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Proposed pot shops keep CEQA exemptions

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The San Diego City Council unanimously voted to keep 11 proposed sites for medical marijuana dispensaries exempt from state environmental regulations, despite challenges filed by a little-known figure who did not show up to the council deliberations.

The 11 projects being reviewed on Tuesday had all received exemptions last fall from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), on the grounds that the dispensaries would be relatively small businesses that did not produce hazardous waste.

But those exemptions have been challenged in a series of individual filings mostly made by Benjamin Zoback of Canyon Lane, who does not live near any of the proposed dispensaries and who has little known history in San Diego.

City Councilmember Todd Gloria and other speakers at the council meeting suggested that Zoback may have been affiliated with a competing marijuana dealer who wanted to slow competition.

Donna Jones, representing a group that hopes to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Hancock Street, noted that for each of the proposed dispensaries, the application process has been frozen since late September or early October when Zoback filed his objections.

"I'd ask that to be fair, since we've been held up since Sept. 30, the applications of dispensaries within the area who are competing with us should also be held up for a similar amount of time," she said.

Jones and another speaker noted that there is already one dispensary operating in the Hancock Street area without a permit. The City Council asked for an investigation of that dispensary and some councilmembers suggested blocking applications from anybody who is currently running an unauthorized dispensary.

Even though Zoback did not show up to the meeting, several residents did, complaining that the dispensaries could add to traffic and crime in their respective neighborhoods.

The council said that such concerns would not prevent an exemption from CEQA, but could be taken up next week, when the council will debate issuing conditional use permits, or CUPs, for the proposed dispensaries.

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