The San Francisco Planning Commission last week unanimously approved a nearly 5,000-square-foot cannabis dispensary and consumption lounge at 560 Valencia St., between 16th and 17th streets.
The vote, which includes a review of the project in one year, followed more than 30 people calling in to the meeting for public comment, mostly in support.
The new business, which will begin construction after furniture store Blu Dot’s lease ends in June, is set to open in early 2022 and will have an 835 square-foot consumption space, according to project sponsor Willian Dolan.
Dolan, a real estate attorney, said he amassed 212 letters of support from the community, including the Mission Merchant Association and the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association.
Dolan also formed a nine-member equity committee to advise him on how to create an equitable business model that benefits the community. The committee includes displaced or current Mission residents and participants of the Office of Cannabis’s Equity Program, such as Leila Soveron, a displaced Mission resident and founder of a cannabis edible company called Gente De Canna; Guilio Sorro, a Mission resident and high school health teacher at the June Jordan School for Equity; and Robert Aranda, a Mission native and and president of Casa Sanchez Foods.
Equity applicants must meet three of six criteria, such as attending school in San Francisco for five years, having been arrested personally or having an immediate family member relative who has been arrested for marijuana-related charges, and making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
The committee drafted an agreement on hiring that Dolan signed. It commits the Sunset resident to hiring all staff and management locally, and prioritizing current or displaced Mission residents as well as people with disabilities and people who have previously been arrested for nonviolent, marijuana-related charges. Half of his staff at all times must meet these requirements. Dolan also committed to starting hourly wages of $20 for the company’s more than 40 expected employees.
Roberto Ariel Vargas, who identified himself as a cannabis caregiver and second-generation Mission native, said the project’s equity plan “has the opportunity to be a model for how equity can be incorporated into medical cannabis retail in San Francisco.”
Members of United to Save the Mission, a coalition of Mission organizations, were the primary opponents to the project, citing too many existing cannabis businesses in the Mission, an unwillingness by Dolan to share business ownership with members from the neighborhood and a perception that Dolan is disconnected from the community, among other complaints.
“The project sponsor has yet to make it clear why he won’t consider this at least part ownership for equity candidates from the neighborhood. Without this aspect of equity, the project is just seen as performative,” said Larisa Pedroncelli, a Mission resident and member of United to Save the Mission.
“The problem with that is, we need to raise the money to build the store,” Dolan said in an interview. “So if we shared ownership, where are we going to fund the project? The only way to fund the project is to give equity to the investor. So we need to be able to give that ownership to whoever’s giving us money.”
An aspect of the business generally applauded by callers was the incubation program. It includes a proposed 328 square-foot area in which local cannabis entrepreneurs can display and sell their products for free for three years.
The equity applicant chosen for the space will also receive free education and training in running a cannabis business. Ivan Castro, an equity applicant, founder of cannabis company DCCX and fourth-generation Mission resident will be the first participant, but Dolan said he intends to continue the program for as long as he is in business.
While multiple opponents pointed to the saturation of cannabis businesses as a reason to deny the project’s approval, and suggested Dolan build his project elsewhere, the commission was not convinced. So far, five other cannabis operations have been approved for the Mission, including four along Mission Street between 15th and 22nd streets.
“Saturation should be handled in legislation, not in individual case approval or denial,” said commissioner Sue Diamond.
The planned consumption lounge was a source of both concern and praise at the meeting.
“The specific concern with this proposal from our families comes from the proximity in which this proposal is to family and youth-serving organizations, just 180 feet from some of them,” said Lucia Obregon, a member of the Mission Economic Development Agency.
“The consumption lounge is going to be great for the community,” said a caller named Daniel, who identified himself as an attorney for cannabis equity applicants. “People aren’t going to have to smoke it on the street, they’re going to have a place to go to purchase their products and consume it in private without bothering anybody in the street and without being harassed.”
The project, which has been in the works since 2018, was originally set to come before the commission in early December, but Dolan said he delayed the hearing after receiving a letter of opposition from United to Save the Mission in the hopes that he could smooth over any differences.
While that did not happen, Dolan said he hopes any project opponents will eventually see 560 Valencia as a benefit to the community. “I admire their commitment to standing up for the Mission,” Dolan said.
United to Save the Mission did not respond to a request for comment.