Planning Commission approves permit, sends agreement to council for vote
MARTINEZ, Calif. – With an acknowledgment it is punting a final decision, the Planning Commission approved a permit for the city’s first medicinal marijuana dispensary and has sent the project’s development agreement to the Council for its vote.
Firefly’s application is the only one under consideration, an exception to the city’s moratorium on commercial marijuana ventures until city staff can draft a regulating ordinance for Council consideration.
The Commission was troubled that the applicants, Farid Harrison and Firefly, want the dispensary to open in a suite at 4808 Sunrise Drive, the same building that houses Power Endurance, which has said that a majority of those who use the gym are minors.
However, Commissioners said Maurice Jones-Drew, owner of Power Endurance, hadn’t proven his contention that the gym is also a youth center, primarily serving minors.
At city employees’ request, the gym sent documents to support its contention that youth are the primary clients. The company sent 405 client forms, although only 380 had participants’ ages.
Of the 380, 258, more than two-thirds, were listed as younger than 18. If the entire 408 were considered, minors would account for a little more than 60 percent. City staff asked for more data from the gym, but Jones-Drew said those forms were all his company has on its client
Since California’s requirements as well as Martinez’s must be considered for commercial marijuana operations, the Commission had to decide whether those numbers meant Power Endurance “primarily” catered to minors, qualifying it as a youth center under the state definition.
If it were, then by state law, no commercial cannabis operation could open within 600 feet of Power Endurance.
Devon Tracy described how she had conducted an all-girls sports camp,” the first of its kind,” two weeks before the meeting. She said part of the girls’ camp involved talking about drug abuse.
Besides the camp, she said, she uses space in the gym for her own business of training children who come to Power Endurance four or five times a week.
“This is a youth center,” she said. “Children are at this center all the time.”
Mike Neal, another independent contractor who also uses Power Endurance as space for his own business, said it’s used for youth who are preparing for football, with the added pressure that the students must maintain good grades.
Jones-Drew described how 67.9 percent of his clients are minors, not counting those who belong to teams, from Little League to Alhambra High School, that train there. They come not only from Martinez but from as far away as Vacaville and other distant cities..
“We are a youth center,” he insisted, explaining it’s a place “to give kids the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.”
Unlike the testimony of his landlord, Josh Glaser, who said Jones-Drew initially was amenable to the dispensary, the gym owner said he opposed having the dispensary next door from the outset, explaining he had put more than $1 million in developing a hill and sand pit, and had a five-year lease at Glaser’s complex.
When he initially heard a dispensary might lease a portion of the building, Jones-Drew said, he said he would move elsewhere, although he couldn’t find another site. He said the original proposal was dropped. He maintains his belief that having a dispensary next to his gym is inappropriate.
A long line of speakers described how voter approval of legalization of both medicinal and recreation-use marijuana showed that Californians want access to the drug, but so far, there is no legal place to make a purchase in Contra Costa County.
Several spoke of marijuana benefits, especially in helping cancer patients keep their weight and remain able to eat despite radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Others spoke of how the drug helps hyperactivity and attention deficits, dementia, post-traumatic stress and pain control as a safer alternative to opioids.
Others worried that a Habitat for Humanity subdivision as well as other homes have children in them, and expressed their concern of having neighborhood youngsters living and playing so close to the dispensary. Some said the dispensary would cause their property values to decline.
Retired Martinez planner Corey Simon insisted that despite new plans submitted by Firefly, the company would need more off-street parking than the six spaces required by the city. The applicant has met the city’s stated parking requirement.
Firefly attorney Jason Molinelli argued that Jones-Drew has failed to prove Power Endurance is a youth center. He reminded the commission that Gymboree also caters to children, but isn’t considered youth center, and he expressed skepticism at the commercial nature of the gym.
Commissioner Sean Trambley said he had visited Power Endurance. “You train a lot of young people, but you don’t promote yourself as a youth center,” he said. He noted that city employees considered Jones-Drew’s response for their request for information as incomplete, and the statistics could chance if an adult team, such as the Martinez Clippers, signed up to train there.
Chairperson Sigrid Fallentine sought guidance from Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal, who declined to predict the future. He noted that when the state of Washington legalized marijuana, it didn’t have the same problems as Colorado, which was the first to do so.
He did participate in overseeing and approving Firefly’s security plan, but acknowledged a dispensary would bring additional traffic and people from other areas. “As with anything, there are public safety issues,” he said.
“I didn’t make the law,” Sappal said. “I must follow it.”
City Attorney Jeff Walters said he had no additional insight as to what California legislators meant when it defined a youth center as “primarily” serving young people, whether it was based on the number of hours it has children or if it should meet a different standard. He disagreed with the city’s cannabis consultant HdL, which advised that “primarily” meant one more than 50 percent. Walters suggested it likely meant more, but had no definitive number.
Nor did he have a definitive picture of what happens at the gym. “It helps to have facts,” he said.
While Commissioner Jim Blair agreed that dispensaries and youth centers should be separated, he was frustrated in determining whether Power Endurance met the definition of a youth center.
“I punt to the will of the voters,” he said. “I’m not an elected official.” He added, “I cannot come up with a clear decision.”
He struggled before finally moving to send the matter to the City Council to decide whether to approve the project’s development agreement. The rest of the Commission agreed.
But approving the use permit was a greater struggle. At first, Blair wanted to offer a motion that would have denied the application, until he was told the Commission’s actual action and its development agreement recommendation to the Council had to agree.
Again, the Planning Commission ultimately approved the use permit.
“This gives time for the gym to establish additional evidence,” he said.
Jones-Drew or others with objections could appeal the decision in 10 days, said Christina Ratcliffe, director of community and economic development. She said the Planning Commission’s decisions would be sent simultaneously to the Council.