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October 25, 2021

Watsonville City Council to finalize cannabis laws update

WATSONVILLE—If the Watsonville City Council follows staff recommendation regarding adjustments to the City’s cannabis laws, Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee Jennifer Schacher will leave the Tuesday night meeting with a big smile.

City of Watsonville staff at the upcoming meeting will recommend the Council not allow cannabis retail businesses in areas zoned Thoroughfare Commercial. That means the vast majority of Freedom Boulevard, all of Auto Center Drive and the cluster of shopping centers around the Main Street-Green Valley Road intersection will not be able to house dispensaries.

“If that happens, it’ll be a big win for our students and our community,” said Schacher, who oversees the schools in the northern reaches of Watsonville as Area V trustee. “That would bring a big smile to my face.”

Since the Watsonville Planning Commission in its mid-January meeting recommended by a 4-3 vote to allow retail cannabis businesses to operate in the Thoroughfare Commercial zones, Schacher has campaigned to change the City’s mind. She urged the City Council during its Feb. 25 meeting to vote against allowing retail businesses to be in the direct walking path of Pajaro Valley High School and Cesar Chavez Middle School students.

“This is something we don’t want our teens to be exposed to on a daily basis,” Schacher said at that meeting. “My utmost concern is our youth and their safety.”

Watsonville Community Development Director Suzi Merriam said the City decided to remove the Thoroughfare Commercial zones from its recommendation because they were not viable options when factoring in various separation requirements.

“The more we looked at it, it just didn’t make sense,” Merriam said.

The City will, instead, recommend retail businesses only be allowed in areas zoned General Industrial, Industrial Park and Visitor Commercial. That would relegate those businesses to the outskirts of the City around Aviation and Hangar ways, some side streets west of Walker Street, the Manabe-Ow Property and the property on Lee Road that will soon house a Hampton Inn & Suites.

Schacher said many of those locations are viable spots for cannabis businesses.

“I’m not against cannabis, but let’s do this responsibility,” Schacher said. “I want the City to be responsible.”

Santa Cruz Naturals CEO and Founder Colin Disheroon said he understood the concerns of public health advocates but hopes the City will continue to help licensed retailers break the stigma around cannabis. 

“The more we hide it, the more we perpetuate its edginess,” he said. 

Along with determining in which zones they will allow dispensaries, the Council will make a slew of other decisions regarding cannabis cultivation, permit fees, employee background checks and the number of licenses allowed.

Watsonville Mayor Rebecca Garcia has twice publicly pushed back against the expansion of the cannabis industry, saying City staff had not answered her questions regarding the impact legalization of recreational cannabis has had on the community. 

In an email on Wednesday Garcia said City staff will answer those questions at the upcoming meeting.

She did, however, have new concerns with the City’s recommendation to give all cannabis businesses—retail, cultivation and manufacturing—the ability to deliver directly to the customers.

Disheroon, whose company has locations in Aptos and Pajaro, also had concerns with the delivery aspect of the ordinance. Allowing all cannabis businesses to deliver could create roughly 20 companies that would essentially serve as retailers, Disheroon said.

“That could have some negative impacts on the brick and mortar retailers,” he said. 

The Planning Commission at its mid-January meeting recommended allowing a maximum of three dispensaries and adding an additional six manufacturing licenses (putting the cap at 15). It also recommended raising the maximum square footage for cultivation from 5,000 to 22,000, the maximum allowed by state regulators, and also recommended allowing one cultivation license to be split over multiple locations.

The Planning Commission also asked the city to favor local and minority business owners during its rigorous cannabis license application process.

The meeting begins at 4 p.m. Cannabis will be discussed in the evening session at 6:30 p.m.

Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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