SVCAC approves medical pot facility

November 28, 2007

Pam Gibson, Sonoma Index-Tribune (CA)

A controversial medical marijuana dispensary was cautiously approved by the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Committee Wednesday before a standing-room-only crowd of about 80 people in the Sonoma Fire Station meeting room. 

The SVCAC is an advisory body and will send its nonbinding recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. The facility is proposed for 19445 Riverside Drive. The vote was 6-1 with Clarence Jenkins opposing it.

"This is a tough issue," he said. "But we have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the community we represent." Jenkins represents Verano West where the facility will be located.

Dona Frank, the applicant, was expecting denial when she addressed the group.
"I am perplexed as to why you are getting this issue now," she said. "We came before you in June and we were ignored. Now five silent months later, we're here again because Valerie Brown wants you to review it."

She accused Brown of being "bullied by NIMBY neighbors." NIMBY is an acronym for "not in my backyard."

"She wants you to make the decision so she can say you opposed it and then she can look like a good guy."

"I'm a NIMBY and I'm proud of it," a woman shouted from the middle of the room.
In defense of Brown, ex-officio commissioner Dick Fogg responded that the supervisor had invoked a process called original jurisdiction, meaning the decision goes straight to the Board of Supervisors, which can reduce time for an applicant. Alternate Bill Willers further explained that five months ago the item was brought up under public comments, and legally no action could be taken then.

The issue has gone before the Sonoma City Council, which declined comment because the proposed dispensary would be outside city jurisdiction.

The proposal is for a 4,551-square-foot medical cannabis facility in what was once the Nicholas Turkey Farm warehouse. The site is developed and, while outside the city limits, it is totally urban. The dispensary expects to serve about 15 vehicles an hour, seven days a week, for an average stay of eight minutes. Three security guards will be on site during operating hours and security cameras will be monitored 24 hours a day. There are two buildings on the site occupied by several tenants. While originally proposing to use a caretaker's residence, this request has been withdrawn. Very little "product" will be kept at the site in hopes of discouraging potential thieves.
The crowd, which filled the chairs and spilled out into the hallway, was divided among supporters and opponents. The major concerns identified by speakers were security, crime, proximity to residences, and impact on other businesses on the site. But traffic was the major concern.

"Traffic is already a nightmare there," said resident Gary Laysse. "When you pull out of the driveway, you can't go left because cars are backed up at the stop sign." Numerous speakers noted peak hour back ups on Riverside Drive that extend several blocks.

Sol Weiner, a retired police lieutenant, suggested that facilities of this type often attract crime.
He noted that security guards are not trained in law enforcement, and if there is a problem they will have to call the sheriff.

"While there are legitimate uses for medical marijuana, there are misuses as well," he said. "Security guards have no control over clients once they leave the premises. They can get into their car, use the product, then drive. That's illegal."

Lisa Gygax, the applicant's attorney, said that all requirements of Sonoma County's new ordinance regulating cannabis dispensaries (adopted in March), have been fulfilled. A traffic study has been done by another tenant of the site, security guards are given special training, no one is allowed to use the product on site, and Frank's other facility in Santa Rosa has had no crime problems. She noted that the only outstanding discretionary issue is a requirement for a facility to be 100-feet from a residential zoning district.  Their dispensary is 60 feet away. The ordinance allows this requirement to be waived if the applicant can show that an actual physical separation exists between land-use parcels to mitigate the impact.
Ig Vella, a former county supervisor and non-voting commissioner, suggested that instead of saying "no," the commissioners vote "yes" with conditions.

"Grant a conditional use permit for one year with a six-month review," he said. "If there is one discrepancy in that time period, then that's the end of it."

The motion was made by Mark Bramfitt, seconded by Cynthia Wood to recommend approval with the following conditions: that the staff carefully evaluate the distance issue; that traffic issues be studied and mitigated; that the applicant be reviewed in one year to be sure there are no discrepancies or violations of the ordinance. The motion also asked that PRMD review the other tenants in the building to be sure they have proper use permits. Votes in favor besides Bramfitt and Wood were Garry Baker, Bob Felder, Bob Williams and Yvonne Bowers.



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