Costa Mesa commissioners say no to pot shop near drug counseling, recovery programs

Planning commissioners Monday denied a use permit for a cannabis dispensary at 2001 Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa.
Planning commissioners Monday denied a use permit for a cannabis dispensary at 2001 Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, claiming the use was not compatible with drug recovery counseling services on site.
(Sara Cardine)

Costa Mesa Planning Commissioners halted plans Monday for a marijuana dispensary at 2001 Harbor Blvd., calling it incompatible with nearby recovery programs, including drug and alcohol counseling provided in the same building, and potentially detrimental to adjacent businesses and residents.

Panelists voted 4-2 against South Coast Safe Access occupying three suites in the building, even though city laws do not prohibit the proximity of cannabis retailers to residential areas or drug treatment services.

“That seems to me to be utterly unintuitive,” Commission Chair Byron de Arakal said Monday. “It just doesn’t make sense to put a retail storefront that is essentially selling a drug, like alcohol, immediately adjacent to a counseling center where people are recovering from the abuse of said product.

“This will get appealed,” he said of the denial. “And I hope, at that point, the City Council will revisit the regulations for this ordinance, because I think they’re totally inadequate.”

A rendering of a cannabis dispensary, South Coast Safe Access, planned for 2001 Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa.
A rendering of a cannabis dispensary, South Coast Safe Access, planned for 2001 Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa.
(Courtesy of South Coast Safe Access)

Commissioners Adam Ereth and Johnny Rojas said they could not make the findings that SCSA would be a nondetrimental, compatible use. Commissioner Jimmy Vivar said he didn’t feel applicants did enough outreach to Spanish-speaking neighbors or the other tenants of the building.

“They had multiple opportunities from the time they decided to rent out the space until this hearing to simply walk upstairs and speak to operators there,” Vivar said. “I also believe the efforts that were undertaken to reach out to the community regarding this application were inadequate.”

Monday’s no vote is the second denial out of 14 retail cannabis hearings held since April 2021. Another dispensary planned for 1072 Bristol St. was nixed in August, after several neighbors claimed it would be located too close to single family homes with children.

By contrast, only one public comment, in the form of a letter, was submitted for the commission’s consideration Monday. It came from Sofia Chavez, a Charle Street resident who lives behind the property, who cited the presence of sobriety and youth programs as a chief reason to oppose the project.

Council members on 4/20 favored a new rule regulating retail cannabis sales and delivery, saying a legal market would drive out illicit operations. But some are doubtful.

“While the applicants may think this will benefit the entire community, I still ask: Why right next to a residential area?” she wrote. “Does the applicant not understand how this would affect our residents who do not need to be surrounded by the presence of marijuana daily?”

Costa Mesa’s retail cannabis laws do not limit the number of cannabis retailers that may operate at one time or mandate distance buffers between shops in commercial areas — provisions some planning commissioners favored that were disregarded when the City Council drafted the rules last year.

While local ordinances do prohibit dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of K-12 schools, playgrounds, child daycare centers and homeless shelters or within 600 feet of youth centers, they say nothing about a shop’s presence near residential areas or recovery programs.

Costa Mesa cannabis entrepreneur Robert Taft Jr., who operates cannabis manufacturing and distribution businesses in the city’s industrial Green Zone, partnered with South Coast Safe Access Chief Executive David DeWyke on the 2001 Harbor Blvd. site.

Taft confirmed Wednesday SCSA would likely appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the council or possibly put forth an alternative solution, in the form of a variance.

“We were baffled by the whole thing — we felt like it was political,” he said. “A planning commission cannot become a judge and jury. It’s unfortunate, but I think we’ll work through it.”

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