FORT BRAGG, 1/25/21 — When does a yes vote equal a no? One place was at Monday night’s Fort Bragg City Council meeting to decide the fate of a proposed new cannabis business.
Cannabis entrepreneur Brandy Moulton won a 2 to 1 Council vote Monday night, but that wasn’t enough to get approval for her plan to create a retail, manufacturing and plant-start microbusiness operation on Franklin Street in downtown Fort Bragg.
The council took the vote to overturn the Fort Bragg Planning Commission’s December decision to deny Moulton’s proposal. Moulton had envisioned a business, Moulton’s Sunshine Holistic, which would have used the old Floor Store building across from the Post Office and Purity Supermarket, constructing new facilities and even giving a worker a place to live onsite.
After losing at the Planning Commission Moulton appealed to the City Council — but because the city requires three votes to overturn a Planning Commission decision, no matter how many councilpersons are present, the 2 aye to 1 nay vote amounts to a “no.”
The Fort Bragg Council has five seats, but one is currently empty. Vice Mayor Jessica Morsell-Haye recused herself based on the fact she is an owner of the Golden West Saloon, located nearby and thus could have a conflict of interest. That left three councilmembers to make the decision about the dispensary-growing and manufacturing operation. So, the vote had to clear 3 to 0 for the project to move forward.
Mayor Bernie Norvell and Councilmember Lindy Peters voted in favor of the dispensary (to overturn the planning commission’s denial). But Councilmember Tess Albin-Smith voted no, killing the proposal. Norvell and Peters had attached conditions including a smell test, to have a way to control the permit based on odor, Moulton had detailed plans on how there would be no odor, but smells often come up as a question for cannabis operations. The plants would have been limited to small starts, commonly called clones. Norvell and Peters also attached a condition that clones grown on site be sold on site, not used off site, which was one of the primary concerns of the Planning Commission.
Moulton already owns the dispensary Sovereign, located in the “Henry’s Meadow” building south of Fort Bragg on Highway 1. She characterized the effort as basically a relocation at the meeting, albeit to a larger facility. In an interview after the meeting, Moulton said she hadn’t decided for sure whether she would reapply, and whether Sovereign’s location might be kept open regardless of what might happen with Sunshine Holistic. She currently rents the old Floor Store building. Albin-Smith encouraged Moulton to reapply, covering the conditions ahead of time that the planning commission had rejected.
The planning commission had denied the application mainly based on an extensive discussion about which use was the “primary” use, among retail, manufacturing and growing — and which two were subordinate. Moulton said the retail business was primary, while the other two, which are not generally allowed as primary uses in the downtown area, were subordinate.
This led to a discussion of whether the growing part of the business would sell cloned starts only at the retail store or would use them on Moulton’s other operations. Selling or transferring the starts for offsite use might mean that the primary business was really the growing operation. Moulton said the primary use would be selling in store, as there are no other nurseries within 60 miles and she anticipated strong demand, but couldn’t be sure, as is the nature of business. If all the plants grown onsite were being sold onsite, the growing operation would be a subordinate use to the retail store, Norvell and Peters reasoned. Moulton was ready to compromise and not take any of the clones off site.
“Bernie and Lindy are always objective. I don’t know Tess all that well,” said Moulton, in the interview. Moulton added that she felt the planning commission had been “very biased” against her. The council is scheduled to pick a new council person soon. That person could be key in preventing the council from being stuck in similar future situations where unanimous votes are needed.
In an unrelated matter, Moulton is also the person who has sued Fourth District Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde in a free speech case over being banned from Gjerde’s county supervisor Facebook page. The case is still active in federal court, she confirmed.
In other business, the council also heard that the city probably won’t have to provide a building to house a winter homeless shelter after all. Mayor Norvell reported that the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community Shul in Caspar has stepped up with an offer to give the homeless winter shelter a location for at least the last two weeks of March. The winter shelter is scheduled to close at the end of March.
The temporary winter shelter for the homeless, operated by the nonprofit Hospitality Center, had itself been homeless until first the local Lutheran Church and now the Jewish Shul stepped forward. Norvell reported that Trinity Lutheran Church Pastor Randy Knutson spoke to his board and the church gave approval for running the winter shelter through March 15. The church first took on housing the shelter when it opened in January. The city had been scrambling to find a location within city buildings should it be needed to host the winter shelter, first looking at the C.V. Starr Community Center, then crossing that off the list and hosting a meeting last week about hosting the shelterin the old gymnasium behind city hall. The Shul is located on the grounds of the Caspar Community Center.
The council also approved by a 3 to 0 vote a transportation study for the Dollar General Project with consultant Fehr & Peers not to exceed $49,935. Councilperson Peters emphasized the money is from the developer, not from city bank accounts. See our previous coverage here:
Mayor Norvell recused himself from the Dollar General item based on a relative’s ownership of a nearby property. Vice Mayor Morsell-Haye then took over the meeting for the last two items, each of which related to the Dollar General proposal.