LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to place its marijuana cultivation ordinance – which has been challenged by a referendum – before voters this June.
The referendum effort launched in response to County Ordinance No. 2997, passed in December, qualified to go on the June primary ballot, Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley told the board Tuesday.
Supervisors Rob Brown, Jim Comstock and Anthony Farrington voted to send the ordinance to the ballot – rather than rescind it – and let voters decide on the referendum after hearing from Fridley and a number of community members at the Tuesday meeting.
In the vote, Board Chair Denise Rushing abstained and Supervisor Jeff Smith voted no, wanting to wait until March 4 – the deadline to place the ordinance on the June ballot – to allow County Counsel Anita Grant to research if possible modifications could be made to the ordinance.
Ordinance No. 2997, approved by the Board of Supervisors unanimously on Dec. 17, bans outdoor cultivation in community growth boundaries; limits plant numbers on parcels larger than one acre outside of community growth boundaries to six mature or 12 immature plants; prevents grows on vacant parcels; limits indoor grows to 100 square feet or less; keeps outdoor cultivation 1,000 feet from schools, parks or other facilities serving children, and 100 feet from water bodies; offers quicker abatement; and make the Lake County Sheriff's Office responsible for enforcement.
Last month, the referendum proponents – the Community Alliance to Ban Illegal Cannabis Cultivation – submitted approximately 4,222 signatures to Fridley's office. The group needed 2,115 verified signatures from Lake County residents registered to vote.
Fridley said that her office only looked at 3,706 of those signatures, not counting signatures from 516 county residents who registered to vote after Jan. 1. Of those, 2,150 signatures were found valid.
This is the third referendum the county has faced on marijuana-related rules.
In October 2011, the board rescinded a medical marijuana dispensaries ordinance passed the previous August after a referendum challenged it. All dispensaries in county jurisdiction later would be closed because county officials held that the zoning ordinance doesn't allow for uses that it doesn't specifically include.
Then, in January 2011, the board rescinded a marijuana cultivation ordinance after a referendum qualified for the ballot, with that effort supported by Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and Lake County Green Farmers Association, members of CABICC.
Those groups submitted an initiative, Measure D, which failed by a two-to-one margin in June 2012.
Farrington said another referendum had seemed inevitable, and he believed that if the county's current interim cultivation ordinance – which runs out this July – wasn't immune to referendum, it would have been similarly challenged.
On this third go-round with a referendum, the board decided to let its ordinance stand, and offer the voters the final say.
Clearlake Oaks resident Herb Gura asked the board to withdraw the ordinance and come up with a “thoughtful” compromise.
But Brown said “thoughtful” had different meanings for him and for Gura, and that the board had listened to county residents in coming up with the latest rules.
“We've heard our constituents. They don't want it in their neighborhoods. Out of that came this ordinance,” Brown said, adding that he was absolutely convinced that many people who signed the referendum were defrauded and given bad information by the professional signature gatherers.
CABICC campaign manager Daniel McLean urged the board to rescind the ordinance, reporting that the group wanted to help create an ordinance that will be “effective and efficient.”
He also wanted the current interim ordinance to be left as a “placeholder.” CABICC, McLean added, is in the final stages of drafting its own ordinance. So far, the group has not publicly released any of the proposed document’s language.
Smith was concerned about having the county's ordinance go to the ballot, which would mean that if it was approved, the board wouldn't be able to make any changes to it.
He said he wished the county's medical marijuana cultivation advisory board – disbanded in July 2012 after member Don Merrill sued over the interim cultivation ordinance – could have finished its work of developing an ordinance.
Rushing said she also had wanted to see the committee finish the process. “You know, there's really only one law that makes sense – but the devil's is in the details – and the law is you can grow whatever you want as long as you don't negatively impact the environment or your neighbors,” she said.
However, Rushing noted that there was so much negative impact that the new ordinance was the reaction to it.
“There were a lot of people out there growing who didn't care what their neighbors were feeling or thinking and that's why this happened,” she said.
