MENDOCINO Co., 4/26/19 — After an eleven hour meeting on Monday, April 19, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors pushed a deciding vote on the proposed “phase three” cannabis cultivation ordinance to April 27, today, after listening to hours of public comments largely opposed to certain provisions in the current ordinance proposal, such as a proposal to allow up to 10% of a parcel in certain zones to be permitted for cannabis cultivation.
The follow-up meeting will begin at 9 a.m. today, Tuesday, and can be viewed on the county’s youtube channel; the meeting agenda and place to comment can be found here, and you can also email [email protected]. The meeting will also include the cannabis facilities ordinance, which includes potential changes to cannabis farm tours.
During Monday’s meeting, supervisors discussed changes to the proposed language of the ordinance, and heard staff reports from the county’s new cannabis program manager, and planning and building staff. The board received over 400 written comments and heard from over 100 public speakers primarily expressing concerns over the currently proposed phase three ordinance, the majority of which were opposed to the “10% expansion” provision. The board had decided prior to the meeting to limit public comment, and subsequently decided to continue the discussion of the phase three ordinance and the cannabis facilities ordinance, which had also been on the agenda, till a board meeting on April 27.
As proposed, phase three cultivation permits would go through a discretionary process, involving public input, and hearings by the planning commission. This process differs significantly from the the ministerial permit process established in phases one and two of the county’s cannabis cultivation permits, through which between 800 – 1100 permittees have been approved and over 800 of whom have received provisional state licenses and approval from myriad other regulatory agencies, and whose fate is potentially tied up in the phase three process, depending on whether they can receive annual state licenses without re-applying for county permits. Many of the commenters have called for a pathway for these initial permittees to continue cultivating, with some supervisors blaming cultivators for misusing the system, while many others pointing out that the process has been unclear with much county staffing turnover, and changing or delayed communication from thee county to permittees.
The question of how and when the next phase of the county’s cannabis cultivation permit program should unroll has been the subject of intense controversy over the last several months, with some supervisors taking to social media to share their positions, and a significant volume of opposition in the form of overwhelming public comment and statements from local public officials, municipal advisory councils, the current and former sheriffs, and representatives of statewide agencies. The primary issues raised by both opponents and supporters are environmental impacts, staffing and enforcement capacity, and what changes to the local economy and community such businesses might bring. The supervisors had initially voted 4 to 1 with Haschak dissenting, and Supervisor Williams made a point of bringing up a set of flyers that Haschak had endorsed calling for a halt to the proposed changes.
Supervisors spent much of their discussion going through suggestions that had been outlined in a letter drafted by McGourty, and only began reviewing the planning commission’s recommendations towards the end of the day, at which point the discussion turned how to best use the time at the meeting’s continuation. Some ideas were floated and an informal agreement between, including limiting phase three applicants to 10% of a parcel on areas that had already been tilled or in use for ag since 2015 on rangeland, and ag land, but not upland residential. Supervisors informally also considered limiting to use of hoophouses, common in different types of farming, and mixed light cultivation in phase three, at one point debating how much space might be required for in-house nurseries at such potential sites. A pathway for phase one and two cultivators was also part of the discussion.
During the meeting, District 3 Supervisor John Haschak asked Kristin Nevedal, cannabis program manager, whether she would be able to provide a breakdown of the state of completion for the 400 some applications remaining in the que, which was not currently available — although Nevedal provided some data from a sample of those. Supervisors gave direction to allow 60 days for said aspiring permittees to respond to a letter that would be sent out from county staff. The county has also planned to implement a “portal” so that applicants could submit documents via a dedicated website, but it is not yet available.
Due to the volume of comments, the County Executive Office had warned that public speakers might be limited by “first come first serve,” but the meeting opened with a discussion of exactly how to limit public comments, as many people had left voicemails at the typical three minutes in length. Supervisors Williams and McGourty were the most in favor of limiting comments, with Williams proposing voicemails only be played for the first two minutes, and public comment potentially limited to one minute, while McGourty said he did not see the value unless new ideas were being presented. Supervisor Haschak and Mulheren both advocated to not limit public comments to less than two minutes, which the board ultimately agreed on. Supervisor Williams appeared absent from the zoom screen for a limited portion of the public comments later in the day.
The vast majority of public comments were in opposition to the scale of the proposed expansion, However, one notable block of commenters spoke for it, as the initial set of callers were all calling from the same connection, with many using a company translator, from local cannabis company Henry’s Original, which is in favor of the expanded cultivation language. As all of these callers were calling from what may have been a worksite using a Spanish language translator, their comments in favor were all in a row. However, the majority of written and prerecorded comments were opposed to the 10% and other specifics, where some called for a limit to any new permits, or called for a public vote on the changes.