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LETTERS from Gazette Readers - April 2018

Cannabis Operators are Community Members Too

There has been a lot of commotion about the County’s cannabis program lately, and much of it simply represents a fear of the unknown. Because of some of the misleading information out there, I wanted to set the record straight.

Cannabis is a plant. It’s defined under State law as an “agricultural product” and is regulated by the State Department of Food and Agriculture. It makes no sense to relegate an agricultural product to industrial zones, as some people are calling for. Cannabis cultivators already made a huge sacrifice by being shut out of the AR and RR zones, where the majority of them were located in the past, and have had to sell their properties and find new locations that fit the County’s carefully-determined criteria.

The fear of “Big Ag” coming in to the cannabis industry in Sonoma County is unrealistic, because the County’s ordinance limits growers to one acre of cultivation throughout the entire county. Less than 50 acres of cannabis cultivation have been applied for throughout all of unincorporated Sonoma County. That’s smaller than many single farms or vineyards, and according to the Agricultural Commissioner, it is unlikely that more than 100 acres of cannabis cultivation would ever be permitted in Sonoma County because of restrictions on zoning, setbacks, and other factors. There are already a significant number of stringent conditions that cannabis cultivators must comply with in order to get permitted, including conditions related to water usage, energy usage, grading, setbacks, security, and more. These conditions were designed by the Board of Supervisors to protect the environment and the surrounding community.

The fact that a business is organized as, or has its property held by, an LLC doesn’t tell you anything. Many small “mom-and-pop” businesses of all types are organized as LLCs, not just cannabis businesses. For example, a search on the California Secretary of State’s website reveals that a number of the small farming and vineyard operations in the Bennett Valley area are organized as LLCs. And while there might be applications from out-of-county LLCs, an LLC can be registered to any address, so that doesn’t mean that the tenants who will be the actual operators on that property are not from Sonoma County.

The recent marijuana-related home invasions in Sonoma County are heartbreaking. However, it is important to look at these incidents in perspective. According to law enforcement, there was no indication that any of the victims were part of the regulated cannabis industry or were going through the county’s permit process. Crimes like that will continue to be a possibility until cannabis is legalized nationwide, since federal prohibition has created a black market that artificially inflated the value of a weed. However, statistics from other states show that legalizing and imposing regulations on cannabis businesses leads to an overall reduction in crime. Licensed cannabis operators in Sonoma County must install security cameras, fencing, and alarms that are designed to prevent and thwart criminal attacks. None of those features existed at the properties that were recently victimized.

In 2016, Sonoma County voted to legalize cannabis by a margin of 59% to 41%. Even in more conservative neighborhoods, such as Bennett Valley outside of Santa Rosa, Proposition 64 was approved by 58.2% of the voters (higher than within the City of Santa Rosa). Thus, legalization is something that the majority of the community wants, even those in rural areas. Cannabis operators are members of the local community too - they are your neighbors, friends, and business patrons. Moreover, the cannabis industry has the potential to bring in additional tax revenue, jobs, and other economic benefits to help Sonoma County recover after the fires. Let’s not restrict the County’s already restrictive ordinance further before the program has even had a chance to get off the ground.

Lauren Mendelsohn

Lauren Mendelsohn, Esq., is an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Omar Figueroa and is a Board Member of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance.

No commercial cannabis near homes

I live in a RR (Rural Residential) area near Penngrove and Petaluma. We have paid taxes to live in this safe, tranquil residential area, originally zoned AR, since January 1989.

My neighbors and I absolutely do NOT want the encroachment of cannabis growers in this area. None of us came here to grow anything that could disturb others, nor do we want crops near us that attract thieves and violence. Recently several out-of-state criminals came to murder in search of marijuana. They did not murder to steal grapes or sheep.

Devaluing our home properties for the sake of this jeopardizing product is wrong. Even allowing a cannabis store on Ely Road with no traffic light is extremely problematic, especially considering backed up traffic and the train tracks.

