A proposal to open a cannabis dispensary at 667 Mississippi Street will be considered by the San Francisco Planning Commission on February 6 after a neighborhood group voiced concerns over the number of children living on and passing by the block.
Friends of Mississippi Street, which formed last summer when the dispensary concept surfaced, has pointed out that there’s another cannabis outlet, Dutchman’s Flat, on Third Street, with three others in the works at 165 Mississippi Street, 600 Indiana Street and 457 Mariposa Street.
“The law was not meant to place dispensaries within close proximity,” the group wrote in a request for a discretionary review (DR). “This is sending a conflicting message to kids; to not use drugs but allow for placement near where they reside.”
A DR request automatically triggers a hearing before the Commission rather than allowing Planning Department staff to determine a project’s outcome.
The Mississippi business, Stay Gold, wants to open a 600-square foot retail space operating from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a 200-square foot lounge for patrons to consume cannabis.
Although zoned for mixed use, with the exception of the proposed dispensary building the block has been entirely residential since a 91-unit apartment building replaced an industrial one across the street three years ago. According to residents, 40 percent of the units in the building are multi-bedroom, designed for families with children.
“People who live here have become used to the change from commercial to residential,” said Don Henry, one of 15 Dogpatch residents who attended a community meeting sponsored by Stay Gold last month.
While one neighbor at that meeting, Rodney Talmadge, objected to the enterprise’s drug-related aspect, others had less issues with it. “Our objection isn’t to marijuana. It’s retail,” said Christina Quiroz.
“This area never contained retail establishments, and the zoning no longer reflects the character of the neighborhood,” Friends of Mississippi wrote in the DR request. The group noted that children passby on their way to Woods Yard Park, two blocks to the east, and Daniel Webster Elementary and La Scuola International schools, which are three to four blocks away.
However, none of the schools are within the 600-foot range in which state law prohibits dispensaries; the Planning Department determined Stay Gold would be compliant regarding school proximity. La French Teach, a French immersion preschool, is one block away but California law only applies to elementary, middle, and high schools.
Stay Gold’s three business partners — Nguey Lay, Angel Davis and Michael Hall — emphasized their backgrounds as multi-generational San Franciscans who are invested in the community. Lay knew the previous property owner, Wally Chang, who operated a printing facility where his enterprise is located. Davis is involved with multiple community organizations in Hayes Valley where she and Lay own the Fig and Thistle wine bar. Hall received a Certificate of Honor from the Board of Supervisors last year for his 20-year involvement with youth tennis.
Hall’s participation in the business enabled Stay Gold to qualify under the City’s Equity Program, which prioritizes distributing cannabis permits to those who have been prosecuted for marijuana offenses. He’s known Lay since childhood.
When Lay purchased the property in 2011, he established a cannabis manufacturing facility and later launched a delivery service. The indiscernible exterior drew little attention, neighbors admit, and there were no complaints. Although listed on City permit documents as a “floral nursery,” the company claims it hasn’t been an indoor grow facility and instead has specialized in edibles and topicals. Since cannabis is legal for recreational use, Davis said it’s a natural progression for the business to want to be able to sell on site as well.
At the community meeting concerns were raised about the potential for increased crime, noise, traffic and doubleparking.
Davis said the retail space will be staffed by two people plus a security guard who, in addition to checking identification, will monitor activity within 50 feet of the front door, including preventing double parking and loitering. She’d prefer that the guard be unarmed unless neighbors request it. She added that there are plans to convert a yellow loading zone space in front of the building to one designated for 20-minute parking only.
Additional neighborhood requests can be written into the permit according to Ray Law, an Office of Cannabis representative who attended the meeting. He characterized oversight of cannabis facilities as “strict,” with law enforcement having full access to the business and frequent inspections.
According to Davis the lounge will be reservation-only. “People can use the lounge with friends and smoke a joint as opposed to getting a glass of wine somewhere,” said Andrea Baker, community liaison for Stay Gold. Although Stay Gold’s literature designates a 10- to 12-person capacity, Davis believes there’ll realistically only be space for seven people.
While lounges were not unusual when dispensaries were medicinal-only, they’re infrequent among new outlets. Law believes the trend away from them is due the 18- to 24-month permitting process, during which most businesses have to pay rent on the additional space. While there were concerns among neighbors about people leaving the facility under the influence, the impetus for lounges is that they reduce the number of people smoking outside after purchasing product.
Meeting attendees had differing interpretations of a Controller’s report, Cannabis in San Francisco, released in December. While Stay Gold emphasized that crime had decreased six percent in areas around new dispensaries, neighbors countered that most outlets open in commercial districts; Dogpatch doesn’t have street dealers to be put out of business.
Friends of Mississippi, in emails to the View, lamented the growing number of cannabis retailers while citing a need in Dogpatch for more grocery stores, childcare facilities and other basic amenities that support families.
There are 37 cannabis storefronts in the City, with 133 in the permitting process. The Controller’s report recommends a moratorium on cannabis storefront applications, stating that average sales at such businesses, including delivery-only, dropped 45 percent from 2013 to 2018. However, Law pointed out that the report also states that it’d be premature to put a cap on cannabis business permits at this time.