Subject: Re: NorthBay biz inquiry regarding Cannabis impacts on Neighborhoods

A reporter from the North Bay Biz magazine is writing an article on how cannabis operations affects neighborhoods. In addition to the usual complaints of odor, noise, traffic, security, lights etc.

Subject: NorthBay biz inquiry regarding Cannabis impacts on Neighborhoods

Hi Judith

I understand you are a writer for NorthBay biz magazine, doing a story on the impact of cannabis growing operations and dispensaries on neighborhoods and their concerns. You are interested in our experiences, finding out what our concerns are and how the county has responded.

First, thanks for your interest in covering this issue and hearing from the view point of the average Sonoma County residents (most folks). Many of us are being negatively impacted by cannabis operations being sited in our residential neighborhoods.

I reside on Schaeffer Rd, Sebastopol. My neighbors and I have had to deal with two cannabis grow operations/applications, one kitty corner to my property, and one down the block. Our neighborhood is comprised of small parcels, quiet, with no on-going year around businesses.   Our neighborhood is a “Diverse Agriculture District” (DA) zone area of 1 to 5 acre plots that has become primarily residential. When the cannabis ordinance was first issued, certain zoning districts (AR and RR) were intentionally excluded which indicated there was good awareness that cannabis operations are incompatible with residential neighborhoods.   But for some reason this issue was not really studied and worked through, resulting in many homeowners now being negatively affected.

As a result of this poorly thought-out Cannabis Ordinance (The BOS, planning staff, pot growers, and homeowners would ALL agree), this has resulted in me personally spending hundreds of hours dealing with a problem not of my making.   I’ve had over 300 hundred emails back and forth on the two Cannabis applications in my neighborhood.   I’ve had phone calls with the county planners, MIG (Contracted planning company assisting the county to review applications), County PRMD Dept., and my neighbors. My neighbors and I met with Linda Hopkins (BOS), County Legal Staff (Sita), Planning Head (Amy Lyle), and Cannabis Program Lead (Tim Ricard) to present our concerns. Personally I find this a complete pain in the ass.   Unlike the growers who stand to make healthy profits, there is no financial gain for me or my neighbors; it’s all damage control (as explained more below).

Both applications began in the Sept 2017 timeframe. Both applications/properties did not meet and could not meet requirements of the Cannabis Ordinance (i.e.: inadequate setup backs, and size of operations inconsistent with law, and/or parcel size too small, etc.). In one case, the application was denied 8 months later, all the while the grow operation continued.   In the other case, the application was denied 19 months later, all the while the grow operation continued. In the latter case, the property had violations going back 10+ years, which the county was unable to resolve. Specific to the cannabis operation, the property was graded without permit, and a greenhouse was erected without permit, power installed without permit. As of today, the property still hasn’t been completely cleaned up.   My key point here is, neither of these properties would qualify, yet it took a ridiculous amount of time to get a final determination from the County, and 20 months later one properties violations are still being rectified ( PRMD team is working with the owner). 

Regarding my experiences and the County response, I feel the County was not ready to implement the program, there are unresolved/unexpected consequences of the law, and they were not staffed adequately to timely work all the claims.   They have had to subcontract some of the application review work to MIG, which appears to be able to review but not to make a decision.   At times the County (and Subcontractor) has been okay in responding and at other times, I did not hear back. In both cases, the applications were reassigned to different people, which seem to slow down the process and make it difficult to get our concerns answered. In general, I felt the County/Contractor listened and cared about my concerns, but I wasn’t always comfortable they would work to protected the interests of the many neighbors over the one grower.   Speaking for myself and my neighbors, we felt it necessary to continually inquire, show concern, show opposition, and be the squeaky wheel.   We continued to point out issues with the applications, which may have brought to the surface the violation that ultimately resulted in denying the permits. To me the “Neighborhood Compatibility” criteria should be more than the specific T&C’s spelled out in the code. There are subjective points of how such an operation would affect the neighbors that need to be considered also.

The Sonoma County Cannabis Ordinance has been a contentious issue over the last few years, so I’m sure you are aware of the many concerns (water, smell, safety, noise, etc.) but I’d like to highlight a few significant issues that affect the neighborhoods, that either hardly get mentioned or are not really appreciated in the debate. 

1. Permanent neighborhood change – Image overnight having a neighbor/business move next door that requires 24/7/365 security guards (regardless of what kind of product).  and strangers camped out on the property during harvest time. Would you feel comfortable sending your kids out to play in your own yard, or even feel some hesitancy coming and going yourself under these circumstances? Do you think you, your husband; your kids would ever feel the same comfort level again?     Specifically, one of my neighbor’s home schools her two children, not more than 100 feet from one grower. They reported property thefts when the grower started operations and lived in constant fear. That family was particularly traumatized but fortunately, the grower operation was out of compliance with the law, the permit was denied and operations stopped. I wish you could have seen the sense of relief in her face.   In a recent hearing on the Purvine application, Sheriff Essick was impressed with their security plan, but noted it would take 20 minutes for the Sherriff department to respond to any calls and they recommended the neighbors arm themselves if concerned.    How could an individual ever feel the same around their home again? How would you feel?

2. Property values are negatively affected permanently. Imagine trying to sell your house in a neighborhood where your neighbors activity requires 24/7 security. There’s no question there will be a negative impact to the property value of your home. Now Put yourself into the shoes of a potential buyer of that home.  Would you rather buy a home with a potential risk next door or not?   Pose those questions to your husband and kids.    When this issue was brought up at a Board of Supervisor meeting on the Cannabis Ordinance, one member of the board indicated he couldn’t deal with or address Property values!   Can I say, thanks for nothing!

A Cannabis operation is a highly profitable business (the Cannabis industry estimated 200 times more profitable that wine), with a product that easily converts to cash making it a high value target for criminals. In the press there have been plenty of cases reported where the criminals went to the wrong property and innocent people were harmed.   Many of the affected neighborhoods are made up of single family homes. Most of us who moved to areas like mine where we have some acreage, but relatively small country parcels did so for the safety and a slower-paced, quiet environment. Having a commercial grow operation, regardless of the integrity of that grower, never mind those who may not be as upstanding, changes the character of a neighborhood and the sense of peace and security of that neighborhood.   Operations of this type are more appropriate in a commercial business area where support services are available (police, fire, water, staffing, parking) and people’s lifestyles are not jeopardized.

I’ve attached a few pictures of the 2108/2110 Schaeffer operation. A complete scar to the property. Completely out of character with the neighborhood.

Thanks Bill K.