LAST MARCH we wrote about the case of Chris Gurr who lives on the Boonville Road on the Ukiah side of the hill. According to press reports on August 10, of 2017 Fish & Wildlife raided his property where wardens had the 61-year old Gurr in cuffs standing for hours in the sun as they cut down about 60 of his marijuana plants. Gurr, a former Hewlett-Packard senior sales rep, said he had his paperwork in order or at least pending and showed it to the arresting officers. The Wardens took Gurr’s paperwork and plants and departed.
A FISH AND WILDLIFE SPOKESMAN later said the property was raided because they "suspected" a well was diverting water from a nearby creek, a common practice by grape growers, but a raidable offense for pot growers. Fish & Wildlife Department Lt. Chris Stoots said the agency’s Watershed Enforcement Program — tasked to investigate, enforce and remediate environmental damage from cannabis cultivation on private land — launched the investigation. Stoots said they had to act quickly and in force “when misdemeanors or felonies are committed in the presence of an officer. … The legal status of it or the political opinion of it has nothing to do with the burden people have to (protect) the environment and the fact that they’re obligated to follow environmental laws.”
IN MARCH a Notice of Claim against the County of Mendocino was filed by an SF marijuana legalization attorney outfit called Wykowski and Association for Chris Gurr and realtor Ann Marie Borges, at their address on Boonville Road outside Ukiah. Gurr claimed that “False or improper claims and statements made by Mendocino County Sheriff's Department employee Sue Anzilotti, her associates, and other currently unknown Mendocino County officers and employees which led to execution of search warrant identified as number [redacted] Superior Court of California, County of Mendocino, August 9, 2017 at 9:30 AM. This search resulted in a raid and seizure operations carried out by California Fish and wildlife agents and employees on August 10, 2017. The warrant was issued for the premises at the claimant address.”
GURR cited damages of “Unlawful seizure and/or destruction of entire, nearly mature crop of medicinal grade cannabis plants growing on the claimants’ property; damage to agricultural infrastructure and materials; cost of labor and materials to grow the plants; loss of reputation and standing in the Mendocino community; emotional distress.”
THE AMOUNT claimed is “in excess of $10,000.”
ACCORDING TO THE CLAIM, a Sheriff’s department employee named Sue Anzilotti was responsible for the Fish & Wildlife raid, and alleges that Mendocino County and its top officials are responsible. The March claim was routinely denied without comment by the Supervisors. We do not know whether a similar claim was made against Fish & Wildlife, but given the resources of Gurr and Ms. Borges, and the involvement of a pricey SF law firm, we assume that one was.
ACCORDING TO THEIR WEBSITE “Wykowski & Associates is one of the few firms in California that specializes in representing medical cannabis dispensaries and other related businesses.”
ALTHOUGH WE HAVE NOT SEEN THE LAWSUIT, the case is apparently proceeding, because last Thursday (October 18), Mr. Gurr and Ms. Borges appeared before the Planning Commission to complain about the “overlay zoning” process which they say has targeted them and their otherwise legal pot farm. In the process they mentioned their lawsuit.
GURR: “I live at 1181 Boonville Road which is part of the Woody Glen discussion. We purchased our property in August of 2016, eleven acres zoned AG-40. We were welcomed by our neighbors with open arms. They told us we were the perfect people to buy this property. They invited us to their homes for parties and barbecues. We were given gifts and bottles of wine, Christmas carolers came to our house and sang Christmas songs. Our next-door neighbor even gave us a tour of his vegetable garden where he was growing 25 cannabis plants and told us he had been doing this for years. We thought we had found the perfect farm to develop with open-minded neighbors. On May 4 of 2017 we applied for a medical cannabis permit. To assure compliance, we hired cannabis attorneys and consultants and CPAs to make sure that we were doing everything correctly. Our proof of prior cultivation was approved on May 4, the day we applied to the Department of Agriculture. We were issued a certificate of compliance and we paid our $1450 to the tax collector's office. Then, as if a light switch had been flipped, the neighbors turned on us when they found out that we had applied for a medical cannabis permit. They began contacting their political friends and associates and conducting a smear campaign against us. They spoke at supervisors meetings assassinating our character and slandering us with the lies. They invited County supervisors and other government officials to their homes to solicit their support in stopping us from getting our permit. One of them even used her influence at the Sheriff's office where she works to send out official county e-mails to the department heads including the State Water Board, Fish and Wildlife, Department of Agriculture, Building and Planning, etc. 15 months later after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a cannabis business we received a denial letter from the County stating that we had not met the proof of prior cultivation requirements which is the thing that you get the first day when you submit your application. How is this possible? How is this possible? We were notified 15 months later. We have been politically assassinated. Our civil rights have been violated and our 14th Amendment due process rights have been violated. Now at the request of the neighbors, the Board of Supervisors has decided that the opt-out zones are a good idea and should be considered. Interestingly enough, there are only two areas being considered for opt-out zones in the whole county. Approximately 87,000 people in the county and 2.4 million acres and our 11 acres coincidentally is now being targeted as one of them. Along with Deerwood. We are nothing like Deerwood. What a coincidence. What are the odds of that happening -- that our location would be picked? What are the odds of that happening for the average citizen without political friends and connections? We oppose the opt-out amendment for the following reasons: We were not allowed to participate in the subcommittee even though we were elected to be on the committee but mysteriously right before the committee started we were eliminated along with two other individuals who were against the opt-out. All the people on the subcommittee are anti-cannabis. So it's no wonder that 92% of the respondents said they were in favor of the opt-out zone. There was no fact checking done on their statements, no alternative views considered. So those recommendations should be challenged. Also, cannabis is being grown by our next-door neighbors. There is a history of cannabis being grown in the Woody Glen area. We meet all the requirements for cultivating marijuana or cannabis on the property at our location. Our property is in an agricultural area. It is zoned AG-40. The number one category of permits issued in Mendocino County are for agriculture. We are where we are supposed to be. We don't live in a subdivision. Woody Glen is a small private road. There is no homeowners association, no CC&Rs, no road association, no subdivision, no subdivision name. It’s agriculture. There is an established commercial venue on Woody Glen — the pumpkin patch. Hundreds and hundreds of cars can be there. We ask that you consider our situation and that you realize that it was not a fair playing field and we were not given an opportunity to speak out against this and neither were the other two individuals on the committee. Thank you.”
