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Majority of Council Open to Release of Some Information in Cannabis Investigation

Gordo, Hampton have concerns about the process, others support releasing redacted findings with guidance from City Attorney

Published on Monday, January 27, 2020 | 6:04 am
 

[Updated] A majority of the City Council told Pasadena Now they have no problem with the City releasing a report on an outside investigation that cleared city employees of wrongdoing in the City’s cannabis process.

Mayoral Candidate Victor Gordo, Tyron Hampton, Gene Masuda and Andy Wilson said they would support the release of the documents.

Gordo and Hampton have expressed concerns with the cannabis permitting process.

Masuda and Wilson said they believe city employees acted with integrity but would have no problem with a redacted version of a report being released, since it could contain personnel information.

“I have not seen any investigatory material,” Gordo said. “I’d like to see the report released to the City Council. It is the Council’s responsibility to provide oversight, and the public has the right to know.”

Harvest of Pasadena, Integral, Atrium, Sweetflower, Tony Fong and MME Pasadena Retail won the highly sought after opportunity to apply to open shops in Pasadena.

Owners of Atrium and Sweetflower have filed separate lawsuits against the City after they were denied conditional use permits, called CUPs, in their desired locations near Old Pasadena. These CUPS are necessary in order to open a store.

The City ordinance only allows one dispensary per council district. So far, only one CUP has been granted. It entitles Harvest of Pasadena to occupy a cannabis retail store in District 3.

Damian Martin, the owner of a dispensary that did not finish in the top six accused Planning Director David Reyes of covertly changing the rules of the process in what he called “a secret, illegal, and total underhanded fashion” after he unsuccessfully attempted to appeal the city’s decision.

More than 100 applicants each spent $14,000 to apply for the chance to enter the city’s conditional use permit application process.

In September, the city initiated an investigation in response to complaints made by a member of the public regarding City staff’s role in the commercial cannabis permit application process. A review of the investigation was later held which also absolved city employees of wrongdoing.

The complaints were investigated by an outside law firm retained by the City Attorney’s office to independently investigate the allegations. The law firm interviewed the complainant and members of City staff and reviewed thousands of documents. The law firm found no evidence to support any of the allegations.

A statement by the City Council said the investigation would not “be released to the public because it is a personnel matter.”

Pasadena Now has requested a copy of the final report of the investigation under the state’s Public Records Act.

Gordo told Pasadena Now that he has asked to see the report several times and has been denied access to the document because “concerns about the process.”

Gordo is the second Councilmember to echo his concerns. On Monday, Vice Mayor Hampton called for a reboot of the process. Hampton claimed the process favored the wealthiest people and companies, the screening process was not conducted properly, and that the CUP process has favored certain applicants.

“The voters voted for three scores to be totaled and average,” Hampton said. “The city still to this day could not give me the three scores nor the names of the three scorers. I mean that’s the scoring criteria. So this whole entire process there were supposed to be three scores, independent, three, three independent scores. That never happened.”

Last week, Hampton called on City Attorney/Prosecutor Michele Beal Bagneris to open an investigation into violations of the city’s ordinance.

“City staff have refused to answer my inquiry and have made statements leading me to believe this mandatory scoring procedure was not used,” Hampton wrote to Bagneris.

“Please investigate whether the scoring process was lawfully performed. If your office cannot perform this investigation (because of a conflict) then I ask you to refer this matter to the District Attorney for investigation.”

Councilmembers were allowed to ask questions when they were told the results of investigation according to Masuda and Wilson, who both said they were satisfied with what they were told.

Wilson said he was “comfortable with the thoroughness and the responses” when councilmembers asked questions about the investigations.

Wilson added he had no problems with a redacted version of the report being released to the public, but added “it’s definitely not been a perfect process, but I’m not to the point of throwing our hands up in the air and sending [it back] to the beginning.”

Masuda said councilmembers were told step-by-step how things were being done and he supports that integrity of the staff’s process.

When asked if he would support the release of a redacted version of the documents approved by Bagneris, Masuda said “Yes, I would.”

Councilman Steve Madison said the investigations have revealed that there’s was not a “scintilla of evidence to support the allegations.”

Not all members of the council were willing to comment on the matter. Councilwoman Margaret McAustin said she had “no additional comments” when asked if she would like to see documents released.

Mayor Terry Tornek said he did not have a strong opinion “one way or another” when asked about releasing the report.

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