Ed Quinn has no objections to the use, sale or cultivation of marijuana. Still...
“The big question is, what will Kearny Mesa be?” asked Quinn, a former TV news executive and current member of the Kearny Mesa Planning Group. “Does Kearny Mesa become the poster child for growing, distributing and selling marijuana?”
Since California legalized recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, more than a dozen dispensaries have opened across San Diego. To this day, though, the city has no licensed marijuana farms. Every joint, tincture and gummie sold here comes from somewhere else, such as Oakland’s Grizzly Peak Farms, which is owned by San Diego developer Dave Gash.
Gash’s organic, pesticide-free, packaged and hermetically-sealed cannabis is already sold in local dispensaries. Still...
“Do you want it carted in from Oakland, from Los Angeles?” Gash asked the Kearny Mesa group last week. “I know this is hard, but it’s coming.”
Pot farms are coming to San Diego, but when and where have yet to be determined. The city intends to grant 40 conditional use permits for pot farms, or “Marijuana Production Facilities.” With Grizzly’s ganja going for $2,048 to $2,560 a pound, a license to farm is a license to make a killing.
“The 40 conditional use permits that will be awarded?” Gash said. “These are the Willie Wonka tickets.”
On Wednesday, he sought the planning group’s blessing to transform the Kearny Mesa offices of Gold Coast Design, his real estate development firm, into an indoor marijuana farm.
Because Gash had not completed all the required paperwork, the group voted 8-0 to postpone a decision on his proposal. Even if all the boxes had been checked, it was clear that some on the advisory board had deeper concerns.
“Kearny Mesa is the last bastion of large land holdings in the city of San Diego,” said John Turpit, an architect and planning group member. “San Diego is about to lose the last area for tech, for massive technology growth in the city.”
To return to Quinn’s question, what is Kearny Mesa’s future? Will it become the city’s home to high tech or high times?
Racing the clock
Kearny Mesa may be San Diego’s most strategically located neighborhood, 3,607 acres bordered by I-805, I-15, Highway 52 and Highway 163.
“It’s a great place to office,” said Turpit, whose commute from Kearny Mesa office to Coronado home never exceeds 30 minutes, even during rush hour. “Once you office in Kearny Mesa, you’ll never go back.”
Since the advent of legal marijuana, though, the architect has been plagued by a nightmare scenario. He envisions this central location becoming the city’s grasslands.
“Boom!” Turpit said. “Forty pot production facilities and they are all coming here.”
In fact, there’s virtually no chance of that extreme outcome. While the city will not limit the number of pot production facility in a single district, the farms are subject to a long list of restrictions.
They must be planted on land zoned for industrial use.
They cannot be within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, public parks, playgrounds, child care facilities, libraries, residential care facilities and “minor oriented facilities.”
They cannot open within 100 feet of residential zones.
They’re also limited by the laws of supply and demand. While the city will only allow 40 marijuana farms, there are already 63 applications jockeying for approval. Of those applicants, 10 are eyeing locations in Kearny Mesa. More are proposed for Miramar/Mira Mesa (19) and Otay Mesa (15), with an additional 10 in Sorrento Valley. The remaining nine are scattered across Stockton, Morena, Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Otay Valley.
Still, Turpit argued that Kearny Mesa may be steamrollered by a well-financed industry.
“Money, that’s what this is,” he said. “Everybody is racing to the finish line.”
Grizzly’s Dave Gash worries about losing that contest. With the city preparing to dole out permits this spring, and applicants already outnumbering permits, he expects competition for those Willie Wonka tickets will intensify.
“It’s a race against time,” he said, when asked why he wouldn’t swap his Kearny Mesa property for land in Otay Mesa. “I can’t buy a building in 90 days.”
So far, Kearny Mesa’s planning group has postponed decisions on Grizzly and three other pot farms, as all lacked the necessary paperwork.
Even if these applicants are eventually voted down here, the 16-person planning group plays an advisory role. Its recommendations go to the city’s planning commission, which forwards its own recommendations to the city council.
Only the council’s vote is binding, and the council has ignored marijuana-related advice from the planning group before.
“The bottom line is the city does not care what the Kearny Mesa Planning Group decides,” said Daniel Burakowski, who failed to block a medical cannabis dispensary from opening near his Kearny Mesa architectural metalwork shop.
In 2017, the Tree House medical marijuana dispensary opened in a garage-like space in a Kearny Mesa industrial park. This occurred despite opposition from the planning group and a lawsuit by other tenants.
“We were told by the Tree House people, ‘We have enough money to bury you in court,’” said Burakowski, president of a board that represents the complex’s businesses.
After spending roughly $150,000 in legal combat, the tenants settled. Tree House agreed to maintain a separate parking area, limit noise and provide round-the-clock security. Tree House also became a dues-paying board member.
“It’s to both of our interests now to cooperate,” said Burakowski. “And they are cooperating.”
Attempts to reach Tree House’s manager for comment were unsuccessful. While Ed Quinn, the planning group member, said concerns about the dispensary led him to close his classic car business in this complex, other neighbors say they’ve had no problems.
“Just like everything else,” said Jerry Sample, general manager of Greenlight Auto Care, “it all worked out in the end. We’ve all got to live with each other, OK?”
Yet marijuana businesses still carry a stigma, noted Buzz Gibbs, chair of the Kearny Mesa Planning Group’s land use committee.
“We were told by the city to not put our biases out there,” he said, while considering Grizzly’s proposal. “This is a land use issue, not a moral issue. But it’s difficult to separate it out.”
Case in point: Wednesday’s meeting. Outlining his proposed Grizzly farm, Gash was blasted by Rick Benson, who owns a printing shop directly across from the Vickers Street property.
Gash: “There is no place to manufacture in San Diego that is legal.”
Benson: “I certainly don’t agree with Kearny Mesa needing this. I think it is a bad idea.”
Gash: “We want to do everything the right way. Our intent is not to sell marijuana but to raise and distribute it.”
Benson: “We get to smell the marijuana every day, by the way. Dave didn’t tell you that.”
Gash responded by inviting planning group members to visit the location. One, Robyn Badilla, accepted the offer. Kendra Tindall, Gold Coast Design’s chief operating officer, escorted Badilla, her husband, Robert Vincent, and a journalist on a tour of the offices.
While there was no marijuana on site, Tindall noted that fragrant shipments from Grizzly’s three Oakland farms stop here en route to local dispensaries.
Badilla was impressed. “I feel good about it,” she said.
Yet one of her colleagues, Turpit, wants a different future for Kearny Mesa. While General Dynamics closed its missile plant here in 1992 after a 35-year run, this is still home to major employers like Solar Turbines and Kyocera.
“That, to me, is the essence of Kearny Mesa,” Turpit said. “We want to preserve those types of industries.”
Is there room on the Mesa for both tech and cannabis?
“As of today, I don’t have an answer to that question,” said Chris Cate, the councilmember whose district embraces Kearny Mesa. “Because this business is so new, we have not seen the impact on property values or on other businesses.”
If a choice has to be made, what will it be? Robotics or reefer?