Mod: You probably haven't seen The Mountain Views News report on Sierra Madre's newly selected City Manager since yesterday's big rain melted all of the pulpy piles of this city's woebegone weekly stacked down by the local liquor stores. So here is their publicity release-style take on the guy who is now about to replace Elaine Aguilar.
Mod: OK, so that is the air brushed version of this story. But since we're The Tattler, an independent news source that doesn't need to kiss the fanny of City Hall to stay in business, we set out to do a little searching around the Internet to see what we might be able to find. And it turns out Gabe Engeland had some interesting adventures in his previous City Manager gig. That being in Trinidad, Colorado, population 9,096 (link). First, something you might not have known about the colorful City of Trinidad.
In the Age of Caitlyn Jenner, Trinidad Is No Longer World's Sex-Change Capital (Westword link): Transgender talk is all around these days, with I Am Cait, the reality series that debuted Sunday on E!, showing the former men’s decathlon Olympic gold-medal winner as the woman she always knew she was. But the first episode didn’t cause much fuss in Trinidad, despite the fact that for more than three decades, this small city in southern Colorado was known as the Sex-Change Capital of the World.
If the title seems unlikely, the story behind it is just as unusual. Stanley Biber, a hometown boy who became a general surgeon, thought he’d seen it all when he was a medic in Korea. But then one day in the late ’60s, he got a request he’d never considered: A social worker asked Biber if he could perform a sex-change operation. Biber talked to a doctor in New York who’d done the surgery, studied some plans from Johns Hopkins, and in 1969 did his first sex-assignment surgery at Mount San Rafael, Trinidad’s only hospital. Before Biber set aside his scalpel in 2003 — when the eighty-year-old doctor could no longer find insurance — he estimated that he’d performed some 6,000 sex-reassignment operations there. “I didn’t retire — I was forced to retire,” Biber told us at the time. “I’m in great shape. I work out every day; I out-lift the kids. But they wouldn’t insure me.”
Mod: Things hadn't always been that economically fine in Trinidad. But there was a solution coming, as you shall see. Sierra Madre also has it's challenges, so it is good to see there is a financial problem solver heading into town. But first, the Tragedy of Trinidad. This item ran on May 7, 2015.
Trinidad Hit Hard by Layoffs (KRCC.org link): Around 100 people are losing their jobs at the Pioneer Natural Resources branch in Trinidad. The Texas-based oil and gas company was the largest employer in the city, says Gabriel Engeland, Trinidad's City Manager, who adds that the layoffs are devastating both economically and socially.
"I think Trinidad now is really at a place where it has to find its identity," says Engeland. "If we’re not going to have the natural resource production in the area, then what replaces it? I don’t think we have an answer to that yet."
He says Trinidad officials are looking at impacts on the community, including everything from sales tax revenue to possible changes in school enrollment. In a statement, Pioneer Natural Resources says the layoffs are due to a drop in natural gas and crude oil prices. The company plans to offer severance packages and other services.
The statement says the company’s work in the Raton Basin will now be managed from its home office in Dallas, and that it's also closing its Denver office. Of the 70 employees there, about one-third will be offered relocation possibilities. In Trinidad, the layoffs represent nearly half of Pioneer Natural Resources’ southern Colorado workforce.
Mod: Help was on the way, however. As the groovier readers of this blog must know, Colorado citizens voted to legalize marijuana awhile back. And as the next four stories shall reveal, the City of Trinidad has today become the leading center of Colorado's marijuana trade. And Sierra Madre's newly selected City Manager, Gabe Engeland, was at the very heart of this green colored renaissance.
Engeland responds to developer’s recent comments about new ‘Pot Mall’ opening (The Chronicle-News link): When marijuana business owner Sean Sheridan commented in a Thursday, January 14 press release about the burgeoning number of legalized marijuana businesses now open or soon to be open in Trinidad, City Manager Gabe Engeland said Friday that he wanted to clear the air about some of the comments Sheridan had made. Sheridan’s press release and marketing for a “pot mall” was picked up as a news story by two Colorado TV news stations over the weekend.
While acknowledging that Sheridan, whose company has received City approval to open five marijuana businesses at contiguous addresses from 409 – 419 N. Commercial St., had the right to say what he wanted to say, Engeland said in interview in his office that he felt there were certain inaccuracies in some of the things Sheridan had written in his press release, and he tried to clarify the situation.
