News Alert: Needles, CA: Needles Planning Commission passes majority vote approving a Conditional Use Permit for a proposed retail cannabis business despite objections from Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.

By: Zachary Lopez (ZachNews):

Source: Cindy Semione, Secretary to the Board with the City of Needles (Information):

Needles, California: Members of the Needles Planning Commission passed a majority vote on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021 approving a Conditional Use Permit for a proposed retail cannabis business despite objections from the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.

The vote occurred during the Needles Planning Commission Meeting which the live broadcast can be viewed at ZachNews on Facebook

In the PowerPoint Presentation presented to members of the Needles Planning Commission, Needles City Director of Development Services Patrick Martinez explained that the project site, the Conditional Use Permit, the Facts Findings results and what is the recommendation.

According to the Staff Report from the City of Needles, Applicant, Matt Kaplan, representative for “IIP CA 4 LP” is proposing a Retail Cannabis Business at 1804 Needles Highway, the former site of the Kentucky Friend Chicken facility. It was previously permitted for a cannabis manufacturing business, underwent site improvements including new paint, stucco, block wall and wrought iron fencing. The applicant has also made modifications to the interior to create an attractive retail business. In researching to confirm the applicant meets the city’s requirement for dispensing cannabis in only one location within the city, the city searched the State database and confirmed that the applicant is not party to any other dispensaries within the city limits.

The project site is located within the Highway Commercial General Plan land use designation and zoned C-2 “General Commercial” whereby Retail Cannabis Businesses are permitted with a Conditional Use Permit. The project site is surrounded by other similar type retail businesses. To the west of the project site are three hotels that adjoin to Tribal housing, separated from the housing by 4′ chain link fencing. Operating hours for hotels are typically conducive to guest check-in/check-out, i.e. 24 hours a day. Access to the Tribal Village is available via four streets: “N”, “0”, “P” and “Q”. To the north of the project site is the Tribal housing, buffered by on-site storage units, blocking views of the site from the Village.

To the south and west of the proposed site, and less than 500′ from the Tribal Village are two restaurants and a store that sell alcohol to the public. The State and Municipal code require cannabis retail businesses to be at least 600′ away from any schools and/or recreational centers, youth centers, and 200′ from playgrounds, parks, and churches. The proposed site is in excess of 1100 ft from the existing Tribal Youth Center, as well as in excess of 200′ from parks, burial grounds and churches.

The site will have 12 parking spaces, exceeding the city code requirements of 1 space per 250 gross square feet of floor space. Signage at the site will be regulated by the State Cannabis agency that only allows signage that is permanently affixed to a structure. The project has been conditioned to require down lighting to reduce glare, as well as meet all city requirements regarding disabled access and facilities, occupancy limits, building safety, health code compliance, as well as specific State regulations prohibiting access by minors, on-site security, lighting, fencing, etc. Operating Hours are proposed to be 6 AM – 10 P.M.

The proposed 2,500 sq. ft. retail cannabis business is located in a C-2 (General Commercial) Zone at 1804 Needles Highway near O Street in Needles, California (the old Kentucky Fried Chicken building).

The project sit is on the north side of Needles Highway, a busy route for travelers along Route 66 and just across the street from the new Hampton Inn and Suites which will be breaking ground for construction on Tuesday, February 16th, 2021.

The project sit is just the east of a smoke shop, on the west side along O Street, and on the south side of Race Street where homes in the Aha Macav California Village lined the north side of Race Street, just across the street.

According to the Staff Report from the City of Needles, The City has received new correspondence from the Tribe, included as Exhibit “A”, documenting their concerns with the project as well as possible factors to consider when making a recommendation on the project.

The project is deemed exempt from CEQA under the definition of a CEQA Class 3 Exemption, i. e. construction and location of limited numbers of new, small facilities or structures; installation of small new equipment and facilities in small structures; and the conversion of existing small structures from one use to another where only minor modifications are made in the exterior of the structure, and therefore no further CEQA analysis is required.

The Tribe has challenged this exemption citing it cannot be used because of unusual circumstances or based on cumulative impacts. The Tribe has stated that the project has impacts on the health and welfare of Tribal members, which can be categorized as moral issues or social problems and not an impact on the physical environment under CEQA.

