Live and Let Live Alano Club is the name on the window of a University Heights meeting venue for 12-step recovery programs and more. But the brightly colored vinyl lettering could be removed if operators can’t cough up the thousands of dollars they say are needed to bring their coffee bar up to code. Trouble for the Alano Club — in this location at Monroe Avenue and Park Boulevard for 24 years — started after an anonymous tipster brought the hand of health-code enforcement officers down on their meeting place.
“The irony is we’ve had the health department here doing inspections several times, and we’ve passed them for years,” says John F., president of the club’s board of directors. (Adhering to the “...anonymity in radio, press or films” tradition in the 12-step recovery program to which he belongs, John asked the Reader to use only the first letter of his last name in this article.)
“Robert [Hanna], the building owner’s son, was here sizing up water damage after the rains, and while he was over by the coffee bar, he asked if we have a permit to sell coffee after 24 years of selling coffee to our members.”
Rainwater had poured through a wall near the coffee bar from the suite of offices above the club, John says. The landlord had sent his son to oversee repairs. “About a month later, the county health department came in and walked right over to that same wall and looked at the coffee bar and said, ‘You need a permit.’”
Last year, a short-lived medical marijuana dispensary that briefly occupied office space above the club was forced to move out by the city attorney because of permit problems of its own. At the time, the neighborhood rumor was the Alano Club had pressured the cannabis dispensary out of the facility, causing the building owner to seek new tenants for the suite of offices above the club. The search continues to this day.
The rumors weren’t true, says John. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the landlord, Albert Hanna. In fact, a few years ago when a different medical marijuana place wanted to rent from him, Al asked us if we would be okay with that. We said, ‘It might not be a good fit,’ and Al was very kind and respectful and didn’t have them move in that time.”
The Alano Club members who thought a medicinal-hemp dispensary above them was a recipe for disaster felt they’d dodged a bullet a few years ago. Yet not all club members and 12-step meeting-goers at the club believe the two operations are, by definition, mutually exclusive — nor that they should automatically be thought of as being irreconcilable sharers of a commercial building.
Dallin Young, founder and executive director of the San Diego–based Association of Cannabis Professionals, couldn’t agree more.
“That would be like saying, ‘You can’t have a McDonald’s in the same strip mall as a Weight Watchers clinic,” says Young. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding and prejudice about cannabis.”
In fact, he says, some in the medical profession point to growing evidence that, in some cases, pot might occasionally be helpful in improving addicts’ chances of overcoming their other chemical-dependency problems.
“I can’t comment on that specific situation, but I know about the conflict with the Alano Club and the collective that was operating there,” Young says. “Our association wants to help communities avoid conflicts and nurture understanding between the various constituencies. There’s a lot to talk about and always a lot of ways to avoid problems and to cooperate.”
The Live and Let Live Alano Club was originally established as a safe place for lesbian and gay addicts and alcoholics to seek recovery at a time when they weren’t always welcome at meetings in San Diego. Now, staying put in the building where they’ve been for more than half of the club’s 40-plus years in existence is most of club members’ first choice, according to sources interviewed.
“We’ve been here a long time, and we’d like to stay here,” says club boardmember Robert Tice.
That’s not just because the location is convenient, nor because Tice and his colleagues like their current digs. They say they’d like to stay because they like the landlord; it’s his son with whom they’ve been having trouble, he says.
“Albert Hanna has been a good landlord, and I’m sure we’ll work this out,” says John F. “The son just seems to want us out — period.”
John says he and most of his colleagues on the organization’s board of directors so appreciate the fact that Hanna has always been a “courteous, responsive, and respectful landlord”— and that even though Hanna eventually leased to a pot shop, several years earlier he chose not to based on feedback from them. “We just all need to come to the table and figure out what to do. We’re trying to figure out why all of a sudden we have a requirement for a permit and have to come up with $30,000 by ourselves for improvements to get that permit, which includes installing five sinks that the county wants us to have in order to sell coffee and other items, the way we always have. That’s part of how we generate revenue to pay the rent and keep the lights on.”
The sinks the county wants the club to install are more than just the rectangular, aluminum basins some might envision when they think of commercial sinks, says Tice. “We’re talking about five commercial sinks with air-gap drains, floor sinks, and the special plumbing and installation. That’s why we have a GoFundMe page. If we raise enough, we might find another solution, because there’s no guarantee that even after we install all of this new hardware, that when our lease is up, they’ll renew it.”
According to John F., original drawings and permits for the club, which he says the landlord would have seen 24 years ago, included a coffee bar.
But that may not be so clear. Also unclear is whether or not Albert Hanna will continue being an easygoing, easy-to-work-with landlord for the club. In fact, based on a brief phone conversation between Hanna and a Reader reporter, the property owner’s view of his clean-and-sober tenants has soured. “Thank you for opening my eyes,” Hanna said. “I thought all this time they were operating legally. Now you’re telling me they were doing something illegal this entire time. Thank you. I will be calling my lawyer.”
Asked if it might have just been better to live with the medical pot dispensary when it was located above the Alano Club, John F. says that although his group complained about it to the Hannas, the club was not responsible for the legal problems that ultimately caused the pot shop to shutter.
“My predecessor told Robert Hanna, ‘Hey, there’s pot smoke and pot buyers, and an improperly operating marijuana operation above us.’”
John says he was surprised to hear how the younger Hanna allegedly replied to the Alano Club boardmember who had complained about the pot shop. “He said, ‘I’ll rent to whoever I want to rent to,’” John says.
Alano Club manager Rodney Morris haggled with a construction-project manager just before our interview at the meeting facility. He pointed out that the parking lot and building façade are currently the site of a major construction job.
“They’re putting a cell-phone tower on the roof now,” he says. “It’s like a war zone out here with the scaffolding and the water these construction guys are using, which is on our meter.”
Morris acknowledges that the building owner has a right to make money from his investment. “Still,” he says, “this mess is... It’s a mess. You know when somebody just wants you gone.”