FORT BRAGG, 10/14/20 — “These businesses have already proven to us they are good neighbors. I welcome them to Fort Bragg,” said Mayor Will Lee at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting.
The council started a process expected to last until April, 2021 in which a consultant will be hired to help prepare an ordinance that would allow commercial cannabis cultivation on inland industrial parcels, such as those north of Pudding Creek and east of Highway 1. Councilperson Jessica Morsell-Haye suggested a 1 percent tax on grower revenues, but relented when other councilmembers insisted that no special fees be imposed on cultivators.
Councilperson Lindy Peters pointed out the fees and taxes that the state already charges cannabis producers. Those costs are in addition to the 2.5 percent tax rate on gross income from the county of Mendocino.
“They are businesses like anybody else. I am 100 percent against giving them any kind of special tax,” said Vice Mayor Bernie Norvell.
“I found the vice mayor’s argument compelling. I can get on board with this. I think it’s important we don’t get greedy here,” replied Morsell-Haye.
The plan is for growers to pay regular fees like building permits, but no extra fees because they are in the cannabis industry. Each grower would have to go through a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process. The city didn’t want to make the investment of doing a blanket CEQA for the entire town when there are so few parcels that qualify. Thus the plan is to exempt the ordinance from CEQA . Then each applicant would need to deal on a case-by-case basis with odor, water use, and other questions addressed by CEQA. This approach differs from the county’s cannabis cultivation ordinance, which attempted to exempt applicants in the initial stages from going through individual CEQA processes, subsequently resulting in complications for applicants seeking permit approval on the state level.
Cannabis cultivation is actually already legal under the city’s microbusiness cannabis ordinance. The current effort is intended to regulate larger growing operations.
A local published cannabis scholar, Evan Mills, PhD, provided comments as to why outdoor cultivation is more natural and uses far less energy with the associated environmental costs of high electrical use that characterizes indoor grows. Peters said the city had considered outdoor grows, but after public comments in the initial process of a year ago, decided to go only with indoor growing in the forthcoming ordinance.
The council did not discuss why a consultant would be needed or the cost of hiring someone from the outside. One person providing public comment criticized the use of an outside contractor.
“This is overkill for what can be a simple staff project, especially at a time when the city is adding planning staff,” commented Jacob Patterson “We are better served by doing this work in house…This project is fiscally irresponsible. We can and should do better with the city’s limited resources.”
Cannabis cultivators said they need new legal places to grow. Area grower “Michael,”commenting live on Zoom, said if the city had a place where cultivation would be allowed, he would be there “tomorrow.” Michael said the state may require all water used by an indoor grow be recycled and reused.
“It would be a bit of an extra fee on cultivators, but having a place to cultivate would be worth it,” said Michael.
Jon McColley, who runs the city’s first marijuana processing business, Root One Botanicals, said the company had processed over a ton of cannabis over the past year while following the rules set forth by the council. The company had applied for a cultivation permit, prompting the plan being considered Monday night, but later withdrew the cultivation application. McColley cited information that every guest in a hotel uses about 40 gallons of water, which multiplied out over all the guests has far greater water use than a cannabis grow would have.
The council did not vote but the consensus discussion gave direction to Sarah McCormick, of the city’s community development department, to move forward with a process that will include drafting a request for proposals to bring a consultant on board and reviews at subsequent council meetings.
Some 30 people attended the Tuesday night meeting by Zoom, where most meetings have just a handful of persons.
Other business taken up by the council:
- Budget: Reports of improved transient occupancy tax revenues means the city was able to readjust its budget, which it has done several times since revising the budget downward at the start of the pandemic. The Council approved a budget amendment that provides an additional $50,000 to Visit Fort Bragg, provides $25,000 for the Noyo Center for Marine Science and $5,000 for the community garden project.
2. Council members gave special recognition for City Clerk June Lemos for seven years of service to the city. Lemos was appointed by the City Clerks Association of California (CCAC) as a mentor to four Northern California city clerks. She was also chosen by the CCAC as a member of their Membership and Inclusivity Committee to help make new city clerks feel more welcome and prepared at conferences and trainings.
“Thank you June, you are truly there every step of the way. You do make my job easier, thank you,” said Norvell during the meeting. Peters said Lemos has worked harder than any other clerk has ever had to work, because of a barrage of public records requests that has been going on this year, especially from one individual, whom he did not identify. “We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents. You are there many late nights processing these requests from city residents,” said Mayor Lee. Lemos thanked the council for the proclamation.
3. Later in the meeting, Lemos provided details about the extensive security the city is providing for the ballot box in front of city hall and for the delivery of ballots to the county (read more about the county’s elections here).
4. A closed session was held to discuss the city’s purchase of property at 90 W. Redwood Avenue, which does not include the building at that location. The city is now involved in price negotiations with Georgia Pacific for the property, according to the closed session agenda. City Manager Tabatha Miller said there was no announcement out of closed session about the negotiations.
5. Councilmembers heard that the Mendocino Coast Dog Owners Group (MCDOG) recently provided labor and improvements to the dog park at CV Starr Community Center, upgrading the dog park.
6. Councilmember Jessica Morsell-Haye said she is feeling more optimistic about the Citizens Commission (for name change) after the third meeting of the group of local residents. The initial group was composed of 17 members, with two new members added at last week’s meeting. Morsell-Haye said Vice Mayor Norvell attended and has agreed to join the group of community members going forward. The Citizens Commission sprang from a nationally publicized controversy over changing the name of Fort Bragg in an effort to rid the city of its namesake, former slaveholder Braxton Bragg (see our previous coverage here).
6. Heard a special presentation by Lia Holbrook of Project Sanctuary about activities happening as part of Domestic Violence Awareness month.