A Mountain Ranch grape grower is suing the county for alleged violations of his civil rights.

The lawsuit by Jed Richardson, a former cannabis applicant with the county, arises from a decision of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors in August 2017, denying his application to rezone about 12 acres of property on Cave City Road from Rural Residential to Residential Agricultural. The requested rezoning would have allowed him to sell organic vegetables being grown on the property and possibly open a small winery at a site along Cave City Road.

The complaint alleges that the Calaveras County Planning Commission unanimously approved Richardson’s application for rezoning in May of 2017, with specific findings that it was consistent with the General Plan, the Zoning Code and agricultural uses of neighboring lands. But the Board of Supervisors overturned that decision three months later by a 3-2 vote (Supervisors Gary Tofanelli, Dennis Mills and Clyde Clapp voted against the rezoning and Supervisors Jack Garamendi and Michael Oliveira voted in favor of the Planning Commission’s approval).

The Richardson complaint contends that he was denied due process because the supervisors voting against the rezoning were motivated not by the facts relevant to the application, but by the allegedly irrelevant fact that the Richardson property was also being used as a site for growing cannabis, despite the fact that the tenant responsible for that activity had duly registered the site with the county for that purpose and had at all times been operating in conformity with the Urgency Ordinance that was then in effect to regulate and tax legal cannabis cultivation. In essence, Richardson alleges that he was an innocent victim of a war over legal cannabis cultivation being waged by three members of the Board of Supervisors.

Richardson withdrew the application to farm pot on his property last month, he confirmed. 

As evidence supporting that claim, the complaint cites the fact that at two board meetings in July and August of last year, the three supervisors who voted to overturn the Planning Commission approval of Richardson’s rezoning application allowed those speaking against his application to complain about the fact that cannabis was being grown on his property, but refused to allow those supporting his application to respond to those complaints. Richardson also alleges that the same three supervisors were improperly influenced by an email from William McManus, a vocal opponent of all cannabis cultivation in Calaveras, that specifically attacked the Richardson application, in part on the grounds that Richardson had been “illegally growing ‘vegetables’ and pot” on his property.

In apparent reference to the McManus email, the complaint alleges that private communications with the Board of Supervisors between the July and August board meetings produced a decision that was “influenced by evidence improperly received outside of a public hearing, in violation of the Board of Supervisors’ own Rules of Procedure.”

Finally, the complaint cites as additional evidence of board misconduct the fact that other similar applications had been approved for rezoning similar to his in nearby subdivisions and that the resolution of the board denying his application improperly identified his property as being in the Indian Hills Subdivision, some 12 miles away from the Indian Meadows Subdivision where the property is actually located.

The relief sought by the complaint includes compensatory damages, a court declaration that the denial of the Richardson rezoning application was improper, and an order requiring the application to be approved.

The complaint was the topic of closed-session discussions by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, citing a conference with legal counsel for that time on the agenda description. When they convened in open session, no “reportable action” was taken, according to Diane Severud, deputy clerk for the board.

Calaveras County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld declined to comment when asked for a statement from the county about the lawsuit. She said she would have to work with Calaveras County Administrative Officer Tim Lutz to craft a response. No further information was received from the county by Tuesday afternoon.

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