Visalia still says no to recreational marijuana

Number of residents wanting recreational marijuana remains at 39% according to annual public opinion survey

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Visalia has not changed its stance on the sale of recreational marijuana since its residents voted against Proposition 63 more than two years ago.

In the November 2016 election, only 39% of Visalia residents voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in California. Earlier this month, only 39% of residents said they were in favor of the city reexamining its city-imposed ban on the sale of recreational marijuana as part of the city’s annual public opinion survey. Another 11% said they had no opinion, leaving a slight majority wanting to maintain the city’s ban.

“I can tell you no one wants to have marijuana in city of Visalia,” Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen said. “Let Hanford and Farmersville have dispensaries. I don’t want it here.”

Mayor Bob Link wasn’t so sure the survey accurately reflected changing opinions on recreational marijuana with most respondents being over the age of 35.

“In the conversations I have with anyone under 30 years of age, they think we should be in the recreational marijuana business,” Link said. “And anyone I talk to over 50 years of age doesn’t even want us to be the medical marijuana business.”

Recreational marijuana was one of two new questions on this year’s survey. The other dealt with the housing crisis. While single family homes are in short supply as prices continue to climb, residents say they would prefer new, affordable housing options to be homes rather than condos, townhouses or something else. Forty-three percent said they would like the city to focus on affordable options for homes, followed by condominiums (25%) and town houses (24%).

“When I talk to real estate people, they say young people moving into town are looking for apartments because they aren’t putting down roots yet,” Mayor Link said. “There’s a lot of changes happening in our culture today with people moving back in to town.”

Poochigian said he wanted to see a more in-depth breakdown on the two questions.

Deputy City Manager Mario Cifuentes said he could bring back a break down the responses by demographics and present them at a future council meeting.

Homelessness remains the number one issue for Visalia residents, dominating the list of ways the city could better manage their tax dollars and things the city should be working on to make Visalia better.

“Trash, blight and other elements related to Homelessness remain as topics of concern for the public,” the report stated.

However, when residents were asked what they considered the most essential service besides police and fire, homelessness was part of variety of answer under “Other”, which only accounted for 11%.

Councilmember Brian Poochigian said he was surprised that only a handful of residents said they wanted services for the homeless. He suggested adding a question next year directly asking people if they want to see services dealing with homelessness.

“When it came to gangs, we had a partnership with the county,” Poochigian said about a 20-year low in gang crimes. “When it comes to homelessness, we need to work with the county hand-in-hand to solve this problem. We need to work on roads within the city.”

Councilmember Greg Collins said residents being surveyed may just be reflecting what they’ve seen in local media. He said most local headlines are about fire, car chases and murders which gives people an overall bad attitude about their city.

“When you see those headlines day in and day out, I think people are convinced they live in a warzone,” Collins said. “When that’s what you see and that’s what you read, it has a tendency of skewing people’s opinion.”

91% of residents rated their quality of life as average or better with more Visalians rating their overall quality of life as high or very high and less rated it as low or very low. That was up 3% from a year ago.

More residents gave the city a higher rating when it came to providing a safe community. Residents didn’t budge on their opinion of the police department with 60% rating VPD good or excellent. Three quarters of residents rated the fire department good or excellent. Just over one-third of respondents had had some sort of call for service. Last year 17% had contact and 63% were good or excellent.

Other than public safety, the majority of residents agreed that road maintenance was the most essential city service. Traffic signs and signals was second at 18%. The least thing residents are concerned with is recreation. Only 6% of residents said recreational activities were the most essential. Nearly 60% of people said they had not used any of the city trails and a quarter did not visit a city park all of last year. Conversely, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they went to downtown Visalia at least five times in the last year.

Vice Mayor Nelsen said he interpreted that question to mean the “No. 1 topic to put our money toward is roads.” He said the city should be spending less money on seldom used pedestrian and bike paths and more on maintaining the city’s streets.

Just over 1,000 people were surveyed in front of Save Mart supermarkets and through an online survey. This year, the 31st year of the survey, anyone accessing wi-fi on city buses were asked to fill out the survey first.

Of those surveyed, three quarters of Visalia residents are homeowners and nearly as many have lived in town for more than a decade. Respondents were predominantly white females between the age of 35 and 54. About one-third of those surveyed had household incomes over $100,000.

Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Nelsen said the survey only garnered about 1% of the population’s opinion and it was the opinion of mostly affluent residents.

“It’s skewed,” Nelsen said. “When dealing with a higher income level, quality of life is better because they can afford a higher quality of life. I don’t put a lot of credence into it.”

Joel Rosales, vice chair of Citizen’s Advisory Committee, said the committee had planned to conduct surveys at COS and the Visalia Senior Center to get more respondents outside of the 35-54 range but were unable to do so because of scheduling. Rosales said the committee plans to make that a priority next year. He also said they tried to grab a more diverse group by going to Winco and Costco, but those locations would not allow the committee to set up in front of their stores.

“I was on this committee for two years and they have looked multiple times for locations in the past,” Councilmember Poochigian said.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed choose Facebook as their preferred social media platform but only a third (35%) said social media was their preferred form of communication, with 39% choosing the city’s website.

Start typing and press Enter to search