GONZALES — While the rest of Gonzales was preparing for the weekend last Friday evening, a handful of citizens gathered inside the Gonzales City Council chambers with their local elected officials to informally discuss a few issues affecting the community.
About a dozen people attended the Aug. 23 community listening session organized by Monterey County District 3 Supervisor Chris Lopez and Gonzales City Council Members Liz Silva and Paul Miller. On constituents’ minds were questions regarding marijuana taxes, juvenile behavioral health services and a new South County courthouse, among others.
The informal gathering was a way for Lopez to get feedback on issues impacting citizens of Gonzales directly from voters. The session began at 5:30 p.m. and lasted nearly two hours.
The first item discussed was the matter regarding the status of a new superior court to service South County residents. The King City courthouse was closed in 2013 to save money, according to Lopez. The closure forced citizens to travel to Salinas, Monterey or Marina in the northern reaches of the county for court services.
The building’s current location at 250 Franciscan Way is now used as a victim services office for the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.
Prior to the King City closure, Lopez said that a commitment was made to re-open a new courthouse in South County. In 2011, the state cut funding for the project, Lopez said. The City of Greenfield pledged $10 million and a 4-acre parcel across from its city hall for a new court building.
Both Seaside and Monterey, however, are also vying for a new courthouse. In a 2017 report, the state’s Judicial Council ranked the Monterey courthouse as “very high risk” for seismic damage, giving it highest priority for replacement.
“It was pretty disconcerting,” Lopez said. “We found out there was a lot of movement in terms of pitching the need for a new courthouse. Unfortunately, the way we found out about it was reading in the weeklies about a new courthouse in Monterey with beautiful ocean views when we just don’t have a courthouse period or access to justice in southern Monterey County.
“Our constituents can’t do jury duty because they live two hours from court, so they’re let off automatically,” Lopez added.
Lopez said the Judicial Council will release its draft list of rankings for new courthouses in California on Aug. 29.
Talk of courthouses moved the meeting into questions on plans for a juvenile behavior health clinic in South County.
Araceli Flores, a board member for the Gonzales Unified School District, asked about having a location to treat children with severe to moderate mental health problems who can be seen by not just county workers, but also contract providers.
Flores indicated a need for a consistent location for children.
Lopez said officials are three months into a study to determine the feasibility for an outpatient facility. He added that the county sends children to states as far away as Kansas and Colorado for treatment.
The conversation shifted to how cannabis tax dollars are spent. Lopez said the county made $15 million in taxes since lowering the cannabis tax rate of $5 per square foot in 2018.
Because there is concern that the market will become flooded with product, Lopez said, cannabis taxes are not automatically earmarked for spending but instead decided during budget hearings shortly before the fiscal year in June.
Lopez added that input from constituents indicated a need for spending on mental health and homeless services, and other public services such as libraries.
Lopez added that money also goes to the district attorney and the sheriff’s office to fund programs to enforce compliance for cannabis cultivation.
“The thought that the illegal market was going to go away as soon as the recreational market came has not come to fruition at all,” Miller said.