Planco Considering Sai Center Use Permit – 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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  1. Mark Sailors said:

    First, it would only be a lie if I knew it to be untrue. This was the common rumor as to why he was able to buy from Arcata patients. If that’s not the case then my mistake.
    Any explanation on how the sai center was able to legally buy from Arcata patients?
    Now I am curious.

  2. me again said:

    I Googled ‘circus’ and got a bunch of Arcata websites. Next search: Pandora’s Box, the fable, not the porn. Maybe then I’ll try to find the origin of that proverb: Be careful what you wish for. Medical Marijuana? “Who ya jivin’ with that cosmic debris?”

  3. mike said:

    mark. first off where do you get your info? the icenter is no longer operating in redding and hasnt been since 2010. so saying they are taking weed to and from is a lie. you should atleast get legitimate information if you are going to argue..

    source;me former manager of the i/sai center.. and me and steve are not on speaking terms. but for you to lie so blatantly well thats not right.

  4. kevpod said:

    That dust-up was a he-said she-said thing of little relevance. The concerns expressed in the citizens’ letters to the Planco, and the SaiCenter’s conformance with the LUC guidelines are all that the commissioners can really consider. They have to make relevant findings and then act on them.

  5. Ian Ray said:

    I watched this meeting. It was interesting… for an Arcata meeting. The speaker who brought up his lawsuit mentioned a review site. I googled this site and the complaints there are not overwhelming. The speaking style of the individual involved in the lawsuit was remarkably similar to the style of several of the negative reviews which raises my skepticism meter.

    Kevin, there must be more to this issue. I hope you will be able to flesh out the facts of story for us.

  6. Mark Sailors said:

    Not to mention they are volunteers…Its the quasi-judicial nature of the plan co that bug me about it in the first place… but that’s a different issue all together.

  7. kevpod said:

    Of course there is a non-police means of complaining, and that’s exactly what Conditional Use Permits are for. Since it’s a land use issue, you can point out CUP violations to Community Development. They, in turn, can and have brought revocation proceedings to the Planning Commission.

    If a business doesn’t met the criteria for a CUP as delineated in the Land Use Code, it doesn’t get a CUP in the first place. That is what the process that the dispensaries are currently going through is all about.

    Don’t forget that Planning Commissions are quasi-judicial bodies, empowered to adjudicate whether or not businesses and their practices are appropriate for a given location.

  8. Mark Sailors said:

    Like I pointed out, there is actually no place to make a formal complaint about ANY of the local clinics, unless you somehow want to involve the police.

  9. kevpod said:

    I don’t think the issue is Gasparas’ personality as much as the impacts of his behavior that have drawn criticism. As fate would have it, the Land Use Code is all about managing impacts.

    What makes the CUP a temporary permit?

  10. Ian Ray said:

    It seems that the issue here is people’s dislike of the owner of this establishment. Have there been any formal complaints or lawsuits?

    As Mark pointed out, these land use codes also appear to never have been legally challenged. I am curious if the city wants to go down that road over a request for a temporary permit.

  11. Mark Sailors said:

    Wouldn’t the final decision rest with the city council?

  12. kevpod said:

    Another thing is that Cypress Grove has always been regarded in a positive light, until, through the magic of situational ethics, some of the neighbors made it out to be an earth-killing corporate death machine.

    In contrast, the CUP applicant here has a long list of folks who have been unhappy with him for a wide variety of reasons, going way back.

    As to how material or relevant those issues may be, it’s up to the Planning Commissioners.

  13. Mark Sailors said:

    I have never heard that Cypress grove ripped off vendors, can the same be said for the business in question?

  14. kevpod said:

    From what I gather, the proprietor is largely unloved by his neighbors following repeated negative interactions, some involving police intervention.

    Unlike the Cypress Grove situation, in this case there are substantive issues regarding Land Use Code compliance for the commissioners to adjudicate.

  15. Ian Ray said:

    Do the objections in this case have any merit or is this another case of people exploiting any vulnerability to challenge something they don’t like? I may be biased by recent public objections to business expansion which had a similar tone.

  16. Mark Sailors said:

    So, my point is, this gentle fellow was ripped of, but a person that wants to “stay legal” can not legally GIVE him any medicine if they do not live with him. Not that any cops in Arcata would bust you for giving a bud of cannabis to someone for free, but there are those that wouldn’t offer BECAUSE it is illegal to do so.

