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North Fresno Residents Convince Planning Commission to Block Cannabis Store
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By Edward Smith
Published 8 months ago on
August 17, 2023

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Persuaded by hours of public comment from Pinedale residents, the FresnoPlanning Commission unanimously voted down the dispensary that had met the city’s rules to open along Blackstone Avenue.

Cannabis store Embarc was set to open at a shopping center at 7363 N. Blackstone Ave., next to a Little Caesar’s, a taco shop, and a donut shop.

Two letters of appeal from residents sent Embarc CEO Lauren Carpenter to plead her case before the commission.

Linda Amparano, the author of one of the appeals, said the site lacked adequate parking and that even exceeding the city’s required 800-foot distance to Pinedale Elementary School, it was still too close.

Watch: The Planning Commission Vote

Planning commission member Monica Diaz said store owners had done everything to meet the extensive demands set by the city of Fresno to open a dispensary.

“She has covered everything, there’s nothing that anybody can come and say that she’s not doing,” Diaz said of Carpenter.

But dozens of Pinedale residents dressed in “Pinedale Matters” shirts and wearing “Pinedale Matters” stickers filled Fresno City Hall. Pinedale Matters is the community group behind the appeal.

Neighbors said the cannabis shop’s 1,000-foot distance from the school was still too close, and that armed guards and noxious odors would fill the shopping center.

Commission members agreed with the opposition, calling the location a “detriment” to the neighborhood.

Commission Members Didn’t Want to Be the Ones to Say ‘No’

Every commission member spoke highly of Carpenter’s business plan. City of Fresno staff recommended approving the site.

Commission member Haley Wagner was not present.

Diaz said commission members shouldn’t be the ones to have to decide if 1,000 feet away from a school is too close for a dispensary.

City rules mandate at least 800 feet away. California requires 600 feet.

“I feel like all of us are kind of left making the decision that perhaps should have been made before writing the requirements of the licenses,” Diaz said.

Carpenter originally planned to replace a 7-Eleven at Shaw and West avenues. But delays on the company moving out sent them looking for another location.

That’s when they chose Pinedale.

But Commission Chair Peter Vang said Carpenter should have anticipated opposition to the location.

Vang held up a large stack of speaker cards of people who came from Pinedale and compared it to the smaller stack of Pinedale residents in support of the dispensary.

“There’s such a value to presence,” Vang said.

Five Pinedale residents came to the meeting to speak in support of Embarc. They said the store would bring safety to the neighborhood and discourage illegal drug use.

Embarc store employees and representatives from the United Food and Commercial Workers union also spoke in favor of Embarc.

Pinedale Residents: Dispensary Wouldn’t Open Near Rich Elementary Schools

Retired teacher and founding member of Pinedale Matters Lori Garcia said this is the third dispensary that has tried to open near the community.

Community members had successfully lobbied against two other dispensaries.

“Let’s be real this wouldn’t happen in any other school in northwest Fresno,” Garcia said.

Educators also spoke in opposition to Embarc.

“It can go anywhere else in District 2, keep it in industrial areas,” said Debra Bolls, principal at Pinedale Elementary.

Some Pinedale residents spoke in support of Embarc.

David Rodriguez, said he was originally opposed to the dispensary, but after outreach from Embarc he liked how the company would clean up the neighborhood.

Carpenter: “Feelings got in the way of facts.”

Carpenter said she disappointed that despite staff recommendations and getting their conditional use permit, the planning commission opted against the project.

Given that the plan met the city’s requirements, Carpenter said there was no factual basis for the appeal.

“Unfortunately, I think feelings got in the way of facts, because of course, feelings aren’t findings,” Carpenter said.

 

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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