County supervisors pursue urgency ordinance on marijuana grows


Citing a proliferation of commercial marijuana growing operations in the California Valley, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday narrowly voted to move forward with an urgency ordinance imposing a moratorium on new grows.

In a 3-2 vote, with supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill dissenting, the board voted to have county staff prepare an urgency ordinance, which would halt the planting of new marijuana grows across the county and restrict commercial grows in residential zones.

The board also voted 5-0 to consider a permanent ordinance in November to regulate medium- and large-scale commercial marijuana grows countywide, after voters decide a statewide ballot initiative on whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults.

The ordinances would not affect qualified patients who can legally grow up to six mature and 12 immature, plants for personal use, according to state law. The urgency ordinance is expected to come before the board for approval next month.

We need something today... There are no rules right now.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson

The board heard from San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who said the proliferation of marijuana grows in California Valley — about 100 since the beginning of spring, most of which are operating legally, he said — presents his agency with a host of problems.

“We’ve had some incidents (in California Valley) that are concerning,” Parkinson said, without giving examples.

Parkinson said the risk for crime related to the grows could increase at harvest time in October. He said his deputies have been monitoring the California Valley grows — many of which are operated by noncounty residents — and now make contact with growers there on a nearly daily basis.

Parkinson and county chief code enforcement officer Art Trinidade both told of problems ensuring compliance with state marijuana laws, as well as conducting code enforcement on the remote properties. Trinidade said the county has 102 open code enforcement cases in California Valley.

Parkinson said many of the 400 known grows around the county — including smaller indoor and nursery grows — are trying to follow the law. A county ordinance, he said, will help clarify the rules for everyone.

“They’re always operating under the concern that we’re going to come knocking on their door one day, and I cannot guarantee them we won’t,” Parkinson said. “We need something today … There are no rules right now.”

Each supervisor shared differing opinions about what a final ordinance should include, but a majority ultimately agreed on staff recommendations, which will be brought back in the form of an ordinance.

Those recommendations include: setting a limit of 100 licenses for commercial marijuana grows and one license per property; designating marijuana as a specialty crop; prohibiting grows within 1,000 feet of schools, youth facilities, and public parks or playgrounds; limiting grows to at least 50 feet from a property’s main structure and 30 feet from the property line.

The board also agreed that no grandfathering would be permitted once an ordinance is in place, signage could not include depictions of marijuana leaves, security plans must be submitted to the county for review, and all pesticides and fertilizers must be stored in compliance with federal, state and local laws.

At Parkinson’s request, supervisors also approved a ban or a limit to “volatile manufacturing” of cannabis products, such as processes that use butane or alcohol as solvents to manufacture hash oil and other THC extracts.

Supervisors said they still did not have enough information to give direction on issues related to county fees and taxation of the grows, or regulations to offset water and energy use.

The county staff will return to the board with a draft ordinance following the November general election.

As long as it is not illegal, as long as it’s not toxic, I should be able to do what I want on my property.

Simon Caleb, member of the Central Coast Growers Association

During public comment, several speakers, who identified themselves as California Valley residents, expressed alarm over the new commercial grows, their impacts on the community’s water supply and the potential for a criminal element coming to the rural community of 500 people.

Patty Nolan, a California Valley resident, warned that the harvest season would bring gang members from Bakersfield looking to rob the growers.

“They just want to come over and make California Valley their new girlfriend,” Nolan said. “You’re right — I’m pissed.”

Mike Brown, spokesman for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, urged the board to have a larger moral discussion on the issue.

“Is it a good idea to have a lot more marijuana around?” Brown asked. “No one here is discussing that whatsoever.”

Simon Caleb, a grower from the valley, however, urged the board to not overregulate the local industry — a majority of which are trying to follow the law, he said.

“It’s not right. It’s not the democratic way,” Caleb said. “As long as it is not illegal, as long as it’s not toxic, I should be able to do what I want on my property.”

He asked the board to consider allowing more than 100 licenses, noting that roughly 150 growers receive the Central Coast Growers Association newsletter.

Prior to the final vote, Supervisor Frank Mecham said it appeared there are many medium and large commercial growers in the county that are following the law and are waiting for the county to give them direction.

“This is going to a take a while to get through this process,” Mecham told those in the audience. “So don’t quit.”