The CEO of a La Mesa mental health clinic for children says he was stunned to learn last week that the city’s Planning Commission had given approval to a medical marijuana dispensary to open in the same complex.
Moises Baron, who runs the San Diego Center for Children, says his agency was never contacted by the city nor was it given notice of a public hearing on the dispensary’s application. Instead, he found out about the Planning Commission’s decision from an article in the The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Baron is appealing to the city to rescind the permit it granted last month to New Origins Management, Inc. to operate a dispensary less than 1,000 feet from his Family Wellness Center/East County Outpatient clinic on El Cajon Boulevard.
The San Diego Center for Children is a nonprofit that helps youngsters who are struggling with mental, emotional and behavioral issues. It has a contract with the County of San Diego and works with 27 schools in four school districts in East County.
The La Mesa outpatient clinic, which Baron says annually serves more than 500 at-risk children and their families, is at 7339 El Cajon Blvd. in Suites J and K. New Origins is looking to open at the same address in Suite C. The parcels at the address belong to what is called La Mesa Medical Plaza.
Baron says he wants the City Council to revoke the permit when it hears his appeal on April 24. At least one other group also is appealing New Origins’ permit on that same date.
“We are deeply concerned and sincerely hope that the City of La Mesa will revoke it,” Baron said. “Given the services we provide, to very at-risk and vulnerable youths, working with them in schools and at the clinic as an after-school service, for them to be exposed to marijuana dispensaries creates a tremendous risk.”
Baron said that having a dispensary so close could prevent families from seeking services and could cause discomfort for children, families and its staff.
In a letter to the city of La Mesa and members of the City Council, Baron says that his center had “already experienced the detrimental effects of having a marijuana dispensary so close to our children’t therapeutic center.”
Baron wrote that in 2014, because of an illegal marijuana dispensary that was operating on the premises in Suite J, they hired security guards and took other measures to ensure the safety and security of staff, children and families under its care in Suite K.
He said that the center worked with the owners and managers of the La Mesa Medical Plaza to evict the dispensary.
“Given the reassurance we received by these actions, we renewed the lease for Suite K in 2015 for 5 years and also leased Suite J after it was vacated by the ‘Dragon White Dispensary’ to expand our program to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders,” Baron wrote.
La Mesa voters in 2016 passed Proposition U, which states that dispensaries cannot be located within 1,000 feet of “minor-oriented facilities” or city-designated licensed childcare centers, playgrounds, other dispensaries or schools.
Development Services Director Kerry Kusiak said the city attorney’s office reviewed the proposition in light of Baron’s appeal and said it includes a specific list of what constitutes a “minor-oriented” facility.
The ordinance stipulates that minor-oriented facilities mean any after-school program, teen center, club for boys and/or girls, children’s theater, or children’s museum where the primary use is devoted to people under the age of 18.
The city says that Baron’s clinic does not fit those descriptions.
The measure was not written by the city but by an outside group as a citizens’ initiative, Kusiak notes, and as a legal ordinance, is taken literally and without room for interpretation.
“The language does not say ‘including, but not limited to,’” where facilities are concerned, Kusiak said.
Baron believes his center does meet the city’s criteria because it has a school-based mental health program.
He said the appeal will emphasize that his clinic helps youths who are referred to it by local schools, and that it serves as “almost like a continuation, an extension program, for schools.”