This time, the item came to an official vote, and the council formally struck down the measure 4-1. Councilmember Anthony Phan served as the sole dissenter.
The proposal would have placed a cannabis tax measure on the November ballot, giving Milpitas residents the option to effectively legalize pot shops in Milpitas.
Councilors had declined to hear the item earlier in the month due to a lack of support from within the council.
That meant the hundreds of public comments filed by residents — both for and against legal cannabis dispensaries — were not read at the meeting.
The decision to scrap the item led to numerous grievances among Milpitas residents, who bombarded the city clerk’s office with angry comments. As a result, the council and the city attorney’s office agreed to hold Friday’s meeting to formally hear the item.
A letter addressed to City Attorney Chris Diaz by Milpitas resident Chris Martin may have in part forced the council to reconsider the cannabis tax measure. In the letter, Martin alleged the city had violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that governs how public comments are handled at city council meetings.
“The action taken was not in compliance with the Brown Act because the Brown Act mandates that agendas for regular meetings allow for two types of public comment periods,” Martin wrote.
Martin also threatened legal action should the council refuse to read all the public comments during the body’s next meeting. He has also drafted an online petition to bring cannabis dispensaries to Milpitas, posting it on Nextdoor and Facebook.
The city attorney’s office responded to Martin, stating the council agreed to rehear the item Friday to “cure and correct the alleged Brown Act violation.”
Efforts have been made to appease residents whose comments weren’t read at the May 5 meeting. Councilmember Karina Dominguez read all public comments filed for the May 5 meeting during a Facebook live session last week, “in the spirit of transparency.”
The proposed tax measure has led to contention on both sides of the issue, leading to the city clerk’s office being bombarded with emails in the leadup to the meeting. Dozens of comments opposing the measure were copied verbatim from several templates provided by local advocacy group Better Milpitas, which has come out against the issue. Other comments suggested bringing dispensaries to Milpitas would increase the likelihood of children becoming addicted to cannabis and would increase crime in the city.
“I sincerely hope our mayor and city council members can put our neighborhood safety, citizens’ healthy, kids’ future and the quality of life in the first place and seek the best interest of Milpitas residents,” read one of the templates.
Better Milpitas allegedly filled both floors of city hall carrying signs and wearing t-shirts opposing dispensaries when the council struck down a similar ordinance in 2018.
At Friday’s meeting, cannabis supporters opined the tax measure would bring much-needed revenue to the city, and would open the door to more small businesses in the form of dispensaries. They also disputed claims that allowing cannabis in the city would lead to more DUIs and a decrease in property value. Cannabis advocates pointed to better-regulated cannabis shops, lower crime rates, more local jobs, and a reprieve for people who suffer from anxiety and other ailments should the tax measure pass.
“Currently, consenting adults are going to San Jose and others to purchase cannabis,” read one resident’s comments. “Milpitas is missing out. Marijuana is legal in California and is not going away.”
In addition, proponents of the tax measure said Milpitas residents should have the right to vote on the issue.
“Ultimately what I would like to see happen is the council to decide that with an issue as divisive as this, to go ahead and let the people of Milpitas decide this at a ballot box,” said Martin. “Just let us vote. Both sides need an opportunity to step up and vote. That’s the ultimate voice.”
Friday’s meeting was a marathon one, featuring over three hours of public comments.
Mayor Rich Tran, who originally proposed the measure during the council’s April 21 meeting, withdrew his support Friday, citing “tax fatigue” and more pressing issues for this city.
Tran did, however, muse he would consider a similar proposal that would pose “less of a fiscal impact.”
Phan, who has come out as a supporter of cannabis legalization policy, took time during the council’s deliberations to dispel what he saw as “misconceptions, false information, and straight up lies” from Better Milpitas and other opposition.
“We have the same group of people who were throwing up chaos in our community back in 2019. They tried to bully the school board to appoint a candidate of their liking to fill a vacancy on the board. And when they didn’t get their way, the same group threw a tantrum and gathered signatures to force a special election,” said Phan. “Now that same group is saying voters don’t have a right in the democratic process.”
He also took time to address several residents who stated in their public comments that any councilmembers who voted in favor of cannabis would be voted out.
“That’s not how democracy works,” Phan said. “Maybe I’ll be voted out, but that’s democracy. You can’t give in to fear.”
City staff recommended deferring the item until after November, 2020, citing both the coronavirus pandemic and the limited time before Election Day to conduct citywide polling.