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Oakland Police and the Great Fruitvale Cannabis Giveaway

A Fruitvale business owner says OPD officers ignored an illegal pot farm and then encouraged him to let people spirit away all of the evidence.

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This illegal pot grow’s power consumption evidently blew a PG&E transformer. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT ANDRUS
  • Photo courtesy of Matt Andrus
  • This illegal pot grow’s power consumption evidently blew a PG&E transformer.

For a couple hours on the afternoon of June 3, a stream of vehicles drove to 4030 International Blvd. in Oakland's Fruitvale District, to be greeted by some smiling cops. Some of the braver visitors asked the cops, somewhat nervously, "I heard the police were giving away pot plants. Is that true?" Sort of, the cops replied, and helpfully pointed the desirous visitors toward the area where Matt Andrus was waiting to help load about 1,000 young, Blue Dream cannabis plants into their cars and trucks.

This is all in Andrus's telling. He owns the Sequoia Crossfit gym, the complex's largest tenant. A few weeks prior, on May 12, one of the electrical transformers serving the complex blew out. On June 1, with the power still out, the building's owner, Inyoung Boyd, finally showed up and the two of them discovered the likely reason for the blowout: somebody had been illicitly growing thousands of cannabis plant on the property, in what Andrus had believed was a "quinceañera store." About 6,000 plants had been removed, leaving nothing but growing equipment. The operation, a PG&E employee told them, was likely putting a huge load on the electrical system thanks to all the lighting and HVAC equipment the growers were using. On June 3, the pair discovered, in a different, padlocked space on the property, a separate, smaller growing operation, this one still containing plants — about 1,000 of them. The equipment was similar to that found in the larger space.

So they called the cops. According to Andrus, the officers who showed up told him and Boyd that they weren't going to investigate the pot operation, illegal as it might have been, since in California you need a license to grow more than six plants. They also said that, while Andrus and Boyd were not allowed to sell the plants, they were free to give them away. Andrus returned to the gym, told the people in there lifting weights and doing burpees about the free weed (and the cops), and sent out the same message to friends. Thus began the impromptu caravan. The verdict on the Blue Dream from one of the lucky recipients: "Really good shit," Andrus said.

Why did the Oakland Police Department apparently not investigate the illegal growing operation? And why did it allegedly preside over, and in fact take part in, the destruction of evidence in a potential criminal case? The OPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment about this story. Andrus said that about 200 plants remained after his clients, neighbors, and friends were gone, and that the officers "disposed of" them themselves. He said the officers told him that because pot is now legal in California, they were not able to confiscate the plants. But of course, these were not legal plants, and cops across the state continue to bust illegal growing operations, and confiscate plants.

Meanwhile, the power has been out for three months, and Andrus is embroiled in a legal dispute with Boyd, the building owner, over unpaid rent and other matters. "It all sounds hilarious, until it isn't," Andrus said.

PG&E apparently told him said that new electrical panels were needed to bring the place up to code before a new transformer could be installed. Plans must be submitted and approved, and expensive, customized equipment must be obtained. In the meantime, Andrus is using a generator for power at his gym, and some of the other tenants — including a bodega, hair salon, dollar store, travel agent, and some kiosks selling items like candles — are all either using generators or extension cords to connect to a separate part of the complex that still has power.

Andrus said that he and Boyd, who lives in Las Vegas, agreed to split the proceeds from the sale of the left-behind equipment; that Boyd would forgive rent for a few months until the power was back on; and that she would pay him for taking care of all the logistics of clearing out the space and getting the power restored. But after they made this agreement, Andrus said, somebody — presumably the growers — removed the equipment.

Now, Andrus said, Boyd has "reneged" on all those agreements, and launched eviction proceedings against him. "I put in about 65 hours of work on this," for which he hasn't been compensated, he said. Those were hours he would otherwise have used generating more business. He accused Boyd of telling him she "didn't care" about the power problem and of saying "nasty things" about some of the other tenants. "I didn't get it in writing,"

Boyd, reached by phone Monday, was none too happy to hear from a reporter. "He's being ridiculous," she said regarding his claims about an agreement. "Tell him to prove it." Asked about the fact that a building she owned was being used for a major, illicit pot-growing operation, she ended the call. The pair's respective lawyers are now working to settle the matter, Andrus said.

Andrus said he hasn't paid his rent for June or July due to the lack of electricity. He's still operating, but has been unable to attract new members to cover the churn of losing older ones. Some existing clients are not renewing because they don't want to work out in a gym without good lighting and other amenities (he's using the generator as sparingly as possible).

Boyd fired the building's manager, Sonia Coello-Dominguez, not long after the discovery of the growing operation, she and Andrus said. Oddly, Coello-Dominguez declared that, in fact, there was no transformer blowout. "Somebody," she said, found out about the pot farm and snitched to PG&E, which turned the power off. She offered to send along documentation from PG&E proving this, but never did. Meanwhile, Andrus shared with the East Bay Express copies of texts and emails between himself and PG&E representatives talking about the failed transformer.

As the building's manager, was Coello-Dominguez aware of the pot farm, which was large and operating in two locations on the site? "I don't anything about it," she insisted. Whomever was leasing the spaces, she said, paid their rent directly to Boyd.

According to a report by KPIX over the weekend, City Councilmember Noel Gallo is trying to help the building's tenants get their power restored as quickly as possible and deal with the rest of the fallout. Andrus confirms this, but Gallo could not be reached for comment. He told KPIX that the "property owner is responsible for the upkeep, the safety, and all the legal features that they're required to have. And they're dropping the ball. And they need to be held responsible legally."

Meanwhile, both the city administrator's office and the Alameda County District Attorney's office, informed of the officers' actions, said on Tuesday that they were looking into the situation. "The normal practice with any criminal matter is for the police agency to investigate and then, when appropriate, present the case to the DA's Office for consideration of criminal charges," Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick wrote in an email.

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