Kim Puckett: The case against the Arcata Land Company cannabis project

A GIS map of the project and environs created by a neighbor" 1. The current proposed project (thick red border) 2. City boundaries (thin turquoise line) 3. Arcata Land Co/Sun Valley permit submitted for grows but not yet approved (thick orange line) 4. Thick blue is already permitted cannabis project 5.  Parcels bordered in green include two CSAs, four schools, five parks, and two healthcare facilities

Note: Area residents and others concerned about the proposed 23-acre Arcata Land Company cannabis grow and processing facility have organized in opposition. Below is one of the letters submitted to the Humboldt County Planning Commission in anticipation of its first hearing on the matter, Thursday, March 18. – Ed. 

Date: Wednesday 10 March 2021

To: [email protected]
From: Kim Puckett, 27th Street Arcata;
Re: ARCATA LAND COMPANY, LLC COMMERCIAL CANNABIS OUTDOOR LIGHT-DEPRIVATION AND MIXED-LIGHT CULTIVATION PROJECT APPLICATION NO. 12255

 Dear Planning Commissioners and Planning Department,

This is an addendum to my letter, sent with my husband and neighbors, on 2/26/21.

 I am writing this to state my vehement opposition to the proposed Arcata Land Company Project and I am demanding that those of us living in homes and neighborhoods near this project be afforded the same considerations that John Ford provided the residents of Hydesville regarding the Lost Boy’s Farm project on 12/3/20 and have this project denied.  In his statements during that planning commission meeting, Mr. Ford said that there is a “high degree of discretion in Community Planning Areas in allowing applicants to find an area without a lot of public controversy and where it wouldn’t adversely affect the community” and further said that is why he chose to not allow that project to go further, and that he placed “incredible importance” upon the findings regarding public welfare as defined by Keenan Hilton during that meeting. Later in that same meeting, Mr. Ford stated that the denial of the Hydesville project had “everything to do with the fact that this is in a Community Planning Area and there is significant neighborhood opposition.” I, along with most (if not all) of my neighbors and most of the residents in the Arcata Bottom, fail to see why you are not considering the Arcata Land Company project in the same light. I’d hate to think it had something to do with the average home prices in Hydesville hovering at $476,962 as of 1/21 (Zillow) while the average home price in Arcata is $375,679 (Zillow) for the same time period (and we know that houses in the Bottom sell for less than those in most other areas of Arcata)? Is this one more instance of putting something no one wants in the back yard of one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in Arcata? We DO NOT want this in our neighborhood.

This project conflicts with general plan land use policies as put forth in Humboldt County’s General Plan. Allowing conversion of agricultural lands in this manner (being covered by 1 million sq. ft. of plastic hoop houses that are put on top of one foot of imported sand as well as covering multiple acres of ag land with concrete to accommodate structures and parking). If this whole enterprise doesn’t make it, where’s the deconstruction plan?

TIMELY TULIPS Residents in the area of the proposed cannabis project recently received an unexpected gift of tulips from Sun Valley Group. The person who got this letter and flowers wasn’t swayed toward approval. Submitted photo

I ask you to reflect on the following:

1. My husband and I moved to 27th Street Arcata (just outside the city limits but in the “Sphere of Influence” of the City of Arcata) seventeen years ago. We live about 800 feet from this parcel and it is in full view from inside our home as well as in our yard and garden. We’ve spent the past 17 years building the garden and greenhouse of our dreams. We moved here for the quiet, the peace, the gardening, the birds, etc. and were well aware that we were moving to an agricultural area. Keep in mind, cannabis was not legal at that time (had it been, we would not have bought this home-our largest financial investment) and we never imagined that in the last years of our lives we’d be faced with living next to a huge industrial cannabis factory. We never, in our worst nightmares, imagined we’d be faced with the possibility of leaving our beloved home or having to put up with the horrendous stink and God-awful sight of 23 acres of cannabis grown in plastic within easy view both inside and outside of our home (the study claims there will be no impacts to the viewshed-this is patently false). We never imagined that we’d face the possibility of having our well-water contaminated by salt water due to salt water intrusion (and this has indeed happened at this site in years past when it was a mill site as was documented during mill site clean-up) which ruins agricultural land and causes eco-system shifts.

