MUSD reacts to cannabis store site

3510 Alhambra Avenue, formerly California Collectible Books, location of a future retail cannabis store is adjacent to MUSD property.

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Stunned Martinez Unified School Board (MUSD) trustees are looking for answers about city approval of a retail cannabis store next to the Martinez Adult School and near Alhambra High School (AHS). “If dispensaries are so good, why are they banned from being placed on Main Street?” asked MUSD Board Trustee John Fuller.

The City Council chose Embarc over three other well-qualified finalists that applied for the last available conditional permit to operate a retail/delivery cannabis business in Martinez.

The school district’s main reasons for concern are student and employee safety, the impact on school property values and the fact that they were not notified in advance of the decision.

After communicating with George Miller IV of Embarc, and the City of Martinez, MUSD Superintendent of Schools CJ Cammack said he is not sure they could mitigate his concerns.

He said he has heard from individual staff members in MUSD, members of the school and district administration, and individual members of the Board of Education who all shared intensely negative reactions in relation to the Council’s decision to approve a dispensary that shares a property line with MUSD.

Cammack said, “Especially in light of what seems to be the council’s complete disregard for MUSD physical property and student safety by not selecting one of the three other applications not sharing a property boundary with MUSD.

“As the Council members stated individually and collectively, there were two applications that rose to the top, and all four applications were very high quality.

“Given that reality, I was astounded the Council members voted 4-0 to support a dispensary on a shared property border with MUSD, even if it is the Adult School,” he said. (Mayor Rob Schroder recused himself because of insurance business with one of the applicants.)

Cammack stated that he has informed the city manager, mayor and vice-mayor he is exploring the district’s options, and consulting with the Board of Education and legal counsel to see what can be done to prevent the cannabis store from opening on a shared boundary with MUSD and just over 1,000 feet from AHS.

Trustee Diedre Siguenza said her first concern is safety, “Our community has tasked us as trustees. We are trying to put our kids in the best place possible in terms of security.” She mentioned adult school students and faculty that have to access the campus at night, and all of the AHS students who are walking, biking or riding the bus to school and school events. They will have to be in close proximity to a business with intense security requirements. She noted that there were 90 pages of the Embarc application dedicated to security measures.

“We lockdown when there is trouble. That is very disruptive,” Siguenza said.

Fuller said, “The action by the council came as a complete surprise to me. Neither the city nor the business owners ever reached out to MUSD to go over their plans to have a business 1,000 feet from Alhambra High School. Lack of communication is not the way to start/build any relationship.”

Siguenza agreed. “The district would have like to have been part of the process. At this point I don’t know what we are going to do,” she commented. “Even in my neighborhood if an owner is going to make some changes, I get some notice of it. If you want to rent Ignacio Plaza, in front of the city hall, the neighbors have 30 days to express their opinions.”

Trustee Jonathon Wright said Embarc’s presence could make the district goal of affordable housing for teachers much harder. “Once again, Martinez leadership has prioritized private enterprise over the public good,” he said. “We desperately need to build affordable workforce housing for MUSD employees and rebuild our amazing adult school. This can be done as a single project. It could also make it harder for us to find a new tenant for the old Wendy’s location, depriving the district of much-needed revenue.”

During the November 20 meeting, city council discussion of alternate candidates for the one remaining conditional permit to sell recreational marijuana in a retail store, Councilmember and realtor Mark Ross argued for Embarc. He suggested the new-looking cannabis store, instead of the old building, could improve chances of finding a tenant for the district’s property. Recalling his youth, Ross said students would find a cannabis store if they wanted to do that, no matter where it was in town.

Siguenza also brought up the district as a property owner. “There is a stigma. It is not fully legal in the United States. Are we now saying that you can put anything in this area of town?” she asked rhetorically.

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