Despite the absence of an election for City Council, since Amy Harrington and Jack Ding earned seats due to a lack of other candidates, there are a number of important measures on this year’s ballot. Voters are being asked to approve four different measures: renewal of the urban growth boundary, a half-cent sales tax extension, a special tax on cannabis sales, and a decision about how cannabis retailing happens in Sonoma. We’ve taken a look at all of them, and offer the following recommendations.
Renewal of Sonoma’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) – Yes on W
For 20 years Sonoma’s UGB has prevented sprawl, but it will expire this year unless voters renew it. A super majority of the City Council, the entire Planning Commission, and Planning Department staff all support the renewal. It is important to note that the UGB offers the strongest affordable housing mandate in Sonoma history on any land added to the UGB (up to 20 acres). Vote Yes on W.
Renewal of Sonoma’s half-cent sales tax – No on V
We’re leery of approving this sales tax renewal until the city gets its financial house in order. This half-cent sales tax was first placed on the ballot and approved by voters in 2012 as temporary and was set to expire after five years. By the time 2016 arrived, voters were asked to extend the tax measure, and again told it would expire in another five years. This year another extension is being requested, but this time with no expiration. It’s long past time that the city operated in a more financially responsible manner; voters should force fiscal restraint upon it. Vote No on V.
Cannabis Retailing – Yes on Y
The city spent tens of thousands of dollars this year on a process to approve one cannabis retailer, and countless staff hours in preparing and administering its application and approval. Yet in 2018, a citizens’ initiative to allow cannabis retailing secured enough signatures to appear on that year’s ballot. So what happened? By requiring a “report” on the initiative, the city ensured the initiative missed the ballot deadline and it did not appear on the ballot until this year. Cannabis retailing is highly regulated by the State of California, yet the city decided to embark upon its own complex regulatory scheme. The City is behind the curve on tax revenue from cannabis, and lost years of income due to its prudish attitude. When it comes to cannabis policy, it’s time for the city to move into the 21st century and implement the same regulatory apparatus used for every other type of retailer. We allow more than one wine retailer; why not allow more than one cannabis shop? Vote Yes on Y.
Special Sales Tax on Cannabis – Yes on X
All sorts of fees and taxes are applied to alcohol sales, and a special tax on cannabis will help fill the city’s budget deficits. If Measure Y passes, we might end up with two or three cannabis retailers, and the income to the city could be very substantial. High tax-producing retailers are becoming scarcer as Internet companies like Amazon and Carvana increasingly capture consumer spending. As traditional retail sales decline at “brick and mortar” businesses, it’s financially prudent that the City of Sonoma get its fair share of what’s sold locally. Vote Yes on X.
— Sun Editorial Board