July 2018 Issue of the Bennett Valley VOICE Newsletter – Status of Commercial Marijuana Grows in Bennett Valley
Eleven potential commercial marijuana projects have surfaced within the Bennett Valley Area Plan. The county makes it very difficult to learn of a grow in our area, and without formal public record requests many would remain hidden. We live in the Internet Era, and it is peculiar that no county web site contains this information. “Transparency” is not a word that would describe the county’s Cannabis Program. No grows are the “mom and pop” operations that the supervisors said they wanted to promote when they approved the Cannabis Land Use Ordinance in 2016.
Proposition 64 legalized the use of marijuana, but not commercial cultivation. Counties and cities decide in their zoning ordinances whether and where to allow commercial cultivation. Of California’s 58 counties, only nine allow any commercial cultivation. Marin, Napa, Solano, and Contra Costa counties do not. Among Sonoma County’s nine cities, only Santa Rosa allows commercial cultivation, and Santa Rosa restricts it to indoor industrial and commercial sites. Five permit applications (see table) seem to still be moving forward, most owned by investors without ties to Sonoma County, let alone Bennett Valley. Six seem to be inactive. The property at each active site changed title in 2017 or 2018. The county has allowed most operations to cultivate marijuana while they apply for permits under its poorly-conceived and even more poorly-implemented penalty relief program. For example, the county allowed growers to escape code enforcement for a year without even applying for a permit.
Both properties on Grange Road are owned by San Mateo-based Bennett Rosa LLC. The owner of the LLC operates one grow, and an investor in Tiburon operates the other. The county halted the development of the grow at 3141 Matanzas Creek Lane in April when neighbors complained that the owners from Placer County were grading and removing old oaks without permits in the scenic corridor. The grow at 3803 Matanzas Creek Lane is owned and operated by a multi-state marijuana corporation located near Chicago. The owners received a notice of violation from the county in 2017 for building a greenhouse without a permit.
In April, the county reported that marijuana cultivation is netting virtually no income because administering the program absorbs the revenue. The highly-touted tax windfall to support county programs is a mirage. In addition, the investigation and prosecution of each marijuana-related murder costs the county about $2 million. Your property taxes are essentially subsidizing marijuana production.
Few residents are eager to live near a marijuana grow. A Press Democrat poll in June found that 77 percent of county residents want to live at least a mile from a commercial grow to feel safe. Only nineteen percent are comfortable living next door to a pot grow. Residents of rural neighborhoods throughout the county (http://www.sosneighborhoods.com/) are asking the supervisors to increase minimum lot sizes for grows to 20 acres. They also want to increase minimum setbacks from residences to at least 1,000 feet to avoid the smell, noise, and disturbance of commercial operations that can entail fifteen or more employees coming and going daily. Finally, they want to authorize the creation of exclusion zones where marijuana cannot be grown commercially. Several neighbors are circulating a petition to make Bennett Valley (1.3% of the county) commercial cannabis-free by creating an exclusion zone (http://bennettvalley.org/images/proposals/2018-07-06—Marijuana-Petition.pdf).
Supervisor Susan Gorin said at the April 10 board meeting, “The great folks in the Bennett Valley have some serious concerns about concentration issues. Trust me, I have those concerns as well.” She also said, “Neighborhood compatibility is my highest priority.”
The supervisors will consider revisions to the ordinance on Tuesday, August 7.