Board of Supervisors and cannabis regulations hearing tomorrow, Oct. 13th

It’s official (for now). We get two minutes at the podium according to Clerk Darin Bartow. Time your presentations. Need to get it in the public record for possible future litigation so have a paper copy to turn in.

Neighborhoods unite on cannabis grow impacts to their neighborhoods.  Hearing is tomorrow in the Board of Supervisors hearing. Be sure and fill out a speaker card if you want to be heard.

Neighbors have alot of points. Here are some to consider.



          Hold a public hearing and at the conclusion of the hearing:

1. Adopt an Ordinance amending Chapter 26 of the Sonoma County Code to allow adult use cannabis businesses, enhance neighborhood compatibility (addressing this issue is noticeably absent in the Staff document), harmonize with State cannabis laws where appropriate, and make other minor amendments.

2. Adopt a Resolution finding the Ordinance is consistent with the General Plan and Area Plans and determining exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act. The redline document is very flawed. Please refer to Debby Eppstein’s analysis for details. There are glaring omissions. For example, the definition of “sensitive spots” which neighborhood groups had asked to be clarified and expanded to “places where children gather” so as to include school bus stops and the like has been truncated. Pre-schools have been dropped from the definition altogether.

   As directed by the Board of Supervisors and recommended by the Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee and the Planning Commission, the County proposes to amend the Cannabis Land Use Ordinance to accomplish the following:

1. Require a minimum lot size of 10 acres for all commercial cannabis cultivation operations in agricultural and resource zones (LIA, LEA, DA, and RRD);

      Support. No ministerial permits should be entertained for cannabis cultivation. ZP’s should not appear in the table/chart. Certainly, no-one will be applying for a ministerial permit to only grow medical marijuana. It does not pencil out. Will this flaw in the application process be a method for growers to pretend they are growing for medical and in the chaos of this transition period successfully sell product to the adult use market? How will it be determined that all the product goes only to medical? Effectively monitoring and enforcing this process will measurably impact the County’s workload.

2. Add new setback of 600 feet from schools for indoor cultivation in agricultural and resource zones; Support, and add language to include all areas where children are present.


  1. Allow reduction to the setback from public parks with a use permit (discretionary permit) under certain circumstances;   No change should be    made to the current ordinance re: setbacks from public parks. Retain the   measurements from property line of the park to the property line of the parcel. Oppose the addition of an optional means to reduce the setback through a use permit. The use permit process would require additional analysis and time of a department that already has a 40% vacancy. The project planner, presumably, would make a judgement when asked to ascertain an “equivalent physical separation” …surely a subjective, ill-defined and time-consuming task. Moreover, the final decision could vary from planner to planner.

It would be more appropriate for the Regional Parks Director to examine the application beforehand and do a pre-evaluation before the grower is deep into the permit process. It is inappropriate for Regional Parks to have input only at the end during the referral process. It is also unfair to the applicant. Everyone knows that the grower and Staff will devise “mitigations” that correct and support the project after it has reached that stage. Please note two glaring omissions: The issue of odor is not listed as one of the items to be considered nor is the issue of who will speak for the State parks addressed. Furthermore, many of our parks are accessed by roads that do not meet the fire safe requirements; thus postponing a more thorough analysis of this setback reduction option should be in Phase 2 where the issue of fire safe roads will be studied.

This proposed amendment is not of immediate concern and could easily be moved into Phase 2 giving time for more study and refinement of the flaws in this amendment.

4.  Allow adult use/recreational cannabis operations with a use permit (discretionary permit), including dispensaries; No opinion

  1. Extend the term of new cannabis permits to 5 years with a use permit (discretionary permit);  Oppose. Until the Ordinance is revised to an acceptable manner and all controls in place to manage cultivating operations, permit terms should not be extended. This proposal will only lead to confusion as the ordinance evolves and is revised.  Having long term permits right now will lead to permits with varying requirements. Early permits very well could be based on soon to be defunct code and law. County Staff may end up with different code applied to different permits. Once the Ordinance is revised there may very well be changes in setbacks, adjacency, and concentration parameters. A multi-year permit would either prevent implementation of neighborhood compatibility issues or would cause revocation of such a multi-year permit, being unfair to growers.

The current renewal process is not at all onerous. The Cannabis Program Director estimates it takes as little as three months and only requires filling out a form, a visit from a planner and modest fees. Only if there is a change in the project, would additional reports need to be done.

What is important and would be lost if the five year permit is adopted, is the ability of the County to ensure there is tax compliance and code compliance. Do we really want to put such considerations off for a five year period? The State has a one year license term. Currently 50% of Sonoma County growers do not have a State License and cannot sell product legally. Do not make a bad situation worse. Align with State.

  1. Allow changes to the permit holder and/or operator for all cannabis land use permits (similar to other land use permits) and require notification in the event of a change; Revision No. 20170501-1    Oppose. Continue 1-year permits with easy administrative renewal for cultivators who do not have neighborhood or code enforcement issues, allowing an easy path for good growers and easy removal of problem growers. Transfer of permits is forbidden in the State regulations. This is analogous to liquor or medical licenses, which clearly and rightly are not able to be transferred with the premises. How will the transfer take place if there has been a change in the Ordinance? Will all transfers be considered “grandfathered” to the earlier ordinance or will the new ordinance revision be applied? This will just lead to selling permits, no matter how the County words it. Again, it will require further oversight that will stretch County Staff.
  1.  Allow 25% additional area for propagation to support onsite cultivation with a use permit;   Oppose. The additional 25% allowance should be put on hold. The County will eventually move to tax by dry weight or sales and the end result of a decision now will be that the grower has 25% more cultivation space. Recommend no additional change at this time and revisit when taxes are accessed differently.

NOTE: Expanding growing by allowing 25% more for propagation is a significant expansion of the scope of the program. The prior CEQA exemption was based on the theory that permitting of commercial cannabis in the County would not increase impacts because the County would merely be transitioning existing grows. That is not what has occurred. There has been an expansion and the environmental benefit of reducing impacts from illegal grows has not occurred. Allowing a categorical exemption for the amendment at hand may be a violation of CEQA because increased growing will have a significant impact on the environment. The current discretionary permit process is already inadequate to examine cumulative and regional impacts. Increasing the impacts by 25% is irresponsible.

8.     Harmonize definitions and ordinance language to align with state law and emergency state regulations including adding new license types, which will not be taxed, and amending definitions;    Oppose. Wait for state law to become permanent before addressing alignment. Since State is still revising their own laws and regulations, any changes made now may have to be readdressed again. Staff uses a “pick and choose” method for what should or should not align with the State. We need to harmonize with State regs on felony convictions and the wording on when inspections can occur. County regs can always be stricter than State.

  1. Allow up to nine centralized processing facilities on agricultural land with a use permit (discretionary permit); How did the modest proposal from Supervisor Gorin to create ONE  pilot project morph into a monster? Even Staff did not recommend County wide pilot projects and limited it to Planning Area 9. Planning Commissioners in a burst of enthusiasm and because of a dislike of having the project limited to a certain area, changed the dimensions arbitrarily and capriciously came up with the number “9” as the recommended amount. Check the minutes or video of that meeting or ask an observer.
  2. Eliminate the 24 hour notification requirement for inspections and monitoring of permitted operations. No qualifying language should be inserted here. State regs allow inspections at any time. County wants Code Enforcement to be able to notify before a visit for safety reasons; everyone wants these workers to be safe.  Yet, neighbors live next to these properties. What about their ongoing safety concerns?
  3. Amend other zoning code language for consistency and clarification. Be careful what is “simplified”.


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