There’s plenty of marijuana on the city’s west side — illegal cannabis growhouses are rife in the Sunset District, we’re told — just not the legal kind. There are no medical cannabis dispensaries in the Sunset, and the city’s residential west side will remain bereft of legal green, after a nearly year-long effort to keep a dispensary from opening on Taraval Street ended in success on Wednesday night.
Bay Area Compassionate Health Center received in May a permit from the Planning Commission to open at 2139 Taraval Street at 31st Avenue by a 5-1 vote, despite organized opposition from the largely-Cantonese-speaking neighborhood and Supervisor Carmen Chu, who represents the area. After hearing appeals from a Chinese-language church, a tutoring center and a day care center, all of which were within 1,000 feet of the dispensary, the Board of Permit Appeals voted 4-0 to revoke the permit on Wednesday night.
Residents told the Board that the pot club would increase crime and drug use on the Taraval Street corridor, a claim repeated by San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia, who claimed the pot club would lead to an increase in marijuana use among students at nearby Abraham Lincoln High School.
Pot clubs need to be 1,000 feet away from schools and other land uses dedicated to children, but Bay Area Compassionate Health Center was within all the legal requirements, according to Planning Department staffers. But a day care center and a dance studio were both within the 1,000 foot barrier, and that influenced Board members’ “no” votes (it’s worthy to mention that strip clubs in North Beach operate within 400 feet of schools, and Planning staff said that if pot clubs needed to be 1,000 feet away from every business that serves children, they wouldn’t be allowed anywhere within city limits).
But flaws in the Planning Code — including a typo — influenced the Board’s decision as much as testimony from neighbors, board members said.
“It’s not a well-worded statute, and the fact that there’s a typo is significant,” said Board President Tanya Peterson, who is also the director of the San Francisco Zoo. The “typo” is a Planning Code section that refers to another section that doesn’t exist (seems someone typed an “x” or an “f” when they meant to type an “a” as in “790.50.a“).
That typo felled the pot club as much as anything else, Chu said.
“Right now, according to the law, they refer to a definition of a recreational facility in a section of the code that simply doesn’t exist,” Chu told The Appeal, in between receiving congratulatory hugs from her relieved constituents. “There is an issue with regards to the code… it’s a very technical issue, but it needs to be fixed.”
Peterson and her colleagues on the Board all professed to be “in favor” of legal medical cannabis, they said. But since several — legal and illegal — pot delivery services cater to the Sunset District, a brick-and-mortar establishment is further unnecessary, they testified.
This means would-be dispensary owner Greg Schoep, a wheelchair bound medical cannabis patient, is out nearly a year’s worth of rent and whatever he paid to make the necessary upgrades to 2139 Taraval Street (would-be pot clubs must be rented and upgraded during the permitting process). Schoep left Wednesday’s hearing immediately after the verdict and did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment.
“I’m very surprised the Board of Appeals would unanimously overturn the Planning Commission’s decision,” said Derek St. Pierre, Schoep’s attorney. “The material presented to [the Board of Appeals] was the same material presented to the Planning Commission [who approved the pot club].”