Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

After extending a hemp cultivation moratorium last month, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted changes to its hemp ordinance on Feb. 4 that address complaints following the first legal growing season in the county. 

The county first adopted its hemp ordinance in September. In response to complaints of odor and criminal activity after the cultivation season finished, supervisors enacted a moratorium on Dec. 10 and extended it on Jan. 14 to allow the ad hoc committee, comprised of Supervisors Peter Hernandez and Anthony Botelho, to make changes. The San Benito County Planning Commission reviewed the changes and adopted the draft ordinance on Jan. 15. 

Changes include the addition of a hemp exclusion zone with a one-mile setback from residential areas, including county service areas, the sphere of influences of Hollister and San Juan Bautista, the Tres Pinos Water District, and visitor-serving wine and hospitality facilities such as wineries, tasting rooms and restaurants within the Wine and Hospitality Priority Area. The exclusion zone also requires a 500-foot setback from public roads unless a hemp operator installs a six-foot fence and visual barrier on the road frontage. 

Other changes include limiting outdoor cultivation to agriculture productive and agriculture rangeland zones, regulating hemp research cultivations as industrial hemp cultivations, and a conditional use permit requirement for all hemp operations such as drying, processing, storage, and manufacturing. The minimum parcel size for cultivation was increased from 10 to 20 acres. The county also increased cultivation setbacks from residential parcels of 10 acres or less from 100 feet to 1,000 feet.

About 10 members of the public ranging from winery industry representatives to neighbors of hemp operations spoke in favor of the changes and thanked supervisors for allowing them to be part of stakeholder meetings. 

Deputy County Attorney Joel Ellingwood said meetings took place on Jan. 7 and 29 between county staff, representatives of the San Benito County Farm Bureau, wine and hemp industries, and impacted residents. 

Eden Rift Vineyards owner Christian Pillsbury said he was happy with the ordinance, which leaves more than 90% of San Benito County available for hemp cultivation. He also said the county gave more than its fair share of time on the issue.

“I’m fully in favor of people being able to pursue cultivation of hemp within the wine exclusion zone, which you may be surprised to hear because I put my foot down and said the wine industry wants nothing in the wine exclusion zone, but that’s not true,” Pillsbury said. “That’s not true. We want to be good neighbors, we want to compromise and we want to allow folks to build sustainable, healthy, legal businesses.”

Farmer Michael Halperin did not share sentiments with speakers who said hemp operations caused an increase in criminal activity. He said theft in the Union and Riverside Road area has decreased between 2010 and 2016.

“We reported all thefts to the Sheriff’s Department. We lost about $60,000 during this period so that’s $10,000 a year,” Halperin said. “According to the hemp grower there at Union Road they lost between $3,000 and $4,000 worth of hemp. So I guess we need to pat ourselves on the back because we had a 60% decrease in crime since the hemp growers arrived there at Union Road.”

Supervisor Mark Medina commended Hernandez and Botelho for making the changes in 56 days.

“For those of you out there that know how county, city, federal, state government works let’s give them a round of applause,” Medina said. “Now the five of us are up here deciding on something that’s going to affect the growers and also the residents. Once again, I repeat myself many times, we do listen to these residents and we do care.”


Other related BenitoLink articles:

County Planning Commission adjusts hemp ordinance setbacks

Supervisors put temporary moratorium on hemp cultivation

Q and A: Peter Hernandez on hemp

Supervisors split on hemp moratorium


Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School graduate with a bachelor’s in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts...