The Sonora City Council on Monday agreed to take no formal position for now in the growing debate over California’s sanctuary state law and unanimously approved a ballot measure for the Nov. 6 general election to tax potential cannabis businesses.

Mayor Connie Williams said there were many people at the public meeting on Monday who told the council they were opposed to the city showing support for lawsuits against the state that have been filed by the federal government and a number of cities and counties in Southern California.

“The main concern people had, especially those who have come here from other countries legally, is that the people who come into our country undocumented will go onto living in the shadows,” Williams said of the public comments at the meeting.

The discussion centered around the city’s options with regard to Senate Bill 54, which made California the nation’s first sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants when it took effect on Jan. 1.

Known as the California Values Act, SB 54 precludes state and local law enforcement agencies from being compelled to enforce federal immigration laws.

Williams had asked City Administrator Tim Miller last month to schedule a discussion on the topic at a future meeting after receiving a letter from the City of Los Alamitos asking for the council’s support in the lawsuit against the state government.

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution at a meeting on May 1 that stated the county is not a sanctuary jurisdiction and its policies comply with federal immigration laws.

At the May 1 meeting, Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele expressed support for the resolution and stated that 1/500th of 1 percent of all his agency’s bookings at its jail are of people in the country illegally.

City Attorney Douglas White prepared several options for the council, but Williams said members agreed to take a “wait-and-see” approach to the lawsuits.

“What we decided to do at this juncture is nothing,” she said.

Williams said one of the reasons for the decision to not approve a resolution like the county’s was because the city doesn’t have a jail, so any requests or reports about an undocumented immigrants who has been arrested in the city would ultimately go through the Sheriff’s Office.

However, the decision doesn’t mean the council is being light on crime, Williams noted.

“The council was very forthcoming in the fact that we wanted to make sure that anyone who committed a crime, whether they were undocumented or not, would be dealt with the right way to protect the safety of everybody,” she said.

The council also voted 5-0 to approve a ballot measure for the Nov. 6 general election that would let voters in the city decide on a proposed tax of up to 15 percent on any future cannabis businesses.

There are currently no cannabis businesses allowed to operate in the three-square-mile city limits, but the council approved an ordinance earlier this year that could provide an opening for some medical-only cannabis dispensaries, manufacturing facilities and testing laboratories.

Williams was the only one to vote against the ordinance because cannabis is still considered an illegal drug under federal law, but she said she supported the ballot measure because the city charges a sales tax for other products.

A couple of people at the meeting expressed concern that the potential tax of up to 15 percent would be too high, Williams said.

Miller said the council will have the authority to determine whether to tax any future cannabis businesses allowed to operate in the city at the full 15-percent rate or less.

He also said the city expects to collect fees up front or a monthly fee from businesses in-lieu of having to pay the tax that would be negotiated through a development agreement, which would have to be approved by the council.

“Only if they don’t pay these fees would be impose a tax,” Miller said. “Until we negotiate terms for any businesses that may be permitted, I don’t know yet what the city might collect in fees.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.






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