Bloomfield residents protest neighboring cannabis site
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
October 18, 2021
Melodious notes from a fiddle floated through the crisp October air as Bloomfield residents, seated in their beloved historic cemetery overlooking sweeping hills and pastures, sang, “I ask you please, don’t fence me in.”
The lyrics, which were taken from parts of the Cole Porter song, “Don’t Fence Me In,” referred to the community’s struggle with a cannabis cultivation site intended for property that borders the cemetery on two sides and stretches around the tiny community, which according to the U.S. Census, has a population of 3
Bloomfield residents’ concerns over the site echo push-back from other Sonoma County communities that have objected to the establishment of cannabis cultivation sites near their towns. The concerns include safety, smell, water usage, local oversight and neighborhood compatibility.
“It’s not that we’re against change,” said Bloomfield resident Valorie Dallas. “It’s an inappropriate space.”
The cemetery serves as a destination for walkers — including Bloomfield resident Marta May who takes daily 2-mile walks there — sunset admirers and families with young children who play in a towering Cyprus tree at the cemetery’s northwest corner.
The recent, partial construction of a tall, solid fence running up to the cemetery boundaries exacerbated fears in Bloomfield that the new cultivation site would adversely impact the community’s peaceful, lost-in-time feel.
“People are just devastated,“ said Dallas.
May called the cannabis cultivation’s proximity to Bloomfield’s center inappropriate and the fence, a “travesty.”
“You can’t just fill in a pioneer cemetery,” May said. “It’s not done.”
Late Monday afternoon, Bloomfield residents gathered at the cemetery to protest the fence and sign a petition demanding the county include 1,000-foot setbacks in its upcoming cannabis environmental impact study.
They also want a moratorium to be placed on ministerial cannabis permits until the environmental impact study is complete and also seek the extension of the county’s current moratorium on multi-tenant use permits.
“We repeatedly have looked to the county for help, but in a true cart-before-the-horse scenario, and to the detriment of growers and communities alike, the county continues to struggle with the cannabis conundrum,“ the petition read.
Beyond their objections to the fence, Bloomfield residents want the opportunity to weigh in on the owner’s plans for the business — something Dallas and Bloomfield farmer Veva Edelson said has not happened successfully.
“We should be able to talk about it,” Dallas said.
Bloomfield is an example of tensions rising countywide over the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ handling of cannabis regulations.
Local farmers have long said the county’s conditional use permitting process — intended for grows over 10,000 square feet — is burdensome because of its high cost and slow process. Even so, people who live near these cultivation sites say the county is not doing enough to monitor cultivators and protect surrounding communities.
As an example, many residents point to the county’s troubled multi-tenant permitting pathway, which was designed to help small farmers with grows under 10,000 square feet to join the industry by allowing them to share land.
In September, county staff informed the Board of Supervisors that the multi-tenant permitting pathway created a loophole allowing businesses to apply for multiple adjacent multi-tenant permits under different LLCs and circumnavigate the more stringent permitting process intended for grows larger than 10,000 square feet. That process includes in-depth environmental impact studies.
In response to that revelation, the board placed a 45-day moratorium on multi-tenant permits. On Oct. 26, the board will revisit the moratorium.
The moratorium discussion comes as the county prepares to launch a cannabis environmental report, advanced by supervisors in May, that likely will take at least a year to complete.
You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.