For two consecutive weeks, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors have been shaping the new proposed, ever-evolving Phase 3 Cannabis Ordinance.
On April 12 at a Special Meeting, the Supes were “work-shopped” by a delegation from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW). I’ll explain the purpose of that session shortly.
Their 11-hour meeting on Monday, April 19, resulted in several major changes to how pot is going to be grown in the future if they make final approvals at the next scheduled meeting on April 27.
At the April 19 meeting, Supervisor Glenn McGourty presented his colleagues with a 10-point memorandum that quickly became the focus of the Board’s attention for most of the session. Supe John Haschak characterized the memo as a “good starting point” for their discussion to get the ball rolling on finalizing months of unending yammering about the proposed Phase 3 program.
Regardless of McGourty’s close ties to wine-grape industry, his memo captured almost all of the loose ends never addressed during the chaos created by the existing Pot Ordinance. It actually is probably the most cogent piece of work by any County official in recent memory, at least in my memory.
On a related matter, Supervisor Ted Williams’ unbroken refrain of unloading responsibility and accountability for the utter failure of the Board’s handling of the Cannabis program, serves no useful purpose, nor does his carping about how the vast majority (probably 80-to-90 percent) of County residents who oppose the Phase 3 Ordinance, have been misled and bamboozled by, presumably, folks like me, Haschak, Mark Scaramella, Bruce Anderson, leaders of a referendum movement, and who knows who else. Believe me, the people of this County are not fooled by anyone regarding this proposed Ordinance; they figured it out all on their own.
According to Williams, “The county ordinance passed in 2017 does not fit with state law. The Planning Commission staff did not have the expertise or oversight for Phase One; they had no idea that our cannabis ordinance did not align with state law from the very beginning; it’s a failed ordinance. Our county has taken a lot of heat on why cultivators aren’t getting licensed but it isn’t the County’s fault; we have nothing to do with the state license.”
His explanation is absurd and patently false since County officials, all by themselves, dug the hole they now find themselves in. The state had nothing to do with it.
For four years, starting just a few weeks after they approved the original Cannabis Ordinance in May of 2017, I began repeatedly warning County officials of two glaring shortcomings in that ordinance: Insufficient environmental review and the lack of enforcement. But even more importantly, I wasn’t the sole voice cautioning them. State resource agencies (CDFW and CALFIRE) in July of 2017, just weeks after approval of the original Cannabis Ordinance, paid the Supes an unsolicited visit and in a no non-sense manner put the County on notice that the Ordinance must be enforced and that there were potential CEQA problems that were outlined in some detail. The Supervisors were non-responsive to the advice. Ironically, at the just held April 12 Special Meeting, the very same CDFW representative, Angela Liebenberg, Sr. Environmental Scientist Specialist, Cannabis Enforcement Program, who addressed the Supes back in July of 2017, once again presented a different Board (Dan Gjerde the only holdover) with basically the same message from four years ago: Pay attention to your CEQA obligations and enforce your ordinance.
Liebenberg closed her presentation by asking the County to “please consult with CDFW, and CDFW looks forward to working with the County to avoid, minimize and/or mitigate the potential environmental impacts of (the County’s) cannabis regulatory program.”
Regulatory frameworks all share two major features: A set of regulations and the means to enforce them. Period. They work in tandem, hand-in-glove. If you don’t enforce the regulatory framework, you have nothing. Which explains the cannabis program in this county for the past four years. I’ve repeated that warning time and time again
It also explains the takeover of Covelo by violent criminal elements and other scofflaws who immediately moved in to fill the vacuum created by the County’s premeditated failure to enforce its ordinance. County officials bear responsibility for the violence, lawlessness, and environmental degradation in Round Valley.
Anyway, enough history, here’s McGourty’s memo:
“I believe the following guidelines will help us in deliberations concerning crafting the cannabis ordinance and its implementation:
“1. Our first step is an enhanced active code enforcement similar to Humboldt County’s to stop illegal grows. There are too many of them, particularly in rural residential areas and they need to be abated. We need to be sure that both our Code Enforcement Program and the Sheriff’s Office are adequately staffed and funded to make a measurable difference in this coming year.”