The challenge to the exemption applies only when unusual circumstances and a significant impact as a result of the unusual circumstances, can be shown to exist with the project. The project is not in and of itself “unusual”, since it is a typical cannabis dispensary, one of several in the city, and among many others in the State. Furthermore, the impacts identified by the project are really moral objections and not effects on the physical environment. In fact, the actual physical impacts on humans or otherwise can be characterized and not being significant in the context of the significance of the effects individually or cumulatively.

In determining whether there are significant impacts created by the project, the Tribe would need to demonstrate a significant impact on the environment under CEQA. This has not been demonstrated. The same is true regarding the impacts under the resolution approving the conditional use permit. The issues complained of are moral or social issues which are not applicable in the context of the conditional use permit analysis.

The City Attorney has reviewed the argument for the CEQA Category 3 Exemption (CEQA Guidelines, § 15303.) and believes the City is entitled to the exemption. Furthermore, Legal Counsel has looked at the letter from the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and believes that the City has an adequate basis to make the findings to approve this project.

The applicant Matt Kaplan was present during Tuesday’s Needles Planning Commission Meeting via teleconference, presenting to members of the Needles Planning Commission his presentation, saying that our feelings on this project having a pleasant call last week with Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Chairman Timothy Williams, saying that he and I agree on a lot of things – both wanting safety for the community especially the children, we both want to help the community, we both want to encourage the health of the residents of the Tribe and the City as a whole, but I think the only thing we really disagreed on is just how the dispensary is going to help accomplish these goals.

Matt Kaplan continued saying that the area sits today is “on a one mile stretch of the road there mostly vacant or unoccupied, and I think we are all familiar enough with it driving by you see the environment  it creates; the exciting businesses, some of the hotels, and more than anything else just the lack of thriving environment there. It definitely is attracted to a lot of people who are struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse or whatever it is, every time I drive by that property today – obviously I’m paying attention to it – and quiet frequency you see transiants and people sitting there camped out there assume using different substances there, and I think any active thriving business there is going to be a big improvement to the area.”

Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Chairman Timothy Williams was also present during Tuesday’s Needles Planning Commission Meeting via teleconference, expressed opposition to the proposed cannabis retail operation, speaking about when having the opportunity that had discussions with Matt, we all agreed we want a better city – we’re always looking towards the future, but in the discussions – we live here; we don’t drive by it, we don’t look at it as an aesthetic area from a materialistic standpoint; adding that we still walk through this area; this is our area so we walk through it; we still go and get a pizza and whatever else it may be to go to the different services that are around this area.

Chairman Timothy Williams added that, “I know where the discussion was going – when you go and talk about our fireworks and some of the other businesses we have – but you look at the balance that we have, and tonight physically we’re discussing the location of it, not necessarily the product and what it has to offer people; we have no argument with that.”

Chairman Timothy Williams continued saying that for us and what we’re looking at is definitely we don’t want this facility near are location.

 

Included in the agenda item packet, a 7 page letter (Shown Above) dated Monday, January 25, 2021 from Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Chairman Timothy Williams to Needles City Manager Rick Daniels that expresses in more detail the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Formal Tribal Government opposition to the proposed cannabis retail at 1804 Needles Highway, what affect the location of the proposed cannabis retail business would have and requesting the City of Needles deny the Conditional Use Permit and reject the proposed application in its entirety.

 

A map (Pictured Above) was also provided members of the Needles Planning Commission by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe showing marked circles measuring the distances from the proposed cannabis retail operation from the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Fee Property and local churches.

Needles City Manager Rick Daniels said that Conditional Use Permit automatically scheduled for review by the Needles City Council so if either party feel greeff, there’s no need to appealed – it automatically go to a de novo hearing, which is a whole new hearing that all of the issues raised here plus anything else can be discussed at that new hearing.

Needles City Manager Rick Daniels added that the hearing will be before the Needles City Council at the February 23rd, 2021 meeting.

As the discussion continued, Shawn Gudmundson, with Gudmundson and Associates Consulting Group and former member of the Needles City Council, spoke during public comments, talking about the location of the proposed cannabis retail business, and the Conditional Use Permit hearing process that gives adjacent property owners, neighboring residents and governmental agencies the right to voice their opposition within the City – if there’s any opposition.

