petition filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, petitioners with RD x Catalyst-Costa Mesa LLC allege members of the City Council defied Measure Q — a ballot initiative passed by voters in November — when they left creation of a permitting process to the discretion of City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison.
“The City Council improperly delegated significant policy issues with a blank check to the city manager in contravention of the letter and spirit of Measure Q,” the document states. “The city manager [then] developed a prioritization process that … provides a priority application window for highly coveted cannabis storefront retailers.”
Measure Q’s ballot language states retail cannabis regulations shall be “adopted by ordinance with a two-thirds vote of the entire City Council.” And while ordinances were passed with 5-2 votes in a first and second reading in April and May, the council never defined how applications would be reviewed and processed, instead leaving that up to city staff.
Petitioners allege Farrell Harrison drafted a “fake” social equity program and other last-minute rules that were posted to the city’s website Friday, six days before the application window opened.
For example, marijuana manufacturers and processors already doing non-retail business in the city’s “Green Zone” have been granted priority status for applying for storefront dispensary permits, even though the council and the city’s planning commission never indicated such provisions would be made.
A social equity program designed to give top priority to minority candidates historically subjected to unfair treatment under punitive marijuana laws, undone in 2016 by California’s Proposition 64, applies to candidates who have lived in Costa Mesa for at least five years and who meet certain other criteria.
“They made the city manager the god of cannabis. [And] the city manager, who’s not elected, came up with all the policies on her own,” Elliot Lewis,