July/August 2016 issue

No July Meeting,
there is a Highlander!
Enjoy a happy and safe summer!

Next meeting will be on
Wednesday, September 14, 2016, 7:30 p.m.

Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room,
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade

Update on Proposed Commercial Medical Marijuana Regulations

The County Board of Supervisors and staff continue to develop local rules for commercial medical cannabis production. Meanwhile, an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use in California has qualified for the November ballot.

On May 10 the Supervisors directed staff to develop regulations, and on June 14 they reviewed those preliminary recommendations and gave staff additional specific guidance. The proposed regulations are posted on the County web site, at  http://santacruzcountyca.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_LegiFile.aspx?ID=2212 Click on “Agenda Packet” for the June 14, 2016 meeting.

The RBDA Board has been tracking this issue closely and has been concerned that commercial cannabis production has the potential to profoundly impact Bonny Doon and Santa Cruz County. We are pleased that the Supervisors rejected many of the pro-industry recommendations proposed by the Cannabis Choices Cultivation Committee (C4) appointed by the Supervisors to advise them. The most recent proposals offer greater restrictions on where cannabis can be grown commercially and reduce the density of cultivation area as a percentage of lot size.

Some provisions of the proposed regulations are:

No commercial cultivation within 600 feet of schools or parks. Staff also recommended setbacks of 600 feet from perennial streams and neighboring habitable structures, but these setbacks were reduced to 100 and 200 feet by a vote of the Supervisors at the June 14 meeting.

Geographic restrictions

With the exception of properties zoned Commercial Agricultural (CA) and Agricultural (A), no license may be issued to cultivate commercial cannabis in the Coastal Zone plus one mile. In Supervisorial District 2 (Aptos, La Selva Beach, Rio Del Mar), commercial cannabis can only be grown indoors, and only on parcels larger than 5 acres.

Neighborhood Issues

Commercial cannabis cultivation is not allowed in neighborhoods zoned residential, but is allowed on RA properties larger than 5 acres that meet the geographic conditions listed above. Cannabis shall not be grown commercially within residences and shall not be visible from any public right-of-way. Renters need written consent of the property owner to grow commercially. Generators can only be used for emergency back-up power. Cannabis cultivation sites require appropriate water storage or access to water for firefighting purposes, as well as appropriate emergency road access for firefighting purposes. The proposed regulations require that “impacts on sensitive species and habitat are minimized.”


The proposed regulations include section “7.128.150. No duty to enforce”, which states “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as imposing on the Licensing Official or the County of Santa Cruz any duty to issue a Notice of Violation, nor to abate any unlawful cannabis business activity or cultivation, nor to take any other action with regard to any unlawful cannabis business”. County Counsel says this has become standard language to limit County liability if sued, but we are concerned that it could lead to lax enforcement.

Other Issues

Environmental review will be required before the new regulations can be implemented. Growers are required to comply with all applicable requirements of County, State, and Federal laws and regulations, including environmental and water regulations related to storm water management and fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, and rodenticide storage and use at the cultivation site, and growers must have an adequate security plan approved by the Licensing Official, which is intended to protect crops from unauthorized diversion to the black market. A cultivation license can be revoked for possession, storage, or use of any firearm on the parcel where cultivation takes place, or for failing to contain contaminated runoff.

RBDA Recommendations

The RBDA Board has been actively advocating for regulations that protect neighborhoods and the environment in Bonny Doon and throughout the County. The detailed recommendations we provided to the Board of Supervisors and C4 are posted here on the RBDA web site. Unlike the recommendations proposed by C4, the new regulations developed by County staff address many of the concerns we raised, such as restricting commercial production in the Coastal Zone. The RBDA Board is concerned that the proposed regulations fall short in the following aspects:


The number of known cultivation sites in Santa Cruz County almost doubled from 2014 to 2015, demonstrating that the County has been unable to enforce existing cannabis regulations. Legalization of commercial cultivation will likely lead to more cultivation sites, with increasing demands on code compliance staff; increasing demands for agricultural inspectors for water use, pesticides, and runoff; and increasing demands on law enforcement. Recent meetings with Sheriff Jim Hart have encouraged the growers to register when that process begins this fall; the Sheriff indicated that would establish a baseline of legitimate medical growers so that when someone calls to express concern about a grow, his office will know if it is legitimate (registered) or not. Investigation of complaints from that point will aim at verifying whether a registered commercial grow is operating within the established guidelines. Sheriff Hart stressed that in the meantime, the existing 99-plant rule will be enforced, and deputies will remove any plants above that number.

