Fortuna officials hope Humboldt County will restrict future cannabis activities in the city’s sphere of influence. (Times-Standard file)
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As Humboldt County officials decide how various land parcels around the county can be used, the city of Fortuna hopes to distance itself and the nearby area from cannabis cultivation.

The process, called zoning, designates land areas for different commercial uses, such as “agricultural” or “industrial.” With the latest round of zoning decisions to get underway this summer, the Fortuna City Council is gearing up to ask the county to restrict cannabis activity in the areas set for consideration.

Those areas aren’t actually within Fortuna’s precise boundaries, but instead exist in its “sphere of influence,” leaving the land free from the city’s ongoing moratorium against commercial cannabis.

In the past, Fortuna officials have railed against what a recent staff report calls the county Board of Supervisors’ “minimizing” of concerns about cannabis, views held by many of the city’s residents and elected representatives.

“In light of past Board of Supervisors lack of support, (Fortuna staff) recommends a more targeted approach limiting cannabis only in specific areas with a greater potential conflict rather than a wide-scale ban,” reads a city staff report from earlier this week.

One area, near Home Avenue, has “received complaints” from residents who say they are affected by “strong and continuous” odors from a nearby permitted cannabis grow. Another land parcel near Upper Newburg Road is close to a park and community center — public places the city staff said could be “negatively impacted” by pot cultivation.

Multiple growers are already operating in the city’s sphere with state-issued interim licenses, Planning and Building director John Ford told the Fortuna City Council on Monday. As long as they continue to comply with Humboldt County’s permitting process, the growers are allowed to be there, regardless of how the county zones the land, Ford said.

“That’s not the answer I wanted,” Councilmember Tami Trent told Ford at Monday’s meeting.

An indoor cannabis grow at a quiet Drake Hill Road lot will also be grandfathered into its land use, even with cannabis restrictions. The cultivation, Humboldt Boutique Gardens, secured the go-ahead from the Board of Supervisors in November, rankling city officials who appealed the permit. The company is seeking a permit for phase two of its project, something the county Planning Commission will take up Thursday evening.

If the supervisors do sign off on the city’s requested restrictions on pot, future cannabis operations would be restricted from setting up shop in the land areas. When finalized, the zoning would include language on what, if any, kinds of commercial cannabis would be allowed.

County supervisors haven’t reached that point just yet, having just begun the early steps of determining the types of zones that would even be involved in the process.

“There’s time we can fine-tune our recommendation,” city manager Merritt Perry reminded the council on Monday. “You can have time to review those maps a little bit more.”

While Fortuna’s “wait-and-see” ban on cannabis remains intact, city officials plan to revisit the topic. Trent said last month a future town hall will re-gauge public opinion. While Trent still opposes cultivation in Fortuna, other industry fronts — like lab testing — could potentially enter city limits.

A woman who spoke at the city council meeting Monday spoke to her own support for legal cannabis. She read from notes she collected from fellow proponents around town, one of whom said the taxes from commercial sales could help build a swimming pool facility for the city.

“I’m not saying to get all outrageous about, all of a sudden, everyone growing it,” the woman said of cannabis. “But my hope in the near future is people can sit down and talk about it.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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