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Waukegan’s next two City Council meetings — Jan. 18 and Feb. 7 — will be virtual for the first time since April because of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the area.
Mayor Ann Taylor announced the decision Monday at City Hall as a public health measure during a City Council meeting, which featured newly constructed Plexiglas barriers separating the aldermen on the dais and all audience seating at least six feet apart from one another.
As soon as she became mayor in May, Taylor ended virtual meetings — which took place for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic — and began to hold live meetings. She pledged Monday to return to live meetings as soon as it is feasible.
“I believe that in-person meetings are what’s best for the community,” she said. “Right now with the virus as high as it is, I think it’s best for both our staff and audience that we go to Zoom.”
It does not appear the move will delay a vote on a conditional-use permit for the city’s first cannabis dispensary at the Jan. 18 virtual meeting. Ald. Lynn Florian, 8th Ward, said after the meeting she intends to seek to use the city’s revenue from the business to fund reparations.
Taylor said after the meeting the initial move to virtual meetings through at least Feb. 7 was done through an emergency order. It can be renewed at subsequent council meetings or allowed to lapse. She said her decision will be guided by the severity of the virus at that time.
“I want to see if the numbers go back to where they were,” Taylor said. “I’m looking at the number of cases and hospitalizations. I would like to see elective surgeries back. I’d like to see the positivity rate between 6% and 8%.”
As of Tuesday morning, Lake County’s positivity rate was 11.15% and the number of new cases was averaging 637 per 100,000 residents on a seven-day rolling average, a 40.32% increase over the week before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
When council meetings were done online for more than a year, Taylor said they became too casual. They are more productive when she, the aldermen and necessary staff are together in one place. She also likes the public to have the opportunity to observe and contribute.
Before the council meeting, the Community Development Committee unanimously recommended council approval of a conditional-use permit for World of Weed, Inc., to operate a recreational cannabis dispensary on Waukegan Road adjacent to the Fountain Square shopping center.
During the committee meeting, Florian said she wants to see the city’s 3% portion of the sales tax revenue generated from the dispensary used for reparations benefiting Waukegan’s minority community.
“I believe this law was intended to address issues within the minority community, and I think these moneys should be designated for that purpose,” Florian said at the committee meeting.
After the council meeting, Florian said she plans to ask her colleagues to amend the conditional-use permit to designate the funds from the dispensary for use as reparations to compensate members of the African American community for injustices heaped on them, not just during the time of slavery but afterward.
Florian said she has advocated for reparations since the city initially decided to allow recreational cannabis dispensaries around two years ago. Using the money for education and jobs geared toward African American residents is one way to do it, she said.
“That will uplift the whole community,” she said. “This has gone on for more than a century,” she added referring to systemic racism since the Civil War. “The money from marijuana should be used to do something about it.”
Between the city’s share of the state-imposed sales tax and its own 3%, Andrew Scott, an attorney representing World of Weed, said at a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting in December Waukegan should realize revenue between $400,000 and $500,000 a year based on projected annual sales of $8 million to $10 million.
If approved by the council on Jan. 18, the dispensary will be operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with two armed security guards present during all hours of operation. With the mayor’s permission, the business can operate two additional hours four times a year. It is projected to open late next year.
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