Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union/KHSU
ARCATA CITY HALL – Thursday night July 23, we're doing a KHSU Thursday Night Talk (TNT) radio show from Arcata City Hall. It may be the first time a general interest public affairs show has been broadcast from City Council Chamber. Exciting!
Even more exciting is the topic – Arcata's planned Medical Marijuana Innovation Zone (MMIZ). Especially since the room we'll be in is the one where the basic decisions will be made to shape this bold initiative.
For those who just tuned in, the MMIZ planned for siting in the horribly blighted location on West End Road which once hosted Humboldt Flakeboard, and before that the Louisiana-Pacific lumber mill. The MMIZ could also include adjacent Aldergrove Industrial Park and other neighboring properties. The city would like to have 20 or 30 diversified cannabis businesses there – cultivation, processing, edibles manufacturing, medical research and more. But no retail sales.
The required overlay zone would allow cannabis entrepreneurs to apply for business licenses and have them approved (or not) by city planning staff via via a simplified "ministerial" process (which for those of us not familiar with policy-speak, has nothing to do with going to church). The streamlined procedure would bypass the whole lengthy and costly Planning Commission process as long as the applicant comports with the new LUC standards.
Arcata is uniquely positioned to carry this out. It is no longer plagued by grow houses and doesn't have to deal with the habitat-wrecking grows in the hills and can, for want of a better term, skim the cream of the cannabis industry.
It's a startling turnaround from five or six years ago, when the city was fighting neighborhood-killing residential grows and didn't wish to be associated with the cannabis industry. By brilliantly shifting the matter away from the law enforcement realm with the voter-approved Excessive Electricity Use Tax, Arcata motivated the neighborhood growers to get outta town on their own. And they have.
Now Arcata actually hopes to attract back cannabiz-folk who are willing to do things ethically – including growers – and to own the whole notion of being the NoHum capital of the Emerald Triangle. It hopes to leverage Arcata's branding and skills to cultivate a tax-paying, labor-friendly and environmentally benign cannabis industrial park. It also hopes that the booming cannabis industry can reverse the blight at the defunct lumber mill.
A Planco staff report calls this "a sea change moment." And it may be. Whatever policy standards are set in place will direct the flow of millions of dollars in Arcata in coming years, as the above-board cannabis industry replaces the old timber industry as an economic linchpin. It isn't hyperbole to foresee that hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars could flow through Arcata in coming years and decades based on the particulars decided in Council Chamber over the next few months.
However, the entire proposition is problematic. Just a few of the many, many challenges include:
• By what environmentally conscientious method will cannabis be cultivated there? Indoor with solar energy? Outdoor, or with greenhouses a la Sun Valley Floral Farm?
• Can an industry steeped in concealment and evasion make the transition to working above board, cooperatively with law enforcement and code enforcement officials?
• Can the inevitable NIMBY concerns be mitigated or mollified?
If anyone can address these and other related questions, it's our hyper-qualified guests for this episode of TNT. This is the first time I've had a dream slate of guests for a topic and had every one of them agree to appear. Just look at the stellar panel for the show:
• Arcata Mayor Michael Winkler, who, along with other councilmembers, will fine-tune and eventually vote on whatever overlay zone and Land Use Code amendment the Planning Commission comes up with.
• Community Development Director Larry Oetker, who developed the MMIZ initiative and is shepherding it through the city decisionmaking process. He took the initial proposal to the council, which gave him direction to expand and diversify the locations where the MMIZ might be located.
• Jane Woodward, member of the city's citizen-led Economic Development Committee (EDC). Jane regularly attends meetings of other city committees, such as the Forest Management Committee (FMC), to understand things they're dong which could have economic impacts and benefits. One is the Arcata Ridge Trail, where she went on a scoping walk in the woods with the FMC. The EDC has been discussing next year's widely predicted cannabis legalization and the best ways that the City of Arcata can be prepared for and take advantage of it.
• Paul Hagen, planning commissioner and environmental attorney. Paul is on the Planco and he will help shape the policy forwarded to the City Council. (By the way, "Planco" is a retro term for the Planning Commission I noticed in old Arcata Unions, which we reintroduced and which is now back in occasional common usage, hooray!) By a stroke of fate or luck, Paul was also the county's environmental prosecutor back in 2000/2001, when the toxic waste dump out back of the Louisiana-Pacific plant was discovered. He can bring us up to date on that situation and the types of issues which will be of interest to the Planco as it deliberates on this initiative.
• Brian Wilkomm, general manager of Humboldt Patient Resource Center (HPRC). The HPRC dispensary is one of the two legal cannabis businesses in Arcata at this point. Brian, Mariellen Jurkovich and their cannabis center have been active in consulting with the EDC and city officials on progressive ways to move cannabiz forward. Brian can offer industry perspectives on this initiative's many moving parts.
The goal is to have a freewheeling conversation among those who will guide the evolution of this bold new policy, one unbound by Robert's Rules of Order. City Hall will be open, and listeners are welcome to come by and be part of our "studio" audience.
Special thanks to Karen Diemer and Dillon Savage with the City of Arcata for making the remote broadcast from a city facility possible, and to KHSU's Katie Whiteside and Kevin Sanders for handling the technical side.
Thursday Night Talk starts at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 23 at Arcata City Hall.