America’s Last Hometown, the small town with an oversized city council that famously came late to the legal liquor sales party in 1969, is possibly due for two major changes come the Nov. 8 election. The Pacific Grove City Council recently approved placing three measures on the ballot, two related to cannabis and one that would take the council down from seven members to five.
The cannabis advisory vote is the P.G. City Council’s attempt at settling a dispute over whether the council should license retail cannabis sales. Although a majority of the town’s registered voters voted in 2016 for Proposition 64 that legalized recreational cannabis in 2018, the council at the time rejected allowing retail sales. The November 2018 election brought new council members open to cannabis, but when they voted 4-3 to allow one retail cannabis store, a faction of residents organized a referendum. It failed, but it cemented a belief among councilmembers that the only way to resolve the matter is to put it up to a vote of the people. “[It] makes sense because I do think that brings finality to the question,” Councilmember Luke Coletti says.
The advisory measure would be non-binding, and it would still be up to council whether to create a cannabis licensing system. A separate cannabis tax on the ballot would take effect if it passes, and if cannabis sales are eventually approved.
Earlier this year, Councilmember Chaps Poduri took on the task of creating the advisory measure in which he suggested allowing two cannabis dispensaries targeting visitors as well as residents. “Why give away our residents’ tax dollars and visitors’ tax dollars and send them somewhere else?” Poduri says.
To capitalize on tourist traffic, Poduri recommended one store located in the Central Avenue Business District, and another in the Sunset Business District near Asilomar. Two stores didn’t fly with the rest of the council, so the measure was changed to allow a single store not located within 1,000 feet from licensed day care facilities, preschools, the city’s youth center and schools. The buffer zone nixes the possibility of any stores downtown.
The council voted 6-1 on July 20 to put the two cannabis measures on the ballot. The tax measure would impose a tax not to exceed 6 percent of gross receipts for cannabis businesses, which could raise an estimated $300,000 annually.
A week later, on July 27, the council voted 4-2 to place a measure on the ballot that would reduce the council’s size. Exactly why the tiny city adopted a charter in 1927 that mandated six councilmembers and one mayor is unclear. Most cities and counties in California have five total members. (Salinas, with a population 11 times larger than Pacific Grove, has seven members.)
“For a city our size, seven council members makes no sense,” Coletti says. Some have argued the council size hampers and prolongs the decision-making process.
Poduri believes seven members increases a diversity of opinions and helps the part-time councilmembers share responsibilities. He also believes it supports a more representative form of government. “A five-person council doesn’t necessarily get us there,” he says.
If passed, two seats would be phased out by 2026, allowing current members to fulfill four-year terms.