Forum on Marijuana Cultivation
Supervisor-elect Ryan Coonerty
Sheriff-elect Jim Hart
Principal Planner Ken Hart
Valerie Corral, Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana
Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade
|Pot: Mountain High or
The growing acceptance of marijuana use, especially as medicine, has led to a proliferation of pot farms in the rural areas of the County. In the last year the Board of Supervisors has written and rewritten local laws in a struggle to balance conflicting State and federal regulations, ensure that licensed patients have access to cannabis, and thwart criminals and environmental degradation.
There are now 23 states that permit the sale and use of medical marijuana. In 2, Washington and Colorado, all adult use and possession of small amounts of pot is permitted. Three more states will vote on legalizing medical marijuana in the upcoming election. Each year, polls show that more people favor legalization, dragging so-called leaders along. It’s a safe bet that it won’t be too many more years before medical use, at least, is decriminalized nationwide.
California law (Health & Safety code sections 11362.77-11362.83) set a state threshold of 6 mature or 12 immature plants per patient, but allows local authorities to pass higher allowances. Recent court decisions have allowed local jurisdictions to ban cultivation and dispensaries if they choose.
It is no surprise that Santa Cruz County has been ahead of the curve on this issue. Measure A, passed in 1992, and now enshrined in County Code as Chapter 7.122, “The Santa Cruz County Medical Marijuana Ordinance,” directs elected County officials “to take whatever actions may be within their power to support the availability of cannabis/marijuana for medical use.”
Under County law a “qualified patient, or a person holding a valid identification card, or the designated primary caregiver of that qualified patient or person may cultivate cannabis in an amount not to exceed more than 100 square feet of total garden canopy, as measured by the combined vegetative growth area.”
County Code Chapter 7.126 regulates marijuana cultivation. It addresses various issues like location, zoning, environmental protection, power and water use, lighting, fencing and advertising. It prohibits cultivators from growing more than 99 plants and from distributing their product other than to lawful dispensaries under the jurisdiction of Santa Cruz County.
The paradoxical wording of the County Code reflects the awkward position the Board of Supervisors is in because of the conflicts among State, federal and local regulations and sentiment. As a result, as written, the code both allows and prohibits pot sale and cultivation, and both authorizes and restrains enforcement. For example:
“Whenever the Enforcing Officer determines that a public nuisance as defined in this Chapter exists at any location within the unincorporated area of Santa Cruz County, he or she is authorized to issue a Notice of Violation pursuant to County Code section 1.12.070, except that the violator shall be provided with notice of the opportunity to remedy the violation within seven (7) calendar days without civil penalties.” (Chapter 7.126.070(B).)And:
“Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as imposing on the Enforcing Officer or the County of Santa Cruz any duty to issue a notice of violation, nor to abate any unlawful marijuana business activity or cultivation, nor to take any other action with regard to any unlawful marijuana business activity or cultivation, and neither the enforcing officer nor the County shall be held liable for failure to issue an order to abate any unlawful marijuana business activity or cultivation, nor for failure to abate any unlawful marijuana business activity or cultivation, nor for failure to take any other action with regard to any unlawful marijuana business activity or cultivation.” Chapter 7.126.080On Sept. 16 the Board of Supervisors reviewed regulations once again, and heard from officials and the public about the problems and dangers of cannabis cultivation, ranging from neighbors annoyed by aromas and generator noise and intimidating guards to depleted water sources, fire danger and environmental damage. Testimony came from County Planner Robin Bolster-Grant, who heads the seriously understaffed Code Compliance unit, which is tasked with enforcement. Also testifying was CalFire Division Chief Rich Sampson. The National Marine Fisheries Service, stated by letter that pot farmers in the Santa Cruz Mountains have been diverting streams and could further threaten habitat for endangered steelhead and coho salmon.
Bolster-Grant said that more than 84 marijuana cultivation operations have been identified by County staff and that there are almost certainly many more. Of these, 17 sites are being actively investigated because of problems with illegal grading and dams and other stream diversions, growers camping out and other violations.
At that meeting the Supervisors updated the regulations for medical marijuana, changing the word “marijuana” to “cannabis”, supposedly to cover all forms that the drug is sold in, from flower buds and oils to soda and candy.
The Supervisors have placed a measure on our local Nov. 4 election ballot to tax cannabis dispensaries up to 10% of their revenues (the initial rate will be 7%), ostensibly to finance oversight and regulation of pot sales and cultivation. However, the proposal, Measure K, would funnel the tax take into the County's General Fund; the Supervisors would legally be able to use all or part of this money for any County expenses.
