From the Field, neighbors speak out: The County Has Failed us, West County

SPOTLIGHT: Local Group who helped stop the misguided fire safe road exemption the County wanted speaks out…… 

From: Save Our Sonoma County Neighborhoods (SOSN)

From the Field: The County Has Failed us, West County

I live in West County and there are three illegal cannabis grows in close proximity to our family home, and additional illegal and legal grows within a mile. Residents have good reasons to not trust the County to enforce illegal grow operations or illegal building code violations because the county’s horrific track record speaks volumes and these residents live in fear of retribution. Two of the close grows were robbed by gangs in past few years, which only leads to more people living on the site in rogue illegal housing that clearly does not meet code. These grow operations and associated housing are unequivocally a fire hazard. The traffic on our narrow dead end roads has increased tenfold since the robberies, and exacerbate wildfire evacuation risks. I have lost count of the residents who sold their homes and left out of fear. Their complaints are not about cannabis odor, but fear for their lives. Our Supervisor touts small business as a reason to protect growers and gently nudge them into compliance. She is shamefully out of touch with her constituents. 

Issues Impacting County Residents, Update

Neighborhood compatibility: 

Neighborhood compatibility is not considered when Sonoma County reviews/approves an application for a ministerial cannabis grow.  Susan Gorin said; “…neighborhood compatibility was my very highest priority.”  There are often 20 or more homes that share the same narrow dead-end roads that access these cannabis grows.  The neighbors are subject to a degrading quality of life with no opportunity to voice their concerns.  Sonoma County appears to be pushing for herd immunity – rush to plant cannabis throughout the county so it becomes a non-event.

Commercial operation: 

A small outdoor cannabis grow is akin to dropping a one-acre self-storage facility into a rural neighborhood with all its metal fencing, security gates, security lighting, surveillance cameras, employees, and bathrooms.  We have fought for decades to protect against the blight of further commercial development & encroachment into our rural neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, the ministerial cannabis permitting process affords no opportunity for the neighborhood to voice their concerns.


A Napa County report cites marijuana’s significant water demand — it estimates an acre of cannabis uses 1.1 million gallons of water per year, compared to 65,000-162,000 gallons per acre of wine grapes.  Sonoma County Small Outdoor Grow permits are capped at one acre and will be using over 1 million gallons of our ground water.  How soon will our neighborhoods run out of water?

Roads & Easements:  

Many of the potential sites for a ministerial cannabis grow permit require egress/ingress across narrow ROW easements.  No notice is given to the neighbors of a ministerial application for a cannabis grow.  This leaves the neighbors who want to protect their easements from being further burden with commercial truck traffic, with a costly civil lawsuit.  Including a requirement in the ministerial cannabis application for written permission from the egress/ingress easement holders is a solution.

Property value: 

Anyone selling their house in the neighborhood of a commercial cannabis grow needs to disclose that a commercial cannabis operation exists.  Who wants to live near a cannabis grow?  Commercial cannabis operations destroy real property value on everyone in the neighborhood.


The metal fencing, security cameras, video surveillance & archiving, lights, security gates…all speak to the heightened crime potential.  Why grow it when you can just steel it?

Murders have resulted from grow operations where criminals believe large amounts of cash are associated with these operations.  Such cases have been reported in local and regional newspapers including in 2019 were two major armed robberies occurred at permitted operations, complete with car chases etc., endangering nearby neighbors.

The Sonoma County cannabis ordinance states that commercial operations shall not create a public nuisance, or adversely affect the health and safety of nearby residents.  Why is this being completely ignored by Sonoma County?  (See “Health & Safety Sec. 26-88-250 (f) of the cannabis ordinance)

Scenic Corridor: 

Sonoma County is trying to protect the look and feel of our rural countryside especially within the Scenic Corridor.  How does a commercial cannabis grow with hoop houses, high fencing, security gates, camera surveillance, fire suppression…comply with the guidelines of the Scenic Corridor?   These sites look like commercial mini-self-storage facilities in the middle of the countryside.  The ministerial cannabis application process skips this protection contrary to clearly established requirements.

Quality of life:

The neighborhood’s privacy, security and quality of life will be greatly impacted by a commercial cannabis operation.  The neighborhood enjoys majestic views, privacy and a quiet rural setting.  Developing what will look like a mini-self-storage facility with all the security, lighting, traffic, grading, vegetation removal, fire suppression requirements, noise, odor, crime…will significantly degrade any neighborhood’s quality of life.


A Napa County report warns that a proposed 500-foot setback from private residences and 1,000-foot setback from schools “may not suffice to avoid adverse odors and nuisance issues.”

The Environmental Impact Report acknowledges that the odor of cannabis plants is a significant and unavoidable impact on the environment.

The small outdoor cannabis grows in Sonoma County are often in neighborhoods with as many as 20 homes within sight, smelling and/or hearing distance of the grow.  These families will be adversely affected by the seasonal obnoxious odor of growing cannabis.  Yolo County, a heavily agricultural county, solved the problem by saying the odor must stop at the property line – clear and simple.

Sonoma County and the Agricultural Weights and Measures Department are now advocating for the cannabis industry: 

Code Enforcement and the Ag Dept. are working hand-in-hand to protect and assist the cannabis operators.  When Code Enforcement and the Ag Department are notified of violations by applicants, they quickly call the applicant and state that they are risking their application being denied unless they comply.  When presented with detailed evidence of violations, Code Enforcement and the Agriculture Department point the finger of responsibility at each other.  Who is advocating on behalf of the neighborhood property owners? 

Land use and ministerial application process: 

Small outdoor cannabis grows can now apply for a ministerial permit from the Agriculture Department.  This fast-track application and approval process undermine the spirit of the long-established Sonoma County land use policies.   The lack of neighborhood notification, proper vetting of the application, and full understanding of applicant’s impact on the neighborhood are not considered by an Agriculture Department who seems predisposed to advocate on behalf of applicant.  Ag’s first choice of action is to coach the applicant into conforming.  “They deserve a second chance” is the mindset.  When Code Enforcement and the Ag Department are notified and given evidence of infractions, they work with the applicant to address them to assure the application can be approved. 

The ministerial permit process fails to address all the commercial cannabis impacts and to minimize the risks associated with criminal activity, degradation of neighborhood character, groundwater basin overdraft, obnoxious odors, noise nuisances, hazardous materials, and fire hazards.