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Bellflower still reviewing marijuana impact report

BELLFLOWER — City officials will spend much of July reviewing an economic impact report on marijuana operations while considering comments from residents and potential marijuana operators gleaned at two workshops, before taking possible action in August.

City Manager Jeffrey L. Stewart announced June 26 that the economic impact report commissioned by the council in May will be ready to review by the end of the first week of July.

He said no action on a marijuana ordinance will take place at the July 10 council meeting and noted that officials generally cancel the second meeting of July, this year July 24. The council may be ready for some type of action at the Aug. 14 session, Stewart said.

Also, federal guidelines on marijuana operations are expected July 27, he added.

He spoke at a June 26 workshop, the second one on the issue of a finalized ordinance. It was tentatively approved last year after state voters approved recreational use of marijuana.

Bellflower voters March 7 approved a series of fees for marijuana operations.

Randi L. Stover, assistant to the city manager, said tentative provisions, based on comments from the first workshop April 27, include allowing no more than 12 permits for marijuana operations, of which only three would be for sales. The others could be issued for cultivation and delivery. Councilman Dan Koops said he would rather see fewer permits.

Dispensaries and other types of operations must be at least 600 feet from a church, school, park or location where children gather.

Applicants would have to undergo extensive background checks and must own the property where the operations would take place. Operating hours of a dispensary would be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Most of all, extensive security must be provided at all sites.

Twenty people spoke during the two-hour session June 26. About half of them were interested in a permit. Most said they would welcome strict enforcement of regulations to drive out the “black market,” or unlicensed facilities.

“What’s in it for the homeowner?” asked a 28-year resident. Many homeowners and residents voiced concerns about enforcement and noted frequent observation of people smoking marijuana in the city.

Retention of six or seven deputies from the Lakewood Sheriff’s Station is planned with part of the revenue. Plans also call for $100,000 to be spent on educating young people about the dangers of drugs.

Some speakers voiced fears that marijuana use would lead to more powerful drugs, that property values would fall if a marijuana operation was nearby and that such operations could attract gang members and criminals from outside the community.

“We don’t have answers to your questions as we are still in a learning process ourselves,” Mayor Ron Schnablegger said. He added he wanted to do what is best for Bellflower and his wife, children and grandchildren, all of whom live in the city.

A consultant has estimated that marijuana operations could net Bellflower about $1.3 million a year, which would make up for the loss of $1.5 million when a temporary 2 percent utility tax, approved by voters in 2012, ends this year.

Told by residents that there are other ways to get revenue, Schnablegger said, “if you have any ideas let me know.”

He said that the city pledged not to raise taxes during the 2012 election campaign and with many retailers going out of business because of online buying “we have no other choice.”

However, it was pointed out that marijuana revenue might be reduced from competition by surrounding cities that may approve such operations later.

Under Proposition 64, approved by state voters last November, permits must be issued by both the city and the state, and the state will not start issuing permits until January.

Whittier has already opted out of allowing any commercial marijuana operations but Proposition 64 allows all residents to grow and use a small amount of the substance in their homes.

Pete Ekhorn, whose wife is confined to a wheelchair, said medical marijuana to ease pain could be allowed before 2018 as that was approved by state voters in 1996. He added that his wife chooses not to use marijuana “so she can keep a clear head.”

Giovanni D’Egidio, co-operator of the Hollywood Sports Park, warned the council to “watch where the money comes from” in case it is from criminal activities, and to give local businesses top priority for a marijuana operation permit.

Robert White, who said he operates two marijuana dispensaries in Garden Grove and is interested in starting one in Bellflower, said sellers like himself would gladly pay an extra tax for resident programs.

Noting action in many states to allow recreational marijuana use, he said “it is coming like a wave. Nothing will stop it.”

But Ralph Comu, a World War II veteran, warned that “it will be the destruction of Bellflower.”

A similar warning came from Pastor Mosheh Chanan of By the Book Ministry, 16111 Clark Ave., who acknowledged using marijuana for many years as a young man.

“This is a good time to prepare for what some call the inevitable,” he said. “It will be a disaster in the long run.

His wife Stacey said many of those supporting marijuana operations are from outside the community.

Koops asked the overflow crowd how many were non-residents. About 50 percent raised their hands. That was less than about 90 percent non-residents at the April 27 workshop.

But one young woman said she lived in Bellflower and was interested in obtaining a permit. She urged the council to be diverse in issuing permits and not just contract with men.

“We will do what we have to do to make the city better,” Councilman Juan Garza said.

“I don’t want a marijuana dispensary next to my house, either. We will consider the concerns of the community,” Koops said.

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