Rushing wanted to hear from Sheriff Frank Rivero, who attended the meeting, about whether the interim ordinance was sufficient while the county tried to work out another option.
“I believe the interim ordinance was problematic but was hobbling along. It was difficult to enforce and there was a lot of gray area that made it a problem for code enforcement, for law enforcement,” said Rivero.
He said he's received hundreds of nuisance complaints related to marijuana grows, with people concerned that their due process rights have been ignored when it comes to the grows entering their neighborhoods.
“They're faced with a nuisance with no recourse, and that's frankly unfair,” Rivero said.
Rivero also was concerned about the possibility of having the voters turn down the county ordinance June 3, leaving the county with only 30 days to come up with an alternative before the interim ordinance expires.
Having no ordinance at all “would be absolutely disastrous,” said Rivero.
Rivero added that progress in stopping unmitigated large grows and organized crime had occurred with the interim ordinance.
Grant told the supervisors that they had time to consider their approach, reminding them of the March 4 deadline. There also was the issue about how much change the board could effectuate to its ordinance now that it's been placed on the ballot.
“There may be some distinction that can be drawn between an initiative measure, which clearly cannot be changed, and something that has now been the subject of a referendum,” Grant said, adding she was happy to research those issues if the board wished.
Community Development Director Rick Coel told the board, “The interim ordinance was very problematic in the community areas” because it's tied to nuisance abatement procedures that included having unarmed inspectors posting notices.
Despite the interim ordinance being in effect, the Northshore communities of Upper Lake, Nice and Lucerne have had large grows in residential areas, he said.
“My opinion is that the interim ordinance does not work well in the neighborhoods,” Coel said, adding it worked well on vacant properties.
He warned that even if the board dropped the permanent ordinance it could still run the risk of a referendum on any new measure it produced. Additionally, the courts may not allow the county to implement new rules right away.
“We could still go through another grow year, unfortunately, with no regulation. It's extremely complex,” Coel said.
Ron Green, a Lower Lake attorney speaking on behalf of NORML, part of the Emerald Unity Coalition, also asked the board to rescind Ordinance No. 2997 and implement the urgency ordinance on a “temporary permanent” basis before reassembling an advisory committee. He said the coalition was drafting its own proposed initiative.
“It's time to learn to live together, respect each other and make this thing work,” he said.
In response to calls to reestablish the medical marijuana cultivation advisory board, Rushing, who chaired the committee, noted, “One of the most contentious issues was how to handle neighborhood grows.”
She added, “I personally know that committee wasn't close on that one.”
Farrington criticized the referendum proponents' tactics, reporting that a professional signature gatherer he encountered in Lakeport used misleading and incorrect information in an effort to get him to sign the petition.
He said the purest action the board could take was put the ordinance on the ballot.
Farrington noted that he's received threats over his position on Ordinance No. 2997. “This last ordinance was far from perfect. None of them were perfect,” he said.
“We've seen this three times now,” Farrington said, referring to the two previous referenda. “I knew darn well where this was headed.”
Comstock noted that growers don't honor their neighbors, and are profit driven.
“We do support the patients' rights. The growers don't support the patients rights, the for-profit growers that have driven this whole situation. They're not going to change. They don't care what we pass,” Comstock said.
Brown said it wasn't possible to create an ordinance that would please everyone, and that he supported sending the county ordinance to the ballot.
“I think this is a flawed ordinance but it's better than nothing,” said Rushing, who had voted for it in December.
She said she wished it didn't encourage indoor grows, and added it should have allowed for small grows in neighborhoods. Limiting outdoor grows to parcels 20 acres in size or larger also was problematic, as she didn't think enough agricultural land is available.
Rushing said she also wanted to see dispensaries brought back into play as soon as possible.
She wanted to know what, if any, changes the board could make to the ordinance now that it's headed for a referendum, which also was Smith's position.
Farrington felt the only way to get a framework was to put the matter before voters, and he moved to have the ordinance put on the ballot, with Brown seconding.
Smith said he wanted more time to allow Grant to do her research. “What's four more weeks?”
Farrington responded that his motion stood, with the board voting 3-1-1.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.