Sunday Commentary: Will Dispensaries in the Downtown Lead to Revitalized Business or More Parking Impacts?

My view: This is probably more about the type of business, but the arguments against the businesses are indeed weird given the need for a revitalized Davis Downtown and the prospect for more customers being drawn in as the result of the dispensaries.

This past week the Davis Planning Commission gave feedback on 13 individual applications for consideration to receive a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) that would allow retail cannabis dispensary use at various locations proposed throughout the City.

Due to the number of applications received, the CUP applications are being brought forward to the Planning Commission collectively over two meetings.  A second meeting is planned for March 28 for additional commission discussion and deliberations.

The community overwhelming voted to approve Proposition 64 and the Davis City Council has moved quickly but deliberately toward allowing commercial dispensaries.  But as always, the devil is in the detail.  And here I noticed in the write up on the meeting in the local paper some curious arguments against individual dispensary locations.

A key point is that the applicants estimate the new businesses will generate between 150 and 200 daily customer visits for each dispensary.  Naturally, while there is a belief that many patrons will arrive by bike or foot, there is a concern about sufficient parking to accommodate that level of business.

One person, who runs a marriage and family therapy business across the street from the proposed F Street Dispensary at 416 F St, is concerned about parking issues, claiming that, as it is now,
parking and traffic are “out of control.”  She told the commission, “It almost makes me want to move my practice to another city.”

In her view, allowing a dispensary to move into a commercial zone in the downtown, “it’s just completely to a point where the city’s going to shut down.”

Another person who operates a salon next door to the proposed Manna Roots dispensary at 117 D Street “questioned the impact on the downtown area of cannabis dispensaries.”

In her view, the impact “could negatively impact efforts underway to revitalize the downtown core area.”

Let’s think about this for a moment because it really struck me.  We want a thriving downtown, with businesses that draw people in.  We want people to come and spend their money in the downtown.  And yet, business owners are expressing a concern that a business that draws in too many people to the downtown is bad.

“We’re looking at these businesses having 200 people visiting per day,” one person said.

They are expressing concern about the efforts to revitalize the downtown core?  Isn’t part of revitalizing the downtown core bringing in thriving businesses?  I would think bringing in new business would be a good think.  Granted, therapist or salon businesses are probably not businesses that would benefit from additional foot traffic.

But I might think that, if I sold food or offered retail, it might be attractive to have new businesses.

As one of the applicants, Mary Kay Hoal, pointed out, there are considerations including “the health, safety and welfare of the community in the area; the background and history of the applicant; whether a proposed site and use is compatible with surrounding properties and uses; and whether the use would enhance the economic vitality of the area.”

But I would think more people equals more economic vitality.

Ms. Hoal cited statistics in her presentation that “dispensaries bring 10 times more customers than specialty retail stores to a given location.”  She noted that neighbors she’s talked to “are excited about the addition of a dispensary nearby and what it means for their businesses.”

The question I have is whether businesses are really complaining about the prospect of a new business coming in that will draw a large number of people into the downtown, or whether it is certain businesses.

Is this just Davis being unfriendly to new business prospects?  It seems like every time new things are proposed, the concern is with traffic impacts and parking, and the positive impact of the influx of more business is downplayed.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this scenario.  The article mentions one dispensary is being proposed for the downtown in “a building behind Delta of Venus, a cafe at the corner of First and B streets owned by Lee Walthall.”

Mr. Walthall indicated that his expectation is that traffic and parking are going to be less of a problem than people fear.  He expects most customers to arrive on bike or foot – while I have not looked at data on this, I’d be curious as to why that is the expectation.  Moreover, about half the business would be via delivery, which would limit at least some of the impact on the area.

Another location is the 325 G Street location for which the property is owned by the Davis Enterprise.  The advantage of that location is it has considerable onsite parking as well as being close to the large and largely underutilized G Street parking garage.

Still at the end of the day, we have to wonder – are people really complaining that a potentially thriving business is coming into the downtown?  If we got a very popular restaurant, entertainment establishment or retail establishment, would the complaint be that it would draw in too many people and contribute to traffic and parking problems, or would we be thankful for additional business coming into the core area?

Is this really about parking and traffic or is it about the nature of the business itself?  And if so, why did so many people vote for Prop. 64 in Davis, if they didn’t actually want dispensaries?

We don’t have answers to any of that, but it seems reasonable to ask them.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith O

    But I might think that if I sold food, or offered retail that it might be attractive to have new businesses.

    For sure if one sold food their business would benefit from people walking around with the munchies.

    1. Ken A

      I wonder if we can see the amount of Doritos and M&Ms sold in town before and after pot is legally sold in town.

      P.S. Now that pot is legal do we still need to call the places that sell it “Dispensaries” and have “special” stores (like the “beer stores” in Canada).  It seems like we don’t need to make a big deal about it and Davis can just let 7-11 (or any other retailer in town) sell it along with beer, cigarettes and beef sticks.

        1. Tia Will

          The question I have is whether businesses are really complaining about the prospect of a new business coming in that will draw a large number of people into the downtown, or whether it is certain businesses.”

