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Council doubles pot farm permits, chooses city ID card supplier

on November 10, 2010

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Oakland City Council approved a major contractor to implement a municipal ID card system, almost a year and half after passing an ordinance allowing the city to issue the cards, and also voted to increase the number of cannabis producer permits in the city from four to eight.

The cards will provide a form of identification for Oakland residents, and would be available to people who normally could not obtain a California drivers license or ID. To obtain them, residents must provide proof of address with certain pieces of mail, such as a utility bill, or a letter of support from a homeless shelter. The IDs will also have debit card capabilities, allowing users to deposit money on the cards.

Council members Jean Quan and Iganacio de la Fuente introduced the idea of a municipal ID card system in 2009. That June, the city council voted to pass an ordinance allowing the city to issue the cards. District 6 representative Desley Brooks was the only council member not to vote for the cards. (Brooks’ office did not immediately return a call asking why she did not support the ordinance.)

After the ordinance passed, three companies responded to the city’s search for a firm to implement the program. City staff eventually recommended SF Mexico Services, LLC, a firm which has implemented similar systems in Washington, DC and San Francisco, because of the company’s relationship with a bank, which will enable a debit card feature for the ID cards.

De la Fuente said that SF Mexico stood out from two other competitors because it could implement the system at no cost to the city, and because it could enable the debit function. Citing “checking mechanisms that a lot of immigrants use,” Quan said the debit function would be especially useful for those who don’t have access to a bank account. “You have to pay up to 10 percent of your pay just in the check cashing place,” Quan said.

Quan also said that the debit function would protect user information. “There’s going to be a lot more privacy, and quite frankly, more of a wall between us and, potentially, the INS in terms of looking at records and protecting people who have the card,” she said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council voted to approve SF Mexico as the contractor to implement the municipal ID program, after hearing comments from residents who thanked the city council for creating the program and urged them to link the cards to a special form of local currency.

With Univision covering the vote and dozens of Latino Oaklanders present to voice their support for the program, the discussion of the cards focused on their value as a way to give immigrants access to some kind of identification. City Clerk Latonda Simmons said that 41 people signed up to comment on the issue, though several ceded their time to let others keep talking. Members of the Green Party, local business owners, and residents who would like a municipal ID card all addressed the council.

“I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a card that shows I’m a resident of Oakland,” Sheila Magaña, 26, said to the council in Spanish. Magaña has lived in Oakland for six years, and said she attended the meeting to represent the gay Latina community. She came with friends who also support the municipal ID card, including Emilia Otero, a member of a small business owner’s group called La Placita.

Yolanda Catzalco of San Francisco told the council that the ID cards would prevent police from arresting immigrants solely for a lack of identification. “If you don’t have a municipal ID, if it’s just a green card or you don’t have any kind of ID, they can arrest you,” Catzalco said. “And that’s how they’re deporting a lot of people, hundreds of them.”

Wilson Riles, former Oakland councilmember and current member of the Oakland City ID Card Coalition, led a coordinated presentation to the council urging them to enable the cards to carry an alternative currency called the ACORN. Short for “alternative currency for Oakland residents and neighbors,” the ACORN is not part of the original municipal ID ordinance. “For various reasons, a critical aspect of this has not been dealt with,” Riles said to the council.

Public discussion of the municipal ID program has included the prospect of creating the ACORN as a form of currency that could be used in lieu of dollars at local business, with the goal of encouraging residents to shop locally. The council has not decided the exact value of an ACORN or how it would be distributed.

About 15 people spoke in favor of the ACORN on Tuesday’s meeting. “I think that everything I’ve heard about the local currency indicates that such a proposal would benefit both those who receive it, and the local business community,” retired state worker and Green Party representative Michael Rubin said to the council. “I’m perplexed why this has not moved forward.”

The council discussed multiple ways a local currency could be used, but after nearly an hour of public comment, voted unanimously to contract SF Mexico to implement the already approved municipal ID system without the ACORN until the specifics of a local currency could be ironed out by council staff. “Until they give direction for the staff to explore the concept, to research it, it’s not per se on the table,” Claudia Burgos, a policy analyst for councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente, said of the ACORN.

“The reality is that we need to have a real discussion of what we mean by [local currency],” said Quan. “Different people mean different things, apparently.” Quan said that some people have suggested a currency that is backed by dollars, while others think that unions should agree to issue a certain amount of pay in ACORNS. “None of those things are simple, and they have to be negotiated and probably litigated,” Quan said.

Quan expressed enthusiasm for adding additional functions to the card later—she listed several options such as discounts for shopping locally or turning the municipal IDs into the city’s library cards. She also suggested the possibility of paying the city’s young summer interns with money on a municipal ID, since she stated many of them don’t have bank accounts.

De la Fuente said that the council decided to expedite the implementation of the card, and will now turn its attention to matters like the ACORN. “I want to emphasize the fact that we are open to that,” de la Fuente said. “We have many other options that can be added to this card, but I think we have to move, and say that the more we delay, the more we deny this service.”

The city council also voted unanimously to pass two medical marijuana ordinances that will expedite the process of licensing large-scale cannabis-growing facilities in Oakland. One ordinance would codify the application process for growers interested in starting a facility, including building in incentives for local business owners and penalizing existing owners who owe back taxes to the city. So far, more than 300 people have put their names on a list showing their interest in operating a large-scale growth facility in Oakland.

The other ordinance would have expanded the number of large-scale facilities permitted in Oakland to double from four to eight. These operations could grow as much cannabis as their facility would hold, and the city has not limited their square footage.

Over a dozen people approached the council to comment before each vote, expressing support for the process to move forward. “We are creating a lot of good jobs—a tremendous tax base that will help bring Oakland back to its feet,” said Dan Rush, a representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5, the union representing many workers in the medical marijuana industry.

Jeff Jones of Oakland’s Patient ID Center, a nonprofit that issues ID cards for medical marijuana users, called the city “ahead of the curve.”

“These are the first steps to better supply and availability,” Jones said.

A point of contention arose over whether to make current growers pay a penalty on any back taxes owed if they want to apply for the new permits. Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Pat Kernighan sided with De la Fuente, who said that making current growers pay their back taxes was stringent enough. Councilmember Desley Brooks disagreed, saying, “There’s an attitude in this city that you can do whatever you want, and we continue that notion by saying all you have do is pay that which you already owe.” Councilmember Nancy Nadel said that the growers make enough money to pay a penalty without suffering financial hardship.

The council voted to charge a penalty in addition to back taxes and interest to growers that owe taxes and want to apply for the new permits.

The council passed the second ordinance unanimously, expanding the amount of permits for large-scale cannabis growing facilities from four to eight. Applause met the approval of both ordinances, and dozens of people filed out of the room after Councilmember Jane Brunner asked the crowd to discuss the ordinances further outside.

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Image: Municipal ID card advocates line up for the public comment period before the Oakland City Council vote. The council approved the implementation of the cards at Tuesday’s meeting.


  1. […] little fanfare, the council voted in favor of an amendment to the recently passed ordinance defining the permitting process for large-scale medical marijuana growers … The council set the application fee for each business at $5,000, and set the annual regulatory fee […]

  2. […] recreational use of marijuana for adults, was nevertheless cautious about the city’s plan to permit and tax 8 large pot farms.  In February, he told the council that he planned to recuse himself from advising the city on […]

  3. […] undocumented immigrants. The city adopted an ordinance authorizing the cards in 2009. In 2010, the city council selected SF Mexico LLC, the firm that implemented San Francisco’s municipal ID system as the ID provider and a debit […]

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