Halby on local High Times cannabis dispensary project: 'I am just appalled right now. I can't believe it.'

"I'm just, like, in shock. They are just unbelievable. We talk about a group of individuals that does not have their stuff together," stated Blythe City Councilmember Joe Halby of the local HAH 1, LLC/High Times project's latest public frustrations, July 13. "I – ...I am just appalled right now. I can't believe it. It's a few grand, that's all they've got to spend for a bus shelter. I mean, what are they doing?”

On July 13, following comment from the area's transit authority and a no-show from local HAH 1, LLC/High Times, Blythe City Councilmember Joe Halby took a moment to express and underline public frustration with the project.

"I'm just, like, in shock. They are just unbelievable. We talk about a group of individuals that does not have their stuff together," stated Halby. "I – ...I am just appalled right now. I can't believe it. It's a few grand, that's all they've got to spend for a bus shelter. I mean, what are they doing?"

During a review of published city staff reports – as well as the signed Extension Agreement between HAH 1, LLC owner Ryan Kunkel and the City of Blythe – the Times identified seven instances whereby the "Monthly Progress Report" term was breached since the stipulation's inception last year (September 2020, November 2020, December 2020, January 2021, March 2021, May 2021 and July 2021). 

"Owner shall provide to the City Council via the City Manager written monthly progress reports regarding progress made on the project in the preceding month and estimated time for completion. Such reports shall include the foregoing information and such additional information as may be requested by the City Manager," states page two, section three of the Agreement Between the City of Blythe and Ryan Kunkel for Extension of the Time to Complete Project in Connection with Provisional Dispensary License Issued to HAH 1, LLC. "Owner shall submit said monthly progress reports to the City Manager at least seven (7) days before each City Council meeting, which meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month. The City Manager will submit Owner's monthly progress reports to the City Council as part of the City Council agenda for each City Council meeting."

Since Aug. 25, 2020, the Blythe City Council has approved four extensions (one original, three 60-day amendments) with Kunkel to date.

“Yes, HAH 1, LLC is in breach of their agreement by not providing timely progress reports to the City. A breach of the agreement is grounds for immediate revocation of the provisional commercial cannabis dispensary license,” noted Blythe Interim City Manager Mallory Crecelius to the Times previously in December 2020. “As work continues at the site, the City Council has not directed staff to move forward with revocation of the provisional license.”

The July 13 Blythe City Council meeting's no-update was the latest breach of the Monthly Progress Report term.

"HAH 1, LLC applied for a commercial cannabis dispensary license in November 2017. A dispensary license was awarded to HAH 1, LLC by the (Blythe) City Council on March 13, 2018. The license was issued with the provision that a Certificate of Occupancy be obtained before the cannabis license would be issued for the business. On August 11, 2020, Council held a public hearing to determine whether the provisional license issued to Have a Heart should be revoked due to lack of progress made at the site. Council continued the Public Hearing to August 25, 2020. At the August 25th meeting, Council granted the applicant 6 months to complete the project, on the condition they provide monthly updates," states the July 13 Blythe City Council item's staff report. "As the project was not completed by February 25, 2021, Council granted a 60-day extension at the February 9, 2021(,) Council meeting. That extension would have expired on April 25, 2021. On April 13, 2021, an additional 60-day extension was granted to complete the project. On June 8, 2021(,) the Council granted a third extension, which will expire on August 25, 2021."

December 2020's monthly progress report was submitted past the stipulated deadline, evening-of (Dec. 8); January 2021's monthly progress report was submitted six days prior to the according Blythe City Council meeting, not in-line with the stipulated ("at least seven [7] days before") deadline; and instances whereby a HAH 1, LLC /High Times representative was present, evening-of, to provide an update are still considered breaches of the extension agreement term's specific requirements with the city.

At the July 13 meeting, Palo Verde Valley Transit Agency (PVVTA) General Manager George Colangeli took a moment to highlight concerns regarding the project – specifically underlining the location's public safety at the E. Hobsonway site; the lack of communication; and an incomplete bus shelter condition which will need to be resolved before the project receives a Certificate of Occupancy.

