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Santa Rosa Planning Commission approves cannabis project despite uproar

After hours of contentious testimony, the Santa Rosa Planning Commission approved a cannabis business proposed for a former schoolhouse in Roseland that has divided community members.

The commission voted 6-0 in favor from the application from Old School Cannabis, a large “farm-to-table” business proposed by two businesswomen who say they want to invest in Roseland.

Opponents of the project could appeal and bring the business’s final approval in front of the Santa Rosa City Council for a vote. Barring a reversal there, the business, where plants will be grown, oils extracted and products manufactured under one roof, appears headed for the former schoolhouse at 100 Sebastopol Road amid an ever-evolving Roseland.

“We want to grow with the community and offer community spaces, promote the art of Roseland and protect the youth,” Nayeli Rivera, one of the business’s owners and operators, said during the meeting. Rivera, a child of Mexican immigrants who grew up in Petaluma, said she looked forward to opening a business that could bring as many as 50 jobs to the area.

But a number of community members including current and former students of Roseland University Prep, the school that was formerly on the site but has since moved, said they found the idea of a cannabis business upsetting but typical for an area local government has historically failed to invest in.

“It was a place to teach Latinx and minority community members,” Veronica Jaramillo said. “No one asked for a dispensary -- they asked for more help for schools, day care, resources.”

Janice Siebert, the president of the Roseland Public Schools District, also spoke against the proposal. “The Roseland school board stands for our kids and against this 23,000 square foot industrial cannabis project,” she said.

“Our strong voice against Old School Cannabis LLC is a statement to our kids and stakeholders,” Siebert said.

Ultimately, the planning commission disagreed. “It’s a unique piece of property and I think this particular applicant is making a good use of it,” Commissioner Patti Cisco said. Dispensaries are opening in neighborhoods all over the city as community retail businesses, she said.

“This isn’t a Roseland dumping ground project,” Cisco said.

Despite the objections, the project did have support.

“It will build up economic wealth within the Roseland community, which is extremely important,” said a caller, who was identified only as Jolee. The large property’s industrial potential could draw a company that was less dedicated to the community than Old School Cannabis, she said.

“We need local people to be running these businesses, hiring people from the community and giving back to the community,” she said.

Within the charter school’s empty classrooms, Rivera and her business partner, Cede Hunter, hope 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.

Callers suggested a food bank, library, community center, cultural center, day care facility and other uses for the property that they believe better suit a historically underserved community.

The cannabis business, opponents of the business said, is a way for outsiders to make money in Roseland.

“It feels like we are being targeted once again by people who are looking to make profit off our people,” Maria Valverde, a MEChA member, said.

While residents opposed the business, frustration was also directed to elected officials and local governments that have failed to provide promised community investments, like a long-discussed public library, to Roseland for decades.

“We don’t have any problem with cannabis,” Silvia Langan said, pushing back on suggestions that opposition came from miseducation about the still newly-legalized cannabis industry. “We are educated about that,” Langan said. “The problem is we have other needs. We need the space for education or for a community center.”

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

Andrew Graham

City of Santa Rosa, The Press Democrat 

As Sonoma County's largest city, Santa Rosas policy, politics, crime, and economy affect the lives of North Bay residents inside city limits and beyond in ways both obvious and unseen. I aim to document those impacts and give voice to city residents.

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