The process to get four cannabis dispensaries up and running in Turlock moved forward Tuesday, as the City Council approved zoning and distance requirements for the businesses while City staff fielded questions of concern surrounding their selection.
In late July it was announced that the City of Turlock had received over 30 proposals from candidates vying for a spot as one of the future dispensaries in town. Of those prospects, four businesses were invited to apply for a Conditional Use Permit within the city based upon a review of their Request for Qualifications response — a document outlining but not limited to the respondent’s business plan, qualifications and impact on the community, meant to identify the most-qualified candidates.
Of the 32 received responses, a panel consisting of City Manager Bob Lawton, Director of Municipal Services Michael Cooke and Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development and Housing Maryn Pitt determined the four dispensaries best-suited to operate in Turlock are Perfect Union, MedMen, Evergreen Market and Firehouse. Each chosen business is the top-producing cannabis operation in their respective market, City Attorney Doug White said, though it was tough to determine a top four from the highly-qualified list of respondents.
“We have the advantage of taking folks who have performed at an extremely high level in their respective competitive markets to vie to be the best in the Turlock market,” White said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council approved amendments to the Turlock Municipal Code to account for zoning regulations and distance requirements for the proposed businesses, allowing for cultivation, distribution and manufacturing cannabis businesses in areas zoned as heavy commercial/light industrial or general industrial, while retail cannabis sales, or dispensaries, are zoned as community commercial or heavy commercial/light industrial. Cannabis testing laboratories are to be allowed in commercial office, community commercial or heavy commercial/light industrial.
Cannabis businesses zoned as industrial will utilize Turlock’s Regional Industrial Park, but cannabis dispensaries will be prohibited in this area. They will, however, be allowed in Turlock’s downtown core. In addition, cannabis businesses of any kind will not be permitted within 600 feet of any school, day care center or youth facility.
While there’s no longer any question about where cannabis businesses will be permitted to set up shop, community members in attendance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting had plenty of qualms with the RFQ process. Turlock resident Liz Padilla expressed frustration that none of the selected operators are actually from the town they’ll be opening their businesses in.
“Why wasn’t one person from Turlock picked?” she asked. “Shame on you guys, really…I don’t care who makes this much money or who’s doing what — there are residents of Turlock (who applied) and they should have the first opportunity.”
Of the four selected dispensaries, Firehouse is the sole business with semi-local ties; owners Devin Stetler and Bert Sarkis both reside in Stanislaus County and operate Patient Care First in Ceres, Flavors of Riverbank and Phenos in Modesto. They will also be opening dispensaries in Merced and Stockton later this year.
The remaining three cannabis businesses chosen for Turlock, MedMen, Evergreen Market and Perfect Union, represent larger conglomerates that hail from areas like Southern California, the Bay Area, Lake Tahoe, Sacramento and even Washington state.
Under federal law, the City was prohibited from giving Turlock residents a leg up in the RFQ process, White said, leaving the decision to be based solely upon each candidate’s qualifications, whether it be their knowledge of the industry, their philanthropic efforts or their finances.
“I wish that somebody who actually resides in the city of Turlock had been picked. I think that would have been very nice and convenient,” White said. “We are looking for the single most qualified folks. Having experience, having wherewithal are all things that lead to you being a more qualified potential applicant than someone who does not.”
Turlock resident Larry Turner told the City Council that although he is in favor of bringing cannabis to the city, he feels the process has been rushed. White pointed out that an ad hoc committee meant to explore potential impacts of cannabis in Turlock was formed over 15 months ago and that while he has only been the City Attorney for four months, he feels the process has moved at an adequate pace.
“I would like to think that everything in government can work good and if I can do things on behalf of the City in other areas as quickly as we’ve done this, then I will consider that an accomplishment,” White said. “Government is not required to operate slowly — government operating slowly is a choice.”
Several community members during Tuesday’s meeting also took issue with the page number required for the RFQs, and the fact that businesses in the top four did not adhere to that specific requirement. The RFQ called for narratives no longer than 20 pages, White explained, though businesses were allowed to attach any other documentation they saw fit without it affecting the number of pages. This is why one of the RFQ responses was over 100 pages, he said.
Although the City Council approved the possibility for dispensaries to apply to operate in downtown locations, Turlock Unified School District Trustee Mary Jackson spoke against the decision prior to the vote.
“I do not want any pot shops downtown…our downtown is thriving and that took a good six years,” said Jackson, also a former City Council member. “I don’t want to explain to my daughters what that smell is downtown. I think it should be like everything else and be in a commercial area and there’s plenty of commercial space.”
While no formal declaration of a specific downtown destination has been mentioned by any of the four chosen dispensaries, potential locations for two of the businesses were revealed in their RFQ responses made public by the City this week.
According to Firehouse, the business has located and secured a site they anticipate will outperform their Ceres and Modesto locations: the former Waffle Shop building located right off Highway 99 at 1601 W. Main St. Firehouse already has a lease agreement for the location, which satisfies a need for parking with 51 dedicated spaces and anticipates opening within weeks of local approval.
“I’ve been through this licensing process a lot in a number of other local cities and I’m just very impressed with the thorough and efficient job that the staff has done here,” Stetler said. “Based on the proven numbers of those selected, it’s clear you’ve chosen experienced operators that the community here I think will definitely be proud of.”
While MedMen didn’t include a precise location in its RFQ response, the document states the dispensary owners would prefer for the business to be located in downtown Turlock or near Stanislaus State, as both areas are accessible by Turlock Transit.
Described by White as “the Apple store” of dispensaries, visitors to the MedMen location will be able to choose their product from menus displayed on iPads and employees of the business will start out making at least $16 per hour.
Perfect Union stated in its RFQ response that a location would not be decided upon until the City finalized its zoning. Regardless, the store hopes to open its Turlock location in either January or February of 2020.
Evergreen Market also expects to open in January 2020, and still needs to find a location as well.
All four locations will pay a community benefit fee of $25,000 per month, according to White, or 5.25 percent of their gross revenue if the amount exceeds $25,000. This will bring in at least $1.2 million per year, part of which will be used to fund education for juveniles on substance abuse.
“It is not easy to pick between 32 folks and have to narrow it down to four…we felt like the recommendation represents the folks we felt could be very competitive and do well in this market and we’re excited to see what they can bring to the community in a positive way, much farther beyond selling cannabis,” White said.
To view each candidate’s RFQ in full, visit https://ci.turlock.ca.us/doingbusinesswithus/bidsforproductsservices/currentrfpsrfbs/ and select “Cannabis Pilot Program RFQ.”