In the same breath that city hearing officer Suzanne Reardon approved the pot dispensary proposal at 2609 De la Vina Street, she directed opponents exactly where they could appeal the controversial project.
Plans for the medical marijuana dispensary have been in the works for more than two years. Applicant Ihab Ghannam has since been leasing the vacant small space, tucked between Yellow Belly and a hair salon. “This has been a long process,” said his attorney Rebecca Eggeman, expressing optimism they were “close to the finish line.”
“Close” is a relative term. Wednesday was the third time the project had been before the city’s hearing officer. Ghannam presented his revised application, including an updated security plan. It includes two security guards, one to patrol the premises 24/7. During business hours, one guard would escort patrons in cars parked in the back lot all the way around the adjoining buildings. (City codes require the back door remain shut.) The plan also includes surveillance cameras outside and bulletproof glass inside.
But neighbors who live in the busy uptown neighbor were not satisfied. Twelve opponents submitted written comments to the city (compared to five letters of support).
Several critics argued Wednesday the pot shop would have significant effects on the neighborhood. Why wasn’t environmental review done? asked attorney Peter Candy of Hollister & Brace, who is representing four neighbors. (He is expected to file an appeal, which would send the application to the city’s Planning Commission.)
Another opponent worried the marijuana collective would negatively impact nearby property values. “Any potential buyer would say, ‘That’s a deal breaker,’” said neighbor Thomas Barn.
Most complaints, though, surrounded security concerns. Linda Brophy, who said she recently bought a nearby house, found the proposed shop much too close to preschools and school bus stops. She also worried the shop’s front door was so close to the street that thieves could drive a car through the front of the business “in a snatch and grab.”
But Santa Barbara police spokesperson Anthony Wagner largely rejected that logic. He said the department had determined the security plans were “adequate.” “It mainly has to do with being a deterrent,” he said of the guards. “Everything is a matter of perception.”
Wagner added the “price point” of medical marijuana — $50 to $80, he said — was too high for degenerates. It’s not like beer, in which kids beg someone to buy it for them, he said. “The unsavory characters,” he added, “would likely continue to use the black market.”
While critics worried about security and theft, they also thought a full-time security presence would create an unwelcoming law-and-order feel in the neighborhood. Given the tension, some even within the cannabis industry have quietly expressed opposition.
Landlord Josiah Jenkins, who has owned next-door Jedlicka’s Saddlery since 1976, said the area’s bigger problem is the neighbors dumping their furniture on the side of the street when they move out. “I am not worried about a marijuana shop degrading the neighborhood,” he said. “I’m as frustrated as the tenant is.”
Ghannam said he also lives nearby with his pregnant wife and 15-month-old son. “I don’t see any concerns,” he said. “If they appeal it,” he said after the meeting, “I don’t think they can win.” He added that the nearby businesses are not opposed to the shop.
The dispensary would be the third — and final — one approved within the city limits per city code. Two others, located on Milpas Street and upper State Street, have already been permitted but have not opened.