A group of property owners in downtown Pomona is making it very clear: Despite a proposed measure on the November ballot that could usher marijuana businesses into town, they don’t want them in their neighborhood.
Earlier this year, proponents of an initiative that aims to overturn Pomona’s ban on commercial marijuana operations completed the first step in getting the measure on the November ballot. The signatures are under review by the City Clerk and could be placed on the ballot in the coming weeks.
In an open letter dated Aug. 1, Larry Egan, executive director of the Downtown Pomona Owners Association, said there was never any input from property owners about the initiative.
“No one was ever consulted by the cannabis industry,” he said by phone Friday. “We’re not anti-cannabis. We’re not anti-marijuana. It’s just not a good fit. We want to see a comprehensive plan that doesn’t put it all in the downtown.”
Arts Colony developer Ed Tessier raised the issue with the association’s board after learning some in the community believe the business district is behind the proposed ballot.
To the contrary, property owners take issue with it because the cannabis act seeks to throw out the zoning plans that have guided the development of Antique Row, the Arts Colony and Western University since 1994, Tessier said.
Tessier didn’t mince words: The proposed ballot measure is “a direct threat to all the ways the downtown is helping to improve the reputation of Pomona.”
While the property owners recognize recreational and medical use of marijuana is the “law of the land,” Tessier said, that doesn’t mean cannabis-related businesses should locate “in the heart of our historic downtown.”
Pomona banned commercial marijuana operations in late 2017.
In recent weeks, the City Council has had numerous discussions about the resident-backed proposed ordinance. It would amend Pomona’s laws to allow commercial cannabis use in two new zones: a self-described “safety access cannabis” zone in the middle of downtown and pockets of industrial areas throughout the city.
The safe access zone, which would be two blocks north of the Civic Center and in a portion of the business district, would allow storefront, retail, micro-business and distribution uses in the area bound by Monterey Avenue, Third Street, Locust Avenue and Parcels Street; 100 parcels are within this zone.
The ballot measure could allow as many as six dispensaries in the downtown, Councilman Rubio Gonzalez said. Pomona leaders are considering putting up a competing ordinance which would allow activity in other parts of the city, not concentrated in the historic core.
“The City Council’s cannabis ordinance, which is guaranteed to be far more conservative, would at most put one dispensary downtown,” said Gonzalez, who is also an alternate member of the downtown association’s board of directors.
The association’s board of directors unanimously voted their desire to be “a cannabis-free downtown,” the Aug. 1 letter stated. Gonzalez, Councilwoman Adriana Robledo and Kirk Pelser, Pomona’s deputy city manager, and planning Commissioner Carolyn Hemming abstained.
The resident-backed proposed initiative would prohibit cannabis businesses within 600 feet of a school, daycare, or youth center as defined by state law. Because of that, Tessier said the cannabis measure would concentrate marijuana activity in Pomona in just a couple of blocks on the east side of Garey Avenue between Second and Fourth streets.
In the last decade, Egan said he’s heard of about three or four shops that have opened illegally downtown. But weeks before the ballot initiative was presented, a cannabis operator approached a property owner on the north side of Second Street, proposing to pay $3 a square foot for a 5,000-square-foot space. A downtown spot, on the high-end, might rent for $1.10 a square foot, Egan explained. The property owner declined the offer, he added.
“We’d like the council to come out with a more thoughtful ordinance,” Egan said. “We think a well-regulated cannabis ordinance will work for the city and bring in new revenues.”