Planco Considering Sai Center Use Permit – August 21, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – The Planning Commission last week took testimony on a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) from the Sai Center, one of Arcata’s four medical cannabis dispensaries. The Sai Center, operated by Stephen Gasparas, needs a CUP in order to transfer to a new location at 889 Ninth St. from its present location at 11th and K streets, where its lease expires at the end of the month.

Under Land Use Code standards adopted in December, 2008, all of Arcata’s cannabis centers must obtain CUPs. Doing so requires that each dispensary create a detailed operations manual describing many facets of the business’s operations, including security, employee and patient screening, inventory control, cannabis sourcing and distribution, waste management and more. It has been an open question as to whether some of the centers are capable of generating such a document.

Humboldt Medical Supply (HMS) was the first to be granted a CUP, as its former director, the late Eric Heimstadt, had set HMS up with thorough documentation before he passed away. Humboldt Patient Resource Center (HPRC) has two CUPs pending, one for its Sixth Street center and another for a cultivation facility in Aldergrove Industrial Park.

HPRC, which has already had two Planco hearings for its CUPs, was to have completed its process first. But the Arcata SaiCenter, formerly known as the iCenter, was given priority because of its imminent lease expiration.

The SaiCenter is something of an outlier among Arcata cannabis centers, with Gasparas gaining a reputation as a bit of a rogue, if not a loose cannon. He does not return news media phone calls and refuses interviews.

Gasparas has had hostile relationships with neighboring K Street merchants and former employees. In 2007, he continued to operate an unlicensed Indian restaurant called Sai Om Shree after shutdown orders from the county’s Environmental Health department.

The Health Dept. was concerned because the restaurant’s cuisine was prepared in Eureka and driven to Arcata, stored and served under questionable sanitary conditions.

Gasparas’s attorney, M.C. Bruce, contended that the violations weren’t valid because, despite multiple citations having been served by police and Health Dept. officials, Gasparas didn’t believe he had been operating illegally.

But a jury found that Gasparas had been illegally operating a restaurant and found him guilty on three misdemeanor counts of operating a business without a health permit. Judge W. Bruce Watson fined Gasparas $680 for each of the three counts plus 300 hours community service and three years probation.

Merchants in the area of the new Ninth Street location, which Gasparas has been renting at a coast of $4,200 per month since 2008, have registered alarm at the prospect of  his setting up shop downtown. Concern centers on his reputation for not playing well with others, but also includes specific issues relating to the Land Use Code:

• The new location at Ninth and I’s close proximity to the Plaza, which is 260 feet away. The Land Use Code requires a 500-foot buffer.

• The 230 foot proximity to HMS, far less than the 500 feet buffer required by the LUC.

• The 160-foot proximity to residential zoning, with 300 feet required by the LUC.

The proximity issues are “special considerations,” which can be waived.

Other problems include sourcing, as Gasparas admits purchasing pot from patients. During the 2008 LUC hearings on medical cannabis, Gasparas lobbied strenuously against a provision disallowing dispensaries to purchase from illegal grow houses.

The Ninth Street property is owned by Dennis and Patricia McDonald and Kenneth B. Cook.

The SaiCenter’s CUP application indicates that cannabis will be imported from Redding, but the circumstances of that source are unnclear.

At last week’s Planco meeting, Gasparas offered an overview of his business and its operations. Subsequent testimony from several citizens was severely disapproving.

Paul Hooker questioned the proposed location’s proximity to the Plaza, and alleged that some Plaza dope dealers obtain cannabis at the iCenter. “Is this what we really want for downtown?” he asked. Hooker also said that he has been threatened by pot dealers.

Robin Hashem, former “Nip It In The Bud” participant, alluded to the proximity issues, noting that the special considerations were hammered out after exhaustive public hearings and should be observed. She called for the Planco to deny the CUP app.

Gasparas responded by saying that those who are threatened often bring it on themselves “because they’re just not very nice people in general.”

He denied contributing to Plaza problems. “We’ve had zero law enforcement talk to us about any of our business,” Gasparas asserted.

Speaking on background, a City official expressed concern that even if denied the CUP, Gasparas might move in to the Ninth Street location at night and reopen the cannabis business there, defying shutdown orders as he did with Sai Om Shree.

The Planning Commission received the testimony and continued the hearing to August 23. The staff report for Tuesday’s meeting includes several letters from citizens opposing approval of the SaiCenter’s CUP, and one from Gasparas blaming the City for delays and complications.

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