At an early BOS meeting, it seemed that the BOS agreed that growers would have to stay in remote agricultural areas. Let the growers do their thing in those ag zones--NOT NEAR HOMES, preferably 5-10 miles away from the nearest residence.

Help us: NO commercial cannabis near residences!

Nancy Chien-Eriksen, Petaluma

Hi. After reading Patrick Ball’s open letter to the BoS in your February issue, I’m inspired to write you about my personal story.

A Cannabis Business at My Fence

Sonoma County’s commercial cannabis grow businesses should be allowed only in industrial zones, not in neighborhoods. One popped-up next door to me and turned my life upside down. This unpermitted operation sits on my fence line and is practically in my backyard. I can no longer enjoy my backyard, or live comfortably in my house due to the odor, noise, and fear from living within feet of a marijuana business.

An LLC corporation owns and leases the land to a cannabis production company. Their parcel’s zoning rules allow their marijuana grow buildings to remain without a property line setback. Employees come-and-go 24 hours a day and I hear their discussions, vehicles, activities.

Many neighborhoods face this problem. A marijuana business unexpectedly appears and outraged residents are left hunting for recourse. We voted to legalize adult recreational marijuana use, but we did not vote to have it grown commercially in our neighborhoods.

The Board of Supervisors banned commercial marijuana operations in certain residential neighborhoods after listening to concerned residents. Many of us want the Board to make the same decision about Diverse Agriculture neighborhoods (which interweave residential zones) and restrict commercial cannabis grow businesses to industrial zones only.

Robert Guthrie, Sebastopol

It is very hard to get an accurate number as to how much water is going to be used to produce on pot plant.

Industry sources say that so much is dependent on size of plant, etc etc.Marijuana Venture, an industry publication says that 50 plants will on average use 240,000 gallon for one harvest...indoor grows can produce 4 harvests a year...

So, just example.... my neighbor who has transplanted himself from Minnesota is going to be allowed to have 2000 square feet in a grow house...let’s say that will allow him to grow 2000 plants since one can grow 1 plant per square foot (also an industry standard)

So he can really grow 40 times the 50 plants mentioned above...that is 9,600,000 gallons per harvests...4 harvests a year will mean over 38,400,000 gallons used per year. . And this is a “small grow” allowed under the ordinance without any neighborhood input or review.

This is happening all over Sonoma County. I urge the supervisors to halt the permitting process and revise the ordinance so that our water resources can be assessed before the permitting process is allowed to continue.

Rachel Zierdt, Sebastopol

We called the Lions and they came out roaring!

Six weeks ago we launched our 600 Lions campaign with a plea for emergency funds to meet district-wide budget cuts that threaten some of our most popular electives such as Dance, Wood Shop, Drama and French.

Thank you so much for including El Molino High School’s SOS campaign plea on in the March Gazette. We were surprised and thrilled to see it there this month.Several donors included cuttings of the ad so we know it really helped!

The response from our community and from donors from over 16 states has been overwhelming. We have already received $75,000 from no less than 426 individual donors, to save these classes for our kids. We are truly grateful and thank the community from the bottom of our hearts!

The good news is that these funds allow El Molino to save critical elective classes. However, many sections in 2018-2019 will still be lost – the current estimate is 17 – and district officials say more cuts will be coming the following year.

You can still help by contacting Gov. Jerry Brown and your elected representatives in Sacramento to let them know it’s just not acceptable for California, the 6th largest economy in the world to be the 41st state in per-pupil funding, 45th in pupil-teacher ratios, and 45th in the percent of taxable income spent on education, as reported by the California School Boards Association.

Please continue to support the El Molino Education Fund! We raise money for classrooms to improve education for students. We conduct fundraising campaigns for specific academic projects and we are the hub that connects our alumni and our community to El Molino High School and to today’s Lions.

If you haven’t yet joined our 600 Lions campaign, please do. Go to Or write a check to El Molino Education Fund, with 600 Lions at the lower left, and mail to 7050 Covey Road, Forestville, CA 95436.