          From a recent neighborhood outreach meeting, I would say that the primary concerns expressed were with regard to the nature of the planned business, not the existence of a business at the location ( on L street) itself. The neighbors at this particular meeting were all respectful of others points of view and seemed divided about whether or not the dispensary would be a benefit or liability to the community even though it has parking space available. I think this represents a healthy discussion and is much as one would expect given differing priorities.


      1. Howard P

        You are onto a concept, but I’d monitor Taco Bell and jack in the Box, as they have actually marketed to “late night munchies” in the not so distant past…

        1. John Hobbs

          My local dispensary is next to a Safeway Supermarket and two competing ramen houses. The businesses seem to stay busy all the time! In the several years since the dispensary opened, parking has been at a premium, yet I never hear anyone complaining about it.

  2. Don Shor

    I disagree with the premise of this article. We have a thriving downtown. There are hundreds of businesses and lots of customers going downtown every day. In terms of the volume of customer traffic, Davis downtown does not need revitalization. If we had a shortage of customers, we wouldn’t have a parking problem.

    The problem over the last decade has been the shift from walk-in retail to entertainment and dining businesses, which generate more traffic and more parking needs than what has been provided. It seems these stores would need more parking than would a typical retail business. The question for each dispensary site is whether there is a sufficiency of parking. It seems there is an estimate that these store generate more parking per square foot than typical retailers do. Any assumption about the mode of travel should be looked at with skepticism.

    I think the council needs to go slowly in permitting cannabis stores in the downtown area for the same reasons they would be cautious in adding liquor stores. There are proposals for sites that are in less-trafficked parts of town, and those should be given first priority. Any cannabis store downtown needs adjacent on-site parking dedicated specifically to that business, such as the Enterprise site.

      1. Ron

        I can already envision the “neighborhood battles” that will occur if dispensaries are proposed near housing.  (Same thing with downtown, if the city continues to turn that into a semi-residential area – which I think is a big mistake.)

        Already, BUSINESSES are fighting the dispensaries (let alone residences)!

        I do agree with Don, in that Davis already has a thriving downtown. Dispensaries primarily belong there, in my opinion.

        1. Ron

          (Almost) every place in Davis is turning into a residential area, as commercial sites are converted to housing or “mixed use”.  That goes for downtown, as well.

          (Unfortunately, only a slight exaggeration.)

        2. David Greenwald

          Mixed use is different.

          The city ordinance prohibits dispensaries in residential zones and within 600 feet of schools, day cares and parks, and the proposed dispensaries must be in areas zoned for commercial, industrial or mixed use.

        3. Ron

          “Mixed use” includes residences, which will likely oppose some business proposals (such as dispensaries). Especially if there are big impacts, such as availability of parking or other problems.

          As a side note, “600 feet” is nothing, if there are significant impacts.

    1. David Greenwald

      Don: I don’t really agree that we have a thriving downtown at this point. My point here is that, we’re really going to complain that a business is too successful at bringing in customers to the downtown?

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s an interesting point, but if you look at when the parking is an issue, it’s during peak hours when people are eating and entertainment.  So the downtown has business for restaurants and bars, but I don’t know that I would call that thriving.  Retail is lacking in my view and the view of others.  And no, you don’t need to repost the list of retail businesses, I’m aware of them.

        2. Ron

          Getting off-track, but how do you encourage retail (which is being replaced by online sales, worldwide)? Seems unlikely that Davis is somehow “different”, regarding that trend.

          Dispensaries might be one of the few exceptions to that trend. Perhaps a good fit, downtown.

          And what, exactly, is “wrong” with having lots of restaurants? (Which draw customers for lunch and dinner, possibly even breakfast at some?)

        3. David Greenwald

          Just to be clear there is nothing wrong with restaurants.  My hope would be in addition to restaurants, having more successful retail downtown.

  3. John Hobbs

    Delivery only dispensaries seem like a “Davis” kind of thing. The one I am familiar with uses good, if nondescript looking well maintained Toyotas and usually spends less than 2 minutes at any location.

  4. Tia Will


    I can smell it now, the waft of burning buds on the street as I pass by Froggies on my way to get a pizza at Woodstocks.”

    I suspect that you are writing tongue in cheek. However, for those who do not know, if the dispensaries are compliant, there will be no “waft of burning buds” as one of the conditions for permitting is the absence of smell outside the building. Failure to comply would result in loss of license. I did not know that ( or rather simply had not thought about it) until the outreach meeting I attended.

    I would highly recommend that anyone who is at all concerned about this issue attend an outreach, commission, or council meeting with an open mind. It is possible to learn something new about this issue before drawing conclusions even for those of us who have tangential exposure to the issue through our professions.


    1. Keith O

      I’m not referring to in front of the dispensaries, I’m talking about the bud, sold by the dispensaries, that we all know will often be smoked in the downtown area.  I’ll bet the smell of maryjuana will be prevalent on most days in the core area especially with our downtown vagrants.

      Tia, sometimes it’s difficult to follow your replies because they often don’t line up under the comment you’re responding to.  Being that you’re on the Editorial Board it might be beneficial to learn how to reply to comments.