This edition of The Highlander is being written shortly before the election, so the outcome of the vote may or may not be known when you read this. While we would prefer that the tax revenue collected be specifically earmarked for regulation of cannabis cultivation and sales, we still support the measure because illegal grows have become a burgeoning problem in Bonny Doon, and even legal grows are causing neighborhood conflict and fear of criminal activity. And it is often hard to tell the difference between legitimate and illegal cultivation. We hope that, if Measure K passes, the tax revenue will actually be used to alleviate some of the legitimate concerns caused by cultivation.
At our Nov. 12 RBDA meeting there will be a forum on pot cultivation, with our Sheriff-elect Jim Hart, Supervisor-elect Ryan Coonerty and Principal Planner Ken Hart, who supervises the Planning Department’s Code Compliance function and has also been involved with drafting the medical cannabis dispensary and cultivation regulations and related enforcement activities.
Representing the cultivators and dispensaries will be Valerie Corral, a Santa Cruz resident who founded the first medical marijuana dispensary, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), which continues in operation despite federal persecution in its early days. They will discuss the State and County rules for legal cultivation and methods of enforcement, and the rights of pot farmers. And of course, they will field your questions and listen to your concerns.
Castle House Event Venue Permit Appealed
Homeowners upset at the prospect of a commercial event center in the middle of their residential neighborhood have appealed the County Zoning Administrator’s Sept. 5 approval of a permit for the Castle House owners, the Sabankayas, to rent out their home at 4286 Bonny Doon Road for weddings and similar celebrations.
The appeal will be heard before the Planning Commission. It is scheduled for Dec. 10, although that is subject to change.
The RBDA Board has strong objections to a commercial operation in a residential area. We believe that it would set the precedent of allowing a commercial development in a Rural Residential zone, making it much more difficult to resist such developments in the future. There are many beautiful properties in Bonny Doon whose owners may find it tempting to offer their own homes for similar receptions and celebrations if this permit is finally granted.
Zoning laws are written to protect certain areas from development and commerce and to promote others where support services and infrastructure are available. If you buy or build a home in an area designated “Residential” you have a right to expect that it will remain that way barring any overwhelming public benefit that could result from a zoning change. The purchase of a house and land is a significant investment, often the biggest and most expensive a person makes.
Allowing a single landowner to benefit at the expense of his/her neighbors hardly strikes us as an overwhelming public benefit. There are many areas of the county where a commercial enterprise like an event venue can be sited without impacting neighbors and their peace and privacy.
County Code allows for Home Occupations in Residential zones. Section 13.10.613 says:
The purposes of regulations for home occupations are:The Sabankayas are planning to host the weddings outdoors, which means the noise will be easily heard over a large portion of the neighborhood. While they have done a noise study at the request of the Planning staff and agreed to limit the amount of noise, that doesn’t take into account how sound travels in Bonny Doon, where there (thankfully) is not much ambient noise, especially when there is little wind. In such circumstances even normal conversational speech between 2 persons can carry for long distances. The sounds of even 20 or so of the 50 permitted wedding guests talking at once, over the sound of even unamplified music and clinking glasses, can carry for hundreds of yards and be clearly heard by neighbors trying to enjoy a quiet evening. Clearly, that doesn’t live up to the Code requirement that “All noise shall be contained within the boundaries of the site.”
While the Sabankayas have scaled back their original application to only 4 events per year with up to 50 guests, ending at 7 p.m., down from as many as 12 weddings a year with up to 100 guests, and lasting as late as 10 p.m., we still think that this proposal is inappropriate for its location and should be rejected.
Included in the Sept. 5 decision was approval of up to 10 luncheons annually for up to 10 people at each between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m. in conjunction with classes in flower arranging, which Teresa Sabankaya says is her principal occupation. While even that exceeds the Home Occupations code for residential zones, which restricts “lessons” to one person at a time, we recognize that there are several homes in Bonny Doon where artists and trainers of various kinds host classes and workshops attended by several people. However, rarely have those events aroused the ire of neighbors, and the luncheons are not opposed by all or most of the neighbors or the RBDA.
We feel that this is a “watershed” issue for Bonny Doon. For nearly 60 years Bonny Dooners organized under the banner of the RBDA have actively worked to preserve the Dooniverse as a bastion of natural beauty and tranquility, where neighbors respect and support each other. Of course we don’t all think alike and there are sometimes conflicts, but basically we believe that most Dooners share those values. Commercial development like the Castle House just doesn’t fit into that picture.
