It wasn’t on the agenda – and in fact came up during the ‘comments from the audience’ portion of the meeting – but it took Escalon City Council members and those attending Monday night’s regular session a bit by surprise.
The proposal presented focused on bringing a marijuana manufacturing business to the city, specifically with the use of new technology that reduces the growing time and increases the number of harvests per year.
Council members heard the plan from a man who identified himself as James Silver, indicating he and partner Serge Bouchard, who he credited with creating the technology that could make the plan work, are interested in locating in the community. The two are co-founders of Agritainer Technologies and are hoping to partner with YuGro, a California corporation, in the venture.
Though council members were quick to point out that the city does not allow commercial cultivation of marijuana, the proposal was heard by the panel. It took up a good portion of the roughly 90-minute meeting time and also sparked some additional comment from audience members.
“I don’t grow marijuana, I’m not a farmer at all,” Silver told the council, adding that the new technology, however, is “best geared” to marijuana cultivation and he’s hoping that since it is legal in California, the council may move to allow it within city limited.
He said they are working with a property owner in the 1500 block of Main Street, in hopes of moving in to a large facility that could be used for manufacturing. They have a site in Stockton already, he said, and that features 24-7 surveillance. The same is proposed in Escalon.
Some residents taking the podium following the lengthy proposal and the give and take discussion with the council noted that the audience comment portion was not the proper place for this issue to be aired.
“I feel like I was sneak attacked here,” said Kurt Danziger. “I have to protest, we’ve never had a presentation come from the matters presented from the audience.”
Mayor Jeff Laugero noted that there would be no action taken and that the item was informational only.
Resident Dave Willis said his “main concern is the wacky weed” and not wanting the manufacture of it within the city.
Former council member Gary Haskin said he felt as though it was something of a ‘bait and switch’ item and that if the technology reduces growth time and increases yield it could just as easily be used for other cash crops.
“This isn’t about technology,” Haskin said. “This is about growing marijuana in the city of Escalon.”
It’s possible that the proposal could come back before the council in formal fashion at a later date and City Attorney Ann Siprelle said there would have to be a developer agreement put in place if the project was to move forward.
“This city did not pass Prop 64,” Mayor Laugero added. “That probably will be a major hurdle … there needs to be communication with the community.”
Council members Ed Alves and Robert Swift agreed that there are many unanswered questions but said it might bear additional scrutiny, as the city could be in for some much needed tax revenue if the operation was to locate here.
And despite assurances of safety, the use of armored trucks to transport the product and the use of impervious shipping containers, the mayor said his concerns remain about the potential impact to citizens’ safety.
“I’m very skeptical of being able to secure anything,” Laugero said, because “there’s always the human factor” in any given situation.