Over the past few years it’s been easy to get complacent about tobacco retailer licensing ordinances. Not that they are easy, because they aren’t. But it’s not that often that there is strong opposition to the ordinances at council meetings. But that’s not true anymore. Recently the Neighborhood Market Association (NMA) has begun showing up to city council meetings and opposing tobacco retailer licensing and other retail environment policies. They had been active in their home base of San Diego, but now they are speaking out across the state, and one of the first places they appeared was the City of Fresno.
In many ways the coalition in Fresno did the right things – gathering yps data, conducting a spokesperson training, organizing a huge turnout of supporters at both the first and second reading of the ordinance to speak on the issue – everyone from youth, the public health officer and director, health care plans and alcohol & drug groups.
However, you know what they say about hindsight.
Between the first reading where the ordinance had 5 yes votes (and 2 no votes), and the second reading where they lost, something changed. And that something was that the NMA got involved and organized, in fact several members of the NMA board live in Fresno.
So about that hindsight. Because of the short timeline the campaign team members had to pass this ordinance before the upcoming election, there were some oversights.
- The biggest lesson was not conducting one-on-one meetings with each council member. If they had they might have found out that NMA was meeting with all of the council members and not been blindsided at the council meeting.
- This also meant that they didn’t address the council members questions privately. This left the council members to ask their questions at the council meeting. This is never good, but unfortunately in Fresno the council president was opposed to the ordinance and directed all questions during the council meeting to NMA representatives to answer.
- Also, because of the short timeline statewide tools, like the fee calculator, were not provided to city staff. This left the city staff not as strongly armed during the council meeting as they could have been.
- Interestingly, NMA representatives met with a supporting organization and then claimed at the council meeting this group said they supported the NMA, not the ordinance, which was not the case (especially since the organization was speaking in support of the ordinance that day!).
- The NMA also tried to obtain yps results from the coalition, which is a common tactic, but kudos to the coalition for not giving it to them!
So in the end, the council was swayed by the NMA and postponed the ordinance. Unfortunately, the council make-up has changed dramatically due to term limits and one member being elected into the CA Assembly, so efforts in the City of Fresno have abruptly ended for now. But the coalition is not daunted, and is continuing the fight for licensing in other communities in their county. And this time they will implement the lessons they learned and focus on every organizing step and will be successful I am sure!
And let us know if you’ve had any bad experiences with the NMA. If so, what are you doing to prevent their influence in your community?