Mad River Union
BLUE LAKE – What one county planning commissioner described as “a history of bad blood, bad faith, threats, violence and poor land management choices” has led to the denial of a proposed cannabis farm in the Blue Lake area.
At the March 5 Planning Commission meeting, a conditional use permit for a new 10,000-square-foot cannabis grow on Warren Creek Road was voted down.
Over a dozen longtime Warren Creek Road residents urged commissioners to vote against approving the permit. Issues related to the single-lane unpaved Warren Creek Road figured into the opposition but a lack of trust in the applicant’s property management heavily influenced a commission majority’s denial.
Rocci Costa, the applicant, sought approval of the grow operation and an associated nursery on a five acre parcel near the intersection of Warren Creek Road and Blackberry Lane.
Cultivation was to be done using dry farming techniques, irrigation would be sourced from rainwater catchment and the parcel is zoned for agriculture. But residents told commissioners that the property has been a source of nuisances and public safety concerns.
“There’s a history in the last 20 years since Costa has owned the property of threatening and violent behavior,” said one resident.
She said her children had been “threatened by someone with a baseball bat” while walking through a river access area.
That happened in 2003 but another resident said his grandchildren were threatened by a “crazy and aggressive and scary” woman last summer. “We’ve had a number of folks in the area that just seem like they’re on something,” he continued. “Warren Creek Road is more and more getting to be not the place that it used to be.”
Others told commissioners of fires on the project site and encounters with hostile people, including one involving a brandished shotgun.
Issues related to the cannabis farm’s use of Warren Creek Road include the re
quired development of nine turnouts. Some residents questioned why paving of the road wasn’t part of the permitting and others described the installation of the turnouts as an impact.
Costa did get some support during public comment. “I have never heard a group of people argue so passionately for a damaging status quo that weren’t Republican senators,” said self-described cannabis activist Thomas Edrington. “The entire point of the regulation of cannabis in Humboldt County was to address these issues – the process through which all those things can be addressed is permanent regulation.”
Nuisances would be a violation of the permit due to the operation’s security plan, he continued, noting that a relative of Costa has controlled the property until recently and Rocci Costa has booted “a whole bunch of squatters” off the property.
Costa described himself as “a family man” who has lived in Blue Lake his entire life. “We’ve gotten rid of the scumbags – that’s what I would call them,” he told commissioners.
Commissioners asked planning and public works staff about the road improvements and the proposed farm’s number of employees. Public Works Engineer Bob Bronkall said the improvement mandates are based on use by four seasonal employees and one who would be living onsite.
After noting the “history of bad blood,” Commissioner Noah Levy said it’s “a little bit fuzzy” whether Costa was controlling the property at the time of some of the reported nuisances and the responsibility issue is worth considering for a project that relies on able management.
“It’s appropriate to consider the historical context,” he continued. “Since this is already a tough call for a lot of other reasons, it leads me to feel that I am not confident that approving this project wouldn’t be detrimental to public health, safety and welfare.”
Levy’s motion to deny the permit was approved in a 3-2 vote, with Board Chair Alan Bongio and Commissioner Melanie McCavour dissenting.
The many Warren Creek Road residents in the audience reacted to the denial with applause.