Napa is on the road — again — to legal sales of medical marijuana.
The city’s latest push toward a cannabis dispensary culminated Tuesday night with the City Council’s unanimous vote in favor of an ordinance opening up industrial, office-park and medical office zones to future retailers.
After a second approval vote followed by a 30-day wait, Napa will be able to join the ranks of California cities where smokable marijuana and pot-infused edibles are openly sold – more than four years after the city pulled back an earlier dispensary law amid concerns about clashing with the federal government’s continuing cannabis ban.
With marijuana gaining increasing acceptance both in society and under California law – and with the state building a regulatory framework and set to legalize recreational use on Jan. 1 – a veteran of the local debate told a near-capacity City Hall audience the new ordinance is overdue.
“This is something we’ve tried to pass for years and years and years, and it’s high time we got around and did it,” said Jim Krider, a two-term council member who was reappointed last month and was part of the group that passed Napa’s first, never-used cannabis retail ordinance in 2010.
In addition to marking parts of Napa for medicinal sellers to operate, the law will let residents cultivating marijuana for personal use grow their plants outside as well as in – a practice supporters say will be cheaper and safer than indoor cultivation using growing lights.
California voters’ 2016 passage of Proposition 64 enshrined the right of residents to grow up to six personal-use pot plants, but left it to cities to decide whether to allow or forbid outdoor cultivation.
Napa’s revamped policy aims to make various parts of town available for would-be marijuana retailers while keeping them away from residential neighborhoods and children. It would not permit sales in areas marked for shopping centers and other everyday retail buildings, and dispensaries must be opened at least 1,000 feet away from schools, youth clubs and other child-friendly properties.
However, council members loosened other parts of the law in response to calls from medicinal users, lawyers and the city Planning Commission not to put too heavy a burden on the local industry. In a key break from earlier drafts of the law, the final version requires only a retailer’s owners and managers to submit to criminal background checks, removing a demand that employees and even volunteers also be scrutinized.
The idea of vetting a cannabis store’s rank and file as well as its leaders struck Councilmember Doris Gentry as excessive when compared to the more lenient rules for other adult-use products.
“When I think of these rules, I think of liquor stores,” she said. “We don’t regulate who a liquor store hires or doesn’t hire. As long as he has a state license, isn’t it like a barbershop where the barber hires or doesn’t hire employees? It seems far-reaching for us to tell a store how they will or will not do background checks.”
While marijuana retailers cannot open shop next to or across the street from a home, that restriction will not apply to homes that were built in non-residential areas and received zoning exceptions later. Furthermore, dispensaries may stay in business even if child-oriented businesses like in-home day care centers later open within the 1,000-foot buffer. Certain locations within that limit also may be eligible to host pot sales if they are close enough to four-lane, freeway-grade Highway 29 to block pedestrian access.
Several council members also sought to shrink the dispensary-to-school buffer to a 600-foot radius – the same as California’s minimum distance – but City Attorney Michael Barrett replied state open-meeting law would require rewriting the ordinance and trying again at a later meeting, delaying the launch of legal sales.
Other conditions for Napa cannabis sellers will include security guards, electronic point-of-sale record keeping, video surveillance and an alarm system. Dispensaries can open as early as 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.
The new policy does not formally legalize marijuana-based businesses but gives them immunity from prosecution so long as they follow city and state laws. Stores will be allowed to sell to patients with a doctor’s recommendation as well as their caregivers, and existing food businesses also can make a sideline of edible products containing cannabis.
Commercial growing, warehousing and testing would remain illegal in Napa.
The Napa ordinance also will open the outdoor as well as indoor areas of homes to cannabis growing for personal consumption, a step supported by advocates who described indoor-only cultivation as wasteful of electricity and a potential fire hazard.
The Napa County Board of Supervisors also discussed allowing outdoor cultivation for personal use on Tuesday, but postponed the matter for more staff study.
But compared to earlier city meetings filled with vocal cannabis supporters, Tuesday’s gathering included some dissenting voices who worried that home cultivation of the oft-pungent plant inevitably would clash with the rights of surrounding homeowners.
James Kasper recounted his experiences with a neighbor he said keeps about a dozen outdoor pot plants at a time. “I have no air conditioning, and in the summer I have to open the windows to keep cool,” he told the council. “At night I have to smell that marijuana smell, billowing in all night long.
“As a father of four, I like to say to my kids, ‘When you’re an adult, you get to make adult decisions.’ As it is, it’s being forced on me and my family, to smell the marijuana.”
Others, however, replied that only the right to raise the plant at home and outdoors would provide them a reliable lifeline to cope with the effects of long-term illnesses.
Myra Snell, a community-college teacher who lives in Napa, described the relief marijuana had provided her husband during cancer treatments – but also the out-of-pocket expenses that resulted.
In the face of the expense of grow lights and electricity, “outdoor growing, in the long term, is the only way we can afford the medicine he needs to get him through the day,” Snell told the council.
Denise Rosselli thought she had her future all figured out.
