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Legal challenge puts Orcutt cannabis store ranked applicants list on hold

Legal challenge puts Orcutt cannabis store ranked applicants list on hold

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Old Town Market, Orcutt

Natural Healing Center Orcutt 405 LLC hoped to open a retail cannabis store in the former Old Town Market, but when its application failed to score enough points to move forward in Santa Barbara County's review process, the company filed a petition for a writ of mandate, which a judge granted, putting the ranking of applicants in the Orcutt Community Plan Area on hold.

A petition for a writ of mandate filed last month by the applicant for a controversial retail cannabis store in Old Town Orcutt prevented Santa Barbara County from releasing a preliminary ranked list of the companies who applied to operate a cannabis shop in the Orcutt Community Plan Area.

Ranked lists were released Thursday for the five other community plan areas, including the North County communities of Santa Ynez and Los Alamos.

Attorneys for Natural Healing Center Orcutt 405 LLC filed the petition March 10 asking the court to issue a stay, which a judge granted two days later, to prevent the county from taking action on the ranked list of applicants for Orcutt.

NHC is owned by Helios Dayspring, who purchased Old Town Market at 405 E. Clark Ave. and evicted the longtime market owners with the intent of opening a retail cannabis store there.

But NHC failed to make it to the third phase of the county’s application process, where applicants are ranked by suitability for their community plan area neighborhood.

The petition claims that failure was because the county’s consultant, HdL, improperly scored NHC’s application.

To advance to the third phase, a company had to score 85% or higher on the second-phase review of its application.

NHC’s application scored 84%, which the company says is due to HdL ignoring facts and evidence that were presented in the application as well as in a subsequent appeal of the score, which was denied by the county.

“This unfairly and unlawfully eliminates [NHC] from the competition for the one cannabis storefront retail license being issued for the Orcutt area,” the petition says.

NHC asked for an emergency stay because the county “failed to perform its duty as itis obligated to perform in the legally required manner when a given set of facts exist, and/or has abused its discretion … .”

The petition claims NHC “will suffer irreparable injury and damage if [the county] continues in its course of conduct and fails to award [NHC] evaluation points to which it is entitled and … continues its process for determining the final applicant to be authorized … to actually apply for the Orcutt area license without [NHC’s] participation.”

Brittany Heaton, the county's principal cannabis analyst, said a copy of the petition for the writ of mandate was all the County Counsel's Office authorized her to release.

NHC says it was scored too low on several sections of the application but admits that some of the supporting information was contained in other sections because of the 150-page limit on the application.

Specifically, NHC says it should have been given a 10 instead of a 5 for its cannabis experience in Santa Barbara County, a 4 instead of a 3 for its standard operating procedure, a 5 instead of a 3 on its product procurement and delivery plan, a 4 instead of a 3 on its communication and marketing plan, a 5 instead of a 3 on its inventory control plan and a 5 instead of a 3 on employee training.

“These point assessments are critical … because assignment of one additional point means [NHC] will meet the minimum 85-point requirement necessary to advance to the third and final phase of the scoring competition,” the petition says.

It also says testimonials about NHC’s operations in other counties and cities were ignored, and the county’s abuse of discretion was prejudicial to the company.

In addition to asking the court to compel the county to properly score NHC’s application, the petition seeks attorney’s and other legal fees, which so far total $7,500.

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