Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA BOTTOM – Planning Commission consideration of Arcata Land Company’s [ALC] proposed industrial cannabis grow on the Arcata Bottom was delayed last week at the request of the applicant, Lane DeVries.
While DeVries wanted the matter continued from April 1 to the Planco’s April 15 meeting, that agenda is already packed. Planning Director John Ford said the project, which has drawn intense citizen involvement, deserved its own special meeting. Commissioners agreed, and set one for April 22.
There were significant developments though, outside the halls of government. Faced with a wall of opposition from area residents, environmental and agriculture advocates, and a cannabis industry group, DeVries appeared to be maneuvering to reset the project, both in scale and in public perception.
The Humboldt County Growers Alliance has fiercely opposed the 23-acre “mega-grow,” citing potentially catastrophic impacts on Humboldt’s current cannabis farmers and industry. In letters to the Planco, it has argued that the county’s Commercial Cannabis Land Use Ordinance (CCLUO) prohibits a single owner from having a grow over eight acres in size.
While still maintaining that the 22.9-acre grow is permitted under the county’s CCLUO, DeVries, through his land manager Jordan Main (see letter, below), proposed reducing the project to 12 acres – eight for cultivation and four for a commercial nursery.
“ALC is willing to reduce the total cultivation acreage from nearly 23 acres to just 8 acres, accompanied by a 4-acre commercial nursery,” Main wrote in a March 28 letter to Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance (HCGA). (See letter, below.) “The reduced-scale project is a major reduction from the project that ALC has been working on diligently with the County over the last four years, but we think this project would be a success for HCGA, the community, and ALC.”
The offer was swiftly rejected by the HCGA. In a March 31 response, DeLapp stated, “The CCLUO states that ‘no more than eight acres of Commercial Cannabis cultivation permits may be issued to a single Person’ (188.8.131.52.1). The CCLUO also clearly defines ‘Commercial Cannabis Cultivation’ to include nurseries. For purposes of the eight acre limitation in the CCLUO, the revised project proposal is for twelve acres of cultivation.”
DeLapp said that if the project can truly be reduced to eight acres, HCGA will remove its opposition.
Apart from those pivotal epistles, letters of comment sent to the Planning Commission since its previous meeting were overwhelmingly and staunchly opposed to the project.
'Save the Arcata Bottoms'
Meanwhile, opponents have consolidated their objections and organizing around a new website, savethearcatabottoms.com. They’ve also been petitioning, and delivered anti-grow petitions signed by 400 citizens to the Planco in advance of last week’s meeting. A Zoom meeting among members of “Team 27” – an informal name for the opposition group based on many members’ 27th Street residency – was planned for this week.
The ALC’s downsizing proposal was seen by some as a precedent for “piecemealing” the eventual saturation of the Bottoms with similar grows, even as the area becomes increasingly residential.
“If this passes, there’s no turning back,” said 27th Streeter Paula Proctor, who noted the imminent creation of senior housing at the nearby Creek Side Homes project. “There will be a lot of people affected by that,” she said, referring to the ALC grow.
Another new wrinkle was potential opposition by at least one business with ties to Sun Valley Floral Farms (SVFF). In a letter to the group, Eureka Natural Foods Administrative Office Graigory Fillmore said labor and environmental issues raised about SVFF have led to a review. “I wanted to reach out and let you know that we have opened an investigation into our relationship with Sun Valley,” Fillmore wrote. “Environmental impact and employment practices are extremely important to us as an organization... I will be reviewing all information regarding this issue in an attempt to find a solution.”
Armstrong assumes role as intermediary
An announcement made by Arcata Bottom resident Sean Armstrong about a site walk-through meeting for 10 selected citizens which he and DeVries had arranged was immediately rejected by the Team 27 group. Group members eschewed any selective representation, and suggested the move was an accommodationist tactic by Armstrong, who is financially tied to the project applicant – his Tule Fog Farm is partly sited on land owned by DeVries.
Nonetheless, Armstrong is continuing his initiative to act as an intermediary between area residents and DeVries, with a Zoom meeting set for Thursday night.
In an email to Team 27 members, he said he hopes to wrest several concessions from DeVries, including an organic conservation easement on Sun Valley's property, creation of a trail along a railroad grade linking Foster Avenue and Alliance Road, creation of solar-powered farmworker housing and a reduced-size project.
Armstrong attempted a similar role as negotiator in 2017 with property developer AMCAL over the since-abandoned The Village student housing development, despite his business relationship with that company. Armstrong and former City Councilmember Michael Winkler are partners in their Redwood Energy consulting firm, which has done contract work with AMCAL.
