Store: The newly approved dispensary will occupy a former nail salon. Matthew Hall

At its Wednesday meeting, the Santa Monica Planning Commission voted to approve conditional use permits for a new cannabis dispensary to be located on Wilshire between 14th and 15th Streets.

The approval is just the latest in a series of hoops the dispensary, Harvest of Santa Monica, must jump through before it can open at 1416 Wilshire Blvd., which includes securing numerous permits and licenses both local and statewide.

A staff presentation from Santa Monica Principal Planner Tony Kim — the lead planner for the project — detailed why the business was located just nine blocks from the only other permitted dispensary, CPC Compassion, Inc., which received its conditional use permits in October and was working to open its doors at 925 Wilshire Blvd.

“I don’t believe location was really factored in [to staff’s recommendation for approval], given that our ordinance already specifically defined where these potential dispensaries could be located … east of Lincoln Boulevard along Wilshire or along two stretches of Santa Monica Boulevard, between Lincoln and 20th and 23rd and Centinela,” Kim said, adding that even in those stretches they must also adhere to a 600-foot buffer zone around “sensitive uses” such as churches, schools and daycares.

“Those two limitations really, really limit the number of potential places that these two dispensaries could be located,” he said.

Kim said that, because the location fit the legal requirements of the Santa Monica Municipal Code, commissioners were limited in their ability to reject it based on location.

Still, Commissioner Shawn Landres began raising concerns over the proximity of the two dispensaries, suggesting that selecting a location on Santa Monica Boulevard east of 23rd Street would extend service to another neighborhood that was “far, far away — within the context of what ‘far’ means in Santa Monica.”

Landres suggested that grouping the two dispensaries so closely together could cause a “geographic inequity,” since city codes dictate there can be only two dispensaries licensed to operate at any time.

Deputy City Attorney Heidi von Tongeln reiterated that commissioners were limited in their grounds for denying the CUP.

“There are certain objective standards that are set forth in that IZO (interim zoning ordinance) … like the minimum distance from the sensitive uses and the minimum distance from the other dispensaries. Beyond that, it is a CUP like any other CUP,” von Tongeln said.

“Just to distill this, do we have, given our code, in this process, the legal authority to tell these people they have to be somewhere else?” Commissioner Leslie Lambert asked.

“What staff has presented to you has met the minimum requirements by code under the IZO for distancing. [If] you have another reason to believe that you are unable to prove the CUP based on neighborhood compatibility, for instance, which is one of the findings, you need to base that on substantial evidence and deny it that way,” the attorney replied.

Later in the meeting, Landres said he was still planning to vote against the dispensary’s permits.

“I am just not comfortable with loading up one part of town with both dispensaries for a wide variety of reasons,” he said.

But fellow commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi pointed out that last-minute complaint was akin to moving the goalposts for the business, which has spent years working on its application since it was chosen as one of Santa Monica’s two approved medicinal cannabis dispensaries in 2018.

“We didn’t tell them they had to be far apart. We didn’t say that they have to be evenly distributed,” Fonda-Bonardi said. “But in some ways, it’s almost like an ambush. You get all the way to the finish line and then someone says, ‘Oh, the goalposts are over here.’”

“That’s a fair point,” Landres replied, adding he would abstain rather than vote against the permit issuance.

There was a proponent of the proximity of the two shops — estimated to be about an eight-minute walk apart — in Commissioner Nina Fresco.

“If I personally ever needed some medicinal cannabis,” Fresco said, “I might want to check out both places and compare and see what they have and see what I liked. I wouldn’t want to have to drive all over town to do that.”

But proximity between the two dispensaries was not the only locational concern. Numerous complaints submitted by community members addressed the proposed dispensary’s proximity to Lincoln Middle School, located on California Avenue between 14th and 16th streets.

Kim estimated the distance between the dispensary and Lincoln to be about 800 feet, outside the buffer of 600 feet mandated in the Santa Monica Municipal Code.

In response to concerns, commissioners agreed to have Harvest reach out to the school community to answer questions.

The board voted that, prior to commencement of operations, Harvest should make good faith efforts to coordinate with the Lincoln Middle School community to provide education regarding the facility and address concerns and questions of the community.

A representative from Harvest, Ben Kimbro, described the company, which has retail and cultivation locations around the country, is headquartered in Tempe, Ariz.

“In every community we operate, we’re really not looking to be the best cannabis company in town — we’re looking to be one of the best businesses, period, in the way that we partner with community,” Kimbro. “We do that by engendering the personality of the city, by being better listeners than talkers, and we take a lot of pride in hosting a lot of educational events, a lot of support groups, and we give generously of our time and money with local philanthropic partners.”

Kimbro said the company’s other major focus was security, with measures including a locked back door with a security camera and an all-hours security guard at the front door, who checked IDs before patrons could enter. Upon entering the building, patrons would have their IDs and medical marijuana cards validated before being buzzed through a locked door into the retail area, which is not visible from the street.

“We take youth cannabis abuse very, very seriously,” Kimbro added. “We’re very proud to say that we’ve never had a single instance of an underage sale. We simply have too much at risk for that to happen.”