The possible opening of a cannabis dispensary at 667 Mississippi Street has been delayed after the San Francisco Planning Commission voted to continue consideration of the project at a March 19 hearing.
The matter came before the Commission after Friends of Mississippi Street, a neighborhood group that opposes the dispensary, raised concerns about it operating on an otherwise residential street, with children living nearby and La French Teach preschool a block away.
During a February discretionary review hearing, Friends of Mississippi Street told the commissioners that 100 signatures had been collected in opposition to Stay Gold opening. The business, owned by 415 Native, operates a manufacturing and delivery enterprise at the site.
While some meeting attendees spoke against selling drugs – two erupted into tears over the notion – most opposition was tied to the location, rather than cannabis itself. The block has transformed from a mix of business and residences over the past decade, with the site of a former paint company now a large apartment building and an adjacent property zoned as live-work exclusively residential.
“I have no objection to cannabis dispensaries but not on a quiet all-residential street,” Christina Quiroz told commissioners. She and others expressed concerns about the potential for increased car traffic, customers driving under the influence and safety issues related to a cash-only business being targeted by criminals.
Friends also question the growing number of dispensaries in Dogpatch, with the potential for the neighborhood to become a “cannabis tourist zone.” One dispensary, Dutchman’s Flat, is located on Third Street; three others are being proposed at 165 Mississippi Street, 600 Indiana Street and 457 Mariposa Street. Friends are worried that an existing deficit of retail establishments will soon be filled by product purveyors with limited appeal.
“People are starting to call this dope patch,” said Andy Loaning who lives on the block. With five dispensaries and seven bars and breweries nearby, Loaning told the Commission that there’ll be plenty of places where his children can buy marijuana and liquor when they’re of legal age but no grocery stores, pharmacies, banks or child-oriented spaces.
Whether those concerns will factor into the Commission’s ultimate decision is debatable. The Commission continued the hearing in the hopes that Stay Gold and Friends could reach an agreement over operating hours, the distance from the building Stay Gold should be responsible for monitoring and whether a consumption lounge should be permitted on site. Stay Gold wants to open a 200-square foot lounge in the back of the structure where patrons could smoke.
Joel Koppel, Commission president, indicated that he favors the project, noting that a similar enterprise in the Sunset had been “highly contentious” but since opening he’d not heard one bad thing about it.
Commissioner Sue Diamond wondered whether a business within a residential neighborhood should be considered an exceptional circumstance, thereby triggering operational limitations. However, she told meeting attendees that proximity to the preschool wasn’t a relevant factor for the Commission. State law only forbids cannabis dispensaries from opening within 600 feet of kindergarten through 12th grade schools. According to Diamond, Board of Supervisors action would be required to impose additional limits.
Friends are also concerned that façade renderings aren’t finalized or accurate. While they’ve been told by City Planner Michael Christensen, who is assigned to the project, that frontage characteristics will be dealt with later by the Department of Building Inspection, Friends insist that the renderings show sufficiently significant changes to void the exemption from further environmental review granted by the Planning Department.
“We have no real idea of what to expect on many fronts, the building, the operator, the hours, how they will perform, etc.” the Friends wrote in a letter to the commissioners and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton.
In January the Commission approved another dispensary application by 415 Native, for 313 Ivy Street. Two of the firm’s owners, Nguey Lay and Angel Davis, operate the Fig and Thistle Wine Bar at that location. The business’s other owner, Michael Hall, enables the company to qualify under the City’s Equity Program, which grants preference to cannabis permits to those who have been prosecuted for marijuana offenses. The three have known each other since childhood.
Several people spoke in favor of the owners at the February hearing, including Walton Chang, who operated Golden Dragon Printing at 667-669 Mississippi before selling the building to Lay; and Ron McGill, who was on the Commission when the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was adopted. According to McGill, Stay Gold’s vertically integrated business model fits with the production, distribution and repair zoning that that plan supports. “You grow, you consume, you sell on one site,” he said.
Wade Laughter, an early pioneer of isolated use of cannabidiol, the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis, said in his 20 years in the marijuana business the threesome is one of the best teams he’s encountered. “They are from this town. They are self-financed. It’s not a corporate thing,” he told the Commission. “These are people who are trying to succeed as a small business.”
Friends called attention to a civil lawsuit against Lay which is scheduled to come before a jury in September. In 2014, Lay rented 667-669 Mississippi Street to Green Growth, which used it as a grow room, with Lay owning a five percent share in the business. When recreational use of cannabis was legalized in 2017, Green Growth sought a new cultivation license; a requirement under the law. The company claims Lay failed to provide necessary consent for it, instead seeking certification under his own name. Green Growth insists that Lay, as a landlord, unfairly competed with his tenant.
Lay, who said the Office of Cannabis is aware of the suit, counters that Green Growth failed to provide or maintain income and expenditure statements, resulting in an excess of $1.3 million not being accounted for. He also claims that the company sought the new permit under a different name than the one in which he owned shares. In 2018, Green Growth stopped paying rent and, after receiving an eviction notice, vacated the property.