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Aiming to bring more auto dealerships to Santa Maria, the Santa Maria City Council voted Tuesday to approve an agreement that would provide the Enos Ranch auto dealers with rebates of up to $3.8 million in development fees if certain milestones are reached.

The agreement — which has a life of 20 years — calls for the developers to receive rebates of traffic mitigation fees they are required to pay to the city as part of the development process. Developers are slated to receive $100,000 rebates for each auto dealer that relocates within Santa Maria to the Enos Ranch lots and $200,000 rebates for any new auto dealers that occupy the Enos Ranch auto center, which currently has two unclaimed lots.

In addition, auto dealers receive a rebate for any sales tax revenue they bring in beyond 115 percent of their average collected sales tax for the last 10 years. Rick Sweet, a consultant and former utilities director, said the rebates would be capped at $3.8 million.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted 4-1 to approve the agreement. Councilwoman Etta Waterfield said she would have been in support of the agreement but believed it needed to have a shorter timeline to incentive dealers to fill the empty lots more quickly.

Boysen questioned how the rebates might be received by the public, in light of the recent passage of an increase of the Measure U tax rate. “We just asked the public to grant us a huge sale tax increase and we received over 70 percent approval on that,” he said. “We have a lot of credibility out there in the public and — I don’t know — is this going to be one of those things where it’s looked on as, ‘Well, we have Measure U so we can give this money back?’ This is a tough one.”

Sweet said the sales tax rate of Measure U would not be included in the agreement with the auto dealers.

E-cigarettes and vaping

Council members also heard a presentation by Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley Executive Director Edwin Weaver and tobacco preventionist Edith Perez about the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping. “It’s a current epidemic affecting our teens,” Perez said. “Vaping is done with e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered devices that deliver flavored nicotine or flavored marijuana to users in the form of an aerosol.”

Perez said according to a 2015 California state survey, 28 percent of ninth-graders and 39 percent of 11th-graders had used e-cigarettes. “This year, a lot of the schools are doing their new California Healthy Kids survey and we expect these numbers to be much, much higher.”

While purchasers of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products are required to be at least 21 years old, Weaver and Perez said that upon a visit to a Santa Maria tobacco shop — which they didn’t name — they witnessed sales of e-cigarettes to people who appeared to be under the legal age.

Since 2014, Santa Manta has included e-cigarettes and vapes in its public smoking ban, banning the use of the devices in public buildings, city parks and enclosed public spaces.

Perez and Weaver said the e-cigarettes come in flavors to taste like fruits and candy, which are attractive to young teens and asked that the council members consider a ban on all flavored nicotine products.

“We have to give ourselves a little bit of a history lesson,” Weaver said. “You can’t buy flavored cigarettes other than menthol anymore. You used to be able to, but they realized kids were starting to smoke very early with flavored tobacco so we banned it. Then we banned the advertisement of tobacco products for the same reason. So we reduced tobacco from about 68 percent of Americans smoking all the way down to 5 or 6 percent — it’s an amazing public health success.”

Weaver said that local, state and federal government is now behind the tobacco industry and should move forward to ban flavored e-cigarettes. “The best way to help protect our kids is as a city to decide we’re going to ban these flavored tobacco products in our city.”

Boysen asked if cities that have declared themselves “smoke-free” — banning the consumption of tobacco products in public areas — have been successful in reducing smoking rates.

“Yes, they have,” Weaver said. “Santa Barbara just passed a smoke-free city [ordinance] and so did Solvang.”

Councilwoman Etta Waterfield said she would recommend city staff look into banning all flavored tobacco products.

Retirement resolution 

In other business, council members passed a retirement resolution for Public Works Director Steve Kahn, who has served the city of Santa Maria for 16 years. Kahn joined the city as an associate civil engineer in January 1994 after spending 11 years working in the private sector. He also served as a senior civil engineer before leaving to become director of Public Works for the city of Atascadero.

Kahn returned to Santa Maria in September 2008 to serve as a utility engineer and he was appointed as Public Works director in November 2014. His last day of work is Friday.

Council members praised Kahn for assisting with construction work on Highway 101, the new Santa Maria Police Station and the renovation of Buena Vista Park, among other projects. “You’ve always gone out of the box and when a situation arises, you don’t look at it as a problem, you look at it as a potential solution,” Boysen said.

“I do not view this as retirement,” Kahn said. “I view this as the next chapter of my life and I’m looking very much forward to it.”

Note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect Rick Sweet's current position.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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