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While Santa Rosans are in a pitched battle over Measure C, a rent control referendum to be decided on June 6, there’s another C that’s already changing the community in more significant ways — cannabis. As Mayor Chris Coursey put it, “Right now cannabis seems to be more viable as a business than housing, unfortunately.”

That’s only too true. Since even before the city started issuing permits for medical cannabis businesses last year, there has been a rush for warehouse space, a competition that has been driving up rents throughout the city. It’s a “green rush” that could end up being a deterrent for the one thing that most Santa Rosans agree the city needs most — housing.

The council got a taste of the problem last week when a developer of a 185-unit housing development attempted to stop a cannabis operation from opening near his project in the West End neighborhood. The business, a startup called Fleuron Inc., plans to grow and process medical cannabis in a vacant 11,000-square-foot building on Maxwell Court. The council rejected the developer’s complaint but did a little soul-searching on what’s happening with this influx of pot businesses. “I think that we’re at the point, or we’re very close to the point, where we need to talk about how much is too much in various areas of the city,” said Coursey.

I would submit that we’re past that point.

Here’s another example of how this “green rush” is changing the face of our city.

Before my family and I traveled to Costa Rica three years ago, I visited various sporting goods stores in hopes of getting some soccer balls donated for the remote village where we would be running an after-school camp. I explained that we hoped to leave the equipment behind for the children, many of whom had little of anything to call their own. But I got nowhere. Sports Authority said no. So did other well-known chain stores, some of which made me fill out lengthy online forms before being turned down.

Almost out of time, I checked with T&B Sports on West Steele Lane in Santa Rosa, a local company that had been a mainstay during my family’s Little League days. A day later, I walked out with 14 new soccer balls, some shin guards, goalie gloves, a few uniform tops and a half dozen or so hand pumps.

(I’ve frequently used this story when making my case for shopping at locally owned businesses — even if it costs a few dollars more. It pays dividends. Businesses like these are invested in our community and are most likely to step up when donations are needed for local schools, sports teams, etc.)

Some of you already know how this story ends. A little over a month ago, the T&B Sports store in Santa Rosa closed and was replaced by, you guessed it, a marijuana operation. The building, with its 22,378 square feet of space, sold for $4.25 million and, as reported recently by PD writers Kevin McCallum and Robert Digitale, will become a medical cannabis manufacturing, lab testing and wholesale distribution company operated by a New Tropic Collective Inc. of San Francisco. Keep in mind this plant is located just up the block from the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy’s Home Ice.

This is not the only example of the dramatic changes that are occurring. The 9,000-square-foot Cokas Diko furniture outlet at 3499 Industrial Drive is becoming home to the Diamond Mountain Cultivation Club. The building on Piner Road that has been home to the Sonoma County Farm Bureau for nearly 50 years has been sold and is now controlled by two men who run a San Rafael-based medical cannabis collective and delivery-only dispensary called Marin Gardens.

But we should have known this was coming. It’s happened elsewhere. According to industry figures from Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana five years ago, between 2009 and 2014, more than one-third of all industrial properties leased in Denver came under the control of the cannabis industry.

Santa Rosa is limiting cannabis operations to properties zoned for industrial use. But many of these are near or adjacent to sites that could be developed for housing, particularly affordable housing. Some are concerned that this may scare off investors.

To be fair, studies show that many of the things that residents, parents in particular, fear will happen with the arrival of cannabis operations — an increase in crime, vandalism, increased use of marijuana by teens, etc. — have not occurred in other areas. But there are other negative impacts that are quite real, such as the pervasive odor that emanates from this type of business, and concerns about the concentration of cannabis businesses in lower-income areas.

Denver Post writer Jon Murray explored this in depth for Politico Magazine last year in a piece titled “The marijuana industry’s war on the poor.” He looked at one particular working-class neighborhood known as Elyria-Swansea where so many businesses are now licensed to grow and sell marijuana or produce edible pot products that the ratio, according to the Denver Post, is roughly one marijuana business for every 91 residents.

“To the people living in the modest homes near the grow operations that supply the dispensaries and shops in better-off parts of town, the smell is not only an inconvenience but a reminder of their lack of political clout,” wrote Murray.

A political backlash has prompted the Denver City Council to adopt new restrictions such as capping the number of cannabis stores and grow operations and issuing licenses by an annual lottery.

It’s still early, but it’s a snapshot of what could be ahead.

As an example of how cities and counties are all over the map on how to proceed, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors last month voted to ban all commercial marijuana businesses. Meanwhile, the Sacramento City Council has moved ahead much as Santa Rosa has, adopting a 4 percent tax on marijuana-related businesses. (On June 6, Santa Rosa voters also decide on Measure D, a tax of up to 8 percent on cannabis operations.)

Yes, the tax revenue will be welcome. And anybody who owns industrial warehouse space has reason to celebrate. But when all is said in done, we have to ask: Is this really going to make Santa Rosa a better place to live and raise a family? Moreover, will it encourage developers to want to build the housing we need?

I don’t know. But I do have my doubts about whether we will knocking on the doors of any of these new businesses asking for auction items for the next school fundraiser. At least I hope not.

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