by Anthony Roberts, Tribal Chairman
On behalf of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, I write to voice our continued strong concerns about the manner by which the County of Yolo is proceeding with regard to its Cannabis Land Use Ordinance (“CLUO”). Our concerns are far-reaching and fundamental. We continue to believe the Environmental Impact Report the County commissioned is deficient under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), for all of the reasons stated in our prior correspondence and which we hereby incorporate by reference. For reasons we cannot fathom, the County continues on a myopic course, refusing to supplement or expand an analysis to one that measures the actual environmental impacts of an industry the County unleashed four years ago as an admitted experiment, and without any CEQA analysis whatsoever. On a matter of such great import, involving a land use policy affecting so many people’s lives, we fail to understand why the County is unwilling to take the time needed to get it right, or meaningfully consider reasonable alternatives to protect people and their property. Instead, the County seems dedicated to moving forward against this deficient record, and recommending final action on an ordinance that will establish legal rights for a problematic industry.
We implore the Board to step back and review the record. The comments from long time Capay Valley farmers and residents are generally consistent. Furthermore, County responses to people’s grievances are revealing, as they are largely dismissive and conclusory, and protective of the cannabis industry generally. By this correspondence, we ask the Board to take corrective action and slow this process down to ensure CEQA is satisfied and that the best land use policy is developed. At the same time, we ask the Board to grant the Tribe’s and our neighbors’ request to protect the Capay Valley region, and in particular, to carve cannabis grows out of the rural residential communities west of Interstate-505 along State Route 16, which are simply not suitable to cannabis cultivation. As noted, the Tribe would help mitigate the impacts to growers who invested in the Capay Valley, by helping finance their relocation.
Our Efforts to Reach A Resolution That Would Protect Much of the Greater Capay Valley Region from Cannabis Cultivation.
It bears revisiting how the Tribe came to ask the County to protect the greater Capay Valley, the rural communities from Madison to Rumsey along Highway 16. At a February 2021 stakeholders meeting we hosted and at which some of you or your staff attended (but without cannabis cultivators in the room), our neighbors spoke freely about how the cannabis industry was adversely affecting their daily lives, from crime, to non-stop noise and light, to falling land values, to wells impacted by marijuana’s comparatively high-water use. As a result of that meeting, we asked you to consider protecting the Capay Valley—our present-day homeland and an agricultural gem the County has acknowledged in plan documents deserves “special protection”—from an industry that is drawing miscreants and generating crime (per the Sheriff of Yolo County), and that cannot be effectively regulated even under the proposed CLUO (per the Yolo County District Attorney).
After that request, our District 5 Supervisor discussed with us the ability to relocate cannabis cultivators from the Capay Valley (the “good actors”), but they would need a “soft landing” to move elsewhere. Even though these cultivators operating under interim licenses have no legal entitlements (as the County assured when starting this experiment), Yocha Dehe embraced that solution for the good of our rural community, offering to finance the soft-landing Supervisor Barajas himself suggested, with the kind of mitigation funding that is commonplace in the CEQA context. Thereafter, we were asked to provide clarity as to the scope of our request, and we submitted a map that was narrowly tailored, and which we enclose here (a map that is too narrowly tailored according to Esparto residents suffering from four cannabis grows on the edge of the growing town).
We were then told by our Supervisor that the “Capay Valley” could easily be protected from cannabis cultivation, but defined only as Capay to Rumsey, and thus not if the communities of Esparto and Madison were included. As of now, there is currently a single cultivation site within Esparto targeted on our proposed map. Notably, the site is less than 1.5 miles from the Esparto high and junior high school, and which is the public school serving all students throughout the greater Capay Valley region.
Obviously, it makes no sense for the Tribe to fund a relocation program that would involve moving cultivators to the Esparto and Madison communities. By this correspondence, we ask the Board how it possibly makes sense to allow the cannabis industry to invade these rural, often poor, residential communities. These are Capay Valley communities that Yocha Dehe is on the brink of enhancing with a housing development, a health clinic and community center, a new gas station, and augmented infrastructure.
Cannabis cultivation is fundamentally incompatible with residential uses, as even your own environmental document confirms. We once again respectfully ask the Board to consider our request. We have to underscore, again, that at the outset of this county experiment with cannabis four years ago, all of these interim licenses were represented as temporary and subject to non-renewal at any time.
Contrary To Assertion, People Throughout The Capay Valley Region Oppose Cannabis Cultivation In Their Communities, With Many Urging For Inside Grows and Relocations Elsewhere.
