Sai Center, Landlords In Legal Tangle – May 30, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Sai Center's evolving door signs. KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – Sai Center cannabis colective operator Steve Gasparas has been successfully sued by his landlords, who gained a judgment against him on April 5 for back rent and attorney’s fees in the amount of $15,253.

The Cook/McDonald building at Ninth and I streets, home of the Sai Center. KLH | Eye

The Sai Center is located in the building at 889 Ninth St. owned by Kenneth Cook and Dennis and Patricia McDonald. They tried to evict Gasparas after receiving a Nov. 23 letter from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. The letter warned of fines, criminal prosection and asset forfeiture for hosting a cannabis shop in proximity to a playground, which Haag believes the Arcata Ball Park is.

The same letter, sent to Danco Group, resulted in the swift eviction and closure of the Humboldt Medical Supply cannabis center on Eighth Street by the Post Office.

But just as he did when the Public Health department tried to shut down his unpermitted Sai Om Shree restaurant in 2007 and later, in defiance of multiple eviction notices at the Sai Center’s old location at 11th and K streets, Gasparas continued to do business at Ninth and I.

On May 11, Gasparas and the landlords’ attorney, Thomas Becker, signed a conditional stay order suspending his eviction until Dec. 1, 2012 pending a judgment on an appeal which Gasparas filed April 25. The stay order specifies that Gasparas can’t use the Ninth Street location for any cannabis prescription, use, production, growing or sale.

The house at Samoa Boulevard and G Street owned by Pat Sarlas, Steven Gasparas' mother. KLH | Eye

Shortly after the stay order went into effect, a hand-lettered sign appeared on the Sai Center’s front door directing customers to a location four blocks away. That’s 389 H St., a residential home located in the Coastal Zone and owned by Gasparas’ mother, Pat Sarlas.

Gasparas was vague about what takes place at the H Street house. “It’s people temporarily working there to share in costs or whatever,” he said. “Patients collectively working together and sharing costs.”

He said the door sign, since replaced by another one which is less specific, was written by “somebody [who] didn’t understand how words work.”

It’s unclear where the Sai Center is now doing its cannabis dispensing, since it is under court order not to do so at the Ninth Street location and can’t do commercial business out of a residential home.

Community Development Director Larry Oetker said that the City would attempt to determine what sort of business Gasparas was conducting at the house. Commercial activity in a residence could trigger a number of building code violations. It could also gain the attention of the Coastal Commission.

Oetker said any cannabis center operation would be illegal, as the City has a moratorium in effect on new cannabis centers opening. “This absolutely would be a violation,” Oetker said.

Dennis McDonald didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

The attempt to evict self-described “pirate” Gasparas represents a quick turnaround in the landlords’ assessment of the Sai Center’s appropriateness. On Oct. 11, 2011, as the Planning Commission was considering its Conditional Use Permit, Ken Cook extolled the cannabis shop in a letter to the City.

Wrote Cook one month before the U.S. Attorney’s fateful letter arrived, “We find the Sai Center to be a thoughtful neighbor and team player for the business district of Arcata!”

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