The Calaveras County Planning Commission started reviewing a proposed ordinance for commercial cannabis cultivation in a well-attended meeting on Aug. 22.
Disagreement among commissioners arose over how to mitigate odors from cultivation through establishing setback requirements and establishing which zones to permit outdoor growing in.
District 4 Commissioner Kelly Wooster and District 1 Commissioner Trent Fiorino said that outdoor grows should be limited to zones that allow commercial growing, but not for zones that are restricted to personal use (six plants under state law), namely rural residential.
“The problem is when it’s outdoor anybody can smell it,” Wooster said. “And you’re only talking 75 feet, that’s 25 yards. My .410 will shoot that far ... ”
Voicing concerns about neighborhood complaints, Fiorino suggested that the commission defer to state regulations that mandate that counties, at a minimum, allow six plants for personal use that have to be grown indoors.
“Why do we as a county want to open us up to a disaster?” he said. “Let’s go with the minimum the state says.”
Commissioners also discussed how to address how many applicants would be allowed versus how many staff would be able to process their applications.
Planning Director Peter Maurer said the ordinance takes into account about 190 prospective growers – approximately a quarter of the original 750 applications that came in during the Urgency Ordinance – that were either registered before the ban took effect or had begun the application process.
“As long as they weren’t denied, they would be allowed to apply for a new permit,” he said.
Maurer said that current staff levels could accommodate approximately 25 applications at a time. He said a fee would be adopted with the ordinance to cover the costs of expanding staff levels to build the program, based on what county supervisors decide.
Maurer estimated that about 80 to 100 growers would apply, since many of the 190 farmers that would qualify left the county when the ban went into effect.
The commission also discussed setting a minimum height of six feet as a limitation for security fencing. District 3 Commissioner Michelle Plotnik said the requirement should be six feet, in particular, because it’s as high as a fence can be installed without the property owner having to obtain a building permit. Plotnik added that it would be micromanaging to mandate the design of the fence.
During public comment, many people voiced opposition to the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) requirements under the proposed ordinance.
Kevin Clay, a Mokelumne Hill resident and formerly registered grower, said the requirement was too onerous.
“I’m off the grid,” Clay said. “My corporate purpose statement is to develop and maintain and operate an organic, completely sustainable operation outside PG&E … You can’t just draw a line in the sand saying ‘no more gas engines, no more diesel fuel.’ We would aspire to that, and I’m certain that there needs to be a transition period where that could possibly happen for everyone’s benefit.”
Justin Buller, an attorney who works in the cannabis industry, said that the ordinance should include a community engagement plan to ease tensions between growers and neighbors that would have complaints.
District 3 resident Alice Montgomery and others argued that the county should complete a new environmental impact report, rather than adding an addendum to the existing report, as the level of environmental impacts would be different.
Some cannabis advocates cited medicinal benefits of cannabis, and in response to odor nuisance concerns, argued that the smell the crop gives off would be no different than that of a turkey farm or dairy.
The Planning Commission will reconvene on Sep. 12 to continue its review of the proposed ordinance. Once that is complete, the ordinance will be passed on to county supervisors for a final review.