As cannabis facilities grow, so does the traffic around them. Emissions increase, air quality degrades. Yet the San Diego City Council is ignoring those environmental impacts. That’s what several appeals of permits for three new pot production facilities before the city on Jan. 14 claimed. After a preliminary review, the city exempted the projects — 3443 Pickwick Street in southeast San Diego and 8330 Arjons Drive and 9151 Rehco Road in Mira Mesa — from further environmental study, since the applicants would use existing buildings, make limited modifications, and the impacts in these light industrial zones should be minor.
Environmental concerns have nothing to do with the appeals, speakers for those applying for permits alleged. The California Environmental Quality Act, a state law that can be used to block development permits, is being abused by competitors. “This is wasting everybody’s time,” said Gina Austin, attorney for one of the applicants. Everybody, that is, but the appellants, who shell out a hefty fee to the city for each appeal. As councilman Sherman noted, “on a lot of these appeals we see the same name over and over: Mr. Fleisher.” Fleisher appealed all three projects. The morning of the hearing, he withdrew them, but another appeal remained for each.
The battle began when the city set a cap of 40 pot production facilities, and more than 60 eager entrepreneurs lined up. Those among the first 40 to be granted environmental exemptions and city approval hearings have become the targets of competitors, trying to claw their way up in the queue, Austin claimed. “What you have is Bill Fleisher, who appealed a bazillion people...and he is the father of an existing marijuana outlet operator who didn’t want to use his name, so used dad’s name for a bunch of these.”
The other one, she said, is Will Senn, who owns Urbn Leaf dispensaries in Bay Park and San Ysidro. “He has appealed almost every single applicant because he’s got application number 40 or 41. So if he can slow some people down, if somebody jumps ahead of him, then he’s still within that top 40.”
The project at issue won’t go back to the council, a hearing officer or the planning commission until a later point in time, she said. “So, you’ve seen someone who was in, say, position 38 or so, move up to position 32. And that drops other people down, and they’re moving them around...and that’s what this appeal process is being used for.”
Austin urged the council to find a fix for the problem, which she said the city tried to do with the 11th code update, but it wasn’t enough. We’re seeing more of these appeals, and that will likely continue in the future. It will shift from production facilities to the many marijuana outlets still in the works, she warned.
Senn, of Urbn Leaf, filed an appeal in November challenging the city’s environmental determination on 3443 Pickwick street. The same month, Urbn Leaf’s buyer, Joshua Bubeck, aimed another at the facility Austin represents, at 8330 Arjons Drive. The applicant, Adam Knopf, is chief executive of Golden State Greens, a Point Loma dispensary located about a mile and a half from Urbn Leaf’s Bay Park shop.
The projects also brought out critics who supported the appeals but not the appellants. "We do recognize that the process is being utilized” by competing applicants, said Judy Strang of the health committee for the county PTA. But since “we can’t afford the $1,000 it costs to file an appeal,” it gave them a chance to speak out about each of the sites. One of the facilities near her home sits in a trio of marijuana production facility applicants, she said. “Those three alone would produce all of the products you would ever need for your marijuana outlets.”
Aside from easy access to cannabis among local children, Strang worried about over-production sending the goods out of the county. “And we don’t think that was your intent.” The largest facility, a 4.72-acre site at 9151 Rehco Rd that would grow, manufacture, package and distribute cannabis products to licensed outlets, was the subject of two appeals. Councilmember Sherman asked if the appeal that was left (since Fleisher withdrew his) was about traffic? The issues were similar, staff said: more traffic to and from the facilities from all the vendors, suppliers and employees.
Matt Longo, the applicant, said they would have less than 50 employees; a number Sherman said doesn’t get close to 1000, “the threshold” they go by for average daily traffic before further environmental review is required by the state.
The council agreed in a unanimous vote to deny the appeals (Cate, whose district covers Mira Mesa, was absent). Longo said he’s been in the industry for 15 years. "I play fair. I expect everyone else to play that way. That didn’t happen here.”