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Planning Commission Revokes Permit for Mission Street Pot Dispensary

The issue of its proximity to a nearby special-ed school surfaces a week after the permit is approved

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday revoked a medical-marijuana dispensary permit for 2 W. Mission St. after deciding that a nearby Santa Barbara County Education Office community-based program is considered a school under the ordinance definition.

The facility, referred to as Mission Community School by parents and county administrators who attended Thursday’s meeting, is located rather inconspicuously in an office building near the corner of Mission and State streets.

Hans Edwards, the applicant whose permit was approved Sept. 9 by the staff hearing officer, said he was never aware of the facility, despite neighborhood outreach.

City staff members responsible for the application process also were unaware of the facility until the education office came forward with the information a week after the permit was approved. Commissioners voted 3-2 on Thursday to consider the facility a school and, therefore, declare the permit approval invalid and revoke it.

The school caters to special-needs students transitioning to the community from K-12 education. Students are ages 16 to 22, and presentations showed fewer than 10 students a year since 2006. It’s not on the list of public schools on the county’s Web site.

Edwards’ counsel, Steven Amerikaner, said the applicant has made commitments for the dispensary and argued that the facility couldn’t be considered a “school.” Its mostly over-18 population, the lack of signage in the area and the absence of school crosswalks made it operate outside the ordinance definition, he said.

The nature of the population served — special-needs students — made it unlikely that they would travel to and from the facility unsupervised, so the 500-foot barrier required for K-12 schools isn’t applicable, he said.

Edwards brought up the neighborhood outreach and 800-signature-strong petition for his proposed dispensary and said there were no official appeals to the permit approval (which are different than this public hearing).

Education office administrators, parents and community members spoke against the permit, saying the facility’s students shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their disabilities. Their developmental age is younger than their chronological age, and deserve the same rights and protections as the K-12 schools, they said.

The program’s goal is independence, and most students end up walking around the area to public transportation hubs or restaurants, said Florene Bednersh, the county assistant superintendent for special education.

Those who supported the applicant stressed that the school was unknown, and that it would be unfair to punish Edwards for failures in communication.

“The medical marijuana dispensary will not negatively impact the young people there,” said Sue McKnight, a special-education teacher.

Commissioners expressed frustration that the application went so far without the issue of the school being raised, but agreed with staff that the permit was invalid.

“I am dismayed that the application got this far down the road and got ambushed at this point,” said Commissioner Bendy White, who was elected Tuesday to the Santa Barbara City Council.

Commissioners Bruce Bartlett and John Jostes voted against revoking the permit, saying it was unfair to Edwards and outside the ordinance’s definition of a school.

County administrators said they weren’t aware of the dispensary when confronted by chairman Addison Thompson, who asked why they didn’t come forward as the application went through the permit process.

“Any other stealth schools in the city we should know about?” he asked.

He also asked about the right to protection that parents said the students rightly deserved. “From what?” he asked.

One mother explained that her son could independently travel about town, including visiting nearby bookstores, saying hello to the liquor store manager and taking public transportation.

“Why doesn’t he need protection from a liquor store?” Thompson asked.

The decision can not be appealed, and most likely will end Edwards’ plan to have a dispensary in the city. The revised ordinance is on its way to the City Council and includes a cap of seven for the city.

Currently, there is one permitted, operating dispensary, in addition to three that are approved, seven pending, four nonconforming and several deemed illegal. With the pipeline of applications, all of which are site- and owner-specific, Amerikaner said there’s probably no way Edwards can apply again in Santa Barbara in the near future.

Assistant City Attorney Scott Vincent said there’s no evidence that the school is in any way illegal, or that city or school staff acted in bad faith or a negligent manner.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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