Supervisor Carmen Chu's most memorable moment in politics was when she was appointed to replace the disgraced Ed Jew — or it was, until the Sunset District representative took on the issue of medical cannabis.
For more than a year now, Chu has organized neighborhood opposition against Bay Area Compassion Health Center (BACH), a proposed cannabis dispensary at 31st Avenue and Taraval Street. Chu and the mostly Chinese-speaking residents opposing the club encountered a setback when it received Planning Commission approval in May. But in November, the tide turned when San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia joined the chorus of Chu and her constituents, saying the dispensary would lead to increased drug use among students at Lincoln High School, 0.8 miles away. So despite BACH obeying all of the city's zoning laws, its permit was revoked.
In December, the Planning Commission approved a permit for a pot club even closer to schools. When it opens, Shambhala Healing Center at 20th and Mission streets will be half a mile from two high schools and a third of a mile from a middle school. Yet Garcia does not plan on warning of increased pot use among Mission schoolkids, and none of the principals have a problem with a nearby pot club, school district spokeswoman Heidi Anderson says.
Pot advocates are furious. “This is a ridiculous double standard,” says David Goldman, who heads the local chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana patients' advocacy group. “Why is something allowed in the Mission and not in the Sunset?”
For some, the answer is politics. Shambhala is the brainchild of Krissy Keefer, a well-known Mission District artist and activist with liberal bona fides (she was once a Green Party candidate for Congress). She went through the planning process with support from Supervisor David Campos and other left-leaning luminaries, while BACH owner Greg Schoepp ran afoul of Chu early on.
A Chu aide refused to discuss the possibility of a political double standard. But both Goldman and BACH's people clearly see politics at work. City officials bought Chu and Garcia's argument that BACH would bring drugs into their neighborhood, but bought into something completely different from Shambhala: it will “push the street dealers away,” says Staci Powers, managing director of Dance Mission and speaking for Keefer (who is traveling in India until later this month). “It's going to help the block.”
Schoepp plans to fight the city's ruling in court, where he hopes lawyers and fairness matter more than friends.