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Overton Overexposed?

Newly hired Mendocino County Cannabis Program Manager — aka "Pot Czar" — Kelly Overton has made quite a splash in the wake of his presentation to the Supervisors on Tuesday.

An oversized picture of a proud Mr. Overton adorned the front page of Friday’s Press Democrat and the accompanying article informs us that Overton was formerly a "consultant from Southern California," where he previously "helped start a small animal welfare nonprofit, Mojave Animal Protection." This “experience” was magically leveraged into a $98,000 a year Program Management job in Mendocino to preside over a convoluted process that has baffled everyone who has taken it on so far.

The Press Democrat also says that Mendocino "officials have given him a directive: Give more applicants permission to grow." According to the Press Democrat, Overton also has "experience including working on a contract basis for government agencies or organizations seeking to improve internal processes, including a stint helping Habitat For Humanity retool its model to respond to the unprecedented housing needs created by arcane Katrina which brought New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005."

Overton told the Supervisors he “will initiate improvements to the way the county engages with the public on cannabis topics." Nowhere in the lengthy PD article are any "improvements" specified. Adding to the coverage, in Friday’s Ukiah Daily Journal, reporter Ariel Carmona quoted Overton in yet another long article saying that he intends to improve processing and communications.

In Thursday’s Willits Weekly, reporter Mike A’Dair’s long report said that Overton "has asked county staff to prioritize permit applications."

"We are going to be able to expedite the permit process," Overton insisted. "We are going to be able to prioritize the permit process and this will not slow anyone down. It's kind of a simple process: good customer service." Overton also said he plans to "improve work habits, use technology better and communicate internally better.”

Overton hasn't had any actual marijuana program experience like the months of experience racked up by former Interim Ag Commissioner Diane Curry. Readers may recall that in her final report to the Board last month she described some very specific difficulties that Mr. Overton either doesn’t appreciate or is unaware of:

Curry: "If our cultivators cannot get a state license they don't have a local license. And in order to get a state license you need a Lake and Streambed Alteration permit from Fish and Wildlife or a statement that you don't need one. We have been instrumental in pushing our cultivators to get those documents because without them there is no state license. There is no state license without already going through the State Water Board to get the water right and your discharge permit. Again, we have been instrumental in pushing those cultivators to get those licenses. No state license, no local license.”

But “pushing” many small pot growers unaccostomed to (expensive) paperwork hasn’t worked well so far and no amount of process improvements will fix that.

Former Commissioner Curry also described problems in the Planning Department and the State Department of Fish and Wildlife:

“We only have a total of maybe 150 approvals from Planning and Building. So still, those people are not going to get a permit yet. The annual inspection is tied to the issuance of a permit. We have a year. And the annual inspection also says that we will plan that inspection when we actually have plants in the ground, which we don't. We want to time those inspections so that we have mature plants so we can do the canopy survey. So we can actually get something that's accurate. … I don't have any control over Fish and Wildlife and when they are going to determine, when they submit, or when they are going to issue their Lake and Streambed Alteration permit. According to my staff and Fish and Wildlife if a cultivator ever submits that paperwork there is still a lot of back-and-forth with those agencies because they don't have enough information. So again, if we go back to our ordinance — it also said we wouldn't accept an application until cultivators had all of that. … I have reached out to Senator McGuire telling him some of these issues. But in Mendocino County, because of the geography here, I would say that 90% or our applicants are going to need that.”

The glibly confident Overton seems to think that for $98,000 a year with a fancy title and a few well-chosen buzzwords he can somehow improve processes and communications without addressing any of the fundamental obstacles that Commissioner Curry described. (And she only noted a few of them.) We wonder how long it will take Overton to realize that he may be overplaying his hand and creating unrealistic expectations for applicants and the Supes. The problem is not with the permit processing and communications, the problem is the process itself.


  1. james marmon March 21, 2018

    Sec. 10A.17.090 – Cultivation Permit Application and Zoning Review. modified

    Applicants for a Permit shall provide the following information on, or as an attachment to, the application:

    (G) Copy of the statement of water diversion, or other permit, license or registration filed with California Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights, if applicable.

    (H) An irrigation plan and projected water usage for the proposed cultivation activities, as well as a description of legal water source, if not covered by item (G).

    (I) Copy of Notice of Intent and Monitoring Self-Certification and any other documents filed with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) demonstrating enrollment in and compliance with (or proof of exemption from) Tier 1, 2 or 3, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Order No. 2015-0023, or any substantially equivalent rule that may be subsequently adopted by the County of Mendocino or other responsible agency.

    (J) If any on-site or off-site component of the cultivation facility, including access roads, water supply, grading or terracing impacts the bed or bank of any stream or other watercourse, show proof they have notified the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) pursuant to section 1602 of the Fish and Game Code and provide a copy of the Streambed Alteration Permit obtained from the Department of Fish & Wildlife.

    (K) If the source of water is a well, a copy of the County well permit, if available; applicant shall provide documentation showing the approximate date of installation.

  2. Rai March 22, 2018

    I spent several thousand dollars and my Lsa was held up because I need water hauled to the site by someone licensed to haul potable water. There is not a single one for willits/Brooktrails. So without a deeded water right that is a well, spring or creek diversion it’s literally impossible. There isn’t any administrative process to adjust property setbacks. My neighbor isn’t permitting grows next to my property line. My plants have to be 50 ft back from him. There should be common sense involved in this.

    • Mark Scaramella Post author | March 22, 2018

      Note: For those not familiar with the jargon, LSA is the Lake & Streambed Alternation Permit, required by Fish & Wildlife. It’s not clear why one was needed if the applicant proposes to haul water — yet another dubious requirement angle. Perhaps the commenter can shed some light on this…?

      • leif707 April 1, 2018

        the purpose of the lsa is to get you on dfw radar then they check all of the items on your property that are of concern, legally to get water trucked in you have to have another primary water source and the trucked in water needs to be from your same water shed, one of the main problems I have with dfw is they are making claims to many wells by saying they are surface water, all wells should be ok

    • james marmon March 22, 2018

      Where would the water hauler get the potable water from Rai? I know people with water trucks and also have the required driver’s license endorsement for hauling water. Finding potable water without stealing from a somewhere is almost impossible, especially late summer and early fall when plants use the most during flowering.

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