Hearing on county’s cannabis ordinance next Tuesday

The BoS is scheduled to officially introduce the county’s cultivation ordinance on March 21

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UKIAH 3/17/2017 — With a lengthy cannabis hearing scheduled for Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is meeting twice next week. The agenda for the first meeting, on Monday, March 20, contains items related to planning and building services, transportation matters, and hearing on fee schedules.

Monday’s meeting

On Monday, Nash Gonzalez, the interim chief planner at the Mendocino County Department of Planning and Building Services, will request the board’s direction on several measures designed to protect unique communities from franchises and big box stores. These include a proposal to amend the inland zoning code to adopt a formula business ordinance and rezoning most of the limited and general commercial zoning districts to create a new community character combining district within the inland zone.

Howard Dashiell, Director of the Mendocino County Department of Transportation, will deliver his transportation director’s report and request authorization to advertise for bids and award work on several county roads. He will also give formal notice of the March 2 completion of the School Way Bridge in Redwood Valley.

One of the projects Dashiell plans to put out to bid involves three sites. He identified two locations on Fish Rock Road and one on Little River Airport Road that need a three-inch asphalt concrete overlay, adding up to 6.64 miles of road. He also wants to advertise for a contractor who will provide base repairs on a seven-mile stretch of Orr Springs Road. The Mendocino County Dept. of Transportation is severely understaffed at this time, with approximately 20 unfilled positions.

According to Dashiell’s director report, the total damage to the county maintained road system is estimated at $7 million, some of which is eligible for state and federal emergency financial assistance.

Tuesday’s meeting

The next day, Tuesday, March 21, the board of supervisors will hold a hearing on the long-awaited cannabis cultivation ordinances, which would add two chapters to the county code to regulate growing pot in certain zoning districts. The board may also adopt amendments to the policies and procedures for Williamson Act properties, most notably by making cannabis a compatible but not a qualifying use on properties benefiting from Williamson Act tax breaks.

In an interview Thursday, Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde described an alternate proposal for one particularly thorny aspect of the ordinance. According to Gjerde the ordinance, as it currently stands, would disadvantage his district, for some fairly technical reasons having to do with zoning. He is considering putting forward a modification of the ordinance which he believes would give his constituents a better shot at receiving a permit. But if his proposal is adopted it could delay the passage of the ordinance by about a month, due to standard procedural issues.

 

In brief Gjerde explained, “What I hope will get support is for the board to adopt an exclusionary map which could [prohibit cultivation] in at least a limited number of residential neighborhoods where there appears to be no support for cultivation…But I want the board to create a process so that existing cultivators, who are in some of residential neighborhoods, who are not generating complaints, would have an opportunity to apply to a discretionary permit.”

 

The full explanation of the proposal is pretty technical and gets into the weeds, so you can skip down if you’re not a cannabis policy wonk.

 

Details:

 

Gjerde represents the northern coast of Mendocino County. In California all land along the coast, more or less from the beach up through the coastal plain (ranging from a few hundred yards to a few miles), is under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission. This means that the proposed ordinance, which the supes will be taking up at Tuesday’s meeting, won’t apply to that area. Gjerde noted that much of area in his district outside of the Coastal Zone, including many of the parcels where cannabis cultivation currently takes place, is zoned residential, often R2 or R5.

 

As the ordinance stands, cultivation permits would not be issued for parcels with certain kinds of residential zoning. This condition has arisen largely due to comments from people in inland residential zones, who worry that blanket approval to cultivate in residential zones could negatively impact the character of their neighborhoods.

 

The board has considered creating (or having the planning commission create) an “overlay,” which would create a special exemption from this permit ban, in that overlay area. Overlay zones are not uncommon tools in zoning, where they are used to carve out special areas that are exempt from zoning limits and regulations that would otherwise apply in those zones.

 

But Gjerde noted that the creation of the overlay is not guaranteed, and could be a lengthy process. He pointed out that this uncertainty would create a strong incentive for growers in his district to avoid permits altogether and to stay in the black market.

 

Instead of the overlay, Gjerde will likely propose that the ordinance be changed to allow cultivation in these residential zones, but also include a “exclusionary zone,” where the issuance of cultivation permits would be expressly disallowed. This zone would apply to those neighborhoods where residents have expressed fears that opening up cultivation could change the character of the neighborhoods, such as Regina Heights, near Ukiah.

 

This would allow residents of Gjerde’s district already cultivating on residential parcels to apply for a discretionary permit.

 

Explaining his worries about not taking this route, Gjerde said, “If not I’m afraid there will be almost no property on the west side of the coastal mountains, in or out of Coastal Commission Zone, where existing cultivators will have a legal option…The county will be, in effect, forcing them to remain in the black market instead of our promise to offer them a chance to get out of the black market.”

To prepare for the new ordinance and to be in compliance with state requirements, the county is purchasing an Aumentum database from Thomson Reuters Inc., to keep track of cannabis tax and license information. The cost of the database, plus consultation and training services, is $83,240.

Lawsuits

In other cannabis news in the Tuesday agenda, the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians and a San Francisco-based company called Therafields, Inc. are each individually h suing Mendocino County, the Board of Supervisors, District Attorney David Eyster, Sheriff Tom Allman, and any other county-affiliated persons who may have taken part in a raid last year. The notice of the lawsuit claims that 847 nearly mature plants were destroyed on September 2, 2016. The plaintiffs allege that the address off of Pratt Ranch Road in Hopland, which was listed on the search warrant, is different from the site where the raid occurred, and that C.O.M.M.E.T (County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team) did not provide a receipt for damaged and confiscated property.

Also suing the county is the internet company, Willits Online, for breach of contract, alleging that the county unfairly deprived the company of more than $10,000 of internet service at library branches.

It should be noted that county governments are sued more or less constantly.

Contracts with social services providers are in the consent calendar, with the Community Development Commission set to receive $86,000 to subcontract with MCAVHN (Mendocino County AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Network) and Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center to perform tasks related to ending homelessness.

The board is also likely to approve a seven-month contract with Redwood Community Services in the amount of $255,360 to continue operating Cam’s Place, a residential treatment facility for up to 12 juveniles at a time.

 

Sarah Reith sreith@mendovoice.com

Adrian Fernandez Baumann contributed reporting on this article.

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