brought against the county of Humboldt
following its January adoption of a commercial medical marijuana ordinance was settled on July 5, but HuMMAP says there’s still much work left to be done.
The suit, filed in February, was an attempt to “block the environmental damage” it saw as an inevitability following the passage of the ordinance. Among HuMMAP’s chief concerns was the lack of an environmental impact report. As a condition of the settlement, the county has agreed not to modify or accept permit applications past the Dec. 31 deadline until an EIR is prepared. Additional language will be added to the ordinance to address noise from generators, the purchase of carbon credits and the role of Cal Fire. Cal Fire, in the words of HuMMAP’s press release, has such “strong objections … that they did not wish to be substantially involved in the permitting process.” (Cal Fire's public information officer did return calls or emails from the Journal
; we will update if contacted.)
In its press release, HUMMAP calls out “environmental groups,” saying “as a trade group we saw it was necessary to make up for unacceptable lapses by environmentalists.” The Environmental Protection Information Center declined to comment on this issue.
Reached by phone on Thursday morning, HUMMAP founding member Robert Sutherland sounded optimistic about the suit’s settlement, but he had more practical considerations on his mind: The neighbors, he said, had sabotaged his waterline again. Water use on his property near Ettersburg has been fraught for a while, as his neighbors have brought in a crew of workers that routinely diverts his water for what he considers a more destructive grow. It’s clear, talking to Sutherland, that the personal is political. Like many in the region, he’s concerned about the “new arrivals
,” the speculators and the “greed grows” that have been flooding in to Humboldt. Sutherland and his cohort, who bill themselves as small growers, charge that “greed grows” are diluting the brand.
“They will destroy the county. It's not just the environment, it's the economy. Humboldt has a world-wide reputation that was not earned through greed,” he said. “It was earned through care because originally people were growing primarily or exclusively for their personal use. Big growers are focused instead on money, big money, and so in Humboldt they are here merely to take advantage of our reputation by mass producing a much less careful product. They are cashing in on our reputation to satisfy personal greed. It's called killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Twenty years ago it would have been hard to imagine a grower of any ilk requesting better enforcement in the hills, but Sutherland insists that the Sheriff’s Department is not meeting its potential in terms of busting trespass and environmentally-damaging grows. (At a recent meeting in Bridgeville, Sheriff Downey said that his department did not have adequate resources to address the issue and that federal help was not forthcoming.)
Some oversight may come from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is slated to hire 30 new people for its watershed enforcement team in August. Eight agents will be active in Humboldt County, charged with documenting environmental crimes.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen how the “Greed Rush,” as Sutherland refers to it, will play out.
“Our future lies in quality that is hands-on. That means small, careful, respectful of nature,”
he stated. “Competition for a mass market will blow up on us.”
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on January 26 adopted a commercial medical marijuana ordinance. The Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project (Hummap), which represents small outdoor marijuana growers, filed suit February 26 to block the environmental damage the ordinance will cause. On July 5 the Board of Supervisors voted to accept the settlement detailed below. The judge is the Honorable Dale A. Reinholtsen. Among other things, Hummap argued an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) should have been prepared.
What has the Hummap lawsuit accomplished? The County and Hummap have worked together to improve the situation in the following ways:
• The County agrees to allow no further modifications to the ordinance, or to accept permit applications past the established December 31 deadline, until a full EIR is prepared.
This represents little change over the pre-lawsuit status, as the County already had authorized an eventual EIR. The Director of Planning and Building, Rob Wall, said he will start work on it this summer. However, the EIR is now obligatory and in theory forms a wall against further environmental damage after December 31. This wall will only be as strong as its defenders.
This guarantees an important opportunity for environmental groups to step up to protect our local environment from the ravages of some marijuana farming. Hummap is well aware that a healthy industry depends on a healthy environment. As a trade group we saw it was necessary to make up for unacceptable lapses by environmentalists. The larger marijuana groups focused more on money, not ethics. As nearly all Humboldt citizens are aware, we have in marijuana by far the largest threat -and opportunity- to Humboldt County in many decades. The Hummap lawsuit calls out for much better vigilance by environmental groups.
Not only does the County now agree to take no substantive actions in regard to the ordinance, nor to renew it, prior to completion of an EIR, it also agrees to establish January 1, 2016, as the baseline for that EIR. Hummap views this baseline date as an important aspect of the settlement. Other matters:
• Hummap is very pleased the parties agreed to clarify the noise standard as measured at the property line. Noise is the by far loudest complaint from citizens about neighboring grows. The ordinance now makes clear that the 60 decibel limit in the ordinance includes all noise coming from the site, including generator noise. This is important because it is impossible to separate out which part of the noise is from the generator alone, and other associated sources of noise from the site may be offensive besides. The County also has agreed to adopt within 30 days a strong policy regarding generator noise affecting the Spotted Owl and the Marbled Murrelet. The policy will compel a 50 decibel limit measured near the generator.
• The County has agreed to adopt within 30 days a policy requiring that carbon credits must be purchased from a state-accredited source.
• Because of strong objections by Cal-Fire that they did not wish to be substantially involved in the permitting process, a work-around provision was added by which a Registered Professional Forester may recommend the 3-acre forestland exemption instead. Yet Cal-Fire is the final legal authority for these, thus political or legal changes at the state level may be necessary.
• The County and Hummap agreed to a list of minor and technical amendments to the ordinance. Many of the small flaws were spotted by Hummap. These flaws attest to the rush with which the ordinance was initially considered. There were also substantial corrections made to the acreage accounts, not only correcting errors but also harmonizing the Coastal and Inland sections of the ordinance. A definition of “Public Park” was added.
• The parties agreed that setbacks of cultivation operations from public parks important to wildlife should not necessarily be zero, and therefore provided that such setbacks will require a Special Permit in which neighbors may comment on the proposal.
Various large issues pertaining to the law could not be addressed in this settlement. They are issues that would have been addressed had the parties gone to court. Lawsuits are very expensive, and generally are reserved to wealthy individuals and organizations. Surely this is an unsurprising comment about our economic system.
Hummap was represented by Rachel Doughty of Greenfire Law, located in Berkeley. She was assisted by attorney Eugene Denson of Alderpoint and an anonymous Bay Area attorney. Humboldt County was represented by Jeffrey Blanck, County Counsel, and Natalie Duke and Joel Ellinwood, Deputy Counsel.
It tentatively appears that all the persons and organizations that financially supported our suit will be fully compensated. If you are contributor, we will appreciate hearing whether you prefer a refund or are contributing your share to Hummap. Our treasurer is Gil Gregori, 707-986-7787. Thank you.
The Hummap lawsuit had wide influence beyond Humboldt County, notably in Mendocino and Trinity. Hummap thanks the many concerned citizens and public officials who share our environmental concerns about the catastrophic Green Rush we all are experiencing. We can have a healthy future!
The suit the Humboldt-Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project