Shawn Gudmundson added, “In closing, the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe does not say ‘No’ to the Needles cannabis industry, it’s saying ‘No’ to 1804 Needles Highway location and any future cannabis operation that borders the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation and/or properties.”

During public comments, Jeff Williams spoke on the Conditional Use Permit for a proposed retail cannabis business at 1804 Needles Highway.

“This is Mayor Jeff Williams,” he said,”I just wanna to say that we need to remain consistent on these also. We do have a history as you said; less then a block away there’s a dispensary that had no opposition to it. There was no opposition to – I believe it’s Vert and now it’s M.I.H. (Medical Investors Holdings) that head started the manufacture facility there. We need to remain consistent; we can do this, we can pass this and then try as other ways of going back working with Vertical on how they want to deal with this but we as the City need to remain consistent on our C.U.P.s (Conditional Use Permit), and there’s – as long as the City Attorney has said – the seven issues – we can defend and it’s alright for us to move forward, I believe we need to move forward. Thank you.”

Shawn Gudmundson spoke after Jeff Williams saying,”Just for the record, I was on Council when honorable mayor Jeff Williams stated that he was offered an employment by Vertical. So I like to state for the record of that, and I like to state for the record that I do believe that consent to legal conflict of interest for our mayor.”

Chairperson Linda Kidd asked Shawn Gudmundson,”Are you representation someone? You said you’re the consulting firm.”

Shawn Gudmundson responded to Chairperson Linda Kidd saying,”I represent the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, and Timothy Williams their legal council can contest to that.”

Commissioner Bob Rath spoke saying that,”Shawn just mentioned that Mayor Williams was offered a position. Just an offer a position which I assume he declined; he’s not working for them?”

Jeff Williams shook his head no, and Commissioner Bob Rath continued saying,”With that… that he was not there for… I oughta say conflict of interest, that’s correct?”

Shawn Gudmundson spoke after Commissioner Bob Rath saying,”That is incorrect, you need to look into the law.”

Commissioner Bob Rath told Shawn Gudmundson that,”that’s a question, I’m not gonna look into the law, I’m question.”

Commissioner Barbara Beard then spoke asking,”Why are we talking about conflict of interest?”

Chairperson Linda Kidd responded to Commissioner Barbara Beard saying that,”It seems to me that… okay that’s a question that Bob has… and… I think there could be some conflict of interest here in a number of areas but I think we need to remain on the task what we’re suppose to approve or disapprove.”

Commissioner Barbara Beard then spoke saying,”Mayor Williams, Jeff Williams, was addressing us by thought as a member of the public during the public presentation; time for the public to speak. He is not addressing us as the City Council. It will go to City Council later, right?”

Chairperson Linda Kidd responded to Commissioner Barbara Beard saying,”That is correct, yes.”

Commissioner Barbara Beard continued saying,” So why is there a conflict of interest issues now? He’s not voting tonight.”

Shawn Gudmundson responded to Commissioner Barbara Beard saying,”I just stated that for the record, and our opinion”

Matt Kaplan spoke after Shawn Gudmundson clarifying that,”We employee currently 100 people in the city, many of them being Needles residents. We don’t employee Mayor Williams,” but mentions another name with Williams; ZachNews is trying to get confirmation on that name.

Just to note, the Needles City Attorney John Pinkney from Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney L.L.P. was not present at this meeting for legal advice, but will be at the Needles City Council via teleconference due to COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.

At the end of the public hearing, discussions and comments, members of the Needles Planning Commission voted 5-2 to approve the Conditional Use Permit for a 2,500 sq. ft. Retail Cannabis Business, located at 1804 Needles Highway, in the C-2 (General Commercial) Zone, also known as APN 0185-045-03. Commissioner Charles Dressler and Commissioner Joey Wade voted “No” on this item well Chairperson Linda Kidd and Commissioners Robert McDaniel, Barbara Beard, Bob Rath and Kevin Ostby voted “Yes” on this item.

The item will head to the Needles City Council at their meeting schedule for 6:00 p.m. PT on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 for discussion and possible action.

Reminder, the Needles City Council Meeting for Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 will be broadcast live starting at 6:00 p.m. PT at ZachNews on Facebook.

For more information regarding the Needles Planning Commission Meetings, please contact Cindy Semione, Secretary to the Board, at the City of Needles at: 1 (760) 326-2113.

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