The cannabis cultivation project that was planned for the site of the old Stokes Building on 8th and Main Streets in Colusa has hit a roadblock with the Colusa City Council, but it will come back before the council at a later date, city officials said.
Just a week after the city’s planning commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of the project, the city council failed to make a motion on a development agreement for Greenceuticals – citing the groundswell of opposition raised by nearby business and property owners at last Tuesday’s city council meeting.
After the meeting, Greenceuticals’ attorney, Matthew Smith, said that the company was disappointed and surprised after the meeting, and was “considering all of their options” heading forward.
During last Tuesday’s meeting, Paul Santinelli, who owns the ColUSA Made and Tap Room building across the street from the proposed Greenceuticals site, opened up the period of public comment. Santinelli recited the city’s ordinance relating to cannabis special use permits, which reads: “The findings of the city council shall be that the establishment, maintenance or operation of the use or building applied for will or will not, under the circumstances of the particular case, be detrimental to the health, safety, peace, morals, comfort and general welfare of persons residing or working in the neighborhood of such proposed use, or to be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements in the neighborhood or to the general welfare of the city.”
“That’s what you guys adopted as your permit,” Santinelli said. “What you’re hearing from the people here is that it is detrimental. We believe that it is a problem.”
Santinelli followed up with a series of questions: Does the city have five-year, pro forma financials for Greenceuticals? (City Manager Jesse Cain responded they didn’t have five-year numbers, but the estimates from Greenceuticals were around $800,000.) What happens if the pro forma financials are grossly incorrect? If the business is deemed a detriment to the residents and businesses, can the city financially survive a lawsuit from the people and the businesses for loss of business and problems with residences?
“What we’re hearing is it’s all about money, (that) you don’t have enough of a surplus,” Santinelli said. “But yet, you’re hearing from the people that they’re vehemently against this business being in downtown Colusa, but you’re proceeding with it.”
Santinelli said that – absent directors’ and officers’ insurance – the members of the city council could be personally liable in the event of a potential lawsuit, if it was determined that the project was approved through negligent, fraudulent, or unlawful means.
City planning commissioner George Parker spoke to explain the commission’s decision to recommend denial of the project, saying that the commission voted that way primarily because the project is inconsistent with the city’s general plan. As a secondary matter, Parker said the planning commission considered the “outpouring of public sentiment” that the project doesn’t belong in that neighborhood. Parker asked that the council reconsider the project, and stay any action until the city has a general plan amendment that “actually organizes the community in a rightful manner, to identify the locations that are suitable for such operations.”
John Rogers and Peter Lindquist, both of whom own nearby property, each raised concerns over impacts to the neighborhood – including odor, parking, security, and hazardous waste disposal. Jim White, a member of the Heritage Preservation Commission for the city, said that he was completely opposed to having these operations in the Riverfront District, reiterating concerns he raised at the planning commission level over the project’s incongruity with the city’s plan for the area. He added that the city had no provision for agricultural production within the city limits, which would include the growing of cannabis in that building.
During council deliberation, it was clear that the councilmen took note of the comments from the public.
“I was going to move on this item,” Councilman Tom Reische said. “But I have – I have a strong feeling that I’m going to lose some customers over this issue. I promised Jesse and myself, if I start losing customers over a project like this, I will quit the city council and I will go back to work. That would be my choice, so I’m not moving on that this evening. I will leave that up to you guys.”
Mayor Greg Ponciano said he wasn’t comfortable making a motion either, and that the council needed to spend more time looking at the project before taking action. Councilmen Dave Womble and Josh Hill both agreed that the council needed more information before taking action. Dave Markss recused himself from the discussion because of a financial relationship with Greenceuticals attorney Matthew Smith.
Ryan Jones, city attorney, said that staff would spend some more time talking with stakeholders and Mayor Ponciano before bringing the item back to council at a later date.
Big Moon Sky gets clearance from council to move locations
The council unanimously approved an amended development agreement with Big Moon Sky, which will allow the packaging, receiving, and distribution center to move to a new location on 6th Street – the former location of Sierra Flowers. The council also amended the company’s special use permit, and found that the project, in its new location, was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.
The amended development agreement is for a period of 10 years, replacing the interim agreement between the city and Big Moon Sky.
Three people spoke during public comment, including Jeneane Wilsey, who owns the home next door to the new location. Wilsey said she rents the home out, and was concerned about the wording of the city’s ordinance – namely, the city’s use of “cannabis manufacturing” as a blanket term for all commercial cannabis uses, except for dispensaries. She also said she was concerned with potential impacts to her rental, if other manufacturing uses were ultimately allowed at the property.
Elizabeth Yerxa said that thus far, Big Moon Sky had been very discreet and that she was not as concerned about the company moving locations as she was about other facilities in town. She asked if the current property owner sold the building, whether a new owner would be obligated to honor the development agreement. City Manager Cain said they would not. Yerxa, like Wilsey, said she was unhappy with the blanket term of “cannabis manufacturing” in the city’s ordinance.
Colusa resident, city planning commissioner question prior property transaction
John Rogers, a former councilman, again raised concerns over the sale of a property at the corner of Bridge Street and Main Street to Brent Nobles, which he has said was part of a three-way swap that the city orchestrated to allow Greenceuticals to come into the city. Rogers said he requested that the item be placed on this meeting’s agenda, but was told that the mayor and city attorney had removed it from the agenda prior to the meeting.
Ryan Jones, city attorney, said that what ultimately goes on the agenda is at the discretion of the city council and the city manager, and noted that the item had previously come before the city council and planning commission, with opportunity for public comment on both occasions.
“Subsequent to that, I wanted to make sure that we had done things appropriately, so I did send an attorney-client memorandum to the city council, just to confirm that our actions were legal, and I felt that they were,” Jones said. “So, the idea of bringing it back to the council, certainly (it was) something we could have done, though the action had already taken place, and the council had been provided with that memorandum from my office. At this point, the decision from the council and city manager was that putting it back on the agenda really didn’t make sense at this point. Apologize for any disrespect members of the public might feel about how that procedure works. It’s not particularly any person, that’s just how the agendas are done today.”
Jones said that the city does have the discretion to dispose of property “as it wishes” provided that the property didn’t have certain restrictions.
“There are certain specifications, but this particular property did not have those restrictions,” Jones said. “So, the city had the ability to dispose of it as it wished, as opposed to a different process. You didn’t have to get an appraisal, you don’t have to put it out to public bit. If the city wanted to, they certainly could have, but that was not a legal requirement. This position was legal.”
Planning Commissioner George Parker continued the conversation, and said that the commission voted to dispose of the property in “accordance with the provisions as stated that it wasn’t usable as a public property, as determined by the gift.”
Parker added that he believed that the citation listed under the planning commission resolution passed last month was inappropriately applied to the sale of this property.
“This is actually a totally different gift, or offering of public lands without a full vetting to the general public,” Parker said. “I think it’s outlined in the city ordinance, and also in the (California) Government Code (Section) 54220. I think if the brief is available to the general public, we would love to hear at least the insights of how this property is now become available to a single landowner without any vetting or competition to the benefit of the general public.”
Jones said that the memorandum was not a public document and was exempt under attorney-client privilege, but that the city council could make the document public if it chose to do so. The Pioneer Review requested the memorandum from Jones on Thursday. He said that he needed to confirm with the city whether “they’re ok” with him releasing the memo, and that he would let the Pioneer Review know what the City decided. As of Monday, Jones had yet to follow up. ■