By Kevin Harris
The Oxnard City Council voted to permit retail cannabis businesses within the city, overturning the Planning Commission’s previous denial of cannabis permits, during Tuesday night’s marathon, eight-hour city council meeting (yes, eight hours).
The public hearing on the issue began three hours into the meeting, and continued for four hours straight before the council voted. Before that final vote, however, there were passionate voices from all sides of the issue with plenty to say.
The original face of the issue were requests by cannabis business Oxnard Holistics (applicant) for special use permits and environmental zoning exemptions at 1015 Harbor Boulevard. The Planning Commission denied those requests last month over concerns that such a business would adversely affect the surrounding neighborhoods. The current resolution would appeal and overturn that denial.
First up during the public hearing was Alfred Fraijo, legal council for Oxnard Holistics, to open the presentation explaining why they were appealing the previous denial of permits. After introductions, Mr. Fraijo introduced company CEO Tony Hall, who briefly went into more detail about Oxnard Holistics.
“We have never operated in an illegal or gray market, and have been fully legally compliant from the beginning,” he explained. He said his first shop opened in February, 2015. “In our 7 years of running successful cannabis retail shops, we’ve had no incidents,” he added. He also said that 40% of payments onsite are non-cash.
Mr. Fraijo then returned to deal with some of the Planning Commission’s previous concerns. He pointed out that Oxnard Holistics’ proposed site will be inside of an existing building, in an established shopping center, where the infrastructure is already in place to handle any extra traffic or resources that may be used or generated. He also pointed out that city departments have agreed that all utilities required can be accommodated without issue.
“It is important to highlight that the location received a perfect score for neighborhood compatibility. The shopping center tenants strongly support the project, including Red Tandem Brewery, and The Shores Restaurant, whose owners are here tonight and testified in support,” he said.
Next to present at the hearing was an opposition group to having commercial cannabis in Oxnard, called Common Sense. Robert Murphy spoke first representing the group. According to Murphy, the residents of Oxnard Shores oppose the permitting of Oxnard Holistics, based on the petition signatures the group gathered, representing 25% of the area population. Murphy explained that the specific location desired for the retail location sits in a small shopping center surrounded by residences on all sides, and that other possible locations would be better suited for such a store – locations with more commercial presence and less residences. “And now this little strip mall will have a liquor store, a pot store, and two bars. All by itself, isolated from other commercial businesses,” he said.
Murphy also said that there are currently 6 other pot retail stores within three miles of Oxnard Shores, all of which will deliver product to Oxnard Shores, and complained that no traffic studies were done regarding increased congestion to and from the area.
Cindy Mauer, a long time Oxnard Shores resident, and member of Common Sense, also spoke on the issue. Her main concern was for the families, in particular the children, who live around the site of the proposed new pot shop. “How am I going to explain the gun, the bullet proof vest, the mace, the taser, the hand cuffs, as we walk by the donut shop? How will I explain the nature of the tremendous volume of people going in and out of the pot shop, where the guard is? How do I explain marijuana use to a 5-year-old or to a 9-year-old?,” she asked.
Ms. Mauer also expressed her disappointment with the specific location chosen, and suggested that at least 5 other commercial locations are available close by that are not as heavily surrounded by residences.
Following the presentations, the public was given a chance to voice their thoughts on the issue. There were 54 public speakers registered when the session began, each with 3 minutes to speak. Due to space and time constraints, only a sampling of speakers will be offered here.
Earlier in the public hearing, city staff summarized the “pros” and “cons” in a general sense, that the public speakers felt allowing the dispensary to open would offer. According to staff, those are:
-Neighborhood compatibility (lack of)
-Separation from residences (lack of)
-Alcohol & cannabis facility concerns (saturation)
-Applicant is a well run company
-Will provide legal access to cannabis
-Will support community organizations
-Will increase city revenues
Oddly, staff failed to mention that permitting the business would be carrying out the will of state and local voters, but perhaps the speakers didn’t mention that issue either.
Michael Smith: Retired city planner from Ventura and mentor for young men in Oxnard. Opposes allowing the cannabis business in Oxnard. Said it’s the wrong location for such a shop. “This is our only neighborhood shopping center where kids go to buy snacks, surf boards and sub sandwiches,” he said.