The Planning staff recommended that new taxes should be presented to the voters, and that they should: “Not be set at a rate that would result in tax evasion and black market cannabis sales.” This seems backward. Bonny Doon residents have expressed emphatic support for rigorous enforcement of new and existing laws for commercial cannabis cultivation. The County should conduct a detailed economic analysis (with input from code compliance and law enforcement authorities) to determine in advance how much it will cost to protect neighborhoods and the environment from violators. New license fees and taxes should be calculated to provide adequate funds for all enforcement.

Allowing legal cultivation should be coupled with shutting down illegal operations. Licensing of cultivation should not begin until funds and staffing for rigorous enforcement are in place. If funding requires voter approval for taxes and/or fees, commercial cannabis licensing should be contingent on that approval. Without a guarantee of rigorous enforcement supported by adequate funding and staffing, the County regulations would seem to conflict with section 19303 of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act:

            “19303. Protection of the public shall be the highest priority for the bureau in
             exercising its licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary functions under this
             chapter. Whenever the protection of the public is inconsistent with other
             interests sought to be promoted, the protection of the public shall be paramount.”

We believe that failure to provide rigorous enforcement violates Section 19303 regardless of what the County regulation states regarding “No duty to enforce”. Commercial cultivation on RA properties

Residentially zoned properties should be primarily for dwellings; we don’t want to see a situation where people are buying RA parcels primarily to grow pot as a business.

Environmental review

The new regulations require that “impacts on sensitive species and habitat be minimized.” We believe that one way to accomplish this is to exclude commercial cultivation from areas mapped as priorities for conservation by The Nature Conservancy and Sempervirens Fund.

What Dooners Can Do

▢ Read the proposed regulations.

▢ Contact your supervisor's office and ask for what you want and/or what the RBDA Board recommends: rigorous enforcement; exclusion of production of all cannabis or commercial quantities of cannabis on RA parcels; exclusion of regions with high environmental value from commercial cannabis production.


Recreational Pot Use on State Ballot

In November California voters will once again decide whether to end the ban on adult recreational cannabis consumption. The Marijuana Legalization Initiative Statute was backed by former Facebook president and Napster founder Sean Parker and billionaire George Soros, and is supported by everyone from the state Democratic Party and NAACP to the California Medical Association.

If passed, the initiative will raise an estimated billion dollars through a 15% sales tax and a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves, except for qualifying medical marijuana sales and cultivation. State agencies will handle licensing and regulating, but it allows local regulation and taxation. Corporate or large-scale marijuana businesses will have to wait for five years to apply for licenses to deter the “unreasonable restraints on competition by creation or maintenance of unlawful monopoly power.” The initiative also addresses the rights of employers, driving under the influence, and allowed marijuana business locations, and sets up packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products, prohibits marketing and advertising marijuana to minors, and authorizes re-sentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions.

The State estimates that the initiative will save State and local governments about $100 million annually in enforcement, court, and incarceration costs, and bring in State and local tax revenues of perhaps as much as $1 billion annually. Most of this money would be required to be spent for specific purposes such as substance use disorder education, prevention, and treatment.


Sempervirens Fund Steps Up Its
Misleading National Monument Campaign

There are only a few months left in Obama’s presidency, and he still hasn’t proclaimed Coast Dairies a national monument. Lack of action must be making Sempervirens Fund anxious, because it is now running a big advertising campaign urging locals to write the President.

Like so much of the campaign Sempervirens has waged in this misguided effort, the recent ads have continued to mislead the public about the benefits of monument designation. While in nearly all cases national monument status is used to protect an environmentally significant property threatened by development, in this case Sempervirens is pushing, for reasons of its own (garnering more donations, perhaps?), to change the status of a property already completely protected from development and mineral extraction by deed restrictions and a Coastal Development permit.

