Understanding the process…..
Friends of Graton FOG UPDATE #9 / USE PERMIT 101
You are receiving this email because you have either signed a petition opposing the cannabis facility along the trail in Graton or you have asked to be put on our email list. If you would rather not get our updates, please respond to sender with UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject line. This email is to clarify how the use permit process works in Sonoma County. The proposed Graton cannabis project is at Paragraph 4 of the summary below. There is some misunderstanding about how the Use Permit application process works with the County of Sonoma. When an application is submitted to Permit Sonoma, the assigned planner reviews the proposal and the drawings. If it is something that could be controversial because of scale or incompatibility, the planner may send out an Early Letter Public Notification to neighbors informing them that an application has been submitted. The application is then put into a file, which is accessible to the public at the File Desk at Permit Sonoma. Copies can be made of the file, with the exception of some items, like security designs for cannabis applications. If the plan is digitized, the planner will send you the file electronically on request.
Often, before submitting plans, applicants will meet with the supervisor of the district to “feel out” their reaction, or with neighbors, or with Permit Sonoma. Not all consultants, especially those from other counties or states, are familiar with the labyrinth of zoning law, the General Plan, the Municipal Code or other regulations, like the agricultural rules that are administered by the county Agricultural Commission. It is advisable to make inquiries prior to submission of plans, because you can make alterations in response to feedback.
The proposal is then sent out to responsible agencies for comment. This period has varying lengths, depending on the project. This is a legal requirement under California planning law. There are many opportunities for the public to make comment. They can read the application and then send their questions/opinions to the planner. They can also write or visit their supervisor. One can make comment to the agencies who are sent the referral with any questions or concerns. After reviewing the proposed project, the planner usually has questions or comments for the applicants. This can take the form of an “Incomplete Letter,” which asks for further information on aspects of the project or brings up issues that neighbors have raised. The applicants may then meet with the planner to discuss their options.
Once the application is deemed complete, the planner then makes a “staff recommendation” base on his analysis of the project’s appropriateness, compatibility with the General Plan, zoning and other codes. If/when the planner considers the application complete, he/she will post the scheduling of a Planning Commission or Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing at least two weeks prior. The planner develops a “staff report” base on the total analysis of the project’s appropriateness to the codes.
The public and agencies can submit support, opposition or questions about the project before the hearing to the commission or any member of the public can speak at the hearing. If you wish to speak, you fill out a card at the hearing room and then wait to be called on after the presentation by staff and applicants. The staff recommendation is not always followed by the board. The purpose of the hearing is to hear public opinion on the project. The PC then decides whether to continue the issue, if they feel the project requires more study or if there are too many unanswered questions. The majority vote decides if the project is allowed or denied. Usually commissioners will explain their vote.
That decision may be appealed by anyone to the Board of Supervisors. There are fees for appealing and there is a time limit. If appealed, a new hearing (hearing de novo) will be scheduled before the Board of Supervisors. The vote at that hearing is final and there is no County appeal available. Some projects are appealed to the courts if the hearing body or the County do not follow the rules or do an improper analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).