Sheridan wrote that, “With currently approved development plans the city is expecting to house more than one dispensary per 1,000 residents in 2016,” that is, 10 dispensaries in a city with a population estimated at 9,300 people. Engeland said some of the inaccuracies in the press release related to the specific numbers of marijuana businesses licensed in Trinidad.
“So some of the inaccuracies are around the total number,” Engeland said. “We currently have seven retail dispensaries operating. We have a total of 26 that have applied for a CUP (Conditional Use Permit), and out of those, 19 have been granted a CUP. So in addition to the seven that are operating, if the plans for all of the CUPS go through, Trinidad would be looking at 26 retail marijuana stores, which is actually higher that what he (Sheridan) put in here. In addition to that, that doesn’t include cultivation. So I believe we have, right now, a total of four cultivation licenses, with two more pending, bringing the total marijuana operations in Trinidad to 31, which is pretty significant for a town of our population.”
Colo. entrepreneurs have high hopes for marijuana mini-mall (The Santa Fe New Mexican link): On the first day the state of Colorado allowed the sale of recreational marijuana, Chris Elkins waited two hours in the freezing cold to buy weed.
“The line was down the stairwells, down the sidewalks, around the buildings, down the street,” Elkins, who had traveled to Colorado from Arkansas for a long-planned ski trip, recalled about that New Year’s Day in 2014.
“We’re all just standing out in the cold, shaking,” he said. As Elkins braved the winter weather with scores of stoners, the budding businessman saw an opportunity to cash in.
“Being an entrepreneur, I recognized that there’s going to be plenty of sales in this industry,” he said. “People are going to need to expand — that’s a difficult thing to do — and I took it upon myself to jump in the industry at that time.”
More than two years after that fateful day, Elkins and his business partner, Sean Sheridan, are making a run for the Colorado border.
The two commercial real estate developers are pushing a plan to open what they’ve dubbed the “World’s First Pot Mini-Mall” with five marijuana stores operating side by side under the same roof in downtown Trinidad, an old coal mining town some 12 miles north of the New Mexico state line.
(Later ..) Trinidad City Manager Gabriel Engeland said legal marijuana has already breathed new life into downtown.
“One of the goals of council was to rehab and make usable the buildings again and bring tenants again,” he said. “Retail marijuana, at least in these instances, has done that. I think that there’s the potential that it could be a catalyst. It’s just too soon to tell if the fuse is going down to a big boom or if the fuse is going down to a fizzle.”
While city officials are trying to transform Trinidad into an arts destination, Elkins and Sheridan want it to be known as the most marijuana-friendly city in the world, an idea that some residents and elected officials aren’t eager to embrace.
“I’m not comfortable with any more marijuana stores. I think we have enough,” said former Trinidad Mayor Joe Reorda, 81.
“We used to be called the Sex-Change Capital of the Nation. Now we’re going to be called the Marijuana Capital of the Nation,” he said. “I don’t know which is worse.”
Mod: Breathing new life into a moribund downtown? Well sure, why not? This next story went national, and comes from CNN. Fame came suddenly to Mr. Engeland.
It's in large part thanks to at least $800,000 in marijuana tax revenue. The green rush is bringing hope back to this once-booming coal mining town in rural southeast Colorado, just 11 miles from the New Mexico border, where generations of Mattie's family have lived. Residents pride themselves on the town's pioneer reputation and Wild West spirit.
"This is the place where Bat Masterson was the marshal. This is where Jesse James' gang did run. This is the place where Doc Holiday was a dentist and owned a brothel. This is the place," says Cy Michaels, a hotel owner and leader of the town's tourism board.
It was also home to one of the first places in the nation for gender reassignment surgery, earning it the unofficial title of "sex change capital of the world" in the early 2000s. But the doctor left, mines shut down and businesses closed, leaving the town searching for a new identity. So the city turned to marijuana, hoping to fill the economic void.
Compared with 30,000 in its prime, 8,200 residents live here now. But Mattie and others hope weed dispensaries, grow facilities and a high-scale commercial chocolate edibles company can be a shot in the arm.
"I expect that the sale of medical and recreational marijuana in the city of Trinidad is transitional," Mattie says. "That it gets us over this abyss of nothingness."
The town is in many ways an experiment that other cities across America are watching. They're only starting to see the good, the bad and the uncertainty that comes with a small town green-lighting weed. The town waded slowly into the controversial legal marijuana industry, waiting and only allowing medical marijuana business first.
