Mark West Watershed Neighbors comments: cumulative impacts NOT addressed

Got Water? 

November 19, 2019
Planning Commissioners:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Sonoma County’s proposed industrial
hemp ordinances.

We respectfully request that our comments be included for the Planning
Commissioners’ deliberations regarding the future of hemp cultivation in Sonoma
County. While we understand that some of the comments maybe outside of the
Planning Commissioners’ jurisdiction, we include them here to give some context
toward looking at the proposed industrial hemp ordinances from a more holistic

1. We do not support hemp cultivation in the five impaired watersheds regardless of the
zoning. These watersheds are, for the most part, located marginal groundwater
and/or low or highly variable water yield areas (zones 3 and 4, PRMD December
2016). (Please note that these are also areas of very high or high fire danger). The
BMPs for water that are recommended by the Ag Commissioner appear wholly
inadequate to address the critical water and endangered fisheries issues facing
these impaired watersheds. In the staff analysis, the County admits that using the
recommended BMPs do not allow for site specific conditions.

2. We do not support hemp cultivation in any areas of very high and/or high fire risk
regardless of zoning, particularly if it involves the addition of new electrical power
lines, increasing electricity loads on already provided lines or encroaching in areas
that have fuel loading issues.

3. We neither support nor oppose hemp cultivation in the agricultural zones, LIA, LEA,
DA, except for the cases cited in #1 and #2 above. Should those areas be approved
we recommend a parcel size of 10+ acres in size and setbacks of 1,000-feet from
the property line of sensitive areas (including but not limited to parks, schools, preschools,
neighboring residences, day care facilities, adult care facilities).

4. We do not support cultivation in residential zones (RR and AR) which are both
designated as primarily residential in the General Plan or in RRD which is to be
preserved for its resources.

5. Given the upcoming implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act, it is unclear how the County through this ordinance and BMPs will be
accounting for the impact of water use for industrial hemp that might otherwise flow
into/impact a SGMA basin (for the SGMA water budget), particularly since each
hemp plant can use, on average, up to 6 gallons of water per day (CDFW July

6. We are unclear as to the County’s assertion of CEQA exemption under CEQA
20198Guideline Sections 15307 and 15308. The ordinance and the recommended
BMPs do not appear robust enough to assert protection of natural resources and the
environment, particularly in the five impaired watersheds, scarce water resources
and endangered species habitats. Natural resource and environmental protection
goes beyond restricting grading and tree removal, setbacks and pollen management
as cited in the County’s Environmental Determination.

7. The County states in the Environmental Determination that “it is further exempt
under CEQA Guidelines Section 15061(b)(3) because it can be seen with certainty
that the project will not have no significant impact on the environment.” However,
the County does not provide any evidence of what can be “seen with certainty”.
Pursuant to Public Resources Code Section 21083(b), a a project may have a
“significant effect on the environment” if one or more of the following conditions exist:
(1) A proposed project has the potential to degrade the quality of the
environment, curtail the range of the environment, or to achieve short-term, to the
disadvantage of long-term, environmental goals.
(2) The possible effects of a project are individually limited but cumulatively
considerable. As used in this paragraph, “cumulatively considerable” means that
the incremental effects of an individual project are considerable when viewed in
connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects,
and the effects of probable future projects.
(3) The environmental effects of a project will cause substantial adverse effects
on human beings, either directly or indirectly.
As no information, scientific or otherwise, has been provided by the County for these
proposed ordinances, it is unclear how the County has determined that its proposed
ordinances, as implemented with its BMPs, will have no significant impact on the
environment, as defined in the above PRC—particularly since the BMPs are only
recommendations. No scientific support (scientific citations) is provided as to the
efficacy of the BMPs as it relates to protection of the natural resources and the

8. The County’s ordinance and BMPs do not indicate how it might address potential
issues related to historic, archeological or Native American cultural resources. The
County’s proposal does not indicate if it is subject to, or exempt from, the AB 52 or
SB 18 tribal consultation process or if they have reached out to the Sonoma County
tribal community for comment.

9. The County indicates “the proposed ordinance primarily establishes a registration for
industrial hemp for the purpose of ensuring effective oversight and enforcement of
industrial hemp cultivation given its similarity to cannabis.”
The enforcement provisions outlined in the ordinance do not appear as robust and
detailed enough to ensure sound oversight and enforcement, particularly from a
public trust perspective. Such vagueness and lack of certainty can lead to evolving
policies and procedures when attempting to enforce any such an ordinance…similar
to what appears to be happening on the County’s enforcement and abatement
efforts for cannabis growing. All of this erodes the public’s trust towards the County
and its processes.

Examples from the County’s cannabis enforcement includes:
1) Not tracking/reconciling local permit with State license (for both ministerial
and discretionary);
2) Allowing permitted growers to grow without an appropriate State license;
3) Not submitting a copy of one’s State license to the County;
4) Current tracking system available to the public does not provide an adequate
level of information to the public; unclear how County staff track cannabis or
will track industrial hemp;
5) Wide latitude given to County during abatement hearings thus giving the
appearance of changing/evolving enforcement policies; abatement decisions
differ greatly from written ordinance or expected enforcement;
6) During abatement resolution, allowing permitted grower to grow and collect
revenues without an appropriate State license;
7) Lack of written operating procedures or decision flowchart (unclear to public
as to who is responsible/accountable for which policies);
8) Lack of public input/consideration in the abatement process

10. While it may go without saying, the proposed ordinances lack a statement
requiring the registrant to abide by all other applicable local, state and federal

11. State law (Section 81004) provides a registration process for seed
cultivators. As such a program does not appear in the County’s ordinance, we
assume that there will be no such seed cultivation registration program.
Neighbors from Mark West Watershed
Santa Rosa, CA (Mark West Watershed)