Other land use activists told Armstrong at the time that his private efforts abrogated public process, but he responded by stating that "the [City of Arcata] Planning Commission SUCKS as a place to talk out problems."
Armstrong claimed to have wrung several concessions for The Village from the developer, including free bicycles and an electric car library for residents, as well as an "all electric and solar powered development," but those features weren't included in the project's design.
Regarding the current cannabis grow project, Armstrong also disclosed to the neighbors that he has been making anonymous comments to Planning and Building Director John Ford and Supervisor Mike Wilson, stripping the comments of his identity so as not to "get into hot water" with his farm's landlord, DeVries.
Some of the project opponents have rejected Armstrong's involvement, questioning his motivations and tactics. Some plan to boycott his Thursday night Zoom meeting.
Many also reject outright Arcata Land Company's downsized project proposal, stating that its Negative Declaration of environmental impact isn't adequate to address multiple impacts, and demanding that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be conducted.
“Our group is not OK with their eight-plus-four rewrite,” said opponent Kim Puckett. She said the project still carries too many unresolved issues, and needs an EIR “at a bare minimum.”
“My position is ‘no’,” she said.
Letter from Jordan Main to the Humboldt County Growers Alliance
March 28, 2021
Humboldt County Growers Alliance
RE: Arcata Land Company Proposed Project
Thank you again for your time this morning. We appreciated your insight and candidness regarding the Humboldt County Growers Alliance (“HCGA”) membership’s concerns over Arcata Land Company’s (“ALC”) proposed 23-acre cannabis project at ALC’s existing flower production facility in Arcata.
ALC’s project, as described to the Planning Commission last week, is allowed under and satisfies all requirements under the Humboldt County Code. Even so, ALC is sensitive to the concerns expressed in HCGA’s March 15 letter to the Commission regarding the project. ALC is also sensitive to the concerns of neighbors and other community members expressed in comment letters and through testimony at the last Commission hearing. ALC prides itself on being a responsible member of the Humboldt County community, a reputation that has been built over the last 30 years.
In this connection, ALC is willing to radically reduce the scale of its project to address the community and HCGA’s concerns. In particular, ALC is willing to reduce the total cultivation acreage from nearly 23 acres to just 8 acres, accompanied by a 4-acre commercial nursery. The 8 acres of cultivation would be comprised of approximately 5.7 acres of mixed-light cultivation and 2.3 acres of light-deprivation cultivation. ALC would support the cultivation and nursery components being entitled under two separate permits, as we understand is HCGA’s preference. ALC’s existing hoop houses, previously part of the project, would instead remain in flower production.
The reduced-scale project addresses community and HCGA’s concerns regarding the scale of the project, will use less water, require fewer employees, use less energy, be situated further from sensitive receptors, generate less traffic, and will continue to use state-of-the-art odor control technology. The commercial nursery will provide a sustainable source of local strains for Humboldt County growers and will not produce odors associated with flowering cannabis. The reduced-scale project is a major reduction from the project that ALC has been working on diligently with the County over the last four years, but we think this project would be a success for HCGA, the community, and ALC.
Again, we appreciate your time and attention. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Compass Land Group [email protected]
cc: Lane DeVries, Arcata Land Company Tristan Strauss, Headwaters
Jeff Smith, Lenders Construction Services, LLC
Brad Johnson, Esq., Harrison, Temblador, Hungerford & Johnson LLP
Response from the Humboldt County Growers Alliance
March 31, 2021
Humboldt County 825 5th Street Eureka, CA 95501
Dear Planning Commission,
On behalf of Humboldt County Growers Alliance, we are writing to clarify our position on size limitations in Humboldt’s cannabis cultivation ordinances, and express our opposition to projects that exceed eight acres of cultivation, inclusive of nursery space.
We are also writing to update our March 15 letter based on additional information and research which has come to light since the March 18 Planning Commission meeting.
HCGA Opposes Projects With More Than Eight Acres of Cumulative Nursery and Mature Plant Cultivation Space
In our March 15 letter to the Planning Commission on the proposed 23 acre Arcata Land Company project, we wrote the following:
“At its current scale, HCGA opposes the project as proposed. However, if the project is reduced in size to eight acres or less - the largest scale contemplated in either land use ordinance - HCGA will remove its opposition.”
On March 30, Arcata Land Company sent HCGA a proposal in writing that suggested a willingness to reduce the scale of the project to eight acres of mature plant cultivation, and four acres of nursery space. Arcata Land Company has expressed that they believe this revised project would satisfy the request in HCGA’s March 15 letter.
After reviewing the language in Humboldt’s cannabis ordinances, and discussing with our membership, we do not agree. The CCLUO states that “no more than eight acres of Commercial Cannabis cultivation permits may be issued to a single Person” (184.108.40.206.1). The CCLUO also clearly defines “Commercial Cannabis Cultivation” to include nurseries. For purposes of the eight acre limitation in the CCLUO, the revised project proposal is for twelve acres of cultivation.
Additionally, the CCLUO states that eight acres is the limitation for “a single Person.” A “Person” is defined broadly in the CCLUO, not just to include the company that holds a permit, but also to include individuals involved in the operation of the permit, including a CEO or an individual “participating in the direction, control, or management of the permit holder.”
Arcata Land Company has proposed that, if the project is approved, it would be sold or leased to persons with existing cultivation operations in Humboldt County. If this transfer of ownership or management takes place, the total cultivation area within Humboldt County held by any single person should not exceed eight acres.
As expressed in our March 15 letter, the language in 220.127.116.11.1 is the only community-wide agreement that has been reached in Humboldt County regarding the permissible maximum size for cultivation operations. Enforcing the letter of this ordinance is necessary to stand by the land use principles in Humboldt’s ordinances, and to ensure that all operators are held to the same standards. If the County does not hold the line at 8 acres, based on the wording in 18.104.22.168.1, there is no other objective brightline in Humboldt’s ordinances to limit the size of industrial-scale cultivation projects.
Additional Concerns Following March 18 Planning Commission Meeting
We would also like to raise several points which were not included in our March 15 letter, but which have come to our attention either due to new information which has been disclosed about the project, or additional research over the past few weeks.
First, the Planning Commission should consider the legislative intent at the time Ordinance 1.0 was passed by the Supervisors on January 26, 2016, when cultivation acreage was expected to be capped at the state level. Up until November 14, 2017, cultivation size was planned to be capped at between one and four acres based on language in the MMRSA, Proposition 64, and a draft environmental impact report released by CDFA. On November 16, 2017, this regulation was pulled, enabling the “license-stacking” loophole that now exists to allow for unlimited-scale cultivation. (See “California’s Limit on Big Growers Just Vanished. Here’s Why,” leafly.com/news/politics/californias-limit-on-big-growers-just-vanished-heres-why). If an explicit cap on industrial-zoned cultivation was not included in Ordinance 1.0, this should be considered in the context of the applicable state laws at the time.
For example, a Lost Coast Outpost article covering the Ordinance 1.0 process on January 12, 2016 stated the following: “The Planning Commission, in contrast, proposed allowing outdoor grows of up to 20,000 square feet with only a zoning clearance certificate and grows larger than that — up to the state limit of one acre — with a Conditional Use Permit.” (“Supervisors Opt to Ban New Grows on Timberland in Final Draft of Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance” lostcoastoutpost.com/2016/jan/12/supervisors-finish-directing-staff-medical-marijua/)
Second, Section 22.214.171.124 of Ordinance 1.0 states that “No more than four commercial cannabis activity permits of any type... may be issued to a single person, as defined herein.” Both Arcata Land Company and the proposed operators of the project hold multiple existing cannabis permits in Humboldt County.
Specifically, the Arcata Land Company already holds three (3) Special Permits with Humboldt County for its processing, manufacturing, and distribution facility (permit # 2019-15594, APN: 506-231-010-00). The CEO of Headwaters, under the name “Soul Arc Solutions,” maintains two Conditional Use Permits in Humboldt County (permits # PLN-12085-CUP and PLN-11402-CUP).
In other words, Arcata Land Company currently holds three permits for manufacturing, if they add two additional permits for nursery and cultivation, they will have five permits, which would be in violation of Section 126.96.36.199. Headwaters already has two county cultivation permits. If Headwaters assumes operation of the three special permits and the cultivation and nursery permits, they would hold seven permits, in violation of Section 188.8.131.52.
We appreciate the willingness of Arcata Land Company to consider alternative proposals in response to community feedback. If the project is revised to less than eight acres of total size, and if it is in conformance with other legal restrictions, HCGA will remove its opposition.
For reference, relevant sections of Ordinance 1.0 and 2.0 are copied in full on the following pages.
Humboldt County Growers Alliance
Humboldt County Growers Alliance