County Planning Commission filled with attorneys

A majority of the members of the Calaveras County Planning Commission are now attorneys after the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 10 named three new members to the body.

The new appointees are attorney Joe Bechelli of Valley Springs, attorney Timothy Laddish of Sheep Ranch and insurance broker Karen Sisk of Valley Springs.

They join incumbents Lisa Muetterties, a real estate broker in Arnold, and attorney Kelly Wooster of Copperopolis. The newly composed commission held its first meeting on Thursday.

“I actually like the fact there are attorneys on there,” Sisk said during a brief telephone interview on Friday. Sisk said she believes the commissioners worked well together. She said everyone was surprised when the group voted unanimously to grant the appeal of a cannabis grower whose attempt to register his Mountain Ranch farm had been denied.

In that case, Planning Department staff denied the application after code enforcers reported that farmer Greg Stapleton had not corrected code violations during a follow-up inspection at 19247 Shawnee Trail near Mountain Ranch.

Stapleton, however, said in his appeal letter that in fact he had worked closely with county staff and corrected many of the deficiencies. After a long hearing on the matter, the board members concluded it was appropriate to allow Stapleton to come into compliance rather than to reject his application.

Sisk represents District 5. She replaces Benjamin Stopper. She is a familiar face, having previously served on the commission in 2013 and 2014 when Darren Spellman was the supervisor representing District 5.

Sisk, 54, said she wanted to return to the commission to push for completion of a community plan for Valley Springs. “It never got resolved,” said Sisk, “and now I am hoping it will be soon.”

Bechelli, 74, is the District 1 appointment to the commission. He replaces Ted Allured.

Bechelli said Supervisor Gary Tofanelli asked him to take on the duty. “I’ve been involved in several planning situations,” said Bechelli, “and thought I would get a little closer and learn a little more about the process. I know some of the issues, some of the laws.”

Before becoming an attorney, Bechelli attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served six years in the Navy as a nuclear engineer on a submarine. He decided in his late 20s to change careers and headed to law school while working as a nuclear power instructor. He became an attorney at 33. His practice primarily focuses on estate planning, wills and trusts, but he said he has also done some litigation.

Bechelli said he hopes to help speed the process of resolving the many cannabis-industry-related issues now coming before the commission. He said, however, that he believes Planning Department staff are on top of the situation and working efficiently to resolve a backlog of applications to register cannabis farms.

Bechelli said he and his wife lived in Concord before moving to Calaveras County in 2005.

Laddish, 75, represents District 2. He replaces Fawn McLauglin.

Laddish retired 15 years ago after a career as a senior assistant attorney general for the California Attorney General’s Office. “My main cases were usually constitutional law cases about whether California’s tax law or tax practices were constitutional,” he said.

Laddish earned his law degree at the University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law. “Kelly and I were in the same law school class,” he said of Wooster.

Laddish said that although he has neighbors who are growing cannabis, “None of that has directly affected us.”

He said he and his wife lived in Berkeley before retiring to Sheep Ranch to a mining property that has been in his wife’s family for generations. In addition to serving as a commissioner, Laddish is also a volunteer water tender driver for Central Calaveras Fire and Rescue Protection District.

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