On Tuesday, the Porterville City Council conducted an Administrative Hearing to discuss the appeal of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an operating permit for a retail cannabis dispensary filed by Central California Cannabis (CCC).
City Attorney Julia Lew explained to the Council after the RFP’s were filed for the operation permit, they were reviewed by a third party, referred to as HdL, and scored. Those scoring 75 percent or better qualified for an interview with the City Council.
On September 11, CCC was notified it had failed to receive a qualifying score on its RFP and wouldn't be eligible for an interview with the Council. On September 23, Greg Shelton, on behalf of CCC, submitted an appeal request and provided information to the city.
On Tuesday, both Shelton and representatives with HdL were present at the meeting. Lew explained there was no set format in how to conduct the hearing, and suggested the Council allow both Shelton and Matthew Eaton and Tim Promarti, the HdL representatives, to present their sides of the appeal and answer any questions the Council had, before the Council discussed the appeal among themselves. The Council followed Lew’s suggestion, and Shelton took the stand.
Shelton began by stating he didn’t want this to happen but knew it would as he felt that RFP scoring process was weighted to benefit the professionals in the cannabis industry over the local applicant. He also said he filled out the RFP by himself and made sure his application was “Porterville centric.”
“Porterville is unique, and if you don’t know Porterville then there are a lot of little nuances and subtleties that you are going to miss,” said Shelton.
Shelton then presented the Council with a packet of emails showing he and city staff had been in correspondence with each other, and he had been questioning staff about the application questions and requirements inquiring as to how to appropriately respond to them. City staff responded with explanations, and Shelton submitted his application.
After submitting his application, Shelton received a letter stating his application hadn't answered the questions appropriately, and stated the scoring rubric didn’t have the same questions on it as the application did. He provided examples to the Council directly from the RFP compared to the rubric, and stated he missed the qualifying score by five points because of the misinterpretation from the rubric to the RFP.
“All I’m asking for is an in-face interview,” said Shelton. “I know this thing and I can make it a success, and if you give me the opportunity, we can knock it out of the park.”
Before the representatives from HdL began to speak, Julie Phillips, the Community Development Manager for the city, stated the evaluation criteria rubric came straight from the RFP application, as to how the application would be graded.
Eaton stated the RFP had been designed by the City of Porterville, and HdL had no influence on the contents of the RFP. The city requested HdL review the RFP’s and use the given RFP rubric to score the RFP’s, which was designed by the city.
“HdL used, and solely used, the criteria and rubric defined in the RFP,” said Eaton. “The points awarded were defined by the city in the RFP. The points awarded were awarded based on the completeness, clarity and thoroughness of the response.”
Eaton explained Promarti graded each of the RFP’s and they reviewed the applications together.
Council member Milt Stowe questioned Eaton as to if they knew who the applicants were prior to grading their RFP. Eaton replied they had no interaction with their applicants, even though the applications provide the applicant’s personal information. Stowe then questioned Eaton as to what HdL was looking for when it came to the scoring criteria for the “Commitment” portion of the RFP. Promarti explained while he was grading that portion of the RFP he was looking for “some specific discussion, ideally that is accompanied by dollar amounts, on what the plans are for the initial investment in the business” and what plans the applicant had in investing in the business over time.
“In this case, the applicant responded literally with nothing,” said Promarti.
Gurrola questioned as to whether a budget was included in the application, to which Promarti responded no budget had been included and when they were scoring the RFP’s they were looking at what each applicant was ready to invest and how much they had in the bank.
Vice Mayor Monte Reyes asked if HdL was looking for specific plans or speculations, and Promarti replied it depends on what they are asking for. For example, a business plan usually is more specific in monetary figures versus a future investment plan which is more speculative.
Mayor Martha Flores requested the HdL expand on their reasonings for the scoring of the RFP’s timeline.
“He listed all of the things and had a command on all of the things that were required,” said Promarti. “But there was no chronology as to how those things would advance, and most importantly, there was no estimated date of when it would all be complete.”
Gurrola told Shelton she's missing his full application, so she’s only getting part of his story. Shelton stated he assumed it was there. Lew stated there was no requirement for Shelton to include his full application.
In his closing statements, Shelton statedhe's willing to provide good paying jobs to the community, and the consultant only looked at the rubric when grading and never corresponded with city staff, and that failure to speak with staff had dire consequences when it came to grading his RFP.
HdL closed the discussion by stating none of the other applicants failed to provide a budget of some type. Promarti stated the criteria included and outlined in the RFP was by which each application was scored by.
When the Council began to deliberate on the appeal, Stowe stated Shelton should have gotten professional help so he could have done it the correct way.
“No matter how much I wanted him to get an interview because he’s local,” said Stowe, “I can’t see us approving this because he did not score enough points. I just can’t vote that way because that’s not fair.”
Council members Daniel Penaloza agreed with Stowe.
“I feel that HdL did perform their evaluation and analyzed this application the way they did everyone of them,” said Penaloza. “And they came to the conclusions that they did. The fact that a budget wasn’t included does draw concerns.”
At the end of the discussion, Shelton announced he would be withdrawing his current request for appeal and will be resending a new and revised request for an appeal.