Business License Commission passes the joint to City Council

Faults last-minute changes to city’s own cannabis zone map in decision not to greenlight Fantom Flower application

The Business License Commission poured cold water on plans for a new cannabis consumption lounge to set up shop in the former Flaming Saddles location on Santa Monica Blvd., blaming West Hollywood city staff for clandestinely altering rules at the last minute.

The developers of Fantom Flower had proposed an onsite consumption area on the second floor of the historic commercial building at 8811 Santa Monica, where patrons could smoke, vape and ingest edible cannabis products, while a restaurant would occupy the first floor.

City zoning laws prohibit cannabis businesses from operating within 600 feet of so-called “sensitive-use areas” — daycare facilities, youth centers, or schools within a park property. Parks themselves are not considered sensitive-use.

Controversy arose over whether 8811 Santa Monica falls within 600 feet of the youth center at West Hollywood Park. For years, city staff members have provided cannabis license applicants and the general public with a map showing the locations of sensitive-use areas and the buffer zones around them where cannabis businesses were prohibited from operating. Decisions on whether and where to open businesses were made based on this map, which remains on the city’s website as of publication time.

The old map, showing 8811 Santa Monica within a buffer zone.

The map, published in 2018, clearly shows 8811 Santa Monica falling within the buffer zone of the park’s youth center.

But after receiving Fantom Flower’s application in April, city staff members took it upon themselves to make some adjustments.

They determined that because the youth center in question, Tiny Tots, operates only in the Recreation Center and the library, only those buildings should be recognized as sensitive-use spaces — not the entire park. Without the knowledge of City Council or the Business License Commission, they drafted a new map which put 8811 Santa Monica outside the 600-foot buffer zone and cleared the way for Fantom Flower to move in, while attempting to scrub the old map from the city’s website.

The revised map, with 8811 Santa Monica outside the buffer zone

The Business License Commission wasn’t having it.

“Why wouldn’t the whole park be determined as the center of the sensitive-use area?” asked Commissioner Elyse Eisenberg. “Because there’s always a potential that it’ll be a youth sensitive area. It seems weird that you’re choosing, like, a room in this huge park and then determining 600 feet from that.”

The city defines a youth facility as any public or private facility primarily used to host recreation or social activities for minors including but not limited to private youth membership organizations, clubs, social services facilities for teenagers, video arcades or similar amusement park facilities.

While the Commission was enthusiastic about Fantom Flower’s business model, and several public commenters called in on their behalf, the issue of the map cast a shadow over the proceedings.

“I can tell you firsthand that every single one of the successful applicants of the cannabis licenses absolutely relied on the city’s buffer zone map,” said  Jake Stevens, who represents another cannabis licensee and delivery business in West Hollywood. “Leasing opportunities were not pursued based on the map. Both applicants and landlords were denied the opportunity that is now given to (Fantom Flower).”

Commissioner Mark Yusupov touched on the unwanted loitering and noise complaints that have haunted other cannabis-related businesses such as Cookies, while other Commissioners felt that Fantom Flower’s presentation left too many unanswered questions.

“A lot of the historical applicants have really understood what their vision was and how it all integrated, particularly when it comes to the patron experience,” said Commissioner Robert Lo. “They really had a vision about how it’s supposed to be handled, and I also feel like some of (Fantom Flower’s) answers weren’t really well-thought-out. I think it would behoove us to perhaps wait a while until this all gets vetted out first.”

The commission agreed on a motion to continue the item until City Council can weigh in on the issue of the sensitive-use map.

“This is something that has happened many, many times over the past few years specifically dealing with planning issues, where the staff gives applicants the indication that things can go forward without the transparency needed to go before the public,” Commissioner Eisenberg said. “Unfortunately sometimes staff thinks they have more power than they really do. The city map should have gone through a transparent process a couple of years ago and it should have been made public way up front, not at the last minute.”

“I’m sorry you got caught in the middle of this,” she told the applicant. “Unfortunately there are too many things that just aren’t kosher here.”

