Bennett Valley residents unhappy with cannabis regulation progress

Bennett Valley residents unhappy with cannabis regulation progress

September 11, 2019


Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments
Supervisor Susan Gorin

Dear Board of Zoning Adjustments and Supervisor Gorin,

I wish to register opposition to all large-scale cannabis growing operations in Bennett Valley, and one in particular.  I understand that one such facility is under consideration for 4065 Grange Road, in close proximity to the Matanzas Creek Reservoir, and that there are others proposed in the Valley as well.  I feel deeply that Bennett Valley is not the place for this kind of business.

I grew up in Bennett Valley, and my family was one of the original members of the Bennett Valley Homeowners (now Community) Association.  The group was formed by Dr. Brad Lundborg in the early 1970’s, when he learned that a developer was proposing a trailer park to be built west of Woodside estates.  The residents of Bennett Valley did not want a repeat of what happened to Rincon Valley, with its indiscriminate patchwork of sprawl, and tracts of subdivisions–rather, we strove to retain quiet rural character of our valley, and subsequently a moratorium was placed on new building, studies were done, and the Bennett Valley Area Plan was issued in 1978.  

Fast forward to now–we see the creep of a different kind of disruptive development, and we need to step back a bit and think about whether there is a need for this kind of massive, shadowy world punctuating our lands, mostly by non-residents who have no relationship to the uniqueness of our valley.

My concerns are:

1)  The LLC that owns this property purchased the property two months after the July 5, 2017 date which would have allowed him to participate in the ‘penalty relief program’.  Based on this fact, Chen’s application should be rejected out of hand.  His record as a felon should eliminate him from consideration for a license or permit to grow.

2)  For the environment: pot growers use dangerous pesticides, which will ultimately leech into the Matanzas Reservoir and Matanzas Creek.  They will disrupt lifecycles of native wildlife, and pollute the surrounding landscape.  When their natural methods start to fail they will need to fall back on more toxic solutions for pest control and fertilization. I am so scared for our fragile waterways–the same creek I fished in as a kid.

3)  And speaking of water–the Bennett Valley aquifers have diminished greatly in my lifetime. Our 200′ well went dry a few years ago, as did most of the wells on our road–and we were obliged to drill down to nearly 1000′ to find the water table again at great expense.  Coincidentally, a fairly new vineyard had been planted a quarter mile away a few years prior, and I suspect much of our water was diverted to their grapes.  I will never be able to prove a connection, of course, but it is a trend that I have noticed over a fifty year period.  Cannabis cultivation requires lots of water, likely much more than a household would use at 4065.

4) These operators come to Bennett Valley from out of county, use the land, and don’t even live on site.  They should plant in their own counties.  The unsavory element that surrounds the cannabis industry is changing the nature of so many formerly beautiful areas. Firearms, crime, paranoia, un-neighborly behaviors–these all follow in the wake of this new agriculture.  I am horrified by news stories of burglaries and murders in the Santa Rosa area by desperate characters who are looking for cash and drugs. The noise, the heavy equipment and trucks at all times of day and night, the pervasive smell, the cyclone fences and surveillance, the weaponization of these enterprises have no place in our peaceful valley. I understand that pot grown outdoors is less desirable to buyers than is pot grown inside under controlled conditions.  The bottom is dropping out of the markets anyway, so this may well prove a boondoggle while at the same time harming the peace and degrading environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I voted for legalization (mainly to get the growers out of our public lands), and I have family members who are registered with dispensaries.  But let these ‘growers’ find another valley to despoil.  

5) Large scale cannabis operations do not comply with the Bennett Valley Area Plan that my family and many others worked hard to pass nearly 50 years ago.  And, for nearly 50 years the Plan has worked pretty well, as we continue to enjoy the quiet, peaceful  nature of our valley.  I propose that Bennett Valley be designated a Cannabis Exclusion Zone.  Or at the VERY least, impose a 5-year moratorium on developing these titanic outsider operations until studies can be undertaken and more sensible statutes can be put into place.  This Wild West land rush is not the way to go.  

From the Bennett Valley Area Plan: ‘Commercial development is not considered to be appropriate to the rural character of Bennett Valley.’  Also, ‘Development shall be coordinated with the public’s ability to provide schools, fire, police and other needed services.’

6)  Please remember that Prop 64 only decriminalized small time use and possession of marijuana. It is up to the counties to decide how land use should be crafted. The influx of deep pockets in the marijuana and tobacco lobbies and other big business interests are influencing decision making in a haphazard way.  I ask each of you to pause and think–“How would you like a big grow operation on your street? in your neighbor’s backyard? Up the hill from you?”

Just because pot is legal to use doesn’t mean we have to allow these big operations. Let them grow in Mendocino and the Emerald triangle–it’s already ruined, nothing left to lose.  We in Bennett Valley have so much to lose if this is allowed to proceed.  Bennett Valley must be designated an Exclusion Zone where any large-scale production or grow ops are prohibited.

(name withheld for privacy reasons)