"This item tonight – about Have A Heart (HAH 1, LLC) – I just wanted to bring to your attention a deficiency that has been lingering for a while. I've tried to contact the business owner there five times about the transit conditions that are stated within what the city gave to them for the project and – as of yet – they have not been able to contact me or make any headway on it. There is no stand(ards) – we haven't (given) them no standards because we don't have (an) engineer on record to give them standards to start building the bus stop. On top of that, in late April, we had a gentlemen that was walking to the bus stop that fell because of the poorly maintained construction zone there at that project," stated Colangeli to the Blythe City Council, who then handed the officials photographs of the location. "As you can see, the bus stop there is active. We have no way of stopping the traffic there; there's metal spikes on the ground and uneven dirt. And it's a concern for the safety of the public there. We're just asking the business owner to contact us to see what we can do to work together with them. We've dealt with other projects in the cannabis industry and, once they start that process with communicating back and forth, we can mitigate a lot of these issues really fast. But it seems like they're not responsive to anything that we do, so. I just wanted to bring it to the attention of the council because I think it's at that magnitude now – it's, how much longer is this going to take? One thing to note is that, if the conditions state that there should be a bus stop shelter – well, I just talked to the manufacturer. And (Blythe) Mayor (Dale Reynolds) was in the room at the time – it's going to take 14 weeks for them to make the bus stop shelter if they were to buy it today (July 13). So that's the type of timeframe we're looking at – but we've had no response from them. So, I just wanted to bring it to your attention. I'm not asking for any action, but they should be contacting the city. Thank you."

On attempts to make contact with HAH 1, LLC/High Times to address the bus shelter condition, Crecelius stated:

"Your honor, both myself and Chief Building Inspector (Jason) Brown have told the applicants that they will not get a Certificate of Occupancy until all conditions are met – which includes that bus shelter. So, they should be well aware of it – and they should know that they're not opening until they've made progress on these improvements (...) I will reach out to Mr. Kunkel; I know we have expressed this with his project manager and different people – but maybe not him, personally. So I will extend a courtesy reminder that he's not opening without this; and, maybe, get the ball rolling. But they should be very much aware of this. We've been telling them about it for months."

Previously, HAH 1, LLC/High Times have noted to the Blythe City Council a matter under review with the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) as a hold-up. 

"(T)his month, CalTrans requested that the city give design approval for the permit they need for the project. The city reviewed and approved it within two and a half days, and returned it the applicant. So, it should be on its way to CalTrans. From there, I'm not sure how much longer CalTrans will need to issue that permit," stated Crecelius.

At last month's June Blythe City Council meeting, local James Schlueter took a moment to opine to officials that the collective should "terminate" the project and iterated frustrations publicly played out over the last year.

"I think that what you guys did was the right move – at first. The two licenses (limit), right move. I'm not disputing that, you guys – OK. Wrong move? Not doing anything about Have A Heart; not following up on any of it; (and) allowing them to continue with this. And continuing to give them extensions and fall(ing) for the B.S. (HAH 1, LLC/High Times representative Jill Madsen) came up here and gave you no answers; and did nothing but apologize."

Kunkel is the owner of one of only two provisionally awarded cannabis dispensary-category licenses to legally conduct according business and remit potential tax revenue in Blythe.

The City of Blythe capped the dispensary-category of commercial cannabis licenses at two, with the other held by The Prime Leaf (which has been in operation since August 2019).

Of the eight original 2017 applicants vetted in Blythe’s historic commercial cannabis dispensary-category licensing process, six were eligible to vie for the city’s two available licenses; of the six, Have A Heart had the highest aggregate score (89.57%) of Blythe’s four-phase process.

The Times reached out to HAH 1, LLC/High Times representatives for comment inclusion in this report but did not receive a response before this publication's deadline.

Since the July 13 Blythe City Council meeting, PVVTA confirmed to the Times that HAH 1, LLC/High Times have touched base toward addressing the bus shelter issue.

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