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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mysterious Phone Call, the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius Works to Derail SOMA Pot Club

Posted By on Thu, May 12, 2011 at 7:50 AM

click to enlarge Do they hate pot?
  • Do they hate pot?
Not just anyone can open up a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco. Aside from the $8,500 dispensary permit fee and consultant, lawyer, and contractor costs, someone has to pay the rent while the dispensary waits to get its permit -- and that could take a year.

"You can be sure that anyone trying to open up a pot club in this town has got some serious money behind them," a dispensary owner told SF Weekly recently.

In that case, one more month might not seem like a big deal for those of us watching the Grass Roots Cannabis collective's saga.

Grass Roots Cannabis, successful for five years in its location on Post Street near Polk Street, applied some time ago to move onto a space on Mission Street near Sixth Street. Parking and floor space were more plentiful there, and the Post Street lease was up in January (to give you an idea of when it wanted to move).

All seemed fine as of its April 28 hearing at the Planning Commission -- some 400 letters came in supporting the move, including some from neighborhood groups, so planning staffer recommended approval.

Then something funny happened.

Planning staffers received a "mysterious phone call" from an anonymous tipster who warned of youth facilities near the proposed club. If that were true, it would kibosh the whole project.

Two out-of-town developers who are planning to build a hotel on Sixth Street have opposed the dispensary's move all along, saying a pot club would derail their project. Quoting the Chron's C.W. Nevius' warning of "oversaturation" of pot clubs in SOMA, Commissioner Kathrin Moore pushed to delay the club's move for another month, which was approved by her fellow commissioners.

"The hearing was very disappointing," Clayton Kopp, director of Grass Roots Cannabis, said in an e-mail. (Kopp is not related to former supervisor Quentin Kopp.) "There is not opposition from a single community group."

What was most maddening to Kopp was the anonymous phone call. Neither planning nor Grass Roots were able to find any youth-serving facilities, according to testimony at the hearing.

So who would place such a call?

Certainly the project opponents, the hoteliers, would have the most to gain, according to their own testimony. Grass Roots would "negatively impact our project, and the revitalization of the area," according to Jay Singh, who identified himself as representing the group of hoteliers who wish to convert 942 Mission St. into a 15-story, 172-room hotel. Allowing Grass Roots to move next door would threaten the hotel's funding, Singh told the Planning Commission.

Left unsaid, of course, is how a family-oriented hotel would fare near the seedy Sixth Street neighborhood (one without a detox center, that is). Not left unsaid is how pot clubs have a history of cleaning up neighborhoods -- both planning staff and a host of neighbors from SOMA have said this very fact. Still, Singh's concerns won over the Planning Commission, and now Grass Roots will have to pay one more month's worth of rent on the 952 Mission building without even knowing if they will ever be allowed to do business there.

The Singhs have not yet found financing to build their hotel -- and that really sticks in Kopp's craw.

"These guys made a bad bet and are trying to salvage their bet at the expense of the neighborhood," he wrote via his attorney. "There is no way they are going to get financing to build a hotel at that location in this economic climate, NO WAY!"

But, what they can do is prevent a pot club from opening up -- with a newspaper article, a phantom youth facility, and maybe with a phone call, assuming they made it. 

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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