Santa Rosa seeks court order against Alvarez to force business closure
Santa Rosa Council member Eddie Alvarez led a defiant and celebratory last day of business at his cannabis shop Thursday in the face of escalating city legal action to shut the store.
Alvarez welcomed customers to his Russell Avenue business, The Hook, which he plans to close starting Friday to comply with a city order stemming from a long-revoked state permit and tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid state taxes.
“Today is my last day. I won’t be open tomorrow," he said, adding that he chose to close rather than have a court order force him to do so.
"At no point would I want this to go where I force the city’s hand," he said. "The state (process) is taking longer than expected.”
The dispute, however, entered a new stage Wednesday as City Hall attorneys sought a judge’s order that would allow the city to forcibly close Alvarez’s dispensary.
The action, leveled against the business of one of the Santa Rosa’s seven elected council members, represents the first attempt to close a dispensary in the post-2016 era after adult recreational use was legalized, officials said.
“We have an obligation to the city to provide ethical code enforcement and we want our city to trust us that no one is above the rules,” City Manager Maraskeshia Smith said. “I have a moral, ethical and fiduciary duty to uphold the laws and codes of the city.”
The city also sought additional fines and fees in its request for an injunction filed in Sonoma County Superior Court on Wednesday.
He has remained open in defiance of a March 15 cease-and-desist order, accruing $500 daily fines that amounted to $13,000 by Friday last week and as much as $16,000 by Thursday.
Just after 1 p.m., Alvarez stood at the door greeting a growing line of visitors on 4/20 ― one of the busiest days for the industry. He spun a rainbow-colored wheel and handed prizes to those coming in, while customers browsed through the merchandise inside or ate tacos in the parking lot.
He did not know when he’d be able to legally reopen, and he shared that state officials were also now going through his business accounts, yet another layer of scrutiny for the troubled dispensary.
The city’s court filing, meanwhile revealed new key details about the scope and length of the dispute with authorities.
Alvarez was notified his business was operating without a retail permit as early as a year ago, according to court documents. That is when, in April 2022, state authorities first notified him his seller’s license had been revoked over failure to file a tax return and pay taxes the last six months of 2021, according to court documents.
Alvarez said he has been working with state officials since to pay down his liability, which last summer topped about $455,000 and resolve his licensing issue. He had hoped to resolve the problems before the city filed the injunction, he said.
California Highway Patrol officers and state tax authorities in June 2022 confiscated more than $200,000 in cash from the business’s safe and cash registers. He estimated his outstanding debt is about $40,000 after recent payments plus taxes for the first quarter of 2023 due at the end of April.
Beyond the unpaid taxes, Alvarez said he is facing scrutiny from state authorities over the pricing of his products and profit model, which has delayed the process.
Alvarez said he notified state authorities of his plans to close to comply with the city’s latest action.
City: Alvarez ‘knowingly’ operated outside law
City attorneys alleged in the court filing that Alvarez’s dispensary, open since 2019, was engaging in unlicensed commercial cannabis operations in violation of city and state codes.
The Hook also is violating the California Unfair Competition Law for operating unlawfully without the necessary permits, unlike competitors in the area meeting all business requirements, detracting from quality of life and becoming “unjustly enriched,” according to the filing.
The city is seeking a judge’s permission to enforce a the March 15 cease-and-desist order that sought the business’s closure while Alvarez works to reinstate his state seller’s permit. That license is required to operate a retail business in California.
The city has asked the court to assess a civil penalty of up to $2,500 for violating the state competition law. The city motion also seeks to force Alvarez to pay the $500 daily citations he’s amassed for continuing to operate in defiance of the city closure order as well as attorney fees.
Alvarez, a longtime Roseland businessman elected to the council in 2020, is not explicitly named in the city’s legal filing.