Marijuana Proposal “Extremely Troublesome”

The revived proposal to turn Cesar Chavez Park into a marijuana promotion site was withdrawn after public comment at a July 8 hearing. See story. Here for the record is an additional comment on the issue.

By a District 1 Resident
Dear Councilmembers:

I am shocked and disappointed that the misguided effort to allow massive marijuana smoking and vending festivals at Cesar Chavez Park on the Berkeley waterfront is resurfacing at the Council’s Health, Life Enrichment, Equity & Community Committee.

On its face, the proposal to allow marijuana smoking and vending events at Cesar Chavez Park is extremely troublesome.  Smoking of any substance is not allowed in Berkeley parks.  Regardless of the merits of cannabis now being legal for adults in California, marijuana smoke is both a California Prop. 65 recognized carcinogen, and can cause second hand intoxication.  The 2016 Initiative that legalized recreational cannabis use in California forbids smoking it in public.  

People should have the right to visit an urban public park without breathing marijuana (or tobacco) smoke, and without getting intoxicated from breathing marijuana smoke.  Many children and young people enjoy visiting Cesar Chavez Park.  They certainly should not be exposed to, nor get intoxicated from marijuana smoke.

What the City of Berkeley has in mind are not small intimate events, but huge marijuana smoking and vending festivals attracting thousands of people.

And though City officials were proposing no more than three marijuana smoking events a year at Cesar Chavez Park, the seed will be planted amongst many thousands of people that Cesar Chavez Park will be the place to go to smoke marijuana openly.  The City of Berkeley Police Department is stretched very thin, and does not have the resources to stop people from smoking (marijuana or tobacco) in public.  Nor would the BPD have the resources to prevent the sale of marijuana products to minors. 

Thus, the proposal would likely result in Cesar Chavez Park becoming a permanent and on-going large scale marijuana smoking venue.

THE CITY OF BERKELEY’S PROPOSAL VIOLATES THE AMERCIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT – ADA

People with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory illnesses will be unable to use Cesar Chavez Park when these marijuana smoking events occur, or afterwards – due to the lingering quality of marijuana smoke.  This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act – ADA.  People with respiratory illnesses have as much a right to enjoy public parks as everyone else.  In fact, people with respiratory illnesses have a greater need for public parks than the rest of the population, due to the poor air quality often found in urban areas.  As the City of Berkeley’s major waterfront park, Cesar Chavez Park can often be the only place in the City of Berkeley to breathe non-polluted air.  If Cesar Chavez Park ends up as an on-going large scale marijuana smoking venue, people with respiratory illnesses will be unable to visit the Park and breathe clean sea air anymore.

WILL SET A PRECEDENT FOR ALLOWING MARIJUANA SMOKING EVENTS IN OTHER CITY PARKS

Marijuana enthusiasts will unlikely be satisfied with only one park ,and will no doubt pressure the City Council to allow marijuana smoking events in other City of Berkeley parks.  Even if the City does not subsequently allow marijuana smoking events in other City parks, marijuana (and tobacco) smokers will think it is OK to smoke in any and all City of Berkeley parks.

THE PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE CITY’S MUNICIPAL CODE SO AS TO ALLOW MARIJUANA SMOKING AND SALES EVENTS AT CESAR CHAVEZ PARK RISES TO THE LEVEL OF BEING A “PROJECT” UNDER THE CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY ACT – CEQA

The Berkeley City Council cannot proceed with the proposal to amend the City’s Municipal Code to allow marijuana smoking and sales events in Cesar Chavez Park without first preparing a California Environmental Quality Act – CEQA Initial Study.

The California Environmental Quality Act – CEQA – defines a “project” as follows:
§ 21065. Project

“”Project” means an activity which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment, and which is any of the following:
(a) An activity directly undertaken by any public agency.
(b) An activity undertaken by a person which is supported, in whole or in part, through contracts, grants, subsidies, loans, or other forms of assistance from one or more public agencies.
(c) An activity that involves the issuance to a person of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use by one or more public agencies.”

According to the California Department of Resources website CEQA Flowchart, an “Activity” is a CEQA project if the:

“Activity has potential for a direct physical change or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment, and,

Activity involves a discretionary approval and,

Discretionary approval require the exercise of judgement or deliberation.”

On April 2, 2019, the Berkeley City Council was scheduled to vote on amending the city’s Municipal Code to allow marijuana smoking and sales events at Cesar Chavez Park, but tabled the proposal.

“16. Cannabis Ordinance Revisions; Amending the Berkeley Municipal Code “12.22.100 Temporary Cannabis Events
A. Temporary Cannabis Events as defined in MAUCRSA are permitted in Cesar Chavez Park, subject to approval of a Special Event Permit issued by the City Manager’s Office.”
B. Up to three events can be permitted annually.”

… On its face, the potential impacts of the City of Berkeley’s proposal to allow marijuana smoking and sales events at Cesar Chavez Park meet the threshold for being a CEQA “project” requiring an Initial Study and CEQA Determination

SAN FRANCISCO TRYING TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OF ITS RESIDENTS; BERKELEY DOING THE OPPOSITE

Recently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took an important step forward in protecting the health of its residents by banning the sale of all vaping products in San Francisco.  By pursuing allowing large scale marijuana smoking and vending festivals at Cesar Chavez Park, the Berkeley City Council would be headed in the opposite direction.

[Excerpted from a communication sent by District 1 resident to City Councilmembers]

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