Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

After voting to name Supervisor Lori Cowan as chair and Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen as vice chair, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors held a lengthy discussion regarding cannabis.

The discussion Tuesday included potential growing of cannabis in timberland, a general plan amendment and California Environmental quality act regulations that may be necessary to allow cannabis cultivation in county timberland areas.

County Counsel Joel Campbell Blair said the ordinance process has come to a significant crossroads, and he has repeatedly said timberland is the logical pace for cannabis cultivation.

“Both, because it’s out of sight and because it’s where most of the illegal, unregulated growing was already happening,” he said. “We saved this for last because we knew this was the most complicated place to grow, and now I want to bring some of those complications forward because I think they are going to require, at the very minimum, some CEQA review that might be costly, and possibly a general plan amendment.”

Campbell-Blair reviewed some requirements of outdoor cultivation brought up at previous meetings regarding size, wattage use and light pollution.

He said cultivation would only be allowed in the Ag Forestry (AF) zone and require rezones from other zoning, requiring general plan reworking.

Water, electricity, setbacks and nursery requirements were also discussed.

Campbell Blair said any ordinances would have to be consistent with the county general plan for land use and zoning requirements.

Campbell Blair explained several other changes, deletions and actions that would need to be taken to allow cultivation in timberland.

“The primary apprehension that I’ve heard expressed, is a cultural and social change in the county, toward what you have in southern Oregon or all of Humboldt, where we are kind of changing the nature of the economy of timberlands into a growing culture,” he said, “and that would have to be assessed for its impacts.”

He suggested the board look philosophically at the appropriate use for local timberland and examine if the expected cannabis industry will be able to pay for itself.

Supervisor Chris Howard said he was somewhat bothered by the notion that many legal changes would need to occur when timberland has always been thought of as the ideal location for cannabis cultivation.

“We’ve taken steps to get here and now the board’s hearing that maybe our general plan and our zoning conflict to the point where we have one a hell of a can of worms just to get what’s already existing out there on the landscape,” Howard said. “It bothers me that I am just now hearing about this.”

Campbell Blair said that thanks to the working group’s input, the county now has a clearer picture of the cannabis activities on timberland.

“Some general plan and zoning issues came forward as we were looking at this in the working group,” he said. “They make things more complicated than we initially thought.”

Regarding water, Howard suggested catchment devices during the wet season to stockpile rainwater and felt the impact would be minimal.

Hemmingsen suggested looking at Humboldt County’s completed EIR, to save time and cost. Campbell-Blair said county staff were not thrilled at the idea, but it’s planned to go forward with an initial study.

“I didn’t want to oversell and under-deliver, and come back later and say, “We did it and now we’re stuck with it,” he said.

Hemmingsen suggested a general plan amendment could take months or years, but Campbell Blair said it was hoped it could be done in time to allow cultivation to start in the growing season of 2020.

After some discussion about light and odor nuisances, the board unanimously approved a temporary moratorium on permit applications within areas sensitive to the Yurok Tribal areas.

“The Yurok Tribe requests the Board enact a moratorium on cannabis cultivation in areas the tribe considers sensitive. Elly Hoopes, attorney for the tribe, requested an ordinance similar to the moratorium Humboldt County passed to prohibit cultivation in an area identified by the Tribe as an area of traditional tribal cultural affiliation,” said staff reports. “County Counsel has worked with Elly Hoopes to adjust the Humboldt moratorium for Del Norte County, as well as create findings necessary to enact an urgency ordinance.”

The board took no action on the discussion.