REALTOR ANN-MARIE BORGES, apparently Gurr’s land partner, approached the podium a few speakers later: “I hired real estate brokers and agents to find property for me in Mendocino County where I intended to rescue animals. I have nine animals, one of which may not make it through the day today. But I am here. The last time I was supposed to be here the River Fire started that afternoon and I had to choose to stay with my animals and turn on my irrigation. So when they said there was no opposition [to a proposed overlay zone prohibiting legal pot growing in the Woody Glen area], I did not appreciate being put in that position because I have responsibility to save who I represent. I helped open up the depot in Redwood Valley to make sure that hay and feed and support was provided to people during the Redwood Valley fire. We also invited members from Sonoma County to come up and get supplies that they needed. I asked for that and got that. I asked for an area to have a farm to table and a cut flower business and I started that immediately. I have been donating to Plowshares for two years. I have just started my cut flower business. I donate that to the senior centers and hospitals for people who don't receive those kind of things. I also hired consultants and attorneys to make sure that when the agents selected this property for me that I was in the right location. I decided to get my real estate license again. I started in 1990. My experience in this real estate transaction — I'm really concerned about how we could have bought a property that is zoned AG-40 when I was assured by the Ag department that I would be able to invest in the property. And yet now I am here. Unfortunately, I have had to hire Wykowski and Associates in San Francisco to explain how I got here. We have had to start a depositions. We have to bring people locally from the county who have brought me here. I have had to go to the American Civil Liberties Union and explain to them what happened to me. I have been in touch with the Bureau of Real Estate to explain to them what has happened to me how the real estate deal was handled and the lack of disclosure which was not provided to me. I have been contacted by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. They want to know how my property is being opted out [of the overlay zone]. They are interested in this process. They would like to take care of what they consider to be very serious dangers relating to alcohol which in Mendocino County if you attend a winery or go to a tasting room you'll notice that it feeds you right back onto Highway 101. I don't think that when I drive on 101 that I will expecting to see people who have been served alcohol by people who — I don't know if they are trained people in deciding if you are able to drive or not. That's my concern. That's what's dangerous. So I ask you to ask me for facts because I have been denied the opportunity to do that to members of the board and members of the departments even though I have asked several times.”
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THE OVERLAY ZONING PROCESS which Mr. Gurr and Ms. Borges were complaining about has become impossible to decipher. We’re not sure what the hell they’re doing in this latest round of quasi-zoning.
Several pot growers on the Coast complained on Thursday that the sunset provision that will prohibit pot growing in the Coastal zone, indoor and outdoor, after 2020 is unfair and will force them to sell and move out of the County even though they’re apparently legal, have some number of employees who will be let go, and have spent a lot of money to get that way.
The overlay zones would allow “neighborhoods” however they’re defined, to vote on whether legal commercial pot growing is permitted, but the legalities are at best unclear.
LIKE US, Willits News reporter Curtis Driscoll had no idea what changes the Planning Commission was proposing on Thursday since the changes were buried in piles of cannabis-legalese-gobblydook, complete with overhead projections of confusing sections of county code showing what was changed, deleted or added, word by word, but with no overall sense of why the changes were being proposed.
In his report, Mr. Driscoll, like us, gave up, reporting simply that, “At the end of the meeting, the Planning Commission made recommendations to the board about changes to cannabis ordinances.”
THE IMPRESSION WE HAD, however, based on what recently retired and well-respected senior planner Mary Lynn Hunt said toward the end of the discussion (it was her last Planning Commission meeting), is that a use permit process would be better than an overlay zone, an opt-out zone, a combining district, a poll of residents, etc. Perhaps even the existing permitted and otherwise compliant pot growers on the coast who will be sunsetted out of existence, will be given an opportunity to apply for a one-off use permit to stay in business. The Planning Commission decided to consider the use permit process option at a later date. Whether it will help those legal growers on the coast who have been told to sell out and go away, remains open to question.