        1. Howard P

          Untrue…within 20-25 feet of a doorway to a business, is likely correct… no general prohibition for smoking “in public”…

          As to enforcement, that is usually ‘complaint-driven’…

  5. Todd Edelman

    Dispersing everything reduces negative transportation effects, especially when there are not huge trucks involved. Mixed-use is the way forward. A single car journey creates more problems than a smoking a joint. All new delivery operations in Davis should be by Type 3 electric-bicycles that go nearly 30 mph — way cheaper to operate than a car.  If dispensaries want to be Downtown, they can pay higher rent. We don’t need parking Downtown; we need better and more equitable access. If people can drive Downtown and park for free just to get a small package that weighs very little and then leave, the parking is too cheap; the journey is without meaning. We need meaning, not the further facilitation of ridiculous anti-egalitarian entitlement that contravenes City environmental policy including bicycle-modal share goals of 30% to shop by three years from now. Since peripheral places will get fewer cyclists since they have totally mindless free parking at commercial centers, the Downtown will need a 50% bike modal share to compensate. It’s definitely less than half that right now. We need to honor our official city goals – and we should create transit and pedestrian modal share goals, too – or tear down our silly, anti-egalitarian anachronistic highwheeler/penny-farthering symbol both symbolically and literally, and replace it with a statue of a bunch of landlords and real estate agents competing on their organic, local, stonefruit, pie-baking skills as they try to get choosy housing shoppers to visit – by electric- and tomato-powered turkeys –  their property/the property they are representing.

      1. Todd Edelman

        I really, really want people to travel Downtown, but not to be forced to, and not to be forced or coerced to drive when they go by choice. Restricted zoning and free or too cheap parking and non-robust transit and cycling options are anti-Davis, anti-environmental and anti-children, but that’s what we got right now.  That we don’t allow people to grow some marijuana plants in their backyards, BUT that we do allow and encourage them to drive Downtown, park for free, pick up some marijuana, then drive to their kid’s school afterwards and wait in a long, stinky queue is nothing short of surrealistically insane, and I expect all City Council candidates to declare this in one form or another.

        1. Todd Edelman

          OK, my apologies.

          But the gist of my comment is sound — that there’s absolutely no problem with marijuana dispensaries or restaurants etc, Downtown. Only how expect to access them. We cannot have our cake (at the restaurant) and eat it, too. Just like we can’t have non-geographical catchment for schools and not use school buses.

  6. Alan Miller

    These landlord complaints are a joke, right?

    Has anyone yet labeled these landlords with the dreaded, toxic acroynm “NIMBYS”?  Doesn’t seem so.  Does the “fear of change” chant not apply to business owners who, um, fear change?

    After the Ket-Murder-Mo-Ree, some were complaining about those who would put restrictions on the Thursday night scene, because selling drinks to as many intoxicated people as possible for as many hours as possible was how a few businesses made money.  Never mind the toxic, dangerous scene that had developed downtown on “Little Thursday”.  There is money to be made!

    Never mind the visible “pre-drinking” in the parking lots around the bars, the drunk drivers smashing into the PG&E substation or neighborhood cars, the occasional couple fornicating in semi-hidden public spaces after meeting at the bars, the drunken walkers tipping over garbage cans on the way home from the bars, the frequent fight, and the occasional murder.  There is money to be made!  And alcohol is legal!

    The bar restrictions have been put in place, and downtown is noticeably much more mellow on Thursday evenings.  But . . .

    Fear the leaf!  Fear the previously illegal!  Fear the unknown!  Fear the criminals that will accompany the leaf!  Alcohol . . . no problem.  We know that a glass of wine or a beer is “good”.

    News flash everyone . . . there have “dispensaries” in Davis for 60 years, there have been deliveries in Davis for 60 years . . . it’s all just been underground (and occasionally blown up like a German U-boat by the wonderful folks at YONET).

    Put in the one on the east end of Old East Davis.  Welcome neighbor!  Yes, I agree with Delta of Venus that much of the traffic will be on bicycle or on foot, just as much of the traffic for their restaurant is.  Parking problems, if they occur, are a good thing to have — it means thriving businesses.  I just visited Eugene, Oregon, and the “Dispensary Row” area, for instance along Blair Boulevard, is thriving with many types of businesses.  Fear the leaf!

    I’m not advocating for any sort of mind altering substance use.  I left all such behind — legal and illegal — three decades ago.  For many, there are severe mental and physical tolls to be paid.  But give me three pot dispensaries for any one alcohol-spewing bar or liquor store any day.

    Davis will be OK.

  7. Alan Miller

    Also, good F-ing luck to the City in choosing which dispensaries to OK — “FAIR-ly”.

    Personally, I would have let them all go into business, and the ones with a weak business plan would have died off naturally.  What good is this artificial cap on the number?

  8. Jim Frame

    The article mentions one dispensary is being proposed for the downtown in “a building behind Delta of Venus, a cafe at the corner of First and B streets owned by Lee Walthall.”

    For the record, the Enterprise’s quoted statement that Delta of Venus is at the corner First and B is incorrect — the cafe is mid-block on B Street, near the intersection of Rice Lane.

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