COACHELLA, Calif. - The cities of Indio and Coachella are headed to court over a cannabis dispensary located at the edge of Coachella, but also next door to Indio. It's a dispute that has led to a lawsuit filed by Indio.
Coachella leaders say they have no plans to close the Lighthouse dispensary. It opened during the 2018 music festival season. But seven months later the Lighthouse remains open and is selling recreational marijuana.
One neighbor said, "I personally don't like it. Just a bunch of drug addicts as far as I'm concerned." Another neighbor Clarence Olivo said, "it's a dope house, it's a dope-dealing house just like what's going on over on this side of the street."
The City of Indio listened to neighbors by filing suit against the City of Coachella. A Petition for Writ of Mandate and a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in reference to The Lighthouse claims Coachella allowed the 32-hundred square foot retail Lighthouse location to open its doors in April, for festival season, under a "temporary permit" without "compliance with applicable laws." It is still operating under a temporary permit seven months later.
Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said, "I think this area is a lot safer because there's a lot more public safety out here. The Lighthouse is providing public safety." Hernandez states there hasn't been one security incident since the Lighthouse opened, and he wants it to stay put.
But Indio's Mayor Mike Wilson echoes the city's lawsuit saying that by allowing the Lighthouse, the City of Coachella changed the property's zoning and granted entitlements in violation of its own Municipal Code and state law.
"Listen. We don't like this location," said Wilson. "We respect Coachella's right to choose what they want in their community and their city. But this location has impacts on Indio, not just Coachella," Wilson added.
Wilson says he's concerned about the impacts on Indio's Van Buren Elementary School just a couple of blocks away, and the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission which is just three blocks away from the LightHouse.
Carver Tract Resident Olivo said, "the Mission's trying to do good over here for people trying to do good for people in a situation then they build the Lighthouse, not even 500 yards away. Common sense tells you that doesn't mix." Wilson said, "And right next door is a cannabis facility where they can go buy cannabis and not fix their issues."
Wilson says this is historically a high-crime neighborhood, and residents in the county island just north of the pot shop have spoken out against it. But not everyone. Richard Gallardo, a Carver Tract Resident said, "I don't think it's hurting anything. As long as we're developing something, I think it's alright."
Lighthouse owner Joseph Rubin says the business is in compliance with all state laws and has made the neighborhood safer. Rubin said, "We're here, and we're really just trying to be good neighbors to everybody." Rubin said he has no plans to move. As for Indio's mayor, Rubin said, "if he feels we're too close, there's a liquor store that's right across the street from the school over there on Van Buren."
Hernandez said, "across the street is not the city of Indio. It's actually the County of Riverside. So Mayor Wilson needs to look at where his jurisdiction goes." Hernandez says he's excited about the project and the neighboring Hotel Indigo resort, which is now under construction. He just wants to know what Indio wants whether it's public safety improvements, street improvements, more security, more paved roads or sidewalks.
Wilson said, "we have never asked Coachella for a dime, nor would we ever ask Coachella for a dime from this project. Our emphasis is public safety."
Rubin hopes people would come into the store and see what it's about for themselves before they judge his dispensary. He says they've tried to create a safe, enjoyable retail experience for customers. There's armed security on-sight. "Not everybody has to come in and shop at the store," Rubin said. "We understand that. We're not telling people that they have to." But Rubin added, "we definitely have come in and been good neighbors to everybody around us."
Through its lawsuit, the City of Indio is asking the court to cancel the project's zoning changes and require Coachella to follow established business permitting procedures. That would allow Indio to have a say.
There are no current court dates yet, but Coachella's City Manager says we should know more on where this lawsuit is headed in the coming weeks.
Noticias en español: Telemundo 15