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The Vista City Council capped its cannabis revenues within the General Fund at $4 million per year, with excess funds being allocated to various city priorities. Photo by Dan Brendel
The Vista City Council capped its cannabis revenues within the General Fund at $4 million per year, with excess funds being allocated to various city priorities. Photo by Dan Brendel
Cities Vista

Vista City Council debates how to allocate cannabis revenue

VISTA — A spirited and at times heated debate was front and center as the Vista City Council discussed how to disperse excess cannabis revenue during its Aug. 24 meeting.

The council capped its cannabis revenues within the General Fund at $4 million per year, allocating excess funds to various city priorities.

The city had $1.13 million from the Fiscal Year 2020-21 and unanimously approved cannabis decoys, scholarship, youth prevention and early intervention programs, increased lighting in neighborhoods and park restroom maintenance.

The chief disagreement among council members was over the addition of a San Diego County Sheriff’s deputy to the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) Team and two park rangers, or enforcers, which were all recommended by staff and within the proposed $1.13 million budget.

The council eventually voted 3-2 to approve the addition of a deputy and two rangers, with Councilwomen Corinna Contreras and Katie Melendez both opposed.

“These funds are specifically for special projects and I don’t think a sheriff deputy is appropriate,” Melendez said. “Lighting is more important. Take the funds away from adding a deputy and add more lighting. The number of deputies per residents doesn’t correlate to better safety, where we know lighting does.”

Contreras and Melendez said more lighting in neighborhoods would be a better spend, help reduce crime, a reoccurring cost and the funds are meant for special community projects, not law enforcement.

The deputy will cost $275,000 in the first year, while the rangers will cost $277,000, although those costs are expected to be reduced after the first year, City Manager Patrick Johnson said. He said the initial start-up costs, such as purchasing a vehicle and supplies, increased the first-year cost.

Several residents also spoke against hiring another deputy, saying the council could not justify the cost and pointed to a lack of evidence supporting both staff’s and law enforcement’s recommendations.

Contreras asked for more investment into the community and through the scholarship and prevention programs, saying the city must tackle the root cause. The two women also noted another two to three deputies and a ranking officer are set to join the Vista station in the coming weeks and another COPPS deputy is not needed.

“We need to put more into prevention and early intervention,” Contreras said. “We need to put in prevention or the scholarship program. We need to get to the root problem and a deputy doesn’t solve that.”

The COPPS unit is responsible for graffiti, homelessness, alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and human trafficking, to name a few.

Councilman John Franklin said another deputy is needed, citing the city is currently under the state average for law enforcement coverage, with less than one deputy (0.9) per thousand residents. Currently, the city has about 90 individuals from the sheriff’s department stationed in Vista, which has a population of about 102,000.

Franklin acknowledged there are issues with policing in the country and locally, but added the city is in need, especially to address the homeless and drugs in public parks.

Councilman Joe Green said he preferred two park rangers to help alleviate issues in the parks and was on the fence about the deputy. However, both Green and Franklin compromised to adding the rangers, with different responsibilities than the Blight Reduction Team recommended by staff, along with one deputy.

“I think the mission of the COPPS team is very important,” Franklin said. “It needs to be seven days a week and we need seven days. There are issues with policing. In some respects, we have work to do. If we are not adding sheriff’s deputy, we are supporting a policy of de-policing.”

Kathy Valdez, the city clerk and who spearheads the city’s cannabis ordinance, said the cost of the prevention and intervention programs is $100,000, while lighting costs $27,000 per streetlight and $470 per year for electricity.

“It would allow for about three blocks of lighting,” she added. “For the average residential streets, it is three lights per block.”

Valdez also noted the county will be assigning either a full-time or part-time social worker to the city as part of a pilot program.

The decoy program will run $20,000 and $140,000 was allocated for scholarships, which will help lower-income children afford youth sports or other extra-curricular activities, according to Valdez.

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