ABC 30 reports
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — The fate of several cannabis dispensaries in Fresno is now clear.
The Fresno City Council Tuesday made the final decision after community complaints about locations that were approved earlier this year.
Five dispensaries that received preliminary approval were on the chopping block today.
The city council listened to hours of public comment and presentations.
— Jessica Harrington (@JessicaABC30) October 27, 2021
The Superintendent of Clovis Unified School District, Eimear O’Brien, also spoke out and said the location violates the law which requires locations to be no less than 800 feet away from schools.
“The spirit of that law is to protect the young vulnerable children and teenagers who are on their way to and from school on a daily basis,” said O’Brien.
The proposed owners and architects, part of the Cookies Lemonnade brand argued since the location is an empty lot, they can create the building far enough away to follow the law.
Nearby business owners argued children are rarely in the area and another business with heavy security would help the neighborhood.
“I believe that the dispensary is actually going to bring some vitality to that area,” said Rico Saldivar, the owner of Redwave Tattoo & Barber Shop. His business is across the street from the proposed location.
Following the comments from both sides, Councilmember Mike Karbassi made a motion to deny the permit.
“It’s not the application that’s the problem. The fact of the matter is the location is the biggest problem and there’s just no way of going around that,” Karbassi said.
Despite being denied at that location, the Cookies Lemonnade brand was approved for a separate location that was appealed in Fresno’s Tower District on the corner of East Fern and North Wishon Avenues.
Another permit that was appealed in Tower District, The Artist Tree, was denied.
It was set to be on Van Ness near E. Floradora.
The owners, who have already been approved for a separate location at Palm and Nees, said they will challenge the decision.
“We’re shocked because there also was no public comment that was negative to our business, to our application,” said co-found of The Artist Tree Lauren Fontein.
Two other proposed locations, Haven on West Olive and North Vagedes and Public on East Olive and Poplar Avenue, were also both denied.
Councilmember Miguel Arias said there were hundreds of complaints from residents who live in the surrounding neighborhoods and the locations are near schools and parks.
“We’ve invested intentionally in older neighborhoods, in improving parks, cleaning up the trash and addressing the homelessness and opposing any attempts to saturate any kind of controlled substances for adults in any of these neighborhoods and, for these reasons, I’m going to make a motion to deny both applications.” Arias said.
Following Tuesday’s appeals, in total, the city of Fresno will have 17 approved cannabis dispensaries.
Only one previously approved cannabis retail store survived the Fresno City Council appeals hearing on Wednesday.
“I hope that the administrative team got the message pretty clearly that they should not be bringing forward proposals that don’t meet the values of this council. Location matters, resident and support matters. Proximity to schools, parks, and community centers matter.” — City Councilman Miguel Arias
Lemonnade in the Tower District is moving ahead in the lengthy process. Meanwhile, four more applicants are now pondering their next moves.
In a special meeting, the council heard appeals on five of the 21 licenses previously approved — preliminarily — by the city manager.
“I hope that the administrative team got the message pretty clearly that they should not be bringing forward proposals that don’t meet the values of this council. Location matters, resident and support matters. Proximity to schools, parks, and community centers matter,” Councilman Miguel Arias said at the close of the hearing.
Cannabis Shop Near Pinedale Elementary School Rejected
The most contentious dispute was over the Lemonnade location at 7315 N. Blackstone Ave., two blocks from Pinedale Elementary School.
Cannabis retailers must be at least 800 feet away from schools. There was some ambiguity about the Lemonnade location. While the property line was within 800 feet of the Pinedale Elementary property line, the building itself was beyond that distance.
That didn’t matter to Councilman Mike Karbassi, who appealed the preliminary approval. The vote was 7-0 to deny the permit.
“You have the worst location in the city,” Karbassi said.
Clovis Unified School District was one of the biggest opponents, mainly concerned about the effect on students.
Pinedale Elementary principal Debra Bolls noted this is Red Ribbon Week, where students are taught the dangers of drugs.
“This very business threatens all that we’re trying to build as a school community,” Bolls said.
Superintendent Eimear O’Brien (formerly O’Farrell) spoke out strongly against Lemonnade. After the vote, she celebrated with members of the Pinedale Community Association, which opposed the location.
