Nine cannabis businesses, including cultivators, manufacturers and distributors have opened up in Santa Rosa over the past three years, joining three longstanding dispensaries and contributing to about $930,000 in tax revenues from the city’s marijuana industry, according to a new city report.
Another 104 cannabis businesses are trying to gain a foothold in Santa Rosa and have submitted proposals to the city that are in various stages of consideration, including 30 possible new stores.
The figures, generated for a subcommittee of the City Council overseeing cannabis policies, show Santa Rosa is on track to become a hub of cannabis commerce despite a slow start, most clearly seen in disappointing tax revenues that came in far lower than projections.
“Originally people thought, ‘It’s taking over everything,’ but that’s not what we see,” said Raissa de la Rosa, the city’s economic development manager. “It’s normalizing into place as a sector within the diverse economy that we have.”
Santa Rosa has just over 8 million square feet of retail space, and even if all 30 applications for new marijuana stores pass muster, the total space would cover less than 1 percent of retail space in the city, according to the report. The vacancy rate for retail space is about 3 percent.
Retail stores and events like the annual Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds are some of the greatest generators of marijuana tax revenue for Santa Rosa, responsible for nearly $415,000 in taxes the has city brought in since July 2017, according to the city.
The biggest challenge for Santa Rosa has been development of its plan for new marijuana retail stores beyond the three existing dispensaries: SPARC on Dutton Avenue, Sonoma Patient Group on Cleveland Avenue and Alternatives on Hampton Way.
City Council members with the cannabis policy group acknowledged the balance they’ve tried to strike between Santa Rosa’s stated mission to treat cannabis like any other businesses and its commitment to addressing people’s concerns about what it could mean to have pot stores pop up all across town.
Over the past three months, the city has approved a dozen applications for cannabis stores, a wave of activity that’s signaled the strong interest by proprietors in establishing brick-and-mortar retail sites for their product in Santa Rosa. Some of the projects have drawn opposition.
The latest dispute came just two weeks ago over the Fox Den cannabis retail outlet slated to go between a bar/cafe and a preschool near Howarth Park. After more than an hour of dueling public comment from audience members in support and opposition, the Planning Commission approved the store on a 5-0 vote.
During Thursday’s discussion, councilmen John Sawyer, Ernesto Olivares and Chris Rogers asked staff to pull together a variety of data about the city’s three dispensaries — including crimes, complaints as well as customer demographics — to help provide the public with real information about how stores impact neighborhoods.
“What’s more likely, if you’re worried about your kids accessing cannabis, is they’re going to get it from the neighbor’s yard and not a dispensary,” said Councilman Chris Rogers, noting city data shows most cannabis complaints are generated in residential areas. “Other cities are looking at what we’re doing. The more data we have the better.”