UKIAH 3/23/3017 — The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors chambers filled to capacity after lunch on Tuesday, March 21, for a hearing on the formal introduction of the county’s proposed medical cannabis cultivation ordinance, clearing one more hurdle on its way to becoming law. The next scheduled reading of the ordinance is April 4. If the board approves it at that time, the ordinance will become law by May 4.
The biggest changes were in the board’s commitment to details about creating an overlay zone, where cannabis cultivation will be allowed on small residential parcels. The board decided to hire a consultant to start work on that project, and to extend the amount of time growers will have to relocate from parcels where growing pot will not be permitted due to zoning. Another item that was the subject of much public comment was a 24-hour reporting requirement for the track and trace program. The time frame for that was extended to 72 hours, to accommodate many rural growers with spotty internet service.
The question of how to deal with new cultivation sites on rangeland was also answered. And the board either delegated or punted on the question of how to demonstrate a history of prior cultivation, leaving the criteria largely up to the ag commissioner, who is charged with drawing up a list of documents that can be used to demonstrate cultivation activities previous to January 1, 2016.
The board took action on three items rolled into one: introducing the amended cannabis cultivation ordinance; adopting a mitigated negative declaration, which consisted of an environmental analysis of the impacts of the ordinance and detailed measures to protect the environment; and adopting amendments to the Williamson Act, most notably allowing cannabis to be a compatible, though not a qualifying, crop for properties benefiting from certain agricultural tax breaks.
Divisions were quickly evident, both on the board and among members of the public, which included several attorneys from Santa Rosa, before compromise was achieved.
Tensions had flared by 2pm, when during review of a staff memo from the agriculture department about several changes to the ordinance, Second District Supervisor John McCowen said he thought it sounded reasonable to restrict the sale of nursery products on areas zoned for rangeland — in addition to the restrictions on such sales in timberland protection and forestland zones.
Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde responded by saying that he believed another simple change would be to allow indoor grows of 501 to 2,500 square feet on parcels two acres or larger. Gjerde maintains that the restrictions on grows on small residential parcels and within the coastal zone would be especially onerous for residents the Fourth District.
McCowen, who is current chair of the board, then threatened to “adjourn early and save everyone a lot of trouble.”
“The board knows what I think is appropriate and what I need to pass this ordinance,” Gjerde replied, adding that the ordinance as it appeared before him reminded him of the vote to accept Ortner Management Group as the county’s mental health provider. “When Tom Pinizzotto was promising me details in the contract that didn’t exist the day of the vote…” said Gjerde. “I never felt better about that vote, after the fact, and I’m concerned that I’m not going to feel better about this vote if I vote for this ordinance without at least carving out this little exception that’s largely only affecting my district.”
First District Supervisor Carre Brown then suggested, a subsequently adopted, compromise that will extend the “sunset” period from two years to three, and develop an “overlay zone” for growing pot in residential districts. The sunset period is the amount of time that growers will have to cease cultivation on parcels that will not be zoned for cultivating cannabis. Many of those are small residential parcels, since, as many Ukiah-area residents argued, residential properties are usually not zoned for business interests.
The question of relocation to rangeland sites was finally decided, with the language of the regulation reading: “An origin site may relocate to a destination site in the rangeland zoning district so long as the destination site has an existing cultivation site and no new cultivation site would be established.” Basically meaning that the number of cultivation sites on rangeland won’t be increased.
The ordinance has tried to balance a potentially robust legal cannabis sector against the interests of already well established cannabis farms, especially of the mom-and-pop variety. To this end, the determination methods to prove such vaunted prior cultivation status has become a sticking point.
Today the board decided to allow as proof, photographs of prior cultivation activities, and previous participation in the 9.31 program — but it’ll be up to the ag commissioner to draft a list of additional documents demonstrating cultivation of medical cannabis prior to January 1, 2016. This could include large PG&E bills, but the list has yet to be created.
There had been some discussion about including two-acre parcels in the ordinance. However, after Undersheriff Randy Johnson came to the microphone to say that five acres was the smallest sized parcel where people were allowed to grow weed under the sheriff’s programs of 2010, 2011, and 2016, the board affirmed a rule setting the minimum size of a permit-able parcel at five acres.
The extended sunset period may provide for more time to develop an “overlay zone,” or a residential zone where cannabis cultivation would be possible with a discretionary permit. Gjerde worked to extract a commitment from McCowen that his colleague in the second district would support such an effort. “I need to know what your commitment is for what would be in that overlay. Because I keep hearing you say, John, that you don’t support cultivation in any of the residential neighborhoods,” he said.
“We have an exception process,” McCowen replied.
“So you’re saying that you would support an overlay that would allow that in a residential neighborhood?” Gjerde continued.
“Correct,” McCowen answered. “If we create an overlay zone in some parts of the county it could be fairly comprehensive.” He began to talk about setbacks in Laytonville. “I don’t know how many times I have to say, I’m in favor of an overlay that would allow someone in a residential zone to cultivate cannabis.”
The board agreed to direct county CEO Carmel Angelo to begin the process of hiring a consultant to work with the planning department to develop the overlay zone. Updates on this process will be a standing agenda item.
The public also had plenty to say, with many familiar faces joined by new members of the county’s various communities. One man, clearly not the Mendocino County district attorney, introduced himself as “the other David Ayster.” He then offered the board a formula based on sales of rockwool cubes, which are used for cultivating clones, by one garden supply store on the coast. He concluded that his conservative estimate of the revenue generated by customers buying rockwool cubes from that one store was $20 million, and that he doubted that “Declining their opportunity to get a permit would deter them from what they are already doing.”
Carole Hester, a Ukiah resident and an outspoken advocate of banning marijuana operations on small residential parcels, began her comments optimistically. “I would sing for you, but you wouldn’t want that right now,” she enthused. She began to read a letter that she described as “a little more pointed and serious,” wherein she characterized cannabis as “a plague upon the land.” The audience began to hiss. “Don’t boo me!” she exclaimed, turning on the hostile crowd and raising her cane. “I have an opinion, ok?”
While many laypersons demonstrated a grasp of the fine points in the law, several attorneys, including some from Canna Legal in Santa Rosa, appeared to be representing the interests of growers as well. Hannah Nelson, a local attorney who has appeared at most of the meetings on cannabis, came before the board to offer the opinion that, “You are probably sick of me, but you’ll miss me when I’m gone.” She added that “I’m really happy to hear some fresh voices echoing some of the things that I’ve been relentlessly bringing up to you.”
The full text of the ordinance:7. Ordinance Adopting MCCR - Revised 3.17
Sarah Reith [email protected]