The county has gone rogue and needs adult supervision

The county has gone rogue and needs adult supervision

Call for Department of Cannabis Control to step in

  • Large corporate enterprises allowed to run slipshod, in violation of the ordinance
  • The myth of the “little guy” small local producers
  • Water use violations – anyone hear from the County on those? Tap Tap Is this thing on?
  • Unsustainable water use at grows, during drought
  • Inspection and enforcement? Not in this County
  • Poison pill approach is brinkmanship by the legal team

Dear Supervisors:

The Neighborhood Coalition provided you a forensic analysis of the 63 cannabis zoning permits issued in 2021 between January 1 and August 28. There are 85 existing zoning permits; the 22 not in this analysis were issued during late 2020. 

Of the 63 zoning permits analyzed, 28 are owned or controlled by Cannacraft and 16 are owned or controlled by Sparc (44 of 63 = 70%). An analysis of the 22 permits issued in 2020 that are not included in that report would likely find similar results.

A deeper dive into the remaining 30% of the zoning permits may reveal connections to Big Cannabis and insights into who really owns or controls those cultivation sites. Cannabis operators have long thwarted inquiries into their ownership by using serial limited liability corporations whereby one llc owns another, which owns another, which owns another.

Sadly, the ownership situation is all too emblematic of a defective cannabis ordinance whose adoption was rushed at the urging of the cannabis industry, the resulting inadequate environmental review of the ordinance, and then years of botched implementation.

So much for the stated goal of “looking out for the little guy.”

On its face, the ownership situation seems to violate § 26-88-254(e) (total combined cultivation area per person within Sonoma County cannot exceed one acre). You must analyze and assess this issue before grandfathering grows under the guise of an urgency ordinance that cannot be legally justified.  

Of the 28 zoning permits controlled by Cannacraft, 15 are located at 4835 and 3803 Springhill Road, Petaluma. Evidence has been presented to you that these cultivation sites were receiving trucked municipal water this summer, in violation of the city ordinances from where the water was taken under false pretenses, the county Cannabis Ordinance, and California water board regulations. 

Section 26-88-254(g)(10) of the Cannabis Ordinance requires that all grows have a sustainable water source. Clearly any cultivation site that requires trucked water from elsewhere lacks a sustainable water source. The grows at 4835 and 3803 Springhill Road should never have received zoning permits, let alone be allowed to retain them now or to receive special grandfathered dispensation in the proposed urgency ordinance. 

The ministerial permit process has failed and continues to fail to analyze the water situation at these sites. The board of supervisors has failed to protect the environment and the public.

The board considers on October 26 a proposed amendment to the ordinance that would extend the duration of all zoning permits from one to five years. This includes at least 18 zoning permits that apparently lack a sustainable water source and whose operators seem to be violating the law. 

At least 18. 

Given the county’s lack of inspection and enforcement of violations of trucked water, there are surely many more. PRMD and the Agriculture Department ignore eye witness accounts elsewhere of municipal water being trucked (e.g., 2260 Los Alamos Road) because they do not consider this to be sufficient evidence to investigate. They refused to refer an investigation to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office or the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. This situation ill serves the public and enables environmental damage by an industry whose history is rooted in violations of law. 

The 2016 Mitigated Negative Declaration studied one year zoning permits, not five year zoning permits. In August 2018, the Board considered extending zoning permits from one to two years but decided to retain one year because the CEQA analysis did not supported it. 

Rather than grandfathering 85 zoning permits for five years and insulating them from environmental review, each permit should be analyzed carefully for available water and usage during each annual renewal process. For cultivations relying on wells, you should require annual well flow (gallon per minute) tests and assess recharge rates, especially during the hot summer months when usage is highest. To reiterate the obvious, the current ministerial permit process is a failure. Why make it worse?

Kevin Block’s October 20 letter to you belittles County Council’s attempt to justify extending the duration of zoning permits from one to five years based on the CEQA “common sense” and other irrelevant exemptions. Where is the “common sense” in forbidding environmental review when there is insufficient water onsite and water is being hauled in illegally? County Counsel knows it cannot defend this, which is yet another instance of County Council providing horrible legal advice to the Board. There should be consequences for bad advice.

Late Thursday, County Counsel rewrote the original revised ordinance and posted it to the cannabis website. It revised Section V (severability) so that a successful challenge of the extension of zoning permits from one to five years because of violations of CEQA and the interim ordinance requirements in Gov’t Code §  65858(a) would also strike down the portion of the revised ordinance that bans new multi-tenant zoning permits. Including a nonseverability provision in an ordinance is very rare. If any supervisor or supervisors directed this, he or she could be publicly identified. 

The last minute rewrite of the proposed ordinance is a cynical and offensive response to the legal analysis that shows aspects of it are contrary to law.  If this poison pill provision is approved, it will undermine any remaining confidence the public may have that the county government represents its ordinary residents.

The poison pill approach is brinkmanship. The proposed ordinance acknowledges that the continued issuance of new multi-tenant zoning permits is a threat to public safety, health, and welfare (“presents an immediate threat to the public safety, health and welfare.”) Yet the brinkmanship strategy would happily allow such harm to continue if the county can’t shove through an extension of current zoning permits to five years that cannot be justified under CEQA or the interim ordinance law. If the county thinks its proposed ordinance is legal, why insert a poison pill?

The water hauling at Springfield Road and elsewhere shows that environmental failures with zoning permits is not a theoretical issue. A great many zoning permits may lack a sustainable water source. Cultivation at such sites should not continue another cycle, let alone be grandfathered for five years. 

Please require a roll call vote on whether to accept the rewrite of the severability clause in the amnded ordinance.

It gives me no pleasure to conclude that Sonoma County seems incapable of implementing a cannabis cultivation program that protects the environment and its citizens. The county has gone rogue and needs adult supervision. 

I hope that the Department of Cannabis Control can take over all environmental aspects of the cultivation program, if cultivation in sonoma County is allowed to continue at all. An arrangement could be made for Sonoma County to reimburse the Department of Cannabis Control for the costs incurred.