Pacifica Residents Vote on Marijuana Taxes and Rent Control

Most California citizens consider off-year election days lazy, sleepy affairs, and on Tuesday, residents in most Bay Area jurisdictions, stayed at home. However, voters in Pacifica headed to the ballot box to decide on a pair of concerns causing upheaval in the region. There are two major issues requiring a decisive vote by the people.

The issue of marijuana taxation was one item on the coastal city’s ballot box. The taxing of marijuana is a major concern for cities deciding how, or even if, they will permit the sale of recreational marijuana after January 1 next year. The second major item on the ballot measure was the issue of rent control. In an effort to curb the skyrocketing cost of housing, many activist tenants in the Bay Area are pushing for stabilization.

Measure G, or the Marijuana Operations Tax, would charge a tax levy of six percent to dispensaries on gross receipts of all recreational and medical marijuana sales. After two years, the City Council will have the option of raising that tax rate to 10 percent. Supporters of this measure estimate that this tax would generate $360,000 a year for state coffers, money that would go into the city’s general fund.

To pass, though, the initiative requires a simple majority vote. Medical marijuana dispensaries do not currently have licenses to sell legally in Pacifica. As such, Police Chief Daniel Steidle says that they are operating illegally. If voters do not approve Measure G, there will be no authorization for pot businesses to operate in Pacifica, and it could shut down existing medical dispensaries too.

To demonstrate support for Measure G, Jay Pasco, co-owner of the Cannabis Wellness Center on Palmetto Avenue, is a regular fixture at meetings of the City Council. Council members were responsible for putting the initiative on this year’s ballot question. “There is a community of cannabis patients we do serve in Pacifica,” Pasco explained. “If Measure G does not pass, it would impact us significantly.”

However, if the voters approve the measure, then Pasco plans to apply for state licenses after January 1 for both medical and recreational sales. According to Mayor Mike O’Neill, another avid supporter of Measure G, “Nobody submitted an argument against the measure, so I think that has a pretty good shot of passing.”

In the Bay Area, Pacifica would become one of the first cities to set taxes for recreational dispensaries, grabbing the opportunity to enrich its coffers made possible by the approval of Proposition 64 by state voters in November 2016. Voters in Cotati, a town in Sonoma County, also voted Tuesday on a marijuana tax measure. Some cities, such as Oakland, already tax medical dispensaries on sales.

Pacifica is not the only Bay Area city to consider limiting increasing rental rates. It is joining several other cities who voted on measures for rent control last year already. However, the initiative did not highlight any trends; it simply passed in some areas and failed in others. In Pacifica, Measure C would limit rent increases in any apartment buildings built prior to February 1, 1995.

Measure C would limit increases to the annual increase listed in the Consumer Price Index, which would create a base rent that proprietors can charge as of February 13. It also specifies the conditions under which tenants can legally face eviction, including criminal activity, demolition of the property, breach of lease, and failure to pay rent.

The ballot measure will also establish a commission of seven members to enforce the law, which the City Council will have the job of appointing. Members of the council voted to include the measure on this year’s ballot. O’Neill was among them, who, while on the council, opposed measures to control and stabilize rentals in the area.

Of his opposition, the mayor stated, “I figure it is such a big social issue, it is something that the people should decide.” Pacifica property owner, Roy Stotts, 72, rents two apartments in the city. He is not as concerned about capped rentals as he is about the eviction controls. According to Stotts, the measure risks pitting proprietors against tenants in wasteful nuisance lawsuits.

“It is not going to work here,” Stotts explained. “It is going to bankrupt the city, and it is going to create such chaos that there will never be another new apartment building.” Longtime tenant, Lois Plymale, 81, says the vote will establish whether she will be able to stay in the one-bedroom apartment that has been housing her for 22 years already.

When Plymale moved into the building on Talbot Avenue, the rent was $700 a month. Now, she forks out $1,850 each month, which is over double what she paid then. “When I moved in here, I thought this will be the last place I live, and I like it,” Plymale explained. “I figured I would never have to move again and now if it does not pass, I might, and that scares me a lot. I am too old to pack up and go.”

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