Union Tribune: Backlash prompts San Diego to retreat from proposed vast expansion of where dispensaries can open
The proposal to expand zoning was scaled back, and parts of La Jolla, Mission Beach and Old Town were eliminated
BY DAVID GARRICK
JULY 14, 2023 5 AM PT
SAN DIEGO — Complaints and criticism have prompted San Diego officials to back away in part from recent proposals to sharply expand where in the city dozens of new cannabis dispensaries can open.
Officials still propose nearly doubling the maximum number of dispensaries from 38 to 74. They also propose allowing them in many tourist and entertainment areas near mass transit where they are now prohibited.
The goal is giving people adversely affected by the war on drugs a chance to break into the industry. Because 35 of the city’s 38 existing dispensary permits have already been awarded, officials say a new cannabis equity program won’t work without expanding the number of dispensaries.
But many types of commercial zones in several city neighborhoods have been eliminated from a revised version of the proposal, including parts of Carmel Valley, La Jolla, Mission Beach and Old Town.
Officials have also retreated from plans to allow the 36 new dispensaries to operate anywhere in the city. Instead, to ensure they are somewhat spread out, officials propose to create three zones and allow 12 in each zone.
The zones — north, central and southern — would be defined for the most part as areas north of Interstate 8, areas between I-8 and state Route 94 and areas south of SR-94.
Lara Gates, who runs the city’s Cannabis Business Division, told the City Council’s land use committee Thursday that the changes are in response to feedback from the local cannabis industry and an umbrella group of neighborhood leaders called the Community Planners Committee.
“We pared it down significantly,” she said. “We’re looking at taking out a lot of the commercial zones that had been previously proposed. We heard loud and clear.”
Gates said the proposal would still allow dispensaries in new areas like North Park and Hillcrest, but available locations in many neighborhoods have been scaled back.
“We took a hard look at La Jolla, and we removed a number of zones there as well as Mission Beach and Old Town,” she said.
She called the new proposal for three zones a compromise. During the first wave of city dispensary approvals that began in 2014, no more than four have been allowed in each council district.
Early versions of the expansion proposal would have eliminated all geographic restrictions. Gates said concerns about oversaturation in some areas prompted the recent shift to three zones.
The overall proposal, which is slowly working its way through the city’s lengthy approval process, faces additional hurdles.
Gates said it’s uncertain whether the new wave of dispensaries will be allowed near residential areas — particularly in mixed-use projects that combine retail, residential and office uses in one development.
Most of California’s largest cities have begun allowing dispensaries in some mixed-use areas, but Councilmember Joe LaCava said Thursday that he won’t vote for any changes that allow dispensaries to open near housing.
There have also been delays appointing a task force of community and industry leaders to determine who would be eligible for the equity program and whether they would be allowed to sell their dispensaries to new owners who don’t meet those criteria.
Previously expected to begin meeting this spring, the task force is now expected to begin meeting at the end of this year.
LaCava said the work of the task force is crucial.
“The qualifications of the applicant, as well as transferability, have to be in place before these land-use proposals are adopted and before we start the permitting process,” he said. “We have a responsibility as a council to make sure the total package really works at every level that you can possibly think of.”
The other members of the land use committee also expressed concerns. But they said creating an opportunity for people harmed by the war on drugs is appealing.
“This is a chance to help real people who have faced real harms in the past,” Councilmember Kent Lee said. “There are very few opportunities we have as a city and a community to do that.”