Sai Center Permit Prospects Die – October 11, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

CITY HALL – The prospects for Steven Gasparas’ gaining a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for his controversial Sai Center cannabis shop sustained three probably fatal blows in recent weeks.

One was self-inflicted, when Gasparas and his parents moved the business into the building at Ninth and I streets the night before it was to be evicted from its old location at 11th and K streets.

Doing so without the required permit was certain not to endear the Sai Center to the Planning Commission, in no small part because the City Council had directed the city attorney to go after Gasparas and his landlords for code violations.

The second setback was the federal government’s newly announced intention to go after communities that license commercial cannabis centers (see page 1), which caused the City Council to suspend issuance of CUPs.

Finally, Community Development staff has recommended to the Planning Commission that it deny the Sai Center a CUP.

States a staff report for the Tuesday, Oct. 11 Planco meeting, “The primary basis for staff’s recommendation for denial is incompatibility of the in-fact operation of the Sai Center with surrounding uses.”

Among the impacts observed in the area of Ninth and I streets and listed in the staff report are “clients loitering, smoking marijuana and public disturbances outside the facility.”

The report also states that Gasparas’ previous testimony to the Planco that his cannabis will be legally grown at a Redding facility appears to be untrue. Gasparas had said Redding Police Chief Peter T. Hansen had verbally assured him that his Redding grow would be routinely permitted. But that city only permits off-site grows for cannabis centers within its own city limits.

Among the attachements included in the Tuesday Planco staff report are the Notice of Violation letter sent to Gasparas as well as property owners Kenneth Cook, Dennis McDonald and Patricia McDonald. It warns that the center at Ninth and I is a public nuisance and that the property owners will be charged for enforcement costs.

Other letters are from citizens and present and former neighbors of the former iCenter at 11th and K streets. The letters object to the Sai center CUP both on the basis of Gasparas’ “unstable” tendencies and citing of general problems with proliferating cannabis centers downtown.

But Gasparas is pushing back. A letter dated Sept. 16 – the same date as the City’s nuisance abatement letter – warns that the City has violated his constitutional rights. It states that Arcata’s cannabis laws violate state and federal law, and calls for creation of “an entirely new business form” that would withstand federal and state scrutiny.

An Oct. 5 letter from Gasparas further questions Arcata’s authority to regulate cannabis dispensaries. “Since your permitting/ordinance for growing, collectives and residential limitations are all in violation of the law, we are unclear where we are in violation,” the letter states.

Gasparas is apparently being represented by Eureka attorney Peter Martin.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Gasparas got into a contretemps with Mayor Susan Ornelas when he tried to speak past the three-minute limit on public comment. Saying he is known as “the pirate guy,” he said he was there to “help educate” the council.

After three minutes of oratory, Ornelas asked him to conclude but he kept talking, his voice rising as he spoke over the mayor. “It’s just a rule it’s not a law,” he said. “I can continue talking.”

After a brief break, City Attorney Nancy Diamond told Gasparas that under state law, the City may set time limits for public testimony.

“Perhaps you can violate my rights more than you already have,” Gasparas said. “If you continue with it, you’re on notice.”

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