The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office has identified a new front line in its continuing mission to stop illegal marijuana cultivation after busting eight inconspicuously located growing operations inside residences in the Valley Springs area since December.
Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio described the investigations into the illegal operations as a “new adventure” for the county based on the high level of newly discovered sites.
“I am not sure how big a dent we are making, however, I know our efforts are hitting them hard in their pocket book,” DiBasilio said.
From sites on Amos Lane, on Highway 26, on the 8400 block of Baldwin Street, on Greer Way, on the 6000 block of Hironymous Way, on Delin Way, and on the 10000 block of Milton Road since December, more than 7,900 marijuana plants, varying from small seedlings to mature plants, and an additional 83 pounds of processed marijuana have been seized and destroyed by the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office Marijuana Enforcement Team.
The greater Valley Springs area, which includes a spiderweb of mixed residential and commercial buildings off Highway 26 and bordering New Hogan Dam, also includes Rancho Calaveras, the Scenic Valley Ranchos, and a portion of Highway 12.
Interspersed with homes and properties along miles of rural backcountry neighborhoods and roads, the Valley Springs area has been fostered for illegal indoor marijuana grows because they are outside of the public eye.
“It may simply be the availability of residences in close proximity to each other that has led to the density of houses converted for growing,” said DiBasilio.
Inside the homes, most of the available space is converted for marijuana cultivation, leaving little room for actual habitation.
The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office identified the trend in late December, after two homes on Greer Way were busted for the illegal commercial-sized operations. The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office identified that many of the homes seemed to be running on timer systems and were not occupied full-time.
And after search warrants are issued at the sites, many are unoccupied by cultivators. But at three of the sites, suspects of Chinese or Asian descent have been found and arrested on cultivation charges.
DiBasilio declined to say if there was any connection between the different sites due to the ethnicity of the suspects and noted it was unknown if they were being transported into the county.
Xiu Huang, 57, a woman from Sacramento, was arrested on suspicion of keeping a place to sell a controlled substance and illegal marijuana cultivation, both felonies, on Jan. 11 on the 6000 block of Highway 26; Wenhai Yang, male, 52, and Xiugin Yang, female, 52, were both booked on suspicion of felonies keeping a place to sell a controlled substance and criminal conspiracy, and misdemeanor marijuana cultivation on Jan. 10 on the 8400 block of Baldwin Street; and Sian Huang, 28, was arrested and charged with maintaining a drug house, a felony, and misdemeanor illegal marijuana cultivation on Dec. 7 on the 10000 block of Milton Road.
Huang had listed his address as the Milton Road house, but had a New York identification card and spoke in broken English, a news release said.
According to 2016 United States Census estimates, Calaveras County has a population of 45,171 people, with 1.6 percent claiming Asian origin.
Additional motivators for property owners to avoid renting to potential growers are the environmental and occupational hazards imposed by a cultivation operation, DiBasilio said.
“Hazards can include moisture intrusion in the ceiling, walls and flooring materials which promotes widespread mold and fungus,” he said.
The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office previously identified the environmental issues posed by the operations, which included plumbing utilities damaged by heavy use and drainage system back-ups from flushed potting soil and plant debris.
Some homes had been contaminated by cockroaches and other infestations from the wet conditions, a press releases stated.
Construction modifications such as plastic sheeting stapled to walls and floors, holes cut into ceilings for the installation of ventilation systems, and electrical system alterations have also been identified as hazardous.
The continuing effort to identify and dismantle the indoor growing sites, DiBasilio said, would be possible only through the continued vigilance of the local community.
While some information about the sites came through deputy investigations, some also came through the Calaveras County Sheriff tip line. Renters the Valley Springs area could also be accountable for their own properties, he added, and they should include a “no marijuana clause” in rental agreements.