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Pot not the only issue, candidate says

COSTA MESA — While City Council hopeful Sue Lester might have been labeled as a one-issue candidate, she said there are many reasons why she’s qualified to help run the city.

That one issue was medical marijuana. Lester, 43, owns a dispensary in the city and the fight to keep it and others open first drew her to council meetings.

“Once I got to the meetings, and I started listening to everything that was going on, I continued to go because I wanted to know more about the city that I had a business in and I wanted to live in,” Lester said.

But she argues that there’s more to her background that many people don’t know about.

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“Based on my work experience, loss-prevention, operations, system management and human resources, I have a very special set of skills that would be conducive to the council and to the citizens of this community,” she said.

Although she began attending council meetings because of medical marijuana, she kept going for other reasons.

What she saw during the council meetings, she said, got her thinking.

Like when she noticed some of the council members weren’t paying attention to residents during the public comments period.

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“You might not agree with what somebody has to say, or you might not like it or you might not even like that person for whatever reason, but as an elected council member, it is your job to listen to your community that elected you and hear what they have to say and make decisions on their behalf,” she said.

Then there were issues she didn’t agree with.

While Lester is for affordable housing, she didn’t understand why the council majority approved a senior housing project next door to a popular night club.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” she said of housing planned for the area near the Shark Club. “I think you’re putting the seniors in a situation where they may be caused grief, and you’re putting the business owner who’s been there for over 20 years in a situation where they might be receiving noise complaints.”

She also thinks she can lend a hand to the city by analyzing its finances and helping think of new ways to attract business investment.

Lester, who is originally from Brea, is a newcomer to the city she seeks to represent. She has been renting a room on the Eastside since July, saying that frugality has always helped her make the right financial decisions.

She said she couldn’t buy a house in Costa Mesa because she invested in her marijuana dispensary, Herban Elements Inc.

And that same kind of thinking is what’s going to help her balance the city’s budget, she said.

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Lester said that if she’s elected, she will not be able to bring on a marijuana ordinance and will have to recuse herself from any vote on the issue.

Lester started speaking up after her marijuana dispensary received a cease-and-desist order from Code Enforcement, she said.

Instead of closing her dispensary, she filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s ban on medical marijuana collectives, then decided to run for council.

“I wanted to open a place that was in a nice area, that was safe, that people would feel comfortable to come to, and have the opportunity to talk to people and really explain what their situation was and what type of help they were looking for,” she said of the dispensary she opened in July 2009 on Fair Drive and Harbor Boulevard — not far from City Hall.

The city issued cease-and-desist orders for several dispensaries and raided others that were found to be operating outside the guidelines of the 1996 California voter-approved Compassionate Use Act, which allows those with serious and chronic illnesses such as cancer to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s permission.

“Nobody ever came to me to ask me if I’m operating under state law, but they investigated everybody, and I imagine they found that I was operating under state law, and that’s why they didn’t raid me like they raided others,” Lester said.

The council recently amended its ordinance, which will now allow dispensaries as long as no more than three people are involved in the operations. The city still considers the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries a misdemeanor and can issue citations.

Lester called the recent council action a positive first step.

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