KELSEYVILLE, Calif. – At a special evening session on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to extend an interim urgency ordinance on marijuana cultivation through June 2014.
The ordinance, originally passed at the end of a special daylong meeting on July 9, was good initially for 45 days, and was set to run out on Thursday.
In addition to setting screening requirements and prohibiting grows on vacant parcels, the ordinance allows a maximum of six plants to be grown outdoors 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.
Lower Lake resident Don Merrill and three anonymous co-plaintiffs – one of whom he said recently died – sued the county over the ordinance.
Last Friday Judge David Herrick granted a preliminary injunction in which the county is prohibited from enforcing the ordinance on qualified medical marijuana patients growing in accordance with the 1996 Compassionate Use Act through the end of 2012. However, those growers had to have begun their grows prior to July 9.
At the same time, Herrick found that the ordinance did not violate law by attempting to amend the Compassionate Use Act and that the county could carry out summary abatements of declared nuisances, which left the door open for the county to extend the ordinance. A trial on a permanent injunction has not yet been set.
About 40 people were in the audience for the meeting, which lasted just under two hours.
In a brief report, Community Development Director Rick Coel explained that government code allowed the board to extend the ordinance up to 22 months and 15 days.
While Herrick had ordered limitations on enforcements for qualified growers for the rest of the growing season, Coel said it was staff's opinion that it was needed to carry through into the next cultivation season. He said it would send a message to those coming from outside the county who are causing environmental harm at grow sites.
“I think the issues are still there,” Coel said.
He said the extension would take the ordinance out to July 6, 2014, which would give staff time to finish a permanent ordinance.
Coel said there was a concern that growers would attempt to vest their cultivation efforts if there was a gap between ordinances.
He told the board that his department is receiving two to three complaints every business day about marijuana grows all over the county.
Supervisor Denise Rushing said the county could still enforce the grading ordinance and fence height guidelines in county zoning. “What are we struggling with in terms of enforcement?” she asked.
Coel said his staff will continue to enforce grading and stormwater issues, and abate occupied travel trailers on vacant parcels as they relate to nuisance grows. However, he said he wants to have a sheriff's deputy present with staff when they visit the sites.
Criticisms and appreciation
During about an hour of public comment the board heard from people who didn't want the ordinance extended, including one man who was growing on a vacant eight-acre parcel where he was developing a home near Middletown.
He said he received no warning before Community Development Department and sheriff's personnel showed up to abate the 15 plants – for himself and two other medical marijuana patients – on his property. He questioned what kind of emergency threat his grow posed.
Phil Murphy of Finley criticized the county for not having permanent regulations in effect 16 years after Proposition 215 was passed.
The board also heard from people who were happy with the ordinance and what it was doing for the community, including Jeanette Bartley of Lakeport, who commended the board for its action.
Lakeport resident Greg Scott said the frustration and anger in the room needed to be turned toward volunteering to clean up the environmental damage from grows.
Thomas Wall, however, speaking against the ordinance, said he didn't want to told to clean up the creeks, blaming federal prohibition on marijuana for the environmentally damaging grows.
Kelseyville resident Peter Windrem encouraged the board to continue the ordinance. Up through last Friday, when Herrick's ruling came down, Windrem said it was wonderful to have the feeling that “the tide was turning for once.”
Windrem said he had great respect for Herrick, who he called a good judge. “Even good judges can make mistakes.”
When public comment ended and the board began its discussion, Supervisor Jeff Smith said he believed the reason the room wasn't packed with people was because many of them were happy with what the board passed July 9.
“The only sensible thing to do is extend this, because we have something in place,” Smith said.
Supervisor Anthony Farrington said he saw the ordinance as a placeholder or stop-gap measure to get the county past Judge Herrick's ruling and to Jan. 1, 2013.
“Without it we have no regulatory framework,” Farrington said.
While some people had faulted the county for a lack of regulations, Farrington said the state and federal governments have not provided leadership on the issue.
He also pointed out that the county had put dispensary and cultivation ordinances in place last year, and they were rescinded after being challenged by separate referendums.
“I have no desire to continue to waste my time and a lot of taxpayer money on this issue,” he said.
Farrington said he believes a final ordinance needs to go before the voters, suggesting that a document could be ready by the next countywide general election in June 2014, a month before the interim urgency ordinance would expire.
He said that those who have tried to influence him through threats and political promises can keep those threats and promises to themselves, because they don't hold weight with him.
Rushing said she was in complete agreement with Farrington, and pointed out that the interim urgency ordinance closely mirrored suggestions that the board-appointed medical marijuana advisory board had made, with the exception or the smaller residential parcels. Rushing agreed that they needed to have a regulatory framework in place.
Supervisor Jim Comstock said the county has been working on marijuana regulations for years. Lake County has been viewed as the Wild West, where growers could do what they wanted. “That's not the case,” he said.
Not extending the ordinance “would put us right back where we were” before July 9, Comstock said.
Board Chair Rob Brown said that while he had voted against the ordinance on July 9, making it a 4-1 vote, that wouldn't happen this time.
While he said he still believed the plant counts were too high, especially on residential parcels in town, those issues could be addressed in a permanent ordinance.
He said the goal had been to make the matter a zoning issue, not a criminal issue, adding that Herrick’s ruling is once again making it a criminal issue.
Smith moved the ordinance, which the board approved 5-0.
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org .