Questions were answered, and both support and opposition was expressed last week in the Williams City Council’s public workshop held in regards to a proposed cannabis business park near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 20.
Canna-Hub founder and CEO Tim McGraw gave a presentation to the roughly 45 people who attended the special informational meeting of the Williams City Council, once again going into detail about the proposed 80-acre facility before fielding questions from those in attendance.
McGraw opened his presentation by noting that California’s currently unregulated marijuana industry would be reigned in by various licenses and regulations stemming from Proposition 64, and that the Canna-Hub facility would be operating under the state’s new regulatory environment – including compulsory third-party testing for quality and pesticides, water regulations and seed-to-sale tracking – which will go into effect in 2018. He again described a number of potential financial and social benefits that his project could bring to the City of Williams.
“States like Colorado and Washington have not only seen not only huge amounts of revenue come in from cannabis, but huge amounts of social benefit, too: A 25 percent drop in opiate overdose in Colorado; an 11 percent reduction in traffic fatalities; an actual reduction in teen use, because you take away the novelty of it when it becomes regulated; and then the safety of pure medicine that has been tested; and then – like we intend to do here in Williams – a lot of these states have funneled a lot of the money that has come in through cannabis has been funneled to schools and other social programs,” McGraw said.
“We plan to work with the city of Williams to be a good corporate citizen, we plan to work with the school district to set up a scholarship fund for two or three scholarships per year, and we also intend to fund, if not fully fund the Promises Program (at Williams Unified School District). We intend to help as many programs as we can.”
He went on to describe the financial benefits to Williams as substantial, with licensing fees – which are still being discussed by the city and Canna-Hub – at full build-out amounting to “well in excess of $1 million per year, probably closer to exceeding $2 million per year, which goes into the city’s coffers.”
In addition to the annual licensing fees, McGraw estimated there would be over $5 million in impact fees paid through the city through development, along with increases real estate taxes, and building permit fees, among others. He also said that the fully-developed site would conservatively create “in excess of 1,300 jobs,” which would be year-round. He added that there would be residual benefits for other local businesses from the project.
Throughout the meeting, representatives from the city noted that they were doing their due diligence and evaluating the background and claims of McGraw and his company.
Council member John Troughton said that the background work done so far was “looking very good.” Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Bergson indicated that it is the council’s obligation to be both pro-business and pro-development, so long as projects meet the city’s planning and zoning codes. Troughton and Bergson both said that the project would be treated like any other proposed business development, and go through the same approval processes, including public hearings at the city planning commission and council levels.
“From what I understand from Mr. McGraw, he wants to act rather quickly. The first thing we would have to do is modify our zoning, do an overlay zone in order to allow that to happen,” Kennedy said, adding that the city was still exploring its options as to how it would benefit monetarily from the project. “We have not determined that yet at all, and that’s something that the council will be working on for the next several months.”
Kennedy also said that while Canna-Hub was the only cannabis related business to approach the city, they would be open to hearing proposals from others.
“We would certainly hear their proposal. I think competition is a good thing.”
Questions, answers and comments
After his presentation, McGraw responded to questions from the audience. During that period, McGraw said that the site would be extremely secure, with 24-hour on-site security, including fencing, thermal cameras, and extremely limited access to the facility. In response to another question, McGraw said that the individual lots in the development would be both sold and leased, and that the facility would house both medical and recreational growing operations. In response to a question about local hiring, he noted that while Canna-Hub would not be the operators of the facility, they would try to encourage the operators to hire locally. City Administrator Frank Kennedy said that the city could offer incentives for local hiring, offering discounts in the permitting process.
“If they were to hire five local people, we could discount their fee by $10,000, or something like that. It could be set up (by the city) for them to hire locally,” Kennedy said.
Sajeet Singh, a Williams local who sits on the city’s planning commission, inquired about potential air quality issues and smells. McGraw said that the development agreement between Canna-Hub and operators would include covenants that would explicitly require the latter to follow certain rules, including air quality rules.
“These are completely sealed environments. Smell is not leaking out. The only thing that will be coming out will be the exhaust, which will be running through a carbon filter,” McGraw said.
Singh also expressed concerns that the relatively well-paying jobs created at the facility would effectively steer local youth from pursuing a post-secondary education. McGraw said that the labor force would be over 21 for the most part, and that he believed that the opposite was actually true.
“What we see with young guys in the facilities in other states, they’re incentivized to go to school and learn more about agriculture and science… Most of the people that end up working for these facilities end up being passionate about it, and how the cannabis industry helps people. We actually see the reverse happening,” McGraw said. “…The future of cannabis is a much more technical one.”
Other questions raised about the project revolved around water and sewer concerns and potential issues with banking. Kennedy said that the project might actually benefit Williams’ water and sewer infrastructure, and McGraw noted that the project recycled the vast majority of its water. Kennedy added that the only real wastewater coming from the project would be that created by the workers on each site, and would be essentially equivalent to that of a household. In regards to banking, McGraw said that the forthcoming state permitting process would clear up the current issues with the cannabis industry and banks, and that the operators at the facility shouldn’t have an issue.
“As an operator in Illinois and other states, we have access to full banking services because the – right now, it’s a cash-based industry and that’s why its a huge problem. And there’s no state license, so the banks have no cover to deal with illegal, or gray-area operators, which is what California is right now. That’s what is going to change come January 1. Once you have a state permit, it’s much easier to bank,” McGraw said. “Now, you can’t use a federally chartered bank, and there’s no FDIC insurance… but the state chartered banks have started picking up the slack.”
A number of residents spoke up simply to express their opposition to the cannabis industry in general, citing concerns about the impacts on the local culture and the youth. There were also a few that spoke in favor of moving forward with the project, including Don Parsons.
“I want to thank the council for entertaining this idea. It’s long overdue, as far as not having a NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude, as far as what past councils decades ago have had on this city. That’s why this city is in the state of neglect we’re is in right now,” Parsons said. “It’s very imperative that we have good services in this city, as far as roads. The citizens and the visitors that come to Williams deserve that… You guys need to make that your priority now. This is an excellent idea. You need to move forward this idea. Marijuana is here to stay – it’s not going to go away, and we need to take advantage of this opportunity.”