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Sonoma County Democrats pass resolution urging revote on Sonoma’s cannabis petition

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The City Council’s July 23 decision to study the Sonoma Citizens for Local Access initiative, causing a 30-day delay that virtually guarantees the measure won’t go before voters for at least a year and a half, created disappointment among those who hoped to see the measure on the November ballot.

But the reaction didn’t end with mere disappointment, spiraling instead into broader political tensions.

Shortly after the vote, on July 29, the Sonoma County Democratic Party passed an unusual resolution calling to task the City Council – and two councilmembers in particular – urging them to reconsider their vote “in the interest of promoting free and fair elections… and to publicly take a clear stand in favor of transparency and accountability, and against corruption and cronyism.”

The party resolution’s key “whereas” is the charge that the City Council “chose to expend community resources on a pretextual 30-day ‘study’ with the clear objective of denying the validly qualified cannabis dispensary petition a place on the November 2018 ballot…”

Laurie Gallian, chair of the county party and a former Sonoma mayor and councilmember, explained to the Index-Tribune that the resolution was made during the endorsement process of the county party. “I will say to you there are a lot of things tied in to this,” she said, citing the pressures of national politics. “A healthy democracy is based on free and fair elections and the people’s eligibility to vote,” factors that she said were embedded in the party platform.

Gallian said she recused herself from the discussion and vote on the resolution. She also pointed out that the resolution was to be directed to the mayor, city manager, city clerk and council members, though it was soon published on Facebook by at least one of the recipients.

One of the members of the governing body of the Sonoma County Democratic Party is Erin Carlstrom, a cannabis advocate and legal advisor to Jon Early, who is spearheading the Sonoma Citizens for Local Access campaign. Attempts to reach Carlstrom to gauge her role, if any, in formulating the resolution, were unsuccessful.

John Kelly, a trustee of the Sonoma Valley School District, is also on the governing body, as an alternate. He too did not respond to requests for comments, though informed sources said he was at the meeting and took an active role.

Gallian did opine that the resolution was in part reactive to the political tone coming from the current administration in Washington, an opinion independently voiced by several people sourced for this article.

She added that it’s within the Democratic Party’s platform which, in the words of the resolution, supports “the ongoing legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol, while prioritizing the health, education and safety of California’s communities and the country over revenue or profits.”

A week after the City Council vote, on Tuesday, July 31, Early’s group took out a full-page ad in the Index-Tribune encouraging a reversal of the vote, with a dramatic image of the U.S. Constitution and the City Council gavel on fire. When the Democratic Party resolution was released, he endeavored to change his ad to the party resolution, but missed the publishing deadline.

But by week’s end Early had launched a campaign urging his mail list recipients to contact Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti, one of the two council members cited by name in the unusual party resolution, asking for the petition to be put on the agenda for Aug. 6 City Council meeting. (The other named in the party resolution was David Cook.)

“Please call or email Sonoma Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti today with a simple democratic note of encouragement: Please place the Cannabis Access Initiative on the agenda for a re-vote next Monday,” the message read. It then gave her cellphone number and city email address, and asked that City Manager Cathy Capriola be copied on the exchange.

“This message is about our right to vote at the ballot box regardless of how you vote. Please share it,” the message concluded.

His message included a copy of the Democratic Party resolution, and a PDF of his own Index-Tribune ad.

Thursday afternoon, Agrimonti said that she had received one phone call and “to be generous, seven or eight emails” from supporters of the petition. But, she said, a number of people had emailed or spoken to her in person to voice their support for her vote to further study the petition.

“At this point I’m not comfortable with the information (about cannabis regulation) we have, and we’ve gotten tons of information,” she said.

One of the arguments made by those who sought a reversal of the council’s decision to delay a vote on the petition was that Agrimonti had changed her mind about a Plaza landscaping issue several months ago, when Public Works planned to take down a female ginkgo tree, and might do so again.

“It’s very different from the ginkgo tree, so I’m not going to do that again,” said Agrimonti. “I’m not really comfortable reversing my vote, which I will not do.”

She repeated what she said on July 23 at the meeting: “Maybe we don’t agree on this one, but there are other issues that we agree about.”

Although cannabis dispensary supporters hoped the council might reconsider the vote for the study and delay, that possibility evaporated Thursday evening when the agenda for the Aug. 6 City Council meeting was release.

It does not include any reconsideration of the cannabis petition.

The Sonoma City Council is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, in the City Council Chambers at 177 W. Napa St.

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