Last Tuesday Supervisor Ted Williams updated his colleagues on the staffing difficulties the cannabis permit program ad hoc committee is facing:
Williams: “The cannabis ad hoc has been meeting regularly several times per week with state agencies and with staff and MCA, the trade association [Mendocino Cannabis Alliance], and with a handful of cannabis cultivators. We feel the state is not providing hurdles, the state agencies are working with us and I think we can get through the process.
“We all have some hesitation about whether this program will work for all applicants. Staff sees that many applicants may ultimately be denied. Some of those applicants should be denied; their projects do not conform to the current ordinance and do have significant environmental impact. But a whole lot of them are pre-existing and do conform and likely will not get through the process. This raises concerns. The Board [of Supervisors] has directed the ad hoc to not work on a use permit or a new model, but to continue to make sure we follow through on the current ordinance. We are taking it seriously, that's the only direction this ad hoc is headed at present.
“But one of the primary concerns is available staff. It seems that there are 272 current permits, all of which will need staff time to complete the CEQA checklist, the project description, work with the state agencies to get the applicants to the stage of the annual permits. So that's 272. Say hypothetically those take 14 hours apiece. You are talking about 3808 hours. And then we have 882 [applications] that are not yet at the county license stage. Some of these applicants have not heard back from the county in three years. So what is the current state? We don't know. It may be that the county asked for additional paperwork. It may be that the applicant emailed that to an Ag employee directly who is no longer with us. It could be that information services could pull it out of the email box, but trying to match up addresses with pending applicants — it's a mess! It's foreseen that it may take five hours per file just to make sense of the current state. You have 882 that are in this situation. At five hours each, just doing a little back of the napkin math here, that’s 4410 hours. And those 882 will also require a CEQA checklist at those 14 hours again. So now we are up to 20,566 hours. If we figure 40 hour weeks and maybe that staff is 75% efficient because of internal staff meetings and trainings and contact switching, you are talking about 385 human weeks…”
If we understand Supervisor Williams correctly, that should be 20,556 / 30 (75% of 40) or 685 human weeks, not 385 human weeks, an even bigger workload.
Williams continued: “That's a problem. We only have until January 1 of 2022 to get all of the applicants to state annual licenses for their legal cultivation where it would end.”
Notice here that Supervisor Williams is not even counting any possible additional/new pot permit applications, on the possible assumption that nobody in their right mind would ever consider applying for a pot permit under these ridiculous circumstances.
Williams continued: “What's in jeopardy here is an industry that's worth maybe more than $500 million per year and about $5 million of revenue to the county. We see that we don't have the staffing plan no matter what the findings are from our pilot program. We see that we need far more time than current staff has available. I'm worried that even if we were to start hiring today we could not find enough qualified and competent planners to get the work done in time. So the ad hoc [committee comprised of Williams and Supervisor John Haschak] will be bringing back some recommendations. But we wanted to share at the earliest possible time that we have a serious problem with staff if we find that we want to continue with the current ordinance. We don't have the planning staff that can support the needs. We may have to outsource it. Chair Haschak?”
Board Chair/Supervisor John Haschak [an opponent of any reform or alternate pot permit ideas]: “I agree with what you said, that we will have to come up with recommendations for how we are going to get staff either internally or externally to be able to process people because we have a commitment to people to help them with, you know, the process. We are creating the pathway right now. I feel like we have created a pathway with CDFA [state Department of Food and Agriculture] and we also have a pathway with CDFW [Fish & Wildlife]. with the pilot program that just got approved. So those are looking like, you know, we have a way of getting people to their annual license if they qualify. We just need to do our part with the CEQA checklist and the signoff. So –”
Williams: “We are talking about needing additional resources. We don't know exactly how much time, that's why we are doing this pilot program. Based on the numbers I've seen so far, the projections, if we wanted to process all of the current files within six months, I can see needing 16 additional planners. I don't know if planning Director Brent Schultz is on the call [in the virtual Board meeting], if he wants to disagree, now would be a good time to do so or if he thinks it's more than 16 or less than 16 to speak up. But just from the numbers I've seen I think we need to hire 16 planners essentially tomorrow. If we don't think that's possible, we need to start putting our fee together and outsourcing this work. [I.e., figuring out how much to charge the applicants for the processing staff time when there’s a good chance some of them won’t get a permit even if they pay.] And that outsourcing will be difficult because most of the records are not in digital form. We cannot have a contractor access the existing records short of sending the files over. Cannabis files are inherently intertwined with other permits. A cannabis applicant has a well permit, probably some building permits, hoop house permits, other permits. I don't know that we want to collect all that paper and send it to a contractor. Also, because of Covid, we can't put any more people in the existing [Planning Department] space because of the distancing requirements. I don't mean to be pessimistic here, but we have a real problem on our hands. We have a timeline that we cannot possibly meet with the resources we have at our disposal.”
Haschak: “All right, well, thank you for that report, Supervisor Williams. It is certainly in detail about the problems we are facing with the cannabis program right now. But hopefully at the next meeting [September 22 Board of Supervisors meeting] we will come back with a plan that we hope the board will support. Okay? Is that it?”
Williams: “Yes, thank you.”