Tuesday, October 19, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 10th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 6

Lompoc City Council says dance studios are not youth centers where cannabis business buffers are concerned


In a move that had many parents twisting and shouting in anger, Lompoc's City Council ruled that the city's five dance studios were not youth centers. The decision came at the council's meeting on April 3, following an hour of public comment with the vast majority of the dozen or so speakers opposing the removal of the designation, saying it exposed them to cannabis operators who would no longer be restricted by youth center buffer zones.

"A business selling drugs near our studio would be detrimental to future enrollment," Angela Mill, owner of the Classical Dance School of Ballet, told council members that night. Mill brought a petition with more than 100 signatures from concerned parents who were against the removal of the protective 600-foot buffer, which surrounds youth centers and currently dance studios.

A map issued by Lompoc city staff indicates which areas are open for cannabis businesses to operate. Some of the highlighted buffer zones are now subject to change given the City Council’s recent vote to remove the youth center designation from dance studios.

The council voted 3-2 to strip the youth center designation from dance studios, with Jim Mosby, Victor Vega, and Dirk Starbuck in the majority and Mayor Bob Lingl and Councilmember Jenelle Osborne dissenting.

"If you do look at the maps and the isolations that are out, there is very, very limited ... places to go," Mosby said before voting, adding that dispensaries and other businesses would bring added security to whichever areas they decided to set up shop.

Osborne was blunt in her opposition to the move.

"You are opening the door to litigation and a fiscal cliff we don't need to walk off," she said.

Proposition 64, which legalizes recreational cannabis in California, defines youth centers as "any public or private facility that is primarily used to host recreational or social activities for minors, including, but not limited to, private youth membership organizations or clubs, social service teenage club facilities, video arcades, or similar amusement park facilities."

The buffer zones created by these youth centers are essentially a 600-foot bubble in all directions. Within those bubbles, no recreational cannabis business can operate. The distance goes further with schools (to 1,000 feet) and the same distance is applied to any business operating as a "cannabis lounge" or a place where marijuana can be smoked or consumed on-site. Lompoc is one of the only cities in California planning to allow such lounges.

The handful of cannabis advocates in favor of removing the buffer zones claimed that most people against dispensaries operating adjacent to dance studios were suffering from "reefer madness" or an unnecessary and overblown fear of marijuana.

One speaker pointed out that candy was usually sold at liquor stores and gas stations that sold alcohol. "I don't think there's any danger of your children being absorbed by 'reefer madness,'" another speaker added.

Police Chief Pat Walsh voiced concerns about the coming deluge of marijuana businesses in Lompoc and chafed at the notion that dispensaries should be compared to establishments that sell alcohol because the substance "is very regulated and we know what happens" with the liquor industry.

"This [cannabis] is an infant industry and it's going to have some growing pains, and I'm concerned about those growing pains spilling over into the youth that are dancing," he said, adding that dispensary owners and customers, despite their best intentions, would still likely attract a criminal element in the businesses' parking lots.

"There are unintended consequences," Walsh said. "The kids shouldn't be waiting for their mom or dad right next to [a dispensary] because there might be somebody else waiting for their next victim."

At the council's March 6 meeting, City Attorney Joe Pannone informed council members that all five of Lompoc's dance studios primarily served kids. Pannone did so because Mosby had attempted to make a motion limiting how a dance studio could classify itself as a youth center by making the business show it served minors for at least 20 hours a week. The motion failed to garner enough support to pass.

Mosby previously voted in favor to establish buffer zones for dance studios (at that same March 6 meeting), serving as the decisive third vote with Lingl and Osborne. However, Vega, Starbuck, and Mosby changed their tune in recent weeks due to what they said were complaints and concerns from multiple residents about the buffer zones limiting areas where dispensaries can operate.

Mosby in particular added the limited operation hours for dance studios was why he reversed his decision. "When a facility is primarily closed, there's an issue I have," he said on April 3.

That same night, Vega attempted to reduce the overall footage of buffer zones, from the state mandated 600 feet found in Proposition 64, to 400 feet. Pannone warned that the move could expose the city to future lawsuits. Councilmembers decided to discuss the issue at a later date.

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