Small Marijuana Grower Advocates Urge Reforms to Humboldt County Supervisors and Planning Department
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Dear Planning Commissioners and Supervisors:
These are the initial comments of the Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project (HUMMAP) on the proposed commercial marijuana ordinance. We are pleased to see some thoughtful new changes in the proposal. These suggest that you as decision makers are concerned to develop a healthy marijuana industry in our county, and with that we are pleased. But what we are hearing from our members and others is that the regulations thus far have been so ineffective as to be widely viewed as a disaster, and we think it is very telling that in the recent ordinance deliberations by both the Trinity and the Mendocino Supervisors it was strongly stated that a goal was to avoid being like Humboldt. You are grasping neither the magnitude nor the seriousness of the destruction that is occurring. Please adopt the improvements we here suggest.
1) The Artisanal Program (55.4.13). This innovative program pays due honor to the people, the history, and the motives underlying this industry by assuring its fitting future. The persons who helped to develop this program include the one who in the 1970s imported to the US the seeds that provided key genetics to the marijuana now grown in North America and Europe, and two others who were the first to stabilize the CBD clones now so strongly sought for dramatic health benefits, especially for pediatric seizures. The ideals driving these spectacular accomplishments never revolved around money, but were primarily founded on a deep belief in the special significance of marijuana.
Artisans, then, are focused primarily on the quality of the product, using the knowledge that quality finally lies well beyond industrial manipulations. Accordingly, we must object strongly that the change proposed to this program misunderstands what it is about. The proposed change to which we object is the inclusion of the use of artificial lights in artisanal cultivation, where the prior ordinance (55.4.15) specified natural light only. We strongly request this new feature be dropped, and sun-grown only be retained! The use of lights merely facilitates the commercialization of an otherwise ethics-based product. It has no place in this wholesome history.
2) Timberland (126.96.36.199; 188.8.131.52.6; 184.108.40.206; etc.). In several places the proposed ordinance refers to timberland, but the usages appear to be confused, misleading, and inaccurate. The ordinance variously cites the included definition “Timberland”, “TPZ zones”, and “General Plan Land Use Designation of Timberland”; and Public Resources Code 4526 is also mentioned. Most timberland as defined by PRC 4526 is not in TPZ and U, as the ordinance repeatedly suggests. These zones are not the only timberlands requiring the protections of the ordinance. It remains a common myth that TPZ is all, or nearly all, forest lands.
If you consult your institutional memory, you may recall receiving a letter on this topic, dated November 2, 2015, from Unit Chief Hugh Scanlon of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. I quote from that letter: “It should be noted that the Department’s authority is not limited to timberland production zone (TPZ) land, but any land that is considered timberland. Timberland is defined as “non-federal land which is available for, and capable of, growing a crop of trees of a commercial species used to produce lumber and other forest products, including Christmas trees (PRC § 4526).”” These all are lands for which the Department must issue the three-acre exemptions, and thus all such lands should be addressed in the various relevant ordinance provisions. For example, CalFire found numerous violations of the exemption requirement within the Forest Recreation (FR) zone, yet that important zone is not addressed regarding generator restrictions, among other matters.
Chief Hugh Scanlon continued: “The Humboldt-Del Norte Unit evaluated illegal timberland conversion in Humboldt County, which has increased dramatically due to cannabis cultivation. The Department concluded that approximately 88% of timberland conversions have been completed without CAL FIRE compliance.[…] These illegal operations were found on timberland, regardless of zoning.”
When the TPZ law passed, many residents opted not to include their timberlands. This means among other things that there is a patchwork of these zoning categories, which may result in neighbor impacts. Some of these parcels also contain unrecorded wildlife such as Spotted Owls, as evidenced by the Humboldt Breeding Bird Atlas, and that wildlife remains seriously vulnerable to impacts such as generator noise and expansion of pre-existing cultivation sites. Differences in zoning do not equate to differences in significant adverse habitat impacts. We request all forest lands be treated in a uniform protective manner.
