Conflict of Interest for Supervisors: Letter sent to county attorneys

Supervisors Gore and Hopkins should recuse themselves from further participation in any cannabis committee, and should neither participate in any discussions of cannabis issues nor vote on revisions to the cannabis ordnance or to general plan that concern cannabis.”

The conflict-of-interest complaint filed with Pittman is available on request and is also on the Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods WEB site.

Honorable Jill R. Ravitch

Sonoma County District Attorney

600 Administration Drive, Room 212 J

Santa Rosa, California 95403

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

I request that you take action under GOV § 54960 to order the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to comply with the state’s open meeting law (Ralph M. Brown Act). The supervisors have failed to conduct their cannabis business in public, as required by GOV §§ 54950–63 and by Rules 42 and 43 of the Rules of the Board of Supervisors (Exhibit A). While I focus on the Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee, there may be violations with other ad hoc committees because this is a pattern of behavior. I ask that you also take appropriate action under GOV § 54960.1 to void any actions taken by the Board of Supervisors concerning the implementation of the Cannabis Ordinance that were taken based on recommendations from the Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee during the period it was violating the Brown Act.

The Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee (sometimes operating under variant names such as marijuana ad hoc, cannabis and hemp ad hoc, etc.) actually operates as a standing committee. Except perhaps at its inception in 2011, it has not been an ad hoc committee. The committee consists of two members and thus is less than a quorum of the board. Nevertheless, it is still subject to the Brown Act under Rule 42 and GOV § 54952(b) because it has “continuing jurisdiction over a particular subject matter”— cultivation of Cannabis sativa. As such, GOV § 54952(b) deems it to be a “legislative body” for purposes of the Brown Act.

Legislative bodies must open all meetings (including teleconferences) to the public. GOV § 54953(a). An agenda must be available to the public at least 72 hours before the meeting, GOV § 54954.2(a) (1), and no action shall be taken on any item not appearing on the agenda. GOV § 54954.3(a). Members of the public must be allowed to directly address the committee. GOV § 54954.3(a). The committee must publicly report any action taken and the vote of each member present for the action. GOV § 54953(c)(1).

The county likely claims that this ad hoc committee is not subject to open meeting laws. However, an ad hoc committee can exist only for a limited period of time, after which it must be dissolved. Under Rule 43, “Ad-Hoc Committees are encouraged to conclude their business at the end of each calendar year.”

The Board of Supervisors has had a cannabis/marijuana “ad hoc” committee with jurisdiction over its regulation of Cannabis sativa almost continually since April 2011. To dissolve one committee and “reform” to another with a slightly different title or mission, but always focused on county regulation of Cannabis sativa, puts form over substance. If ten years is a “limited time” under the Brown Act, the phrase has no meaning. Please request all documents from the county relating to the existence of ad hoc committees because additional documentary evidence would likely surface. For example, the mission statements of the committees mentioned below probably changed over time and should be requested. In some cases, there might be no mission statement at all, which itself would be a violation of law. In others, the date the mission changed may be important.

  • Agenda item 32 for the January 8, 2013 board meeting (Exhibit B) notes the existence of a “Medicinal Marijuana” ad hoc committee since April 5, 2011 that is to “[a]ddress concerns, cultivation, dispensaries and revenue generating options for Sonoma County.” Supervisors Brown and Zane were members.
  • The minutes for Agenda Item 9 for the October 28, 2014 meeting (Exhibit C) note “The Board marijuana ad hoc committee will be reformed with Supervisors Rabbitt and Gorin serving, which will also review past ad hoc committee recommendations.”
  • The minutes for Board Member Announcements for the December 2, 2014 meeting (Exhibit D) notes “Supervisor Rabbitt participated in the medical marijuana ad hoc committee meeting yesterday.”
  • The Summary Report for Agenda Item 26 on January 5, 2016 (Exhibit E) notes a strategic goal for the year is to “[a]ddress the safety, health, environmental and economic impacts of medical marijuana, and work with regional partners to prepare for expanded impacts that could result from legalization of recreational use being considered in 2016 (Marijuana Ad Hoc: Chair Gorin and Supervisor Rabbitt).”
  • The Summary Report for Agenda Item 31A on January 10, 2017 (Exhibit F) lists the Medicinal Marijuana Regulation and Safety Implementation ad hoc committee, without indicating membership. It states this ad hoc committee was created on January 5, 2016 and “reformed from prior ad hoc of 10/28/14.” It is to “[f]ocus on zoning recommendations as it relates to land use and public safety, and review past ad hoc committee recommendations.”
  • An April 11, 2017 charter/scope of work for the 2017 Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee (Exhibit G) states it “was formed on January 10, 2017,” and its primary purpose “is to ensure the successful implementation of the County Cannabis Program that enables and incentivizes the industry to come into compliance while ensuring the interests of all residents and the environment are protected.” Supervisors Gorin and Hopkins are members.
  • A staff memo dated September 6, 2018 from Amy Lyle, Supervising Planner, to the Sonoma County Planning Commission (Exhibit H) notes a meeting of the cannabis ad hoc on August 20, 2018.
  • The Board of Supervisors webpage in 2020 indicated that the “cannabis and hemp” ad hoc committee was “created” in August 2018 with supervisors Gore and Hopkins as members. Its mission is “to guide the implementation of the Board’s direction to transition the permitting of cannabis cultivation to the Agricultural Commissioner and come back to the Board for an update to the County Ordinance for Phase 2.”
  • The current Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee was continued at the Board of Supervisors meeting on January 5, 2021 (Supervisors Hopkins and Gore members).

There are few, if any, gaps in the existence of a cannabis/marijuana committee during the past ten years, and claims it was “formed” or ‘reformed” are misleading because the same committee continued to exist. These serial committees are a standing committee under California law, not ad hoc committees. The Board of Supervisors is regulating the cannabis industry in secret, in blatant violation of the Brown Act. This lack of sunlight is corrosive to good government, and fosters the suspicion of many residents that the county is dirty and that the wealthy cannabis industry has undue influence the over decision makers.

In addition, the sister-in-law of Supervisor James Gore, Erin Gore, is an active lobbyist on behalf of the cannabis industry. My Public Records Act requests have shown that she has been frequently in contact with county officials who decide cannabis policy, and is a cannabis grower. The Board of Supervisors will soon be considering extensive changes to the Cannabis Ordinance that, according to its statements, will benefit growers at the expense of the wider community.

Mr. Gore has been a member of the secretive Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee for several years. We have no idea the extent to which Supervisor Gore’s sister-in-law lobbies him directly, either in ad hoc meetings or during family get togethers. We have no idea the extent to which Supervisor Gore may have a financial interest in the family business of his brother and sister-in-law.

At a minimum, the lack of transparency, secrecy, and conflicts of interest is unseemly. It creates an impression to the public of a county government rigged in favor of the cannabis industry. If a cannabis committee is allowed to exist at all, it should operate as a standing committee. Supervisors Gore and Hopkins should recuse themselves from further participation in any cannabis committee, and should neither participate in any discussions of cannabis issues nor vote on revisions to the cannabis ordnance or to general plan that concern cannabis.

I wrote of my concerns to the county counsel in late December and nothing was apparently acted upon so I am escalating this issue with the hope that there will be some time taken to acting upon this issue.

Please take a close look at this situation and take appropriate action. For the past four years I have been concerned about the integrity of our national government. My confidence and that of many friends and neighbors in the county government is severely undermined. If you think you have a conflict of interest or lack the resources to investigate this, please ask the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct the investigation. I respect your integrity, and this issue needs to be thoroughly scrutinized.

Name with held for privacy