The Supes agreed with this recommendation.
“2. Given drought conditions, there should be no expansion of actual growing during the 2021 season. According to Dr. Sam Sandoval, UC Extension Hydrologist, the biggest negative impacts on surface water and fisheries occur when water is diverted in the upper reaches of a watershed. We definitely do not want expanding growing in those regions this year.”
The Board decided this recommendation would be implemented.
“3. This is a good time to ‘get our house in order’ with the Phase 1 program. A thorough review of applications should be made to find a pathway to compliance that will enable applicants to obtain a use permit and a state issued cannabis license. We need to complete the electronic application submission portal. I support additional staffing to review the applications and make final decisions. Applications that have no path forward due to inadequacies of the site to meet regulations or other disqualifying issues should be rejected.”
The Board generally agreed with this recommendation.
“4. Phase 3 should be opened as a pathway for some of the Phase 1 applicants to complete mitigated CEQA compliant permits. Under a CEQA compliant process, they may have the ability to mitigate issues that would otherwise disqualify their projects.”
There was general agreement on this also.
“5. Additionally, I recommend a pilot program of new applicants on parcels more suited to conventional agriculture. I see a selected cohort of 30 existing resident Mendocino County farmers who are presently locally in business producing crops other than cannabis who wish to enter the cannabis business. Required classes should be held to ensure that their applications are properly assembled and complete upon submission. We need to be sure that the Cannabis Program has adequate staffing to review new applicants. An orderly roll out of the new expanded program is the goal of this effort.”
This recommendation will be discussed further, most likely at the April 27th meeting. About a month ago, I proposed something similar to Haschak. It was modeled on a provision in the County’s Hemp Ordinance where five special permits for large, super-sized operations would be put out for bid
“6. In this expansion, the permits will be for sun grown cannabis only. No greenhouses, hoop houses or other growing structures would be permitted. A small (maximum 1000 square foot) structure would be allowed to propagate or harden off seedlings and starts.”
The Board agreed that under an approved Phase 3 Ordinance that all marijuana will be planted in the ground and sun grown. All growing will be outdoors, there will be no indoor grows, and no mixed light. But Phase 1 windoor and mixed light would be grandfathered in to Phase 3. More discussion will occur on prohibiting greenhouses and hoops, but basically they’re relics.
“7. No expansion of cannabis into Rangeland, TPZ or other areas unless there already exists non cannabis crop land that has been cleared and has a legal reliable water source.”
It was agreed that pot could be grown on Range Land if there was a history prior to 2015 of the site being cleared, tilled, with any kind of agriculture activity, a proven water source with an irrigation system. Reportedly there are relatively few sites that meet this criteria.
“8. No operations should be considered for permitting that require internal combustion generators or pumps, water to be trucked in (except in emergency situations,) extensive grading or tree removal.”
This recommendation was also acceptable to the Board.
“9. No fencing that block views are allowed in any newly permitted plantings. We want to maintain our pastoral vistas and an open feel of the region.”
There was general Board agreement on this proposal subject to reviewing state regulations.
“10. In order to allow direct sales for very small producers, a microbusiness option should be implemented similar to regulations allowed under state licenses. The one presently allowed in our ordinance is too small in square footage to be practical.”
I believe there was general acceptance of this recommendation subject to further review.
At the very end of the meeting, the Board took a “straw vote” on the so-called “10 percent rule” whereby cannabis cultivation would be allowed on 10% of the total land of a parcel with a minimum size of 10 acres on lands zoned as Agriculture or Upland Residential.
Third District Supervisor Haschak maintained his opposition to the rule while his four colleagues (Dan Gjerde, Ted Williams, Glenn McGourty, and Mo Mulheren) remained firmly in support of the provision.
That issue will be decided at the April 27th meeting.
If the Supes approve the rule, an immediate move to circulate referendum petitions will occur, according to proponents of the referendum.
I’ll keep you advised since I’ll be supporting the referendum and assisting its organizers.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org)