Montebello’s vote earlier this year to allow some types of marijuana businesses hangs in the balance this November with three City Council seats — a majority — up for grabs.
In two votes, on Feb. 28 and May 23, the council approved commercial indoor cultivation, manufacturing, testing of marijuana and home delivery businesses in the city. Currently, there are 36 applicants — none of whom have been approved — to open shop in Montebello.
But since those votes, the composition of the council has changed with Mayor Vanessa Delgado’s resignation to become a state senator. The council is now deadlocked, 2-2, on marijuana issues.
Four of the 10 candidates — including incumbents Bill Molinari and Vivian Romero, who voted against legalization — say they’re opposed to allowing any marijuana businesses in Montebello.
Four, including Councilman Art Barajas who voted in favor, say the city needs the revenue.
And two, challengers Delia Lopez and Salvador Melendez, said they’re open to legalization but are OK with putting it to a vote of the people.
“It’s a very important election,” said Maribel Briseno, who’s trying to put on a future ballot an initiative to reverse the two votes made earlier this year. “It will be the will of the residents. It should be up to the people.”
However, Councilman Jack Hadjinian, who joined Barajas in supporting legalization and who is not up for re-election this year, said he believes the issue is overblown.
“Some candidates are making it an important issue, but … nobody is running on the issue besides those who are looking for an issue thinking they will discredit” Barajas.
Even among supporters of marijuana, there are differences.
City Treasurer Ashod Mooradian said he’s heard residents’ complaints about legalization and wants to slowly implement the ordinances.
“I want to do it on a pilot program and see if the (concerns) pan out,” Mooradian said. “I want to only deal with one or two operators. I’d advocate patience on the issue.”
Challenger David Torres believes the city has the tools to regulate cannabis-related businesses.
“It’s been voted on by California,” Torres said. “I’m concerned about what kind of backlash we would get from people who submitted permits.”
However, opponents, including Molinari and Romero, worry about Montebello’s ability to regulate the businesses.
“Normally, a cannabis application would have a criminal background check, a security plan and a neighborhood plan,” Romero said. “Montebello doesn’t have a defensible defined process, and that’s a big problem.”
Molinari agrees: “My concern is building these facilities. The city of Los Angeles has special enforcement with hundreds of thousands of dollars (being spent) controlling them. Our Police Department is understaffed with 74 budgeted officers and only around 65 hired.”
On the other hand, Barajas said the city needs the cash — it has a structural deficit — and money from marijuana businesses, in the form of required fees, could help.
“We have underpaid staff from public safety to City Hall, and we really needs the funds,” he said.
But some are asking why not let the people vote.
“Once the community votes, I will support what they decide,” said Rosie Vasquez, who served on the council from 2005-09.
Challenger Kimberly Cobos-Cawthorne would also be on board with a community referendum. She also questions if Montebello is charging would-be marijuana entrepreneurs enough for a chance to open locally. In the first round, applicants paid only $900 to put their name in.
“We should be making each applicant deposit $25,000 for parks and public safety,” Cobos-Cawthorne said.
Lopez and Melendez say they’re open to legalization but also support allowing a vote of the people.
“We definitely need more research,” Melendez said.
Lopez said she knows that some residents are unhappy. “If there is a way to put it to a vote of the people, I’d be all for it.”
Meanwhile, challenger Angie Jimenez said she understands marijuana is a sensitive issue.
“(But) I personally believe if it’s going to generate revenue for our city, and if we do this in a safe way, it makes sense,” Jimenez said.