Atascadero to discuss allowing limited medical marijuana cultivation

–Atascadero City Council is reconsidering what they say was a rushed decision to ban the cultivation of medical marijuana within the city limits. AB21, a state Assembly bill that would remove a March 1 deadline for local governments to enact marijuana regulations,was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Feb. 3 after successfully passing the State Assembly in a 65-to-zero vote the previous Thursday.

City Manager Rachelle Rickard presented four different options for the council to consider to address concerned raised by both members of the public and council members.

The four options:

  1. Begin a public process immediately and move forward with an analysis irrespective of any potential ballot measures in November.
  2. Adopt an ordinance that allows personal cultivation at a level consistent with what is currently allowed by the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 as a place holder until it is known what might happen as a result of a potential November ballot measures.
  3. Leave the ordinance just adopted in place until after the potential November ballot issue is decided by the voters. At some point after the November election, council would evaluate the policy based on local desires and the legislation in place at the time.
  4. Repeal the cultivation ban and re-adopt the city’s previous medical marijuana ordinance.

The council went with option four with some additional restrictions. The council gave direction to staff to take a draft ordinance that would look at allowing limited production within the city to the planning commission on March 1.

The council directed that the ordinance should include the ban the cultivation of marijuana on vacant land, limit up to eight ounces of dried marijuana, 12 immature and six mature plants per person and not to exceed 15 immature and nine mature plants per dwelling, no cultivation in the yard as as defined by staff and the ordinance would only extend to individuals, not collectives.

Several council members expressed concern going through with Option 1 because of the possibility of ballot measures going through in regards to adult marijuana use.

“I think we’re just fighting an uphill battle until we know the results of November,” Councilman Bob Kelley said. “I’m kind of inclined to Option 3. Let’s wait and see what the outcome is.”

“[Option 1] could be a waste of our time and resources,” Councilman Brian Sturtevant said. “I’d like to see some lifting of the ban. The only reason I voted for the ban because it’s what we needed to comply with state law.”

While both Mayor Tom O’Malley and Mayor Pro Tem Heather Moreno said they preferred Option 4, or a hybrid with Option 2, Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi said she’s not comfortable going back to the old ordinance.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of legal work. Do we need to do that?” Fonzi said. “I just don’t see it. I don’t see why we’d want to go back to something that didn’t work in the first place. I understand, certainly, that there is a need for medical marijuana and I sympathize for those that use it for a legitimate use. However, I have to side with the safety issue. … as elected officials we are here to protect [the community]. There is a very small number that are actually causing problems, but they are causing problems. I’d like to wait until November and see where we are.”

With the majority of the council expressing the desire to lift the strict ban on cultivation, Fonzi suggested a number of restrictions she would like addressed in a proposed ordinance. In the roll call vote, Fonzi said “yes, with reservation.”

For information on the upcoming Atascadero Planning Commission meeting on March 1, go to the city’s website.

This story was originally published on Paso Robles Daily News and A-Town Daily News.

School district modernization underway in Atascadero

Atascadero Junior High modernization
The steel structure for the new building at Atascadero Junior High went up in January. Photo by Heather Young

District balances numerous projects

–Atascadero Unified School District is well into its moderninzation projects funded by a bond measure passed in November 2010. The district was authorized to issue and sell bonds up to $117 million. The total budget is $129,538,711 with a $5 million contingency.

“The projects are going wonderfully well,” Atascadero Unified School District Director of Support Services Stu Stoddard said.

The administration building at Atascadero Junior High School was demolished last year and in January a steel structure for the new building went up.

“We’re looking at completion around the start of the 2016-17 school year [late summer-early fall],” Stoddard said. The new building will house administration, library and 21 classrooms.

Atascadero schools modernization
The former building before it was demolished a year ago. Photo by Heather Young

Two more buildings, which now house science classrooms and administration, will be torn down, and all portables will be removed. The modernization of the junior high will include accommodating bringing over a total of 10 sixth grade classes, an additional 300 students, from throughout the district. Currently, Stoddard said, there are already four sixth grade classes at the junior high school. At the completion of the projects, the school will be renamed Atascadero Middle School.

