MENDOCINO Co. 12/30/2016 — A proposal for a new chapter in the county code raised the ire of cannabis activists at a Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, December 19. A last-minute change, drafted during public comment, would allow for summary abatement of cannabis-specific nuisances. This chapter was part of a set of proposed ordinances that the board voted to introduce formally, which is the first step to their being adopted as law. If the proposals pass the second hurdle at the next board meeting, they could become county ordinances by early February.
The new chapter, 8.76, grew out of efforts by the county counsel’s office to amend Chapter 8.75 of the Mendocino County code, which pertains to the county’s summary abatement powers. Summary abatement, according to Chapter 8.75 as it currently stands, is the removal of a nuisance, “Without notice or hearing, when immediate action is necessary to preserve or protect the public health or safety.” In a staff report to the board, dated December 19, Deputy County Counsel Michael Makdisi described Chapter 8.75 as “unwieldy, insufficient and inefficient.” This resulted in a set of proposals that included the overhaul of Chapter 8.75 and the creation of three more chapters to restructure the code enforcement system.
One new chapter would create the position of hearing officer, a person who would be delegated by the board of supervisors to conduct administrative hearings and decide questions of code enforcement in multiple departments. Another proposed chapter deals exclusively with penalties for code violations, also in multiple departments. These two chapters are general code provisions.
Another one of the proposed new chapters, 8.76, creates cannabis-specific nuisance abatement and enforcement procedures. The new chapter would allow for summary abatement of cannabis-related nuisances, though it does not declare that marijuana cultivation itself is a nuisance. Rather, it lays out a specific abatement procedure to be followed, after an enforcement officer from any county department has determined that a pot grow is causing a nuisance, by violating a code.
The new chapter, as it was originally written, did not provide for summary abatement. During the discussion of its particulars, Second District Supervisor John McCowen expressed concern that Chapter 8.76 did not contain a provision for summary abatement, as the current chapter used for dealing with pot nuisances does. In response Makdisi spent the public comment period drafting a line that would allow the summary abatement of marijuana. Speaking as a private citizen Craig Pedersen, who works as CalFire resource manager,* came to the podium to request that the nuisance ordinance address the question of odor.
Susan Schindler, a well-known cannabis activist from Potter Valley, expressed her frustration that, “Somehow, having five more plants than you’re allowed seems to be an imminent threat to public safety…I look at the priorities which have been set by this county so far, and they are, tax me, track and trace me, and charge me. Now I’m back to being an illegal nuisance, potentially, even though the state clearly states that I am an agricultural product…I am tired of being told how much crime is associated with what I do.”
Shortly before the supervisors voted to move the ordinance along to the next step of its becoming law, Second District Supervisor John McCowen explained that, “The nuisance is someone who is operating in violation of our ordinances. So it is the violation of the ordinance that is the nuisance, not the act itself, per se…no one ever said a marijuana cultivator was a nuisance or that marijuana was a nuisance.” Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde thanked him for his clarifying words.
There is no guarantee that the county’s proposed cultivation ordinance will be in effect by the spring planting season. That proposal is still subject to public comment, and is scheduled to come before the Mendocino County Planning Commission again on January 19. It will not become law until the commission sends it back to the board of supervisors with a recommendation, and all three supervisors who attend meetings and are eligible to vote on cannabis matters vote it into law.
In written public comment, attorney Hannah Nelson pointed out that there are three categories of cannabis business owners who have no meaningful way to achieve compliance under a new ordinance: coastal growers, who are not included in the county’s proposed cultivation ordinance, inland growers who were cut off from applying for permits under the urgency ordinance, and non-cultivation cannabis businesses.
There is a workshop scheduled in the board of supervisors’ chambers on January 27 to discuss the crafting of a non-cultivation cannabis ordinance.
*An earlier version of this article was insufficiently clear that Mr. Pedersen was speaking strictly as a private citizen and not in his capacity as an employee of CalFire, or in anyway a representative of CalFire.
30 December 2016 Sarah Reith [email protected]