Top planner: County, state ‘out of sync’ on permitting

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The county’s planning director has told the Planning Commission that local and state oversight of marijuana permitting is “completely out of sync” and “Humboldt County has lost its position as lead agency because people are going to the state agencies first.”

Prioritization of county permitting is covered in a new policy proposed for a revamped commercial marijuana production ordinance. Discussed during the commission’s Nov. 2 workshop on the ordinance, the policy states that cultivators can’t enter streambed alteration agreements with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) until county permits have been processed.

That would give the county ultimate supervision over where grows are located on a site. But watershed consultant Hollie Hall advised against the policy, saying it hampers growers’ ability to comply with DFW regulations.

In response, Planning Director John Ford told commissioners that the policy seeks to avoid confusion and ensure that county regulations are being followed. Growers are “going to the state agencies first” when seeking permission for locating of grows and doing other things, he continued, and “that’s not the way it should work.”

The county is the lead agency and should issue permits before growers seek agreements with state environmental agencies, Ford said. He gave an example of how not doing that can cause problems, saying he visited a site that day where a permit applicant got an apparent go-ahead for streambed alteration work that was later reversed by the DFW.

“So they sent them to the county and meanwhile, the applicant is working on these improvements,” said Ford, adding that the work lacked proper environmental review.

“Now there’s a violation,” Ford explained. “So what we’re trying to do is clarify what the normal sequence of events should be.”

In another example, Ford said a grow was re-located “ahead of time” because a staffer from a state agency made “an offhanded comment” indicating that it needed to be moved. It was re-located without getting a county permit.

“That’s out of sequence,” Ford said.

There was some concern about the language of the policy but Commissioner Ben Shepherd supported its intent.

“It’s incredibly important,” he said. “The county is the lead agency and we’re the ones that look at all the parts of it, so we have to maintain that position.”

Hall said coordination is valuable but it’s also important to “let Fish and Wildlife know that these property owners are willing to work with them.”

The commission was only discussing items and not making them decisions on them and moved on to other aspects of the new draft ordinance.

In reviewing performance standards, the item that drew the most discussion is a requirement that grid-powered electricity be from 100 percent renewable sources and onsite energy production be 80 percent renewable.

Ford said the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to encourage outdoor growing. He said growing is increasingly being done indoors or in mixed light greenhouses.

Shepherd said he’s “uncomfortable” with specifically applying renewable energy requirements to marijuana growers. Cultivators told commissioners that it will put them at a competitive disadvantage and compound the financial burdens of taxation.

But Commissioner Noah Levy defended the proposal, saying the county is seeking a “higher standard” with a variety of aspects of cultivation and “I want to incentivize using less power and if you’re using power, to make it renewable or as nearly renewable as possible.”

Commissioners also discussed performance standards on lighting, generator use, noise and water use.

The commission will make decisions on the draft ordinance and an Environmental Impact Report at its Nov. 16 meeting.



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