Community Services District: No Pot Store Next Door

by Mark Scaramella, August 24, 2011

Beverly Elliott of Philo opened last week's Community Services District board meeting with a presentation on the importance of County Measure A, the 1/8¢ sales tax measure to support the County's library system that will be on November's ballot.

Funding for libraries has been drying up. It will get worse when state funding goes away entirely next year. Libraries have already had their hours drastically cut to less than three days a week) and there is only one staff member for every 18 volunteers —it's the volunteers who do much of the heavy lifting for the libraries anymore.

Elliott said that circulation of books in the county is up 18% and there are about 48,000 cardholders and that the library system is vital to the county's cultural and economic development. She suggested that individual board members and members of the public come forward and endorse the measure, particularly at Fair time next month where the Library's defenders will maintain a booth. Elliott also pointed out that the new bookmobile is being funded by USDA grant money not library fund money, so don't be fooled into thinking that they have a lot of money because they're driving a new bookmobile around. As things stand now if the library measure does not pass, they will have a new bookmobile but no one to drive it.

If passed, Measure A would bring in about $1.3 million a year for libraries only.

The library measure requires a two-thirds yes vote. If approved, the funds would be restricted to maintaining local libraries, restoring open hours at existing locations to 2006/07 levels, expanding library programs for children and adults, expanding outreach to people who cannot come to library branches, and acquiring and replacing library equipment and materials.

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The most discussed agenda item was introduced by the current and former pastors of the Valley Bible Fellowship next door to the old ambulance barn in downtown Boonville where Laura Hamburg and a couple of her friends want to open a medical marijuana dispensary. Pastors Earl Peterman and Dave Kooyers presented the Board with a letter asking the Board to take some kind of action to prevent the dispensary from opening next door to their church.

After summarizing the history of the Church and the services they provide to their parishioners, the pastors, while admitting that the marijuana dispensary partnership has been  polite and sincere in their quest for local acceptance, concluded that they simply oppose the opening of a “dispensary/co-op” in that location or any other location “in the vicinity of a church, library, park, fairgrounds, school or any other place where children or vulnerable adults gather.”

Pastor Kooyers’ letter points out several times that marijuana is a Schedule I federally illegal drug and that it is a federal felony to engage in the distribution of such a controlled substance — “whether from a nicely appointed storefront business or from the trunk of your car, California law notwithstanding.”

Kooyers also says that it is a federal felony to engage in or knowingly rent a facility for such drug distribution.

“Such felonious activity has no business being anywhere near such a sensitive area of a town, the voting/polling place, the Post Office, the neighboring restaurant, and especially immediately next to our facility,” said Kooyers. “It places our children, those we minister to, and our pastors and teachers in a terrible position and damages our ability to be effective.”

Kooyers insisted that as a church with an educational component they have a legal and moral duty to protect their children from harm from various sources. “It is legally and morally incumbent on us that they not be exposed to felonious activities or to the threat of physical harm or to the impression that felonious activities are acceptable behavior.”

Kooyers also noted that current Mendocino County rules require that permitted medical marijuana grows cannot be within 1000 feet of a church, school or youth-oriented facility or residential treatment facility. “If there are such restrictions on growing a green plant,” asked Kooyers, “how much more restrictive should the law be on a place where the finished product is available in condensed quantity?”

Kooyers was also concerned about the potential for crime. “We are unwilling and unable to place either children or any of our congregation or visitors in any kind of jeopardy from anyone who might choose to 'hit' the co-op for its perceived cash or pot value. [Kooyers’ emphasis.] A promise that a 'sophisticated security system' will be in place or that there will be a 'small amount of medicine or cash' on premises provides no comfort. In fact, the necessity for such a security system and safety measures is what troubles us in the first place. Such a business has no basis being located next to a church or fairgrounds. All it takes is one desperate person or group — and we've had them in Anderson Valley — to do a stupid thing and bullets could fly right into our facility or a nearby building. People have died in robberies involving a lot less value than will be inside the co-op.”

The pastors continued at considerable length about the dangers to the public and children, and the potential for crime in the area. “This is utterly irresponsible, dangerous and incompatible with the kind of downtown spirit and sense of safety we have historically enjoyed.”

The pastors also said that parents would be uncomfortable bringing their children to church functions if they perceive that there is an increased risk to them stemming from the marijuana dispensary next door.