2. Odors: While the Arcata Land Company Study (study) cites a mitigation measure to manage odors, there will still be a significant impact to “sensitive receptors” in the project areas, and an EIR should have been completed to address this issue. The study did not provide a copy of the Odor Control Plan that would be implemented as part of proposed Mitigation Measure AQ-1 to address odor issues, and given that there can be no assurance that odors can or will be managed. Additionally, the Operation Plan that was provided does not include mention of preparation of an Odor Control Plan. While the study claims that the project would not produce significant quantities of criteria pollutants during construction or operation, it does clearly state in supporting documents that there will be an unavoidable odor impact. The study also states “As a result, the Project would not expose sensitive receptors to substantial pollutant concentrations, and impacts would be less than significant.” The Humboldt County Commercial Cannabis DEIR found that cannabis-related odors would result in a significant and unavoidable impact, despite the use of setback, odor prevention equipment, and prohibition on burning plant materials. This Project does result in the exposure of sensitive receptors to substantial pollutant concentrations, and thus impacts are NOT less than significant, and should be categorized as significant and unavoidable. I am one of those “sensitive receptors.” I have asthma and am on three daily medications to control it. I have been hospitalized four times with status asthmaticus. One trigger for me is the smell of cannabis/cannabis pollen. My daughter, also asthmatic, is also triggered by the smell/pollen from cannabis. Additionally, the statement in the study that there are no sensitive receptors within the vicinity of the project, except scattered rural residential is false. There is a population of 900 people within only a ½ mile of the proposed project site including sensitive receptors of 165 Youth and 53 Seniors (not taking into account the proposed senior community that would be even closer), according to California State Parks Community Fact Finder (See Attachment at the end of this letter).

3. Public welfare needs to be considered here. This project would undeniably change the fabric of the Arcata Bottom. This project would completely change the character of not just the immediate area of Sun Valley, but the entire west side of Arcata, from 11th to 27th Streets, and the rural ag communities of the Arcata Bottoms. Of the population living within ½ mile of the project (from California State Parks cited above in #2 and attached), 367 live in poverty, with a median household income in the ½ mile radius of the proposed Project Site of only 55% of the statewide median household income. Does Humboldt County really want to allow this project in an area that has a high poverty rate like this? Would they even be considering it if this project was adjacent to a high-income area? Would Mr. Devries want 23 acres of cannabis grown next door to his home? Would any of the planning commissioners want to live next to this proposed project, breathing in the stench from 23 acres of cannabis for a good part of the year? Anyone who thinks that this operation will not be detrimental to the quality of life for those of us living in the Arcata Bottom just doesn’t understand the beauty and uniqueness of this area.  How can it be in the interest of public welfare to allow the 9th largest industrial grow in the U.S. and Canada literally in the backyard of our homes, our schools, our parks, and our churches? This neighborhood does NOT want this.

4. One of my neighbors is a mortgage underwriter. She wrote, in her letter to you, “to ignore the fiscal consequences to the value of ALL the homes in this area is heartless and irresponsible...I am CERTAIN that this operation will have a devastating impact to the value of all of our homes.  These homes are the largest investment to the families yards away from this parcel.  It would be naive to think that any potential buyer in Arcata would choose our neighborhood over others.  Homeowners, many who have sunk their life’s savings will lose their property values.“ A number of local realtors with whom my husband and I spoke told us the same thing. If this is allowed to go forward, those of us living in what’s already considered a low-income area will suffer a loss in value of our greatest fiscal asset, to say nothing of losing the peaceful sanctuary of our homes.  

5. We are very concerned about the impact that growing this 23-acre monoculture will have in terms of use of pesticides and fertilizers. We know that Mr. DeVries has not been forthcoming in his use of pesticides and herbicides as evidenced by his spraying of “Round-up” in fields in the Bottom without notifying neighbors downwind of the parcel. Although the study indicates that use of these products in a cannabis farm is regulated, how can we be assured of this happening? Additionally, according to  Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics in a letter about this project to Mr. Yandel dated 2/26/21, “when used in any quantity in a large monoculture on the edge of town near already established human populations and market farms, as is the proposed cannabis factory, the potential that large amounts of this chemical [PureCrop1, a “nano-supramolecular surfactant”] could be used in a space of a few days is of concern…Nobody in Arcata wants to be a test animal…there really is no toxic substance that can be considered safe, especially when used near human and wildlife populations and in quantity.” What effect will this have on those of us living and growing our food here in the Bottom? How is it in the interest of the public welfare to allow us to be guinea pigs? What effect will these things have on Liscomb Slough?

6. Sun Valley has ignored our repeated attempts to have them shield the existing security lights that infiltrate our living room and bedrooms when it’s dark outside. We’ve never even gotten a call back from them about this. Other neighbors have experienced the same thing. What effect will adding an additional 1.1 million sq. ft. have? How will the security lighting affect neighbors? Even if it’s motion censored, there could still be an impact. What recourse is there for the neighborhood?

7. What will the “security” for this high value crop filling 23 acres look like? Will it be like the legal grow in Willow Creek a few years ago, visible from Country Club Drive, where armed guards patrolled the perimeter? Will the fences be topped with concertina wire? What will this mean for those of us with parcels fully open to the planned site? Will we be a short-cut for those that might want to access the site for nefarious purposes? It sounds laughable but you might not laugh so loudly when it’s your home and neighborhood at risk.

8. Humboldt, and Arcata in particular, has always prided itself on supporting small, local businesses. This project is antithetical to that concept! It threatens not only the uniqueness of the Bottom, the sanctity of the homes of those living in the area, but it is also a threat to the smaller cannabis farmers that have been abiding by the law, that are a part of the community. What happens if Mr. DeVries decides to sell this to, say, Philip Morris?

9. Does the Planning Department not have an obligation to listen to the community? They arrived at their decision prior to getting much community input. We’ve been told they will not be responding to questions submitted with the letters as there were “far too many questions to answer.” And yet, they still move forward on their mission to approval this huge industrial grow in next to neighborhoods in Arcata with a high poverty rate. This is not equity!

10. As mentioned in my 2/26/21 letter, no one in my cul de sac (800 feet from the project) received a letter about this and few that lived more than 300 feet that we spoke to received it. We found out inadvertently from someone living further away. Had she not asked us about this, we, along with most of our neighborhood and other surrounding neighborhoods, would not have known about this project that threatens to affect our homes and neighborhoods. Not only that, but even after specifically requesting to be added to all future mailings and also being told the county was sending it to all that were within 2,000 feet of the project, we did not receive the letter with the Zoom meeting information. Our neighbors, at least, did receive that letter and were able to provide us with a copy. This is inadequate notification of stakeholders!

11. Noise is a huge concern. Given that fans will be running in 193 greenhouses, what effect will this have on the residents in the area? What effect will this noise pollution have on the wildlife including the many birds (both seasonal and migratory) that are in the area?

12. Conversion of prime ag land will indeed occur with this project. 23 acres of ag land will be covered by hoop houses. Those hoop houses will be erected on a foot of sand that will be brought in. This could destroy the tilth of the soil. Additionally, almost 2 acres of ag land will be covered by concrete!

13. Water-in addition to what I wrote earlier in this letter regarding salt water intrusion, I am extremely concerned about the amount of water this project will likely take. As stated in my letter of 2/26/21, this project has likely grossly underestimated (by as much as 80 plus %; citation is in my 2/26/21 letter) the amount of water this project will take and there is nothing that obligates them to use only that amount given there is no requirement for measuring the amount of water they are using and no penalty for going over the stated amount. How is this allowed? There are many homes here that rely on wells for their home and/or agricultural needs, including us, both our immediate neighbors, and the CSA next to us (who uses our well to supply water for his farm).  

14. Greenhouse gas emissions- the project study, in response to the question will the project “generate greenhouse gas emissions, either directly or indirectly, that may have a significant impact on the environment?” said that there would be a “Less-than-Significant Impact.” This is untrue, according to a new study (link to the full report in Nature Sustainability is here https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-021-00691-w and a link to a summary article here https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/03/as-a-crop-cannabis-has-enormous-carbon-emissions/ ) looking at greenhouse gas emissions from cannabis grows. This study looks at the production-associated emissions of indoor grows at over 1,000 locations in the US, taking into account lifecycle emissions from upstream and downstream impacts such as transportation, fertilizer manufacturing, and waste disposal, but the majority of emissions are from energy use (natural gas, electricity). For a grow operation in California, the estimate is over 2,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per kilogram of dried flower. We’re talking about two metric tons of CO2e entering the atmosphere and oceans for every 2 pounds of dried flower produced.

2 metric tons of CO2e is equivalent to driving an average passenger vehicle 4,963 miles, burning 2,204 pounds of coal, or consuming 4.6 barrels of oil (https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator). The article also states that the report authors estimate that “switching to outdoor production would drop greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent… switching to a greenhouse, which would handle many of the security issues, would cut emissions… in half.” Even half of that is an outrageous amount of greenhouse gas emissions; heck, let’s say ¼ or an 1/8 of that!  We’re looking at 23 acres of production on the edge of Arcata. There are no mitigation measures cited for this, as the finding, based on lack of current data, is erroneous.

I will close by saying I request that the planning commission not approve this mitigated negative declaration and instead enforce the County’s CCLU Ordinance 2599 and (section 55.4.5.1c) GENERAL PROVISIONS APPLICABLE TO COMMERCIAL CANNABIS ACTIVITY LAND USE PERMITS, Special Area Provisions: The Hearing Officer shall have the discretion to deny any discretionary permit application within these areas if it is found, based on substantial evidence in the record, that the impacts of a proposed activity on the existing uses will have a significant adverse effect on the public health, safety, or welfare.

Kim Puckett
Arcata







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