The Costa Mesa City Council approved a resolution on July 20 that will allow it to place unpaid illegal marijuana dispensary fines onto the California county’s tax roll as a lien against the property.
The city has been dealing with a host of illegal dispensaries popping up in the past few years as a result of 2016’s Proposition 64, which allows recreational marijuana use throughout California. Some operators have disregarded local ordinances regulating the industry.
In 2020, Costa Mesa voters also approved Measure Q, allowing for storefront retail and delivery of cannabis.
Illegal operators within city limits have racked up $122,475 in fines issued by the city for operating without a business license, lacking the required building permits, or operating an unlicensed cannabis dispensary, a July 20 staff report said. It noted that there are a total of 58 delinquent civil citations against 12 different properties.
In an effort to get the operators to pay the fines, the city council unanimously voted that delinquent citations will be placed on the county’s property tax rolls as a special tax for election purposes. Additionally, when citations are added to the tax roll as liens, they will be continued to be penalized and accrue interest until paid at the maximum rate allowed by state law.
Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Marr said she supported the measure because the city has exhausted all other tools available to get the illegal dispensaries to pay the fines.
“We’ve been pushing staff for a long time to try to identify all of the tools in our tool belt as a city, so that we can exercise them against businesses that have been operating blatantly illegally in town for an extended period of time,” Marr said during the meeting.
“We’ve used code enforcement, we’ve partnered with the DA, we’ve done as much as we can that was currently on the books, and so this is an attempt by staff to give us another tool in that toolbox.
“We get complaints every single day about illegal dispensaries. I get calls every single day basically about illegal dispensaries. One opening up, one being a bad neighbor, one causing a stench in an alley, one operating too close to residential.”
If an unlicensed operator does rack up penalties, it will affect the property owner as well, as they’ll be required to pay a fine. Additionally, if the lien stays on for three years, the county tax collector will be able to sell the property in order to pay for the delinquent citations.
Dennis D’Alessio, a property owner who formerly rented his property to a business he was unaware was a dispensary, said he didn’t believe it was fair for fines to be levied against him for the fault of the operator.
“What’s happening today is very unfair. I’m the landlord, and we rented to these businesses. They came in as the Holy Church (the name of the dispensary). They had a ministry license. They had their Bibles … and we rented to them,” he said during the meeting.
“I spent lots of money evicting them, and now I’m supposed to pay their bill? It is unfair for a law officer to give a driver a speeding ticket but then also give the landlord a speeding ticket, who had nothing to do with it.”