In addition to the large project at the junior high, reconstruction is happening in four buildings at the high school in the 600, 900, 1100 and 1200 buildings.

“We strip them down to bare bones and we put in all new finishes, including ceilings, floors, walls,” Stoddard said, adding that they will also get refurbishments of facilities and technology. This project is expected to be completed in August. The B Building, the original building, is expected to be torn down in March 2017, though Stoddard said that building cannot be torn down until new science classrooms are built.

The modernization started at San Gabriel Road Elementary School a year ago is wrapping up. “San Gabriel got all new interior finishes and technology, as well as air conditioning in all classrooms,” Stoddard said. “That was a major piece of the pie there.”

As the San Gabriel project wraps up, the project for Santa Margarita is slated to begin in the next three weeks.

Atascadero School Projects

  • 2012 Monterey Road Elementary modernization $3,585,725
  • 2013 Santa Rosa Academic Academy modernization $3,624,320
  • 2014 Atascadero Junior High School/Fine Arts Academy relocate and reconstruction $48,622,200
  • 2014 Atascadero High School gym roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning $800,000
  • 2014 Carissa Plains School modernization $1,115,785
  • 2014 Atascadero High School/Maintenance Operations & Transportation complete relocation of shops and warehouse $2,779,500
  • 2015 AHS science, technology, engineering and mathematics building $5,591,553
  • 2015 AHS vocation program, ag diesel mechanics #3,297,564
  • 2015 AHS cafeteria, remodel B Building $2,692,400
  • 2015 Creston Elementary modernization $1,162,560
  • 2016 AHS visual and performing arts center with classrooms $21,600,000
  • 2016 AHS vocation program, culinary arts expansion $3,245,000
  • 2016 AHS vocation program, medical and health technology $3,120,000
  • 2016 Santa Margarita Elementary modernization $4,452,759
  • 2018 Del Rio Continuation High School modernization $669,446
  • 2019 San Gabriel Road Elementary modernization $4,512,597
  • 2020 San Benito Road Elementary modernization $4,307,302

This story was originally posted on A-Town Daily News and Paso Robles Daily News.

Man starts fire in Printery building

Atascadero Printery Building
A small fire broke out in this room at the back of the Printery building along West Mall Sunday afternoon. The man who police believe started the fire was found asleep or passed out next to it. Photo by Heather Young

Smoke from abandoned historical building raises concern

–Citizens in the vicinity of the Printery building in Atascadero, shared concern on Facebook Sunday afternoon after seeing smoke coming from the abandoned historic building.

Atascadero City Fire Department personnel responded to the call just after 2 p.m. and found Phillip Martinez, 39, asleep or passed out next to a fire that was six feet by six feet in a room at the back of the Printery along West Mall, Atascadero Police Department Robert Mollé said. He said it is believed that Martinez is homeless or a transient and somehow got through the fence around the Printery and into the building through one of the many broken windows and started the fire to stay warm. It rained off and on Sunday.

Mollé said Martinez was not injured and was transported to San Luis Obispo County Jail on suspicion of reckless fire and lodging without permission. No further information is available at this time.

The Printery building’s fate is currently uncertain as it is still under the ownership of Kelly Gearhart who is serving 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. However, local residents have formed a nonprofit group, Atascadero Printery Foundation, to save the Printery.

This story was originally published on A-Town Daily News and Paso Robles Daily News.

Council bans marijuana cultivation, deliveries in Atascadero

The Atascadero City Council approved banning cultivation of marijuana plants and delivery of medical marijuana in the city of Atascadero at Tuesday special meeting. Photo by Heather Young
The Atascadero City Council approved banning cultivation of marijuana plants and delivery of medical marijuana in the city of Atascadero at Tuesday special meeting. Photo by Heather Young

City officials leave conversation open for future discussions

–In a special meeting called for the Atascadero City Council on Tuesday at 5 p.m., the elected body passed an ordinance that would ban the cultivation of marijuana for any reason in the city of Atascadero. The ordinance would go in effect as of Feb. 25 if the council passes the second reading of the ordinance at its meeting on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m., which is 30 days later.