An English instructor at Napa Valley College, Rosselli planned to eventually retire from teaching, spend time with her animals and start new hobbies while living “forever” at her longtime family home on Soda Canyon Road
That all changed on the night of Oct. 8 when the Napa wildfires swept over her property and destroyed her home.
“Someone just erased the board and we’re starting all over,” she said. “It’s all brand new.”
From home to homeless
Rosselli, 65, said she has lived at her house on Soda Canyon Road for 46 years.
On the night the fires started, she spotted the flames on a ridge near her home. Scrambling, she packed up her two cats, some clothes and few other items to evacuate. “I just thought it’d be overnight,” she said.
Her home had survived the Atlas Peak fire of 1981, so she assumed it would again.
“If I had had more forethought, I would have taken more, but I didn’t.”
Days later, Rosselli was escorted back to her property. What little that was left of the home was all but unrecognizable, said Rosselli.
“It was so foreign to me, I couldn’t even cry,” she said.
All the outbuildings and garage were gone. The cinderblock walls of the house and a pool were the only remains.
“I lost everything. And I mean everything is gone.”
Today, two months after the fires, Rosselli’s recovery process from the fires continues.
She’s living with a family member in Alta Heights, but come January, she’ll be moving into a rental in downtown Napa.
The small Victorian, normally a vacation home for its owners, “will be ideal for me for the two years while we wait to rebuild.”
“As wonderful as I’m being treated by my family members, you do need your own space,” she said. “I need the time to grieve and be by myself.”
Rosselli said she is trying to look on the bright side. “I’ve always lived in rural Napa County. Now I’ll live downtown and learn what that life’s about.”
Rosselli said her recovery has also included many phone calls and paperwork for utilities, insurance and other household bills.
After losing a home to a fire, “You learn more about insurance than you ever wanted to know in your entire life.”
Rosselli did have fire insurance and has already started talks with a contractor and architect. She plans to rebuild.
Most utility providers have been accommodating, although to her dismay AT&T is charging her $20 a month to retain the land line phone number she’s had for 46 years.
“It’s sentimental,” she said of the number. “We do want to keep it.”
Rosselli has also taken advantage of an Employee Assistance Program offered by Napa Valley College.
“I’ve started doing weekly therapy to talk through the trauma.”
That process is going well, although the therapy visits tend to stir everything up, she said. On those days, “I’m kind of a little bit more anxious.”
Getting enough rest is also helping, she said. “I wasn’t sleeping the first few weeks.”
Now, she’s sleeping better, although she dreams about the fire.
“In my dreams the house is already a shambles and another fire is coming for me.”
Rosselli said she’s felt buoyed by family, friends, coworkers and even strangers.
“Everyone has been so generous and very kind,” including colleagues and others at the college, she said. As far as she knows, she is the only faculty member at NVC to lose a home in the fires.
People mean well, she said. Some try and console her with comments such as “you only lost material things” or “you and the cats are alive.”
But that doesn’t make the loss of things like her writing, manuscripts, journals and keepsakes any easier. Yes, those are material posessions, but they are meaningful to her, she said.
Such personal items, and even things like clothing and shoes, help make her life complete.
“I’ve lost those precious things that define you and your identity,” said Rosselli.
“What I tell people is that I don’t know what you’re supposed to say or how I’m supposed to reply. Just do the best you can and I’ll do the best I can, because we’re all in new territory.”
Because she had no context for such a disaster, “I still don’t understand how I feel day to day about this loss.”
Even something as simple as a shopping trip can be difficult.
“I was in Target one day. I had a kind of a mini panic attack,” she said.
While starting to gather items she needed, Rosselli said she became overwhelmed because she realized she needed literally everything — from measuring spoons to pot holders, to pots and dishes, and much more.
“I started to feel very lightheaded and I took myself over to a corner of the store and did some deep breathing.”
“I do resent the fact that from now on my life will be defined as before the fire and after the fire.”
She’s doing her best to keep moving, said Rosselli. “Some days I may falter, but it’s OK to do that. You just don’t want to let it consume you.”
As an English professor, Rosselli said she wants to be particularly attentive to her students who were impacted by the fires.
At the beginning of class, she asks her students to check in. Sometimes that means just a thumps up, down, or sideways, she said. She has her students journal about the fires as well, she said.
Rosselli said she finds comfort in talking to others impacted by the fires.
“Fire victims want to be with other fire victims because they know what they are talking about,” she said. “It’s a shared experience.”
Rosselli said she hopes other survivors can also reach out to a counselor or therapist. She also hopes the county or other agency could help form some kind of support groups for those impacted by the fires.
In fact, OLE Health has begun offering wildfire support groups. Groups are meeting at 1141 Pear Tree Lane in Napa every Thursday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. English and Spanish groups are available.
“There are a lot of us out there hurting, bewildered and trying to make sense of a world that no longer does,” Rosselli said.
“I’ve lost those precious things that define you and your identity,” said Rosselli.
A downtown Napa house being restored to its appearance from the city’s earliest days will remain under historic protection under a deal between its owner and the city.
