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Oakland lawmakers consider stopping cannabis companies from evicting renters

New law would shelter residents who might be smoked out by new marijuana joints moving into their building

The Cannery building on San Leandro Street, where tenants say their new owners, a Denver-based cannabis company, plans to evict them.
The Cannery building on San Leandro Street, where tenants say their new owners, a Denver-based cannabis company, plans to evict them.

The Oakland City Council will hold a special hearing tonight to consider whether or not to adopt new rules to shelter renters from possible eviction by cannabis businesses in the city’s “Green Zone.”

The unanticipated conflict happened because of where the city placed zoning limits on new dispensaries and other cannabis-related enterprises. According to the staff report prepped for Thursday night’s meeting:

Since the City of Oakland (City) established the areas of the City where cannabis businesses are allowed (frequently and informally referred to as “the Green Zone”) in May 2016, the Cityhas experienced a surge of interest from entrepreneurs seeking to operate cannabis businessesin these areas.

While the so-called Green Zone consists of specific commercial and industrial zones referenced in Chapters 5.80 and 5.81, the Oakland Planning Code expressly allows for several residential uses and facilities including Work/Live spaces in these zones.

Those live/work buildings, 25 within the affected area, are often more affordable than most Oakland rental stock these days, and may house artists, artisans, and other working and creative types with few options for housing elsewhere.

But as the city staff note:

The lucrativeness of the cannabis industry poses a threat to other land uses in the designated Green Zone, particularly Work/Live spaces that provide space for Oakland’s small business, arts, and maker communities. [...] These units play an important role in supporting Oakland’s art and maker communities as they often provide space for uses that would not be compatible with more traditional commercial and residential uses.

With renters and dispensaries jockeying for limited space, something has to give. Far from a hypothetical scenario, some in East Oakland are already finding themselves in the midst of a true bout of reefer madness.

In early January, CBS SF highlighted the plight of the old Oakland Cannery building on San Leandro Street near the Coliseum, Oakland’s very first live/work space. There, residents say that a Denver-based company plans to convert the entire building to commercial use as a growing facility, ousting the residents.

Oakland’s “Green Zone.”

The two amendments proposed tonight would “prohibit [...] cannabis businesses seeking to operate in spaces currently occupied by Work/Live or residential uses” while still allowing for “shared use of the same property between cannabis and Work/Live, provided each uses its own section of the property.”

The “Green Zone” is a long, irregular region stretching from the West Oakland waterfront to the edge of San Leandro along Oakland’s south side, with different zones designated for walk-up dispensaries, delivery-only businesses, and manufacturing.

Cannery residents say that their pending evictions have not yet begun, and there may be time for new laws to shield renters before the planned rezoning.