It saddens us to see an organization that has done so many important things over the past 100 years, beginning with saving the magnificent trees of Big Basin, behaving in an ethically questionable way. From the campaign‘s start, when Sempervirens claimed monument status was needed to save a redwood forest (the property has few redwoods, none of them “old growth), it has fudged the truth in order to gain support. Even now it greatly overstates local support (which is based largely on Sempervirens own misrepresentations and manipulative polling).

Since monument status will bring very little in guaranteed additional funding (only about $70,000 a year) but is certain to result in greatly increased visitorship (100,000 to 400,000 a year), we think that converting these protected federal lands to a national monument will have much greater negative impact on the animals and plants that live there, on local traffic and on Davenport, which a poll showed is heavily against monument designation.

We urge you to write to President Obama and ask him not to declare Coast Dairies a national monument. It is highly protected as it is, will soon open for visitation in any case, and doesn’t need the worldwide publicity such status inevitably generates.

But if he does proclaim Coast Dairies a national monument, tell him the Proclamation must contain the specific conditions required by the Board of Supervisors to reduce impacts on local rescue, fire and police services.


Land Use Regulations

Words Must Mean What They Say

Discretion may be, in Shakespeare’s Falstaff words (Henry IV, Part 1), “the better part of valor.” But when it comes to whether to issue a building or use permit, discretion is certainly not better than words with plain meanings.

That admonishment to the County by Judge Paul Burdick in the Castle House ruling in February was a victory for everyone seeking to understand what is, and what is not, allowed under the County’s zoning and land use regulations. (In June the Board of Supervisors, without comment, rescinded the permit for the residents of the Castle House, on Bonny Doon Road, to rent it out for weddings.)

The County Planning Dept. had issued the permit after making a “discretionary” decision that the planned wedding events were a logical extension of an allowed home occupation (flower arranging). That decision led to many thousands of dollars spent by the County, the Castle House applicants and their opponents through government and court hearings over a couple of years.

Decisions based on “discretion,” rather than the actual wording of statutes, leads to these kinds of unnecessary and expensive battles. And, alarmingly, the Planning Dept. wants to be granted even more “discretion” to issue permits!

The Board of Supervisors has recognized that the current permit application process is inefficient, time consuming, expensive and harmful to the overall economic development of our County. We agree. The Board also strives to provide us with better government at reduced costs while still protecting our quality of life and the environment. But the Planning Dept.’s solutions are: “Give us more discretion”; “Relax current zoning restrictions so we can approve more applications”; and “Get rid of public notification requirements to streamline the process.”

This misguided solution will exacerbate the problems the Board has identified and will move us further away from the Board’s goals of better government, reduced cost, and protecting our quality of life.

More discretion means more uncertainty, and ends up with controversy and more reviews as well as more cost. It increases the possibility that good projects are rejected and bad ones approved based on the whim of the assigned planner. Discretion can never be completely removed; however the Planning Dept. should strive to minimize its use, and allow for lots of public notice and oversight.

A better solution is to make more of the zoning codes and regulations easy to understand and as black and white as possible. This eliminates the need for discretion. It makes it faster and easier for average citizens to “know before they go” to the Planning Dept. without the need to hire land use consultants and attorneys. It would make it possible for the County to create web-based apps that would allow people to get permits over the web. Good documentation is key to reducing time, cost and project risk.

Relaxing regulations goes against protecting our quality of life.

Finally, and most importantly, the problems identified by the Board of Supervisors can only be solved by having the Planning Dept. planners and its Code Enforcement division work more closely together. That will also free up Planning Dept. staff to work on more important problems like water, housing and traffic.


Drive Extra Cautiously July 30

Our roads will be busy Saturday, July 30, as Bonny Doon is crisscrossed by bicyclists meeting the annual Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge. Most riders are expected to be here between about 10 am and 7 pm. In addition, art lovers will be visiting local studios participating in the Doonart Tour. (That event also takes place the next day, Sunday, July 31.) Let’s be extra alert so everyone stays safe.

