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Hood River City Council moves toward marijuana tax vote

Monday’s actions also bring adoption of housing strategy

City Council on Monday formalized its strategy on affordable housing, though official changes on the issue are months away, and took one step closer to a decision on potential taxation of marijuana sales — an action it cannot formally move on until 2016.

The housing strategy will guide the city in its efforts to make available more affordable housing in the city in the coming years, a process that in 2015 has rapidly engaged the city with the county and the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority. (Details below.)

Luz Oropeza of the Hood River Prevention Department asked the city to consider using any marijuana tax revenue for prevention education programs that she said are needed to inform local youth. The city can charge a tax of up to three percent on medical and retail marijuana sales once both become fully legal Oct. 1.

Any tax decision must go to the city’s voters, no earlier than November 2016, and the Council cannot take any action referring the matter to a vote until after Jan. 1. In the meantime, City Manager Steve Wheeler and city attorney Dan Krause will develop a proposal for the council to review later in the year.

Oropeza and Hood River resident Elaine Thompson called on the city not to allow any more marijuana outlets.

Paraphrasing a local bumper sticker referring to the high number of alcohol permits in Hood River, Thompson said, “We need to limit (marijuana outlets) before we become a cute little pot-smoking town with a windsurfing problem.”

Currently there are four outlets, and the city has the capacity, geographically, for up to eight, according to a report from Wheeler, based on the requirements that outlets be located only in commercial zones, and that they must be spaced at least 1,000 feet apart and not within 1,000 feet of a school.

Councilors all agreed Monday that the city could proceed with developing a plan for putting marijuana taxation before the voters.

“The people have spoken,” Blackburn said, referring to the 68 percent yes vote on marijuana legalization in the May election. “They absolutely want it legalized for adults,” he said.

Councilor Mark Zanmiller said that, under the circumstances, “we should maximize this opportunity.”

Councilor Laurent Picard said he had reservations about taxes adding to the cost of marijuana and how that might undermine the purpose of legalization, to take away the black market value.

“But three percent is not that much, and we can use the revenue and add it to the general fund,” he said.

Oropeza presented study results that show a decreased perception of risk of marijuana, along with a decline in funding for drug prevention education. She told council, “Please consider designating revenue to prevention, to keep (kids) from doing things that could have detrimental effects on their health and brain development.”

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Council also voted unanimously to adopt the Strategic Plan on affordable housing reviewed at its Aug. 17 meeting, as official direction to staff for implementing the next steps in the issue. City code changes will be forthcoming as early as late fall after further Planning Commission and City Council review and public hearings.

The two strategies that will deal with code and zoning changes pertain to making more efficient use of lands, and some degree of regulating short-term rentals in the city. The council clarified its position on Monday on how to proceed with short-term rentals, using a three-category framework presented by Picard: “hosted home stays” of 30 days or less, and “local resident short-term rentals” that are auxiliary to residential uses, with the property owner occupying at least 270 days a year. A third category, non-residential short-term rentals, would be disallowed. The first two categories are compatible with the city’s overall goal on affordable housing, of adding to the number of housing options to local residents. (The council has not yet taken action on a fee structure for short-term rental permits.).

All members voted in favor of the strategy document, by voice vote, though Councilor Becky Brun was not present. (She had indicated to staff her support of changes made to the document after staff and Planning Commission review in late August.)

“This is guidance to staff about how to regulate this,” city attorney Dan Krause said. Grant money, as well as anticipated fees from short-term rental permits, will support adding more staff to deal with updating the municipal code.

Mayor Paul Blackburn asked for one final change to the document, saying that as amended it did not accurately reflect the council’s Aug. 17 discussion concerning short-term rentals. The strategy document now states that in the strategy on short-term rentals, the city will “evaluate options to limit the short-term rentals for the entire city.”

In other action:

The council decided to table a suggested fire code revision by Chief Devon Wells after Councilor Picard called for increased restrictions in allowing outdoor burning, given the extreme fire danger and ongoing fire hazard conditions in Hood River. “Yes, we are a rural area, but we are also urban, with many homes located close together,” said Picard, who works a professional firefighter for the City of Portland. (Currently there is a total ban in place given the extreme fire danger, and Wells noted that recent rains had no effect on the fire danger level.) Wells and Picard will meet with City Manager Steve Wheeler to discuss options including changes either to city code or to the burn permit process, which Wells and Picard briefly debated Monday. At that, Blackburn said, “I am declaring this a can of worms,” and asked it be tabled until Wheeler, Picard and Wells could meet and report back.

Blackburn announced his next “Pie With The Mayor” session will be Monday, noon to 1 p.m. at Pine Street Bakery, 12th and Pine streets on the Heights. Anyone may come, have a handpie, and talk with the mayor about any topic.



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