The Calaveras County Planning Commission discussed setback requirements, the use of generators, an environmental impact report (EIR) and more during a Sept. 12 hearing on a proposed ordinance for commercial cannabis cultivation. It was the commission’s second meeting on the subject, and after several hours of making revisions, commissioners directed staff to bring the ordinance back on Sept. 18 at 9 a.m. for further review. Once the commission approves the ordinance, it will be in the hands of the county board of supervisors for review and adoption.

The first disagreement in the meeting arose over whether a new environmental impact report (EIR) should be drafted prior to establishing regulations. The Planning Department is using the EIR that was certified with the ban ordinance, with an addendum.

Commissioners said they received a letter from an attorney stating that the current EIR is “inappropriate.”

“We have vetted the addendum with our counsel, and we have a difference of opinion on the issue,” Planning Director Peter Maurer told the commission.

According to the agenda item description, the key differences between the two ordinances are “the limitation on the number of potential permittees under the new ordinance, the ability to cultivate cannabis for both medical and adult use, an increase in cultivation area from 22,000 square feet to 43,560 square feet (one acre), greater restrictions on zoning and minimum parcel size, and the ability to establish up to five cultivation areas (premises) on a single parcel.”

Commissioners heard from Sheriff’s Office and Code Compliance staff on how new regulations would impact their departments’ workload.

According to Senior Code Enforcement Officer Sabrina Cable, Code Compliance issued approximately 70 citations to illegal growers in 2016, 228 in 2017, 39 in 2018 and 63 in 2019.

After District 1 Commissioner Trent Fiorino asked whether Code Compliance would be more prepared for an influx of growers than it was during the 2016 Urgency Ordinance, Cable said, “There will be minor (staffing) adjustments that need to be made, but we are significantly more prepared.”

Sheriff Rick DiBasilio told the commission that he expects illegal activity to increase once cultivation is legalized again.

“It’s going to bring more people into the community that are going to try it illegally. It’s happening in other counties as well … If it’s illegal and they can make money off of it they’re going to do it,” he said, adding that illegal farmers came out of the woodworks during the Urgency Ordinance, and were able to “hide (their operations) in plain site.”

The Sheriff’s Office raided 11 illicit grow sites in 2016, 68 in 2017, 55 in 2018 and 58 in 2019, according to DiBasilio. He said the department has been busting four to eight illegal grow sites per week, thanks to the addition of two deputies to the Marijuana Enforcement Team.

DiBasilio said the Sheriff’s Office plans on purchasing a Bobcat tractor to speed up eradication and reduce its reliance on contractors.

In the meeting, discussions ensued over how far operations should be from school bus stops and libraries, requirements for growing the minimum six plants for personal use and whether generators should be allowed as a power source for growing, among other issues.

“This is a very important issue in the county, and I think it deserves us being able to read (the ordinance) in its entirety,” said District 3 Commissioner Michelle Plotnik at the conclusion of the meeting. “I think we need to see it, make sure that we’re seeing what we expect and assessing how we feel the fit to the EIR is at that point.”

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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