Don't get us wrong: As a person, we genuinely like oft-maligned San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius. As a columnist, however, Nevius has a tendency to confound us, as he did Thursday when he held forth on the proliferation of medical cannabis dispensaries -- pot clubs, in Hearst's parlance -- in South of Market.
There's only one glaring factual error in Nevius' column -- he writes that dispensary owners don't undergo criminal background checks, when a quick perusal of the city's Medical Cannabis Dispensary permitting process reveals otherwise. His main contention is that a proliferation of pot clubs will stall or perhaps even subvert the Sixth Street corridor's efforts at gentrification, and new city rules are necessary (what those rules could be he leaves up to speculation).
He uses the example of an optometrist -- who just moved his offices to Sixth Street -- who is furious to hear that a nearby vacant storefront could become a dispensary. That storefront could be next to a future 15-story hotel, the investors of which are incensed at the notion of sharing a wall with marijuana.
"Enough pot clubs," Nevius concludes, without -- we assume -- a shred of irony. "Now we need hotels."
Left unmentioned is the 32 percent hotel vacancy rate as of December 2010. Also left unmentioned is the fact that one of the crown jewels of the San Francisco hotel industry is an across-the-street neighbor to a cannabis dispensary -- and not once has the hotel complained.
Across Howard Street from the posh 32-story, cool blue-glass encased Intercontinental Hotel is the Green Door, which for seven years has occupied the space at 849 Howard St. -- quietly and painlessly. The club has not generated any complaints to the Department of Public Health in recent years, a staffer there said recently.
There is indeed a cluster of dispensaries in South of Market, as Nevius notes. The city's tight zoning restrictions make it thus: In order to operate, a dispensary needs to be 1,000 feet away from a school.
That means that a would-be operator has to find a vacant storefront 1,000 feet away from a school where the landlord is willing to rent to a dispensary, narrowing the field even further. With 97 percent of the city effectively off limits to medical cannabis, it's no wonder that the former Skid Row would have the highest concentration of vacant buildings with landlords eager to rent.
Representatives from the both Green Door and from the Intercontinental were asked to expound upon the relationship between the two, yet they did not immediately return calls from SF Weekly. However, a trusted source told us that the owner of the Green Door is on a first-name basis with the staff at the Intercontinental's ritzy Luce Restaurant, which should tell you something.
In the long run, empty hotels are probably better economic drivers than empty buildings. But is an empty building better than one that's occupied by a cannabis dispensary? That's not for us to decide, but if that's the Chronicle's conclusion, we want to check their arithmetic.