    I am also 100% sure that you are getting non stop phone calls about how someone does business…I have heard story after story. I even had someone ask me on my blog if there was a regulatory agency they could contact about bad business practices at a certain clinic…

    Lets make sure those issues are brought before the people in power to make the decision.

    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”,then they would be they PERFECT people to target with an enforcement action, wouldn’t you say? And I can’t think of a single person of hand that would shed a single tear.

  17. kevpod said:

    I’m getting a lot of calls and e-mails about this issue offering background and opinion. So far everyone who has contacted me feels one way about it.

  18. Ian Ray said:

    A cannabis collective next door to a glass pipe shop and across the street from a natural food store… How do they expect to get any foot traffic?

  19. Mark Sailors said:

    I don’t think anyone can argue that there have been mean, disrespectful people on BOTH side of this since day one.

  20. Mark Sailors said:

    Probably not.
    But, didn’t we just have a suicide attempt related to someone not able to obtain cannabis, even though they are terminally ill?

  21. kevpod said:

    Again, is there someone in Arcata who cannot obtain cannabis for any reason, from multiple sources?

  22. Mark Sailors said:

    That’s not the point. The point is the law, is the law. I for one am sick of patients being treated like recreational users. If you are a recreational user that obtained a 215 just to get high, that in and of itself is a crime. The rules in place right now for MEDICAL MARIJUANA PATIENTS would work well for recreational users, but as it stands it is illegal, and unconstitutional to limit someones access to medical cannabis arbitrarily.
    The “land use” angle has gotten plenty of traction in the last few years and the cases are just now coming to court. To me it is the “Jim Crow” of medical cannabis law. The appellate court in Qualified Patients V Anehiem was just kicked back to the trial court with new instructions on how the law is to be interpreted.

    Now as to if the Sai center should be allowed to move to the location across the street from Ace and the Co-op is a completely different monkey.

  23. kevpod said:

    Yes, because the City has made it virtually impossible to obtain cannabis in Arcata.

  24. Mark Sailors said:

    We will have to agree to disagree on this one, as I feel the cities ordinance if almost 100% illegal as it applies to patients and patient gardens.

  25. Mark Sailors said:

    They buy medical cannabis from patients here, and sell it in Redding, because they can not sell what they buy here legally in Arcata. They take what they buy from the patients in Redding and sell it here.

    “Right. Any attempt to bring order to this multimillion dollar industry is unconstitutional, the people involved in it are all sweethearts and anyone bullied by them deserves it.”

    Ok, prop 215 amended the constitution of California. Any ordinance that limits our rights under prop 215 is in fact unconstitutional. Not everyone in ANY industry is a sweetheart, but you can not argue that the “nip it in the bud” crowd were rude and dismissive with patients.

    We, the patients, are the ones that are being bullied here, no one else.

  26. kevpod said:

    I haven’t expressed any opinion on Gasparas or the Sai Center. When I do, you’ll know it.

  27. over it said:

    Allow this guy to move downtown? He has been trouble all along! Let me say I am very far from the naysayers and “Nip It” crowd. I donated time to help in the passage of Prop. 215 and stand firmly behind seriously ill people having access to marijuana for relief. But what this has become is far from that! Can we all stop pretending, please!
    I am not happy to find myself agreeing with Kevin Hoover. But this is ridiculous. Bringing in weed from Redding?! To sell next to the Co-op?! And c’mon we all know it really only takes an appointment and $150 to get a “medical” recommendation. I actually love weed but we need to stop pretending it’s all medical all the time. It’s not. And we really don’t need to allow this guy to roll over everybody and sell his bags downtown. I’m surprised he was allowed a shop in the first place.

  28. kevpod said:

    Right. Any attempt to bring order to this multimillion dollar industry is unconstitutional, the people involved in it are all sweethearts and anyone bullied by them deserves it.

  29. Mark Sailors said:

    Not that we should or shouldn’t allow the move, but we have GOT to stop bowing to the vocal protests of a significantly small minority of people that hate prop 215, cannabis, and anyone that uses it as a medicine. Would we tolerate a “nip it in the bud” campaign against diabetics? If a small group of people were raging about the “diabetic” problem we would all be ashamed for trying to push those “dirty diabetics” out of our town.

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

    I would have to second that opinion.

    “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.”

    The local ordinance has not been challenged in court, yet. You can bet all of your money that the offending arts of our local ordinance ( 50sq ft, only residents may participate in gardens, no helping other patients with gardens etc.) will be tossed out as soon as someone takes the issue to court.

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