Cannabis distribution center Highway 420 gets smoked by neighbors

On Feb. 10, Mayor Pat Ekland sent an email to Sean Pailhe stating that the business Highway 420 withdrew its application to put in a cannabis distribution center at 205 San Marin Drive. This email was sent in regards to Pailhe and other community members pleading their case to the Novato City Council on Jan. 26. Pailhe presented a change.org petition with over 1,000 signatures while anxious neighbors, including San Marin parent Rose Moran, voiced their safety concerns. Moran, among others, was primarily worried about break-ins, traffic jams, and a decrease in property values. Other community members have since come forward arguing that what happened to Highway 420 owner’s Justin Pool and Jennifer Durham was driven by fear tactics and that the city is missing out on a huge tax benefit. 

“I realize that cannabis is legal in California and this is someone’s livelihood and investment,” Moran wrote in an email to Mayor Pat Ekland. “As a business person myself, I understand the economic and tax benefits to the City and the intricacies for setting zoning rules and precedents. This is just not an appropriate location in the middle of families and schools.”

Moran described that her property shares a fence with the parking lot of 205 San Marin Dr. and that the distribution center would not only disrupt the community that lives in the complex of townhouses, but pose safety concerns for children in the neighborhood. 

“Would you want your children or grandchildren living and playing somewhere they might be inadvertently in harm’s way?” Moran said. “The mere fact that a security guard is needed implies potential danger.” Ekland reached back out to Moran inviting her to share this email with the city council during the meeting on Jan. 26. 

Moran was far from alone with this concern. The change.org petition titled “Keep Novato Safe” received 1,037 signatures, including one from San Marin parent Marie Rehberg. Rehberg said her initial reaction was parental, to protect the children in the community and keep the neighborhood safe. 

“I do not want our children around drugs and drug dealers,” Rehberg said. “To put a cannabis distribution center location around the corner from an elementary school and a high school, to me, puts revenue before the safety of our families and neighborhood.”

After signing the petition, Rehberg said something immediately did not sit right with her. She couldn’t understand why the city would put revenue above the community’s safety and felt the photo attached to the petition caused her to sign without developing a complete picture of the matter at hand. Rehberg is referring to pictures depicting stacks of money, guns, and drugs, some of which can no longer be accessed. 

“I signed the petition on instant emotional reaction from the information and photo provided in the petition,” Rehberg said. “I was very influenced by the photo. It gave me the impression that the drug shop would bring drug dealers and drug busts to our neighborhood.”

After pursuing her own research, Rehberg found that the cannabis distribution center currently operates in Sonoma County and already delivers cannabis to customers in Marin County. She also found that this specific company maintains a high-security detail as a safety precaution.

“I was relieved to learn this location will not be an open shop that will have strangers coming and going through the neighborhood, which is what I was visualizing when I read the petition,” Rehburg said. “I now see it similar to distribution centers that exist everywhere today: a business model that Amazon and many companies have in order to get products to customers more efficiently and cost-effectively. Had I known this information, I would not have signed the petition against it.” 

Similar to Rehburg, neighbor Stacy Lynch described the petition as a form of “fear based propaganda” that misconstrued a legal business that followed all the city’s guidelines for a safety concern. Including the guideline that stated Highway 420 must pay the City of Novato 3.5% of annual gross receipts derived from non-storefront retail operations (Conditions of Approval City of Novato). 

“Legally it’s perfectly fine if you look at what is required,” Lynch said. “Besides, there is nothing happening in that neighborhood. If someone were to try stealing, it would stick out like a sore thumb.” 

According to Denise Billings, one of the building managers at 205 San Marin Dr., those that she spoke to, including both tenants and employees, had no safety concerns. She said that many opposed community members were simply misinformed. 

“My feeling was that the neighbors just reacted without really taking the initiative to find out the reality of the business,” Billings said. “The neighbors consistently treated this like a walk-in retail outlet which it was never going to be. And if there were a guard it would be inside the premises. No one bothered to ask us this question.” 

To Billings, there was no downside to renting to Highway 420. This cannabis distribution center is a delivery-only business which means there would be no walk-in customers. Billings also said that this business would only use three out of the 17 parking spaces in the lot, which she argues would cause no traffic problems–one of the primary concerns some neighbors had. 

“The neighbors also disregarded that not only were they hurting the potential tenant but also the small business that owns the building by denying us the ability to rent that suite to a successful venture,” Billings said. 

Just across the street at the San Marin shopping center, there are four vacancies. Two of which have left since the beginning of 2021: the Family Pet Store and Starbucks. 

“As businesses are closing their doors, other businesses will thrive,” Lynch said. “You have to take the businesses that can thrive during the pandemic, and we don’t necessarily know what those businesses are, but Highway 420 might have been one of them.”

Riley Sheehan
Sean Pailhe’s petition “Keep Novato Safe” received 1,037 signatures and depicts an image of guns and money. Pailhe argued against Highway 420’s application to use the address 205 San Marin Drive.

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