Jan 2024 Newsletter EIR Public Comments Required On Proposed Changes

Originally printed in:
Neighborhood Coalition email to Permit Sonoma on Jan 2 2024
Link to original article

January 3, 2024

CORRECTION: The email address for the County shown on this morning's newsletter was incorrect.   The correct email is cannabis@sonoma-county.org as now shown below.

Dear Neighbors,

On December 13th Permit Sonoma presented its proposed changes to key provisions of the Cannabis Program as well as the structure of what residential enclaves could look like. This newsletter summarizes the major issues in these proposed changes and suggests comments you might make to Permit Sonoma before January 12, 2024.

Stated Goals are not being met:

The Board of Supervisors has stated the primary goals of updating the cannabis program were to enhance neighborhood compatibility and environmental protections. What is now being considered provides much less protection than the current ordinance. It would encourage and allow commercial cannabis to be grown on many more parcels, closer to your home, allow more business activities, such as manufacturing and special events, incompatible with residential neighborhoods, and reduce your legal rights to object.

Next Steps - write an email:

Before January 12, send an email to  cannabis@sonoma-county.org about the issues that most affect your family.  Make your comments personal to both you and your community. This is your first, and possibly your only chance to make sure the County delivers on its commitment to neighborhood compatibility.

1.  Review this newsletter for topics that impacts you and your neighborhood.

2.  The sample text provided below can be personalized into your email and sent.

Key Issues:

Issue #1 - Neighborhood compatibility goals are not being met:

Sample text for your email:  The Board of Supervisors clearly stated the primary goals of updating the cannabis program were to enhance neighborhood compatibilityand environmental protections. Permit Sonoma’s recent draft update to the cannabis program does not contain steps to achieve those goals. In fact, the outlined proposals make the situation worse.

Permit Sonoma’s proposed changes will greatly increase the number of parcels in neighborhoods that can be permitted for outdoor cannabis grows. This contradicts the stated goal and would exacerbate compatibility problems.

Please deliver on your promise to protect our neighborhoods where we live by increasing setbacks for outdoor cultivation to at least 1,000 feet from property lines, drop your plan for retail at grow sites and push your focus to indoor grows that are away from our homes.

There is no financial benefit to the County given the cannabis industry’s failure to generate enough tax revenue to even pay for its regulation so that Sonoma County will spend general tax funds to subsidize the growers.

Issue #2 – Setback rules need to be increased from your home:

Sample text for your email: The draft proposal provides for a minor increase in setbacks between cannabis operations and residential property lines to 300 feet. Yet the current law provides for 1,000 feet setbacks for “sensitive uses” areas such as schools and parks.  Why aren’t the same setbacks being applied to homes?  Our children are at school for eight hours/day and are at home for 16 hours.  On weekends, holidays, and vacations they are home 24 hours. They deserve the same protection in both environments.

Issue #3: Cannabis parcel size needs to be increased not reduced:

Sample text for your email:  In response to the public outcry over commercial cannabis into neighborhoods, in 2018 the BOS adopted the 10 acre minimum rule in an attempt to address the conflicts.  Now Permit Sonoma is proposing to reduce this to 5 acres, which brings more commercial cannabis into residential areas. There are over 6,000 parcels that are 20 acres or larger and are away from residential homes that can accommodate cannabis.  The minimum parcel size should be increased, not reduced to meet setback requirements for odor and noise.

Issue #4: Odor and exposure to beta-myrcene, a Prop 65-listed carcinogen:

Sample text for your email:  Cannabis terpene odors are air-borne. They threaten the health of neighbors (e.g., nausea, respiratory problems) who cannot protect themselves from the tainted air. Permit Sonoma’s draft update cannabis policy forces exposure to known carcinogens, including beta-myrcene, a Proposition 65-listed carcinogen.  This is likely illegal.  Please enforce the health and safety requirements and protect all neighborhoods by excluding all cannabis permits where residences are located.  No cannabis terpenes should be allowed to enter a non-cannabis parcel. Clusters of residences (enclaves) should have these same protections on a larger scale.Background details are available here.

Issues #5: Plans for visitor activities and retail at cultivation sites:

Sample text for your email:  Permit Sonoma is now proposing “incidental uses” be allowed at cannabis grow sites including: retail sales, educational tours, and special events.  These uses are incompatible with nearby residential neighborhoods and are subject to abuse with no realistic enforcement possible.  We’ve learned from the winery events challenges and AirBnB issues and don’t need to make the same mistake again.