“Under the ordinance as it’s proposed, there would be no cultivation of marijuana allowed in the city of Atascadero by anyone,” City Attorney Brian Pierik said during staff’s presentation. “This is your chance to take local control and change it in the future if you so decide.”

There is tight timeframe, Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore said, because the state adopted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act that goes into effect on March 1. The bills, AB 266, AB 243 and SB 643, were passed in October 2015 and will govern cultivating, processing, transporting, testing and distributing medical marijuana to qualified patients. It also allows city and county governments the opportunity to adopt local ordinances by March 1. Local municipalities that do not have regulations in place will have to then comply with state mandates for regulation.

“This is really less about marijuana and more about local control,” Mayor Tom O’Malley said. “I see this as a responsive to an unfortunate goof by the state. I am certain this is going to be a topic we discuss again.”

All of the speakers during public comment expressed concerns with extending a blanket ban over cultivation and deliveries.

“I think the compassionate use act is a very good law,” said Atascadero resident Deborah McCrell, who is a caregiver for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s. “I’m afraid that the city is going to impose a law that will make cultivation really difficult. I think a ban on cultivation will make the neediest patients go underground. An all-out ban I don’t think is appropriate here.”

Two speakers suggested grandfathering in or considering pre-existing conditions for those who are already cultivating cannabis plants as allowed by law.

While all five of the city council members expressed sympathy and concern for those affected, they agreed that passing the ordinance as presented by staff was the best alternative for the time being.

“I dislike that we have to do this so quickly because it is an important issue,” Mayor Pro Tem Heather Moreno said. “Medical marijuana is not something I have a depth of knowledge about. … If we don’t [meet the deadline] I think it could be detrimental to the city.”

Earlier in the month, Paso Robles City Council took on the same issue and voted to prohibit the cultivation of medical marijuana within the city. Though Paso Robles City Councilman Fred Strong requested that the issue return to the council in the future.

To read the full text of the staff report and ordinance, click here.

This story was originally published on A-Town Daily News.

Council bans marijuana cultivation, deliveries in Atascadero

The Atascadero City Council approved banning cultivation of marijuana plants and delivery of medical marijuana in the city of Atascadero at Tuesday special meeting. Photo by Heather Young.
The Atascadero City Council approved banning cultivation of marijuana plants and delivery of medical marijuana in the city of Atascadero at Tuesday special meeting. Photo by Heather Young.

City officials leave conversation open for future discussions

–In a special meeting called for the Atascadero City Council on Tuesday at 5 p.m., the elected body passed an ordinance that would ban the cultivation of marijuana for any reason in the city of Atascadero. The ordinance would go in effect as of Feb. 25 if the council passes the second reading of the ordinance at its meeting on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m., which is 30 days later.

“Under the ordinance as it’s proposed, there would be no cultivation of marijuana allowed in the city of Atascadero by anyone,” City Attorney Brian Pierik said during staff’s presentation. “This is your chance to take local control and change it in the future if you so decide.”

There is tight timeframe, Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore said, because the state adopted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act that goes into effect on March 1. The bills, AB 266, AB 243 and SB 643, were passed in October 2015 and will govern cultivating, processing, transporting, testing and distributing medical marijuana to qualified patients. It also allows city and county governments the opportunity to adopt local ordinances by March 1. Local municipalities that do not have regulations in place will have to then comply with state mandates for regulation.

medical marijuana in Paso Robles“This is really less about marijuana and more about local control,” Mayor Tom O’Malley said. “I see this as a responsive to an unfortunate goof by the state. I am certain this is going to be a topic we discuss again.”

All of the speakers during public comment expressed concerns with extending a blanket ban over cultivation and deliveries.

“I think the compassionate use act is a very good law,” said Atascadero resident Deborah McCrell, who is a caregiver for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s. “I’m afraid that the city is going to impose a law that will make cultivation really difficult. I think a ban on cultivation will make the neediest patients go underground. An all-out ban I don’t think is appropriate here.”

Two speakers suggested grandfathering in or considering pre-existing conditions for those who are already cultivating cannabis plants as allowed by law.

While all five of the city council members expressed sympathy and concern for those affected, they agreed that passing the ordinance as presented by staff was the best alternative for the time being.

