Commercial Cannabis Cultivation – Impacts are Impacts

The Neighborhood Coalition’s concern is not about individual cultivation, personal use, access to product or city-based canna-tourism. We’re concerned about unstudied environmental impacts. The proposed Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance has the potential to degrade our scenic open space landscapes, watersheds, groundwater supplies, and disrupt peaceful enjoyment of our neighborhoods – yet, there is no Program EIR.

Santa Barbara grows enough cannabis for the entire United States now.

Two Wrongs: Sonoma County’s water resources are already impaired by 60,000 acres of vineyards and the demands of a growing population. The draft Ordinance proposes to open up to 65,000 acres of Ag and resource land to commercial cannabis grows. Approving permits for the cannabis industry’s projected 6,500 acres is ill-advised. To put this in perspective, 1/10th of 6,500 acres or 645 acres of cannabis is equivalent to the City of Healdsburg’s 2020 water demand of 645 million gallons/year.

Double watershed impact – vineyards degrade steep hillsides and industrial-scale cannabis cultivation. A half-acre benchland site – based on parcel size, County may allow 1 – 2 acres of new structures. Two Wrongs do not make a “Right to Farm”. What are the impacts on Sonoma County’s water resources? A cannabis cultivation’s water demand per acre is about six times greater than grapes or the demand from one residence. Based on 30-40 inches of irrigation demand, each acre of cannabis uses 1 Million gallons of water per harvest, with hoop houses and greenhouses supporting 2-3 harvests per year. Thus, the water demand is staggering: Wildlife agencies warn that increased well pumping – along with acres of impervious surface – will impact groundwater aquifers, leading to decreases in streamflow that impact fisheries.
Two Wrongs: Sonoma County has no answers to these questions as there is no Program EIR or cumulative impact analyses. While, on March 2nd , Napa denied commercial cultivation in its ag and watershed lands based on Napa’s 9111 Report and analyses of agriculture, environmental, hospitality and fiscal/taxpayer costs. 

Neighborhood groups have multiplied in opposition to Sonoma County’s lax cannabis regulations protecting residents.

A General Plan Amendment?
The State regulates cannabis as a “product,” and, State licenses require project-specific CEQA review. Sonoma County must amend the Ag Resource Element and 3 zoning code chapters to deem cannabis cultivation a “crop.” Done for the sole purpose of approving commercial cultivation via ministerial permits, with no public review or individual project CEQA review. Conferring protections of the “Right to Farm” law has the potential of removing a neighbor’s right to a nuisance lawsuit if their well goes dry, or if business revenue / property values are degraded from pungent smells/terpenes or 27/7 operations. Our dairy belt has large existing barn structures where the proposed Ordinance would allow unlimited cultivation.

New Definition of NIMBY
Nuisances (Noise and Smell) In My Back Yard!
• Setbacks for equipment noise do not comply with the Noise Element: now measurements
are to your house, not property line. The 300-foot setback is ineffective – experts and other counties recommend 500 – 1,000-foot buffers.

• No assessment of taxpayer impacts from future utility water and landfill upgrades
(disposal of hoop house plastic) or new public safety (police/fire) requirements.
• Visual screening is only from parks, Class 1 bikeways and State highways – not Sonoma
County scenic roads or landscape units.
No bonds required: When cannabis operations go elsewhere, who will clean up the mess?
Draft ordinance proposes permits for large operations – with no public notice or project-specific CEQA review.

Disjointed Zoning Code =conflicts and confusion
The Neighborhood Coalition requested revision of the Ordinance and its SMND because Chapter 26 has changed substantially since the SMND analyses. Ministerial permits require cross-references among interconnected chapters of the Zoning Code: Chapter 26 for base zoning code requirements, such as Maximum Lot Coverage for structures; Chapter 38 for
Commercial Cannabis Cultivation specific requirements; and Chapter 39 (VESCO) for cultivation
protections on steep slopes, etc.

Concerns include: Riparian and Wetland Setbacks:

County supervisors have mainly ignored addressing residents concerns on neighborhood compatibility, safety, water, set backs and declining property values near commercial sites.

Deeming cannabis a crop may allow cultivation encroachment into setbacks – reducing biotic protection by 50 percent. Scale and Intensity: Ministerial permits, once for cottage grows, will now allow 10 percent parcel coverage for large projects: Parcels with 10 – 40 acres of cannabis cultivation can have up to 1 acre of structures. A 100-acre parcel, in our RRD watersheds
or dairy belt, may have 10 acres of cultivation, with 2.5 acres in hoop house or greenhouse structures.

Two Wrongs: Plastic hoop houses and greenhouses may visually degrade our open space lands; while taxpayers voted and pay to protect these viewsheds. Do we want to look like Santa Barbara or should avoid the mistakes of other counties?