LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors received an update on Tuesday on the enforcement efforts resulting from the county's interim urgency marijuana cultivation ordinance, which supervisors will consider extending later this month.
Community Development Director Rick Coel gave the report on the efforts, carried out between his department and the Lake County Sheriff's Office.
They're pursuing the enforcements under the auspices of the ordinance the board passed Monday, July 9, at the end of a daylong special meeting at the Lake County Fairgrounds.
In addition to setting screening requirements, the ordinance prohibits marijuana grows on vacant parcels, and limits plants to six on a half acre or less, 12 plants with a 75-foot setback on parcels of half an acre to one acre, 18 plants and a 150-foot setback on parcels one to five acres in size, 36 plants and a minimum 150 foot setback on five- to 40-acre parcels, and a maximum of 48 plants on parcels 40 acres and larger.
The 45-day ordinance runs out on Thursday, Aug. 23, and Coel will ask the board to extend the it. He told Lake County News last week that the board could extend the ordinance a maximum of 22 months.
Board Chair Rob Brown said Tuesday that, due to interest in the subject, the board will hold a special evening meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at Kelseyville High School, to consider the ordinance's extension. The board will begin the meeting at 4 p.m., with the discussion on the ordinance to begin at 6 p.m.
Coel told the Board Tuesday that county staffers and deputies have conducted 30 compliance reviews and eradicated 2,500 plants.
He showed them a slideshow of the grows encountered during the compliance checks – including clear cutting of trees and other vegetation, unpermitted grading on steep slopes, dumping of raw sewage and interference with seasonal streams, large amounts of nutrient rich topsoil, children's plastic swimming pools being used for planters, travel trailers being used as living quarters on vacant properties, and large, unpermitted buildings metal buildings and greenhouses.
Rushing said she had visited one of the grows on a steep hillside above Nice, pointing to cut down oak trees and other environmental damage. “I don't know how the county's going to repair this,” she said.
During the discussion, Rushing asked Coel what the process for restoration was for the abated properties. He said he was not aware of any funding specifically for such environmental repairs.
“The problem is overwhelming in terms of the environmental destruction,” he said, adding that it will require an “amazing” amount of labor to put right the properties.
Coel said they were seeing a pattern of owners renting out the properties to growers for the summers.
Brown said there is a YouTube video of a Cobb marijuana grower showing him clear cutting his property in order to grow marijuana.
He said the county was doing triage and taking on the worst grows. “Hopefully, even the legitimate growers want this dealt with because this is a black eye for them,” Brown said, adding that the board was targeting the most destructive grows all along, not those of legitimate marijuana patients.
It was suggested during the meeting that some of the topsoil could be recovered and used for things like the Lake County Jail garden. Coel said he hadn't yet had time to discuss the idea with Sheriff Frank Rivero.
“It's just so overwhelming right now,” Coel said.
Coel also suggested having a day in which county residents pitch in to help in the clean up effort and take back the community.
“This really feels like an invasion,” he said, noting that the people arrested so far have not been from Lake County, and many are squatters.
In addition to getting individuals and community groups involved in the cleanup, board members discussed using inmate labor.
“We all have ownership in this problem,” said Coel.
Rushing asked if the state Department of Fish and Game was getting involved with prosecuting individuals for the environmental damages.
County Counsel Anita Grant said she and Coel will talk this week about such remedies, and put them together for review by District Attorney Don Anderson. Coel said Fish and Game wardens have been participating in the eradications, and would be present this week for additional actions.
During public comment, Thomas Green faulted the county's ordinance for being “poorly worded and inadequately thought through.” He said they were banning commercial activity – in this case, collectives that he said use the barter system.
“I think the ordinance is adequate for now. I think it should be tightened up,” said Brown.
Rushing said the ordinance didn't specifically ban commercial activity, but did ban large plant amounts.
John Brosnan, president of the Lake County Green Farmers, asked if the county could put Coel's PowerPoint on a DVD so it could be shared with his group and others. He said he didn't think a lot of people knew what was going on.
“This is a problem, there’s no doubt about it,” Brosnan said.
Brown said there has been mass hysteria about the ordinance, with people afraid about having plants pulled from backyards. But he said that wasn't happening.
“I think it's paramount you guys continue,” Brosnan said.
Coel credited the sheriff's task force assisting with the eradications for hard work and professionalism. He said they are following the ordinance and genuinely trying to deal with the issues concerning the county.
Brown said no one is getting arrested because of the ordinance, but for other issues, including health and safety code violations, drugs and weapons.
Coel agreed. “We're not going into these sites with a mindset of, we’re here to find somebody to arrest.”
Supervisor Jim Comstock moved to accept Coel's report, with Rushing seconding. The vote was 5-0.
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