3) Building Code Compliance for existing residences (220.127.116.11.1c). An issue strongly discussed in the fora leading up to the passage of the current ordinance was whether to require inspections and compliance upgrades for non-commercial structures on an applicant’s parcel, and it was clearly concluded by decision makers that only the structures and facilities used in the commercial operation needed inspection and compliance. Planning and Building is again attempting to provoke unnecessary social controversy by imposing the inspections requirement.
We restate again that it is important to keep in view here the history. The homes now once again targeted by Planning and Building were built decades ago and have been quite satisfactorily occupied all the while. The reason they were not permitted when built is because the Planning Department at that time attempted social genocide against the back-to-the-land people by refusing or obstructing to issue permits. Contrary again to popular myth, not all of these homesteaders became wealthy from marijuana. In fact, most came here specifically to avoid materialistic lifestyles. Therefore, many of them cannot today afford the hugely expensive upgrades that likely would be required, septic systems being a premier example. By rights, the County should pay for these as damages. These homes when not actively a part of any commercial operation should continue to stand aside from relevance to this process. This should not be another kick at homesteaders. They have a right to continue living here. We request the limited compliance policy of the current ordinance be retained.
4) Roads (18.104.22.168.8d). This provision requires virtually all commercial growers on private roads to join or establish road associations. It is highly controversial not least because it is yet another attempt by county government to impose social engineering on rural residents.
By law, or so we are informed, road associations must comply with standard constitutional guarantees of rights. For example, they must be governed democratically by direct vote by, or representation of, all affected parties, and, given the length and interconnections of remote rural road systems, this organization alone presumes a large bureaucratic effort. That is but the small matter. You should understand that our rural communities have long ceased to be uniform populations (if they ever were), and they contain strongly diverse attitudes. The proposal before you favors those bent upon resource extraction over those whose long-established interest is to reside in a rural setting. This road proposal is a key part of the effort to industrialize the entire county by piecemeal changes. It seems the most basic concepts of zoning are being pushed aside.
In this instance the inevitable domination of road associations by industrial interests plausibly will result in flat taxes that spread their high impact costs to low impact residents — this already has been repeatedly attempted. This is bound to generate serious conflicts. It amounts to a de facto conspiracy to engage in takings, as some residents may be forced from their homes by inability or unwillingness to subsidize the heavy users. Therefore you have an affirmative responsibility to foresee these matters. Traffic has increased on private roads by a probable factor of more than twelve, including far more heavy trucks, which are the big damagers, and essentially all that increase is related to industrial marijuana use.
Road association costs established pursuant to this proposal should be borne by commercial users only as their cost of business in a secondary zone, and should be graded by impact such as square footage of cultivation and measures of traffic. Alternatively, the County should deal with these issues based on each individual application, soliciting the input of road co-users, and the County certainly should establish effective enforcement mechanisms. Also, Director Ford mentioned on a radio program that rural road usage could be subject to an entirely separate use application permit, and it seems likely this may be the best suggestion of all.
5) Hearing (22.214.171.124.5d). When a Hearing is held, the Hearing Officer should have the discretion to deny the application based on significant adverse effects on the natural environment, in addition to the other listed causes.
6) Permit Approvals. We join with others in shouting the horror that is happening so widely and intensely now throughout our wildlands. Inappropriately sited and irresponsibly conducted grows are nothing but exploitation of the community, the environment, and the future. They also strongly damage the credibility and good will of the industry. County officials repeatedly have told of their awareness of the ineffectiveness of enforcement. You cannot continue ignoring this ugly reality, and we request you cease contributing to it. We request that no new applications be accepted, including indoor, outdoor, or mixed, until all the pending ones are responsibly completed and approved, and that expansions of grows likewise be entirely restrained. Until we are working with a regulated and accountable industry, we shouldn’t be thinking of expanding it.[Edit: Bold format added]
Thank you for considering our suggestions. We recognize the weight that is on your shoulders, and admire every instance of doing the right thing. Hopefully this time around the Board will give the Commission at least as much consideration as the Commission has shown to us.
Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project (HUMMAP)