CannaCom Valley: Rise of Sonoma County’s cannabis commercial cluster
Glaciers carve valleys out of rock in more than 10,000 years. Santa Rosa created the first outlines of CannaCom Valley in the past year, with some two dozen cannabis-commerce startups already shaping the valley floor (see chart below).
CannaCom Valley, expected to quickly attract thick growth of new business enterprise, will become a verdant source of city revenue if voters say yes to a new tax measure in June. The cannabis industry will rival wine and beer, soaring to hundreds of millions of dollars of business.
This is Sonoma County’s second major business boom in 25 years. In the 1990s, Petaluma saw Telecom Valley reshape its terrain with huge new business parks especially in the city’s northeast quadrant. Telecom Valley in Petaluma ranked No. 2 after Dallas in the United States in terms of telecommunications technology heft. Big players included Advanced Fibre Communications, co-founded in 1992 by Don Green and bought by Tellabs in 2004; DSC Communications, acquired by Alcatel; and Cerent, purchased by Cisco in 1999 for $6.9 billion. Telecom Valley crumbled into a ghost town when the dot.com bust descended in 2000.
LARGEST PROJECT SO FAR
CannaCom Valley will reconfigure business parks, feed attorneys, architects, engineers and contractors, and affect nearby residents in Santa Rosa. So far the biggest proposed project is from Giffen Avenue Property, owned by people involved in the existing CannaCraft business located on Circadian Way about a mile away.
In September, Giffen Avenue Property applied for design review and indoor-cultivation permits on nearly 70,000 square feet at 2739 and 2747 Giffen Ave. in southwest Santa Rosa’s Northpoint Business Park. The application lists Edward Fussell and Khanhvi Dang as partners, with Katherine Clark as representative and Nicholas Caston as manager.
The deed on the 12-acre property with five buildings, sold last year for $6.3 million, showed managing members Dennis Franklin Hunter along with Fussell, who co-founded Emerald Pharms dispensary in Hopland. Hunter and Fussell are Giffen’s co-CEOs, according to Caston. Both members started growing medical cannabis many years ago after it became legal in California in 1996, he said.
Hunter was arrested, jailed for a day and released without charges in 2016. Police seized extraction machines, cash and other property from CannaCraft. A few months later, Santa Rosa approved the business for manufacture of cannabis medical products. Hunter is also CEO of Santa Rosa Tropicals, fern wholesaler, on Occidental Road in Santa Rosa, according to state records.
The buildings used to be part of Optical Coating Laboratory, acquired by JDSU. Onsite wells were contaminated with volatile organic compounds then subject to remediation. JDSU vacated the buildings about a decade ago.
Local businesses appearing on the application for the project include political consultant Herb Williams at Delphi, planner Bruce Aspinall, architects Andy Hall and Scott Bartley, Darlene Whitlock at W-Trans traffic engineering, John Thompson at Brelje & Race engineering firm and Bill Mastic at Quadriga Landscape & Architecture.
NEIGHBORS CONCERNED ABOUT ODORS
Some neighbors oppose the project. On March 10, attorney Richard Lloyd Cooper wrote to the city to object to the “proposed commercial growth of marijuana adjacent to my home. My primary objection is against the odor-smell that the plants create,” Cooper said. “The smell is skunk-like or sewer-like.”
Cooper went on: “Do city officials realize the loss of value my property suffers because of this odor and the fact that I must disclose this condition before any future sale of property can occur?”