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After permit denied, San Diego marijuana dispensary pressures church to move

By on June 24, 2015
Marijuana

Worshippers at Sarang Church of San Diego received an abrupt notice earlier this month.

“Effective June 8, 2015, Sarang Church of San Diego will not hold upcoming worship services at our current location: 7595 Convoy Court, San Diego, CA 92111,” read the Korean church’s bulletin. “Instead, upcoming worship services will be held at a different location.”

The following Sunday, churchgoers gathered together at their new temporary home in Kearny Mesa Community Park. Why would a church leave its current home, post an obscure notice – all to hold services in a public park?

The answer: a San Diego marijuana dispensary made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Permit denied for San Diego Health & Wellness Marijuana Dispensary

Under San Diego’s newly revised marijuana ordinance, medical marijuana consumer cooperatives, known as MMCCs, must obtain a conditional use permit from the city before opening their doors.

The ordinance also places a limit on the number of dispensaries in the city: four in each of the city’s nine council districts. The cap, combined with the city’s first-come-first-serve policy, makes conditional use permits a hot commodity.

Sarang Church of San Diego Moving NoticeTo minimize the impact on San Diego neighborhoods, dispensaries are prohibited within 1,000 feet of a church, public park, daycare center, or playground.

That rule made it easy for a hearing officer with the city to reject Rakesh Goyal’s application for a conditional use permit for his 2,366-square foot marijuana dispensary, San Diego Health & Wellness. The proposed location was easily within 1,000-feet of Sarang Church of San Diego.

“On April 22, 2015, staff recommended denial of the project as the site was located within 1,000 feet of an existing church (Sarang) located at 7595 Convoy Court, in direct violation of the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC),” states a San Diego Planning Commission staff report. “The Hearing Officer agreed with staff and denied the project.”

An offer they couldn’t refuse

Undeterred by the rejection, San Diego Health & Wellness had a simple solution: pressure the church to move.

San Diego Health & Wellness Marijuana Dispensary “We were approached recently by Mr. Rakesh Goyal, a representative of San Diego Health and Wellness, and he informed us that they are a medical cannabis dispensary, applying for a Conditional Use Permit (“CUP”) at 5125 Convoy St.,” the church wrote in a letter to the planning commission. “Under the circumstance, they proposed to compensate us any costs and or expenses caused and or associated with the relocation of our church.”

The church did not respond to CalNewsroom.com’s emails for comment about the case. According to Planning Commission documents, the church still doesn’t have a new home.

“Representatives from the church are uncertain as to the new location at this time, however confirmed that they would not be relocating within 1,000 feet of the proposed MMCC,” explains a staff report by Mike Westlake and Edith Gutierrez of the San Diego Development Services Department.

The church’s uncertain future appears to have helped secure the dispensary’s plans. At this week’s meeting, San Diego Planning Commission staff have recommended that the commission overturn the denial, approve the appeal and allow the marijuana dispensary. Commissioners will vote on final approval.

Dangerous Precedent: Law to Protect Churches, Day Cares Makes Them Targets

It’s unclear whether Sarang’s move is the result of pressure. Regardless, if the Planning Commission approves the conditional use permit, it’s also establishing a new precedent – or playbook for other dispensaries to gain permit approval. The very law designed to protect churches and daycare facilities now makes them targets for pressure.

The 1,000-foot restriction, arguably, is about protecting the character of neighborhoods. In addition to the church, the proposed site for the marijuana dispensary is within 1,000 feet of Power Line Athletics, which provides softball training and coaching for high school girls.

A screenshot of the church's Facebook page with the Convoy Court address.

A June 24 screenshot of the church’s Facebook page with the Convoy Court address listed.

Last October, San Diego officials changed the city’s marijuana dispensary rules to make it easier for pot businesses to setup shop next to these “minor-oriented facilities.”

According to the San Diego Union Tribune’s David Garrick, “Laser tag businesses, places that teach music and Chuck E. Cheese restaurants are among the types of nearby businesses that will no longer automatically disqualify a dispensary applicant.”

The Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the item at its next meeting on Thursday, June 25.

For more on San Diego’s process for opening a marijuana dispensary, check out a January piece by KPBS reporter Tarryn Mento.

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About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for CalWatchdog.com, FlashReport.org, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.

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