By Zach Friend, Supervisor, Second District
The Board of Supervisors recently approved a temporary moratorium on certain commercial cannabis cultivation license permits and is considering an ordinance revision regarding commercial cultivation that aims to address some challenges facing commercial cultivation and residential areas.
What are the current policies?
County-level cannabis policy, in particular policies around cultivation, has been evolving over the last five years. The Board of Supervisors set out a set of policy goals around cannabis that included ensuring environmental protections, eliminating neighborhood conflicts (by siting locations for dispensing, manufacturing and cultivation away from residential areas) and ensuring that there was adequate medicinal product locally.
On the dispensing and manufacturing side, the policies have been modified but have overall been settled the last few years. Recently, the Board approved some additional language clarifying where dispensaries could be placed and allowing for an appeal and review process for new permits in certain circumstances.
On the cultivation side, there has been a lot more iterations of the ordinance due to changing state and local conditions and ensuring the above goals were met.
Over a year ago, in order to address some of the problematic commercial cultivation occurring in remote areas (causing elevated fire risk and environmental challenges), the Board moved to place most cultivation operations in Commercial Agriculture (CA) zoned areas. Given the general size of the parcels, historic operation of agricultural activity and removal from residential areas these parcels seemed the best for balancing the industry’s growth in our community and minimizing neighborhood impacts.
Intensification of use on the parcels (for example, converting an apple orchard to cannabis), smells, lighting, security operations, traffic and more were all cited as challenges and found to be present when the Board did a countywide Environmental Impact Report to determine what impacts were reasonably foreseeable with the increase in this industry.
As a result, the Board is considering some modifications to the ordinance that would still place cannabis primarily within Commercial Agriculture (CA) zoned parcels but eliminate future license opportunities when it is adjacent to a residentially zoned parcel and structure.
What is proposed?
The Board approved a temporary moratorium on the issuance of new licenses on CA zoned parcels that are within a 500 foot setback of a residential structure (on a residentially zoned parcel) while the Board considers ordinance revisions.
The proposed ordinance revisions would prohibit future licenses (it does not impact current licensees) from being issued to grow on parcels within 500 feet of these structures and create a new notification requirement to neighbors when they apply.
This proposal, if adopted, will still allow for hundreds of parcels to potentially be commercially cultivated with cannabis but would eliminate the challenges seen in the greater La Selva area, Corralitos area, some parts of Larkin Valley and other locations where rural residential neighborhoods are adjacent.
When will the ordinance revisions be considered?
The Board has proposed a framework for the cultivation ordinance changes that will be heard in November.
If approved, there will be a second reading of the ordinance and then it will go to the Coastal Commission for approval (as some of the changes impact parcels within the Coastal Zone). This process can take some months for Coastal Commission approval so the new ordinance would take effect at some point in 2022.
As always, I appreciate any feedback you may have on this (or any other County issue). I’m maintaining regular updates on social media at www.facebook.com/supervisorfriend and you can always call me at 454-2200.