Bureaucrats may have gone one toke over the line
The only thing more crooked than a drug dealer is a bureaucrat.
On October 23rd of this year, two different companies submitted applications to the Town of Mammoth Lakes for cannabis land use permits. The locations listed on the two applications are 290 feet apart.
Cannabis dispensaries cannot be located within 500 feet of one another in the town of Mammoth Lakes. Whichever one of these companies had its application approved first could open shop; the other would be precluded from receiving a permit by virtue of being too close to the other.
It was a race to be first.
On Wednesday, Mammoth’s Planning and Economic Development Commission [PEDC] approved one of these applications. Now the also-ran is calling “foul-play.”
TD Enterprises of San Diego was awarded its land use permit. This LLC owned by Tony Hall and Doug Gans hopes to open its cannabis dispensary at the northeast corner of Tavern Road and Old Mammoth, in the Century 21 building.
Ascent Supply Company must now appeal to Mammoth’s Town Council to prevent its prospective location at 58 Sierra Park Road from being geographically excluded. Robert Calvert, co-owner of Ascent, his attorney, Tim Sanford, and property owner Paul Rudder all came to the PEDC meeting to air their grievances in the spirit of Festivus.
“We were treated differently than TD Enterprises,” Calvert said plainly to the committee. Calvert and his associates believe that the town didn’t want to give Ascent a second cannabis permit in Mammoth Lakes. Ascent already has a dispensary opening at 3399 Main Street. They say that the town considers Ascent’s second application to be “monopolistic behavior,” and that the town handicapped the application accordingly.
This handicap came in the form of deferred communication.
Here’s how the supposed chicanery shook out:
On November 7th, Town Associate Planner Nolan Bobroff sent an email to Calvert saying that his application was incomplete. Calvert went into Bobroff’s office that afternoon to walk through the issues, and submitted a corrected application that same day.
The Development Review Committee [DRC] reviewed the new submission at its meeting on Nov. 13th. Its members, consisting of staff from the fire and water districts; the planning, building, and engineering divisions; and the police department, were given two weeks to return their comments on the application. They returned them on the 26th.
At 5:38 P.M. on November 27th, twenty days after his application was resubmitted, Robert Calvert was notified by Bobroff that his application was deemed deficient by the DRC. The timing of the email raised suspicion from Rudder, who said he’d give The Sheet $100 for every government official it finds in their office after 5 p.m.
What was even more suspicious, possibly even malicious, was the date of notice. The agenda for the PEDC meeting was had been finalized and was to be sent to the public the following morning, November 28th. Therefore, Ascent’s application for the use permit would not go before the PEDC for approval on December 12th, and TD’s would.
Had Ascent been notified a day earlier, or even a few hours earlier, Calvert could have addressed the small issues raised by the DRC and made it onto the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.
Bobroff said that the timing was unfortunate, but not intentional.
The way that Mammoth Lakes has been zoned for cannabis retailers, there is feasibly only room for about four locations in town.
A cannabis retailer must be 500 feet from any other cannabis shop, and 600 feet from a K-12 school, a daycare, a public park, or a community center.
These regulations were designed by Town Council to limit the number of pot shops in town.
“Adult Businesses” like sex shops are only zoned for the industrial district.
This would have been sound protocol for cannabis as well. Put them all on a “green alley” somewhere.
Instead the municipal code has forced them into distributed locations, 500 feet apart, throughout the heart of downtown.
With TD’s permit granted, the fourth and final parcel left in town that could likely become a cannabis retailer is the Body Shop building on the corner of Laurel Mountain Road and Sierra Nevada Road, according to Bobroff.
If Calvert and Co.’s accusations of treachery are to be believed, then the DRC had a choice between these priorities:
1. Prevent a single entity from owning two of the four pot shops in town.
2. Support local businessmen.
They (none of whom are elected) chose the former.
What happens next is foggy at best. Ascent has stated its intention to appeal the process to Town Council, and Council has any number of actions it could take.
It is not likely to repeal the permit of TD Enterprises, as TD did nothing wrong. It could find that the process undertaken by the Planning Committee was unfair. In this case, the council could exempt Ascent’s application from the 500 foot restriction, but Rudder thinks such an admission of guilt by the Town is unlikely.
“When the Town lost $50 million in the airport litigation, no one took responsibility,” Rudder said. “After the settlement they all congratulated each other on what a great job they did… It was like the emperor’s new clothes.
That mentality persists today,” concluded Rudder.
To complicate matters, this use permit is only one of the two permits that TD Enterprises needs in order to sell cannabis. It now must apply for a commercial cannabis permit, which it cannot receive until it has the legal right to occupy its retail space, and it does not have the right to occupy the space at 101 Old Mammoth Road until a lease expires on August 1, 2019.
This saga is likely to continue for 8 more months. There are few precedents for the nascent cannabis industry, and there is no telling how this will shake out, but one thing is for sure: the lawyers are going to get paid.