Allowing retail sales in neighborhoods will exacerbate the compatibility and public safety issues.Urban retail sites are frequent targets of armed robberies. In late December an Oakland policeman was murdered during a robbery of a dispensary.Rural retail sites will be even more inviting targets for crime because there is no effective law enforcement. Consumption puts impaired drivers on the roads in our neighborhoods. Consumption at grow sites is prohibited by State law. Why would Sonoma County let neighborhoods suffer the road safety consequences  by refusing to comply with that law?Background details are available here.

Issue #6: Proposed Residential Enclaves provide less protections:

Sample text for your email:  In an attempt to improve neighborhood compatibility, Permit Sonoma created “rural residential enclaves” - areas where commercial cannabis cultivation are not allowed.  Good idea but Permit Sonoma used subjective criteria that results in far more parcels available for outdoor commercial cannabis compared to the existing ordinance.  More and smaller parcels in residential areas would be opened up for pot.

The enclave concept has merit but the criteria proposed are inadequate and need to be changed if the goal of neighborhood compatibility is to be achieved. The clearly stated preferences of neighborhoods should be respected.Background details are available here.

Issue #7: “Use permit” required for cultivation:

Sample text for your email:  Permit Sonoma staff and the Ag Commissioner seem to acknowledge the disasters of the ministerial cannabis permitting scheme whereby the public cannot comment on a proposed permit and no site-specific environmental analysis is done. Some growers gamed the system to obtain multiple, illegal outdoor cannabis permits.  The draft proposal eliminates ministerial permitting.

Nevertheless, Permit Sonoma's suggestion that the EIR might streamline the approval all site-specific applications is problematic. The programmatic EIR cannot address the various environmental and residential compatibility issues unique to each site.The review process (i.e., CEQA checklist) must require enough site-specific analysis and neighborhood input to assure compliance with the intent of the law.

Issue #8: Should risky outdoor grows be allowed?

Sample text for your email:  The Environmental Impact Report should analyze a project alternative which would ban or severely reduce outdoor cannabis cultivation.

The economics of outdoor cannabis grown in Sonoma County must be analyzed to understand IF a viable business opportunity exists for growers and IF the tax revenue will cover the County’s costs to manage the cannabis program and deliver the tax revenue promised when cannabis cultivation was legalized in 2016. The County’s 2022 economic analysis (HdL, Fiscal Analysis of the Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Industry) determined that outdoor cannabis is not and will not be a viable business, nor will it ever deliver the promised tax revenue that advocates promised would pay for a wide range of county programs.

Small outdoor cultivation projects create environmental problems for neighbors (odor, noise, crime) and cannot survive economically. Why promote this let alone subsidize it?  Sonoma County is the only Bay Area County to allow outdoor cannabis grows. The General Plan update and the revised cannabis ordinance should emulate Napa and Marin counties, not Humboldt County.Background details are available here.

Issue #9: Eight acres of outdoor grows are a waste of taxpayer's money:

Sample text for your email:  The November 2023 Agricultural report to the supervisors disclosed only 8 acres of outdoor cannabis.  Why is the County devoting resources trying to save a declining industry?  We are spending millions of dollars to impose outdoor cannabis on our neighborhoods, negatively impacting to our lives and homes.  And, then spending more general fund dollars on subsidizing the program management.

Subsidizing the precipitously declining number of outdoor cannabis growers is illogical and misguided. The market has decided that outdoor cannabis cultivation which has the lowest sales value and highest environment costs is not economically viable. The County’s updated proposal should account for this.

Summary – Call for action:

Please leverage the content in this newsletter to protect your home and the environment.  Your emails need to be sent before January 12, 2024. If you would like more information on these issues, we urge you to review our website. Thank you for your commitment to this very important process.

Supporting the Public Good

We know from Public Request Act responses that the County listens to the cannabis industry more than to ordinary citizens. For this reason, it is important that a legal team, including technical experts, represent our interests throughout the entire revision process. Protecting our neighborhoods from poorly planned cannabis operations comes at a cost to all of us. Please donate today to support this effort.

You can also mail a check to:
Sonoma Neighborhood Coalition
PO Box 1229
Sebastopol, CA 95472

Celebrate this incredible engagement from the citizens and fund the legal support to protect Sonoma County.

Thank you, the Neighborhood Coalition team