Dispensary Debate Sent Back To Planning Commission
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
December 6, 2018
Follow the bouncing ball. That’s
sorta what it’s been like with regard to Merced’s
yearlong attempt to finalize the approval of four cannabis
dispensaries and their locations within the city.
After rules were set down, and competitive
bidding held, the Planning Commission and the City Council
initially agreed on the business plans of the Top 4 companies
allowed by an ordinance, however, a confusing haze immediately
descended on the process after an appeal by the fourth and
fifth-ranked firms, and a heated debate over proximity to
a school, or education center.
Also, there’s evidence that a Planning Commission
meeting in regard to the matter was conducted unfairly because
the Chair did not disclose information on a personal contact
he had with a property owner of one of the potential business
During a special meeting Monday, the City Council unanimously
sent back to the commission “a rehearing of the matter
without participation of the Chair to ensure a fair process.”
In September, a special committee approved the four highest
ranking marijuana dispensaries: Blue Fire at 1975 W. Olive
Ave., Green Door at 811 W. Main St., Manzanita at 1594 W.
18th St., and Harvest of Merced at 863 W. 15th St.
But there was immediate controversy over whether fourth-place
finisher Harvest of Merced, and fifth-place finisher Medallion
Wellness (808 W. 16th St.), which was not approved, are
within the 1,000-foot radius of a school — that’s
not permitted under the city’s ordinance.
The school site, or education complex, in question is the
Wolfe Education Center at 732 W. 13th Street. Independent
surveyors disputed measurements made by city planners. Debate
also ensued over whether the Wolfe Center should be considered
On Oct. 25, the City Council reversed the fourth place
approval during an appeal process and sent it back to the
Planning Commission to determine whether or not the Wolfe
Center falls under the school category in the ordinance.
The commission ended up deciding that it was indeed a school.
Harvest of Merced appealed that decision, and on Monday
afternoon, the City Council took up the issue again, hearing
debate from Harvest and Medallion Wellness representatives.
They mostly took issue with the definition of a school
in regard to permitting, and the Wolfe Education Center
— where a number of year-round career and life management
classes for adults are held, including “moderate to
severe” Special Education students who have a right
to public education until the age 22.
Experts were brought in or showed up, including Dr. Steve
Gomes, the former superintendent of county schools, and
Dr. Susan Coston, the current assistant superintendent of
the county’s Special Education Department.
Gomes stressed the point that “a program is not a
school,” and that the Wolfe Center site does not have
a designated CDS code used to identify a school by the California
Department of Education.
However, Coston fired back with a comprehensive explanation
of the county’s Special Education strategy, and its
unique school status that includes a central administration
office on 13th Street in Merced, and 51 classrooms spread
out throughout the county. Coston said the sites operate
independently and cooperatively on public school campuses
and other locations. All are considered part of the county’s
Special Education “school,” and it receives
funding based on attendance.
Pretty much the only thing Coston did not mention at the
meeting is that without this distinct Office of Education
setup, there would be a systematic hindrance to student
integration, and Special Ed students and their families
would be denied the experience and opportunities that can
be shared on a traditional school campus.
Interestingly, Coston and Gomes have been on opposing sides
before. The two ran against each other for the Superintendent
of Schools position back in 2010.
Nevertheless, the school definition debate will probably
continue because it was overshadowed at the Monday meeting
by an admission from Robert Dylina, the chairman of the
Dylina told the City Council that he had a conversation
with Steve Tinetti, the property owner where Harvest of
Merced wants to open. Dylina said the two talked about ownership
and the possibility of lot line adjustments. This conversation
was not disclosed at the last Planning Commission meeting
that actually ruled against Harvest of Merced in regards
to its proximity to a school.
While Dylina was part of that vote, Mayor Mike Murphy pointed
out that a disclosure was not made — even though it
appeared to be not intentional or deliberate.
And that’s why the City Council ultimately sent the
matter back to the Planning Commission this week for a rehearing
without Dylina involved.
Before they did that, however, Councilman Kevin Blake floated
the idea that perhaps some sort of mitigation or agreement
could be made involving Harvest of Merced and Medallion
City Attorney Phaedra Norton and Mayor Murphy indicated
the City Council does indeed have options, but they did
Could this mean that perhaps the city’s Cannabis
Dispensary Ordinance might be amended to include a five
dispensaries instead of four?
Don’t tune out. The next scheduled Planning Commission
meeting is on Jan. 9.
Meanwhile, there is some good news for recreational pot
smokers and medical marijuana patients in Merced.
The Top 3 dispensaries in the city’s process have
been given the big green light to set up operations in town.
City officials say they are all working on getting their
state licenses and no opening dates have been announced
Arts Panel Taking Shape
The Merced City Council has approved the selection of several
members for the new Arts and Cultural Advisory Commission,
along with three ex-officio members and a Council member,
who would also be an ex-officio member.
As part of the design, there will be six commission members
to represent the six Council Districts, and one other member
Some 22 people applied for the open positions.
The commission will serve in an advisory capacity to the
council on matters pertaining to public art, art projects,
cultural programs and activities and the promotion of the
arts in the City.
The commission’s first meeting is scheduled for 3
p.m. on Jan. 10.
The following applicants were appointed to the Arts and
Culture Advisory Commission:
District 1 – Dob Francise
District 2 – No appointment yet
District 3 – No appointment yet
District 4 – Colton Dennis
District 5 – Monika Saini
District 6 – Rob Hypes
At Large – Monica Modest
1. Patricia Pratt
2. Kim Gardner
3. Harley Hermosillo
City Council Ex-Officio:
1. Anthony Martinez