At the September RBDA meeting more than 30 people signed a petition opposing the permit. If you want to circulate a petition, email email@example.com to obtain a copy.
Alternatively, you can sign individually by clicking here to print out the form below and mailing it to Randall Adams, Santa Cruz County Planning Dept., 701 Ocean St., Santa Cruz CA 95060, or go to surveymonkey.com/s/CastleHousePetition
Say NO to the Castle House Event Center!I am opposed to granting a permit for the Castle House, at 4286 Bonny Doon Road, parcel number 063-082-13, to be used as a commercial venue for weddings or other receptions. This kind of commercial establishment doesn’t belong in the middle of a residentially zoned neighborhood. Neighbors trying to enjoy their own properties shouldn’t be subjected to noise, traffic and intrusions by partiers. Allowing this commercial use reduces the value of neighbors’ properties, and sets a precedent for allowing commercial event centers in Bonny Doon’s quiet neighborhoods.
Concern Over Proposed San Vicente Redwoods Parking
The plan to open to the public the 8,500 acres of the mostly undeveloped San Vicente Redwoods is raising concern among Bonny Dooners, and will have its greatest impact on those who live close to its Empire Grade boundary.
The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County is developing the plan, which will be published for public review next year. The first area to be developed with some short trails and modest visitor facilities will be off Empire Grade, near the north end of the property. The Land Trust proposes building a primary parking lot for at least 30 cars, near to but screened by vegetation from the road. This lot may be subsequently expanded and a second lot may also be built, approximately a mile south of the primary lot. The plan document can be viewed at landtrustsantacruz.org.
The Land Trust says that it may build up to 70 spaces in the primary lot and up to 50 spaces in the secondary lot. By way of comparison, the New Leaf Market on Santa Cruz’s west side has approximately 80 spaces in its parking lot.
Their goal, the Land Trust says, is to provide enough spaces to avoid negative impacts such as illegal parking on Empire Grade and in nearby neighborhoods. However, there is concern that the proposal for a 30-space lot, possibly to be more than doubled in the future, and another lot nearly as large, would be a Trojan Horse, as there would be essentially no limits. It is obviously true that the bigger the lots, the smaller the likelihood of illegal parking. But parking lots big enough for 50, 70, or 120 cars (or more) would almost certainly invite an ever-increasing amount of traffic, with the inescapable consequences of noise, carbon emissions, litter and fire danger. People coming from Scotts Valley, or the San Lorenzo or Santa Clara valleys, some of them pulling horse trailers, will likely be using the 3 roads up to Empire, Felton-Empire, Alba and Jameson Creek, all of which are curvy, steep and narrow.
Board Nominations at November Meeting
The November RBDA meeting is the time when nominees for the 2015 RBDA Executive Board elections must be made. This year there are 4 seats up for election, but it is a bit complicated due to a couple of resignations during the past year.
Here’s how it goes:
The terms of Board Chair Tom Hearn and Marty Demare are expiring. So are the terms of Meggin Harmon, who resigned earlier this year, and Jacob Pollock, who had to leave the board when he moved out of Bonny Doon.
RBDA Bylaws allow the Board to appoint someone to fill any vacant seat until the next Annual Meeting, which takes place on January 14. The Board filled Meggin’s seat this summer by appointing Betsy Firebaugh. Joe Christy also resigned after finding that his invaluable work in running the Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council was consuming more and more of his time. His term won’t expire until January 2016. The Board in February appointed Jeff Alford to fill Joe’s seat; that appointment will have to be ratified by the membership in January.
Tom, Marty and Betsy have indicated they want to remain on the Board.
As per the Bylaws, the Board selected one of its officers, Ted Benhari, to serve on the Nominating Committee. RBDA members Marcia Lipsenthal and Pat Morrison fill out the committee. If you are interested in running for the Board, please contact any of the committee members through the RBDA email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. To run for the Board you must have been an RBDA member as of Oct. 12, one month before the November General Meeting.
Under the Bylaws, RBDA members may vote by absentee ballot. To obtain one, you must send a signed request to Membership Coordinator Lad Wallace, Rural Bonny Doon Association, P.O. Box 551, Felton, CA 95018, stating the member’s name and address, and accompanied by a self-addressed stamped legal-sized envelope. The request is due by Dec. 15 and the ballot must be received by the Membership Coordinator at least by the day of the January 14 Annual Meeting.
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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?
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Please email us with your ideas and comments at email@example.com.
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