“I dislike that we have to do this so quickly because it is an important issue,” Mayor Pro Tem Heather Moreno said. “Medical marijuana is not something I have a depth of knowledge about. … If we don’t [meet the deadline] I think it could be detrimental to the city.”

Earlier in the month, Paso Robles City Council took on the same issue and voted to prohibit the cultivation of medical marijuana within the city. Though Paso Robles City Councilman Fred Strong requested that the issue return to the council in the future.

To read the full text of the staff report and ordinance, click here.

This story was originally published on A-Town Daily News and Paso Robles Daily News.

County planning commission approves plans for Templeton psychiatric hospital

Decision can be appealed to board of supervisors

–The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission approved, 7-0, the request from Dr. Harvey Billig for a tentative parcel map and conditional use permit for a psychiatric hospital in Templeton across the street from Twin Cities Community Hospital at its meeting on Jan. 14. The approval came following a 7-0 recommendation for denial from the Templeton Area Advisory Group in November 2014. County staff, however, recommended approval of the project.

Tuesday’s meeting was a five-hour continuation of the same item it last heard in December. It was continued in order to hear all public comment before making a decision. After the item was introduced, public comment continued where it left off, lasting for more than two hours.

The approval included:

  • Subdividing an existing 4.9-acre parcel into two parcels of 1.46 acres and 3.44 acres
  • Constructing a 36,503-square-feet assisted living facility with 60 beds on the 1.46 acres parcel and a 70,419-square-food behavioral health hospital of 91 beds on the 3.44 acre parcel
  • Modifying the height standards for the proposed hospital to allow a height of 44 feet from average natural grade instead of 35 feet as provided by ordinance

The property is owned by Harvey and Melanie Billig of Carmel, who lived in the county from 1973 to 2000. The hospital will be operated by Vizion Health, LLC. The proposed hospital is planned to have 91 bed in the mental health center and 60 beds in a separate live-in memory care facility.

Among various public comments for and against the project, Fred Russell, a member of the Concerned Citizens Preventing Unintended Consequences, gave a number of reasons why the project isn’t right for the proposed location. Those included inadequate parking for the size, the project being too big for the land, the height being too tall and more.

“This will not be a secure facility. People can come and go as they like,” Russell said. “More than 50-percent of the San luis Obispo County residents who need this kind of facility will not be eligible.”

He ended his time by saying that a full environmental impact report is what is needed to really assess the impact the proposed hospital will have on the community. He said that the negative declaration is not adequate.

Proponents of the project said that Templeton is the right place because there is nowhere local for those suffering with mental illness. According to the Billigs, the hospital will not treat substance abuse, but will provide therapy and medication for depression, anxiety disorder, suicidal tendencies, schizophrenia, social phobias, eating disorders, post-traumatic street disorder in veterans and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.

After public comment, but before it was opened up to decision by the commission, county staff addressed concerns raised by the public.

County Counsel Whitney McDonald cautioned the commission that in order to comply with state and federal laws, it cannot consider who will be using the facility.

“That means you can’t consider the fact that there are people who have mental illnesses that will be going into or out of the facility, in either considering the project or in ultimately deciding to approve or deny it. The best advice I can give you is you need to treat it like it’s any medical hospital,” McDonald said, adding that the county could be opened up to fines and lawsuits by not abiding by those guidelines.

“There is a critical need for this kind of facility,” Commissioner Ken Topping said, adding that he saw more pluses than minuses, which led to his support of the project.

This story was originally published on Paso Robles Daily News.

County supervisors will hear proposed ban on synthetic drugs

Potential ordinance will go before board on Feb. 2

–The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will be hosting a public hearing at its Feb. 2 meeting to consider a proposed ordinance that would regulate synthetic drugs in the county.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson and District Attorney Dan Dow asked the board to add the hearing. “We have had a problem with synthetic drugs for some time,” Parkinson said. “There’s been some attempted remedies through federal/state law that really have been unsuccessful and a lot of the reasons why is because the manufacturers of these drugs have changed the changed the components, changed the name and have tried to disguise what they’re about. Not unusual; however, it’s created some concern from our point of view.”

