Elements of the new draft ordinance, subject to revision and approval by the Board of Supervisors, include:

Parcel size: 20 or more acres with permit or 10 to 19.99 acres with conditional use permit

Limited to: Applicants must have registered and not been denied by the county under the May 2016 urgency ordinance, and applicants must have received a temporary state license

Cultivation area: 1 acre for outdoor, 22,000 square feet for mixed light, 10,000 square feet for indoor

Buffer: 1,000 feet measured from the premises or 600 feet measured from the property line from schools, day care centers, youth centers and parks; 1,000 feet from scenic highways

Other license types: Dispensaries and self-distribution

Residence: None required

Camping / RV use: Not permitted except as allowed in code (14 days maximum a year)

Fencing: Security fencing 6 feet tall required

Generators: Emergency backup only; must meet noise standards

Background checks: New ordinance 9.22 establishing local background checks process for all permittees, owners and employees

Bonding: $7,500 required

Personal cultivation: No permit required

Five appointed Calaveras County planning commissioners wrapped up multiple days of scrutinizing and editing a new draft law to regulate commercial cannabis cultivation and sent it onto the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

The planning commission vote on Wednesday was 3-2 vote. In favor were Tim Laddish, District 2; Michelle Plotnik, District 3; and Brett Henderson, District 5. Opposed were Trent Fiorino, District 1; and Kelly Wooster, District 4.

The draft is intended to replace a temporary ban on commercial cannabis activities in this rural Central Sierra foothills county of 45,000 residents still recovering from the 2015 Butte Fire.
Commercial cannabis and whether to ban or legalize it has been Calaveras County’s most divisive issue since the 2015 Butte Fire burned up 110 square miles, destroyed 921 structures, including 549 homes, 368 outbuildings and four commercial properties, damaged 44 structures, and resulted in two civilian fatalities.

A brief debate started before noon Wednesday over how long people would be allowed to speak during a public comment period. Plotnik, the chair for the planning commission, said public comments should be limited to three minutes per person, and pro-ban supporter Susan Morris disagreed, saying it should be five minutes per person.

“It’s offensive to us,” Morris said. “We’ve had to listen to you. We are the people, same as you are. That’s really the bottom line issue.”

Trevor Wittke, a former registered grower and commercial cultivation advocate, spoke in favor of an addendum to an environmental impact report for the new draft law.

“Talking about acreage . . . the addendum seems appropriate given there are numerous provisions to reduce acreage and canopy size,” Wittke said. “It’s the most desirable mitigation because we can analyze how much impact cultivation will have on aquifers, fractured rock water basins. I think the addendum is sufficient.”

Pot tax revenue

A woman who identified herself as Ann Hill, a resident of District 2, the rural, forested heart of Calaveras County that burned in the Butte Fire, told planning commissioners “there are nine growers going to be above me, if these people are still going to be here. You can’t police what they bring in their box trucks. Nobody knows. They’re not paying taxes on it. How many animals are they going to kill? When the wells go dry, they go dry period, until they get a heavier snowpack. Nuisance value is pot is growing right now. And they are harvesting right now. People are not honest about it. These growers are not honest, period.”

Aurora Weatherby, a resident of District 5, said it appears some changes in the draft seem to favor growers, “not people like me, I’m in a rural setting, and I object to the odors, I can’t sit on my porch, when the wind blows it comes right up that canyon.” Weatherby questioned Laddish’s ability to rewrite rules Peter Maurer, the county planning director, and attorneys helped write. “I pay my property tax. My property tax pays your salaries. I need to be represented here.”

Neil McKeown, a former registered grower, asked how many illegal grows remain in Calaveras County right now. “Nearly 75 percent of approved farms are in District 2. Clearly there are only three votes that will make this go through. Wooster, thanks for being up front. Trent, I believe you are also going to oppose this no matter what.”

Bill McManus, a pro-ban leader in Calaveras County, told the planning commission they were proceeding with an ordinance with no findings. “And now Laddish wants a new finding that if the county makes enough money on cannabis taxes it’s all good. When you talk about pie in the sky and Measure C is going to to bring in all this revenue it’s a fairy tale.”

What’s next

Public comments ended at 11:20 a.m. and Wooster said he didn’t have any responses to the public comments. He said he wouldn’t have any specific changes for the addendum to the environmental impact report.

Fiorino said in response to McKeown that he, Fiorino, did state his position on the new draft ordinance, that he heard Wooster say earlier he is on the record opposing the new draft law, and Fiorino said, “I said I felt exactly the same way. I believe the public have raised a lot of concerns, a lot of concerns that I have. The addendum for the EIR is highly inappropriate.”

Laddish said he was glad the commission had public comments Wednesday because it’s good to air these things out.

More line-by-line editing of the new draft law followed, with Laddish focusing at one point on greenhouse gas mitigations and fossil fuel restrictions.

Wooster and Fiorino discussed the addendum to the environmental impact report before the commission voted. The meeting ended about 2:30 p.m.

Now the new draft law will go to the five elected county supervisors. A hearing is scheduled Oct. 1. The plan is for the board to discuss the regulatory ordinance, a related background check ordinance, and a fee program, Maurer, the planning director, said Wednesday after the planning commission completed their work on the new draft law.

The planning commissioners work on the new draft law took parts of three days: Sept. 18, Sept. 12, and Aug. 22. Maurer said the hearing for the new law before the Board of Supervisors could also take multiple days.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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