Santa Cruz Biotechnology Loses License, Fined

Another ugly chapter for Santa Cruz Biotechnology, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of human antibodies for research ended last month when the US Dept. of Agriculture forced it to give up its animal dealer license, close its research lab, and pay a $3.5 million penalty (a record!) for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The company, owned by John and Brenda Stephenson, was cited for mistreating goats and other animals from which it induced and cultivated human antibodies used in cancer and other diseases research. The huge goat herd was originally kept at the company’s 200-acre property on Back Ranch Road. In 2000 the Coastal Commission forced it to remove the goats because it allowed fecal matter to drain into the Coast Road neighborhood. The Stephensons still own that property.

In 2000, the herd was moved to a remote location in San Luis Obispo County. Numerous complaints about animal mistreatment and neglect from former employees surfaced and were investigated by the USDA. Santa Cruz Biotech is now headquartered in Dallas and has closed its Santa Cruz lab on the west side, leaving over 100 employees jobless. Hopefully they will also change the company name.


3-Day Party Drives Dooners Raving Mad

The sound track for hundreds of partiers on private property adjacent to the Gray Whale portion of Wilder Ranch State Park was anything but music to the ears of Bonny Dooners June 10-12. Numerous complaints from Dooners kept awake through the night were posted on the Slice Facebook page.

The party, it turns out, was a commercial “Rave” staged by a local Santa Cruzan with the acquiescence of the property owner. Ticket holders entered the property via the Woodcutters Trail gate on Smith Grade.

Dooners complaining to State Parks were frustrated when they were told that the event was on private property, not parkland, and the Sheriff’s office said the event was on parkland and not in their jurisdiction.

Such an event requires a commercial permit, which would entail various safety and sanitation requirements and must quiet down by 10 p.m. to conform with the County Noise Ordinance. In followup communications, Supervisor Ryan Coonerty’s aide Rachel Dann said the event is being investigated by the Planning Dept.’s Code Compliance division, the Sheriff and CalFire, and that it is likely that a Red Tag will be issued which will put the property owner on notice that severe sanctions and fines will ensue if he allows another such event on his property.


RBDA Board Needs Two More Volunteers

The demands of a job that requires extensive foreign travel forced Recording Secretary Betsy Firebaugh to resign recently. This is a big loss for the Board, because she was full of ideas and enthusiasm. It also means that we now have two openings on the Board. Our biggest need is for someone with writing and editorial skills to serve as Highlander Editor.

The RBDA has served for almost 60 years to keep Bonny Doon from development that would significantly impact our neighborhoods, environment and rural lifestyle, as well as working on general community issues like road maintenance, law enforcement, fire safety and mail and communication services. Our newsletter, The Highlander, is the only publication that focuses solely and in-depth on issues important to Dooners.

Contact us by email at board@rbda.us to learn about serving on the Board. The RBDA has been central to preserving the environment and rural nature of Bonny Doon for almost 60 years, and we need a full Board to continue to do our best work.


Are you an RBDA Member? Join the conversation, get news updates on the Facebook page exclusively for RBDA members: RBDA, Rural Bonny Doon Association

Support the RBDA - Renew Your Membership: all 1-year memberships expire on January 31st.

Your continued support enables the RBDA Board to work on issues critical to Bonny Doon, to hold meetings to educate and get feedback regarding those issues, and to publish The Highlander newsletter.

Some people may not understand that receiving The Highlander in the mail doesn’t mean you are a current RBDA member. To reach the whole community we mail The Highlander to all mailboxes in Bonny Doon.

So unless you joined for multiple years, all 1-year RBDA memberships will expire on Jan. 31, 2016. To continue to support the RBDA, we need you to renew now for the 2016 year. Details are here.

Dues and donations go mainly to printing and mailing The Highlander, and rent and insurance for the public meetings at the school.

Ideas for RBDA Meeting Topics

We are always open to suggestions for interesting programs and speakers at our bimonthly (except July) RBDA public meetings.

What are you interested in? Local flora and fauna, gardening, environmental and political issues, Bonny Doon history or geology, public safety?

What were some of your favorite speakers or presentations at past RBDA meetings?
Were there any that you would like us to repeat?

Please email us with your ideas and comments at board@rbda.us.


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The Highlander
The Rural Bonny Doon Association Newsletter
Box 551 • Felton, CA 95018

Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, 
The Highlander is mailed free to Bonny Doon residents prior to the 
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The Bonny Doon Planning District
Bonny Doon Planning
                    District map

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Coast Dairies, photo by Ted Benhari 

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