“It’s a win for the kids of Pinedale. It really is. It’s a win for all of the people who have invested decades now of their time, their energy, and their love for the kids of Pinedale,” O’Brien said.
Auston-Tibbetts Disappointed by Decision
Lemonnade, owned in majority by local businesswoman Kacey Auston-Tibbetts, mentioned several times that the shop was the highest-scoring applicant in Karbassi’s District 2.
“We could have provided a significant amount of well-paid, middle-class jobs to the community that the neighbors can literally walk to and have health benefits and a 401k.” — Lemonnade owner Kacey Auston-Tibbetts, whose Pinedale location was rejected
“It comes down to local accountability. I’m here. I’m local,” Auston-Tibbetts said.
“Why put a neighborhood through this stress?” Arias asked, with opponents in the chamber cheering him on. “It’s not about chasing a dollar. It is about making sure our kids have a better neighborhood than we had when we grew up there.”
After the vote, Auston-Tibbetts said she was disappointed.
“We could have provided a significant amount of well-paid, middle-class jobs to the community that the neighbors can literally walk to and have health benefits and a 401k,” she said.
Auston-Tibbetts said she would consult with her legal team before deciding on her next move.
A second Lemonnade location, in the Tower District at 1264 N. Wishon Blvd., was the only applicant approved during the hearing. It received a 6-1 vote, with Garry Bredefeld voting no.
Auston-Tibbetts also received a permit for a third location that was not contested — at the northeast corner of Shaw and Blackstone avenues.
The Artist Tree Denial Has Applicant in Tears
Courtney Caron was on the verge of tears.
The counsel and community affairs director for The Artist Tree said she poured her heart into their proposed Tower District location, only for an ambiguous rejection.
“We’re honestly shocked. I mean, I think that we put forth a very compelling presentation and we had public support. And I’m just confused, honestly, because we didn’t even anticipate the process today being that they had to affirmatively vote to approve us,” co-owner Lauren Fontein said.
After hearing The Artist Tree’s presentation, the council took no vote to accept or reject their applications. That meant the application was effectively dead.
The Artist Tree, located at 1426 N. Van Ness Avenue, said they would invest in refurbishing the former Full Circle Olympic building. As the theme of the store, they would feature local artists and give back to local school art programs.
Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, who filed the appeal as the District 1 representative where the proposed store is located, asked the applicant about security procedures, the hiring process, and how to be a good neighbor.
Soria did not present a motion at the end of the hearing, nor did she explain why.
Tyler Mackey with the Tower District Marketing Committee supported The Artist Tree. He said it would help reduce blight and provide more security. He said the store’s art theme fit the district’s vibe. Business owners Debi Ruud of Fresno Music Academy & Arts, and Irene Saul of Irene’s Café, also publicly supported The Artist Tree.
“We will be challenging,” the decision, said The Artist Tree co-owner Lawrence Artenian, who also is an attorney.
A second The Artist Tree location near Palm and Nees avenues received preliminary approval and was not appealed.
Two Other Tower Locations Denied
Two other applicants were denied in the Tower District. Arias, the District 3 councilman, filed the appeals.
Haven, at 335 W. Olive Ave., and Public Cannabis, at 1220 E. Olive Ave., were denied on 6-0 votes. Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria had to recuse herself because her fiancé, Terance Frazier, has an active application in the district.
Arias said the locations were too close to parks and to residential neighborhoods.
“The council has invested millions of dollars in the Tower District over the last couple of years. We’ve invested intensely in older neighborhoods and parks, cleaning up the trash, addressing the homelessness, and opposing any attempts to saturate any kind of controlled substance for adults in any of these neighborhoods,” Arias said. “And so for these reasons, I’m going to make a motion to deny both applications.”
Public Cannabis co-owner Mushana Kelly was mulling her next move.
“It’s just the beginning. That is all that I can say, it is just the beginning,” Kelly said.
Four New Applications?
City manager Tommy Esqueda can now award four new preliminary licenses — two in District 3, and one each in District 1 and 2. The pool would come from those who previously filed applications.
Esqueda is not obligated to choose from the next highest-scoring applicant, the city attorney said.
The city is in the process of redrawing election district lines. City rules allow for three retail permits per district. If the lines change, City Attorney Douglas Sloan said, the stores would remain.
Esqueda said he is likely to wait for the lines to be finished in December before making the new picks.