Lemon Grove Stonewalls MMD Applicants

By Cara Anderson
IG: @carajojo

On the one hand, if you check out the Development Services section of Lemon Grove’s city site, David DeVries is pictured next to the Developmental Services Directors Message, which reads “We want to help you get through the process quickly and easily,” among other positively charged statements about opening a business in Lemon Grove. The message is clear, hopeful, and would convince me that this Development Services Department is honest if I didn’t know better.

On the other hand, Lemon Grove city staff may be intentionally restricting due process for Medical Marijuana Dispensary applicants.

Conditional Use Permits are also needed for businesses like liquor stores, pharmacies, residential developments, and hotels. The only difference between applying for a CUP for a dispensary versus a pharmacy is that dispensaries must pass zoning clearance before submitting a CUP application.

Lemon Grove requires these two things of MMD Conditional Use Permit applicants:
1. Pass zoning clearance.
2. Submit Conditional Use Permit application with $1,500 deposit.

I spoke with Arturo Ortuno, the Assistant Planner of Lemon Grove Development Services Department. I was seeking to clarify the purpose of a CUP deposit.

I asked if taxpayers are expected to cover the cost of investigating a business’ application, to which Arturo Ortuno said: “No, that’s deducted from the deposit that the applicant pays for.”

I asked if the required deposit procedure is different for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, to which Arturo said: “Medical Marijuana Dispensary applications are treated the same way as any other application.”

I asked if deposits are always submitted with Conditional Use Permits, to which Arturo replied “Correct.”

I began to say “If their deposit is not accepted…”

When Mr. Ortuno interjected with “We wouldn’t be able to take it without a deposit. There’s no way we would take it.”

To which I asked, “So, you guys don’t review anything without a deposit?”
His response, “Correct.”

So, the deposit is meant to defer the cost of the work that city staff does upon investigating and reviewing an application. Without these deposits, city staff members who are reviewing said applications would be receiving payment for their work by way of taxpayer dollars.

The Development Services Department of Lemon Grove uses an individual business’ CUP deposit to aid their payroll budget, and thus not waste taxpayer dollars. The time it takes city staff to investigate and review applications is extensive.

Arturo was super helpful in showing me that David De Vries does not appear to be following regulation.

So far, four Medical Marijuana Dispensary locations have been approved for zoning. One of these MMD’s has been given a Conditional Use Permit.

David De Vries has denied Conditional Use Permit deposits from businesses that have already received zoning approval. The other three applicants have been instructed to re-apply for zoning, although they have already been approved for zoning. As these applicants have, in fact, been approved for zoning by Lemon Grove city staff, they should be allowed to submit their Conditional Use Permit Applications.

For some reason, the Development Services Department Director, David De Vries, has refused to accept deposits from the three dispensaries.

De Vries informed one applicant that he would only be able to submit his deposit after city staff has investigated and reviewed the application. Again, without a deposit from a CUP applicant, city staff is reviewing extensive permit applications on the dime of Lemon Grove residents.

Why would Lemon Grove city staff risk going against protocol and potentially wasting taxpayer dollars?

Timing. Both sides are worried about time. Lemon Grove city staff is clawing to buy time, to push the opening dates of dispensaries back as far as they can.

Timing is crucial for the three MMD businesses. Dispensaries that are held up by their local government and not awarded a CUP number before January 1st, 2018 will have to start their CUP application process over by filing it with the State of California. Having to file with the state will prolong the process of opening a dispensary. Dispensaries will not be able to operate until the state issues a permit.

If Lemon Grove were working by the latest master fee schedule, these dispensaries would be eligible prior to January 1, 2018, and would be able to open sooner.

Lemon Grove city staff’s time-buying does not serve the community. The practice of stalling dispensaries only fuels the local black market. Introducing dispensaries to Lemon Grove will provide safe access that is mandated by state law.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries are legitimate businesses that will serve to boost the local economy, provide people with natural, non-addictive medicine, and are projected to lower crime in communities where they open. Dispensary owners should be treated with just as much respect, fairness, and precedence as a Developmental Services Director would give to any other entrepreneur who is obtaining permits to open up shop.

It would be assumed that a public servant would work earnestly to open gates for businesses that will improve their communities and aid residents.

To Lemon Grove City Staff: I urge you to do your jobs appropriately, to stop lying to business owners, to stop bending regulations to impede progress in the city. City Staff employees are public servants. Lemon Grove patients deserve safe access as soon as possible.

I urge you to live up to your Director’s Message, David De Vries!