Friday, September 11, 2009
Santa Barbara Medical Marijuana Dispensary Update
Planning Commission Clears the Way for Medical Pot Dispensary
Commissioners vote to deny an appeal of the project, which calls for the
conversion of an Olive Street house
By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer
Published on 09.10.2009
The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday voted 3-1 to deny an
appeal by the Housing Authority Commission, which had asked that a
medical marijuana dispensary not be placed near its apartment buildings
or a Girls Inc. location.
The project, which would convert a small house at 631 Olive St. into a
dispensary, was submitted in December and approved by the city in July.
An appeal was filed in August by the Housing Authority, arguing that the
location was within 500 feet of a planned child-care center and
Under city ordinance, dispensaries can be located in only three
designated zones — one on Milpas Street, one downtown and one in the
Upper State area — and are not to be located within 500 feet of a
school, park or other dispensary.
Rob Pearson, executive director of the Housing Authority, spoke to the
commission and said the group largely has tried to stay out of land-use
issues in the past. "But when they directly affect our properties,
we feel the need to speak up," he said.
The Housing Authority has about 200 apartments in the immediate area
surrounding the dispensary, many of which are for low-income residents.
"Over half of those are families; we have a lot of children in that
neighborhood, " he said.
But Pearson was most emphatic about the location of the proposed
dispensary to Girls Inc., where he said children might be put at risk.
Much of Thursday's debate centered on whether Girls Inc. could
qualify as an educational facility.
City staff maintains that child-care and day-care centers don't fall
under the heading of a "school," according to the city's
"When the dispensary ordinance was created, the intent of requiring
the 500-foot distance from schools was to reduce the likelihood that
schoolchildren and teens would be walking by," a staff report said.
"Child-care centers, day-care centers and preschools are different
in that way from schools as the children are typically too young to be
Adding to the murky ordinance interpretation, the Ordinance Committee is
expected to discuss the city's medical marijuana ordinance on
Tuesday, and changes to the ordinance could loom. But members of the
Planning Commission were encouraged Thursday by the city's legal
counsel to move forward with the current definition as they considered
the Olive Street project.
The project's applicant, Sefton Graham, maintained that the offenses
were hypothetical at this point and that the city should proceed with
"There is no evidence that a well-run dispensary leads to crime, and
it's unfair to stigmatize legal patients by treating their
collective like a criminal or nuisance activity," he said.
A handful of public speakers appeared before the commission, and none of
them approved of the project's location, which is surrounded by
"This all comes down to trust," senior planner Danny Kato said.
"Do we trust the operator with what he says he's going to do?
From a staff perspective, we do."
The city's default position is to give the permit and revoke it if
On the dais, Commissioner John Jostes voted to deny the appeal. "I
think those concerns are legitimate," he told Pearson, but stood by
the staff's decision. "If problems do come to light, there is a
process with which to remedy that problem."
The decision can't be appealed to the City Council, a fact that
raised some concern among commissioners.
Commissioner Bendy White approved of the project, even though he voted
against a dispensary project on Milpas that came before the commission
two weeks ago.
Chairwoman Stella Larson said she couldn't support the project
unless police enforcement was a high priority.
"If I felt that enforcement would be swift and assured, I might be
persuaded otherwise. There's a lot at stake," she said. "I
would rather be preventive rather than prescriptive. ... In this
location, rich with children, I am not confident in the positive
contribution to that neighborhood. "
Commissioner Sheila Lodge initially was against the project, along with
Larson, creating a tie vote. Lodge asked Graham what he would do if a
client disobeyed the code of conduct and the marijuana ended up in the
hand of minors. Graham said the client would be banned.
"We don't want this to end up in schools. The idea that
we're going to be providing cannabis to the children at Girls Inc.
is, for me, hard to fathom," he said, but adding that he could see
how the perception could result in a "visceral reaction."
"That is if you look at cannabis as if it's something
illegal," he said. "It's not. It's legal for medical
patients, and I think we are going to be providing a lot of good to the
Lodge voted to deny the appeal after Jostes posed a new motion that
would require Graham to make verbal contact with the Housing Authority,
Transition House and Girls Inc. periodically to make sure there were no
issues, and then submit a report to city staff.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at
http://www.noozhawk .com/local_ news/article/ 091009_planning_ commission_ ap\
proves_medical_ marijuana_ dispensary/