Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby, who is at the center of the city’s decision not to categorize dance studios as youth centers in relation to cannabis buffer zones, defended his position this past week and accused the city’s mayor of “politicizing” the issue.
Mosby’s most recent remarks came less than two weeks after the issue was resurrected at the council’s June 5 meeting when a dance studio owner publicly threatened litigation against the city and asked that the topic be brought back for a third vote. That request was not granted, as Councilmen Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega remained silent when Mayor Bob Lingl made a motion to have the discussion re-introduced, which led to the motion dying on the floor.
Mosby explained why he chose to stay silent following Lingl’s June 5 motion, and also defended his change of heart that ultimately led to dance studios being excluded from the youth center categorization, which comes with a 600-foot buffer from any commercial cannabis operations.
“It seems like things are getting blown out of shape and there were solutions provided and there already is a mechanism there that allows them to (obtain a youth center designation),” Mosby said of dance studio owners who want to have a buffer.
Setting the stage
The issue was first discussed by the city council during its March 6 meeting, and Mosby joined Lingl and Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne in voting in favor of dance studios being considered as youth centers. Their 3-2 majority led to dance studios automatically receiving the buffer, though that did not last long.
On April 3, the topic was brought back at Mosby’s request, for another vote. Mosby reversed course that night and joined Starbuck and Vega in voting against the designation, helping to swing another split 3-2 vote, this time in the other direction.
Mosby said his about-face was prompted by a conversation he had with a dance studio representative after the March 6 meeting.
“I was approached by somebody representing a dance studio and (that studio) did not want to be considered as a youth facility,” he said. “They said that, in general, dance studios aren’t youth facilities. Dance studios can be youth centers, but in general a dance studio doesn’t have to be for youth only.”
Mosby compared the dance studios to local gymnasiums.
“Is In-Shape City a youth facility? No,” he said. “Would it be fair for us to say that all gymnasiums are youth facilities? No. But some of them are youth-oriented.”
The councilman suggested that anyone who wants to have his or her business or organization — including dance studios — classified as a youth center can begin the process by bringing the issue to City Attorney Joe Pannone, who can then investigate and determine the merit of the request.
Pannone confirmed Thursday that anyone is welcome to go to him with such a request.
“If after my review and investigation I determine (that) sufficient evidence exists, showing the use meets that definition, then it would be added to the buffer map,” he said.
“The council retains authority to overrule my decision,” he added, “as was done with dance studios.”
Pannone said that as of Thursday, he hadn’t received any requests from any dance studio owners. He noted that Gymnastics North was added to the youth center list only after Mosby brought that business to his attention, and that two church pastors had reached out to him to have some of their church facilities included. One of the church requests, from Lompoc Foursquare Church, was approved, and one from Calvary Chapel was not.
“As has been stated on more than one occasion, there may be other youth center facilities we are not aware of,” Pannone said.
Making their case
While Mosby said that he felt like going to Pannone for case-by-case determinations was the best way to handle the situation, others, including Lingl and Osborne, have suggested that dance studios that serve youth should automatically fall under the youth center designation.
Angela Mill, the owner of Lompoc’s Classical School of Ballet, is among the latter group.
Mill led the way in bringing the issue back to the council on June 5 and said she was disappointed to not have the buffer around her business, located at 124 South J St. She suggested that the council’s April 3 vote could force her to close her doors due to backlash from parents who don’t want their children taking classes next door to a “pot shop.”
According to the state, a youth center is “any public or private facility that is primarily used to host recreational or social activities for minors, including, but not limited to, private youth membership organizations or clubs, social service teenage club facilities, video arcades, or similar amusement park facilities.”
Mill said she felt like her business clearly met that definition and, citing Pannone’s previously stated opinion that is in agreement with her own, said that she felt like the city was violating state law.
Several other people at the meeting spoke in support of Mill and her request. Mill was granted extra time to speak by Mayor Lingl — a little more than 10 minutes instead of the usual three — who explained his decision by saying that Mill was speaking in place of others who agreed to defer their time to her.
Since Lingl had acknowledged speaking to Mill prior to the meeting, Mosby said he felt like Lingl arranged the whole firestorm at the June 5 meeting. The meeting ended with Lingl breaking protocol by asking to have the issue brought back for discussion immediately after the first public comment portion of the meeting instead of at the end of the meeting, as is typically done.
“I believe the mayor is politicizing this and trying to use it to his advantage,” Mosby said. “It’s a shame that people are using children for their political gain.
“For him to do what he did there, I think was very manipulative of public comment,” he added, referring to Lingl. “He basically agendized the item through public comment and then took a vote on it. I believe there are other ways to solve the issues.”
In response to those accusations, Lingl said he had nothing to hide.
“If Jim Mosby thinks answering a citizen’s question is politicizing, then I am guilty,” Lingl said. “I was asked by the owner of the dance studio, ‘What can we do to get the council to change their vote again to keep my studio in the exclusion zone?’ I told her she would have to show up at a council meeting and convince at least three of us to change the vote.”
Mosby said the reason that he chose to stay silent when Lingl made his council request was because the issue had been discussed in closed session and those conversations are almost never made public.
The closed session agenda for the June 5 meeting included a conference with legal counsel over “significant exposure to litigation” regarding a letter received from an attorney representing a dance studio alleging that the city violated Proposition 64 — the Adult Use of Marijuana Act — by excluding dance studios from buffer zones around youth centers.
While the name of the business behind the potential litigation was not publicly revealed by the city, it was almost certainly the Classical School of Ballet. Mill publicly revealed at the meeting that her attorney had sent a letter to the city and she went on to publicly read portions of the letter.
At the end of the June 5 meeting, during the normal council comments and requests portion of the meeting, Mosby raised his initial concerns with how the discussion that night came about.
“We’ve been told we shouldn’t be discussing items that were in closed session, and I’m not gonna discuss what went on in closed session, but there was a reason why three of us kept our mouths shut when the mayor made his motion before,” he said. “I think it was a little bit of a snipe on us [Mosby, Starbuck and Vega] because we shouldn’t be responding … .”
A week after the meeting, Mosby said his feelings had not changed.
“As per closed session protocol, we’re not supposed to be commenting about a closed session item,” he said. “I think the mayor knew what he was doing and knew that we weren’t supposed to be discussing the items that he was allowing the public to discuss, via proxy for himself, basically. I think it was very manipulative.”
On Friday, Lingl defended his actions that night by noting that Pannone, the city’s attorney, watched it all go down.
“My motion to reconsider the vote was based on citizens’ comments during oral communication,” he said. “If there was anything inappropriate about my motion, the city attorney would have commented or stopped it.”
Regardless of motivations, Mosby said he is hopeful that people will take their concerns regarding the youth center designations to the city attorney. For now, as per the council’s April 3 vote, dance studios will not get automatic buffers.
“This shouldn’t have to be political,” Mosby said. “This should have a simple black and white solution.”
The next regular meeting of the Lompoc City Council is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Plaza.