V-Town Farms given the go-ahead by Vallejo City Council (2024)

The Vallejo City Council denied an appeal against the cannabis retailer V-Town Farms on Monday night in a 4-2 decision, allowing the “mega dispensary” to open.

However, many questions still surround the process and the city attorney admitted that the city could be facing a lawsuit.

California Collective Care (CCC), another cannabis retailer in town, had challenged the planning commission’s approval of V-Town Farms, which will now be opening up shop in the old Food 4 Less building on Sonoma Boulevard after the appeal was denied.

CCC argued that the large dispensary would hurt “mom and pop” dispensaries in town, would bring crime to the area, and went against the General Plan and zoning codes, among other things.

The final vote came down to Councilmember Tina Arriola and Mayor Robert McConnell voting in favor of the appeal (which would have denied V-Town Farms’ use of the site) and Councilmembers Mina Diaz, Katy Miessner, Pippin Dew, and Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga rejecting the appeal and allowing V-Town to move forward with its plans. Councilmember Hakeem Brown, a dispensary owner in town, recused himself.

Monday’s hearing was a continuance from a previous meeting where the council remained deadlocked. Questions have arisen about City Attorney Veronica Nebb asserting that a previous tie vote on the appeal was moot.

On May 28, the Times-Herald asked the city attorney if the tie vote at the first appeal hearing before council meant that the appeal should have automatically been denied, as per the Brown Act.

Nebb responded in an email: “The Brown Act does not govern the outcome of a tie vote or the call for a continuance on the matter on the Agenda.”

But the Vallejo City Charter, section 310, says the following: “The vote of the majority of the members of the council shall be necessary to adopt any ordinance, resolution, or motion.”

A city source contends that a tie vote on council means that whatever has been put up to motion to approve or deny should automatically be denied; that is, approval can only be had with a majority vote; anything else means rejection.

Vice Mayor Verder-Aliga asked the city attorney to clarify things, asking on Monday what the implications of a 3-3 vote would mean. Nebb said that she had given the council a confidential legal memorandum on the issue, but that she believes “our liability is most exposed in the event of a 3-3 vote, given the State of California law on this subject.” She said that hearing the appeal (after it had been continued from the previous meeting, perhaps) would not open the city up to litigation, but it would be “risky” if the vote ended in a tie.

Further, the vice mayor asked Nebb what the outcomes of 4-2 votes, both for the appeal and against, would mean for the city. Nebb said that if the appeal was denied in a 4-2 vote and V-Town Farms was allowed to open, the city would not be exposed to liability. However, if the vote ended up being 4-2 in support of the appeal and denying V-Town Farms, legal “challenges could impact the city and expose the General Fund to costs and damages,” she said.

The vice mayor pressed the city attorney further, asking on what grounds the city could be sued. Nebb responded with two examples — one being “improper grounds for a vote” and the other “Is there a major use permit in the codes?”

When Vallejo OK’d cannabis businesses here, the council limited its scope to only opening in industrial and light industrial parts of town. The old Food 4 Less store is not zoned for either. This year it was argued that since the Food 4 Less building was zoned for retail, and cannabis dispensaries are retail, then everything was copacetic. But whether or not the site is retail is less important than whether or not it is zoned industrial or light industrial, the source said.

So why did the permits for V-Town Farms get approved? A source told the Times-Herald that Councilmember Pippin Dew “fast tracked” a permit application for V-Town Farms, even though several cannabis businesses had wanted to go into that spot but were told that it was not zoned for cannabis.

When asked in an email about whether or not she “fast-tracked” a permit for V-Town Farms, and why people might be saying that, Dew did not respond to the permit question, but said, “I certainly can’t speak to the motivations of others.”

The Times-Herald sent a question to Interim Deputy City Manager Gillian Hayes asking if Dew fast-tracked the permits for V-Town. The Times-Herald also asked if the site is zoned for cannabis businesses or whether or not the zoning code had been changed to allow for it at the time.

The city, through spokesperson Christina Lee, told the Times-Herald that from 2011 to 2018, there were no retail cannabis uses in the municipal code.

“In December 2018,” wrote Lee, “The municipal code was amended with the new cannabis ordinance, and retail cannabis became legal at the Food 4 Less site. It was not rezoned for these applicants.”

Lee said that the use permit was approved by the planning commission and was not given special treatment by the city.

Still, even the city attorney asked whether or not the question of allowing a major use permit at the site could bring litigation.

The Times-Herald also asked Nebb if the tie vote at the previous meeting, along with continuing the meeting as a result of it, was a violation of California law, opening the city up to litigation. Nebb said that the council voted unanimously to continue the appeal hearing at the next meeting. The city attorney said that a vote leads to “inaction,” and it “leaves the city vulnerable to different interpretations of the ultimate result of a tie. Thus, the advice last night was to try to reach 4 votes one way or the other to avoid the tie vote and an uncertain legal outcome.”

It’s possible that the city attorney was wrong to render the tie at the previous meeting a moot point, meaning that the appeal should have been denied at that time. By saying that the city would be open to litigation only if the appeal was approved by council on Monday, she could have been admitting that, legally, V-Town Farms had already won, and if they had “lost” on Monday, they could sue knowing full well that under the law, the previous tie vote meant they won and the appeal lost, full stop.

Dew was also put on the hot seat from a caller during public comment who said that he witnessed her involved in a deal regarding the V-Town Farms people, who also own Rio Vista Farms.

Eric Thomas from Vallejo’s MCPG Happy Herbs dispensary said that he accompanied Dew to Rio Vista Farms “prior to applying with the city council to try and make the transfer (to the Food 4 Less site) happen,” and that “she knowingly spoke out and said that she wanted to work through her friend, a realtor, and they both referred to Fred Sessler… who was going to spearhead the transaction.”

Sessler, a prominent realtor in town, died in 2020. Thomas asked that Dew recuse herself from the vote, which she did not. Thomas also said that Dew told him that she would get a consultation fee for the real estate deal.

The Times-Herald emailed and asked Dew if she had received any referral fee from the Sessler deal with V-Town Farms and she said, “I have not and will not receive any compensation from any party for anything related to the item that was before us last night.”

“Council,” said Thomas, “Please understand that under penalty of perjury, in front of a judge, the story will be different.”

V-Town Farms given the go-ahead by Vallejo City Council (2024)
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