Lemon Grove City Staff

By Janis Collins

The Development Services Director of Lemon Grove, David DeVries decides on behalf of Lemon Grove residents what properties may have a legal medical marijuana dispensary permit. This is keeping Lemon Grove residents from the benefits of access to local medical cannabis because the council is systematically rejecting zoning by claiming church properties as schools. The two churches involved are St. John of the Cross and Trinity Christian Fellowship, which is part of FourSquare Ministry. However, the board of education has neither of the church addresses listed as a school.

The website for each church, Saint John of the Cross (www.stjohncross.org) as well as Trinity Christian Fellowship (www.foursquare.org), both list addresses for schools. One location is in Lemon Grove, the other in Escondido; and both of them are outside the 1,000 foot protected use barrier. The city of Lemon Grove alleges that for these churches that have schools present, dispensaries are putting the students in attendance at risk. The claims are costing the city money in a time when the city can not afford to waste money.

On July 10, City Manager Lydia Romero was quoted by the Union Tribune as saying that Lemon Grove is on a “very lean budget.” She stated “Over the next year, staff will be exploring new revenue options for the City Council and the community to consider. I put that out there to make people aware that our budget is super tight, and we really need to, as a community, look at revenue sources.”

Romero said she didn’t have an exact plan for those options, but she didn’t want people to be caught by surprise. The real surprise is that while the city is spending taxpayer money on attorneys and staff time dealing with this issue, they could be receiving tax money from the very dispensaries that they are butting heads with.

On a side note, David DeVries makes anywhere from $99,708-$121,209 a year. Lydia Romero, City Manager, is the highest paid Lemon Grove city staff member, raking in roughly $175,000 a year. Romero and DeVries are the top guns of Lemon Grove; they’re responsible for managing the city’s budget and resources. Yet, they are flagrantly wasting Lemon Grove taxpayer dollars on legal fees; all to edge out legitimate businesses.

It’s unfortunate that the city is squandering money and valuable time on city attorneys and city staff to fight these claims. The applicant for both properties, who would like to remain anonymous, proposed a dispensary at each location and is not prepared to back down to the city staff’s unlawful denials of zoning clearance. The city staff members’ negligence, paired with the applicant’s persistence, will cost the city of Lemon Grove more money in legal fees.

Furthermore, for a private school to legally be a school, it must be inspected for school use by the Fire Marshall, or a representative of the Fire Department. According to Cal. Health & Safety code 13146.3, “the chief of any city or county fire department or district providing fire protection services and his or her authorized representatives shall inspect every building used as a public or private school within his or her jurisdiction at least once each year.”

Neither of the “school buildings” in question has been inspected as schools by the Fire Department. The city staff made their decision to deny appeals not based on legal proof of whether the schools were truly what the churches claimed. Rather, the city staff denied the appeals based on the good word of the church.

Even further, every private school must submit an affidavit to California Department of Education that states all of the addresses that their school uses. Under penalty of perjury, the administrator of St. John of the Cross filed the school’s address as 8175 Lemon Grove Way. The administrator filed no other addresses. Trinity Christian Fellowship’s alleged school has not even filed the required affidavit with the California Department of Education.

If a building is not cleared with the Fire Department as a school, and it does not have an affidavit filed with the California Department of Education, it is not legally a school building.

According to the guidelines set by both the California Department of Education and the California State Fire Marshall, neither one of the buildings in question is a school.