Old Roseland school site of new cannabis business? Neighbors say no

Two businesswomen hope to open a marijuana facility at the former site of a Roseland school, but some area residents say they don’t want the business in their neighborhood.|

Two area businesswomen want to open a cannabis growing, manufacturing and retail distribution facility in a building that once housed a Roseland charter school, but some area residents say they object to that kind of business in their neighborhood.

Old School Cannabis, which has applied for permission to operate at the site, will be considered by the Santa Rosa Planning Commission during a scheduled meeting Thursday afternoon.

The business’ owners say it could create as many as 50 jobs during peak production periods. Local residents would receive first consideration for any open positions and the business, itself, would attract a significant cross-section of patrons to the area.

“We want to ... uplift the community and build jobs and uplift the culture,” co-owner and operator Nayeli Rivera said.

Rivera said she is a first-generation immigrant whose parents moved to Sonoma County in the 1970s. She added that she grew up in Petaluma and now lives in Sebastopol.

“Being Mexican-American and being a business owner in the (Roseland) community, I think, is just a wonderful opportunity and I feel very excited and very humbled,” she said. “There’s not many Latinos in cannabis and especially not women.”

Her partner, Cede Hunter, is also from Northern California. Hunter’s father, Dennis, was a cannabis industry leader in Santa Rosa, according to a biography in the company’s permit application.

Located at 100 Sebastopol Road, the former school building is bordered by industrial facilities to its north and south. Residential neighborhoods are on its other two sides.

To the east, across the SMART rail line, is the Village Station development, which is under construction.

According to the business’ permit application, Old School Cannabis would include an area for on-site cultivation, as well as another area where cannabis plants would be converted into product. Rivera said this allows for significant quality control.

Within the charter school’s empty classrooms, the operators plan to set up a 17,120-square-foot cannabis growing operation, as well as a 500-square-foot manufacturing unit to extract oil from the plants, a retail dispensary and a lounge where cannabis can be consumed (though city officials say it cannot be smoked) on the premises.

From a permitting perspective, the company’s plan is unique, said Santa Rosa Senior Planner Kristinae Toomians, who has recommended the Planning Commission approve Old School Cannabis’ application.

The project is on the larger side for a cannabis facility that will operate within Santa Rosa city limits, and few cannabis dispensaries have obtained approval for on-site consumption.

Old School Cannabis could begin seeking cannabis licenses once the project is approved by the Planning Commission. Santa Rosa City Council would only weigh-in if neighbors filed an appeal, Toomians said.

At least a handful of Roseland residents are opposed to the project.

An informal group of neighborhood residents say they plan to speak against it, Thursday afternoon, before the Santa Rosa Planning Commission.

They may be joined by members of the Santa Rosa Junior College chapter of MEChA, a Latinx student advocacy organization, which posted to its Facebook page asking people to call in to the meeting to voice their opposition to the business.

According to the post, the proposal upset some members who were former students of Roseland University Prep, which once occupied the building where Rivera and Hunter hope to set up shop.

Through the group’s adviser, Rafael Vázquez, MEChA declined to comment, other than to say that representatives would attend Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting and speak before the commissioners.

Roseland residents who also plan to speak before the commission in opposition of the project, said they consider cannabis an undesirable industry, particularly in a neighborhood full of children and families.

They expressed frustration that a property, which was also considered as a possible permanent site for Roseland’s long-anticipated public library, would go to such a business.

“There’s residences around and that was a school for young people providing a healthy education,” said area resident Marisol Angeles, 46.

A cannabis dispensary could attract crime, she said, adding that it did not fit her image of Roseland as a family community.

“They always bring the worst to the community of Roseland,” said Concepcion Dominguez, 52, another area resident. “Why don’t they put it in Fountaingrove? Because there’s rich and powerful people who are going to oppose it there.”

Rivera said she and her colleagues canvassed the houses around the project’s proposed site and talked with neighbors to explain their plans.

They found little opposition, she said, adding that she was not aware of MEChA’s concerns until a Press Democrat reporter informed her.

“We are surrounded by a community and neighborhoods and so we really care about being a good neighbor,” she said, adding that the business has a 13-point “good neighbor policy” that includes having a bilingual community liaison on staff.

Rivera attributed fears that the business would attract crime or adversely affect the neighborhood’s youth to a lack of understanding about the legalized cannabis industry.

“It’s often stigmatized, especially in the Latino community,” she said, citing illicit narcotics trafficking and cartel violence in Latin America.

Rivera said she hopes Old School Cannabis can help to turn such views around by being a good neighbor and educating the community about cannabis as a legalized medicine.

"This is a plant that’s in our roots,” she added.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

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