Political Notebook

After pot industry stalled, a failed sales tax initiative puts town in hot water

Coalinga’s City Hall, photographed Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
Coalinga’s City Hall, photographed Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Fresno Bee file

The city of Coalinga may soon have to lay off staff members after voters rejected a 1-percent sales tax initiative Tuesday night.

Fresno County’s unofficial election results show that about 53 percent of Coalinga voters were against the tax. The measure required a 50-percent-plus-one margin to pass.

In July, City Manager Marissa Trejo told The Bee that Coalinga’s latest budget had a $585,000 deficit. Without the sales tax increase, she said, 23 staff members would lose their jobs. The proposed staffing cuts included nine reserve police officers, one code enforcement officer and three full-time firefighters. In addition to the layoffs, several full-time employees would be converted to part-time.

Trejo could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Coalinga has struggled to remain in the black since 2011, when state prison cuts closed Claremont Custody Center. The oil industry and large retailers have also pulled out of the city in the last few years.

The city of about 20,000 was among the first in the central San Joaquin Valley to welcome the cannabis industry. The sale of the Claremont and the Juniper Ridge Industrial Park to marijuana companies has kept the city out of the red for the last few years, and the city has issued nearly 30 licenses for various cannabis-related activities this year.

However, only one business – Ocean Grown Extracts – is actually operating, and power problems have kept it from producing anywhere near its maximum efficiency. As a result, the city has made far less in tax income than it originally anticipated.

Plans to open a marijuana dispensary – an initiative Coalinga voters approved in the 2016 general election – have also dragged.

Other Valley elections

The only other election in Fresno County was for a seat on the Riverdale Irrigation District. John L. Mendes defeated Ralph M. Hodson by winning 42 of 71 total votes.

In neighboring Tulare County, Woodlake and Farmersville each passed a sales tax and a tax on cannabis operation by wide margins. Both of the small cities’ governments recently chose to allow the marijuana industry to operate within their limits, but each is still going through the lengthy regulation-writing process.