On behalf of the El Molino Education Fund with heartfelt thanks,

Mary Bracken, President, El Molino Education Fund

Sheriff Endorsements

John Mutz may be all that is said in this campaign piece, but he is also and forever an LAPD guy who is now up here getting support from the local Socialists. So what kind of Sheriff is supported by the Committed Socialists Evans and Combs? Mutz.

- Beef Mcwin

We Need a New Sheriff

As a young radical protesting in the streets of Berkeley in the 1960’s, I could not have imagined myself ever endorsing a cop. As my political understanding has matured, I have grown to realize that the quality of law enforcement is a critical measure of social health in a community. We need good people with a strong ethical commitment to rule of law managing our police forces.

The race for County Sheriff is typically an uneventful campaign. This year is different. Former County Sheriff Steve Freitas resigned last year, leaving a department with strained community relations and lots of legal bills following the Andy Lopez incident, among many over the last decade. We now have a very clear choice for Sonoma County residents who care about public safety and the rule of law.

I have followed the race from the start and I witnessed the candidates’ debate live at the Sonoma County Republican Club recently. The debate made it clear that John Mutz is the only candidate who has the skills, experience, and temperament to effectively reform the Sheriff’s office.

The fact that he did not come through the chain of command in this department is an asset for a serious police reform program. He has not been captured by the current police culture in the county. That’s good. John’s experience as a consultant who fixes broken police departments is exactly what we need.

The Andy Lopez fiasco and an agency history of unresolved community tensions were factors in John’s decision to re-enter active duty in order to fix the culture of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s department. In the first public appearance at which I heard John speak, he stated unequivocally that the impunity the former sheriff granted the officer involved in the shooting, the excessive paramilitary response to subsequent youthful high school protestors, and the failure to publicly admit an error in judgment and charge or at least re-assign the problematic deputy were all signs of a failed departmental culture.

He said that his first response as the County Sheriff would have been to grieve with the family, prior to any determination of guilt or innocence on anyone’s part.

I was astounded to hear such a clear-minded and candid assessment from a candidate for top cop in the county. We need a new Sheriff in this town. John Mutz is the man.

In my several conversations with Mr. Mutz, he has educated me on the modern law enforcement school of Procedural Justice. The key insight of the school of procedural justice is that community assent to law enforcement is based on the perceived legitimacy of their authority. Sheer force alone will not create a safe community.

John Mutz has the management skill set, the levelheaded temperament, and the moral compass to get the job done here in Sonoma County. He states: “Change requires knowledge, dedication, and expertise, and doesn’t happen overnight…together, we can seize the moment and develop a new culture. We can do this! Because the alternative is just not acceptable.”

Vote John Mutz for Sheriff

Ben Boyce, Sonoma

“Great things continue to happen in Rohnert Park”

Is the title of Gina Belforte’s Rohnert Park Ripples commentary in the March 2018 edition of the Sonoma County Gazette. It reads: “In the last couple of years we have built about 600 homes with the ability to build 2000 in the next few years. Once our build-out is completed, (approximately 5000 homes), by approximately 2025, we will have expanded from about 43,000 residents to 50,000 residents.”

It is clear by her article that affordable housing never crossed her mind as she bragged about our great city having more housing opportunities for those who can afford them. The state of homelessness in our city continues to be a disaster as more low and middle income populations are being cast out to make room for the more “reputable” populations.

Whole generations of families are being eradicated from this town to make room for a more desirable population to take hold. Didn’t she read the article on the front page of our own Community Voice February 23, 2018 edition titled “ “New RP homeless count and SR homeless camp eviction” with the big picture of a lady holding up a sign that says “Need support from the community.”? before submitting her commentary to the Gazette? Maybe she did but doesn’t care to address it in writing since our city Government seems to be heavily influenced by those who want to get rid of the “undesirables” to make room for their money making real estate greed machine to continue out pricing the elderly and whole working class families right out of town.

We need a new city Government that cares. What do you think? I’d like to read your comments too. Send them into the Rohnert Park Community Voice and to the Gazette so we can be heard! Maybe Gina will read them too and add us to her next commentary.

Nova Celeste

Rohnert Park

(middle income senior) Resident

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