Despite Adelanto Debacle, Solons In Hesperia Expand Pot Delivery Warehouse Zoning

Undeterred by the unfortunate experience of their counterparts in not-so-distant Adelanto, members of the Hesperia City Council last week voted to enlarge the area within the Hesperia City Limits where marijuana delivery enterprises permitted under a previous ordinance can locate.
In September, the Hesperia City Council made an effort to define the parameters under which marijuana use and availability will play out in the city of 94,000. The council approved an ordinance which banned storefront retail sales and the outdoor growing of marijuana, but codified a process by which adults could grow the plant for their own use and companies could set up delivery enterprises in the city. The ordinance specifies that six plants each adult is permitted to foster under state law can be grown indoors if such growers register the address of where the cultivation is taking place and renew that registration annually, with the proviso that the horticulture confines itself to a locked and secured room or outbuilding. The ordinance further allows distribution warehouses for delivery services to be located in Hesperia if they are situated within the city’s general industrial zone.
At its November 21 meeting, the city council voted 4-1, with councilman Larry Bird dissenting, to revamp the area earmarked for cannabis delivery service businesses through the stratagem of expanding that portion of the Commercial Industrial Business Park zone in which cannabis-related businesses can set up shop.
The previously defined portion of the Commercial Industrial Business Park district in which cannabis-delivery operations were permitted was bordered by Juniper and Smoke Tree streets and Santa Fe Avenue East and I Avenue. The expansion approved last week added selected parcels along I Avenue between Juniper and Lemon streets.
The addition of the specific properties struck some as curious and others as suspicious. The circumstance echoed that of Adelanto, which is located some seventeen miles from Hesperia. For years, even as Adelanto was gripped by severe economic challenges, city officials were adamantly opposed to allowing medical marijuana-related businesses to locate there, despite overtures from would-be entrepreneurs suggesting that the city could exploit the situation to generate considerable tax revenue. Among the most strident opponents of utilizing cannabis sales as a fix, even after the city declared it was in a state of financial crisis preparatory to a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing in June 2013, was councilman Jermaine Wright. Like several of his council colleagues, Wright enunciated the belief that whatever tax income might be realized by the retailing of marijuana in the city would be more than offset by the social detriment use of the drug by city residents would create, not to mention the harm that would be done to the city’s reputation if it were to become celebrated as the locus of marijuana clinics.
In late 2015, however, the Adelanto City Council relented, agreeing to allow industrial scale marijuana cultivation facilities to operate out of Adelanto’s industrial parks. That was followed by a move, late last year and this year to prepare the way to permit cannabis dispensaries to operate in the city as well. Adlelanto’s rapid turnaround with regard to tolerating marijuana availability within the city raised eyebrows and garnered the attention of the FBI, DEA, Securities & Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Within the suddenly wide-open atmosphere of Adelanto, city officials courted further controversy and suspicion when several of them began building close relationships with applicants for marijuana-related operational permits. Wright was arrested Tuesday November 7 by FBI special agents after he was named in a criminal complaint filed on November 6 charging him with bribery related to allegations that he was willing to take money in exchange for his help in securing an “exemption” that would allow an undercover FBI agent representing himself as a would-be marijuana entrepreneur operate a marijuana transportation business outside of the precise zone that Adelanto had specified for such concerns and that Wright would use his authority as an elected official to see that the operation was not molested by Adelanto code enforcement officers.
Language in the documents supporting the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s criminal filing against Wright suggested that at least one other Adelanto official was likewise suspected of being on the take in a way that was involved with the city’s marijuana permitting processes. In particular, it appears federal investigators have interested themselves in the way in which one of Wright’s council colleagues. John “Bug” Woodard, a real estate agent, has traded on his status as an ultimate arbiter of zoning, land use and permitting processes in Adelanto to engage himself, as a broker, in sales of property within Adelanto to those with designs of using the property for marijuana-related businesses. To date, Woodard has not been arrested or charged with any crime relating to the potential mixing of his professional and his public activity as an elected official.
Meanwhile, in Hesperia, speculation is rampant that those benefiting by the city council’s action last week in expanding the area in which marijuana deliver-related businesses can locate have ties of some sort to one or more members of the council.
The action taken last week does not alter the conditions under which those businesses are to function. As before, the ordinance prohibits any “medically related” activity at the business locations other than that to facilitate the delivery of the product to medical patients, whose prescriptions must be verified by a doctor in order for those deliveries to be made. All activity relating to the warehousing, processing, packaging or storing of the product must be carried out indoors and the receiving and loading of the product must take place behind rather than in front of the building. There can be no displaying of the merchandise inside the delivery warehouses, and no sales can take place on the premises.
The delivery businesses cannot be located any closer than 600 feet from residences, residentially or agriculturally zone property, churches, schools, parks, playgrounds, day care center or other locations where children are regularly present. And the 600 foot buffer must further be observed with regard to any other “adult” businesses, stores selling alcohol, smoke shops, hookah lounges, massage facilities or residential care units.
The warehouses from which the deliveries originate must incorporate ventilation systems to keep the odor of marijuana from reaching adjoining properties. The building in which the warehouse is located is to have no signage relating to marijuana. The warehouses must be outfitted with security cameras and an alarm system. The deliveries are to be made to residential addresses. While one section of the ordinance says the delivery vehicles are to be unmarked, another says the vehicles may include a business name, address and phone number, but are not to bear logos. Customers of the businesses are obliged to order the product over the phone or by the internet for delivery to take place, which can only occur during daylight hours. The deliveries are to take place at homes. There is a provision that there can be no exchanges of goods on the sidewalk or in the public way.
At present, there is no indication that the Hesperia is inching toward reneging on its ban of dispensaries. Nevertheless, the council’s decision to expand the operating zone of the potentially lucrative cannabis delivery businesses in Hesperia to circumscribed properties along I Avenue could be a boon to landowners there. And that alone has provided federal investigators with a starting point for an investigation into whether there is any untoward collusion between Hesperia’s elected decision makers and those who stand to benefit by the decisions made.
-Mark Gutglueck

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