Tacoma City Council Meeting - January 6, 2015

With a public hearing on medicinal marijuana business enforcement actions on the agenda, we were expecting a robust turnout for this week’s meeting, and we weren’t disappointed. Council chambers were overflowing, and close to 100 members of the public signed up to speak at the hearing.

CONSENT AGENDA

FINAL READING OF ORDINANCES (First and Final Reading)

Ordinance No. 28276 An ordinance providing for the formation of Local Improvement District (LID) No. 8661, for the removal of existing asphalt surface and placement of new asphalt, and modifying existing storm drain lines and storm water catch basins, on Proctor Street from North 38th Street north to the dead end.

The consent agenda was adopted without comment.

 

PUBLIC COMMENT

Robert Hill spoke to suggest that there may be a need for some of the public to attend Human Services Commission meetings to see who on the commission is pro-cannabis, and who’s not.

 

REGULAR AGENDA

APPOINTMENTS

Resolution No. 39090 A resolution electing Council Member David Boe as Deputy Mayor to serve a one-year term through December 31, 2015. 

Boe was appointed, and Mayor Strickland thanked outgoing Deputy Mayor Woodards, and said she looks forward to working with Boe in the position. Woodards remarked that she was honored to make history with Mayor Strickland, with two women of color serving as Mayor and Deputy Mayor. 

 

Resolution No. 39091 A resolution appointing Rahn Clayton, William Hagens, Virginia Miller, Andrew Nguyen, and Antonio Sablan to the Human Services Commission.

Calling the Human Services Commission “the hardest working commission at the City,” based on the sheer number of hours invested, particularly during the Human Services application process, Councilmember Woodards thanked the appointees for choosing to serve.

 

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution No. 39092 A resolution authorizing the execution of a Letter of Agreement negotiated with the Professional and Technical Employees, Local 17.

This letter of agreement consolidates two existing classifications – mechanical inspector and building inspector – into a new “inspector” classification to provide cost and scheduling efficiencies for citizens scheduling inspections.

Resolution No. 39093 A resolution authorizing execution of a Letter of Agreement negotiated with the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, Local 120.

This agreement provides for the accretion of a new classification into the bargaining unit, and for an associated increase in pay, and eligibility for longevity pay.

Resolution No. 39094 A resolution authorizing the execution of a Letter of Agreement negotiated with District Lodge #160, on behalf of Local Lodge #297 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, General Unit. 

This agreement provides for a 5% application of rate to certain positions when working unscheduled overtime on standby duty

 

FIRST READING OF ORDINANCES

Ordinance No. 28277 An ordinance amending Chapter 1.12 of the Municipal Code, relating to the Compensation Plan, to implement rates of pay and compensation for employees represented by Professional and Technical Employees, Local 17; Washington State Council of County and City Employees, Local 120; and the District Lodge #160, on behalf of Local Lodge #297, of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, General Unit. 

With no comment the ordinance will get a final reading next week.

 

Ordinance No. 28278 An ordinance providing for the issuance and sale of sewer revenue and refunding bonds, in an amount not to exceed $125,000,000, to refund certain outstanding sewer bonds; finance the acquisition, construction, and installation of additions and improvements to, and equipment for, the sewer system; and other related costs, and delegating the authority to approve the final terms of the bonds.

This ordinance would allow the City to issue up to $125 million in bonds for the surface and wastewater utilities. Of that total $75 million would be new funding for infrastructure improvements, and another $40 million to refund existing bonds from 2006. The refunding of those bonds is expected to save $4 million in repayment costs. The bonds would be backed by surface water and wastewater revenues.

 

Ordinance No. 28279 An ordinance providing for the issuance and sale of solid waste revenue bonds, in an amount not to exceed $75,000,000, to refund certain outstanding solid waste revenue bonds; finance the acquisition, construction, and installation of additions and improvements to, and equipment for, the solid waste system; and other related costs, and delegating the authority to approve the final terms of the bonds.

This ordinance would authorize the City to issue up to $75 million in bonds. About $25 million of that would be used to purchase a new fleet for Solid Waste. Another $50 million could go to the potential refunding of existing bonds. That refunding is unlikely at this point, but staff would like to leave the door open in case market conditions change. Councilmember Boe noted that anyone who wants to geek out (our words, not his) on graphs and projections and the like can listen and follow along on the PowerPoint presentation from the lengthy discussion at this week’s Council study session.

 

PUBLIC HEARINGS AND APPEALS

This was the date set for a public hearing on the enforcement strategy options for non-licensed marijuana operations.

Mayor Strickland set the stage with a little review of the history of legalized marijuana in Tacoma and Washington State.

  • 1998 – Washington passes the Washington State Medical Use of Marijuana Act, providing an affirmative defense for individuals using marijuana for medical purposes. This meant that if you were caught holding marijuana and you had a legitimate medical need, you could go to court and use that as a defense. The act did not, however, address the manufacture, distribution, or sale of marijuana.
  • 2001 – Tacomans pass Initiative 1, making enforcement of marijuana offenses the lowest priority in Tacoma.
  • 2011 – State Legislature passes SB 5073, a licensing and regulation system for commercial use, but it is vetoed by the governor, who introduced the collective gardens concept in its place. That strategy did not address retail operations.
  • Unlicensed medical marijuana storefronts begin opening in Tacoma. With no legal framework to address these businesses, Tacoma enforcement was on a complaint-driven basis.
  • 2012 Washington voters pass I-502, legalizing recreational marijuana. I-502 allowed for the possession of small quantities of marijuana, and exempted approved production and distribution operations from State criminal and civil sanctions.
  • WSLCB develops a framework for regulation of all marijuana, without distinguishing between recreational and medicinal uses.
  • There are now around 60 identified stores operating in Tacoma. Some are licensed, some not. The City has received more than 164 complaints related to 80 locations in Tacoma.

