Sunday, August 4, 2013

Berkeley Gives Pot Club the Boot

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group
This article was first published on June 5, 2013

BERKELEY -- Acting on complaints that customers of a medical marijuana outlet blighted a Dwight Way neighborhood with trash, urine and the smell of weed wafting over children's heads, the City Council voted Tuesday night to declare it a nuisance and shut it down. 

The 8-1 vote came after a hearing in which neighbors of Greenleaf Wellness Group told tales of customers smoking marijuana on sidewalks, leaving trash in the area and urinating outside. 

"What we have here is a medical marijuana dispensary that frankly has been operating like a bar," said neighbor Dan Feinberg. "The neighbors want their neighborhood back, and they don't want people smoking marijuana on the street. I fear the day one of the kids in the neighborhood gets run over by one of their customers." 

The City Council's vote also upheld a finding that Greenleaf is breaking city law by not having the proper zoning designation to run a medical marijuana collective. 

Marijuana collectives in Berkeley can only be operated out of residential buildings, but Greenleaf is designated as a commercial building, city officials said. But it is quality of life the city is most worried about, said Berkeley Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel. 

"Our first priority is to protect the neighborhood," Daniel said. "We received complaints about the strong smell of cannabis, people loitering on sidewalks, people smoking in vehicles, people urinating in broad daylight and people discarding trash from their cars." 

Al Antonini, owner of the property, said the building has been used as a residence for 35 years and therefore it should be allowed to house a medical marijuana collective as called for in city laws. 

"I have a right to rent this as a residence, and that's why I bought it," Antonini said. "Even though I respect the fact that these citizens have some concern over medical marijuana, why did they not report these things to the police department? Not one of these people called saying there are any of these things going on." 

But neighbors testifying Tuesday night said they have repeatedly called police about problems with Greenleaf customers. 

Before Tuesday night's hearing, Antonini said the fight over his property had become a "principle thing" and that if the council voted to shut down the operation, he would try to have the operator stay open while he fights the decision in court. 

Attorney James Anthony, representing Greenleaf director Ruben Salvatierra, who did not testify Tuesday night, said Salvatierra lives in the building and therefore it is a residence where a medical marijuana collective can operate. 

Councilman Jesse Arreguin said he did not buy either the lawyer's or property owner's arguments. 

"This building is not a residential use, and I strongly believe we should declare this a nuisance," Arreguin said. "I am a very strong supporter of safe access to medical cannabis, but this particular operator has not operated out of respect to the neighborhood." 

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at @douglasoakley

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