By ERIK CHALHOUB, Managing Editor
When the Watsonville City Council meets for the first time in 2018 Tuesday night, it will mark the beginning of another year of decisions that will shape the community far into the future.
Here is what I hope to see the council achieve over the year.
Finalize a marijuana policy
Just like the past two years, the council’s first meeting of 2018 will once again take on the topic of marijuana.
It’s been a long two years since the council first allowed marijuana to be cultivated for medical use during a meeting in January 2016 that went well past midnight. Since then, among other things, six cannabis facilities have been approved (finally receiving their permits as of Dec. 28, according to a city department update) and voters approved a tax on them.
Will 2018 be the year when Watsonville nails down its marijuana policy? Let’s hope so.
On Tuesday, the council will look to lift an emergency ordinance it passed more than a year ago that prohibited the sale and manufacturing of recreational marijuana in the city. Should it pass, Watsonville’s existing medical marijuana facilities will be able to sale and manufacture the product for recreational use.
I don’t expect this to be the last we see of marijuana on the council’s agenda this year. I imagine the issue of dispensaries, which is currently prohibited in the city, will show up sometime in 2018.
The City and County of Santa Cruz both appear to have decided what they want to do with marijuana. I hope Watsonville follows suit, because enough is enough. I understand that it’s an evolving industry, but there has been too much staff time spent on this one topic. It’s time to settle down and move on to other things.
Get started on a new general plan
Remember the Watsonville 2030 General Plan? The one that was approved in 2006, yet was the subject of costly litigation in the years that followed and was never adopted?
It’s essentially “dead” now, City Manager Charles Montoya said during the council’s Nov. 28 meeting.
The plan sets a framework for a variety of city issues including growth, transportation, housing and economic development through 2030. It was approved by the council in 2006, but immediately faced a legal challenge by the Friends of Buena Vista, Watsonville Pilots Association and the Sierra Club, which objected to the elimination of safety zones at the end of the runways at Watsonville Municipal Airport.
As such, the city is still operating on its 2005 general plan, which was adopted in 1990.
According to Montoya, forming a new plan will take a number of years and cost about a “couple million dollars.”
Better get started now. I hope the city will try to get some of its money’s worth from the millions it spent on the 2030 plan by incorporating sections of it into the new one.
Montoya also said the new plan will remove some of the elements that drew the city in court. I think that’s wise.
Work together, don’t campaign against each other
This year, nearly all of the council’s seats are either up for election or the ones holding them are seeking higher office.
In the six years, and three election cycles, that I’ve been covering the council, those seeking re-election have done a good job avoiding campaigning during meetings.
But this year is unusual. While Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez will be running for State Assembly in June, and Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia announced she will be seeking re-election in November, there is one race in particular that should be interesting.
Three councilmembers — Jimmy Dutra, Felipe Hernandez and Nancy Bilicich — have all filed paperwork to run for the Fourth District seat on the County Board of Supervisors.
It should make for an intriguing dynamic during the council’s meetings over the next year.
Erik Chalhoub can be reached at 761-7353 or [email protected].