Civic Engagement May be First Step to Expanding Medical Marijuana Ordinance

cityhallphoto[1]By Terrie Best

I want what the City of San Diego is now calling a Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative (MMCC) in my neighborhood but nowhere in my community is there an appropriate zone.  Expanding the allowable zones for MMCC’s will be challenging but according to the Planning Division, a Division of the Planning, Neighborhoods and Economic Development Department, we should have a say in the process through our Community Planning Groups.

The Planning Division website reads:

There has been long-standing citizen involvement in planning in the City of San Diego. The City Council adopted policies in the 1960s and 1970s that established and recognized community planning groups as formal mechanisms for community input in the land use decision-making processes. Community planning groups (CPG) provide citizens with an opportunity for involvement in advising the City Council, the Planning Commission, and other decision-makers on development projects, general or community plan amendments, re-zonings and public facilities. The recommendations of the planning groups are integral components of the planning process, and are highly regarded by the City Council and by staff.

In 1966, the San Diego City Council formalized this government-citizen relationship with the adoption of Council Policy 600-05 (PDF). The organization and structure of the relationship were further clarified in 1976 by the City Council’s adoption of Council Policy 600-24 (PDF), ‘Standard Operating Procedures and Responsibilities of Recognized Community Planning Groups.’ Under this policy, citizens who want to participate in the planning process are able to form “officially-recognized” planning groups. The City Council recognizes one official planning group in each community. Groups work with City staff to formulate and implement the General Plan and community plans, and to advise the Planning Commission and City Council on projects.

These Community Planning Groups are staffed by three individuals from the following three areas of the city: Facilities Financing; Park Planning and a Representative from the Planning Department.  If you are like me, Bernard Turgeon is your Planning Representative but other Planning Representatives are Lesley Henegar, Michael Prinz, Diane Maglaras, Brian Schoenfisch and a handful of others.  To see a list of Community Planning Groups, their representatives, locations and dates of their meetings go here. And, to see a map of communities with clickable links to their profiles, click here.

Community Planning Groups are also subject to the Brown Act. Here is what that means according to the city’s website:

Community Planning Groups must comply with California’s Open Meeting Law, the Ralph M. Brown Act. The purpose of the act is to ensure the actions and deliberations of public bodies occur openly with public access and input. On May 22, 2007, the City Council approved revisions to Council Policy 600-24 to reflect the Brown Act and standardize operations of planning groups.

To read the bylaws for the CPG’s click here.

It is a bit vague just how much influence Community Planning Groups have over land use but this statement seemed promising to me:

Community plans are not created by City staff alone. Since the 1960s, when the first community plans in the City were undertaken, Community Planning Groups have participated in the development of those plans. Most individuals become involved with land use planning when their attention is drawn to one particular issue, such as traffic congestion, or development on a vacant lot in their community. However, community members have a critical role in developing a long term vision for their community through participating in the long range planning process.
Citizens’ Role in Implementing Land Use Plans

The policies and recommendations of land use plans are utilized when development on privately owned pieces of land is proposed to the City. Some proposed projects will comply with adopted zoning regulations and can be approved by City staff. Other development must undergo review through a discretionary process, which means that a decision maker such as a Hearing Officer, Planning Commission or City Council must render a decision about the project in a public setting. This decision comes after notification of the existence of the proposed project to the public, information about the project is made available to the public, and the public has an opportunity to testify at a hearing before one of the above-mentioned decision makers. The public includes the recognized planning group for that community.

I have some time before my CPG meets next so I am contemplating how I will approach them.  Since I don’t have a project to put before the group, I must represent myself as a lone citizen who wants safe access in her neighborhood. However, if I had an MMCC in my area to advocate for, I would do that.

How the CPG business filters up to City hall decision-makers is through the Community Planners Committee (CPC) and here’s a blub about this entity from the city’s website:

The Community Planners Committee (CPC) was instituted to ensure communication and to solicit citizen input on citywide issues among the various planning groups in the City under the direction of Council Policy 600-09. Council Policy 600-24 designates each Community Planning Group chair to also be the group’s representative at the CPC.

CPC meetings provide a forum to discuss citywide planning issues. The meetings often include presentations by City Planning Division staff and other speakers on topics of interest to the CPC. The meetings are an opportunity to network with other community leaders and discuss important policy or development issues with City Planning staff. Positions taken by CPC about important issues provide a key link with decision makers at City Hall and in the various City Departments. In addition, the CPC has formed subcommittees to review various issues in depth, and has made recommendations of great value to City decision makers.

Also on the City’s website is a series of Workshops found here.  The work shops are held throughout the year and are for elected CPG’s members.

I’m reaching out to the medical cannabis patient community to locate and attend your CPG’s meetings. I sat on a similar board several years ago in another state and what I found were my neighbors using their voice in their community to affect positive change around them.  We already know from polls, surveys and voting statistics that many San Diegans want safe and local access to medical cannabis. And, we know politicians are winning and losing elections based on how they handle this issue. Now let’s take that to our own neighborhood leaders through CPG’s.  We might be pleasantly surprised at what we learn there and what allies we can make.

SD ASA CITY Stop The BanLast word of advice, go in to these meeting gently. These are your neighbors and you want to win them over.  It might mean talking about your conditions or how your loved one uses cannabis and how important close and safe access is to you. You want them to understand Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperatives can and are being regulated very safely and most of all you want to present as a good neighbor who cares about your community.

I applaud all who take this brave step and thank you for your continued support of San Diego Americans for Safe Access.

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