Pubdate: Thu, 14 May 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


Lawmaking in San Francisco is a time-intensive process - except when 
there's an emergency, like the one Supervisor Katy Tang's office 
dealt with in late April.

Tang - the Board of Supervisor's youngest member, who serves the 
Sunset District where she grew up - introduced new legislation on 
April 21. Usually, new laws go through a 30-day waiting period before 
the next step. But Tang was in a rush. "This is very timely and 
needed in a short period of time," Tang aide Ashley Summers wrote in 
an email that asked for a hearing within a week.

At first the board's nonelected staffers rejected relaxing the rules 
to accommodate such an unorthodox hurry. "[W]e say no to this type of 
request as it is a high risk scenario to get things wrong," explained 
Board Clerk Angela Calvillo, who, after some begging and finessing, 
was convinced to play shepherd. "Honestly you made a special plea for 
this so we will make it happen, and make every effort to get it right 
for you," Calvillo told Tang in an email.

Tang's elected colleagues took care of the rest: Board of Supervisors 
President London Breed waived the 30-day rule, and clerks for the 
board's Land Use Committee calendared the item on May 4. After a 
committee hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes, the item went to 
the full board the very next day, where it was approved by a 9-2 
vote. From bill to law in two weeks - a near-record and a rarity in 
any legislative body.

What was the crisis that precipitated such a flurry of activity? A 
legal medical marijuana dispensary.

For almost six years, a group of Bay Area cannabis entrepreneurs - 
not capitalists or techies, but regular folks over 50: a former 
Sunset District high school teacher, a contractor with a farm in 
Mendocino, and a city native in a wheelchair - have been trying to 
convert an old chiropractor's office on Taraval Street into a 
city-licensed cannabis club. For a short period of time in 2010, Paul 
Hansbury (the contractor) and Greg Schoep (and his wheelchair) had a 
license to do just that.

There's a compelling argument to be made for a Sunset pot club. There 
are none, almost 20 years after California okayed medical marijuana. 
In that time, "clustering" of clubs in other parts of the city has 
been identified as an issue by city planners.

Thus far, the idea has proved vastly unpopular with a vocal group of 
neighbors. But that's not why the club isn't open. Legal weed is 
staying out of the Sunset in large part thanks to a confusing and 
poorly written zoning law, as well as city officials like Tang and 
her predecessor, current Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu, who have 
changed the law or found exceptions to it in order to do so.

After a marathon City Hall hearing in 2010 that lasted until 3 a.m., 
the city's Planning Commission issued the dispensary a permit. There 
was no legal reason to deny it - until city officials found one. 
Buried deep in the city's planning code was a typo. There's a section 
of code that refers to land uses - like preschools - from which pot 
clubs must maintain a safe distance. That same section of code 
references another section - and that section doesn't exist.

There was political pressure from Chu and public pressure from 
neighbors armed with Reefer Madness-era attitudes about marijuana to 
beat back the club. But it was the typo that the city's Board of 
Appeals used to legally revoke the permit - a move that had never 
been done before or since.

Fast forward a few years. Washington and Colorado have legalized 
recreational cannabis. An overwhelming majority of Americans support 
medical marijuana. Chu moves onto higher office, and a former aide 
who worked on the pot club issue - Katy Tang - succeeds her. Since 
Hansbury and Schoep have a long-term lease on the chiropractor's 
office, they decide in 2013 to try again with a Sunset pot club. 
Eighteen months after they file their application, a hearing at 
Planning is scheduled. But one week before the hearing, it's delayed 
indefinitely. Another typo? Close.

In 2012, about six months before leaving office, Chu authored 
legislation making zoning in the Sunset more complicated. To Judah, 
Irving, Taraval and Noriega streets, she added "neighborhood 
commercial districts," zoning areas meant to encourage 
pedestrian-friendly use. Weed clubs are allowed in neighborhood 
commercial districts, via the city's typical planning process (called 
"discretionary review"). That's an easier hurdle than the 
"conditional use" process - which city planners "discovered" the weed 
club needed, one week before its discretionary review hearing.

There's another section of code that requires businesses in 
neighborhood commercial districts to be "active uses" - that is, 
pedestrian-friendly businesses. The Planning Code includes marijuana 
dispensaries on its list of these, but they weren't on that list in 
Chu's 2012 legislation. Hence the tougher hurdle. A citywide change 
to the zoning code, signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee earlier this 
year, makes it clear that pot clubs don't need the tougher approval 
process. But Tang's "emergency legislation" was written to reverse 
that change and apply the tougher conditional use process - just in 
time to make the process tougher for three other cannabis 
dispensaries with permit applications in process.

In comments to SF Weekly, Planning officials admit the code is vague. 
Maybe shoddy lawmaking is to blame. But from a certain perspective, 
the affair reeks of gamesmanship.

"We have been trying very hard to do everything right. They keep 
changing the rules on us - sometimes making them up as they go," said 
Hansbury. "There are some who would argue that there's malicious intent."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom