Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The issue of Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg’s campaign contribution connections to the cannabis industry has been raised as he seeks re-election, with his opponent, Steven Madrone, saying that it’s a “very serious conflict of interest”
Implying that Sundberg’s campaign financing will sway his decision-making, Madrone is asking that his election opponent recuse himself from the Board of Supervisors’ deliberations on a new cannabis ordinance.
Advanced during the public comment period of an April 10 board hearing on the ordinance, Madrone’s request focuses on Sundberg’s election campaign financing.
“You have received a lot – thousands of dollars – of money in your campaign, based on your own campaign contribution reports, from many of the large commercial cannabis farmers in the county,” Madrone told Sundberg.
Saying that Sundberg should recuse himself, Madrone acknowledged that the alleged conflict of interest may not be legally actionable but “it’s clearly an appearance of a conflict.”
He added that “there are also other members of this board who are highly engaged in the cannabis industry and have some conflicts – this is a public trust issue.”
Madrone concluded by saying that Sundberg’s recusal is necessary because there is “a strong appearance of a conflict, based on your contributions. “
Sundberg responded with a loud sigh as Madrone walked away from the podium.
When the comment session ended, Sundberg noted that Madrone was no longer in attendance. “It’s always fun when someone makes a bunch of accusations and then runs out the door,” he said.
Sundberg asked County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck to comment on the conflict of interest allegation and lack of disclosure of ex parte communications, or contacts with people with interests in the process, which Madrone had also noted.
Blanck mostly addressed the ex parte communication issue, saying the communication disclosures are not required.
“You as public officials always have numerous input from your constituents on this topic and there’s no need to keep a list or track of it because that could be huge,” he said.
He added that supervisors are “doing an excellent job” of forwarding the written comments and materials they receive for public disclosure.
“So I don’t see that as a conflict issue,” Blanck said. “And if there is a conflict issue, that’s the per view of the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) and that’s open to any member of the public for any elected official, if they feel that there’s cause for that.”
The FPPC is a state agency that conducts “fair, impartial interpretation and enforcement of political campaign, lobbying and conflict of interest laws,” according to its website.
The hearing otherwise brought supervisors closer to approval of the new ordinance. They supported a cap on the number of permits in watershed areas and 600-foot setbacks from school bus stops.
The county’s Planning Commission had recommended removing the bus stop setbacks.
Another significant issue – and one that supervisors spent more time grappling with – is the permitting of outdoor grows in areas bordering cities and community planning areas.
Responding to neighborhood objections in those areas, the new ordinance requires 600-foot setbacks from residences and discretionary instead of administrative permits, which don’t trigger notifications or public hearings.
But there’s debate about whether new requirements should be applied to those who have submitted permit applications under the county’s current ordinance and those whose permits have been approved.
The issue will be revisited at the next hearing.
Also up for consideration is a cap on the total number of additional permits allowed in the county’s 12 watershed areas. Supervisors discussed caps of 3,000 and 5,000 permits and leaned toward the lower number.
Supervisors also debated whether to allow grow operations in rural areas to expand to processing and manufacturing. Supervisor Mike Wilson supported limiting processing and manufacturing facilities to urbanized areas.
Other supervisors noted the county’s quickly escalating need for processing facilities and planning staff was asked to analyze the issue and return with more information.
The next hearing on the ordinance is set for May 8.
Monday, April 23 is fast approaching. Mark your calendar and plan to join us for the Fifth District Supervisor candidate forum at Azalea Hall, 1620 Pickett Road. The June elections will be here before you know it. This is your opportunity to ask questions of both candidates and hear what they have to say. Doors will open at 6 pm and the forum will begin at 6:30 pm. Click HERE to register to attend.