Two businessmen who were denied a permit to operate a medical marijuana collective in La Mesa are suing the city.
Wayne Alexander Scherer and Rezwan H. Khan of New Origins Management, Inc. filed a civil suit on July 23, alleging the city failed to follow its appeal process and did not provide written documentation explaining its decision.
New Origins was granted a conditional-use permit in March by the La Mesa Planning Commission to open in the La Mesa Medical Plaza on University Avenue near El Cajon Boulevard.
A month later, however, the La Mesa City Council denied the permit after hearing an appeal from the San Diego Center for Children. The council determined the collective would be in violation of a city ordinance that bans dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a minor-oriented facility, such as the nonprofit center that works with children.
The cannabis business was looking to open at 7339 El Cajon Blvd., Suite C. The Family Wellness Center/East County Outpatient clinic, part of the San Diego Center for Children, takes up the medical center’s Suites J and K. San Diego Center for Children helps youngsters struggling with mental, emotional and behavioral issues. The center has a contract with the County of San Diego and works with 27 schools in four school districts in East County.
San Diego Center for Children President and CEO Moises Baron requested the appeal of the Planning Commission’s green light, saying he had not been aware of the dispensary until reading about it in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
New Origins’ owners allege the city’s appeal process and procedures were not properly executed, that required “substantial admissible evidence” was not appropriately shared by the San Diego Center for Children and there was no written documentation explaining the council’s decision.
“The only written account of the City Council’s finding is found in the minutes of the April 24 hearing, which merely memorializes that the City Council voted to uphold the Center’s appeal,” wrote New Origins’ attorney Nathan Shaman in the civil suit.
“The findings did not specify why the Center’s existence as a minor-oriented facility required that the Center’s appeal be upheld. They failed to adequately explain the analytical process by which the City Council determined the Center constituted a minor-oriented facility and, more specifically, an after-school program.”
Shaman said his clients believe the wellness center does not qualify as a minor-oriented facility and they have “relevant evidence that demonstrates that the Center’s services do not fit the definition of an after-school program primarily devoted to people under the age of 18.”
The evidence, the suit contents, includes a contract between the Center and the County and a contract between the Center and the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District.
“Most of what they do is off-site,” Shaman said. “They have a couple of contracts but all of the services they provide are not done at that office. Not to say they don’t do anything at that office — they have family group counseling, but nothing that remotely resembles after-school programming is done at that site. We believe that the San Diego Center for Children has misrepresented the nature of what they do at that location.”
Baron, who several years ago helped shut down an illegal marijuana dispensary in the same medical plaza, said he stands by his facility’s work with children. He said the center has followed the protocols that the city required for the appeal hearing.
Baron said he was particularly bothered by the civil suit’s claim that the center should have objected to the issuance of a permit for the dispensary during the Planning Commission meeting. The city sent out notices to businesses within 1,000 feet of the planned dispensary in advance of the meeting, but Baron said his facility wasn’t notified.
“We were not aware of it,” Baron said. “We never received notice. If we had received notice, we would have expressed our concern earlier. The question is, who did the city send it to? The landlord? We are not the landlord, we are a tenant. It was not shared with us. Once we became aware, we immediately contacted the city.”
Baron said the city told him there was a published notice in a local La Mesa paper about the Planning Commission meeting that no one from the facility saw.
“But that’s irrelevant,” Baron said. “We were able to (appeal) in the time granted. Looking at the information requested for the city of La Mesa, we met the criteria. We provided appropriate and accurate information to the City Council about our activities and the nature of what we do and why we believe we are a child-oriented facility. We have been added to the city’s registry.”
Shaman said that by the time the evidence is weighed in court, with possible appeals and reviews, another medical marijuana dispensary could move in within 1,000 feet of that location, meaning his clients will be out of luck. And out of more than $250,000, which is what they have spent to open New Origins in La Mesa.
“Time is of the essence,” Shaman said. “We’re trying to push this forward. We’re open to any potential solution and hope to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
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