Walnut Street site was home to two successive illegal pot shops, property owners cited four times
Published : Friday, December 6, 2019 | 5:41 AM
The City of Pasadena is continuing to wage an ongoing war against illegal marijuana dispensaries that operate in defiance of City codes, in contrast to the six applicants approved under Pasadena’s strict cannabis ordinance.
Thursday, the City Code Enforcement Commission, in a 2-1 decision, formally ordered the closure of Kush 20 House, at 1644 Walnut Street.
Dispensary owner Walnut Circle LLC was ordered to cease Kush 20’s operations at the address within ten calendar days by the three-member panel of the Code Enforcement Commission—Chair Robert Clinton, Patrick Cabral, and William Francis.
The cessation order was the fourth code violation against brothers Ararat Avenesiyan and Yeros Avanessian (each spells his last name differently), the owners of the property, following a cease and desist order delivered in July of 2019. Since then, each has received code enforcement citations totaling $3,890 from the City.
In an interview Thursday, Mayor Terry Tornek acknowledged the difficulty the City has encountered in permanently closing illegal dispensaries.
“It’s a very complicated process,” Tornek said. “And initially, frankly, the courts were not very helpful.”
“These guys [illegal dispensary owners] have money to spend, so they hire skillful attorneys to defend them, and they are willing to sustain fines. That doesn’t really trouble them,” he said.
But Tornek said the City has adopted “a new strategy that involved criminal prosecution, and that has been much more effective.”
“It wasn’t until we started doing criminal prosecutions and arresting people, and seizing money and product that we started having real success.”
Neither brother allegedly involved in Kush 20 House was accused of participating in any criminal activities during Thursday’s proceedings.
Tornek was hesitant to pin down the number of illegal dispensaries in Pasadena, since, as he said, “One could pop up tomorrow.”
In his presentation before the commission Code Compliance Officer Jon Pollard laid out a detailed history of the state’s and Pasadena’s cannabis regulations, and then outlined the public nuisance code violations against Ararat and Yeros.
The brothers were accused of violating Pasadena Municipal Code section 220.127.116.11; owning a property which violates the City’s municipal codes, as well as violating two sections of the City’s cannabis regulations.
Following Pollard’s presentation—which also detailed the alleged sale of cannabis to an undercover code enforcement officer at the site—both attorneys for the defendants mounted separate defenses.
Attorney Steven Escovar, representing Ararat Avenesiyan, said that there was “inconclusive proof” that the alleged seven grams of Skywalker Indica cannabis bud purchased by the officers for $50, was in fact, cannabis.
Meanwhile, attorney Thomas Hoffman, representing Yeros Avanessian, argued that Yeros should not be held liable, as he was not involved in the business and was only a “member,” by virtue of participating in the ownership of the property, and not a “manager” of the property, and was therefore not responsible.
Escovar’s claims were dismissed out of hand by the commission, while Commissioner Cabral told attorney Hoffman that he made a “very good point.”
After nearly two hours of testimony, Cabral offered a “modification” to the commission’s recommendation—that the City’s recommendation of cessation against Walnut Circle LLC and Ararat Avenesiyan be upheld, and that Yeros Avanessian’s case be continued at a special commission hearing to be held within 45 days.
The decision has the same effect as if both brothers were recommended for cessation, and the cessation order will take effect immediately.
Yeros Avanessian’s name was removed from the order against Ararat and Walnut Circle LLC.
Escovar said he would talk to his client before deciding whether or not to file an appeal against the decision.