Parkinson cited two local tragedies that ended in death and were the direct effect of “spice,” a synthetic drug. Synthetic drugs such as psychoactive bath salts, herbal incense and similar products have been known to cause hallucinations, agitation, psychosis, aggression, suicidal and homicidal ideations, seizures, rapid heart rate and death, according to the staff report on the item.

“The people who make it put ‘not intended for human consumption,’ right on it, but they’ll label it in a manner that is designed to attract youth: they will call it ‘Scooby Snacks,’” Dow said.

Dow said that some of the name used to market the drugs include: Bliss, Blizzard, Blue Silk, Banzai Grow, Charge Plus, Charlie, Cloud Nine, Euphoria, Hurricane, Ivory Snow, Ivory Wave, Lunar Wave, Ocean, Ocean Burst, Pixie Dust, Posh, Pure lvory, Purple Wave, Red Dove, Scarface, Snow Leopard, Stardust, Vanilla Sky, White Dove, White Night, White Lightning, K2, K3, Spice, Genie, Smoke, Potpourri, Buzz, Spice 99, Voodoo, Pulse, Hush, Mystery, Earthquake, Ocean Blue, Stinger, Serenity, Fake Weed and Black Mamba.

“It’s a very real danger,” Dow said.

The penalty for violating the ordinance will either be a misdemeanor or infraction violation. The misdemeanor violation could result in up to six month in county jail or a fine up to $1,000. An infraction, as determined by the D.A., could result in a fine up to $100 for the first violation and up to $200 for the second occurring within one year, and a fine up to $500 for a third infraction happening within a year.

“The thing that this ordinance does is fill in a gap that we are missing,” Parkinson said. “Really it’s going to mount an investigation on our side. … It’s going to take some work, but at the end I think it’s going to be worthwhile.”

The City of Paso Robles banned synthetic drugs in November of 2014.

This story was originally published on A-Town Daily News.

Atascadero gym owners appeal commission's approval of new gym

An Atascadero Planning Commission decision to grant Fitness Evolution a conditional use permit to open a fitness club in the old Spencer’s Fresh Market building at 8665 El Camino Real has been appealed by Champions Health and Racquet Club owner Hank Minardo and Give Fitness Health Club owner Josh Donovan. Along with Kennedy Club Fitness, the new gym would be the fourth fitness club in Atascadero. The appeal will go before the Atascadero City Council on Tuesday, May 26 at 6 p.m.

“For me, it’s hard. There’s a credibility issue as a gym owner, it looks like I don’t want another gym in town,” Donovan said. “If it were Planet Fitness or 24-Hour Fitness, [it’d be different].” He said the issue is Fitness Evolution’s reputation, which isn’t good. The Better Business Bureau gave Fitness Evolution a “F.”

“BBB files indicate that this business has a pattern of consumer complaints alleging difficulty cancelling services and obtaining refunds,” the Better Business Bureau’s review of Fitness Evolution reads. “In some cases, complainants indicate that they are billed after signing the cancellation forms required by the company to cancel services. Consumers also allege that they are charged even though they only sign up for a free trial membership. The company generally responds to cancellation complaints by outlining the terms of service, and holding consumers to the agreement.”

GGD Oakdale, LLC, of Modesto owns the property. One of the owners of the LLC, Sanjiv Chopra, is the manager of Fitness Evolution. Bobbi Sargenti is the operations manager. According to the Better Business Bureau, Fitness Evolution also goes by the names of Fit U, OM Fitness, LLC, and Zeus Fitness, LLC.

City of Atascadero Interim Community Development Director Bobby Lewis said that city staff recommended approval of the project because it met all the findings of approval.

“We evaluate projects on compatible land uses. We evaluate them on the general plan and the zoning code,” Lewis said. “This project meets all the findings for compatible land uses. We stick to the factual basis — if it fits into the general plan and zoning code of the city.”

The area Fitness Evolution is proposing to go into is zoned commercial retail, surrounded by commercial retail, commercial service, single-family residences and high-density residential multi-family housing.

The Atascadero Planning Commission approved the conditional use permit at its meeting on April 21. Lewis said the city council can uphold the planning commission’s decision, deny it or send the project back to the planning commission for further discussion. However, he said, city staff recommends that the council uphold the planning commission’s decision.

