Former Ag Commissioner Diane Curry posted the following comment on the AVA’s website on Tuesday:
“Remember back when the Cannabis Ordinance was just a sparkle in the County’s eyes? Our then Planning and Building head planner, Andy Gustafson stated that the project needed an EIR. Unfortunately for Mr. Gustafson, Supervisor McCowen disagreed. So as usual, what Supervisor McCowan wants Supervisor McCowen gets. Chuck Morse, the then Agricultural Commissioner and Mr. Gustafson knew this was going to be an issue with CDFA (state Deparment of Food & Ag), CDFW (Fish & Wildlife) and Cal Fire. I mean, it was apparent that an EIR was needed since CDFA was doing one for their project and repeatedly told the counties they would need to do their own EIR.
As for Cal Fire and CDFW, they DO NOT have a policy about cannabis cultivation. Their policy is enforcement. For example, Cal Fire would not negotiate about a 3 acre conversion for cannabis cultivation. That would require changes to their policies at the state level. The county had to prohibit commercial tree removal on resource lands in order for Cal Fire to sign off on the ordinance. The Department of Agriculture was working with CDFW to come up with an agreement about sensitive species and county staff doing the inspections, but in the county’s attempt to hasten the process and to point fingers at the departments that were slowing down the process, the collaborative efforts were lost. The fact that cannabis cultivation is not considered agriculture is a huge hurdle with all agencies. This was done intentionally at the state level in order NOT to give cannabis the protections under “The Right to Farm”. I truly believe that Mendocino county does not value it’s cannabis growers, after all, “they are just criminals”. I sat through many meetings where that phrase was emphasized over and over by our county leaders and Department heads. It was very disheartening.
Now, here we go again with more changes and delays? What is the end goal here? There are counties that are having success with cannabis cultivation and processing: Humboldt, Sonoma, Santa Barbara to name a few. Instead of Mendocino coming out and saying we don’t want cannabis cultivation here, they’re just going to make the process impossible or implement delay tactics.
The citizens of this county should support our cannabis industry. This county needs cannabis. Many of the resources that we have depended on in the past are dwindling. Why not give the cannabis industry the same protections that we give to agriculture in this county?”
Imagine what would happen if grape growers were required to:
Prepare a sensitive species review.
Limit their vineyard sizes.
Prepare a Bullfrog Management Plan.
Prepare a spotted owl impact statement.
Avoid impacting wetlands.
Scrupulously observe riparian zones on penalty of having their vines ripped out.
Scrupulously observe strict setbacks from property lines.
Not remove a single tree while planting or expanding, much less “moonscape” the land to plant grapevines.
Prepare an Oak Woodlands Impact statement and comply with an Oak Woodlands Protection Ordinance.
Not terrace their vineyards or put them on even modest slopes.
Never take water from a stream on penalty of having their vines ripped out.
Not create noise pollution from generators or light pollution from night operations that might bother the neighbors.
Apply for a use permit which amounts to a mini-Enviromental Impact and meet all kinds of mitigations and conditions imposed by Planning Department which would take months if not years for final approval.
And dozens of other requirements…
Then imagine what would happen if an existing grape grower was required to submit — retroactively — a Sensitive Species Review with no guarantee that it would pass muster and then their vineyard would be ripped out and they wouldn’t be allowed to sell wine if the Review showed their vineyard might have sensitive species impact.
Imagine all that…
Next, if you can imagine that, remember when the state water board asked grape growers to prepare and submit water management plans for the Russian River so that they weren’t all taking water at the same time?
Response: Inland grape growers sued in Mendo Courts and won an injunction (which was, years later, overturned after the state appealed). Then the grape growers complied with this minimal request and never complained again. No real problem. No imagination.
Then remember when Mark Scaramella sued to ask Anderson Valley Grape growers to apply for a wind-fan permit (which the grape growers said they did but didn’t) so that vineyard neighbors could sleep on cool spring nights? Scaramella also asked the County to implement the grape growers claimed (but non-existent) permit process for wind fans.
Response: Mendo County Counsel filed a motion in court to require that Mr. Scaramella put up a $1 million bond before he could even sue. (It was denied, of course, but it cost Scaramella thousands of dollars in lawyer costs just to dispute it.)
