PICTURED: Renderings of the proposed art center were unveiled inside the unfinished building, which could also house a cannabis dispensary next door. Photo by Alex Wilson

by Alex Wilson

Eight cannabis companies are in the running for three permits to operate dispensaries in the city of Ventura, with some trying to sweeten the pot heading into a pivotal city meeting. The final decision on who will be granted the potentially lucrative permits will be made by City Manager Alex McIntyre following a public meeting July 18 where the companies and their supporters will make their cases.

Factors McIntyre will consider include location and potential impacts to neighbors, business and safety plans and overall qualifications of the owners, according to city documents. Community feedback will be another important consideration.

A map on the city’s website shows three proposed dispensaries close together on Victoria Avenue, not far from the 101 Freeway. Two are proposed in Midtown Ventura along Main Street and the final three would be located in the industrial area south of the 101 Freeway.

The city received only one application for a cannabis business without a dispensary, a distribution center which would be located in an industrial area near the Ventura Auto Center. That permit is expected to be granted since the city will allow up to 10 distribution businesses under an ordinance adopted by the city council.    

Another factor to be considered for dispensary locations are community investments and benefits, which is part of the reason applicants are promising to offer far more than just a place to buy cannabis products, such as charitable donations, according to city documents. 

“Benefits may be in the form of volunteer services, monetary donations, financial support of city-sponsored activities or organizations, in-kind donations to the city or other charitable organizations and/or any other economic incentives to the city.” The top eight applicants are: ZASA LLC, TAT Ventura LLC, MOM Ventura LLC, Shryne Ventura LLC, Haven #2 LLC, Responsible and Compliant Retail Ventura LLC, Harbor Management Group LLC and 805 Reefinery Inc. 

Dispensary offers arts space

The proposed art center has windows fronting Victoria Avenue and Moon Drive. Photo by Alex Wilson

One applicant is already making a splash in the arts community with a pledge to provide a new home to the Ventura County Arts Council (VCAC). The nonprofit was founded in 1997, and is designated by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to be the local partner with the California Arts Council, according to charity officials.

A proposed dispensary called Haven Ventura hopes to set up shop in a newly constructed building at 1981 South Victoria Avenue, a highly visible location on the corner of Moon Drive just north of the 101 Freeway, with nearby neighbors including a drive-through Starbucks and a mobile home park.

Johnnie Hernandez of Haven Ventura with property owner Peter Goldenring. Photo by Alex Wilson

On June 23, an event resembling an art opening was staged at the unfinished space where arts patrons and Haven Ventura supporters sipped wine and viewed art while urging people to contact McIntyre with postcards supporting the bid.

Johnnie Hernandez is head of retail and community relations for Haven Ventura, a dispensary company with several locations already operating in Southern California. One that has also been approved in Oxnard hasn’t opened yet, he said.

Hernandez said that if Haven Ventura wins one of the three permits, the company will lease out two units in the building for the dispensary and provide the remaining third unit to the Ventura County Arts Council. The space includes large windows fronting Victoria Avenue and Moon Drive that would be used to display art to passing motorists.

“We will have the local adult arts community showcase their art, have events. They’re going to have a beautiful conference area,” Hernandez said. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s been really neat, this whole process.”

The property developer and owner, local attorney Peter Goldenring, said that while other dispensaries have plans to support charities the Haven Ventura proposal goes farther.

“The center is provided rent free. The only thing the center has to pay for is insurance. That’s it. So it’s a permanent arts center for the community at no cost,” Goldenring said.

Large windows fronting Victoria Avenue and Moon Drive could be used to display art to passing motorists. Photo by Alex Wilson

VCAC Board President Carolyn Merino Mullin said they’re excited about the possibility at a time when other arts organizations are struggling or closing.

“To have something like this that’s structured and sustainable would be really incredible,” she said. 

Selection process close to final

Ventura Management Analyst Yesania Anderson has been overseeing the city’s cannabis program. Ventura voters decided to allow cannabis dispensaries in the November 2020 election, followed by the city council approving an ordinance in 2021 that put the selection process in motion.

Anderson said the finish line is in sight now that the final community meeting is scheduled.

City officials planned this week to send notices out to homes and businesses within 300 feet of the proposed dispensary locations.

At the upcoming meeting, all eight applicants will have 10 minutes to make their case, which will be followed by a public input period. City officials are also asking for written comments to be submitted before the meeting to give the applicants a chance to respond to concerns.

Anderson said a final decision by the city manager will probably take about two to three weeks.

“He hasn’t been involved or seen any of this, purposefully, because he’s going to have a clean slate when this is presented to him,” she said. 

Anderson said city officials had heard appeals from five cannabis companies that were not included in the list of eight finalists, but the appeals were all rejected.

“I think it’s been a great process so far. I really appreciate our consultant and the way they’ve helped us divide this up where we had a technical review, we’ve had staff review that really has a better sense of the pulse of the community, and now we get to hear from the public,” she said.

The public meeting where the eight applicants are set to discuss their plans will be held Monday, July 18 in the Community Meeting Room at Ventura City Hall starting at 6 p.m.

More on Ventura’s cannabis permitting system at www.cityofventura.ca.gov/2015/Cannabis-Information.