"It's like tipping your toe in the water, testing the water," Mattie says. "And we said, 'Alright, this is not the big problem we maybe thought it could be.'"
In November 2014 the first recreational retail pot shop opened in Trinidad. Then, the money started flowing beyond expectations.
The $800,000 in tax revenue from marijuana sales in one year makes up just about 10% of the town's general fund, City Manager Gabe Engeland says. Mattie says they anticipated about $200,000. And so began the transformation of the town. With the marijuana tax money, the city spent $70,000 on a new fire engine, a pumper truck. Some of the money has allowed the city to expedite replacing old water pipes.
"About 60% of our water pipes were installed between 1890 and 1950," Engeland says. "They're edging towards catastrophic failure."
The city bought several rundown buildings in the heart of town with plans to convert them into live-work lofts and galleries, to attract artists and craftspeople to Trinidad.
It's money that's making a difference for this struggling town and a trend being seen across the state.
Mod: Anyone see any obvious parallels developing here? Old water pipes, a financially at risk and moribund downtown, the burning need for more (and more) tax revenue? Here with the answer Sierra Madre might be looking for is our final news item.
Marijuana tax revenue keeps on growing (The Chronicle News link): Trinidad’s legalized marijuana industry continues to be a major tax revenue generator for the city. As of April 30, 2016, year-to-date retail marijuana sales in the city totaled approximately $4.232 million, according to information shared by new city Finance Director Cheryl Navarette, who started in her new job in mid-March this year.
Navarette said those four months of sales revenue generated approximately $352,000 in city tax revenues. The city imposes a 5 percent sales tax on those sales, along with a 4 percent general sales tax. It also receives 1.5 percent in tax rebate revenue from state marijuana taxes, though the state rebate revenues have a one-month lag before the city receives them. That’s a total tax of 10.5 percent.
Last year, the city received approximately $891,000 in total retail sales tax revenue on marijuana sales of approximately $8.654 million. The tax revenue goes partly to the city’s General Fund and partly to the city’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) Fund. The CIP Fund gets one cent from all city retail tax revenues, both for marijuana sales and all other retail sales.
In a memo to the Mayor and City Council members, City Manager Gabe Engeland provided an updated look at marijuana-licensed locations and what the current legalized marijuana map looks like in Trinidad.
“Trinidad currently has approved 16 locations for Marijuana, with nine of these approved locations open and operational,” Engeland wrote. “15 of the 16 approved locations include some type of ‘retail’ component in the license. In addition to this, the Planning and Zoning Variance Commission has either approved, or will have before them shortly, another 32 locations seeking to operate a marijuana business. In total, the number of locations in Trinidad which could seek formal Marijuana licensing from the City Council will be 48.
This includes all types of licenses and not all of the 48 locations will have a retail component, though the majority will. This number also includes CUPs (Conditional Use Permits), which the Planning, Zoning and Variance Commission will likely declare expired during their May and June meetings. Staff anticipates three or four will be declared expired in May and an additional three or four will be declared expired in June.
“From a very high level, the projections and estimates staff had provided to Council in the third quarter of last year appear to be holding true. As an industry, marijuana sales are averaging between $1 million to $1.2 million per month, meaning the City is collecting, roughly, $100,000-$120,000 per month in sales tax revenue. Staff still believes, over the summer months this year, the sales will increase to somewhere between $1.3 million to $1.6 million, where they will peak, prior to settling at around the $1.1million mark as the median number for 2016.”
There’s much more to the legalized marijuana industry than just making money, whether it’s for the businesses, their employees, their investors or the City. Engeland talked about the social implications of the new industry in Trinidad, the conversations he had had with multiple parties about it and what its future might be in relation to the City during a Wednesday interview at City Hall. He said that despite the limit of 20 marijuana locations in the city, anyone who applied for a marijuana-related CUP before the May 1 deadline could get their CUP approved, which could result in their being more marijuana businesses in town than the market could support, with a related decline in City marijuana tax revenues.
Mod: That really is a remarkably large amount of tax revenue for so little a town. Can this be why Gabe Engeland has been brought to Sierra Madre to serve as the new City Manager? Because of his vast experience managing the small Colorado city now known by some as the Marijuana Capital of the West? Has the City Council here decided that in order to rescue Sierra Madre from its rotten water company and $60 million big ones in bond and CalPERS debt, it will throw a Hail Mary pass and try to become a leading marijuana retailing California city? Considering the above news stories, I really did feel the need to ask.