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Struggling cannabis dispensary pleads with Council for roadside sign
Perfect Union sign
Perfect Union’s request for a variance in the sign ordinance to allow a standalone monument sign outside of their N. Golden State Boulevard building was denied by the City Council (Journal file photo).

The Perfect Union cannabis dispensary located on Golden State Boulevard is experiencing slumping sales since opening a year ago, and the company hopes that the City of Turlock can make an exception in its sign ordinance to allow advertising along the busy road. 

Perfect Union submitted a variance application to the City in June, requesting permission to deviate from standards set in the Turlock Municipal Code which prohibit standalone monument signs for cannabis companies. Dispensaries are only allowed to have one on-site wall sign which display only their business name.

The dispensary currently has a mural on the front of its building depicting its name and removed an existing, unpermitted pole sign upon moving into the 2500 N. Golden State Blvd. location last September. Citing lower-than-anticipated sales and difficulty competing with Turlock’s other cannabis dispensary, which is located right off the freeway, Perfect Union requested the sign variance because their building is far back from the road and customers have difficulty finding the business. 

In their variance request, which was originally denied by the Planning Commission on Sept. 2, Perfect Union asked for consideration of two options: a six-by-six monument sign located outside of the location’s fence in the public right-of-way, or a 12-by-eight monument sign located five feet back into the property. 

The Council on Oct. 26 heard an appeal from Perfect Union, which gave them the chance to ratify the Planning Commission's decision or overrule it and approve the variance. 

“We’re 113 feet back from the road. There’s a merging lane right in front of where our building entrance is, so people are literally looking over their left shoulder to avoid a car instead of to the right where our entrance would be,” Perfect Union’s Vice President of Government Affairs & Compliance, Caity Maple, told the Council. “...We believe that we have very specific conditions in our building that make it hard to find, and we also know that to be true because we’ve received complaints from customers.”

During public comment, Turlock resident Robert Puffer said that he didn’t support cannabis as a business but supported Perfect Union’s request for a sign variance because the building is, in fact, hard to see from the road. He pointed out that in 2016, the City Council approved a sign variance for Dust Bowl Brewing Co. to have a neon sign even though they’re not permitted. 

Monument signs are not allowed for dispensaries and signage is required to be discreet so as to protect the health and welfare of underage youth and other sensitive groups, according to the City. 

Maple said that the company’s current signage isn’t attracting customers, and the business is currently paying the minimum monthly public benefit fee required by the City for dispensaries. 

“We’re having trouble getting people in the door. We’d love to be competitive with our lovely competition. They have a way better location than us and I’ll just be honest about that,” Maple said. 

There was hesitance from Councilmember Rebecka Monez, Vice Mayor Pam Franco and Mayor Amy Bublak to allow a sign variance for one dispensary because it may open doors for other cannabis businesses to push back against the ordinance, which was put in place as a precaution when welcoming a new industry to town.

Councilmember Nicole Larson stated that the business isn’t very close to any schools, and any children curious about a potential sign out front wouldn’t be allowed into the business anyway. Other businesses along Golden State Boulevard have large signs that are either considered public art pieces or were grandfathered into the sign ordinance. 

“This is a fairness issue. This is ensuring that our businesses have an ability to be successful and we want them to be successful,” Larson said. “And if we actually want them to be successful, then granting these very specific situations…”

Franco also said it was a tough decision, but Perfect Union knew the circumstances of the building they chose (which also had to meet a strict set of guidelines). 

“I’m just not comfortable giving a special privilege to any business that we would have to then again pass on to other businesses, and I feel really, really bad about [Perfect Union’s] difficulties,” Franco said. “It’s awful that any business would struggle, but that isn’t, for me, a reason to give a variance just because a business is struggling.”

Despite the seemingly split opinions of the Council, they voted unanimously to table the item until a December Council meeting, giving the City’s Planning department time to work with Perfect Union on a sign which will better comply with the Municipal Code, as well as allow the City to work through any legal issues which may arise with granting a sign to one dispensary and not the others.