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[…] Business License sent Fantom Flower back to City Council for review, and Council approved the new buffer zones, clearing the way for approval at Tuesday night’s meeting. […]

Jackie Subeck
Jackie Subeck
3 months ago

Quoting Jake Stevens, who works for one of the city’s largest developers, that they think it was unfair for other cannabis applicants is like quoting the horned insurrectionist dude who broke into the US Capitol claiming his freedoms were being taken away. This group was intentionally sabotaged by Jake and his fellow cronies at the Adult Use Retail Association – plain and simple. If you’re gonna quote someone, maybe pick someone with more credibility than your typical self-entitled white bro who thinks the world owes him? Wehoville – do better, or at least stop making yourselves look biased if you… Read more »

Reality
Reality
3 months ago
Reply to  Jackie Subeck

Pot and Kettle.

Mecurial Mike
Mecurial Mike
3 months ago

We have many options. Make a complaint to the FBI. Possibly sue the City Council for a Breach of Trust. Let’s get real – West Hollywood is a player in the Univ. of Illinois study that considers the Los Angeles area the second most corrupt after Chicago. 30 years of graft and corruption. Pay to Play!

Peter Buckley
Peter Buckley
3 months ago

If staff have in fact broken the law, then we need accountability from the commissioners.

Reality
Reality
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter Buckley

Commissioners have NO power. Staff have there own game going to elude discovery.

:dpb
:dpb
3 months ago

These are the things that happen when a city hall is closed for a year and a half. People take short cuts. Open the damn City Hall. Go back to work. Open the damn place to the public.
Re-start in person council meetings now. This city is a disaster and it’s just getting worse.

JJ1
JJ1
3 months ago
Reply to  :dpb

Definitely not going in the right direction.

Randy
Randy
3 months ago
Reply to  :dpb

They are working on public council meetings, and opening city hall, this month, I believe.

Save Weho
Save Weho
3 months ago

This should never be approved . The applicant had no idea what they were doing with the spade or if they are selling alcohol or their capacity. There cannot be one map for Monte Overstreet properties and another map for everybody else.

DigDeeper
DigDeeper
3 months ago

It’s imperative that you find out exactly which city staff member(s) changed the map, and under whose direction they did so if you all want this long history of corruption to start seeing light.

Observer
Observer
3 months ago
Reply to  DigDeeper

Absolutely! Those staff members must be identified and disciplined.

Payola at city hall.
Payola at city hall.
3 months ago

So glad this was turned down. Hope the city council upholds the map that was approved in the beginning.

JJ1
JJ1
3 months ago

Yes!

JJ1
JJ1
3 months ago

Thank you Commissioners for putting the breaks on this.

Manny
Manny
3 months ago

Bravo to the commission for their decision, and to Wehoville for their investigative reporting that called attention to the clandestine rule change.

As one local resident said, the behavior on Santa Monica Blvd in that area is bad enough already. It isn’t a good idea to change the rules in favor of adding drug use with armed security into the mix.

The area’s move from “Boystown” to “Rainbow District” to a “Drug Zone” would kinda take away all the charm from an evening stroll “under the palm trees” while dodging the bottlenecks at the OutZones.

SeeMe
SeeMe
3 months ago
Reply to  Manny

Yes, we all know how violent marijuana users tend to be…I believe it’s called REEFER MADNESS!!!

Manny
Manny
3 months ago
Reply to  SeeMe

Bad behavior doesn’t necessary mean violence, and after all pot is the drug of complacency. But anytime a business requires armed security, as we see at other pot shops, it’s a bit disconcerting. Reefer Madness indeed.

Last edited 3 months ago by Manny
C.R.
C.R.
3 months ago
Reply to  Manny

Cannabis lounges are going to be a part of the West Hollywood nightlife in the future, this is another thing you are going to have to get used to. It doesn’t have to be scary and it’s healthier than alcohol. Clearly it just needs to be worked out further.

Manny
Manny
3 months ago
Reply to  C.R.

Unfortunately, you are correct. The train has left the station.

No, No, No
No, No, No
3 months ago
Reply to  C.R.

“healthier than alcohol” but still a crutch/addiction.
Surprising that folks who use cannabis for pain would not want to be “free from pain”.

Ryan Touche
Ryan Touche
3 months ago

The applicants did such a great job, and I can’t wait until this business is open and thriving in our community.
-Ryan

Observer
Observer
3 months ago
Reply to  Ryan Touche

Hopefully, this is sarcasm.

Ryan Touche
Ryan Touche
3 months ago
Reply to  Observer

As a longtime West Hollywood resident I welcome all new and innovative businesses being brought to West Hollywood.

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