BL cannabis farmers, neighbors will meet

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

BLUE LAKE – ​The permitting of a Blue Lake cannabis farm hinges on the applicant’s success in meeting with neighbors whose objections have prevented approval.

​In an Aug. 25 hearing, the appeal of a cannabis farming permit denial went before Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors. At issue is the denial of permit for a 10,000 square-foot cannabis grow within the Blue Lake planning area.

​Located at the end of the narrow and isolated Warren Creek Road, the cannabis operation uses very little water with dry farming. During the three-and-a-half hour appeal hearing, the farm’s operators, Rocci and Laura Costa, were described as conscientious and community-minded by many cannabis farmers, consultants and advocates.

​But in a close vote last spring, the county’s Planning Commission denied approval of a permit after hearing accounts of frightening encounters with apparent tenants of the farm property from multiple residents of Warren Creek Road.

​Rocci Costa told supervisors that he shares the concerns, as he’s experienced theft of building materials and frequent trespassing on the property. He described the people whose behavior is being complained about as “squatters” who “had no lease or paid no money or rent.”

​Despite that, “We were forced to legally evict them,” Costa continued. He said a motor home and two vehicles they left behind were removed from the property.

​Costa’s wife, Laura, said hearing the complaints has been “devastating” and efforts to communicate with neighbors weren’t successful. She described the failed attempts as “a sad case of crossed signals.”

The majority of speakers during the videoconferenced appeal hearing’s lengthy public comment session supported the Costas and vouched for their integrity. But residents near the project site did not.

A longtime Warren Creek Road resident noted that during the Planning Commission permit hearing, many neighbors related accounts of public safety threats.

“The real reason why the permit was denied in the first place was due to the community’s large turnout and relating direct experiences that they’ve had with the Costa property for over 20 years,” she said.

They had told the commission of their encounters with various hostile people, including one involving a brandished shotgun.

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​Other Warren Creek Road residents, including a representative of the family that lives closest to the farm site, said that “intimidation and fear” continues, as some incidents have occurred recently.

​Supervisors were hesitant to give the project the go by denying the appeal. The farm is in Supervisor Mike Wilson’s district and he noted that it’s an existing use and the neighbors’ main complaints are about public safety issues.  

​“What they’re talking about, specifically, is what they perceive as threatening behaviors,” Wilson said. “And I wasn’t present at any of those incidences but they seem to be, if not directly then indirectly related to the applicant and I think that anxiety is real and shouldn’t be just put aside.”

Supervisors acknowledged the Costa’s commitment to environmentally-responsible cannabis farming but also noted that control of the project site still lies with the same owner, Rocci Costa’s brother.

​Supervisor Rex Bohn said he knows both the Costas and Warren Creek Road residents, who he said have had “a really tough time.” Because of that, he said he’d have “a really tough time approving this if so many neighbors are against it.”

​Wilson grasped for options on permit clauses to ensure prevention of nuisances. After discussion on a lack of communication between the Costas and the area’s residents, the idea of requiring a meeting between them emerged and gained support.

​Supervisors voted to continue the hearing to a date uncertain and directed planning staff to organize a meeting between the Costas and the residents to work out permitting options that will be brought before the board.

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