On Tuesday, August 4 a small army of local self-described environmentalists appeared (virtually) in front of the Supervisors to tell them that any tinkering with or reform of Mendo’s completely failed pot permit ordinance might jeopardize the environment because of a (alleged) proliferation of permitted pot grows that, they say, would somehow spring up. (Apparently they missed the thousands of illegal grows that have already sprung up causing huge environmental impact, many of these growers are illegal because the pot permit program is broken.)
Have those “environmentalists” ever uttered a word of complaint about the enormous and real (not imagined) environmental impact of industrial grape growing? Did they join Scaramella’s suit? Did they submit comments to the Water Board defending the Board’s request for Water Management Plans? Have these environmentalists ever proposed vineyard size limits, much less “bullfrog management plans” and the rest of the panoply of rules, restrictions and costs imposed on pot growers trying to be legal?
No. Of course not.
Have the local permitted pot growers who are subject to these reams of onerous and costly and business killing restrictions and requirements ever filed complaints — much less sued! — to the County about the fundamental unfairness of letting grape growers do whatever they please while imposing every conceivable requirement and restriction and fees and costs on pot growers?
Has anyone ever said that maybe a happy medium for Mendo could be to impose some reasonable restrictions on grapes and pot by keeping as many of them both under a reasonable regulatory system with mitigated environmental impact and minimum outlaw grows?
PS. According to Mendocino County Chief Planner Julia Acker Krog, that “Sensitive Species Review” requirement — a complicated state environmental review process most cited as the single most costly and time-consuming step in the current pot permit process which if not completed can result in permit application denial — is imposed by Mendocino County’s current pot permit ordinance, and is not a requirement imposed by the State. Neighboring Norcal counties do not require it.
If imagining even a bit of parity between pot and grapes is beyond you as it seems to be for nearly everyone else in Mendocino County, then just imagine if Mendo could simply remove the Sensitive Species Review requirement from their ordinance…
Apparently, even this level of imagination is beyond Mendo. No one involved in Tuesday’s discussion of the pot permit program raised the question. Instead, they voted to create yet more ad hoc committees to flail away at the failed pot permit program.
ONE OF THE LAST items of business at last Tuesday’s Supes meeting was Board Chair John Haschack’s report out of closed session when he announced without elaboration that the County had purchased the old Nursing Home on Whitmore Lane (south Ukiah) for $2.2 million.
Previously the County had “commandeered” the building and entered into a six month lease back in early May. At that time CEO Angelo said that the facility “establishes surge capacity as an emergency protective measure related to the COVID- 19 pandemic for emergency congregate shelter and housing for members of the public, including but not limited to housing individuals awaiting test results or in quarantine due to having the virus. The site is leased for six months, with an option to extend. The monthly lease rate of $31,550 is approximately $415 per bed, per month. The building had been vacant for an extended period of time, and work has been completed to re-establish utility services and ensure full functionality. After-the-fact authorization to establish a Capital Improvement Project for this work will be brought to the Board at a forthcoming meeting.”
The County bought the property from a pair of doctors from India based in Modesto who apparently own a chain of California nursing homes, Dr. Joseph Pallivathucal and his wife Dr. Teresa Pallivathucal. The lease agreement in May required the Pallivathucals to upgrade, remodel and maintain the building, with several substantial repairs and remodels. Maybe there was a problem getting them to do it. As far as we know nobody has been quarantined or isolated at the 76-bed facility yet. It’s also not clear if the feds will reimburse the County for the building nor what the plans are for it beyond isolation and quarantine, if any. Possibly for fear of wasting the CEO’s precious time, none of the Supervisors asked about the plans for the building or how it might be staffed in open session.
The $2.2 million price tag seems reasonable, and maybe more so if the feds will reimburse the county for at least part of it. Haschack didn’t say where the $2.2 million was coming from and, of course, it hasn’t been on the County’s list of planned capital acquisitions so somebody must of “found” $2.2 million somewhere. Of course, the building will probably retain its value and could be sold on the open market in the future if necessary, if they could find a buyer.
From here, it looks like a least part of the facility would make a very good Crisis Residential Treatment Facility since it’s ready to use and it’s not likely that all 76 beds will be necessary for pandemic isolation purposes and it would be available immediately, not years from now when or if the Measure B project(s) get built. But that kind of slightly creative thinking is probably beyond the Measure B Committee and the Supervisors who seem intent on wasting many more Measure B millions on a new motel-like structure on Orchard Avenue next to the Schraeder’s current operations with only a few rooms/beds.