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Civic Auditorium

The Hanford City Council meets inside the Hanford Civic Auditorium.

HANFORD — It was a long Tuesday night for the Hanford City Council after a lengthy discussion on awarding a commercial cannabis business permit took place during a public hearing.

In a split decision, the city’s second cannabis business permit was awarded to Harvest of Hanford for a proposed retail storefront and delivery dispensary located on the north side of Sixth Street, between Green and White streets.

In April, council approved recreational cannabis businesses to locate in Hanford and added storefront and delivery dispensaries as allowed uses in the city. At that time, council limited the number of dispensaries to two storefront/delivery dispensaries in the downtown zone and two delivery-only dispensaries in the Industrial Park.

When the application period was opened earlier this year, Community Development Director Darlene Mata said seven companies submitted applications.

One of the storefront dispensary permits was awarded to Caliva in September, so the other six companies were vying for the second and final permit.

After the remaining companies went through the city’s exhaustive four-phase application process, the final scores had Harvest of Hanford ranked first, with Herb N’ Joy and Elemental Wellness following close behind.

Herb N’ Joy proposed a 1,700 square-foot retail and delivery dispensary located at 102 S. Douty St., while Elemental Wellness proposed a 6,900 square-foot retail and delivery dispensary located at 308 E. Sixth St.

During the meeting Tuesday night, all three of the top ranked companies were able to present and speak before council.

Lauren Niehaus, a representative for Harvest of Hanford, said the proposed 3,400 square-foot building would be located on a lot adjacent to the Rice Bowl and would include 12 parking spaces.

She said they would hire 12-15 full- and part-time employees, most of which would be local, and there would be security guards and live surveillance 24 hours a day.

Niehaus said the business expects around 100 customers a day and projects bringing in $800,000 to the city in the first few years of operation. She said community outreach and partnership are very important and the company has committed 5% of gross receipts to community efforts.

“Our goal is not to be the best dispensary in town, it is to be one of the best business partners in Hanford,” Niehaus said, adding Harvest of Hanford wants to be known for being a good employer, bringing economic development and being a valued member of the community.

Representatives of Herb N’ Joy and Elemental Wellness also made similar presentations on their businesses.

Because only one permit was up for grabs Tuesday, and the city did not receive any delivery-only applications, the representatives implored council to consider adding more permits to allow for more storefront businesses — something councilmembers Francisco Ramirez and Martin Devine were supportive of.

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In the end, Mayor Sue Sorensen made a motion to approve the Harvest of Hanford permit. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote, with Ramirez and Councilman Art Brieno voting “no.”

Additionally, Ramirez made a motion for staff to bring back a resolution to amend the number of permits allowed, which would bring the total to four permits. This motion passed by a 4-1 vote, with Brieno as the only “no” vote.

This does not guarantee that two more permits will be allowed, it just means council will discuss the issue further at a later date and decide whether or not to adopt the resolution.

Controversy?

City attorney Ty Mizote addressed some recent controversies concerning the cannabis businesses and WestCare, a business located at 410 E. Seventh St.

WestCare is a business that provides services to veterans, as well as substance abuse programs for youth under the age of 18. Dennis Fausone, who owns the building that WestCare inhabits, believes WestCare should be considered a youth facility and therefore be part of the city’s sensitive use area.

Sensitive uses include schools, daycares and youth facilities. According to the city’s ordinance, cannabis businesses are not allowed to locate within 600 feet of sensitive uses or within 200 feet of residential areas.

If WestCare were to be designated as a youth facility, Harvest of Hanford’s proposed location would fall within that 600 foot radius.

“I’m baffled that you don’t recognize it as a youth facility,” Fausone said during public comment.

Mizote said the city’s attorneys have analyzed the language and concluded that WestCare is not a youth facility as defined by the state — which is any public or private facility that is primarily used to host recreational or social activities for minors.

While some social and recreational aspects are tied to the WestCare program, Mizote said its primary purpose is substance abuse treatment.

Sorensen and Vice Mayor John Draxler said they are confident that the attorneys fully vetted the situation.

The city attorney also addressed rumors of questionable activity and possible bribery concerning the cannabis businesses. Mizote said his office has seen no evidence of illegal conduct occurring and clarified that no applicants were disqualified during the application process.

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The reporter can be reached at (559) 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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