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Vista’s new council members knuckle down on medical marijuana

VISTA — Newly elected leaders wasted little time getting down to business on Councilwoman Corinna Contreras’ first day on the job at a Dec. 11 Vista City Council meeting as some of the city’s major policy issues were on the table.

Contreras, who defeated incumbent candidate John Aguilera, opened her four-year term with a swearing in ceremony and  small celebratory ceremony in the lobby outside of City Council chambers. 

From the dais, Contreras thanked voters for putting their faith in her and expressed excitement for her new job representing Vista’s District 1. 

“It is the highest honor to be here representing the city of Vista and being extra accountable to my neighbors in District 1,” Contreras said. “I really look forward to working with the council and the mayor and making sure we work on common ground issues that are only going to make our city better. So, thank you to everybody that voted: your voice was heard and I hope that everybody continues to come to council meetings.”

After the festivities ended, other business was on the agenda for Contreras’ first meeting. Implementation of the new medical marijuana initiative —  Measure Z — was the most prominent issue. 

Measure Z, opposed pre-election by Vista Mayor Judy Ritter and other conservatives on the City Council, passed on Election Day with a 53 percent to 46 percent vote. Ritter also was elected to a third term as mayor.

According to the city’s Measure Z implementation calendar, registration application forms and instructions will go live Jan. 7 for prospective medical marijuana dispensaries. 

A one-week period between Jan. 22 and Jan. 29 will then allow for applicants to send in their materials for review by city of Vista officials. By Feb. 5, the city will publish its priority list of top dispensary applicants. 

During the public comments portion, attorney Damian Martin said the way the law was written and its timeline could allow for low-quality applicants to muddy up the process. 

“I think you can shape the policy of the applicants that come in based on how you throttle and leverage these timelines,” Martin said. “And the reason why I say that and I’m suggesting that you enhance and kind of turn the screws on the timeline here, the applicants that you get are going to be the best ones, the ones that are more prepared … If you let this go on all the way until Jan. 22, you’re going to get all of the riff raff and all the speculators because you’re giving them plenty of time to get an application together.”

City Attorney Darold Pieper responded saying though Ritter and the legal team opposed Measure Z during the campaign, they were working diligently to implement a law Vista’s residents electorally supported. 

Pieper emphasized that the hasty implementation deadlines written into the Measure Z law, however, has made it difficult. 

“We are faithfully following everything that was put in measure by its authors,” Pieper said. “While it might be possible to speed some things up, I think this is a very fast track — certainly compared to any other city or county in the state who has undertaken to do this and there is some considerable effort in which we’re involved now.”

At the meeting, the council also discussed the top priorities found within its City Council Goals Action Plan for 2018-2020. Deputy Mayor John Franklin raised the specter of discussion of different respective components of the City Plan in more depth at upcoming City Council meetings as a means of opening them up for discussion with the broader Vista community. 

 “I’d enjoy having maybe a bit more granular-level detail conversation,” Franklin said. “We’ve got eight goals here. Maybe once a month we could get into one subject matter as a recurring process just to keep these conversations going.”

City Council will convene again after the holidays on Jan. 8. For the first time in 2019, those meetings will be broadcast live.