Chico City Council grants one cannabis dispensary appeal, denies three


The Chico City Council building. Photo taken by Ava Norgrove on Sep. 18

The Chico City Council met on Nov. 2 to discuss a controversial topic within the community: cannabis dispensaries. 

Four cannabis dispensary businesses: Ashe Chico LLC, Authentic Chico LLC, Grupo Flor and Velvet Chico were present that evening to appeal denials of their applications to open storefronts. Only Velvet Chico’s application was approved, the three other dispensaries denied.

“Before we start, please refrain from any applause or booing,” Mayor Andrew Coolidge asked the gathered crowd. “If you have a sign, please stand at the back of the hall.”

City Attorney Vincent Ewing spoke to the City Council to provide context and important information found by staff before each appealent.

Ewing said each case presented that night was too close to “Sensitive Use” locations. These businesses are defined as such because they primarily cater to children as a “Youth Center.”

All four applicants had been denied because they were determined to be less than 600 feet from “sensitive use” locations.

First to make their appeal was Ashe Chico, represented for by their attorney Tin Westen. The proposed storefront for Ashe Chico was found to be within 300 feet of Chico Creek Dance Centre, determined by staff as a “Sensitive Use” location because minors attend.

Westen argued her client hired City Radius Maps to make sure the proposed storefront was zoned accurately. The company contacted city staff and was assured the dance studio did not count as a “Sensitive Use” location because it served adults and minors.

Westen then argued that the city’s code defines a youth center very narrowly as only catering to youths. She said it’s nearly impossible to find anywhere to set up a dispensary if the council’s current interpretation of the code continued.

City staff said they had not heard of or spoken to City Radius Maps before the council meeting and told the council that they could not give a concrete answer to Westin’s claims. 

Staff told the council that applicants cannot rely on bringing a location to staff for approval before submitting an application. An applicant may go to staff and ask if a property is in a correct zoning area before submitting their application. However, determining “Sensitive Use” must happen after an application has been submitted. 

“A determination will be made about this site and this location and for this use based on the time you make your application,” Staff told the council. “It’s fluid, and that’s why things are always a draft right up until the last moment.”

The council unanimously denied Ashe Chico’s appeal and its request to choose a new location.

The next appellant to speak before the council was Authentic Chico.

Authentic’s  proposed location was deemed too close to Apollo School of Music. Authentic’s applicant, Susan Hern, said the music school has been designated BU, an educational occupancy status for students above the 12th grade. Hern said the public record shows that Apollo does not have an EU, which allows for educational occupancy of minors.

Hern also called for the council to reconsider the denied application because the Apollo School of Music offers one-on-one lessons to people of all ages, not just minors.

The council vote was a tie, sothe appeal was denied.

Next on the floor was Grupo Flor, a dispensary that’s proposed location was too close to FunLand/Cal Skate. Darren Dykstra presented his case to the council differently.

Dykstra cited his long history working in cannabis dispensing and his other five successful dispensaries. He also mentioned his history of community outreach and donations to education for the prevention of cannabis use for youths.

He spoke about the preparations the business did in finding a good location in Chico. They reached out to more than 30 nearby neighbors to address their concerns and offer information about Grupo Flor.

Cal Skate was closed indefinitely due to COVID conditions at the time Dykstra applied, and he said he had been unable to contact the business for confirmation. He pleaded with the council to allow for a location change.

Mary Sakum, superintendent of Butte County Office of Education, warned the council that Grupo Flor’s proposed location was not only near Cal Skate, but within 200 feet of a branch of the Butte County Office of Education, which offers a variety of student services.

She said the office’s motto is: Where students come first. She asked the council to think about this and to put students first in their decision.

Local business owner Ginger Thomas spoke about the miscommunications between the applicants and the city of Chico. She called for businesses that are defined as, “Sensitive Use” to be zoned as such.

“The sides aren’t seeing eye to eye,” Thomas said. “This isn’t working.”

Jessica Giannola, a Chico resident, told the council that the appellant businesses were just trying to make a living. 

“They were denied because definitions continued to change due to personal or political feelings,” Giannola said. “The failure falls on the city for not offering a clear definition.”

She asked the council to give the businesses another shot.

“People exist everywhere,” Giannola  said. “Give them another chance. These are our people.”

The council unanimously denied the appeal.

Velvet Chico faced the same issue of proximity as the other three applicants because of its proposed proximity to Step-by-Step Childcare of Chico.

Velvet Chico argued the daycare received its provisional daycare license after Velvet Chico submitted a retail cannabis application, but the city staff determined that the daycare was in existence before the dispensary.

Jason Monelli, general counsel to Velvet Chico, brought up another important point. Step-by-Step Daycare does not qualify as a “Daycare Center” within the state or municipal codes definition.

The business had a “Family Daycare Home” permit and both city and state municipal code and health and safety codes exclude a “Family Daycare Home” from the definition of a “Daycare Center.”

He argued that the proposed dispensary was also near a Starbucks, Big Al’s Drive-In, and the Matador Hotel, all of which were equally likely to have four to eight children that the daycare may house at any given time.

“Given that idea,” Monelli said, “the exclusion of a ‘Family Daycare Home’ from a ‘Daycare Center’ seems perfectly reasonable.”

Councilwoman Alex Brown said the proposed dispensary was 20 feet too close from the required distance of 600 feet from a “sensitive use” location.

The council voted 5-1 to approve Velvet Chico’s appeal without discussion after Councilwoman Brown’s comment.

Velvet Chico will now move forward with the application process.

Ava Norgrove can be reached at [email protected]