San Andreas, CA – The Calaveras supervisors are continuing to navigate towards lifting their ban on commercial cannabis and allowing farmers in good standing to grow.
On Friday, Clarke Broadcasting talked with Board Chair and District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi, who discussed what he thought were some key takeaways from Tuesday’s meeting and study session, which involved several hours of rigorous discussions in order to provide staff with sufficient guidelines for a draft ordinance.
“It was an excellent meeting… I believe we went through over 28 questions…to break down the pieces and figure out what worked and what did not work in the county’s previous Urgency Ordinance,” Garamendi gratefully noted. “I have to give credit to my co-supervisors…a lot of people, if they don’t get their way, cross their arms and don’t say anything else. We are a working board — and we worked together to come up with a good set of guidelines.”
If eventually passed, the new commercial grow rules will involve meeting numerous strict regulations, including obtaining all licensing and permitting upfront before planting. Garamendi says the amount of money required will highly incentivize commercial farmers to do things correctly. At the end of the day, Garamendi estimates that the county is probably looking at probably dealing with less than a hundred farms.
Repositioning ‘The Cart Behind The Horse’
“That is the opposite of what happened with the Urgency Ordinance,” he notes. “I think we finally got the cart behind the horse on this one, which I hope will avoid many of the challenges.”
Among other top considerations were properly addressing neighbor concerns. “One of the lessons we learned in the Urgency Ordinance is not to mix commercial cannabis farms with residential neighborhoods — that was a major error,” he acknowledges. “As proposed by the Board of Supervisors, there will be no cannabis in residential neighborhoods, including none in rural residential, although owners on more than 40 acres can attempt to rezone.”
The board voted giving staff direction to include in the draft ordinance that commercial grows would be allowable on rural agricultural, agricultural and general forestry properties that are at least 20 acres.
Garamendi further notes, “Only people in good standing with the county at the conclusion of the Urgency Ordinance with a temporary state license will be eligible to keep growing again.” He adds, “They must also be in a properly zoned area larger than 20 acres…must have all permits in line before planting can begin. That means all buildings are to code, the farm inspected and OSHA compliant, and they have permission from the Water Quality Control Board.”
For cannabis growers in good standing with the county who are going to be “zoned out” under the new requirements, the board is proposing to allow them to retain a position in the line. However, they must find either another property that meets acreage and zoning requirements, or someone to co-locate with who has appropriately zoned acreage of 40 acres or more.
Plenty Of ‘Ifs To Address’
Asked if he is seeing much pushback from anti-grow residents, Garamendi remarks, “Lots of people are evolving…I think that most people will be accepting, if [growing activity] is not in their face, if it is just another business going on in Calaveras County.”
He adds, “I honestly believe that we can do this in such a way that can take out a lot of the drama. We will just do the heavy lifting…make the hard choices, and we will build something sustainable. In 2016, the state regulations were not in place. Now, we don’t have to create the wheel.”
As for a potential timeline on the process, he estimates that the ordinance will take two to four months for staff to complete after which it must pass through Planning Commission hoops before returning to the board. If the ordinance passes, a fee study, staffing, control mechanisms, and an application process will follow. He projects, “The farms that are the best at passing paperwork, keeping track of this and taking a very professional approach will be able to get a crop in in 2020.”
Presently, the board is looking to allow only cultivation although depending on how the ordinance is working over the next 12 to 18 months, Garamendi acknowledges that next steps could include considering the addition of regulations for some forms of manufacturing and farming cooperatives.
“It is an important part for any county to have a diversified county,” Garamendi maintains. Evoking previous generations as Calaveras County cycled through up and down times, he recalls, “We were a cement manufacturing county for 60 years…before that we were a timber and mining county, and then we were a house-building county. It was all booms and busts. When the next recession comes, we want to be [more] diversified.”