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Santa Barbara Medical-Marijuana Dispensary Appeal Goes Up in Smoke

City native Pete Dal Bello tries unsuccessfully to block center proposed on Milpas Street

Pete Dal Bello tried unsuccessfully Thursday to convince the Santa Barbara Planning Commission to turn down a medical-marijuana dispensary planned for 114 N. Milplas St. He vowed to take his fight to the City Council.
Pete Dal Bello tried unsuccessfully Thursday to convince the Santa Barbara Planning Commission to turn down a medical-marijuana dispensary planned for 114 N. Milplas St. He vowed to take his fight to the City Council. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday gave its unanimous approval to a plan to build a Milpas Street "Wellness Center" that would offer medicinal marijuana, tea, face cream, natural herbs, nutritional supplements and a clothing line.

The Canopy wellness center, one of three pot dispensaries approved by the city, went before the seven-member commission after Santa Barbara native Pete Dal Bello appealed the staff hearing officer's approval of the project.

The commission voted 7-0 to deny Dal Bello.

Dal Bello gave an animated PowerPoint presentation, only upstaged by his dapper attire — a purple blazer, lavender shirt, multi-colored tie and green fedora (It was St. Patrick's Day, afterall.).

Dal Bello cited several concerns: Milpas is already packed, with nowhere to park; crime is a problem in the area; and the dispensary would only worsen problems. 

"Why are we putting the Milpas community at more risk for crime?" Dal Bello asked. "There will be processing of drugs here."

Dal Bello said the dispensary at 114 N. Milplas St. should be located near Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where other medical services are located.

The day may have ended in defeat for Dal Bello, but the appeal fight is likely just the beginning for the 44-year-old, who is taking the long view of reform at City Hall. He has already declared his candidacy for City Council in 2017.

In his mind, after he serves two terms, he plans to run for mayor in 2025.

After his 15-minute presentation on Thursday, he received an ovation from the roughly 40 people in the audience. About 20 people from the public spoke at the meeting — all in support of his appeal.

One of them was Bea Molina, a longtime Eastside community activist and the vice president of the Milpas Community Association.

"I am tired of Milpas Street being a dumping ground," Molina said. "We are the residents. We are the ones fighting for peace."

Although the commissioners acknowledged the crime and parking situation on Milpas Street, they said that those concerns remain with or without the dispensary. Previously, a jewelry store, motorcycle shop, towing business, and stereo/smoke shop operated out of the building. 

The city also spent months on crafting a medicinal marijuana ordinance that allows three dispensaries in the city and the Milpas St. proposal meets all the criteria. 

"We're not going to rewrite the ordinance today," said Addison Thompson. 

Commissioner Deborah Schwartz raised many points and attempted to soften the blow of the appeal denial by saying that the city has the right to step in andrevoke the business license immediately if the dispensary violates any of its conditions of approval.

She expressed disappointment in the city for not having a clear definition of "high crime area."

Dal Bello at one point showed a lengthy scrolling list of 9-1-1 calls to a portion of Milpas Street, yet city planning staff said the Police Department indicated that it was not a "high crime area."

Schwartz said without a definition of high crime, no one really knows how severe the problem is on Milpas Street.

"It's disappointing that we don't have any representatives from the Police Department here," Schwartz said. "I wish the Police Department would be more of an activist-partner with us."

She said too many problems are being ignored. 

"We must take action to increase the sworn officers in the Santa Barbara Police Department," Schwartz said. "Because of the deficit in our Police Department, they have to overlook certain crimes that are occurring. I am asking the council to take this up. We are in budget season."

Ryan Howe, owner of the dispensary, said that the center will offer Yoga classes, and contain a Japanese garden. He said he is replacing the public sidewalk in front of the building on his own dime. 

"We're trying to be a positive impact on the community," Howe said.

He was assisted in his presentation by Attorney Joe Allen, who has represented a dispensary in the past. 

Allen attempted to suggest that many of the commercial buildings on Milpas Street don't have parking spots. He drew laughter from the audience when he claimed that the popular Los Agaves doesn't have a parking lot either.

Several people yelled to clarify for him that Los Agaves does have a parking lot in the back.

He said he only expected about 80 people a day, most of whom would only stay for about 10 minutes at a time. 

He said that everyone who attends the "dispensary zone" will have to be a permitted patient. It is also a 21-and-over center.

"This is not the college crowd we are talking about," Allen said. 

The center will have two security guards when it is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"This facility will be more secure than the Wells Fargo Bank across the street," Allen said. "This is the one spot on Milpas where a person would have to be really crazy to commit a crime."

Although Commissioner Mike Jordan denied the appeal, he did express sympathy for critics. He said that he has four children between the ages of 21 and 27, and has a perspective that five of his colleagues did not.

He said he worries about the "mainstreaming" of dispensaries and the link between medicinal marijuana availability and treatment of diseases such as schizophrenia.

He said he had even more concerns about the city's two other approved dispensaries, one a few doors down from a Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors on State Street, and another on De La Vina Street, where the parking lot is behind the building, but access is on the street. 

Jordan also said the city needs to mail notices to tenants, not just property owners, so the people who occupy the buildings day-to-day know when there's a development proposal. The yellow sign in front of the building does not indicate that a pot dispensary is proposed for the site. 

Dal Bello’s family owns a residential property on Juana Maria Street, a one-block street book-ended by East Mason and East Yanonali streets and behind the planned dispensary.

He and his family also own a commercial building that is leased by a barber shop across Milpas from the dispensary. His uncle, Anthony Dal Bello, owns Anthony’s Christmas Trees nearby.

He has deep roots in the community, and said he's not going to stop his fight against the dispensary. He plans to take his battle to the City Council next.

"I was disappointed in the Planning Commission's decision," Dal Bello said after the meeting. "I'm glad, however, that some of the important concerns of the neighborhood were addressed. I will be filing an appeal to the City Council. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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