“I’m a true believer of health and fitness,” Donovan said, adding that if people have a bad experience with a health and fitness business — as people who have shared on Yelp and reported to the Better Business Bureau — they will be turned off fitness and not want to join another club. “They hurt the industry. They hurt the general population.”

JPlus Architects of Roseville, along with Fitness Evolution’s owners, did not respond to multiple press inquiries.

This was published on Paso Robles Daily News on May 20, 2015.

Woman dies in house fire Friday in Atascadero

Shirley Martin of Atascadero died at Twin Cities Community Hospital after she was found unconscious in Atascadero outside her burning home early Friday morning. Atascadero Fire Captain Bill White said Atascadero City Fire Department personnel, along with Cal Fire, Paso Robles Fire, Templeton Fire, San Luis Ambulance and Atascadero Police, responded to a call around 4:30 a.m. Friday for a fire on the 4500 block of Rosita Avenue.

According to White, the fire was contained within 40 minutes with more than 22 firefighters on-site. White said that the fire appears to have started in the living room, though the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

According to White, the first engines that arrived found the structure to have heavy fire and smoke conditions to the interior of the residence. They found an elderly female — Martin — outside the residence, unconscious and unresponsive. While some responded focused on assisting Martin, others worked to confine the fire to the origin.

Martin was transported to Twin Cities Community Hospital, where White said she died of unknown causes.

Damage to the house and contents is estimated at $375,000, White said.

The story was posted on May 11, 2015, on Paso Robles Daily News.

Oak Park seeks farm workers for subsidized housing

Paso Robles Housing Authority has completed the first phase of its four-phased project to replace old military housing at Oak Park in north Paso Robles, with the second expected to be finished by the end of the year. All the units are filled, except for those units reserved for farm workers and their families.

“We know there’s a large population of farm workers working in the wineries,” Paso Robles Housing Authority Executive Director Dave Cooke said.

Of the 80 units in phase one, 20 of those are for farm workers. In order to be accepted to rent a unit, an applicant must qualify under the United States Department of Agriculture rules, which Cooke said basically boils down to being a farm industry worker, which includes truck drivers and others, or being a retired or disabled farm laborer, and at least $5,800 a year of the household’s income coming from farm work. Cooke said the farm worker has to be a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

The two phases will have a total of 150 units in a multi-family apartment complex. Those units replace 87 units that were torn down for the project. When all four phases are complete, there will be up to 300 units on the site where there were 148 before.

The amount of rent the tenant will have to pay depends on the total household income, the remaining is subsidized. The units available at Oak Park are one bedroom through four bedroom apartments and range from 850 square feet to 1,455 square feet. Rents before subsidy are $700 for a one-bedroom apartment, $800 for two, $975 for three and $1,175 for four.

“They’re pretty good size units, Cooke said and added that the new buildings are solar-powered so gas and electric bills are very low. “It’s the only apartment complex that is 100 percent solar in Paso Robles. [The units] are very energy-efficient.”

The remaining units for farm workers are two- and three-bedroom units and are located at 29th and Park streets. All units come with a stove, dishwasher, miniblinds, refrigerator, washer/dryer hookups and free WiFi.

Phase 1 was completed in September 2014, that same month, Cooke said, the first tenants began moving in. The 60 non-farm worker units and seven of the farm worker units are occupied. He said the Housing Authority received quite a few applications for the farm work units, but for one reason or another, they did not qualify. Cooke said the households may have exceeded the allowable max income, or perhaps the farm worker was not a legal resident.

Cooke said if any employer in the agriculture industry wanted to share the affordable housing information with employees, the Housing Authority would deliver fliers in both English and Spanish and talk to anyone interested.

The second phase will add another 70 units, with 25 percent for farm workers, and will be completed at the end of the year or early 2016. There are currently more than 600 people on the wait list for the current project. Cooke said he is unsure if the Housing Authority will be able to fill the second phase from the wait list or if the process will have to start over. He said it is based on affordable housing regulations.

For more information on the Housing Authority’s projects, go to www.pasoroblesha.org, email info@pasoroblesha.org or call 805-238-4015.

To read the full story, click here.