(FOG) Friends of Graton Address Cannabis regulation deficiencies

TO: Niki Berrocal

FROM: Anna Ransome & Bridget Beytagh for Friends of Graton (FOG)

DATE:    August 18, 2020


Friends of Graton (FOG) with our 500 plus email list, has long been advised by the County and Ag Commissioner to wait for Phase 2 of the Cannabis Ordinance and yet there is scarce recognition of the neighborhood compatibility issues that concern us in your Cannabis Ordinance Update – Planning Agency, dated 7/30/20. FOG just saw our first copy of this on August 6.

We don’t understand why the neighborhood groups have not been at the table for Phase 2 and yet the industry reps and their attorneys have been present and influential in the drafting Although we and other neighborhood groups have submitted comments for many months, we see little evidence of our input. It appears that practically every change benefits industry at the expense of neighborhoods.

Why not start out cautiously and then proceed with removing restrictions if problems do not present? The ordinance can always be amended. Proceeding this way is putting an awful lot of trust into a process that has minimally involved public input.

FOG objects to the content and order of these bullet points and to the lack of points that would address neighborhood compatibility. We would rate topics in the following order, beginning with setbacks which would address the two major cannabis complaints: odor and public safety.

  1. Mandatory setbacks for sensitive uses, INCLUDING residences.

  2. Air Quality / Odors / Plants per acre limit / Science

  3. Crime / Public safety

  4. Net zero water use in critical watersheds & no trucked-in water for any grow

  5. Concentration / how to base boundaries – supervisorial district, population, density, watersheds?

  6. Exploring fencing and screening design standards / aesthetic and wildlife considerations

  7. Maintaining Ag use zones only, but recognizing zoning conflicts occur even with ag if residences are close to a property line. Establish mandatory setbacks that protect all zonings. Presumably 10 acre minimums were to allow growers to set back from sensitive uses and still have room for a viable crop.

  8. Maintaining 10 acre minimum – benefits growers and venture capital, not small farmers or long-time growers with small parcels. Intent to only allow use of larger parcels is noble, but without setbacks, is a problem. Again, setbacks necessary.

  9. Require cultural resources survey or referral to tribes and NIC – only with approval of both entities.

  10. Creating opportunities for indoor cultivation – eliminate this to prevent more ag land to be taken up with permanent buildings and impermeable surfaces

Since the main complaints the County has heard have been about the odor and crime issues we checked to see what other counties have done about these problems. Some have an outright ban on outdoor growing in unincorporated areas (Monterey and Ventura.) Others have setbacks/buffers 1000 feet from schools, parks, daycare facilities (Lake, Contra Costa, Mendocino.) Yolo states that the odor from an outdoor grow must end at the property line and after the third complaint, the license is pulled.

Others have setbacks from residential zones. All of these counties measure from property lines, and all have a statement about commercial cannabis not infringing upon or being a nuisance to neighbors, as does Sonoma County.

Sonoma County has resisted any suggestion to use the available science (olfactometers) that other states, cities, counties and the cannabis industry routinely use to measure odor. Officials still suggest that vegetation might work, although that has limitations and it is “no substitute for odor management” (University of Iowa study.) Utilizing vegetation for odor mitigation is an incredibly complicated process and probably not suitable for widespread use. It can lessen but not eliminate odor, is site specific and requires constant monitoring and upkeep. It will never be as effective as distance.

Setting the commercial enterprise further away from residences, schools, parks etc. also helps with the second problem – crime. Last summer there were 2 major armed robberies at permitted sites in the County, along with other robberies, home invasions etc. of cannabis.
The large dollar amounts around cannabis makes it very tempting and neighbors need to be protected from robberies. Across the country, areas that are already cultivating hemp have seen an explosion in break-ins with people thinking it is valuable marijuana – as can happen here. The further away from residences, parks, schools, the better.

It appears that the only alteration to setbacks is a suggestion on page 12 to lessen them. They are in widespread use where commercial cannabis has been permitted. Relying on zoning alone will not sufficiently protect the public from odor and crime.

Page 12 reads “Revise” measurement technique for sensitive use setbacks so that cannabis can be closer to sensitive uses. Please clarify what this “revision” consists of. Are you suggesting that if a particular area of the park is unused at the moment, then the cannabis project does not require a setback from it? Are you suggesting limiting the parks’ ability to expand trails or facilities because they could be too close to a nearby grow?

The setback for the grow should absolutely be measured from the property line. This is an instance when what appears to be a “small” planning decision has widespread impact on residents who pay taxes to support parks. Population is growing in Sonoma County yet you are not planning for more intense park usage.

Setbacks need to include residences. If you plan to protect children, why only at school? With COVID that may not be relevant for a long time. Why ignore children when they are home, which is normally the majority of their weekly hours?

Please explain the suggestion to “align with State regulations when possible.” Why should that be impossible in all circumstances? Is the County deciding which State regs they agree with and disregarding the others? At the very least, the standards of the county should meet those of the state.

Please explain “Implement lessons learned.” Are these industry complaints about the ordinance? If this implies that you have listened to neighborhood concerns, then where is the evidence?

Page 10 reads, “Remove referral requirement for NIC and tribes” – This assumes that the NIC and the tribes are no longer interested in receiving these referrals. Is this true? Is this legal?

Revising allowances for more plants, more acreage, more structures, likely means “increasing.”  I think that many Sonoma County voters would be surprised to find that “avoid paving over ag land” is no longer a goal of our county, although it is a goal of the General Plan.

Page 13 reads, “Remove operator qualifications for cultivation activity” may not necessarily be covered by the State. If application is first made in Sonoma County, then this county needs to be the first to investigate the applicant.

We have seen how the lack of a winery event ordinance has worked out, so the suggestion to “Remove cannabis-specific restriction on tours and promotional events”  is another example of trying something out and dealing with the fallout later.

FOG supports keeping school, day-care and park setbacks at 1000 feet and setting back from all residential property lines the same. We would like to see the County proceed cautiously and avoid finding themselves in the situation of other counties, such as Santa Barbara, where residents are suing over bad ordinances.

Anna Ransome and Bridget Beytagh for Friends of Graton (FOG)