The Martinez City Council on Wednesday night approved permits for the city's second cannabis dispensary, despite objections from local school administrators and almost two dozen other people that it would be too close to Alhambra High School.
At this sometimes-testy meeting, council members said they were conflicted about the would-be location of Embarc, 2-1/2 blocks from the high school on busy Alhambra Avenue. None said in the 3-0 vote, with one abstention, that the location was ideal, but they said the dispensary's operators, the family of retired Congressman George Miller, not only met all the requirements and more for approval, but that the longtime Martinez family is staking its legacy on its operation.
Councilman Mark Ross said it's better to have a great operator closer to the school than a "so-so" operator further from the campus.
"I trust the family, and the (city) staff trusted them, as well," said Ross, who along with Lara DeLaney and Debbie McKillop voted in favor of the certificate for Embarc. Councilwoman Noralea Gipner abstained, backing off of a Nov. 20, 2019 "yes" vote, saying she supported the Millers but not the shop's location. Mayor Rob Schroder was absent from Wednesday's meeting.
Wednesday's vote was made over the strenuous objections of Martinez schools Superintendent CJ Cammack and two school board trustees who had contended they were not given sufficient notice ahead of planning for, and voting on, the Embarc dispensary. Cammack told the council he was "begging" them to find a different location for the cannabis shop.
"Retail cannabis doesn't have to infringe on the school district," Cammack told the council. "If you can't do that tonight, don't vote 'yes' until you can."
On Nov. 20, the City Council selected Embarc, one of four finalists seeking the "conditional certificate" needed to operate. That came after Cammack said district officials had received "zero communication at any time in this process" in developing a proposal for a retail cannabis business 2-1/2 blocks from the high school.
Public comments at that Nov. 20 meeting were largely split between critics of the dispensary's location and supporters who would rather buy cannabis locally than travel to Oakland, Vallejo or elsewhere to buy. Not so on Wednesday, when 19 of 24 speakers came out against the Embarc proposal, all but one citing its location as the problem.
"If you don't want the wood to burn, don't put it next to the fire," said Martinez parent Rene Giron Jr. "Just because you can (approve), doesn't mean you should."
According to a city staff report, Martinez officials including police Chief Manjit Sappal met with Cammack and prospective dispensary operator George Miller IV (the son of the former Congressman George Miller) on Dec. 4 to discuss the situation. Embarc officials offered several new measures to address many of the school district's concerns, including an additional representative on a Community Advisory Board dealing with dispensary-related issues.
Those measures weren't enough for the school district to give its blessing. Earlier Wednesday, the school district released a statement opposing Embarc's location.
"Although students won't directly access the products of the dispensary due to strict industry regulations, there are concerns about having any business on a shared property border that requires extensive security provisions and multiple security guards," Cammack said in the statement.
The dispensary's proposed location shares a property line with the school district's Adult School campus, another sore point with district officials.
Cammack's statement continued, "The school district will consider any and all remedies available to carry out the obligations owed to the students and citizens of our community and to protect all rights and uses of school district property."
George Miller IV, son of the former Congressman, told Wednesday's crowd his firm probably can't make everyone happy, but that it will strive to be a good neighbor. "Hopefully, a year from now, you'll feel better about the choices the (city) staff made," he said.
Added Lauren Carpenter, Embarc's head of strategy, "They understand the family legacy can be gone in a day."
That didn't impress an angry John Fuller, a school board member.
"The Miller family ... their reputation is tarnished."
Patrick Tuck, an attorney for the school district, was there Wednesday night, too. "The next step will be to talk with the school district officials," Tuck said after the meeting. "Obviously, they're not happy with the decision."