Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – U-Haul trucks full of grow lights, soil and marijuana starts may soon start streaming into McKinleyville as indoor ganja growers from Arcata move to escape the city’s new Excess Energy Tax.
Town leaders in McKinleyville are bracing for the exodus and are looking for ways to stem the anticipated influx of growers.
Arcata’s 45 percent Excessive Energy Use Tax kicked in this week. Pacific Gas & Electric customers in Arcata using more than three times the average household electrical usage will now pay a 45 percent tax on all their electricity. The goal of Arcata’s tax is to get the City’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction program back on track and to push large-scale marijuana growers out of Arcata’s residential neighborhoods.
In 2011, there were 633 residential electrical meters in Arcata that exceeded the threshold, with almost all of them believed to be power-sucking grow houses.
The PG&E bills for October electricity usage will be received by the growers in November.
A logical place for those growers to relocate to escape the tax is nearby McKinleyville, which has a large housing stock and an abundance of rentals, but doesn’t have Arcata’s Special Services Unit, which actively tracks and acts on grow house reports.
Unincorporated McKinleyville doesn’t have an excess energy use tax, although that could change.
The issue was recently discussed by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, which appointed a subcommittee to study the possibility of a county wide excess energy use tax similar to the Arcata tax.
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, who sits on the subcommittee with First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, said the prospect of more growers setting up shop in McKinleyville is worrisome.
The committee, he said, is in the preliminary stages of gathering data and will soon meet with Pacific Gas & Electric to get some numbers and find out how many indoor grows exist in McKinleyville and other unincorporated areas. Observing its customers’ privacy, the utility doesn’t identify individual homes that use excess juice, but does provide officials with overall statistical data.
The Arcata exodus was also briefly discussed last week by the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC). The advisory committee, made up of McKinleyville residents, provides input to the Board of Supervisors, county Planning Commission and county departments which serve the unincorporated community.
Senior County Planner Michael Richardson was at the McKMAC meeting to discuss the county’s draft Housing Element, part of the General Plan. One of the issues brought up was affordable housing.
Richardson said that there are suggestions being made that the plan include information about how grow houses are making homes less affordable and, in some cases, degrading the housing stock.
“It’s increased the price of housing,” Richardson said about the illegal grows. “And then it ends up deteriorating the housing stock because of the illegal wiring and the holes,” plus mold and water damage caused by the cannabis production.
McMAC Chairman Ben Shepherd said he was familiar with the damage caused by the grows.
“You go in and find a large agricultural operation in your house. Having lived through that... Having your floor ruined and your ceiling cracked from lights, and your wires hacked in the attic,” Shepherd said.
Besides the damage, the grows also jack up the rental prices.
“I know people who rent, and they charge a ton of money just because they know people are growing in the house,” Shepherd said, adding that this prices out non-growers.
McKMAC member Greg Orsini said that a person growing marijuana might pay $3,000 for a house that would normally rent for $1,500. That drives up the rental prices, making it difficult for non-growers to find anything affordable.
“Not to mention the impact on the neighborhood,” chimed in McKinleyville resident Carol Newman.
And with Arcata’s excess energy tax adding a huge surcharge to grow ops there, McKinleyville’s problems with growers may instensify.
“One of my concerns is what that will do to the housing in McKinleyville,” Newman said.
“You’re going to have this flood of new grows,” Richardson responded.
Richardson referred to the county’s efforts to investigate a utility tax, and noted that perhaps the revenue generated from the tax could be used for affordable housing.
Shepherd said that the only way an excess energy tax can address the problem is if applies throughout the county.
“If you do it (the tax) in one area and there’s McKinleyville next door, where it (the tax) is not there, it’s almost like a magnet,” Shepherd said. “It has to be everywhere. It can’t just be in one place.”