County marijuana cultivation ordinance on track

Board of Supervisors briefed on progress of marijuana cultivation ordinance as next public hearing set for May 23

Victor Gomez, the former Hollister city councilman who is now a consultant working with the marijuana ad hoc committee, updated the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on April 11 about the committee’s efforts concerning the status of the interim urgency ordinance along with the development of a new cultivation ordinance. The update also included concerns about enforcement of the existing ordinance and future actions to be taken regarding applications for extended amortization periods for the 27 individuals who have registered to participate in marijuana cultivation.

The current interim urgency ordinance was adopted Sept. 27, 2016, for a 45-day period. It was extended Nov. 8, 2016, for an additional 10 months, 15 days. It is scheduled to remain in effect through Sept. 23, 2017. On or before that date, the board may extend the ordinance for an additional 12 months.

Gomez said that over a period of six weeks, the ad hoc committee—comprised of Supervisors Robert Rivas and Mark Medina—along with stakeholders, mostly made up of county personnel, discussed land-use issues, cultivation sizes, greenhouse structures, taxes, setbacks from various facilities, and cost recovery. Gomez said the county counsel was working on a draft for the cultivation ordinance, which will first be reviewed by the ad hoc committee and stakeholders.

Gomez said the committee was recommending a public hearing be held May 23 regarding the applicants. Rivas said it is hoped the applicants would be vetted by then, but if there was need to extend the amortization another 180 days, he was OK with that. Barbara Thompson, interim county counsel, said a few of the applicants may be added to the consent calendar for the next supervisor meeting, while others would be put in groups of “common likeness.”

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said he understood that May 23 fell within the first 180-day period. Thompson said it was for the majority of the applicants, but there would be a continuance for a couple of them. Medina brought up a point he has made repeatedly that even though applicants might have been vetted, when the new cultivation ordinance is in place, they may not still qualify. Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz wondered, “who gets to set the ground rules for who’s accepted and who’s not?” Thompson told him the new ordinance would include wording that determines who is acceptable.

Gomez commented that the ad hoc committee has been working through every possible item to be included in a cultivation ordinance and policy.

“The ad hoc committee has the option to vet the first draft of the cultivation ordinance, and then open up a public hearing to receive feedback from the public,” he said. “Another option would be to bring that draft ordinance to the full board during an evening session, maybe May 9, at the earliest. We would like some direction from the board today as to whether you’d like to keep that first public vetting hearing at the ad hoc committee level or to the full board.”

Rivas proposed that the board conduct an evening meeting for the entire board to review the draft ordinance and to incorporate public comments. Medina agreed with Rivas, adding that an evening session would allow commuters and others who can’t come to meetings during the day to attend. Muenzer said he thought it is important for the public to know what was being discussed on “such an important issue.” De La Cruz said such a meeting should be held at 6 p.m., which would follow the next ad hoc meeting on April 17.

Gomez commented that the entire process was perhaps 30 to 45 days ahead of schedule, and should be followed by work on a tax structure and manufacturing by the end of the year in order to be ready for placement on the Nov. 2018 ballot.

During public comment, Marty Richman said that since there were only 27 applicants it should be relatively easy to make sure they meet the requirements under the ordinance. He disagreed with past comments by Medina concerning some issues in the ordinance.

“He has said there will be no gray areas,” Richman said. “There are always gray areas, especially in a new proposal. But there will be some things that can’t be waived or can’t be corrected. If you’re in the wrong location or you have a felony conviction, no one is going to say don’t worry about it. However, if you have the wrong size water pump, that’s correctable.”

Richman said it’s essential to award people who came forward and applied as they were asked to do in order to show those who did not that the county is serious.

“The only way to do that is through enforcement,” he said. “There’s no advantage to following the rules if we’re not going to enforce the rules against those who do not follow them. I hope part of vetting people who follow the rules is that we talk to the sheriff and code enforcement to start cracking down on those who do not.”

Peter Brazil, a local attorney who works with the marijuana industry, said he did not have a clear understanding how the amortization process would work.

“We have stakeholders (marijuana growers) who have been operating for some time and what I’m trying to make sure is that whatever process we go through that it bridges over to the permitting process, and there isn’t a cessation of operation, which would be really detrimental to them,” he said. “There may be minor issues at some of these sites and I’m hoping there’s a working relationship. I just want to make sure we’re looking at these as thriving operations that we’re not looking to kill. These people came forward to participate in the process to the extent that they are compliant, and to your satisfaction that they are a benefit to the community and are allowed to continue to operate.”

The board agreed to set a public meeting for May 23 in order to hear comments, and then at the next regular board meeting to set a special meeting to review the draft ordinance.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]