The agreement lowers property taxes for Karen Wesson, owner of the Judge Johnson Horrell house that has stood at 554 Randolph St. since the 1850s. In exchange, Wesson agreed to keep the Gothic Revival building, which is listed in Napa’s historic resource registry, in its historic state under a 10-year contract that will renew itself every decade unless the owner or Napa opts out.
Napa's share of annual property tax on the site could be reduced from the current $1,492 per year to about $448, city senior planner Michael Walker said in a memorandum to the City Council.
Tax-breaks-for-preservation trades like the one the council approved Tuesday with Wesson are authorized by the Mills Act, which California passed in 1972 to encourage more property owners to restore old landmarks rather than demolish them for new development.
City staff described the agreement, which will reduce Wesson’s annual property tax, as a reward for her work reviving the historic house after decades of neglect and damage inflicted by the 2014 earthquake.
The Randolph Street site consists of a two-story main house built within a few years of California’s promotion to statehood in 1850, and a smaller, shingled home known as the Luther T. Hayman Cottage, added around 1905. The original residence – the first to be built on its block – is one of the oldest surviving single-family houses in the city, Napa County Landmarks said in a September letter to Napa officials.
Born in 1796 in Pennsylvania, Horrell, a lawyer, had lived in Ohio and Indiana before taking his wife and daughter to California in 1849 and settling in Napa the following year, according to the Landmarks group. Soon after arriving in Napa, he began a three-year term as the city’s second-ever justice of the peace after the town’s first judge, S.H. Sellers, was stabbed to death by a man Sellers had ruled against in a lawsuit.
Horrell originally built his namesake home on Division Street and lived there until his death in 1867, Landmarks officials wrote. A later owner, Thomas W. Mather, moved the structure to Randolph Street in 1890, then traded homes in 1895 with Luther Hayman, a Civil War veteran and Napa Register business manager who added the one-bedroom companion cottage about a decade later.
Over the next century, the Johnson property was resold seven times and divided into six rental units, then sold again after the 2014 quake.
Wesson, the current owner, has overseen its conversion back into a single-family home as well as the return of key design elements like the front portico, roof finials, original-style windows and shutters, and the redwood siding. The Hayman cottage also has received original-style shingling and wood-frame windows, along with a period-correct door, porch and gutters.
This story has been amended since first posting to clarify the financial impact on the city.
Napa County supervisors are leaning toward making outdoor, personal marijuana cultivation legal in rural areas, but they want to look at the details.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday continued updating its marijuana laws for the unincorporated areas in light of Proposition 64. The 2016 voter-approved state measure legalized recreational marijuana for adults.
California allows adults to grow up to six marijuana plants indoors. It allows communities to decide whether to allow outdoor cultivation and commercial marijuana businesses, such as dispensaries and marijuana product manufacturing plants.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday wanted more time to craft a law permitting outdoor personal cultivation, perhaps for six plants. It should take up the issue again in a few weeks. The Board has jurisdiction over the unincorporated areas that are outside of cities.
On Tuesday night, the Napa City Council voted to allow up to six plants to be grown outdoors on residential lot.
“We need to be very careful and thoughtful about how we move forward,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.
But supervisors said they did want to move forward.
“Plants are meant to be outside and grown by sunshine,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said. “They take up room in a house, there are lights, irrigation, things that don’t belong in a house.”
Board Chair Belia Ramos asked staff to come forward with a checklist of laws from other counties addressing such issues as setbacks and security for outdoor, personal cultivation. Supervisors could pick which features they like.
Supervisors foresee addressing the personal, outdoor cultivation issue first and then deciding whether to allow commercial, outdoor cultivation. They’ve already said they prefer to see marijuana businesses such as dispensaries inside cities and away from agricultural areas.
The Board passed an urgency ordinance that bans outdoor marijuana cultivation and marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas for 45 days. That gives it time to come up with permanent regulations.
During public comments, several people urged supervisors to follow up and ease marijuana laws restrictions for the unincorporated areas.
St. Helena resident Eric Sklar urged supervisors to convene a group with representatives from the wine industry, environmental community and other sectors to discuss rules for commercial, outdoor cultivation. Farmers could grow marijuana in areas of a quarter-acre to a half-acre and not affect grape growing, he said.
“It’s a crop just like grapes and should be allowed,” he said.
Erin Carlstrom spoke on behalf of the local law firm Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty. She said she leads the firm’s cannabis group.
“We hope that’s a little bit of an indication to you there may be more community acceptance for this industry than you may know,” Carlstrom said.
Napa resident James Hinton said outdoor cultivation helps assure people of access to healthy medicine, given some people use marijuana for medical reasons.
“Let people grow six plants at their residence in their backyard,” Hinton said. “People want to have sunshine-grown cannabis. It’s the best.”
Nobody at the meeting spoke out against allowing outdoor, personal cultivation. Californians passed Proposition 64 by a 57-percent-to-43 percent margin. Napa County voters favored it by a 61-percent-to-39 percent margin.