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Better Late Then Never

Supervisor John McCowen, as noted by Supervisor Ted Williams as the “primary architect” of the County’s unworkable and overcomplicated pot cultivation ordinance, summarized his proposal to totally revamp the program on Tuesday by pointing out what many have said about the program for years:

"This proposal is asking the Board to consider going in a new direction Instead of continually tinkering with the current ordinance which we have been doing for years now with the hope that with one or two more little fixes it will suddenly become functional. The current program is difficult for applicants to navigate. It is cumbersome for staff to administer. It results in a dual permitting system with the state which imposes additional financial and bureaucratic burdens on applicants with little if any additional benefit to the regulated community, the general community, the county, or the environment. We currently have this maze of complicated state and local regulations that often are duplicative and sometimes conflicting. If we really want to streamline this we would seriously consider taking the County out of the cannabis permitting business and focus on regulating it as a land-use activity which is what we do with most other business types. It would be primarily governed through the zoning code with the appropriate permitting system for that. That system would also utilize the talents of our professional planners instead of having them be cannabis regulators. The state is devoting a lot of resources to this. They seem to have the same problem we do getting people through their system but it's partly because it's such an exacting system. Although I share the hope that we can streamline our process with the state and get to a point where many of these legacy cultivators could be improved through a ministerial process, we've been attempting to do that for four years now with very little success.”

After a couple of hours of discussion and on-line input from several local pot growers, most of them saying they’d like more time to consider McCowen’s belated revamp, McCowen eventually moved to “continue exploring options with the state Ag and Fish and Wildlife departmetns to make the current system more functional, to continue processing permits through the current system, and also to develop the details of what moving in a land use specific direction would look like as opposed to continuing with the current ministrative permitting system for all permits, existing and future.”

During the discussion, County Planning Director Brent Schultz told the Board that he had “no confidence” that the state would ever improve their processing or processes. At present hundreds of applications are stalled with no prospect for final approval. In addition, Supervisor Williams noted, if they are not approved by next June, their “provisional” status will lapse and they won’t be allowed to grow pot legally.

Supervisor Williams tried to clarify McCowen’s motion: “I think the direction is for planning staff to continue working with Ag & Fish and Wildlife to remedy the CEQA [California Enviromental Quality Act] deficiency in the current ministerial process. Then explore in parallel what a use permit process would look like for Phase 3 and the legacy Phase 1.”

McCowen added, “The gist of the motion is to continue these different avenues that are currently in process that may resolve the CEQA issue but simultaneously ask staff to develop what a discretionary review permit process would look like.”

The board then voted 4-1 in favor of McCowen’s motion to ask staff to look into his proposal, but with no timeline. Presumably, the issue will come up again at a future meeting after staff makes one last attempt to work some environmental review problems out with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Supervisor John Haschack dissented on grounds that he still hoped a few minor fixes could be made to the existing nearly dead program which he apparently thinks should stay in place to somehow honor the existing permit holders.

PS. Before the Board voted, lameduck First District Supervisor Carre Brown boldly declared: “Whatever we do we’ve got to fix it. … We certainly have a wrench in the process. I’m totally conflicted on where we need to go, but we need to do something.”

PPS. SO FAR not one of the candidates for Supervisor to replace lameducks McCowen and Brown — Glenn McGourty, Jon Kennedy, Mari Rodin or Maureen Mulheren — has engaged in any way whatsoever on any of the important subjects the Board has dealt with in recent weeks: The Budget, Pandemic etc., Pot cultivation, Public Safety Power Shutoffs, Law Enforcement, and a host of second-tier issues. No letters, no comments, no statements in public expression, nothing on social media… Nothing.


  1. izzy June 26, 2020

    Attempts to tweak the System from within have been going on for decades at all levels of government, with the most notable result being reams of new convoluted regulations and supporting bureaucracy.

    But events are not holding still, and structural pressures in many areas are at the breaking point. Supervisor Brown’s remark encapsulates the larger situation – “I’m totally conflicted on where we need to go, but we need to do something.”

  2. Mark Scaramella Post author | June 26, 2020

    Supervisor Brown’s response is noteworthy mostly for its sheer ignorance. Here’s a person who’s been involved and supportive of the well documented failure of the pot cultivation ordinance for years, an “ag” person who reacts peevishly when pot growers have asked simply to be treated like other ag (i.e., grape) growers, a person who benefits from the relative lack of rules and enforcement for grapes compared to the ridiculous rule and enforcement overkill for pot growers, a person who is paid handsomely to be attend to these kinds of controversial matters, a person who conspicuously appeared in court with the wine mob to defend the wine mob’s god-given right to make as much noise as they want to make to save a small percentage of theie grapes… And where does she end up? I ain’t got a clue, but I’ll support whatever anybody else wants to do sight unseen (unless, of course, it infringes in any way on grape growing). But the wine mob has nothing to fear from her likely replacement, Glenn McGourty, who, like Brown will make sure that the County remains a supportive adjunct to grape growers in every way imaginable and who hasn’t taken a public position on the pot cultivation ordinance, as obviously broken as it is. At least Supervisor McCowen has somehow come to realize the error of his ways — albeit too late for himself or Supervisor Brown to have anything to do with fixing it. By the time they’re gone next year, the “new” board will probably have to start from scratch without even the benefit of McCowen’s experience with how wrong he’s been.

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