A 10,000 square-foot greenhouse is the first facility for California Cannabis Co. in Lemoore. But more growth is in the pipeline. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Edward Smith
A boom in development, largely spurred by marijuana, has the potential to bring Lemoore out of years of deficit spending. And with the rise of retail weed as well as agricultural grows comes a new fertilizer company, office space, a new custom home lot and a beverage company manufacturing and distributing cannabis-infused lemonade.
For the past three years, Lemoore relied on deficit spending to pay staff and maintain city services, said City Manager Nathan Olson.
The city in Kings County didn’t have a large tax base to begin with, mostly driven by small retail and mom-and-pop stores. Their biggest retailer was Kmart, which closed in 2018.
In 2020, the city budgeted for roughly $1.8 million in sales tax.
Pension costs, insurance and worker’s compensation had out-paced tax income.
The City’s projected fiscal year 2021 budget published in June 2020 notes that “the City cannot afford another year (FY22) of deficit spending. Cash balances of $1.8M will not sustain the current spending trend.”
The City in June forecast $10.7 million in revenues with $13.5 million budgeted in expenditures.
If revenues were not increased, the budget would call for either a layoff of 19-38 employees or employees would have to take a 36% cut in payroll.
The city employed 71 general fund workers in June of 2020, with 40 people employed by the police department.
What came to bring the town out of the red was marijuana.
City staff penciled in $1.7 million in cannabis revenues for fiscal year 2022. That number could increase to $3 million the following year, said Olson.
“The drive has been for the last several years, driven in large part by a decision to legalize cannabis in 2019,” Olson said.
Soon, 200-plus acres of cannabis crop — both hemp and marijuana — will surround Lemoore. An 83.5-acre parcel will have 54 acres under hoop houses for cannabis flower, said Olson. Another 140 acres will be dedicated for extraction of CBD oil.
California Cannabis Co. unveiled Monday their first 10,000 square-foot greenhouse with 2,400 plants ready for harvest by August. A second greenhouse will add another 40,000 square feet.
Two other companies doing grows in the city are People’s Farming and Farm Lemoore LLC, said Olson.
The industry could bring net hundreds of seasonal jobs, said Olson.
Online shopping did give Lemoore a boost in sales taxes that would have otherwise gone to other cities with big-box retailers, said Olson, but not enough to bring them out of the red.
And while the City saw a slight boost from projected revenue, the small businesses that make up downtown Lemoore suffered.
“Downtown a year ago was pretty empty with what seemed like every fourth window having a ‘for rent’ sign in it,” Olson said.
What cannabis has provided Lemoore is a short-term solution to keep the city sound until they get other businesses, said Olson.
The dispensaries in downtown Lemoore have gotten people to start spending money, said Jay Salyer, economic development manager for Kings County Economic Development Corporation. And while the EDC hasn’t worked with any cannabis companies directly, Salyer said he hasn’t heard of a significant negative impact to downtown.
Mike Kendall, chief of police with the Lemoore Police Department said throughout the year the two cannabis dispensaries have been open, they have not seen an increase in crime or calls for service.
The police department has also been working with cultivators to ensure their operations are safe.
“Each of the farms have implemented security measures to dissuade crimes of opportunity,” Kendall said. “That being said, agricultural crimes happen every day in California regardless of the type of crop.” Kendall believes they have the resources necessary to address any additional crimes.
In fact, hairstylists and beauty salons have started to pop up, said Olson.
Other businesses have also turned their eyes to Lemoore.
When Helena Agri-Enterprises couldn’t expand in Hanford, Lemoore reached out and offered to house the company, said Salyer.
A staff report with Lemoore’s Planning Commission outlines a proposal to relocate the company’s three existing buildings to the southeast corner of Industry Way and Production Avenue. There, the Tennessee-based company would have a storage facility as well as a site to blend fertilizers and a building to sell from on 32.5 acres.
The chemical and fertilizer company will be the City’s largest retailer once it comes, said Olson.
A bottling company out of Washington state — Dogtown Pioneers — will send their subsidiary, Ray’s Lemonade, to Lemoore for its first foray in the area. The company makes cannabis-infused drinks. Owners wanted to expand into the California market and visited 350 cities before landing on Lemoore, Olson said.
The project could net 17 to 25 jobs. The company has secured the land and should break ground this year, said Olson.
Additionally, the Kelly Slater Wave Co. will host the Surf Ranch Pro event in the coming weeks, said Salyer. While it won’t be pulling in fans from around the world as it has in previous years due to the pandemic, surfers and the entourage will be in town.
One problem with continued growth is space. Olson said Lemoore has run out of City-owned space and even space from private developers has run thin. Cannabis cultivation has a found a home to the south of town.
Kings County won’t allow recreational marijuana to be grown in unincorporated land, said Salyer. The grow from California Cannabis Co. is in the industrial park, which has largely been tapped out for land.
To the west are agricultural exclusion zones and Naval Air Station Lemoore.
Lennar Homes recently received grading permits to build 362 homes near West Hills College.
The Assemi Group submitted an application and is working on their environmental impact review to annex land north of town for over 500 lots.
G.J. Gardner Homes are in the planning stages for 29 custom-home lots. Office personnel from G.J. Gardner’s Hanford office said their previous community had sold so well they had opened another community. Military personnel looking to make their stay in Lemoore more permanent constitute a large number of buyers.
The first retail west of Highway 41 might also appear as a Johnny Quik gas station has been approved and construction will begin soon. The hope has been that West Hills College would bring retail to the area.
Olson says it been hard to ignore the infrastructure going into Lemoore. While cannabis has provided the City a stopgap to get the city going, Olson said, “I don’t want to build the future of our city on cannabis alone.”