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Why One Fresno Councilman Appealed Pot Shop, and One Did Not
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Published 10 months ago on
August 8, 2023

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A proposed marijuana retail location across the street from the Fresno Fairgrounds has one more hurdle to clear — an appeal of its relocation approval.

“I want to make sure that the community gets an opportunity to weigh in,” Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez said. “I’ll make a decision on Thursday on which way we’re going to go.”

“I want to make sure that the community gets an opportunity to weigh in.”Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez

The full city council is scheduled to hear the appeal Thursday for Fresno Farms.

Fresno Farms Wants to Relocate

The city granted Fresno Farms initial approval in 2021, but there was a problem no one caught — its location at 3849 East Ventura St. was across the street from the yet-to-be-built Faber Education Center. City rules say marijuana retailers have to be more than 800 feet from educational facilities.

The Ventura Street location was too close, but Fresno Farms was allowed to move its location without having to start the application process from scratch. The owners picked a new site at 4555 E. Kings Canyon Rd., the site of a closed Mexican restaurant.

Chavez said the new location is close to the carnival area of the Big Fresno Fair (about 500 feet), and near a county-run substance abuse treatment program.

Operating within 800 feet from a  “youth center” — an arcade is one of the definitions in the city code — is not allowed. But, the city determined that in this case, it was OK because the fair isn’t used as a carnival/arcade full-time.

That’s one of the things that I’m actually getting clarification from our legal counsel and our folks on. So that’s obviously a factor that, you know, we’re going to be weighing,” Chavez said.

Fresno Farms did not respond to a GV Wire request for comment.

No Appeal on Embarc

Fresno Farms was one of three relocation permits approved in recent months by the city. The change of Embarc Fresno in the Pinedale neighborhood has led to vocal opposition from community groups and the Clovis Unified School District.

Among the objections is the proximately to Pinedale Elementary School. Although Embarc is beyond the 800 foot mark required by city code, it is approximately 1,000 feet away.

The councilman for the area, Mike Karbassi, did not file an appeal.

Karbassi said he would not issue a statement, on advice from the city attorney. Because cannabis licenses could be eventually decided by the city council in a quasi-judicial role, any public statement could be used to disqualify him from voting, Karbassis said.

Linda Amparano, an opponent of Embarc’s proposed location, requested documents about the application. The issue will be heard at a future planning commission meeting, GV Wire learned.

Council to Consider Illegal Pot Crackdown

Also on Thursday’s agenda, the city council will consider participating in a program with the state Attorney General to crack down on illegal marijuana.

Known as the Cannabis Administrative Prosecutor Program, it will investigate and prosecute “illegal cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retail operations.”

City Attorney Andrew Janz said this will be a first-in-the-state pilot program.

“It is my hope that this pilot program becomes a model for other large California cities. To be clear, this program is not criminalizing the use of marijuana but rather an effort to support (legal) business owners who have gone through the lengthy permitting process,” Janz said.

City Councilman Nelson Esparza, a bill sponsor, says they will be going after illegal operators as opposed to the street corner drug dealer.

“Our goal is to bring the cannabis market in Fresno out from the dark and into the light and make sure that all of those licenses that have gone through the trouble of the permitting and the process are working on a level playing field,” Esparza said.

The program would allow the city and state to go after illegal operators to pay for enforcement.

Council to Discuss Existing Lawsuits

The Fresno City Council will also discuss in closed session two lawsuits from marijuana retailers that were not granted licenses.

The Artist Tree sued after being rejected for a Tower District location in 2021. It does have a license for a northwest Fresno location and is one of two open legal retail shops.

In its legal filing, The Artist Tree said that the appeal by then-Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria was not filed properly.

Haven#20 also filed a lawsuit, after the city council rejected its permit for a proposed location at Olive and Fruit avenues.

Artist Tree and Haven make similar legal arguments — that it is unfair and unconstitutional to have the person filing an appeal, in these cases a city councilmember — also sit on that appeal board.

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