Sonora, CA – After hours of extensive discussions peppered by public and staff input, the Tuolumne County Supervisors — with slight tweaks to Planning Commission recommendations — passed a permanent personal grow cannabis ordinance.
It was shortly before 4 p.m. before the supervisors finished finagling through members’ individual concerns regarding allowable plant numbers and cultivation area specifications, unanimously approving (4-0 with Supervisor Randy Hanvelt absent) the first of three related elements.
Following that vote the supervisors proceeded to hash out a permitting process that will require those planning outdoors or accessory structure grows to register and pay a $125-$500 fee that will go towards enforcement measures. Also approved was set-up of an enforcement team to include a code compliance investigator, office assistant, two sheriff’s deputies and a paralegal at an estimated total cost of approximately $415,000, effective beginning with the next fiscal year’s budget.
Under state law every residence with at least one person of legal age can grow up to six plants indoors for personal or medical use, a fact that had to be reiterated to some members of the audience who opined that the county should ban grows altogether. The county, under an urgency ordinance passed two years ago, had allowed individuals with a valid doctor’s recommendation for medical-use marijuana to grow up to 12 plants on their property, indoors or outdoors, regardless of their zoning district — and up to 24 plants if more than one person with a medical recommendation lived at the same residence.
However, last month the supervisors passed a more restrictive set of temporary rules, as reported here, as they continued their quest to determine a more optimal balance between medical-use needs, neighbor/nuisance and public safety concerns.
New Rules Roll Out April 5
The new ordinance, which takes effect April 5, allows residents living in RE-1, RE-2, RE-3, RE-5, RE-10, A-10, A-20 and AE-37 zones to cultivate up to six plants outdoors as long as they maintain at least a 100-foot setback from neighboring property lines. Those in A-10, A-20 and AE-37 allows up to 12 plants outdoors with a doctor’s medical-use recommendation. No outdoor grows will be allowed within 1,000 feet of any “sensitive use” areas, which include those relating to youth such as schools, daycare facilities, libraries, parks, playgrounds and rec centers; also churches, drug or alcohol rehab and sober living facilities and federal lands.
While Sheriff Jim Mele made it clear that his preference for nuisance, crime and other public safety concerns would be to only allow indoor grows, more than one supervisor pointed out that indoor grows might pose economic drawbacks and even public safety concerns of their own, such as potential fire hazards from faultily rigged electrical wiring without proper permitting. Mele also pointed out that odor was a primary reason for complaints, which contributed to the board’s decision to increase the property line setbacks. The supervisors emphasized their desire to allow accessory structures as a preferred option — especially for those whose properties do not have enough outside area to meet the setback requirements — although the structure must meet the same county code specs — such as for odor control — as indoor grows.
Supervisors Sherri Brennan and Karl Rodefer both raised concerns that Planning Department staff were able to somewhat appease as to structural and material requirements for greenhouses to make them sturdy and secure enough so that burglars and youth would be inhibited from gaining easy access. Addressing Brennan’s concerns that grows might inhibit the establishment of sensitive-use facilities, the board agreed that in cases where one would be locating within 1,000 feet of a residence with an outdoor grow, that person would have a period of 18 months to move their plants indoors or into an accessory structure.
Expressing his frustrations over the impossibility of making everyone happy under the new ordinance, Rodefer noted he was okay with making whatever tough decisions that were the best, overall, for the county. “We have been doing this for over three years…we spend more time on marijuana than the sum total of everything else. We have burned…maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars of staff time — that is why we are going to move forward [making a final decision] today,” he stated.
Brennan pointed out that the board had earlier tried to craft a compassionate ordinance towards medical use allowances that was abused and caused conflicts. Stressing, “We do not have to revisit this again,” she warned that growing under the new ordinance will require respect and thinking about the neighbor across the fence, adding, “We can certainly revisit this if it does not work.”