Essence Cannabis Community Meeting Showcases Controversy, Neighborhood Conflict

Representatives from a Las Vegas-based cannabis dispensary that could open shop in Culver City next year presented their plans at a Del Rey Land Use and Planning Committee meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. While designs for the store front earn points on neighborhood beautification, the action behind the scenes came off as less than lovely, and could prevent the retail location from moving forward.

Essence Cannabis Dispensaries shared renderings that would transform real estate near the corner of Washington Boulevard and Centinela Avenue, at 12450 Washington Blvd., where B&B Hardware currently stands. The plans underscore a shift in the perception of dispensaries, from back-alley operation to a sleek experience akin to an Apple store.

“I call it the Neiman Marcus of dispensaries,” said Nicole Kuklok-Waldman, a representative from Collaborate, a firm enlisted by Essence to help with community outreach, who spoke at the meeting.

But the designs only tell part of the story. The committee ultimately opposed the dispensary’s Conditional Land Use permit after it came to light that Essence paid off a nearby business to shutter its store, and another one to maintain its current services.

“We were very open about what we were doing,” said Kuklok-Waldman about approaching the owner of A Magic Forest, a child’s play space and store a block away from their proposed location. Kuklok-Waldman said that when Essence spoke to the owner, she was looking to close down her children’s store and re-open as a coffee shop. The site is now Indigo Coffee, a coffeehouse and community space.

The reason Essence paid these two businesses is embedded in Culver City’s municipal code, which states that no cannabis business storefront can be located within 600 feet of a “sensitive receptor” at the time the business’ permit application is submitted to the City. Sensitive receptors include K-12 schools, day care centers, youth centers, parks and playgrounds. As a children’s play space, A Magic Forest qualified as a sensitive receptor.

Essence also apparently offered $100,000 to Brasil Brasil, a cultural center that offers classes in Brazilian dance, to maintain the number of youth classes it was offering at the time. They paid Brasil Brasil to not increase the number of youth classes past 50 percent of their offerings, which would turn the center into a “sensitive receptor,” according to Kuklok-Waldman.

In its motion to oppose Essence’s permit, the committee wrote that “the Del Rey Neighborhood Council discourages dubious business practices.”

But the conversation at the meeting quickly turned to Culver City leadership, and some committee members felt the approval of Essence’s application by Culver City without input from Del Rey was an act of bulldozing.

“The bigger issue is Culver City,” said Doug Barish, Chair of the Land Use and Planning Committee. “In Culver City it’s been a free for all for the last decade.” He said the opening of a dispensary raises concerns that the neighborhood is going in the “wrong direction.”

Located in culver City, the proposed site for Essence is surrounded by Del Rey, with a fraction of the parking lot extending into the Los Angeles neighborhood. Limited outreach has taken place outside of Culver City, and Essence was attempting to make up for lost time at the meeting.

Essence’s future plans include operating between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm, seven days a week, and staffing up to three security guards. Essence anticipates processing up to 500 transactions per day.

“Culver City did such a good job with their [permit] process, we jumped at the chance to [open a storefront] here,” said Jennifer Wilcox, Director of Operations and Compliance at Essence Dispensaries.

Over 20 retail cannabis businesses applied for permits in Culver City, but only three were selected to move forward, including Essence.

The retailer’s business plan, security plan and design and location plan were evaluated and then force ranked by a three-person panel.

 

Elizabeth Moss

www.culvercitysymphony.org

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