July 16, 2021 — The deadline to file petitions for the referenda opposing Chapter 22.18, the county’s new cannabis cultivation ordinance, is fast approaching. Employees of a pro-ordinance group shadow signature gatherers and counter their arguments as they urge voters to sign, to get the item on the ballot, to repeal the ordinance in part or in full. Documents showing financial support for the pro-ordinance group are still not available, but the steering committee includes Joshua Keats, of Henry’s Original, Amanda Reiman, of Flowkana, vineyard owner Heath Dolan, John Schaeffer, formerly of Real Goods, and Willits schoolteacher Shawna Jeavons. Passions are running high on all sides, with some volunteer signature gatherers for the referendum claiming that the paid workers of the pro-ordinance group are resorting to intimidation. Leo Buc, the pro-ordinance campaign advisor, said field staff have come in for screaming and harassment, too.
In an attempt to sort out who’s doing what, the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council held a forum on the referenda and the ordinance on Wednesday night, with First District Supervisor Glenn McGourty arguing on the county’s behalf. McGourty lit up a discussion among policy watchers on Monday, when he wrote a letter saying he is 100% committed to a lengthy list of amendments and actions, including a full programmatic environmental impact review on all cannabis cultivation in the county. The board passed the ordinance at the end of last month, barely making a state deadline to get it on the books before a requirement for an EIR kicked in. He insists that the new ordinance will include rigorous environmental protections. But Ellen Drell, speaking on behalf of the People’s Referendum to Save our Water, Wildlife, and Way of Life, which seeks to repeal Chapter 22.18 in its entirety, says the new ordinance is all about expansion, especially into the county’s treasured rangeland zones.
Charles Sargenti, representing Small is Beautiful (the referendum seeking to repeal the provision that allows for 10% of qualifying parcels to be used for cannabis cultivation), thinks the new ordinance is mostly sound. He thinks one acre for cultivation is sufficient, and that 22.18 offers plenty of protection for rangeland. Under the new ordinance, only rangeland that has previously been converted to agricultural purposes can be used for growing cannabis.
Michael Katz, the Executive Director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, weighed in against both referenda. Chapter 10a17, the cannabis cultivation ordinance that preceded 22.18, relies on a ministerial permitting process that doesn’t cut it with the state. It’s the discretionary permitting process, which involves the Planning Commission and notice to neighbors, that’s key to bringing the county’s ordinance into alignment with state law. Katz worries that if the referenda make it onto the ballot and one of them passes muster with voters, growers who are partway to a state license could be stranded in a legal limbo. MCA supports 22.18, but also calls for an environmental impact review.
The future is as uncertain as it always is, but amendments and an EIR could be in the future for 22.18, even if it survives the referenda. Compromise, according to McGourty, is always possible.