The heated debate for the future of cannabis cultivation and related commercial activities in Calaveras County boiled over Wednesday in San Andreas, when the five-member elected Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to ban.
One pro-regulation grower shouted obscenities as District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli banged his gavel on the vote at 4:05 p.m.
“You’re ruining people’s lives!” another grower hollered as he walked out. Another pro-regulation supporter shouted, “You guys just shot yourself in the head!”
Then, at 4:40 p.m., the board directed staff to prepare paperwork for discussion of putting a ban and the original Planning Commission regulatory ordinance with a 20-acre minimum to voters in June.
Registrar of voters staff said the county will have until Feb. 20 to get it on June ballots, and County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld said it will require multiple Board of Supervisors meetings to meet the deadline.
Supervisors supporting the final vote to ban were Dennis Mills, District 4, Clyde Clapp, District 5, and Tofanelli, with Jack Garamendi, District 2, and Mike Oliveira, District 3, opposed. The board returned the same 3-2 vote to approve an environmental impact report prepared by the county Planning Department.
Asked by Garamendi to reconsider his vote on the ban, Tofanelli said “We are on opposite ends on acreage. I’ve compromised on a lot of things, I sat here and waited for motions. I compromised. I was a leader. Then I made motions. You all didn’t make any motions. But I’m not moving off 100 acres. I tried to compromise. I’m not moving on this.”
Earlier, multiple local growers said the current urgency ordinance allows for grows on a minimum of 2 to 3 acres, but a minimum size plot of 100 acres is far too restrictive.
Oliveira appealed to people in the audience before the board asked staff to prepare paperwork for putting the cannabis question to voters in June.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve sat here and listened to you and we’ve done you a great injustice,” Oliveira said. “We’ve still got your money. We talked about re-registration. Is that bait-and-switch? We didn’t give you an opportunity to vote on this. I want to propose an immediate moratorium from this moment until we can put this item on the June ballot with the ban and the regulation proposition. We can’t do this with five people. The only people who can fix this are you, the voters.”
Wednesday’s ban vote could put some county employees out of work, Valley Springs resident Ben Stopper said. He checked Wednesday evening with a county union representative, and he broke it down as an estimated dozen county jobs, as many as a half-dozen deputy and non-sworn law enforcement positions, as well as two administrative or county counsel positions.
“Now where are they going to get the money to keep these jobs?” Stopper said. “The county’s coffers have been hurting and now they’re hurting even more.”
Earlier in the day, a pro-ban supporter allegedly slapped a pro-regulation supporter during a break in yet another day-long cannabis hearing.
Snipes lead to a slap
Emotions boiled over before noon Wednesday as Tofanelli, appointed the new board chairman at a Tuesday meeting, began trying to exert control over sniping comments between pro-ban and pro-regulation people in the audience.
Resident George Fry, who supports regulating cannabis, told Tofanelli there were two people behind him making disruptive comments. Laurie White and David White, of Angels Camp, had both already spoken to the board in a public comment period.
“I’ve been so involved with Angels Camp and banning marijuana inside city limits I’ve neglected to keep up with you all,” Laurie White told the board. “I come to learn you guys are embracing marijuana.”
People need to understand that when Calaveras County underpays its deputies, they are putting the lives of law enforcement personnel and residents at risk, because cannabis brings crime, David White said when it was his turn to speak.
Hissing and sighs of dismissal
Anger and outrage have been obvious in people’s comments and facial expressions the past two years at cannabis meetings in Calaveras County.
People on both sides of the issue are livid: quality of life for longtime residents, already uprooted by the devastating 2015 Butte Fire, is threatened, while the livelihoods and property values of hundreds of registered growers and their families are at stake.
Hissing, sighs of dismissal and dirty looks have been evident at times in previous meetings. The previous board chairman, Oliveira used to use his gavel frequently to silence outbursts when they happened.
On this occasion Wednesday morning, Mike Falvey, a longtime former resident of Mountain Ranch who recently moved to Mokelumne Hill to escape unregistered growers, spoke briefly to Laurie White, advising her she was no longer in Angels Camp and she should keep extra comments to herself.
She responded that she was speaking out loud to herself, and if Falvey could hear it that was too bad.
A few minutes later, Clapp asked for a brief break. While some people went outside, others remained in the board meeting room. Witnesses said Falvey and Laurie White began speaking heatedly to each other, with both of them raising fingers to point in each others’ faces, when she allegedly slapped him in the face.
Cursing and shouting
Cursing and shouting followed for a few moments. Tofanelli raised his voice to order the public hearing suspended early for lunch. Oliveira and Clapp, as well as Garamendi and Mills, looked surprised and concerned.
Deputies separated Falvey and Laurie White and took them outside. Falvey initially wanted to press charges. He then declined to do so when Cpl. Tyson McMahon with the Sheriff’s Office explained this would require a citizen’s arrest and result in a citation for Laurie White.
Falvey said it was the second time in the past year he’d been assaulted by “a banster.” Laurie White said Falvey, who stands more than 6 feet tall, was “big” and “intimidating.”
Laurie White, who identifies herself as a former Calaveras County deputy, tearfully agreed that she would not return to the cannabis hearing when it resumed Wednesday afternoon, as stipulated by the Board of Supervisors.
Falvey, initially barred from returning, protested he’d done nothing wrong and was allowed to come back when the cannabis hearing resumed at 1 p.m.
Sheriff Rick DiBasilio came to stand in the back of the board meeting room for the start of the afternoon session. He was not in Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office uniform. Instead he wore a light brown blazer, an aqua-color shirt and jeans.
Grinding it out
Regardless of DiBasilio’s attire, people in the audience noted his presence, and they listened when Tofanelli said, “We need be to civil here. We will not tolerate any disparaging remarks here. You have the right to your opinion and you need to respect the opinions of others. I have the right to clear this room if that’s what we need to do so the county can conduct its business.”
Bill McManus with the Committee to Ban Commercial Cultivation in Calaveras County told the board he’s surprised how much the draft regulatory law has grown in recent weeks as the county’s top elected leaders try to hash out a law regulating or banning.
After public comment, the board picked over specific sections of marked-up versions of the draft regulatory law with county Planning Director Peter Maurer.
At 3 p.m., Tofanelli called DiBasilio on his cell phone to ask for clarity about his position on whether to require or prohibit the growing of cannabis plants in portable pots.
Garamendi later voiced his opinion that 100-acre plots were too limiting.
“There’s already a moratorium in place,” Garamendi said. “We are not issuing any new permits.”
The Board of Supervisors went to closed session multiple times Wednesday afternoon with no clear result on the county’s most divisive issue in view. The discussions had to do with potential pending litigation, and there was no reportable action on any of the closed sessions.
The county’s top elected leaders last voted 3-2 on Dec. 21 to have county staff bring back both a draft regulatory law and a draft ban law. The current urgency ordinance governing pot farmers right now in Calaveras County is set to expire Feb. 14.