■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
The San Jacinto City Council meeting caused quite a stir April 4 as Mayor Pro Tem Alonso Ledezma nearly came to blows with a public speaker surrounding the ever-controversial subject of legal cannabis cultivation in San Jacinto. With the council’s approval just around the corner, 16 passionate speakers came out from both local and surrounding areas to address their opinions on both sides.
The council met to approve and adopt updated Ordinance No. 17-02 of the San Jacinto Municipal Code, to regulate the establishment of commercial marijuana cultivation in the IL – Light Industrial Zone as presented by planning consultant Mary Lanier. The approval would create development standards for commercial marijuana cultivation and amend the Loss of Non-Conforming Status section regarding commercial marijuana cultivation as an agricultural use.
Proposition 64 was approved by 57 percent of voters in November of last year, legalizing recreational adult use of marijuana. Statewide commercial licensing will begin in January 2018. San Jacinto adopted a cultivation tax rate in February and designated an area for outdoor cultivation (north of Cottonwood and west of Sanderson avenues) last month.
The week prior, during San Jacinto’s March 28 marijuana workshop, more than half of the public speakers belonged to the pro-pot persuasion, praising the revenue these cultivation regulations would generate for the city. This time around, the tables seemed to have turned, as a greater number of those in opposition were in attendance. Valid points were made by both sides of the issue. Plenty were concerned for the safety of their children, and how a cultivation site would affect their upbringing, while others assured there was nothing to worry about.
Raul Quesada, a San Jacinto resident of 26 years, was very vocal about his opposition toward the ordinance at the marijuana workshop, and shared the story of a car accident he was involved in because another driver was allegedly under the influence of marijuana, resulting in $11,000 worth of damage.
“Please try to attend the Public Hearing so that our voices can be heard. Please help protect our community from further deterioration,” he wrote in a flier that was passed around the community in anticipation of the City Council meeting. The amount of attention the fliers generated was evident by the overwhelming number of objections toward the ordinance that night. “San Jacinto is really getting out of control,” said Angela Patterson. She explained that she has lived in the same “quiet” cul-de-sac in town for 17 years, and never had a problem until she smelled marijuana plants coming from next door, where a new neighbor had just moved in. “I can’t even enjoy my backyard…it’s a very strong, pungent odor. Do we really want our kids smelling this, and inhaling it, and thinking this is a normal smell that they should have to deal with for the rest of their lives?”
Please try to attend the Public Hearing so that our voices can be heard.”
– Raul Quesada, SJ Resident
A majority of the speakers Tuesday night sided with Patterson’s stance. Protecting the children seemed to be the primary concern; however some speakers that followed provided interesting rebuttal.
“What you guys don’t realize is that it’s already around. I’m in the industry, so I see it,” said Lauren Dominguez. As a cannabis cultivator, she admitted that while she is around cannabis all day long, she doesn’t even smoke it. She also shared the fact that she has a small child. “I care about her well-being. Of course I set rules and boundaries with this business so that my daughter isn’t affected. It is something that is for an adult, it isn’t for a child; but it is happening already and instead of trying to fight it, you should utilize what you have and take the benefits and set the rules so that you’re in control of it, instead of just letting it happen behind closed doors.”
Wayne Magnolia, a San Jacinto resident and cultivator, has big plans for the new ordinance. Aside from a very animated entrance, he explained that he had already received ridicule from anti-marijuana advocates in the room before the meeting even started. “I have a fiancé and a child that goes to school here; I pay a lot of taxes for my home, but yet I am surrounded by a bunch of people that are uninformed who have no idea where cannabis goes in the state of California,” said Magnolia. It was then that he accused Ledezma (after mispronouncing his name several times) of spreading “false information” to the speakers before him. Ledezma has been adamantly vocal about his disapproval to adopt marijuana regulations for the city since its inception in November.
After being reprimanded multiple times by the council for turning to address the audience and trying to overstep his three minutes of allowed time, Magnolia walked away, clearly distressed.
Magnolia’s mother, Michelle Ellen, the next speaker, apologized to the council for her son’s behavior, while trying to explain their family’s passion for the subject of medical marijuana, and its benefits to their relatives who have battled cancer.
Suddenly, in the middle of Ellen’s comment, Ledezma walked away from the panel, toward the back of the room where Magnolia stood. Mayor Scott Miller demanded Ledezma to “return to the dais,” several times, but Ledezma refused.
“Hold on, this is something personal here,” he replied.
Ledezma approached Magnolia until their faces were mere inches apart from each other. “What is this about Mr. Mayor?” shouted one outraged member in the audience. “Dirty council!” exclaimed another. The confrontation turned short when Magnolia turned to walk away as Ledezma flashed him a scowl, returning to his own seat as well. City Attorney Mike Maurer took Ledezma aside, turning away from the audience as he spoke.
The council immediately broke for a two-minute recess, as the audience erupted in discussion. Upon the council’s return, Ledezma declared a formal apology for the record.
“I would like to apologize to the speaker, and at the same time I would like to apologize to all of you,” said Ledezma. “I was called for something I have no idea. This person, Wayne, is accusing me of bringing all of you [here], and I had no idea you guys were all here. If you guys are here to support me, I appreciate it. Now it’s in records. But I had no idea at all these people were going to be here, just to let you know, and to be on record. Please do not accuse me of something that you’re not sure of.”
A decision made by the City Council, based on the reading of ordinance 17-02, was not made due to undistinguished details regarding surrounding “youth centers” and the lack of “checks and balances” and conditional use permits as requested by Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz. The decision was ultimately tabled for further revision and discussion at a future marijuana workshop or City Council meeting.