By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Posted November 18, 2010
Updated November 20, 2010
Passions ran high during the November 16, meeting of the East Palo Alto City Council as council members heard supporters and opponents speak to the issue of whether a medical marijuana dispensary should be located in East Palo Alto. The two opposing sides presented their arguments during a public hearing designed to allow the Peninsula Caregivers Collective and Wellness (PCGC) organization to appeal a decision regarding the group’s application to open the dispensary.
PCGC decided to appeal the East Palo Alto Planning Division’s determination that the group’s application to operate could not be given until the city issued a text amendment to its current zoning codes. Brent Butler, the city’s planning manager, concluded that PCGC’s application was incomplete because the owners of the business applied for a temporary use permit instead of the special use permit which PCGC needed in order to operate in its desired location at 1927 Pulgas Avenue in East Palo Alto.
Ironically, PCGC had initially applied for and paid for a special use permit. The company’s owners said that the temporary use permit was later recommended.
In supporting his determination, Butler argued that the redevelopment area in which PCGC was located was not zoned to accommodate the business that the group wanted to operate.
He also stated that temporary use permits, as outlined in the city’s zoning code, were “expressly for uses that were less than (6) days…such as carnivals, petting zoos and less than (45) days for other uses such as Christmas tree sales.” But, it was also not clear that PCGC met the requirements for a special use permit needed to operate the type of business that the group wanted to operate in the redevelopment zone, where it was located. Consequently, Butler recommended that the council would need to draft a zoning text amendment that would enable the group to operate at its desired location.
PCGC, on the other hand, argued that its marijuana and wellness clinic was within the area’s designated business uses and met both the C1 and C2 zoning requirements. As outlined in the city’s zoning laws, C1 zoning accommodates businesses such as hospitals, clinics, philanthropic and charitable institutions, and those for residential use, while C2 zoning accommodates general commercial businesses, such as automobile repair shops, laundries, dance halls, carpenter shops, etc.
As one of the grounds for their appeal, PCGC representatives wrote in their appeal letter to the city, “Our wellness clinic is zoned for medical clinic and charitable organization 501-C3 status (which the applicant has). PCGC (Peninsula Caregiver's Collective) is also zone[d] for office uses, and [as a] drug store which includes homeopathic herb and remedies. These usages are defined in the C1 C2 E. Palo Alto Zoning. And yet our application was not accepted in part or in full"….”
Click here to see additional pictures.
It readily became apparent at the council meeting, in the back and forth that ensued between both the supporters and the opponents of PCGC, that the crux of the issue went far beyond permits and zoning requirements and centered on the medical marijuana dispensary, itself. Many of the residents who attended the hearing were simply opposed to having a medical marijuana dispensary in East Palo Alto and resident after resident spoke against the idea of having marijuana legally sold in the community at all, even for medical reasons.
Rev. Mary Frazier, the senior minister at the Bread Of Life Evangelistic Outreach church in East Palo Alto, said that she was concerned that the city would even consider issuing a permit and she asked the city council not to issue a permit at all.
Others pointed to East Palo Alto’s reputation in 1991 as the murder capital of the nation and as a place that harbored drugs as a reason to disallow marijuana from being sold in the community.
Patsy Caracter, who works at the Warming Shelter in East Palo Alto said that having the marijuana dispensary in East Palo Alto would attract more crime to the city. She said, “I don’t know who wants it here and why. We don’t need this here. If you give him a permit, you might as well give the kids on the street a permit, too.”
Several residents said that since the city was fighting a war to get illegal drugs out of the city, it would set a bad example for the youth of the community, if the city allowed a marijuana facility to operate within city boundaries.
But a supporter of PCGC Jonathan Steigman, who is with a group called Americans for Safe Access, said, “There has never been a documented case of death or an allergic reaction from cannabis. Violence connected with drugs is not connected with marijuana. It is only humane to give dispensaries a chance.”
He said that East Palo Alto’s residents “should embrace people who assist with sickness and suffering.”
Willie Beasley, one of PCGC’s principal partners, told the council that he had prayed over the question of what was the best type of business that he should have and he decided on the marijuana facility as a way of helping people. Beasley showed the council several pages of names that he said he had gathered from community residents who wanted the dispensary in East Palo Alto.
City council member Ruben Abrica said that city councils are being put on the spot when the federal government says that it will prosecute those with marijuana, while the State of California says that using it for medical purposes is legal.
“We know,” Abrica said, “it’s a racist system anyway. It’s not a fair system when we criminalize one group over another. It is a devious system.”
Towards the end, East Palo Alto Mayor David Woods said, We need one more meeting to clear up the code -- to make the decision and then to move on. He said,”What’s before us is the issue of the zoning. The appeal is for a determination of the zoning…. This issue is spreading in the community. I would like to get rid of it quickly, but I would like to do it the right way.”
With that said, the council, which included Laura Martinez, Ruben Abrica, David Woods and Carlos Romero, unanimously passed a motion -- with council member Peter Evans absent from the meeting -- to discuss the issue at a special meeting to be held November 30 at 7 p.m.
See a video excerpt which features the co-partners of the Peninsula Caregivers Collective and Wellness company discuss the merits of their business with an East Palo Alto resident. The excerpt was taken from a recent edition of the Talking with Henrietta show. You can see the excerpt by clicking here.