Richmond city council plans to vote on smokeshop license moratorium

RICHMOND, Calif. - The Richmond City Council plans to hear public comment and vote on a proposed 45-day moratorium on new tobacco retail licenses, after community members expressed concerns about the number of smoke shops popping up around the city. The issue is on the agendar for the next April 16th meeting.

"I've lived out here for a little bit and its for sure gone to a lot more smoke shops. I don't know if it makes more money, or what it does but it's for sure a lot more now," said Nicholas Ocegueda, who has lived and worked in Richmond.

"It doesn't create a safe environment at least for me at my home. I wouldn't like to see more," Keili Gonzalez of Richmond said.

City staff conducted an investigation and say the city has 78 tobacco licensed retailers, or about two shops per square mile. They also found stores that had no license.

"We got an investigation from the city. They found at least three shops are open without any license, any permit from the city," Richmond Vice Mayor Claudia Jimenez said.

Jimenez joined with Mayor Eduardo Martinez and another city council member Melvin Willis this week at the city council meeting called for the 45-day moratorium on issuing any new tobacco retail licenses.

"If we continue to give licenses, we will have more and more, and the enforcement will be more difficult due to the staffing levels that we have," Jimenez said.

Willis is a Richmond native and worries about the health effects on residents, especially in certain neighborhoods.

"With the issue of there being an overrepresentation of tobacco products or even liquor stores in disadvantaged or people of color neighborhoods," Willis said.

Some people say they don't see a problem, and having an array of smoke shops is a convenience when they are on the go.

"It's a convenience, yeah," Alex Villacenzo of Richmond said. "It depends on where I'm at and what I'm doing."

Willis says the city staff report also revealed a concern about enforcement and a lack of municipal codes and procedures to align business permitting with community values and a cohesive city plan.

"We need to press pause, take inventory and discuss what we want a look at what we want our city to look like moving forward with updated regulations and to our municipal code," Willis said.