Oct 16, 2018
by Will Carruthers
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors heard comment on the county’s Cannabis Land Use Ordinance and allowed staff to begin work on an environmental impact report for a long-delayed quarry at its Tuesday, October 16 meeting.
The supervisors discussed possible changes to the county’s Cannabis Land Use Ordinance, a set of rules controlling how and where farms and production facilities can operate in the county.
Neighbors and supervisors voiced concern about the legal definitions of schools and parks that have allowed cannabis cultivators to operate in places that some neighbors did not expect. For instance, because pre-schools are permitted differently than K-12 schools by the state, pre-schools and day care facilities were not included in the county's set back requirements.
In another case of legal confusion raised at the meeting, trails in the West County maintained by the parks department are considered transportation corridors, not recreational land, according to county staff.
At the heart of the debate was the county's Penalty Relief Program, which allows rule abiding cannabis businesses to operate while the county finalizes its permitting rules, a process that has taken nearly two years so far.
The discussion of possible rule changes brought out residents and business operators on both sides of the issue. Neighbors of projects operating under the Penalty Relief Program came out in high numbers to criticize what they saw as negative impacts on their communities, including odors, light pollution and increased road traffic.
Cannabis business owners stressed that the county's long legislative process made business owners less likely to file for permits due to uncertainty.
County staff stressed that they have taken regulatory action against businesses that don't meet the county's existing requirements. Since January 1, 2017, the county has refused to permit 600 businesses, according to Tim Ricard, Cannabis Program Manager for the county’s Economic Development Board.
After hearing public comment, Board Chair James Gore noted that the process was never going to be simple, adding that the board had always expected to alter the rules based on feedback before passing a final version.
“You can’t lock up in a box and pass perfect legislation,” Gore said.
The supervisors returned some of the unanswered questions to the board’s Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee for further study.
Supervisors heard a staff presentation on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for a long-delayed quarry project west of Cotati.
Blake Hillegas, a planner at Permit Sonoma, presented a slide show about the latest environmental mitigation proposal for the project.
The Board of Supervisors approved the project in December 2010 with a 3-2 vote, however, the project was stalled by lawsuits brought by project opponents concerned about its environmental impacts. In July 2014, John Barella, the quarry's owner, won the lawsuits.
The Tuesday hearing was a mandated public hearing before county staff completes a full environmental review for the updated project proposal, but it gave members of the public and supervisors a chance to raise questions about the project's environmental impacts, including an increase of traffic on Roblar Road, which the applicant is required to widen.
Much of the concern raised at the meeting had to do with bicycle safety on the road.
Between 302 and 480 additional gravel trucks would drive on Roblar Road each day, according to a staff report. The road currently carries 40 per day.
The county’s original proposal for the road called for two 12-foot traffic lanes with six foot paved shoulders and two-foot-wide rock shoulders.
The applicant proposed two 11-foot lanes with three-foot shoulders. A mitigation plan recommended by the county’s Bicycle Pedestrian Committee would require 11-foot wide travel lanes and four-foot wide paved shoulders.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane asked staff whether the project could comply with a new state transportation code requiring cars and trucks to provide bicycles with three feet of space when passing them.
“A truck passing a bicycle at nine inches away is going to suck the bicycle right into its draft,” Zane said.
During discussion of the long-delayed project, Supervisor James Gore said that the county’s shortage of local aggregate – building materials including gravel - force local contractors to import materials from quarries as far away as Canada, essentially exporting the environmental impacts of quarries to other parts of the world.
After satisfying a public hearing requirement, staff will now prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for the project. Public comment on the project is open until October 29 at 5pm.
The agenda for the entire meeting is available here.
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