Update: Council opts to appoint Acosta successor, passes pot moratorium

Santa Clarita City Hall

The Santa Clarita City Council seat that was left vacant when Dante Acosta resigned to join the state Assembly will be filled by council appointment, the body decided Tuesday night during a crowded agenda that also included the surprise naming of Cameron Smyth as the city’s new mayor.

With Smyth, sworn in earlier Tuesday evening as a council member, holding the gavel as the newly named mayor, the body also passed a Proposition 64-related “urgency ordinance” — adopting a citywide moratorium on, among other things, recreational retail pot shops in the city.

That move came even though such shops don’t figure to be opening anywhere in the state for at least a full year following the passage of Prop 64, which legalized the sale, use and growth of recreational marijuana.

Regarding Acosta’s successor — despite multiple calls from public speakers during the council’s meeting at City Hall to hold a special election — the council decided to go the appointment route.

A special election would have cost an estimated $354,000, according to a report from the City Manager’s office.

The $354,000 “is not currently contained within the City’s adopted Fiscal Year 2016/17 budget,’’ the report said.

By a pair of 4-0 votes, the council first decided to choose to appoint Acosta’s successor, and then to begin accepting applications for the vacant seat beginning this Thursday, through the close of business on Friday, Jan. 6.

The council further decided to call a special meeting on Jan. 17, at which the applicants would come before the council to make their cases to fill out the two years remaining on Acosta’s term.

“The council would then begin the deliberation process to fill the vacancy,” said Smyth – adding that if those deliberations stall on Jan. 17, the council could stretch the process to its next regular meeting, on Jan. 24.

The goal is to have a new council member in place in place by Feb. 2, the deadline by which an appointed successor would have to be seated, following Acosta’s Dec. 4 resignation.

Besides the cost of a special election, council members cited the time that the council would be at four members, rather than the full roster of five, as a reason to avoid a special election and choose the appointment path.

If a special election had been called, the earliest time that such an election could be held would be June 6, according to Michael Murphy of the city’s intergovernmental relations office.

“It’s not as though an appointment is a foreign concept,’’ Smyth said. “The timeline really is important. Operating for six months without a full council (is too long).’’

Councilman Bob Kellar agreed.

“Four people on City Council is a very difficult situation,’’ he said. “I shudder to think that we would try to go basically six months (with four council members, if a special election were to be held).”

While some speakers called for the special election, and criticized the appointment process as taking the decision into the realm of backroom politics, council member Marsha McLean said, “I can guarantee you there has not been any discussion whatsoever about any person who is to be appointed.’’

She called such talk an example of “fake news.”

In addition, she said, a special election is, “Not a prudent way to spend money.’’

As at the last council meeting, several speakers urged the council to appoint former Councilman TimBen Boydston, who lost his seat in November. Two council spots were up, but Boydston finished third with some 17,000 votes.

Boydston has said he will apply for the opening – one of several also-rans in the November election who have expressed interest in the job. Mark White, Alan Ferdman and Kenneth Dean have done so as well.


Meanwhile, the city marijuana moratorium, which passed unanimously, would also limit private cultivation to no more than six plants inside a residence or in an accessory structure on private property; ban outdoor growth; and prevent the delivery of non-medical marijuana within the city by state-licensed dealers.

While Prop 64 allows for recreational pot use, it does not strip individual municipalities or law-enforcement authorities from imposing specific restrictions, including the right to ban commercial pot shops altogether.

The ordinance will be effective for 45 days – but can, upon four-fifths votes, be extended by 10 months and 15 days, and then by an additional year.

Even though state licensing of pot shops is not expected to take effect until January 2018, the council’s move was deemed “urgent” because, according to a report prepared by city attorney Joseph Montes, “many California cities have experienced negative secondary effects from medical marijuana businesses.’’

Montes’ report included a long list of attachments citing problems such as increased crime and vandalism reportedly attached to the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries.

City law already bans all medical marijuana businesses, and all such cultivation in Santa Clarita.

Under Prop 64, an individual may possess up to 28.5 grams of non-concentrated marijuana or eight grams of marijuana in a concentrated form, such as marijuana edibles.

An individual also may cultivate up to six marijuana plants at his or her private residence, provided that no more than six plants are being cultivated on the property at one time.

The council’s move will provide the council with time to devise local codes regarding private cultivation.

Under Prop 64, cities may ban private outdoor marijuana cultivation, but cannot completely ban private indoor cultivation of six plants or less.

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