Embattled cannabis retailer V-Town Farms is up against yet another legal challenge from entities in Vallejo that do not want to see the “mega store” open up here.
V-Town, which was originally supposed to open on April 20 (4/20) and then July 27, is in limbo until a “writ of administrative mandamus” filed on June 17 is addressed. The writ, filed by California Collective Care (CCC, another cannabis retailer) petitions a judge to review the city council’s denial of an appeal filed to halt its operations; the appeal was denied on June 7 of this year.
The original appeal filed against V-Town argued a risk of increased crime in the area, operating too close to schools, not conforming to the General Plan or zoning codes, and creating unfair competition. Every argument was shot down by first the planning commission and then the City of Vallejo.
Once the planning commission denied the appeal it went to the council, and the less-than-smooth process has created a vacuum of questionable legal footing for the council’s decision. The first vote the council took to deny the appeal ended in a tie. It was decided that evening, erroneously, that the appeal would come back again to the council after a few conditions were met.
The decision to come back again was immediately met with questions about the legality of dismissing a tie vote. The city charter states that votes can be passed only with a majority, not a tie: “The vote of the majority of members of the council shall be necessary to adopt any ordinance, resolution, or motion.”
Therefore a tie vote should have meant that the appeal prevailed and V-Town Farms would be barred from opening.
City Attorney Veronica Nebb hasn’t directly addressed this issue in public, but during the second appeal hearing before the council, Nebb said that if the council voted to deny the appeal, the City of Vallejo would be open to litigation that could “impact the city and expose the General Fund to costs and damages.”
Put plainly, since the first vote was handled improperly, if V-Town Farms was voted against in the second hearing they would have grounds to sue the city. Though Nebb merely pointed out what a “yes” or “no” vote would mean for the city, an argument could be made that she made the council an offer it couldn’t refuse.
CCC jumps on this discrepancy in its writ petition:
“The City Council violated the Brown Act and the conflict of interest laws under the Government Code by allowing staff to advise, without the issue being on the agenda or subject to public comment, that a tie vote, which was the case at a prior meeting, would expose the City to legal liability.”
CCC also argues that Councilmember Pippin Dew “had business dealings with the project applicant” and should have recused herself. Dew, a realtor, denies having any dealings with V-Town Farms.
A major argument offered by CCC is that V-Town Farms is not zoned for retail cannabis use, the same argument it has used before the planning commission and then the council. According to the current zoning code, Meadows Plaza, the site of V-Town Farms, is clearly zoned Central Corridor Commercial.
Technically, in order to have distribution and manufacturing of cannabis in Vallejo, the site must be zoned light or general industrial.
However, manufacturing is allowed in retail cannabis spaces in commercial zones if it takes up less than 500 square feet or ten percent of the total floor area (V-Town’s manufacturing will take up approximately 1 percent, or 494 square feet of the 49,871 square foot space).
Distribution is allowed in existing cannabis retail spaces if it takes up less than 30 percent of the total space, or 1,500 square feet. V-Town Farms has set aside 3 percent of its space (1,485 square feet) for distribution.
Attorney for the plaintiff Philip Babich is on vacation until August and unable to comment for this story. Plaintiff spokesperson Max Del Real did not respond to a request for comment. V-Town Farms was also reached for comment and did not respond by press time.