As discussed here last week, County officials have now decided to expand pot cultivation effectively removing all caps on pot and open up rangeland to growing weed, despite opposition from the Sheriff, small cannabis farmers, environmentalists, and ranchers.
The proposed expansion also comes on the heels of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board), the State Water Board’s main enforcement arm on the North Coast, recently issuing an Investigative Order that found, “The North Coast Region is inundated with cannabis cultivation in headwaters and main river systems, with active, developed sites in steep and rugged terrain. Cultivation and related activities throughout the North Coast Region have resulted in significant waste discharges and losses of instream flows associated with improper development of rural landscapes on privately-owned parcels, and the diversion of springs and streams, to the cumulative detriment of the Regional Water Board’s designated beneficial uses of water.”
In this space I have repeatedly pointed out that you “can’t grow weed without water,” and that the state’s two primary resource agencies in California’s cannabis regulatory framework — the State Water Board and Fish and Wildlife — have very tough, stringent regulations that need to be complied with in order for local growers to become licensed by the state.
When the water issue was raised at a Board of Supervisors meeting a couple of years ago, the Board’s collective response was, “There’s already checks and balances on water.” What exactly did that mean? And by the way, what are these checks and balances on water?
The State Water Board and Fish and Wildlife don’t operate in a “check and balance” water world. They have very specific rules and regulations regarding water rights, diversion, usage, storage, discharge, etc. Cannabis cultivators must comply with them to get licensed regardless of what the county is obligating or not obligating them to do.
So you’re probably wondering why the Supervisors would decide it’s a great idea at this time despite all the local opposition, not to mention the Regional Water Board’s finding that the area is “inundated” with pot and the resulting water quality and watershed degradation, to remove essentially all the controls from cannabis production. It’s a one-word answer:
Clearly, the economic model the Supes are pushing is bigger-is-better for pot cultivation and the prospective new tax revenues that will be generated by the large corporate model. And needless to say, the oft-heard commitment from County officials regarding the importance of ensuring small farmers remain a vibrant force in the emerging pot industry are just empty words.
Nonetheless, by a 4-to-1 vote (3rd District Supe Haschak voted no), the Board of Supervisors conditionally OK’d a proposed Ordinance, that includes a provision allowing parcels in ag, range land, and upland residential zoning districts that have a minimum parcel size of 10 acres or larger to cultivate up to 10 percent of the parcel area. For example, a 600-acre parcel could have up to 60 acres of cultivated weed, or 100 acres of pot could be grown on a 1,000 acre parcel.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council (LAMAC) put the Board of Supervisors on notice that the so-called “10 percent rule” is bad public policy and must be deep-sixed.
The following are excerpts from the letter sent to the County:
Pleased be advised that on February 10, 2021, the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council (LAMAC) took action that approved submitting this letter of recommendations and comments to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and Mendocino County Planning Commission regarding the proposed rule that that “Parcels in the AG or RL zoning district that have a minimum parcel size of ten (10) acres or larger may cultivate up to 10 percent of the parcel area.”
The Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council is opposed to the expansion of cannabis cultivation based on the 10 percent rule in Ag, Rangeland, and Upland Residential zoning districts.
The following concerns have been identified by the community:
• Planning staff is already overburdened and unable to keep up with the workload required to manage the permitting process for those who have already applied. Expanding cultivation prior to getting caught up with issuing the permits to current applicants would only add to their burden and seems inappropriate at this time.
• Law enforcement is already unable to keep up with the increased number of cannabis violations. By encouraging big grows this inhibits easy accountability to those who are in the system and those who are not.
• Water resources are already negatively impacted by the existing cultivation from lack of best practices and drought. This crisis of losing water within the District would be exacerbated if cultivation were allowed to increase by such proportions.
• We have wildlife and contiguous habitat concerns. We are a county rich with wildlife. It is not in the best interest to move forward with huge grows that may not leave any room for wildlife corridors, fence them off from fleeing from fires, and sucking up the water table. We are fragile and this impact will severely hurt or possibly even kill some sensitive ecosystems.
• It’s important to also note Mendocino County’s goal of protecting small legacy cultivators. Large corporate grows are the antithesis of this. Although it is much more challenging to permit and oversee a multitude of small growers, as opposed to a few large corporate players, this is what the county promised with the original ordinance creating the cannabis program. The intent of honoring and protecting small legacy cultivators should be upheld.
• As you can discern with the issues above, expansion of cannabis cultivation is not in the best interest of the Laytonville Area community. Therefore, the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council opposes the proposal to allow expansion of cannabis cultivation to up to 10 percent of parcel size.
A couple of thoughts prior to signing off for the week.
By my estimation, close to two/thirds of the weed grown in this County is produced in the 3rd District, which ranges north from Willits to the greater Laytonville area and sprawls eastward to Covelo. It also probably has the most rangeland out of the five supervisorial districts.
The 3rd District’s Supervisor, Haschak, and most constituents, including a large number of growers, are opposed to both the proposed 10 percent rule and expanding cultivation in rangeland.
I think if the issue were put before the voters, they’d be inclined to agree with the folks in the 3rd District.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, email@example.com, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org)