The Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission found itself in the crosshairs of controversial cannabis-operation proposals, scheduling reviews of four applications in a single meeting on Wednesday, May 23.
When the smoke cleared, the SVCAC rejected two of the applications and endorsed one.
The fourth – Glen Ellen resident Mike Benziger’s application for limited cultivation on Jack London Road – was pulled by the applicant before the meeting began. The reason given for Benziger’s about-face was that the proposed cannabis garden site would be within 1,000 feet of a public park – Jack London State Historic Park, specifically – resulting in a violation of county ordinance. (It was later clarified that while his outdoor garden area was inside the 1,000-foot limit, the indoor cultivation building in his proposal was not, and he is expected to reopen that application.)
Although the Benziger application was the first on the agenda – the announcement it was being pulled came as a surprise – it was quickly overshadowed by Jessah Dunn’s proposal for a cannabis dispensary on Fremont Drive near the Bonneau Road crossroads.
Citizens Advisory Commission Chair Ryan Lely allocated 15 minutes for applicant presentations, but Dunn spoke for only two minutes before responding to questions from the commission. Then the session erupted into chaos as meeting attendee John Lobro, followed by James Munley and Tammy Bryant in short succession, used their public-comment opportunities to accuse Dunn of fraud, breach of contract and a variety of other allegations, eventually hurling insults and legal threats toward the applicant.
Lely and others tried to quell the outburst, pointing out that the SVCAC was not a civil court but merely concerned with permit applications. But Lely finally had to call a temporary recess to restore order, while Pat Gilardi, district director to 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, tried in vain to locate a law enforcement officer in the police station next door.
When the meeting resumed, Commissioner Margaret Spaulding called the uproar “unprecedented for this commission,” then, based on Dunn’s incomplete presentation, moved to deny “without prejudice” her application, leaving the door open for her to reapply. The motion to deny was unanimously approved.
By contrast, Jani Friedman’s proposal for a dispensary at Arnold Drive and Madrone Road was a far more traditional presentation. She presented her concept of Apothevert, a medical cannabis dispensary to be located in a former firehouse at the Arnold-Madrone intersection, with data, slides and even introducing her “all-female executive team.”
The team included a “healthy living” consultant from Sebastopol and the granddaughter of a Glen Ellen couple, Bob Glotzbach and Gena Van Camp. Friedman herself said she had received an MBA from Harvard, and had left a career in the beauty and fashion industries and investment banking to buy an animal farm in Sonoma County three years ago.
She also mentioned that it was her 53rd birthday when her gift watch’s alarm kept going off.
Earlier this month neighbors in the residential areas near Friedman’s proposed dispensary location mounted a visible and vocal opposition to her project.
In reference to the opposition, Friedman at the meeting said, “We want to address your concerns, and back them up with facts so everyone is comfortable. We want to be good neighbors, not a pot shop from years gone by.”
But her overtures did little to deter the many neighbors in attendance from reiterating their concerns about the proposed dispensary’s location – close to an apartment complex with “200 children,” at a school bus stop, amid a family-oriented neighborhood.