The construction company behind a potential cannabis manufacturing facility decided to pull the facility from its industrial rezoning request after members of the Hoopa Tribe and Willow Creek community brought a wave of opposition to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors at today’s meeting.
Without a cannabis element, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved rezoning the overall area as “heavy industrial,” meaning future construction efforts could seek permits to build.
The controversial cannabis oil facility had already been approved last December, but outcry from locals that the Trinity River water supply would be jeopardized and a close-by elementary school would be affected by drug culture prompted Mercer-Fraser Co. to pull the project.
“Our intention here wasn’t to divide the community or create such a controversial issue,” said Mark Benzinger of Mercer-Fraser after hearing from the community.
After hearing locals’ concerns, he said, the company wanted to pull cannabis from the equation and focus on the rezoning.
At the heart of the issue was the facility’s proximity to Trinity Valley Elementary School, as well as its potential environmental impacts.
“It’s wrong to have it so close to an elementary school, near impressionable youth,” said Jon Ray, superintendent of the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District.
Aside from Ray’s legal objections to how far the facility lot actually is to the school, the community’s main qualm appeared to be against cannabis itself.
“It’s not a good fit for the area,” said newly elected Yurok Tribal Chairman Joseph James during public comment. “It just doesn’t work.”
James emphasized his commitment to economic boons but said the community’s objection to cannabis should be enough.
Hoopa Tribal Councilmember Vivienna Orcutt led a full-blown campaign to oppose the project. She accused the county of meddling with the tribe’s indigenous land, threatening legal action.
“Zero supervisors have set foot in our community to talk about this issue,” Orcutt said at the meeting.
The fact that the facility had been permitted in December without appeal should be a “red flag” that the “system is broken,” said Larry Glass of the North Coast Environmental Center.
“People are mystified when they go to planning commission meetings about what goes on there,” Glass said. “The chairman does a great job of confusing everyone.”
Supervisors themselves spent much of the rezoning talks in confusion, navigating the complex minutiae of the rezoning process.
“What’s the point of rezoning it if it’s going to take a conditional use permit for every single thing?” asked 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg.
Sundberg tried and failed many times to stop members of the public to speak out of turn or applaud other speakers. Before the end, many in attendance were addressing Sundberg personally, as the area falls in his district.
Mark Harrison, Mercer-Fraser’s attorney, vocally defended the facility throughout the meeting, before the company decided to pull it. He said repeatedly the community’s objections had no factual basis. Voters had spoken on legal cannabis, he said, and the facility was well away from the elementary school and out of view.
“The state government made the judgment of whether cannabis should be legal,” Harrison said.
Further, rezoning to industrial was already an element of the county’s general plan, he noted.
But Harrison’s defense came to a halt when Benzinger announced Mercer-Fraser would pull the cannabis facility from the proposal.
“That’s admirable,” 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn told Benzinger directly after. “I really appreciate that.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.