Merced County Times Newspaper
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‘Safer Merced’ group submits thousands of signatures

Effort aims to secure ballot initiative for voters, renew public safety funding


Former Mayor Mike Murphy and members of the Committee for a Safer Merced assembled outside City Hall late Monday afternoon to make a very important delivery. In their possession was a box filled with nearly 5,000 signatures from Merced residents in support of renewing Measure C funding for public safety efforts.

Measure C is a local, half-cent sales tax that supports Police and Fire Department staffing, emergency services, and transportation safety. It was first approved by Merced voters in 2006 with a 20-year expiration date. It’s due to expire in 2026.

“If we don’t renew it, we’re going to lose 33 police officers and firefighters,” said Peg Larson, a member of Safer Merced. “With the community growing the way it is, especially with the UC, we need to add to our Police Department and firefighters. … We need to be growing along with our community.”

To qualify a renewal of Measure C for the ballot, exactly 3,988 valid signatures of Merced city voters are required. It appears the Safer Merced committee has enough. The group had the signatures vetted in advance by a third party organization. However, the signatures will have to be verified by the Elections Office. Once verified, the initiative will be placed on the 2024 ballot. It must garner a majority of the vote in order to pass.

The only change from the previous version of the measure was that the fund would be classified as a special tax, which guarantees that it can be used exclusively for public safety. Previously, money raised from the tax was put into the general fund, though it was still used exclusively for its established purpose.

Committee members presented their completion of the petition phase to the Merced City Council at their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday night. Representatives for police and fire expressed their support for the measure.

“This is a big group of people that we’re representing,” Murphy told Council members. “The stacks of petitions all represent people and households in our city, and their desire for public safety.”

He thanked members of the council for their support, and Mayor Matthew Serratto thanked the committee members for their efforts to ensure public safety.

The actions taken to get this measure added to the ballot follow a Citizen Initiative process that officially began last April, but planning started month prior to that.

The creation of “Safer Merced” followed a failed City of Merced government effort to place a Measure C extension on the ballot in 2022. While a renewal of Measure C met with initial approval by a majority of the City Council, three council members later voted against the action, citing inconsistencies in the procedure to get it done, and the desire to add an “affordable housing” component to the measure’s funding.

This time around, the citizen’s Measure C renewal effort doesn’t need the City Council’s approval, but members say they would like an endorsement from the leaders nonetheless.

Said Alison Kostecky, “This council, time and time again, has [stressed the point]: ‘It’s what the people want, it’s what the people want.’ And now, close to 5,000 registered voters in the city want this. So, we would really, really, really love this council’s endorsement and support moving forward in getting this measure passed and approved again.”


Last ditch effort to increase
number of dispensaries fails

During Monday’s meeting, Merced City Council once again voted to maintain the city’s current number of permits for cannabis dispensaries. The current number of licenses approved for within the city is five, and an increase up to seven had been previously discussed as a compromise from 10 as suggested by some city council members. The increase would allow for the company STIIIZY to set up a shop locally.

The company’s team as well as some members of the community spoke in favor of the increase in licenses, while primarily local dispensary owners argued against the change, citing excessive competition. There were also questions of the validity of some of the claims made by STIIIZY and their proponents, as well as their current business practices. A representative for Nectar Markets went so far as to say that a STIIIZY representative had attempted to solicit support from the community by offering free products to those who would attend the City Council meeting.

Some existing owners suggested that an increase in the number of businesses permitted would actually harm the financial benefits the city enjoys from the taxes earned from cannabis-related business: “I think we’ve made it clear, as prices drop, the revenue to the city of Merced drops,” said one local dispensary owner.

Many of the advocates for expansion of the number of licenses cited economic development, social benefits from the products provided, and the addition of union jobs. Conditions for workers became a central point for both sides of the issue. The proposed business seeking a permit, STIIIZY, employs union workers.

Multiple representatives for the company, including a union representative for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 8, said that expanding the licenses and allowing the company to do business would bring 40-50 union jobs to Merced. The existing dispensaries, however, rejected that this would result in improved conditions for local workers, stating that they provided comparable pay and benefits without the presence of a union.

Some who spoke in favor noted that an increased number of dispensaries would encourage competition leading to improved pricing and quality for consumers. 
“When it comes down to it, more competition is a good thing for people like me,” Merced resident Ethan Perez said to the council. “If you can’t tell, I smoke weed and I’m a college student, and I’m broke…very broke.” He added: “I’ve been hearing from a lot of suits, but I’m not wearing a suit. I’m being real with you. Competition is always a good thing. It might hurt some people’s pocketbooks. … But for the average guy … We like it. We like it cheap.”

Perez’s comments were met with applause from many in attendance. 
The council ultimately approved of maintaining the current five license limit in a 4-3 vote, with council members Fue Xiong, Shane Smith, and Jesse Ornelas voting “No.”

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