The Mayor clarified that the Council is not making any judgment on anyone who uses marijuana either recreationally or for medical reasons. Strickland went on to say that the State needs to come up with a framework for regulation of the industry to provide safety for citizens and certainty for businesses and officials. In the absence of action from the State, the Council feels the need to begin enforcement actions to address the “bad actors” taking advantage of the lack of regulation. The Mayor also noted that the 90 day enforcement process proposed is coincidentally just about the length of the state legislative session. Ideally the legislature will do their job and address the issue, so the City doesn’t have to take this independent action.

The City attorney clarified that any business operating in Tacoma without a license is illegal under local, state, and federal law.

We heard from one patient after another about the importance of medical marijuana to their lives. We heard about the variety of reasons that I-502 approved recreational stores will not meet their needs. Some commented that costs are too high, and might force poorer medical patients into the black market. Others said that recreational businesses don’t provide the products they need – edibles, tinctures, topical applications, etc. We heard that unlike recreational users, who are trying to get high, medical users want to avoid the high, so they’re looking for products with different chemical makeups. One speaker, commenting on behalf of elderly patients, called attention to CBDs and THC levels (which we have to admit we’re not fully up on), and referred the Council to a PBS special, "The Science of Cannabis."

We also heard that recreational businesses are not able to advise patients on what products to try for various conditions, both in terms of expertise and because they are legally prohibited from doing so.

Robert Hill, saying he was speaking as the author of Initiative 1, offered his interpretation of the intent of Initiative 1, which he reads as calling for the reduction of both criminal and civil penalties on users of both recreational and medicinal cannabis.

We heard speakers quote the Constitution and cite the Bible. There were conspiracy theories and stories from veterans, teenagers, retirees, and medical professionals.

Some speakers asked that the Council do nothing, some asked that they wait for guidance from the State. Every one of the more than 60 commenters asked the City to protect access to medical marijuana from businesses separate from recreational stores. It was one of the more impressive turnouts for a public hearing that we’ve seen in a while.

 

REPORTS BY THE CITY MANAGER

City Manager Broadnax announced that the City of Tacoma has been selected by WSDOT to receive $945,000 in Federal Highway Safety Project funding for the Pacific Avenue and SR-7 corridor safety improvements, with a $31,500 City match. Those improvements will include upgraded traffic and pedestrian signals, accessibility improvements, three signalized intersections on Pacific at South 48th, 56th, and 96th streets, and improvements to signal timing at various intersections. The project is expected to begin soon, with a targeted completion date of September 2018.

Broadnax also welcomed his new Assistant City Manager, Mark Lauzier, who comes to us from Virginia.

 

COMMENTS AND COMMITTEE REPORTS OF THE CITY COUNCIL

Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee – Councilmember Mello gave an update on recent work of the committee.

  • Heard about implementation of the Environmental Sustainability Management System accreditation at the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • Heard update on WSDOT program to plant trees in public right-of-ways in Tacoma at entry points into the city.
  • Heard from TPU on their Integrated Resources Plan – a process TPU uses to assess the need for new power sources in the future.
  • Presentation from the office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability on how they will be measuring success in sustainability across the city, and how that work fits with the forthcoming environmental master plan.
  • Conducted interviews for the Planning Commission and recommended appointment of two individuals.
  • Received the first briefing on the City’s Mixed Use Centers review, which will develop a strategy to focus and prioritize redevelopment of Tacoma’s mixed-use centers as part of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update.
  • Heard from Environmental Services on a regional approach to stormwater management.

At its next meeting the committee will hear an update on the Waterditch Trail and learn more about land use designations in the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update.

Deputy Mayor Boe shared a few upcoming events.

  • Polar Plaza remains open through January 11 for your skating enjoyment.
  • Puget sound poetry connection presents its Distinguished Writers series and open mic night at King’s Books on Friday, January 9, at 7 p.m. It’s a free event.
  • The Second City Chamber series presents Euphonious Tones featuring Jason Gilliam at First Lutheran Church on Sunday, January 11, at 4 p.m.

Councilmember Lonergan responded to some of the public comment, some of which he called very compelling, some very interesting. Lonergan clarified that none of the medical marijuana businesses have ever been legal, but that home grow operations are “legal,” insofar as a qualified medical condition can be used as an affirmative defense.

Councilmember Campbell also responded to public comment with a clarification that the tax rate on recreational marijuana was set by the voters when they passed I-502, and that the City receives no excise tax, and only a very small portion of the sales tax on products sold in Tacoma.

 

ADJOURNMENT

And there you have it. Another feature-length City Council meeting. For more on items on this week’s agenda, see our City Business Preview.


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