The city has 40 golden tickets, also known as permits, to hand out to those wanting to cultivate cannabis locally. There are currently 66 applicants vying for those permits. There are no limitations as to how many marijuana production facilities can be in any one district. Kearny Mesa has ten applicants (after three withdrew). Mira Mesa has the most at 22 applicants. Kearny Mesa and Mira Mesa are in councilmember Chris Cate's district. According to the planning group, Cate tried to limit his district to 14 grow facilities but was overruled by his colleagues.
Councilmember David Alvarez has the next biggest pool with 23 applicants in his district. Councilmember Barbara Bry has seven, Scott Sherman has three, and Georgette Gomez has one.
Kearny Mesa's planning group was put on notice in December they would be flooded with applications for grow facilities. So far, it hasn't been smooth sailing for any of the applicants appearing before the group, as the group appears cranky about the whole affair.
One of those applicants owns two parcels on Vickers Street in Kearny Mesa. He is hoping the fourth time, this Wednesday, will be the charm. He said he was bounced from the agenda in January, the board ran out of time to hear him in February, and in March they heard him but didn't vote.
His plans for the parcels on Vickers, he has owned for more than 20 years, is to use one for manufacturing and the other for packaging.
His biggest contention is that it's a simple land-use issue and not one that should be decided based on personal opinions. He told me one board member asked why he didn't "just buy a building in San Ysdiro."
"They are hanging their hat on [a very expensive environmental analysis]. The city doesn't require it, but the planning board wants it."
The Vickers applicant continued, "I'm frustrated. The concerns of the board were more anti-marijuana than land-use related."
The planning group doesn't seem to want to weigh in on any of the project applicants until the city gives their blessing one way or the other. Someone else at the February meeting suggested they might be riding out the clock, knowing there are only 40 permits.
The city wants grow facilities in industrial areas like Kearny Mesa. Some residents aren't happy with the idea and for a minority there seems to be paranoia reminiscent of Reefer Madness.
One concern heard was about odor. The Vickers' applicant said, "There are ways to mitigate the smell with filtering systems that absolutely satisfy the outside odor issue." He has a grow facility up north next door to a hotel. He said his neighbor was concerned about odor until he was able to appease them once they toured his operation.
Some applicants are sharing buildings with non-cannabis tenants. One such tenant at February's meeting said the smell has been an issue, as he does business with government clients at his office. The applicant that shares the building with him stated they were already operating under a state permit and are working on the odor issue.
According to Rebecca Forée from the state's cannabis cultivation licensing, all cannabis licenses, including cannabis cultivation licenses, require local authorization before a state license will be issued.
According to the city, any facilities operating without local authorization are in violation of municipal code. The one exception is a sunset provision for facilities that have business tax certificates and zoning use clearances issued prior to January 31, 2017. In this case, it's possible those locations could be operating while they are pursuing their local permitting approvals.
Another community concern was access to grow facilities. The applicants said grow facilities will have no signage indicating what they are.
The Vickers applicant said marijuana is a $5 billion industry with a lot of ancillary businesses such as engineers that are providing mitigation services and doing green house gas studies. The real estate industry might get a boost too as cannabis tenants will pay higher rents. Not to mention the city will likely get higher property taxes for these types of spaces, he said.
Other concerns voiced at planning meetings were the police department not agreeing to monitor or regulate marijuana production facilities as they do the sale of alcohol. There was concern about federal banking regulations that prohibit having marijuana production facilities as customers. It seems marijuana is still largely a cash business.
The concern about federal law prohibiting the industry loomed large. Now that it was reported last week that President Trump is willing to ease up on cracking down on marijuana facilities, perhaps that won't be as big an issue.
The group's chair, Jeffrey Sallen, told me he didn't "feel comfortable" sharing information after February's meeting. This was in response to my asking to see information from the city and applicants discussed at that meeting.
Sallen works at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm. I found references online to Cushman & Wakefield and the cannabis industry. I asked Sallen via email if this had anything to do with his discomfort in sharing information or to explain the reason.
Sallen responded via email, "You must have your facts wrong. Cushman & Wakefield has a company wide policy to not participate in transactions that relate to the marijuana industry. No further comment."
Though some of his discomfort could be that Kearny Mesa is in the middle of updating their community plan. Perhaps they have their eye to high-tech or other industries moving into the community instead.
According to the city, the conditional use permitting required by grow facilities falls under Process 3, which is decided before a hearing officer (appeals go to the planning commission). This is the same process that child care centers, schools, garden nurseries, and recycling facilities go through. I asked the city to clarify if the process for marijuana facilities has any more hurdles than a recycling facility or child care facility.
The city's rules do not allow facilities within 100 feet of a residential zone and 1000 feet of parks, churches, libraries, schools or any minor-oriented facilities.