Decision on Sorrento Valley marijuana outlet carried to next year


San Diego City Council voted on a continuance on a proposed new Sorrento Valley marijuana outlet at its Dec. 4 meeting after some confusion between the applicant and staff about whether or not retail marijuana sales will be allowed.

The Torrey Pines Community Plan has a policy that prohibits free-standing retail establishments in the industrial-designated area of Sorrento Valley — the outlet plans to move into a 1,451-square-foot former bank building located on 10715 Sorrento Valley Road.

Firouzeh Tirandazi, development project manager for the city of San Diego’s Development Services Department, defined the proposed outlet as a commercial use, stating that per the terms of the conditional use permit, the facility would be a medical marijuana consumer cooperative only and no retail sales would be permitted.

However, the applicant Belinda Smith stated that her intent is to be a retail cannabis dispensary — she said the plan has always been that marijuana for both medical and recreational use would be sold at that location and that she will apply for a state retail license once it is allowed in January 2018.

“In January this becomes retail,” said Torrey Pines Community Planning Board Chair Dennis Ridz. “This is not allowed within our community plan.”

Ridz said the community plan calls for not over-commercialized services in the industrial zone such as little coffee and sandwich shops that serve the immediate area, not facilities that serve a regional need. He said the applicant has stated they will sell to anyone with a physician-approved script, therefore the facility is serving the general public as a retail operation and not a small consumer cooperative.

City Council agreed to the applicant’s request to continue the conditional use permit process. As one portion of the building is slated to remain vacant for the length of the permit , the applicants will explore the possibility of getting another use in there so it would not be considered a free-standing facility. City Council is expected to hear the project again on Jan. 9.

This was the first time that City Council was considering a marijuana outlet, which typically go through a process 3 Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application via the city’s Development Services Department, including a hearing officer and a Planning Commission hearing. City staff determined that the project is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), however, the city received an appeal of the environmental exemption which forced the public hearing at City Council.

Marijuana outlets must comply with San Diego Municipal Code, which requires a 1,000-foot separation from public parks, churches, child care centers, playgrounds, libraries, minor-oriented facilities, other medical marijuana consumer cooperatives, residential care facilities and schools. There is also a minimum distance requirement of 100 feet from a residential zone.

The project meets all the requirements, according to Tirandazi, however, Ridz pointed out that a youth orchestra is located within the 1,000 feet. City staff requires that a youth facility be the primary business within the building and control 50 percent of the square footage — the orchestra does not.

At the Dec. 4 hearing, Smith said she plans to partner with OutCo (Outliers Collective) in El Cajon for the new establishment. She looked for a stand-alone building so as not to be a burden to other tenants and for a building large enough to provide privacy for patients seeking alternative treatments and wellness.

Smith said she is a cancer survivor whose chemotherapy and radiation treatments translated to sleep issues later in life.

“Cannabis really helped me and I really advocate for the things OutCo will be able to to do, I believe it will be able to help other people,” Smith said. “I know that there are some issues that are contentious but today is not about whether or not you approve or disapprove of cannabis use but whether our project meets the requirements, it does.”

In June, the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board’s Project Review Committee (PRC) voted not to take a formal vote but did submit comments to the city — its concerns included issues with traffic and safety.

Smith said that the facility will comply with the city’s security requirements, including a private security guard and that they have more parking spaces than is required with 21 in the lot. Vicki Estrada of Estrada Land Planning said that traffic should not be much more than the former bank use of the building.

Smith said she believes in community having spent five years on the town council of Mission Hills —she said that she would be willing to meet with the planning board on a regular basis to discuss any concerns that come up with the facility.

While the Torrey Pines Community Planning board members spoke out against the project, there were also several speakers in support of the project, encouraging City Council to follow their responsibilities with the emerging cannabis industry and to provide access to constituents.

City Councilmember Barbara Bry agreed — she noted Californians overwhelmingly approved Prop 64 in 2016 and she voted in favor of City Council’s regulations for marijuana cultivating and manufacturing in October as it is the council’s “responsibility to put reasonable regulations in place that protect public safety and enhance our local economy.” Bry said while she has long-believed in the benefits of medical marijuana, her decision on this issue is based on land use and whether the facility belongs in this specific location.

Councilmember David Alvarez said this issue, prohibiting free-standing retail, has not been an issue in any other community as the policy is specific to the Torrey Pines Community Plan. Alvarez requested that the condition that the facility is restricted to medical marijuana sales only be removed from the permit.

“Every community should have some type of access,” Alvarez said. “It’s a real problem if we treat people differently throughout our city. If some communities are not allowing facilities, that means that we’re not treating all communities the same and it is preventing equal access.”

Under City Council’s rule, the number of dispensaries per council district is limited to four. Fifteen medical marijuana dispensaries have been licensed and will be allowed to sell the drug on a retail basis when the new rules take effect in January.

One medical marijuana outlet is already in operation on Roselle Street in Sorrento Valley — two more in addition to this project are in the process to open in Sorrento Valley. Neither are proposed in free-standing buildings.