Cesar Hernandez: Resident, Oxnard Shores. Supports allowing the cannabis business in Oxnard. Said he welcomes the additional security that will be present from the store, as well as the extra tax revenue for the area. “What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander. If dispensaries are good in other parts of the City of Oxnard, then they are just as good in this community,” he said.
Jose Barrera: Oxnard resident, and State Director, League of Latin American Citizens. Was troubled by the seeming inequity of how different neighborhoods are treated differently by the Planning Commission. He suggested that there are families surrounding every previously approved location for cannabis shops, yet it was denied in this neighborhood. “I urge you to reject the cannabis red lining policy in favor of a fair and equitable process.”
Bob Launius: 40-year Oxnard resident, Military veteran and retired Glendale firefighter. Opposes the cannabis business in Oxnard and was astounded that a uniformed police officer would support such a federally illegal cash business. Was concerned about poorly trained but well armed security guards at the dispensary and the potential for injury to nearby residents.
Yvonne DeLaRossa Green: Cannabis activist, Oxnard resident and CEO of a cannabis dispensary in Malibu. Supports the cannabis business in Oxnard. “I believe in this medicine, and I believe that everyone throughout Oxnard, including the more affluent areas, should have safe access to this medicine,” she said. Regarding her Malibu dispensary, “even those who opposed us (when that permit was being debated) are our customers now.”
Deirdre Frank: Opposes the cannabis business in Oxnard Shores. Said she is not against cannabis personally, but that there are no present difficulties getting cannabis delivered anywhere in Oxnard, including in Oxnard Shores. “I can not believe that this is turning into a red lining issue, a racial issue, an income disparity issue. This is a neighborhood issue,” she said. She prefers to have the business established at Victoria and 5th Street.
Jason Stover: New Oxnard resident from Seattle. Opposes allowing Oxnard Holistics to open locally. Said that while he supports legalized marijuana, he does not want the store at this particular location. “If the pot shop is allowed into this shopping center it’s going to sully our community gathering center,” he said.
David Bejarano: With Oxnard Ballistics, former Police Chief, San Diego & Chula Vista PD, former U.S. Marshal for Southern California. Supports the cannabis dispensary, and pointed out that similar businesses owned by the current applicant while he was police chief in San Diego and Chula Vista, operated without incident and only served to benefit their communities. He also said that studies show crime rates remain the same or are even reduced in communities where cannabis businesses operate.
Applicant Rebuttal Comments to Opposition
Comments provided by Alfred Fraijo. Regarding the location… “Please consider that the location received a perfect score based on the city criteria and based on independent review. This shopping center was specifically called out by the city staff from a map of eligible sites and was presented to this body.”
Fraijo said that this shopping center is no different than the other shopping centers that have dispensaries, and that “it’s buffer far exceeds the 600 foot buffer from all the sensitive uses such as schools, day care centers and youth centers.”
“As a reminder, residential uses are not considered sensitive uses,” he added. He emphasized that city staff is recommending approval, and that the permit to operate must be renewed every 12 months.
Fraijo pointed out that the tenant space is only 1700 square feet in a 17 thousand square foot shopping center, on a site that is over 2 acres. The project proposes no changes or expansion to the footprint of the building in which it will occupy. Cannabis dispensaries are considered a retail use, which is going into a retail space, so no environmental impact studies are triggered. And while seventy parking spaces are required for the business, 108 will be provided.
Before the council voted on the resolution, members took some time to ask staff their final questions or to make brief comments. Council member Gabe Teran, however, opined on nearly every opposition point brought up by the public speakers. While his rebuttals and responses were well reasoned and rational, his timing was not. It was simply tone deaf of him to go on after nearly 7 hours of meeting, and four hours on the one issue alone.
The vote was in favor of the resolution to issue the permit, 6-1, with the lone dissenter Council Member Bert Perello.
The next Oxnard City Council Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at 6:00 PM. To view the meeting online, go to Oxnard’s YouTube Channel at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyYBxLRP6z33lKEkyxreAUA
Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, and having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also an author and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks.