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Looking for Answers

In response to my recent column on the continuing chaos of marijuana cultivation in this county, a number of folks sent along their thoughts on possible solutions.

Kirk Vodopals had this to say:

“Good luck Mr. Shields. Everyone I spoke to who wasn’t in the cannabis industry and had a minimal working knowledge of the Soups knew from the get-go that Mendo County has never had a desire to be in the weed regulation game. Seems pretty obvious, right? Whether that’s by design or by sheer incompetence, doesn’t really matter. Who in their right mind would want to set up a regulatory framework for those operators who never wanted to be part of the system and proudly proclaim their outlaw status and worldwide black marketeering. It’s like inviting the pirates to a discussion on international navigation law. There is no regulatory solution. Pirates gave up wooden ships and now most of them sit on computers hacking pipelines and pension funds. So goes the “craft” canabiz: the way of the wooden ship floating in a sea of freighters, speed boats and Carnival cruise lines full of dabs, shatter, honey oil and boofers.”

I replied, “Kirk, you’ve hit all of the major nails squarely on their heads. Can’t disagree with any of what you say. Spot on summary. I’m essentially at the same place you are. Thanks for your insights.”

Rye N Flint said, “The ‘craft cannabis’ rebels haven’t lost to the empire yet. They are busy with the ewoks in the woods regrouping to fight the Stormtroopers and Jabba the Greenhuts, as we speak. Farmer’s markets and select cut direct to dispensaries sample boxes are on the horizon. And although not an industry saver, they may end up being good lifeboats for those whole remained small and high quality.”

Mark Scaramella, of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, regularly writes spot-on reports on the failed Cannabis Program, offered this advice, “Mendo proceeded to ‘regulate’ ‘legal’ cannabis only because they wanted the tax revenue. If they had let the Planning Commission proceed to adapt the existing zoning/permit process to pot, they would have had a much simpler and less time consuming process. But certain Supervisors, ahem, thought they knew better. They didn’t. If you believe Supervisor Williams’s recent pot revenue predictions, taxation has failed too. That said, not being involved in or knowledgeable of the cultivation of pot like I am with wine and grapes, the small batch pot crops may indeed be better in Mendo’s soil and climate. Not that I can tell the diff on a bet. How that plays out remains to be seen.”

Gavin Walsh sketched out a plan:

“I believe creating a micro farmer exemption would alleviate a burden on the people, as well as the county enforcement. With legacy or farmers reluctant to engage in a flawed system, and enforcement unable to enforce anything on thousands of small grows. An exemption from the requirements for environmental reviews, structure permits, onsite resources, water registry etc. Micro farmers would be able to grow the legacy crop of 25 plants in gardens that already exist, use minimal resources, create no new structures of changes, hire no employees, using the same area that they have already been using for decades. For a Fee these permits would bring these farmers into the fold, give legitimacy, allow enforcement, and provide a solution to many thousands of citizens of this county, neighbors of yours and mine, to live their way of life without persecution or prosecution. The county supervisors I believe recently stated that their were 8-9,000 county residents who are growing without a permit. Most are too small for enforcement to concern themselves with, considering their time and budget. You offer a permit to these people for their small operation for $1,000 and the county would instantly raise millions of dollars, and that’s pre-tax. Include tax and goodbye county budget concerns. Besides many of these cultivators are getting a medical prescription and selling to the black market. Skirting the law and denying the county needed resources for important infrastructure and safety. Until we incorporate and enfranchise the majority, we will by default deny and demonize otherwise good people. Less than three percent are registered and they had the money. The rest don’t own land or can’t comply. Besides proof of prior cultivation. Education not incarceration.”

These are all good ideas from people seeking actual solutions after nearly five years of a dysfunctional regulatory framework.

What needs to be done immediately at the county level is to create a simplified, streamlined process that specifically addresses the predicament of the small family cultivator. It would involve a simple cap on the number of plants (25 to 99), a minimal application fee of several hundred dollars, and an annual renewal fee of the same amount. Small farmers would pay applicable taxes just like everyone else in the industry.

For certain, the legalization of ganja is the most significant legislation and public policy created in the past 40 years. It rivals the impact of the voter-enacted Prop 13, which revolutionized (in more ways than one) property taxes in this state.

As I’ve said many times before, no one lives in this county who is not affected economically by marijuana. And that’s true for both the private and public sectors of the economy.

Keep in mind that state pot laws and county pot ordinances are not written solely for those who grow the stuff. They are also written to protect the rights of those who don’t grow or smoke the stuff. They are also written to protect the rights of legitimate growers, who are trying to play by the rules. They are also written to penalize and come-down-like-a-ton-of-bricks on those individuals who believe and act as if they are above the law.

Pot Views, A Good Guy, And Redistricting

Once again in response to the last couple of columns on the continuing chaos of marijuana cultivation in this county, a number of folks sent along their thoughts on the subject . Here’s comments from Kirk Vodopals:

“Glad to hear Mr. Shields is in agreement with my assessment of the current Mendo cannabiz scene. Wonder if he will agree with these comments/observations on Mr. Walsh’s piece: The ‘simplified’ permit process for the “small mom-and-pops” sounds very idealistic. Verging on fantasy, I’d say. I agree with the stipulations of no new employees and no new structures. Exemptions for environmental review, structure permits and water registry, however, is a bit more nuanced. I don’t think environmental review is necessary for a 25-plant plot, but when you bump into the 99-plant size with grading and offsets from sensitive resources, then that’s another story. Anything with a foundation or steep grading needs a structural or engineered design- doesn’t matter what’s on it. Water registry is my biggest beef. I see so many knuckleheads who don’t have enough water for domestic purposes trying to continue their failing weed operations. It’s ludicrous. Common sense doesn’t apply to those folks. In the big picture, Mr. Walsh is making a case for the County to try to spend thousands of hours trying to figure out a streamlined permit program for operations and people who will probably never get in trouble with the law cuz their setups aren’t bothering anyone and they are off the radar of any enforcement issues anyways. These folks, though, (as well as most of the legal market) are still funneling most of their product into the ‘traditional market anyways. So the strong urgency to get them into the legal fold is pretty much a joke. Why waste all of our taxpayer money to assist folks who haven’t paid taxes in 40 years, didn’t want any part of the system, feign compliance while running product out the back door and call for water trucks in March??… The joke continues. I do like RyeN Flint’s Star Wars references: but who are the main characters (Luke, Hahn, Lea, etc.?) Calvino the Caped Crusader of weed apparently fled to Beverly Hills. Hannah Nelson is still advocating for all her clients, but not sure if she has sided with Jabba the Hut (Steinmetz at Flow Kana plus all of her Argentinian and Chicago-based ‘small’ guys) or if she truly represents the real farmers who put their plants in the ground… The saga continues. Use your sabers to spark up a fatty.”

Recognizing a good guy…

While to many Pacific Gas and Electric Company is a faceless corporation that has a sullied reputation for its role in sparking horrendous wildfires, the responsibility for an unprecedented level of death (approximately 120-plus) and multi-billion dollars of property destruction, it does have many employees who do their jobs and actually care about the customers they serve.

At the top of the list of PG&E workers who deserve recognition and commendation is Rich Noonan, who has the unwieldy job title of Senior Public Safety Specialist-Mendocino & Humboldt Counties, Wildfire Operations Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Noonan is clearly one of those folks who is committed to serving the public.

Noonan is a Laytonville native who still has numerous family and friendship ties to the community. As the district manager for a rural water district, one of my primary responsibilities is to keep our system operating during various types of emergencies, including so-called “Public Safety Power Shutoff” (PSPS), where as a safety precaution, electricity is turned off in high risk wildfire areas during extreme weather events in an effort to prevent a fast-moving, hard to fight wildfires. These measures are only to be used as a last resort to help ensure public safety.

I don’t know how long Noonan has been in his present position, but I do know since the beginning of summer when he became known to me, communications from PG&E to local governments in Mendocino County relative to providing us with nearly up-to-the-minute updates on the possibility of a declared PSPS improved remarkably. This is critical information for a rural water district that has to switch to back-up electrical power, that in our case is available only on a leased basis. It requires us to contact the Bay Area company providing the leased generator, and then making arrangements for its delivery, which can sometimes take 24 hours. So the more advanced warning we’re given, the quicker we can make the transition to back-up power, hopefully with little or no interruption of water operations.

Aside from detailed email updates, Noonan also takes the time to follow up with phone calls to ascertain local conditions, and offer any assistance that may be needed.

So, I just want to publicly thank Rich Noonan for the great job he does under what can be very trying and difficult circumstances.

Appears redistricting could affect Laytonville area

Supervisor John Haschak called me on Tuesday to give me a quick update on what’s happening with the County’s redistricting process where potentially boundaries and populations within the five supervisorial districts will be adjusted based on 2020 Census data.

He said there was a “big gap” with the 3rd District having approximately 2,700 more people than the Coast’s 4th District, which includes Fort Bragg as its most populous city.

One of the possible scenarios for redistricting would be moving the Laytonville area from the 3rd District to the 4th District, among other scenarios, which would not be a popular decision.

Remember, nothing is a done deal yet, there’s plenty of time for people to get involved before a final decision is made. I’ll have more information for you next week. Haschak said he’ll try to get a letter or report written providing more details about what’s going on and how folks in the 3rd District can get involved in the redistricting process.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, observer@pacific.net, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. 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.)

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