Richmond City Council approves temporary smoke shop moratorium

Richmond City Council approves temporary smoke shop moratorium
The Richmond City Council unanimously approved a 45-day moratorium on new tobacco retailers at its April 16 meeting.

The Richmond City Council unanimously approved a 45-day moratorium on new tobacco retailers after an increasing number of smoke shops have opened in the city.

The urgency order, which went into effect immediately at the April 16 meeting, means no new permit, license, or other entitlement for any new smoking lounge, smoke shop, or tobacco retailer within the city would be allowed for 45 days. 

Tobacco retailers currently operating would be allowed to apply for license renewals, which would be evaluated and either approved or denied based on the existing standards.

Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez said the city would also reserve the right to suspend or revoke any existing tobacco-related business permit, license, or entitlement.

“During this period, I would also strongly push for a transparent and thorough examination of our Code Enforcement Division’s staffing levels,” Martinez said. “It is my belief that we do not have enough staff to enforce our city’s laws, and I consider that a huge problem.”

According to Martinez, Richmond has 78 licensed tobacco retailers or more than two places to buy tobacco per square mile in Richmond.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration lists 60 California-licensed cigarette and tobacco product wholesalers, distributors, and registered retailers in Richmond.

Licensed Richmond cigarette and tobacco retailers

This map shows the location of Richmond, California, licensed cigarette and tobacco product wholesalers, distributors, and retailers registered with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration as of April 4, 2024.

When looking into the issue, Martinez said it became clear that Richmond had the potential to become the East Bay’s smoke shop capital.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen violent crime and illegal activity occur in and close to some of these retailers,” Martinez said. 

Update: Second person dead after Friday night Richmond shooting
Updated October 7 at 5:51 p.m. Richmond Police have confirmed a second victim has died in the 23rd Street shooting Friday night. Officers located three victims suffering from gunshot wounds in the 900 block of 23rd Street after receiving a ShotSpotter alert from the city’s gunfire detection

Director of Community Development Lina Velasco said city staff have been receiving a lot of complaints about unpermitted operators as well as non-compliance of existing operators.

“It is a good time to review our regulations around tobacco retailing,” Velasco said during the meeting. 

Velasco said city staff anticipates coming back to the council within 45 days to extend the moratorium under a public hearing and a notice that would be given.

Velasco said that additional time is needed to allow staff to work with the community members to come up with new regulations to present to the council for consideration.

During public comment, Richmond resident Oscar Garcia campaigned on behalf of the 23rd Street Merchants Association to express frustration with issues on the business corridor. 

“From prostitution to unregulated smoke shops, to not enough traffic enforcement, the merchants feel abandoned by the city,” Garcia said. “We need the city to address these issues and to make the 23rd Street Corridor more of a priority.” 

Garcia said the merchant association received responses from the Richmond Police Department, District 4 Councilmember Melvin Willis, and Lina Velasco but continued to be ignored by District 6 Councilmember Claudia Jimenez.

“Our businesses are suffering, and people feel unsafe due to the city’s inaction, specifically to the smoke shops. The city needs to do enforcement on the existing smoke shops as soon as possible,” Garcia said.

“There are too many smoke shops creating unsafe conditions for our children, staff, and customers. When will this enforcement begin?”

District 5 Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin said she totally supported the moratorium. 

“Staff has to have the time to figure out the next steps to regulate further, and this 45-day moratorium will give you that time,” McLaughlin said.

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