Berkeley's City Council gave a longtime medical marijuana dispensary the green light to move its operations to the former Scharffen Berger chocolate building, over objections of a developer and a private school who threatened to sue the city over the move.
The Council met in closed session for the second time Monday night after receiving a letter in January from Wareham Development, which threatened to sue the city if it allowed Berkeley Patients Group to use the building at 914 Heinz Ave. on the west side of town.
Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, a private school a block away from the proposed site, also is opposed to the move. It has complained that Berkeley's Measure JJ, which bans medical marijuana facilities from being within 1,000 feet of public schools but says nothing about private schools, is unfair.
A representative from Berkeley Bowl West, which is next to the Scharffen Berger building, said during the meeting it also is opposed because it is afraid customers from Berkeley Patients Group will use its parking lot.
"Technically they can come in and ask for a zoning certificate and I assume it will be granted," Mayor Tom Bates said following the closed-door session. "But we hope all sides show good faith and continue to work together and negotiate."
During a public comment period before the closed meeting, Berkeley Patients Group Director Debby Goldsberry said the medical marijuana outlet has been frustrated in its attempts to meet with its detractors.
"Despite weeks of trying, we have yet to get a meeting with Wareham, Ecole Bilingue or the Berkeley Bowl," said Goldsberry.
Goldsberry said Berkeley Patients Group has been trying to move for five years, but everywhere it tries to go, it meets opposition.
"Everyone in Berkeley says they believe in medical marijuana, but not in their neighborhood," Goldsberry said.
Anna Shimko, a lawyer for Wareham Development which has 22 properties in the area and is opposed to the dispensary because it believes it will hamper efforts to bring more business to the area, said if the company decides to sue, it will be to overturn the issuance of the zoning permit and to overturn the portions of Measure JJ that it is opposed to.
The measure, in addition to banning medical marijuana dispensaries from being within 1,000 feet of public schools, allows dispensaries to be anywhere in the city without a public hearing. It was passed by Berkeley voters in 2008.
Mark Berson, President of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, said during the meeting that the chamber is not taking sides, but wants all parties to work together on a solution.
"Berkeley Patients Group and Wareham Development are both good corporate citizens and they're good members of the chamber," Berson said. "I think we can work something out."