City critics blast county pot permits

Dozens of people packed the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors chambers in Eureka on Thursday for a public workshop on proposed changes to the county’s cannabis industry rules. The county planning commission is set to hold a second public workshop on the cannabis ordinance Sept. 21.
Dozens of people packed the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors chambers in Eureka on Thursday for a public workshop on proposed changes to the county’s cannabis industry rules. The county planning commission is set to hold a second public workshop on the cannabis ordinance Sept. 21. Will Houston — The Times-Standard
Fortuna City Manager Mark Wheetley speaks to the Humboldt County Planning Commission on Thursday about the city’s concerns about allowing cannabis farms near the city limits.
Fortuna City Manager Mark Wheetley speaks to the Humboldt County Planning Commission on Thursday about the city’s concerns about allowing cannabis farms near the city limits. Will Houston — The Times-Standard

Fortuna city officials and residents said during the Humboldt County Planning Commission’s Thursday meeting that proposed changes to county cannabis laws do not address the friction between residents and nearby cannabis farms.

Fortuna has banned commercial marijuana businesses, and some its residents have expressed frustration about the county’s current cannabis regulations because they were not able to weigh in on certain marijuana permit applications that would set up businesses on county property near their neighborhoods.

One of the proposed changes to the county’s marijuana rules seeks to address this issue by requiring any new applicants to acquire a special permit to set up within 1,000 feet of city limits or within a city’s sphere of influence. However, county Planning and Building Director John Ford said that his department is not recommending this requirement be applied to those people who have already submitted their permit applications to set up in these areas.

Fortuna City Manager Mark Wheetley said not including those applicants would make the county’s proposal “a farce” because “the issue has already arisen.”

“I have to say, if this is not going to be resolved in this process, I’m not sure where it’s going to end up,” Wheetley said. “It is still a great concern of the community and I would hope that at some point this issue does get resolved.”

Fortuna resident and 2nd Division Humboldt Bay Harbor District Commissioner Greg Dale also called for the county’s proposal to apply retroactively to existing applicants. Dale also said the ordinance does not address odor issues that he said many neighbors to outdoor cannabis farms have to live with.

“I gotta tell you, come to my house now; you literally can’t sit outside and breathe,” Dale said.

Fifth District Planning Commissioner Ben Shepherd said he was troubled by the discussion, stating the county can’t in good faith ask people to apply for a permit “and then change the rules mid-course.”

Jonathan Baker told the commission his cannabis farm is located outside of the city of Blue Lake, which also prohibits commercial cannabis activities. Baker said that he wants to work with the local community and be up front and honest, but expressed concerns about how much influence city residents would have on his business under the county’s proposed rules.

“I just want to express our concerns of this happening and influencing our business,” Baker said. “And we’re renting land and spending unknown amounts of money to get down to this dream, and if that dream gets sort of shelved because, you know, people who like to walk their dogs by on our easement ... next to the river, that they don’t want to see greenhouses yet there are hundreds of cows and all of this other stuff there and nobody would ever say anything.”

Thursday’s meeting is one of two public workshops set to be held this month on the proposed rule changes. The changes include allowing for both recreational and medical marijuana businesses; expanding and in some cases limiting where cultivation can occur; increasing the maximum amount of new cultivation from a quarter-acre to one acre or more depending on the parcel size; allowing for new types of businesses such as all-in-one microbusinesses, so-called bud-and-breakfasts and cannabis tourism businesses; and allowing for special events such as Reggae on the River and the county fair to have on-site cannabis sales and use.

Humboldt County Growers Alliance board member Nathan Whittington said he had issues with the county’s proposal to limit a single person to four cannabis business permits as it applies to cultivation. Whittington said this conflicts with state law, which he said prohibits a single person from having more than 4 acres of cultivation.

Other speakers expressed concern about how quickly the county was planning to adopt the new regulations. Ford said they plan to have the new cannabis ordinance along with its environmental impact report before the Board of Supervisors by Dec. 4 for final adoption. The rules would take effect Jan. 4, 2018. Ford said the county is working on this expedited timeline because the state’s medical and recreational markets are set to come online starting in January 2018.

Ford said when the state begins licensing cannabis businesses, it will contact the county to see whether certain businesses are in compliance with county laws. If there are no county laws prohibiting or allowing for certain types of businesses, such as recreational cannabis businesses, Ford said the county will have to provide no answer and the state will assume the business is in compliance and permit it.

“That’s the worst case scenario,” Ford said.

Other recommendations given by the public during the meeting included quantifying how much odor would be allowed from a cannabis business; creating a program to relocate indoor farms to outdoor locations; allowing for new cultivation on residential agriculture zones and approving permits for existing cannabis cultivation before new cultivation.

Shepherd provided a laundry list of issues he found in the ordinance, which included the requirement that cannabis businesses in commercial and industrial areas to have 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources; road condition requirements for cannabis businesses; permit number limits; and limiting cannabis cultivation to just 20 percent of the total prime agricultural soil on a parcel.

The next planning commission meeting on the cannabis ordinance is set for Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. at the Board of Supervisors chambers on the first floor of the Humboldt County Courthouse located at 825 Fifth Street in Eureka.

The county’s proposed cannabis regulations can be found at http://www.humboldtgov.org/2308/Cannabis-EIR

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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