WILLITS, 3/18/21 — The Mendocino County Planning Commission will hear a proposal for changes to the county’s cannabis cultivation permitting program, which if approved would allow a new round of applicants to apply to commercially cultivate cannabis on up to 10% of qualifying parcels through a discretionary use permit. The matter will be heard tomorrow, Friday, March 19 and broadcast on the county’s YouTube channel.
The proposed changes would create a significantly different permitting process from that experienced by the 1100 applicants who applied in earlier phases of the county’s program, and who were capped at 10,000 square feet of cultivation. The new proposed ordinance, which has seen major pushback from many sectors of the community, was approved on a 4 to 1 vote by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors in January, and as part of the standard land-use regulation process will now be heard before the Planning Commission, along with the cannabis facilities ordinance, before being approved or modified by the supervisors.
However, the future is not so certain, there is an agenda item listed for next week’s supervisorial meeting which asks for review and possible delay for further study of the proposed cultivation permit ordinance changes.
The Planning Commission will consider public comments and the proposed changes on Friday, which including changes to the county’s zoning table, and then submit a report to the supervisors prior to what is known as the first reading of the ordinance, a required step before changes are made final. The full Planning Commission agenda can be found here. Public written comments can be sent to the commission at email@example.com on the day of the hearing, March 19. Those interested in speaking during the meeting should register here by 7 a.m on March 19, and the meeting will be broadcast live on the county’s Youtube page. The meeting will include the proposed changes to the cultivation ordinance, as well as proposed changes to the cannabis facilities ordinance, which covers aspects of retail, distribution, processing, and different cannabis permit types. Julia Krog, Assistant Planning Commission Director, has also issued a statement regarding these changes (see here). So far, over 125 public comments are posted on the commission’s agenda webpage.
The upcoming Supervisors’ meeting agenda, which was released Thursday just before 5p.m., includes an urgency item sponsored by the county counsel and the Building and Planning Department, requesting that the “phase 3” ordinance changes be delayed until further study is conducted. Correspondence regarding the proposed changes can also be sent to the supes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Planning and building staff currently manage a significant portion of the applications made by “phase 1” applicants. The department would also be involved in future permit applications, which would also need to go through a discretionary permitting process with the Planning Commission. Such complications have raised concerns about potential burdens on staff time, the need to increase hiring and training of qualified county staff, and about the overall length of time before new permits are approved if the proposed changes are implemented.
Applications for new cannabis permits are currently not being accepted, and many of the county’s 1100 cultivation applicants have been issued provisional county permits, but have not yet received annual state licenses, in part due to ongoing questions about the CEQA process as it relates to the county’s ordinance. The next time the county’s cultivation permitting window will be open is in phase three, but with the current proposal, phase three cultivators will not be able to operate until receiving final permit approval. Supervisor Ted Williams has suggested that the majority of phase one cultivators will potentially need to re-apply for their county permits via the phase three process, which under the current proposal might require farmers stop operating entirely until their new final permit is approved.
The proposed phase three changes have led to significant debate within the cannabis industry and the public at large — with two petitions in circulation, one for and one against the changes. Perhaps the biggest point of contention has been the potential for a significant expansion in cultivation of up to 10% of qualifying parcels and the lack of specific standard permit conditions.
The county’s two main cannabis industry groups, Mendocino Cannabis Alliance (MCA) and the Cannabis Business Association of Mendocino County (CBAMC) are calling for different changes. MCA has called for the county to implement a one acre cap per permit until 2023, at which point the state is expected to open up a larger “Type 5” state cultivation license, while the CBAMC supports the proposed changes. The lone dissenting vote on the board of supervisors was District Three Supervisor John Haschak, who represents portions of north county. The Laytonville and Round Valley municipal advisory councils have both recommended against the proposed changes.
On March 15, The Mendocino Voice moderated a panel organized by CBAMC on on the proposed phase three changes, which you can watch in full here. The Cannabis Hour on KZYX also covered the proposed changes on March 18, which you can listen to here, as well as in this KZYX story.
In response to a request for questions prior to the panel, The Mendocino Voice received a number of questions regarding the potential environmental impacts of the proposed changes, including questions as to: whether new permit applications would impact or delay the ability for existing phase one cultivators to receive permit approval, the potential impact on real estate and affordable housing, whether the proposed changes conflicted with the county’s general plan, whether there would be smaller caps on acreage per parcel or the number of permits per licensee (currently limited to two), whether enforcement of environmental violations, potential crime, or adequate staffing could be expected, whether there would be priority or assistance for the current permittees, and whether the supervisors were simply courting additional revenue, or would be responsive to the concerns of their residents.