BoS Meeting Recap 06-02-2021

On Wednesday June 2, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors met to discuss and vote on the proposed Commercial Cannabis Activities Ordinance (CCAO).

Item 3a – CCAO

In order to enact the ordinance in time for the local CEQA jurisdiction exemption, the Board passed an ordinance that was not in line with the Planning Commission recommendations to limit cultivation to 10% or 2 acres, whichever is less. The latter part of the sentence (or 2 acres, whichever is less) was removed from the ordinance, keeping the 10% allowance. Item 3a was adopted on a 4 – 1 vote with Supervisor Haschak dissenting.

However, because of overwhelming comments from the public, in a separate action, the Board directed staff to come back to the Board with suggested amendments to the CCAO later this summer, or as soon as possible, where the Board would consider a phased-in approach to expansion – possibly starting with a 2-acre cap. Such a phased-in approach could be directed by the Board to undergo an analysis of impact (whether the amendment would need an Initial Study or EIR if amendments were enacted) before going to the Planning Commission and then returning to the Board for possible enactment. 

The Board also voted to strike a protection for existing Phase 1 & 2 cultivators from being able to phase out their existing use of water from haulers in the CCAO even if the use is from a lawful source. This would result in those cultivators, regardless of the lawful use and source of water, not being able to utilize any water trucking as part of a new land use based discretionary permit. The Board did choose to align energy requirements with the existing state rules.

The Board decided to address other outstanding issues in the future as amendments to the ordinance, such as whether and what type of emergencies would allow any cultivator to temporarily use lawfully sourced water from a hauler on a temporary basis, and whether to impose more restrictions such as striking all Mixed Light activities except in Industrial zoning. It was very clear that but for the July 1st deadline, the Board would have more closely considered and evaluated changes that are now being punted to later amendments, creating uncertainty regarding the actual specifics of the new permitting requirements.

Recommendations that had been made, both by MCA and by the Planning Commission to further support Phase 1 and 2 operators in transitioning to this new ordinance, while seemingly supported in discussion and not opposed by Staff, were not included directly in the ordinance.  These items were a) explicit priority for incoming applications from existing operators transitioning to the new ordinance, b) language directing the creation of a mechanism to enable existing operators to continue their operations while in the application process, and c) language providing a streamlined application process from Phase 1/2 to the new ordinance. We will continue advocating for their inclusion.

Additional items of note:

The amended ordinance includes:
*Adding a definition to BP code, section 8000: “Agricultural Activity” means the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing and harvesting of any agricultural commodity (including cannabis), the raising of livestock our poultry, and any practices performed by a farmer or on a farm as incident to or in conjunction with those farming operations including preparation of the products for market”.

*Adding to the definition of prior crop history: “All cultivation sites in the Rangeland zoning district shall be located within the footprint of a site that has been previously tilled and can show evidence of agricultural activity at any time between the dates of Jan. 1, 200 and Jan 1, 2016”.

*Deleting – Lighting: Medium indoor and Medium Mixed light Cultivation sites shall use renewable energy sources for hearing, cooling and energy light loads. – will instead align with State energy regulations

Lighting shall (changed from ‘should’) not leave mixed light and indoor cultivation structures. Security lighting shall be shielded and down cast”.

Cultivation structures will be sited and designed to avoid or minimize visual impacts from roads (changed from ‘public rights of way’).

“The location and operation of the cannabis cultivation site will, to the maximum extent feasible, avoid or minimize its impact on environmentally sensitive areas including hillsides exceeding fifteen (15) percent, oak woodland, and timber resources”. – will come back to discuss what kinds of situations would allow for removal and mitigation of diseased or dangerous trees

*Adding: “The proposed cultivation site is located on a site that has been previously tilled and has evidence of agricultural activity at any time between the dates of January 1, 200, and January 1, 2016”.

*Appendix A changes: “Parcels in the AG or RL zoning district that have a minimum parcel size of ten (10) acres or larger may cultivate up to 10% of the parcel area with the issuance of a Major Use permit”. 

The BoS Directed staff to send the items that remain for consideration (expansion Cap, emergency definition for when water delivery would be permissible, additionally restricting mixed light, etc.) to the Planning Commission to study and recommend changes before sending back to the BoS

The Planning Commission will need at least 45 days to review and make recommendations and conduct environmental analysis based on what the Board proposes, and come back after that – a process of likely 3 months, as calendars are already booked through July, 2021.

The CCAO will come back to the BoS, who will vote on final adoption to Chapter 22.18 on June 22. The conversation regarding amendments mentioned will come back around August for discussion and possible action.

Item 4a – Tax Relief

The following motion was made: Mendocino Cannabis Program Manager work w/ Tax collector and PBS to identify opportunities to bring fairness and parity with other counties and shift the burden of cannabis cultivation taxation to larger farms should they materials, and come back with ideas to provide tax relief for the drought to encourage cultivators to reduce size during low water conditions.

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