The Martinez City Council has chosen the operator for its second retail marijuana dispensary — a firm led by the son of retired longtime U.S. Rep. George Miller.
The council voted 4-0 on Nov. 20 to award a “conditional certificate” allowing Embarc to apply for a commercial cannabis operating permit.
Mayor Rob Schroder, who sells insurance for a living, recused himself from last Wednesday’s vote, as a partner in one of the proposed dispensaries (not Embarc) has a business relationship with Schroder.
Embarc was one of four firms selected as finalists to receive this conditional certificate, and the highest-ranked proposal based on a list of criteria set by the city.
The owner and CEO of Embarc is George Miller IV, the son of the former congressman and himself a onetime state Assembly candidate.
The elder Miller, who from 1975 until 2015 represented parts of the East Bay in the U.S. House of Representatives, is the chairman of Embarc’s Community Advisory Board. That board would oversee a Community Benefits Fund to which Embarc would give 1 percent of its gross revenues, for distribution to various nonprofits.
Council members’ top two applicant choices for the one certificate, as well as a third applicant, proposed retail store locations on Alhambra Avenue, one of the city’s most traveled thoroughfares.
The proposed Embarc location, a former book store at 3501 Alhambra Ave., is 2 1/2 blocks — 1,150 feet — from the campus of Alhambra High School, and directly adjacent to the Martinez Unified School District’s adult school property, where a vacant former Wendy’s restaurant sits.
That proximity doesn’t sit well with CJ Cammack, the school district superintendent.
He told the City Council that the district had received “zero communication at any time in this process” concerning a retail cannabis business 2 1/2 blocks from the high school.
The adult school, Cammack said, hosts a GED (General Education Diploma) program in which some younger students take part. He said he opposes a dispensary anywhere near a school, as they lend “a greater culture of acceptance of marijuana use.”
The lack of warning was not intentional, a calm but angry Cammack said, “but I believe it was a significant oversight.”
Also unhappy was Helen Russo, an assistant school district superintendent. She said the district never heard anything from the city about the retail cannabis proposals, and that the 3501 Alhambra location presents “a huge concern about our students’ safety.”
“There’s no reason that we shouldn’t have been involved with this,” Russo said. “I feel really disrespected, I really do.”
About a dozen others spoke up on the dispensary proposals, their opinions ranging from warm welcome to sharp criticism of the location near schools. One man told the council he would rather spend his money locally than drive to Vallejo or another city to buy cannabis; a woman called the dispensary an “attractive nuisance” not worthy of a spot on the city’s main thoroughfare.
Ultimately, the council went with the Millers’ proposal over those of more experienced cannabis sellers, not only because of Embarc’s high score on the city’s criteria ranking, but because of the Miller name, long established in Martinez.
Councilman Mark Ross acknowledged he is wary of the old book store location near the high school, but also said a location in a light-industrial district wouldn’t be a secret to students.
“Kids are going to get in trouble whether it’s next door or down the street,” said Ross, adding he said it was up to parents, school officials and the community in general to equip kids to make good life decisions about cannabis or anything else.
Miller IV said his family feels rooted in Martinez, adding, “This is where I’m from, this is where my family lives.” He told the council be believes that comes with some responsibility, and wants to make sure Embarc does things the right way.
“One bad thing can ruin a reputation,” he said. “Failure is not an option.”
Embarc’s proposal to the city includes giving 6 percent of gross revenues to the city and 2 percent of gross for a public safety fund, along with the aforementioned 1 percent to a community benefits fund.
City staff was asked to bring back to the council a formal resolution for Embarc to receive the certificate. That is expected at the council’s Dec. 18 meeting.