Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The county’s Board of Supervisors has approved code enforcement changes, including one that cuts the time between issuing notices of violations and activating fines on them.
Amendments to the county’s codes were unanimously approved at the July 7 board meeting. In addition to changes that strive for increases clarity, they include two that are relevant to cannabis cultivation.
The most controversial change aligns with state law that allows fines and penalties to be effected at the time a Notice of Violation is issued rather than holding off for 10 days.
An ordinance that outlines the changes states that the immediate imposition of fines applies to “repeat, subsequent or ongoing cannabis violations.”
Those include code violations that “exist as a result of or to facilitate illegal cultivation of cannabis.”
The 10-day window will be allowed if the cannabis cultivation is being done by a tenant of a property whose owner has prohibited it and has no knowledge of it.
During a public comment session, Southern Humboldt resident Bonnie Blackberry said there have been “numerous people who have been falsely accused and sent abatement notices in the past.”
A woman named Shakti asked that “in these times of deep reflection on our systemic injustices in our criminal justice institutions, we acknowledge the injustices in code enforcement today and cannabis policies in our own community.”
She also asked supervisors to “consider the needs of local victims of the drug war, which include small farmers disenfranchised by county policies around legalization.”
There were also objections to the second cannabis-related amendment, which defines illegal structures and other “significant and substantial” violations directly related to cannabis operations as the highest level of violation.
Blackberry said it seems like the definition is being “done solely for the purpose of being able to fine people $6,000 to $10,000 a day,”
On the timing of fines, Planning Director John Ford said “an important component of the code enforcement effort” is maintaining the 10-day window for first time, smaller-scale cultivators whose violations don’t involve environmental damage.
“A high percentage of violations are resolved without any fines or penalties,” he continued. “We are not proposing to start the violations on day one unless it is a second or subsequent violation.”
Large-scale cultivators who “stop and then start again” are “really the ones that we’re trying to target,” Ford said. He added that the county has “an internal policy of attempting to not issue notices of violation to small cultivation sites.”
Egregiously impactful grows are not being seen as often as they once were, Ford continued, but “there is still a significant amount of unpermitted cultivation going on out there.”
Supervisor Mike Wilson noted the “environmental damages that have been avoided so far” under the county’s regulatory system and the “deterrence overall, in terms of what was happening under an unregulated system.”
He added, “There’s just a balance here and it’s not an easy one.”
Board Chair Estelle Fennell said that at this week’s board meeting, on July 14, there will be a report on the county’s code enforcement activities and clarification of personal use rules will be discussed soon.
Also due for discussion in the near future is the development of a permit for small-scale cultivation of 2,000 square feet or less.