look at you guys square in the face and say we’re counting on you to bail us out embarrasses me right now,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Lompoc Police Capt. Deanna Clement gave an update on another hot topic in the city — the police department’s plan to clear all inhabitants out of the Santa Ynez Riverbed.
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Clement stressed that the process will be slow-moving, but she said that the hope is that it will have long-term benefits.
“It is not going to be an overnight cleanup,” she said, before noting that there are “hundreds, if not thousands” of pounds of “trash” in the riverbed.
She said that the Lompoc Police Department plans to partner with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and several support agencies and churches to provide options to those people who are removed from the riverbed.
She said people who perform outreach have already begun informing the riverbed dwellers that a sweep is coming. Those who choose not to leave, she said, will be served 30-day notices to vacate. The plan, she said, is that those people will be offered places to stay from the support agencies and churches.
After the people are removed, she said, heavy machinery will be needed to go in and clean out all the left-behind debris, which will be considered abandoned property.
She said the police department would continue monitoring the area after the cleanup in an effort “to not let it get to the point where it is … now.”
Clement was asked by the Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl if the city could put up “No Trespassing” signs, or something similar. Clement said that was indeed an option, though she noted that similar signs in the area had been stolen and relocated by riverbed inhabitants to their own makeshift homes in an apparent effort to keep people out of their encampments.
“I’m hoping it will work out well,” Clement said of the cleanup. “It’s a long process and these are people that we’re dealing with, so we want to do it with care.”
In an unrelated revelation, Interim City Manager Teresa Gallavan announced during her city manager’s report that the Lompoc Valley Kennel Club’s dog shows, which had become a staple in the city over the past four-plus decades, would not be held this year.
She said that the club informed the city it would not be holding the shows for a range of reasons. Among them, she said, was the deteriorating condition of Ryon Park, a lack of resources, and the fact that Pete DeSoto, a longtime lead organizer of the shows, had stepped away from the event following last year’s shows, which were the 42nd annual.
Gallavan said the city would remain in touch with the kennel club in case new leaders within the club were interested in bringing the shows back in 2019, either at Ryon Park or some other city park.
The Lompoc City Council will meet again at 1 p.m. Friday to discuss in closed session a potential appointment of a new city manager. The next regular meeting of the council is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 5.