Nor do they like the message that the dispensaries send. “We are working with former and present substance abusers, including pot smokers,” said Kooyers, “trying to get them to stay away from substances. It is unwise, a tempting reminder, and will be deeply offensive to them to have a 'cooperative' selling marijuana right next door. This would harm them and harm our ability to reach, help and support these people in maintaining their recovery.”

The pastors also object to the dispensary being across the street from the Boonville Fairgrounds where community events such as the county fair, funeral services, wedding receptions, Mexican quinceanera parties, could not help but see a pot dispensary right next to a church. “We think a dispensary anywhere near this location sends the wrong signal to thousands and thousands of Fairground visitors and potentially places many of them in danger of various kinds as well as being a potential turnoff to the Fairgrounds.”

The pastors summarized California law prohibiting dispensaries and marijuana co-ops near places where children gather for school or other similar functions. The existence of a dispensary next door, in the opinion of the pastors, might also make it difficult for other businesses to operate in the area because of the proximity to a marijuana co-op or dispensary.

The pastors concluded that the existence of a marijuana dispensary next-door would threaten their very existence, noting that the dispensary is “superfluous — there is no shortage of accessibility to high-grade pot in the area. No patients will be deprived if the co-op is not in that location. They will not increase the legal availability of marijuana to anyone. Its proposed function is easily replaced and easily moved and it simply has not earned the right in our community to encroach upon, displace, nor brunt the effectiveness of the Valley Bible Fellowship which is what its immediate proximity would clearly and harmfully do.”

The pastors' letter concludes, “The proposed pot selling cooperative is utterly incompatible with our mission and facility use. We think there are very good reasons for substantial distance between a dispensary/co-op and not only us but all similar facilities in Boonville and all of Mendocino County.”

CSD Director Kirk Wilder supported the pastors’ opposition, and was adamantly opposed to the dispensary idea, forthrightly describing medical marijuana as “a bunch of crap” — meaning that he thinks most “medical” marijuana smokers have no real medical condition that pot will help.

During the ensuing discussion, Pastor Kooyers added that the dispensary proposal was "un-neighborly, a poor location, an attractive nuisance to crime, and a serious parking problem.”

Kooyers also told the Board that he believed the County should deny Ms. Hamburg and her partners a business license and that they had appealed to several County officials to do just that. Kooyers also said two years ago he had heard that County staffers advised would-be dispensary applicants that they should not deploy the word “marijuana” on the business license application which, if true, amounts to tax funded deception and subterfuge.

According to the business license application for the Boonville dispensary, the title of Ms. Hamburg's business would be “Mendocino Generations,” and in the block labeled “Type of merchandise to be sold” the applicant says: “Alternative healing products, jewelry, t-shirts, clothing, stickers, books, periodicals.”

Type of service to be rendered: “Alternative health services, i.e., massage, health consultations, et cetera.”

Description of proposed business: “Consumer cooperative for alternative health services.”

Estimated value of equipment: “$30,000.”

Starting date of business: “August 1, 2011.”

Items to be used in the business: “Computers, point-of-sale system.”

Storage location of supplies equipment and vehicles: “on-site, small storage closet.”

The County's Planning Department has already signed off on the license, noting that the property is zoned C2-commercial for retail sales and health services. Nowhere on the application does the word “marijuana” appear.

Director Andrea LaCampagne said she admitted to being a NIMBY on the subject. She did not like the idea of a marijuana dispensary near a church or a school.

Director Wilder suggested that letters in opposition to be sent to Ms. Hamburg and to the County officials, including the County Treasurer who has the authority to issue business licenses.

The Board unanimously agreed.

In answer to a question from Director Valerie Hanelt, Pastor Kooyers said they were considering a signature drive in opposition to the dispensary proposal, but that they did not believe it could be done soon enough given the simplicity of obtaining a business license, the only approval necessary at this time because the County has not enacted any pot dispensary rules.

At times the discussion drifted into generic pros and cons of marijuana as opposed to alcohol, but soon returned to the subject at hand which is whether or not the proposed pot dispensary is a good idea at the current location.

In the letter they intend to send to Ms. Hamburg, the Board will offer her an opportunity to speak to them about their opposition to the dispensary plans as currently understood at their next board meeting.

If the prevailing attitude at last Wednesday’s CSD Board meeting was any indication, Good luck with that, Laura.

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