On Aug. 9, La Mesa City Council members were forced to revisit a Feb. 8 vote in which they rejected a new Urbn Leaf marijuana dispensary from opening in a residential neighborhood at 7901 Hillside Drive.
After listening to presentations from La Mesa Director of Community Development Kerry Kusiak, Community Action Service Advocacy Executive Director Dana Stevens and Cannabis company Urbn Leaf Consultant Phil Rath, as well as several public comments, city council ultimately voted unanimously to permit the store, ostensibly to prevent the city from being sued.
Urbn Leaf originally landed approval from city staff in 2021
to pursue the business development. However, Stevens filed an appeal against the dispensary in October 2021, claiming it would violate the purpose of City Code Chapter 24.23 to limit impacts on neighborhoods.
“Our recommendation tonight would be to first rescind the decision council made in February… thus denying the appeal. We’re also asking council to ratify the Design Review Board’s approval of the project,” Kusiak said.
The store, as proposed, would be located less than 240 feet from an existing marijuana retail store “as the crow flies” and within one block of a K-12 school, Stevens said at the Feb. 8 meeting.
At the Aug. 9 meeting, Stevens reiterated that point and said the traffic report for the development was prepared in 2017, prior to when neighboring Cookies cannabis store opened for business and prior to a nearby 230-unit Jefferson home development project.
“The intersections studied were Guava at El Cajon Boulevard and Baltimore at El Cajon Boulevard, a four-lane major
arterial while Hillside is a two-lane local street,” Stevens said.
The residential street would see a traffic increase of about 189 daily trips, she said, which were not accounted for in the study. She also said the business would be “inconsistent with the general plan that specifies a business must introduce an uncommon retail good” as it would be the eighteenth retail marijuana store in La Mesa.
“With 18 adult-use marijuana retailers and fewer than 13 actual pharmacies in the city of La Mesa, marijuana is hardly an uncommon good in La Mesa,” Stevens said.
“We have one retail outfit for every 3,000 residents and that includes residents who aren’t even old enough to purchase. That’s higher than the ABC allows for liquor stores,” Stevens said. “There’s plenty of access. It’s really this use at this location. Regardless of our position, we’ve never come to you on any of the other applications. This is egregious in this neighborhood, it’s inappropriate and you’re being bullied,” Stevens said.
Resident Marie Knox said she lives in West La Mesa where there are already three operating marijuana dispensaries within a mile and a half of her home with a fourth currently being built— the proposed Urbn Leaf business would make it five.
“As a resident, I voted to have the medical dispensaries and adult recreational use but 17 is not what I expected; having three or four or five within a mile of my home is not what I asked for. We in La Mesa don’t need 16, 17, 18 dispensaries so who are you opening these stores for? You are not opening them for La Mesa citizens. You represent the city of La Mesa and this is not in our best interest,” Knox said.
City Council Member Jack Shu asked whether Urbn Leaf would actively stop shoppers who shortened their walk between dispensaries by using footpaths instead of the sidewalk that maintains distance between dispensaries. Rath said they would not.
City Council Member Bill Baber said “the problem is Measure U tied our hands” with flawed language. Measure U, which passed in 2016 with a majority vote, allows for medicinal cannabis retail sales, cultivation, and manufacturing.
“If we ever want to fully fix this, it has to be a repeal of Prop U and I will help you with this,” Baber told Stevens.
City Council Member Laura Lothian asked whether the city could analyze the neighborhood traffic in one year.
Ultimately, City Council voted to overturn the CASA appeal and ratified the Design Review Board’s project approval.