Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

Residents of El Rancho Loma Serena Homeowners Association said they believe Calaveras County may be having a difficult time enforcing provisions of an urgency ordinance on marijuana cultivation that was ratified in May.

Nestled in the Butte Fire disaster zone where many properties were sold for cannabis cultivation, the development of 148 lots lost 22 houses from the fire last year.

Peter Baldridge, president of the homeowners association, said Tuesday 11 growers purchased property and began operating within the residential district.

At least three are cultivating without a permit within the area, he said. One told members of the homeowner’s association that an application with Calaveras County had not been done before the June deadline because the lines to do so “were too long.”

Baldridge was one of three residents from El Rancho Loma Serena Homeowners Association that spoke out against cultivation Tuesday morning before the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors during public comment.

Anecdotes ranged from improper septic drainage methods to aggressive animals that have attacked two pets to how cultivators have been fined $1,000 a day by the association since August for violating district rules.

County officials said Tuesday afternoon they had no jurisdiction to enforce the fine.

Once public comment had concluded, the message was made clear to the three or so cultivating without permission: enforcement at the local level was lacking. It was not known whether those in violation of county ordinance had been cited at any point, but it was undoubtedly clear abatement was out of the question.

Baldridge said he had spoken to county officials about his concerns in the past. The response was “these things take time.”

Calaveras County Planning Director Peter Maurer expressed the same sentiment when asked how long it might take to abate the sites within the residential district allegedly out of compliance.

“I wish the process was quicker,” Maurer said. “But these things take time.”

Changes coming

Ethan Turner, a deputy county counsel with Calaveras County, said three cannabis abatement operations took place during the summer season. Maurer did not know exactly how many sites were out of compliance but Turner said several have been cited.

Turner said eradication numbers are set to increase dramatically before too long. Calaveras County Code Compliance, the department called to inspect a site for violations, has doubled its size from three enforcement officers to six using money generated by cultivation application fees.

The extra three will focus completely on marijuana activities. It will take the burden off the rest of the department, which saw its workload increase significantly once cannabis was regulated throughout the county.

The abatement process for unpermitted grows is a seemingly long and drawn out process as Turner explained Tuesday afternoon. He said code compliance officers learn about a violation from a neighbor. They then check the property via an online database to determine whether it is permitted.

If out of compliance, a site inspection will take place. The examination requires coordination from outside agencies. Turner said the officer requires escort form a deputy of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office prior to site examination. The collaboration may take some time, he said.

“The building department does not let code enforcement go. So the Sheriff has to allow a deputy to go along with code enforcement to do the inspection,” Turner said.

If the inspection confirms illegal activity, Turner said an abatement order will be filed. The subject then has 10 days to let up or be subject to a fine of $1,000 per day. At that point, an abatement order would be written up for approval by county supervisors. Turner said the item is generally placed on the consent agenda for approval during the following meeting.