At the end of a nearly 10-hour-long meeting with a packed agenda including the adoption of a preliminary budget, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted to take no action on an item to put a cannabis ban on the November ballot, either as an advisory vote or a binding special election. The decision followed roughly two hours of heated public comment and an additional hour of deliberation among supervisors.
The proposal to put a possible vote back on the agenda was made by District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills on June 14, and the board voted 4-1 to bring the item back from a Feb. 13 agenda.
District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi was the only board member to oppose the motion, stating that an advisory vote would not change some supervisors’ stances regarding cannabis cultivation in the county and that it would be a “waste of county resources.”
The item was inserted at the end of the Tuesday meeting’s agenda, and when it was reached, the discourse that followed led to a divided board. The contention began just before the public comment segment, when it was revealed that there were at least 25 individuals ready to speak.
The board voted 4-1 to remain in session until a decision was reached, regardless of the length of the meeting.
District 5 Supervisor Clyde Clapp was the only board member in favor of adjourning the meeting to resume proceedings the next day. When the decision was made to not adjourn, Clapp grew agitated and issued obscenities.
Later on, Garamendi requested that Clapp apologize to the board and to the public for his “outburst.” Clapp apologized to Garamendi, stating that he was “pissed off” at District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli due to a previous discussion they had shared regarding Clapp’s schedule.
Clapp did not issue an apology to Tofanelli or the public.
The public comment segment proceeded ardently with occasional cheers and jeers from the outside corridor.
Many “no-banners” spoke in opposition to a vote, stating concerns that the public would not be “properly educated” by the county on the cannabis issue prior to the election.
Some pointed out the potential for a newly elected majority on the board, particularly noting the effort to recall Mills, and Clapp’s place on the ballot in November.
Others spoke in favor of the ban and the implementation of a permanent ordinance through a binding vote, though a few individuals the “ban” camp did not support the vote.
Perhaps most notable was Mills' wife, Vickey Mills, who stated “the idea of putting anything on the ballot is ludicrous. … Give (the ban) a chance. … Putting this on the ballot right now would be the easy way out.”
Some supported neither a vote nor the continuation of the status quo, but requested that the board seek out alternative solutions.
Peggy Chambers, president of the Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families in West Point, suggested the designation of District 2 as a “cannabis district,” allowing for legal cultivation within that area.
Chambers stated that she had observed an influx of youths, families and businesses in her community surrounding legal cultivation under the urgency ordinance, which she believes is much-needed in West Point.
Others echoed that sentiment, citing the need for more jobs and economic growth within the county.
“I’m tired of being demonized,” said Mountain Ranch resident LaVonne Miller. “I’ve had job offers elsewhere, but I love our county. … But what are we going to do if we can’t find jobs?”
“The county in Mountain Ranch and everywhere else is failing,” said Cliff Edson, former District 1 supervisor and owner of Country Cliff’s restaurant in San Andreas. “You guys are killing this county. ... You’re saying that our budget is fine, but you’re not solving it.”
Edson announced that his restaurant would be closing “by the end of the year.”
Following public comment, the supervisors delivered their statements regarding how to move forward.
“We don’t have to do anything today,” said Garamendi, who proposed adjourning for the evening. “We have wasted everybody’s time.”
Clapp stated that he supported putting a ban measure on the ballot.
In a lengthier speech, Mills stated that he had no prior knowledge of his wife’s opposition to the proposed vote, and that “maybe there’s some truth” to her statement.
Mills went on to say that it would be difficult for the average voter to “do the homework” regarding cannabis cultivation, though he stands behind his conclusions from the “Silent Poison” study he released in October.
“We have to do what we believe is right for the county,” Mills continued. “This is not a democracy. It is a representative republic. … To think that we are going to live and die with one particular product is a hard thing as a county to face.”
Mills made no further propositions, but requested that his fellow board members recommend a direction. “Persuade me. What do we need to do here, gentlemen?”
District 3 Supervisor Michael Oliveira, who reserved his comments until after the other board members had spoken, persisted in his long-time stance of putting the ban to a public vote.
“We’ve lived this nightmare for a long, long time,” said Oliveira. “I stand behind my conviction. This is beyond fixing by five supervisors.”
Oliveira continued, “We need to have faith in the people we represent. The people need a chance to tell us what they want, and go forth and make it happen.”
Following the supervisors’ statements, Garamendi made a motion to take no action, which failed to produce a second.
Garamendi made another motion to direct staff to perform a Request for Proposals, recommending a contract with FM3 Research to conduct a study on public opinion regarding cannabis over the next six weeks. The firm conducted a similar study for the proposed Transient Occupancy Tax increase, which was presented earlier in the meeting.
That motion also failed to produce a second.
Clapp then made a motion to direct staff to move forward with the required procedures to put a ban on the November ballot.
Following that motion, Oliveira requested staff’s clarification regarding the legislative results of the vote if it passed or failed. Staff stated that the ban would remain in effect regardless of the outcome of the vote, and that the only legislative potential of a vote would be to inform the board of the electorate’s opinion for future action.
Tofanelli then asked staff whether the county would be liable in lawsuits against the outcome of the vote if it were put on the ballot, and staff replied that the county would indeed be required to defend that outcome if challenged in court.
With the addition of that information, Oliveira sided with Garamendi to take no action.
“I’m trying to make this a fair objective on the ballot, and I don’t think we can achieve that at this time,” said Oliveira.
Tofanelli added that he did not believe there was enough time to adequately educate the public on the issue before November.
“I’m hearing a sense that we need more information,” stated Mills. “We haven’t had enough time to reach a consensus here.”
Clapp’s motion to move forward with a ban did not produce a second, and the board conceded to take no action.
“In the meantime, we can gather more information on how we can get something on the ballot that is valid and defensible,” Tofanelli concluded.
During the meeting, county Clerk-Recorder Rebecca Turner stated that if a cannabis vote initiative is not submitted for the November ballot by the July 24 deadline, initiating a special election before June 2020 could cost the county between $50,000 and $100,000.