Back in November, 2017, I supported the City Council’s adoption of the long anticipated Cannabis Ordinance. The process was convoluted and lead to some rather unexpected results but I supported the Council’s efforts because, as then Council member Lindsay Horvath said, the Council wanted to create a ordinance that took as much discretion away from City Staff and City Council so that the licensing process would not degenerate into a corrupt process influenced by lobbyists and campaign contributions. The process was supposed to insure that decisions regarding in issuance of licenses was above board and not politically influenced.
The fear was that the rush to of applicants for licenses would result in a tsunami of campaign contributions that would have a corrupting impact on the selection process as well as skewer City Council elections. The City wanted to maintain a sense of integrity during the licensing process, something at odds with City Hall’s reputation for “pay to play” politics.
The process of getting the Ordinance finalized was not perfect. Ultimately the public was pretty shocked that the four original license holders did not qualify. Eventually that was remedied resulting in an increase in the number of licenses and a cut in the marijuana sales tax. But the City Council still seemed committed to keeping the process open and free of outside influences and for the most part contributions from our local marijuana entrepreneurs have been relatively modest.
Which brings me to Monday night’s meeting of the Business License Commission. The Commission will be asked to consider item 7(a), the application of for a consumption lounge by “Where Eagles Fly”, which will be located at 8811 Santa Monica Blvd., the former venue of Flaming Saddles on Santa Monica.
When the Marijuana Ordinance was passed in 2017 a map of the city was attached reflecting areas that were within six hundred feet of a “sensitive use” zone, such as a day care or youth center. Under this map, the location of the former Flaming Saddles was just within a such a prohibited zone as it was within six hundred feet of West Hollywood Park.
Apparently the combination of a politically well connected commercial landlord and a celebrity who is fronting the business was sufficient for City staff to take it upon themselves to “re-interpret” the map that the City Council had adopted. The map has now been revised so that rather than being six hundred feet from the edge of West Hollywood Park, it is six hundred feet from the West Hollywood Library. So not only is the Flaming Saddles site qualified, so is a large swath of Boys Town is now open for marijuana retail.
City staff’s position is that the original map was somehow wrong and that the lines should have been drawn in a more conservative fashion. Marijuana retail was to be banned six hundred feet from schools, day care centers and youth centers. While nothing was specifically said regarding parks, the City Council drew the original map starting at the boundary of West Hollywood Park.
You would think that when the City Council approved the original map that it should be respected; after all the map reflected the will of the City Council. But I don’t get why describing the Library as more youth oriented than the dog park or the basket ball courts in West Hollywood Park, means that the line should be rolled back. On some levels it just seems like an arbitrary decision based upon the needs of the applicant rather than the needs of the residents.
On a personal level I don’t have an ax to grind as to the opening up of Boys Town, but you can be sure that applicants that have located further away in order to comply with the original map are now feeling cheated. They could have applied at a number of more lucrative locations had the map been “properly” drafted in the first place. Instead of another restaurant at the former location of Café E’toile, there could have been a consumption lounge; Block Party could have applied. On the other hand, allowing for expansion of marijuana retail into Boys Town will exacerbate the issue of commercial rent inflation and put stress of existing businesses. So this decision by staff may have all sorts of unintended consequences.
Given that the City Council wanted the issuance of marijuana licenses to be done in the light of day, it seems odd that City staff should take it upon itself to essentially change the rules without any sort of public notice or public hearing that there was going to be a major change made in the map of where marijuana retail can be located.
So while the City Council is telling the public that they are committed to maintaining the rule of law as it where, City staff is busy undermining the law. There was no reason given in the Staff report as to why the application was not simply rejected outright when it did not conform with the map the City Council had originally approved. Why was this application given such obvious special attention? Just because Patricia Arquette is associated with the project should not carry any particular weight, after all we are not star-struck bumpkins.
So who pulled the strings at City Hall?
If you want to be heard on this issue, you can send your comments to City Hall to the City Clerk on item 7(a) of Monday’s Business License Commission.