Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
JACOBY CREEK FOREST – The City Council voted last week to uphold findings of the Forest Management Committee (FMC) urging the county Planning Commission to enforce 600-foot setbacks on developments in Timber Production Zones (TPZ) located near publicly owned parks and natural areas. But the council also gave leeway to a Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Permit (CCCP) now pending before the county Planning Commission for a 40-acre grow sited next to the Jacoby Creek Forest (JCF).
Emerald Coast Genetics is seeking a cultivation permit for a 40-acre grow sited next to the Jacoby Creek Forest (JCF), about 12 miles up Fickle Hill Road. The pre-existing grow, located on land zoned TPZ for timber production, is owned by Brian Zimmerman.
Citing what Councilmember Susan Ornelas repeatedly called a “particular situation” with an existing grow, the council also supported the FMC’s recommendation for a 150-foot setback from the JCF in this case, despite Andre’s concerns about precedent-setting. The FMC also recommended return of 0.4 converted acres to native forest conditions. Five-year monitoring would ensure that the reforestation takes place.
The city wasn’t informed by the county of the pending permit until the process was well underway, and is trying to catch up. The matter could reach the county Planning Commission as early as Aug. 22, but the date has not yet been firmed up.
Environmental Servces Director Mark Andre said the grow’s operators have trespassed onto two adjacent properties, including that of Humboldt Redwood Company and the Arcata-owned JCF, where they cut down two trees.
Humboldt State University, which has acquired forestland in the area to operate in conjunction with the City of Arcata, also wants the 600-foot setback enforced.
Property owner Bruce Zimmerman, an attorney, said the city’s action were based on erroneous information. He said the grow was never illegal, and Andre later clarified that it had been unpermitted. “We have always been in compliance,” he said.
However, the site was raided by the Humboldt County Drug Task Force in September, 2012, with agents finding multiple weapons and environmental violations, plus large-scale illegal cultivation.
Zimmerman said the taken trees were either rotten or blowdown, and not a problem. He said the area is being re-surveyed to ascertain compliance.
He said a septic system is located 50 feet from the property’s edge, and can’t be relocated.
His son, Brian Zimmerman, said he could operate a pig farm, hemp or flower cultivation at the site, with use of “toxic pesticide(s)” which would be much more impactive. He said the city’s plans for the JCF could harm his operation with theft and fire hazards, and that he would hold the city liable.
“You’re basically fighting something that is going to help you,” Zimmerman said. “I think this is mostly political.”
Zimmerman said he’s been “harassed and manipulated” for 10 years. “I’m not an idiot, and I just want a chance to do well.”
Mayor Brett Watson wanted a flat-out 600-foot setback with no compromise, but a bare majority of the council went with the FMC’s recommendation, approving it 3-2, with Watson and City Councilmember Michael Winkler dissenting.
This story includes a correction from the print edition version regarding the council's vote.