Last Tuesday, City Council voted to have staff come back with recommendations for selecting the best operators to open and run two privately owned medical marijuana dispensaries that were permitted when the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) zoning and building codes were recently updated, and to ensure that they operate in the best interests of the community.

The LUCE code updates permit a maximum of two pot dispensaries within the city limits along sections of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards east of Lincoln Boulevard, generally near the city’s major medical centers. Code requires that the dispensaries must be less than 2,500 square feet in floor space, located at least 600 feet from childcare facilities, parks, schools, libraries, social service centers and other dispensaries and obtain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) similar to the one required for businesses that dispense alcohol.

So far, so good. But, did you really think that council’s social engineering agenda wouldn’t enter this picture?

In an effort to insure that the dispensaries “encourage the greatest community compatibility and benefits,” council micromanagers requested that staff look at a requirement that they offer, “free or discounted services for low income patients.” Maybe that concept should be expanded to require that dispensaries offer a “senior or student discounts” like the city’s Big Blue Bus? Just kidding.

It strikes me as being the same as requiring city restaurants to offer free or discounted meals for low-income individuals. Or, that retail stores along the Third Street Promenade and in Santa Monica Place be required to offer free or discounted merchandise to customers based on their income. Drug stores in the city are not required to offer free medication, prescription or over-the-counter, to certain classes of people, why should medical marijuana shops be?

I’m also bothered by the fact that an unregulated, privately owned entity would be collecting sensitive financial data on its customers. And, who’s going to insure that the data will be secure? Non-Santa Monica dispensaries don’t collect financial information on their customers because they’re not required to.

How is staff going to determine income levels or other parameters that would trigger a discounted or even free marijuana product? This is not the same as big drug companies offering financial grants or aid to critically ill, low-income patients so they can afford access to expensive medications for the treatment of their cancer, for example.

Because Santa Monica’s dispensaries will be most likely privately owned, for-profit businesses. They’ll make up losses incurred by giving away or discounting cannabis product by charging their regular customers more. Depending on the number of “low-income” customers a shop has, this could result in a huge disparity in price of goods and business failure if a dispensary is inundated with “low-income” folks demanding discounts or freebies.

I can see it now … every limited income pothead in Southern California with a $40 medical marijuana prescription will be heading to Wilshire or Santa Monica Boulevard pot shops to take advantage of the benefits that this council wants to bestow. How compatible is that going to be with the neighborhood?

Bottom line: council needs to stop micromanaging (good luck on that) and approve zoning guidelines to insure these dispensaries are an asset to the community, operate competitively and are successful enough to generate good tax revenues for the city.

 

Goodbye Denny’s, Hello five-floor apartment building

In a few months, one of Santa Monica’s last remaining coffee shops, Denny’s on Lincoln and Colorado Avenue, will close its doors forever to be replaced by yet another multi-story apartment building.

Last week the planning commission, with historical preservationist Nina Fresco and architect Mario Fonda Bonardi now aboard, approved two new downtown apartment buildings. Prolific developer NMS Properties is behind the project, replacing Denny’s and another proposed development at 1415 5th St. Both projects have to go before City Council for approval of their development agreements before construction can begin.

The Lincoln/Colorado site will be a 60 foot (five story), 102,500 total square foot building with 100 apartments, 13,800 square feet of ground floor commercial space and a 232 space, three level, subterranean parking garage. NMS’s 5th Street project will replace single floor retail shops with an 84 foot (six story) building of approximately 52,545 total square feet, 64 apartments, 6,345 square feet of street level retail space and a 105 vehicle three level subterranean parking garage.

Both projects require a development agreement because they exceed the height and density required by current building codes. For example, the current height code at 1415 5th Street is 35 feet. By the way, only Fonda-Bonardi requested a reduction of ten, then four feet, in the 5th Street development’s height. Predictably, he received no support from his fellow commissioners, including newbie Nina Fresco.

NMS agreed to certain “community benefits,” such as 13 or 14 low-income apartments (with half of them suitable for disabled tenants) and $600,000 for parks, early childhood programs, local hiring and transportation initiatives, to bypass current codes and build bigger and bulkier.

 

National Night Out tomorrow evening.

Don’t forget National Night Out tomorrow night. The annual event will be held on the Civic Center parking lot (next to the Civic Auditorium) again this year from 6 to 8 p.m.

Come and show your support for our Santa Monica Police. You’ll see police vehicles and equipment first hand, meet police personnel, enjoy live music, participate in raffles, sample food and enjoy family-friendly activities including a rock climbing wall, bicycle safety demonstrations and more. You’ll have a great time and it’s free, too.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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