The five-member Board of Supervisors representing more than 40,000 residents of Calaveras County wrangled into Tuesday evening over details of a new draft law to regulate or ban cannabis cultivation and related commercial activities.
It was another marathon day, including a public hearing that lasted all day Tuesday, from before 9 a.m. to just past 6 p.m.
How the board will move forward on cannabis cultivation and commercial activities has been Calaveras County’s most divisive issue over the past two years and ever since the 2015 Butte Fire destroyed more than 500 homes and turned so many people’s lives upside down.
“We are going to take the time to go through this thing and to do it right,” District 3 Supervisor Michael Oliveira, the board chairman, said just before 5 p.m.
At 5:10 p.m., more than eight hours after the meeting began, board staff distributed copies of a draft ordinance put together by Planning Commission staff and a draft ordinance that includes stipulations put forth by District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli.
The divisiveness of the cannabis issue was evident in the audience of more than 100 who came to watch in person and in a separate room with video screens showing the hearing, and it was evident on the Board of Supervisors, who reflected their constituents varied views on this issue, from pro-ban to pro-regulation.
Earlier, District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills and District 5 Supervisor Clyde Clapp indicated they wanted to vote straightaway on adopting the option to ban cannabis cultivation and related commercial activities, but their motion was defeated 3-2 by Tofanelli, Oliveira, and District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi, who is in favor of regulating cannabis.
“I will not be voting for a ban today,” Tofanelli said. “You can call my recommendations Ban Lite, the Tofanelli Plan, or the Tofanelli Ban. But I am the one who compromised. I voted for a ban since January, until Oct. 24. I am the one who came forth with suggestions to regulate.”
Details of indoor cultivation and setback distances between marijuana grows and houses and property lines were front and center as supervisors continued discussion and deliberations.
Mills decided to join in debating specifics of setbacks with Planning Director Peter Maurer, and some sense of consensus on a setback distance of 75 feet began to emerge. But the panel of supervisors appeared to be hours away from making a final, conclusive decision on a law regulating or banning cultivation and related commercial activities.
“I don’t want any outdoor growing at all,” Clapp interjected at one point. “You guys got that?”
Tofanelli, Oliveira and Mills conferred with Maurer on whether to sunset the new law in five years. But Tofanelli added he was in favor of a cap on the number of grows.
“In order for this county to get a handle on this industry, I’m in favor of a cap on 50 grows,” Tofanelli said. “I’m afraid I have to stick with this right now. I heard what the sheriff said. I think there could be problems.”
Garamendi reminded Tofanelli any form of regulation would rely on a certain amount of tax revenue, and a cap of 50 registered, legal grows county wide would be cutting revenue margins thin. Tofanelli indicated he was open to any new proposals on the matter, that he’d be willing to listen to and discuss new approaches, but he would not budge from the 50-grow cap.
“One grow on a minimum of 50 acres and a maximum of 50 grows total,” Tofanelli said. “That works for now.”
Some pro-ban supporters and pro-regulation advocates left before 6 p.m. But most stayed and paid close attention to details and the board as the elected supervisors hashed them out. There were few empty seats in the chambers audience.
“You’d have to issue individual permits for each grow on each one of those sites,” Tofanelli. “If that’s the case, and it doesn’t exceed 22,000 square feet, can that be done? That’s what I’m getting at.”
Oliveira polled the board and staff at 6 p.m., and they decided to adjourn for the evening and return at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Oliveira apologized to county staff for the difficulties they’ve had to cope with over the past two years of indecision on the way forward with legalized cannabis and registered and illegal cannabis growers.
“This has been a very long, drawn-out process,” Oliveira told the audience and staff present in chambers. “Personally, I’ve been here through two different boards of supervisors. This issue has split this community into several different factions like no other I’ve seen before. I’m concerned what it’s done to our staff — planning, legal, code enforcement, environmental. We need to get back on an even keel.”
Oliveira said he wanted to publicly apologize on behalf of the elected board for feedback and criticism directed at some staff members, from board members and from the public. Oliveira later said he was referring to email communications, which he did not have immediate access to.
“We have disrespected our employees,” Oliveira said. “We’ve caused them great grief. I am concerned because they have done nothing but the best job they can, given what they’ve been asked to do. I’m upset they’ve been put through this. I publicly apologize to them.”