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All before lunch: PG&E, cannabis, pandemic, museum

People sitting and standing in a park for a community meeting.
The Friends of Faulkner Park meeting with PG&E representatives, who assured them no redwoods will be removed during routine vegetation management.

Supervisors asked the Governor for a moratorium on PG&E's enhanced vegetation management program, discussed a cannabis report, and heard advice about wearing masks as contagious covid variants spread.

May 18, 2022 — The Board of Supervisors heard yesterday morning from museum supporters, frustrated cannabis growers, the public health officer, and supporters of a letter asking that PG&E halt its enhanced vegetation management program until it provides more information.

Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren called during public comment to warn that the pandemic is not over. Case rates have tripled, and the newest variants are highly contagious. Coren advised masking indoors and maintaining social distance.

Dusty Whitney of Willits, who donated his collection of historical items to the county museum, and Troy James, of Roots of Motive Power, urged the Board not to close the museum during upcoming budget hearings. James said access to the museum’s library is essential to maintaining the historic train cars and other equipment at Roots of Motive Power, saying, “I just don’t think the savings are worth the loss of the value of history.”

The Board agreed unanimously to send a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety, complaining about a lack of clarity regarding PG&E’s enhanced vegetation management program, including how it is regulated, what landowners’ rights are, how effective it is in reducing wildfires, and what its scientific basis is. In the interests of disclosure, I spoke in support of the letter, as did Walter Smith of Willits, who has established an email clearinghouse of information about PG&E’s practice of clearing trees from around power lines. He related some of his experience, convincing crews not to remove trees from his property. “If you thought a tree shouldn’t be removed, you had to state that you didn’t want it removed,” he said. “PG&E called back and said you had to be a team player, and feel for your neighbors. As though all the people that they killed, they’ve been feeling good about neighborhoods.”

The Board agreed to modify the letter with some additional items from Supervisor John Haschak requesting that PG&E work with the Fire Safe Council and other local agencies on healthy forests, to present plans for watershed mitigation and erosion control, plus support for burying the lines. “What we’re seeing is clear cuts near streams, waterways, everything like that, and no plan for how to mitigate that,” he said.

The Board also approved an amended item about routine vegetation management in Faulkner Park, incorporating an email from PG&E government liaison Alison Talbot, assuring Supervisor Ted Williams that no redwoods will be removed from the park.

Previously, the Board approved the item with a PG&E document that said two large redwoods would be subject to felling or topping. And two company representatives offered conflicting statements, with one saying no redwoods would be removed and another saying that only small redwoods would be removed.

The amended notice of tree work notes that the two large redwoods will be subject to limbing only.

Though the consent calendar is supposed to consist of non-controversial items, it took two hours to get through it yesterday, largely because it contained the cannabis department report. The June 30 deadline to apply for state annual licenses is fast approaching, and growers are worried that those who are still caught up in the bureaucratic tangle will not get the local authorization they need to satisfy state requirements. Cannabis Department head Kristin Nevedal attempted to provide some reassurance, saying that, “The State is working closely with the cannabis department here in Mendocino. And we will be providing them a list of the outcome of the reviews of all the applicants in the portal. They’ll use that list of those who have completed their applications through the portal as local authorization. In the meantime, those who are eligible for renewal are having their renewals processed by the (State) Department of Cannabis Control. And the fact that they are in the corrections portal does not impede their ability to renew their provisional license.”

Nevedal said her department is behind schedule in completing review of the applications, but that she anticipates finishing them by the first week of June. She reported that her department is checking to see if people applying to renew their permits have paid their taxes. Haschak questioned her about concerns raised by the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance in a recent letter, asking if she thinks all the people whose applications are in the portal, or under a review process, will be eligible to have their licenses renewed by the state. Nevedal said the state’s renewal process is automatic. “We were told clearly in a State call that there has been no hangups of provisional license renewals due to portal status,” she emphasized.

Williams lost patience. “I don’t think this process is working,” he announced. “This is a consent item (with) extensive public comment. The Board can’t take action. It looks like the committee that’s working on this, asking questions that should be asked offline, should be direct with the director and with the stakeholders. The process should be, stakeholders meet with the ad hoc committee. The ad hoc committee brings shovel ready action to the Board via the agenda. I don’t know what to do with it. But I don’t want this process to go on. We’re not getting anywhere. I’d like to hear from the ad hoc. Do you think this process is working? Do you want to continue as is? Do you want a different makeup? What do you need? And I’ll tell you, if you don’t want to do it, I’ll bring action to the Board, and it’ll be to issue permits to everybody who’s tried in good faith, without a sustained code violation, presume they’re operating legally, give them their permits, and get cannabis out of here. We can’t spend every meeting talking about cannabis for an hour.”

Haschack and Supervisor Glenn McGourty, who make up the cannabis ad hoc committee, tried to explain why the committee is not making rapid headway with the numerous cannabis issues they hear about from community members. “I’m saying just issue the permits,” he said. “We have enough toner and paper here. Let’s get it done. I don’t want to talk about cannabis permitting anymore. I’m over it.”

The Board agreed to direct staff to bring back an answer to the question of whether or not the county has the most streamlined process for handling cannabis permits, and if not, what the alternatives might be, with the pros and cons.