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Santa Barbara Planning Commission Denies Marijuana Dispensary Appeal

Decision upholds approval for Canopy Club medical marijuana dispensary at 118 N. Milpas St.

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday denied an appeal of the 118 N. Milpas St. medical marijuana dispensary. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday denied an appeal of the 118 N. Milpas St. medical marijuana dispensary.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Resident Pete Dal Bello was expecting a fight when walked into the Santa Barbara Planning Commission meeting Thursday to discuss the fate of a medical marijuana dispensary on Milpas Street. 

Instead, he got a lecture. 

"I found most of the appeal language to be distasteful and argumentative and character assassination," said planning commissioner Michael Jordan. "It doesn’t do you any good and it is really off-putting. I would appreciate more focus on the issues and less on personal attacks."

Jordan said Dal Bello's 21-page appeal letter could have been summarized in one page. 

Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz was more tactful. 

"I would suggest you take it down a notch about the character," Schwartz said. "It doesn’t serve you well. We can take the high road when we discuss these matters of community planning."

To no one's surprise, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to deny Dal Bello's appeal of the city Staff Hearing Officer's decision not to revoke Ryan Howe's license to run the Canopy Club medical marijuana dispensary at 118 N. Milpas St. 

From the get-go, the writing was on the wall. Assistant City Attorney Scott Vincent framed the discussion by explaining that the hearing was not about the pros and cons of the dispensary at the specific location, but about whether Staff Hearing Officer Susan Reardon abused her discretion or made an egregious mistake when she decided in January not to revoke Howe's license. 

The question to revoke the license came because someone affiliated with the dispensary attempted to change corporate officers without prior approval at the city. 

Howe said at the time that he did not authorize or have any knowledge of an attempt to change corporate officers of the Canopy Club and added that a clerk for his former attorney, Joe Allen, filed the paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office to change the statements of information, without his knowledge.

As part of his appeal, Dal Bello said he didn't know why that clerk, Mary Bock, was not asked to attend the meeting or to make a sworn statement to ask her who told her to change the corporate officers. 

"It is careless and showing poor leadership that Mr. Howe has no clue about what is going on in his own organization," he said.

Howe was never able to produce any minutes of meetings to proof one way or another if anyone told Bock to change the statements of information.

Howe's attorney, Peter Candy, who spoke at Thursday's meeting, said all the files were lost when Mr. Allen moved offices. Allen apparently told Howe that he didn't remember authorizing a change. 

Reardon said she didn’t see any proof of intent to change the corporate officers so she couldn’t make a decision to revoke the permit. The city must do background checks on management and corporate officers.

The Planning Commission was only allowed consider whether Reardon erred in her decision, not decide the fate of the whole project again. 

In Dal Bello's appeal letter he said the dispensary should be rejected because of environmental review, failure to provide public notice, high crime in the area, along with several other allegations, including that “Mr. Howe’s character/management can’t be trusted.”

Schwartz offered advice to both Dal Bello and Howe during Thursday's meeting.

"I would just recommend to you that if you have larger issues with dispensaries there are other venues to use to try to influence regulatory outcomes for that," Schwartz told Dal Bello. "For you to try to reopen the issue of location, etc, these forums are not going to be effective."

As for Howe, she said he also needs to make improvements. 

"If in fact you are able to open the Canopy, I cannot impress on you enough the importance of knowing and following our ordinance and all of the commitments to our ordinance. This is my plea to you personally to take this under your own wing. I think there needs to be a new era of business professionalism that is really taken seriously by the cannabis industry."

Dal Bello said the commissioners were disrespectful to him and that he was most disappointed in Jordan. 

"He forgets that he works for the taxpayers," Dal Bello said of Jordan. 

Dal Bello said he plans to meet with Councilman Jason Dominguez and City Administrator Paul Casey before deciding whether to appeal the decision to the full 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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