MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR MAY 18th
FOG UPDATE – Planning Commission Outcome and New Letters to the Editor
On Thursday night, Sonoma County Planning Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the draft cannabis ordinance with the latest changes from staff.
The split decision to approve the amended Chapter 38 Ordinance came despite widespread opposition and concern from neighbors, environmental organizations, CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), National Marine Fisheries Service and many others.
Although some Planning Commissioners voiced concerns about the ordinance’s environmental impacts, it is now moving to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) for their review and vote on May 18. Please mark your calendars.
If you missed the last meeting and you want to read the updated Chapter 38 Ordinance or watch the hour-long Zoom recording, you can access both here.
Our efforts have already resulted in a few wins, including removing grows in County water zones 3 and 4, as well as expanding setbacks to residences to 400 feet (still insufficient.) Also, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been recommended by the Planning Commissioners, but that will be decided by the Board of Supervisors. An EIR is an essential study of the significant environmental impacts of the ordinance with recommended alternatives and mitigations.
With the ordinance going before the BOS on May 18, it’s critical that we pay attention to every detail. We need to push Supervisors for even more improvements to make this ordinance truly neighborhood compatible and environmentally sound.
We will be following up with recommended actions, such as writing the BOS, in a few days, but in the meantime, below are some new Letters to the Editor.
Hopkins’ comments (Press Democrat 4/13/21)
EDITOR: I found Supervisor Lynda Hopkins’ comments in the April 4 article about cannabis farms disingenuous at best (“Rift over cannabis farms widening”). I scratched my head when I read that she questioned where the figure of 65,000 acres available for cannabis cultivation came from and said she would like to see data to back up that assertion.
For the past several years, she and Supervisor James Gore comprised the committee that directed county planning staff on developing a new cannabis ordinance. If the figure is grossly over what is available or economically viable, why didn’t she ensure that a more accurate figure was incorporated into the draft ordinance and used as a basis for addressing environmental and aesthetic impacts?
At a minimum, urban boundary acreages should have been excluded as well as federal- and state-recognized impacted water sheds. A properly crafted ordinance could allow for ample acreage for cannabis grows while protecting rural residents’ quality of life.
I have to agree with the growers and rural residents that from inception the county’s cannabis regulations have been a fiasco.
For the record, the 65,000-acre figure is on Page 25 of the county’s draft subsequent mitigated negative declaration.
S. BRANTLY RICHARDSON
Take the long view (Press Democrat 4/14/21)
EDITOR: This year, our county is once again heading into drought. We need our planners and supervisors to take a long view. I am disappointed in our county’s proposed cannabis ordinance, which goes for a one-size-fits-all, let’s-make-it-easier approach.
The proposed revision does not make it easy. Small growers’ needs are not adequately addressed. Residents seeking setback buffer zones of 1,000 feet from their homes find their needs are not considered.
The main argument for encouraging cannabis production is economic. We do need a strong local economy. But what do we want that local economy to be comprised of? Our foodshed bonds our county. What will happen to cropland values if they are based on the current estimated $1.1 million an acre that cannabis yields? What will happen to our communities if they are left to battle over whether sites are appropriate?
It is time to do things in a new way, rather than allowing one type of agriculture to proliferate because it is profitable now. Let’s encourage our local government to do more study and planning around this important land use issue. Let’s ensure everyone’s resilient future in Sonoma County.
Uninformed officials (Press Democrat 4/16/21)
EDITOR: It does not go without note that Supervisor Lynda Hopkins was quoted as saying that she has not seen that there were 65,000 acres that would be available for cannabis growing under the county’s proposal (“Rift over cannabis farms widening,” April 4).
If she didn’t know such an important provision, it indicates to me that she may not fully understand the depth and breadth of this ordinance that she advocated for. Agricultural Commissioner Andrew Smith, when asked at a town meeting if hoop houses would need permits, gave an answer and then vacillated and changed his answer. Seems he wasn’t clear. These are very basic provisions.
The ramifications of this proposed law are huge. When our elected officials and their appointed staff are not fully educated on what they are proposing, it puts all constituents in jeopardy. This is indeed troubling.
Clean air (Sonoma West Times and News 4/16/21)
The names of Kaiser Permanente, St. Joseph Health and Sutter Health are prominent on the North Bay Leadership Council’s recent letter to the board of supervisors. The council supports proposed revisions to the cannabis ordinance, apparently drafted by the cannabis industry, that among other things remove health, safety and nuisance protections to neighbors who are exposed to pungent terpene odors. In 2018, Petaluma-area residents successfully sued a cannabis grower for nuisance when odors impinged on their homes. Press reports state the stench caused significant breathing problems for an adult with asthma and a young paraplegic who needs a breathing tube. The cannabis proposal also allows growers to blow plant oil aerosols and oxidizing agents into neighbors’ property. The safety of inhaling these chemicals is untested, and may cause lung damage. Do Kaiser Permanente, St. Joseph Health and Sutter Health truly support extinguishing the rights of sensitive patients who are exposed to air pollution? Do they think that county residents don’t deserve to breath clean air? If the North Bay Leadership Council snookered the health care providers, they should resign from it. Why would health care providers promote the fantasies of large, greedy corporate cannabis enterprises?
Craig S. Harrison
Drought and cannabis (Sonoma West Times and News 4/16/21)
While county residents mull over the looming water scarcity brought on by two years of drought, our water crisis intensifies with the rollout of commercial cannabis, Napa’s “9111 Report” states cannabis water demand per harvest is six times that of grapes. That fact, added to grape taint, overspray, odor and aesthetics, led Napa county to ban commercial cannabis. Why is Sonoma County so intent on fast-tracking permits, in spite of the obvious drawbacks?
Concerned residents are not alone in their worries. National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and California Native Plant Society have all weighed in with additional standards required to address the impacts of opening 65,000 acres for outdoor and hoop house production with a ministerial permitting scheme. A March 17 CDFW letter states “We recommend that the review should be discretionary not ministerial.” State cannabis law set conditions that each project needs individual environmental analysis and cumulative study, both conditions impossible with ministerial permitting.
This is no time to issue permits with limited water analysis. Instead fix the discretionary permitting process and complete careful and adequate environmental studies to satisfy state law, concerned agencies and environmental organizations.