It was recently suggested to us that the Tribe stands alone in its opposition to cannabis cultivation in the Capay Valley. The record proves otherwise. One need only review the correspondence critiquing the CLUO to see that people in our community are largely opposed to cannabis, with many asking to have grows relocated to more appropriate areas, specifically, to industrial areas, and to be grown inside, to protect people from the crime, noise, light and smell cannabis cultivation otherwise generates. As the February 2021 stakeholders meeting confirmed, the problem has not improved with time. We encourage the Supervisors to review the letters from our neighbors, as well as Yocha Dehe’s correspondence detailing what was said at the stakeholders meeting. Below are excerpts from just a few of the comment letters submitted to the County:
- A Guinda resident complained about how “the character of the neighborhood has been immeasurably altered by the establishment of two commercial grow operations,” with “vehicles coming at all hours of the day and night, often speeding down our small rural [roads].” (Comment 3.) (Incredibly, in response, the County consultant blithely categorized the comment as an “expression of opinion/preference,” and assured the resident matters will improve with the CLUO’s adoption and enforcement);
- Another Guinda resident noted the wisdom of locating all cannabis cultivation to consolidate into one location, including the area of the Yolo County Landfill, which would “improve county oversight control.” (Comment 4);
- Two Esparto residents complained about how four pot farms within four miles of their home have materially affected the quality of their lives, referencing the uptick in crime, but also the skunk-like smell that invades their home for months every year. To put a point on it, the residents offered a powerful condition that should be attached to any approval: “If ANY permits are granted (including the one’s currently operating) under the new ordinance or law, all BOS supervisors voting in favor must live with a live skunk in a cage in their yard every year.” (Comment 8);
- A Rumsey resident complained of odor, noise, loss of prime farmland, loss of property values and advocated for putting cannabis indoors, while prohibiting all cannabis operations in residential areas. (Comment 9);
- Two Rumsey residents called cannabis cultivation “an industrial activity that operates 24/7, produces constant noxious fumes and is completely inappropriate near residences,” given the need “for armed guards to defend against..” People “no longer feel safe.” The residents encouraged the County to ban cannabis from rural residential areas, and relocate cannabis grows to industrial areas. (Comment 15);
- Two Guinda residents complained about impacts, and noted that “cannabis operation should be limited to county-controlled co-location sites situated away from residences.” (Comment 21);
- A Rumsey resident complained of a variety of impacts, requesting the County “locate all such facilities in a single industrial zone area where adequate security can be provided and the impacts to the larger community confined to a small [area].” (Comment 27);
- Fourteen Rumsey residents excoriate the EIR and County process for the CLUO, explaining how they have suffered from cannabis, and calling on the County to “officially relocate or terminate grows located in areas where residents are in close proximity as soon as [possible].” (Comments 24, 31; see also Comment 32);
- Two Brooks residents “advocate for all cannabis growing to be indoors and in more industrial use [areas].” (Comment 29);
- A Rumsey resident presented a litany of problems with cannabis cultivation in the Capay Valley, and argued for “NO big grows” and moving harvest “immediately” to industrially or commercially zoned area of a city. (Comment 30);
- An “Upper Capay Valley” resident noted “ideally cannabis would be grown indoors in an industrial area of the county and, or on a large plot of land away from where people live Consolidating cultivation sites would make it much easier for the county to monitor cannabis operations and easier for the sheriff’s department to patrol.” (Comment 33);
- A commentor noted agreement with Yocha Dehe’s statement that the Capay Valley deserved protection from cannabis (Comment 36), and another encouraged co-location, “grouping multiple grows together on a large [parcel].” (Comment 40).
The above are only excerpts from several of the many Capay Valley letters complaining about cannabis. It simply cannot be truthfully said that Capay Valley residents generally do not support relocating cannabis elsewhere. Many, if not most, do. Again, the Tribe encourages the Supervisors to read the comments for themselves. With the exception of a few cannabis cultivators, virtually all sounded the same general theme, expressing opposition to the EIR or CLUO as framed, with many asking that cannabis cultivation be located in industrial zones and grown inside—i.e., away from the Capay Valley. (Notably, Capay Valley, where a majority of the grows had been clustered, residents account for nearly half of the 78 comment letters received by the County).
When suggesting the Tribe’s proposal lacks broader support, Supervisor Barajas cites the fact that the Citizen Advisory Committees (“CACs”) did not choose a ban of cannabis for the Capay Valley. However, the CACs are the machinery of the County, which convened the citizen groups to secure input on the cannabis alternatives for CLUO. A “no cannabis” option was not among them. While county staff reportedly told residents they could choose options that were not presented, the practical reality is people tend to select what is on the menu. Also importantly, cannabis cultivators attended the CAC meetings. People have expressed their fear of, and intimidation by, cannabis cultivators, some of whose operations feature armed men and guard dogs. Some residents said they worry about becoming targets, and have complained to the County for “outing” them to cultivators. See Comment 31-14 and 74-1 (“no one here feels safe complaining”); 60-2 (“I’m actually worried about retribution”); 36-19 (describing grower confrontation after complaint to county, that resident will never complain again “due to fear of retaliation,” and that “County absolutely should NOT be revealing to growers WHO reports violations”). Residents also complain about the close relationship between the regulators and the regulated. See Comment 30-12 (“The county has been largely unresponsive but is in frequent communication with the growers. Complaints dry up because they are fruitless.”); and see 30-4 (noting county staff bias toward growers). Even against that backdrop, the Esparto CAC expressly embraced the concept of cannabis inside, and in industrial zones (i.e., not in the Capay Valley).
At bottom, people from Esparto all the way up to Rumsey are suffering from the industry the County has authorized, and they support relocating cannabis to areas that would minimize impacts on others, i.e., areas that make sense—industrial zones, and inside.
County Staff Has Apparently Ignored Even The Board Chair’s Request To Explore Reasonable Alternatives.
Given the staff report for the May 4, 2021 meeting, County staff and its cannabis consultant seem disinclined to explore facially reasonable options even the Board of Supervisors Chairman had identified as worth considering. At a prior meeting, Chairman Provenza expressed interest in exploring alternatives that would allow denser/larger grows in areas where there has been less community concern while banning grows in areas where there have been significant community issues. Chairman Provenza’s request aligned well with the view of Yolo County residents that cannabis cultivation could make sense if co-located in industrial areas, away from people. However, based on the staff report, it appears the County has not explored this facially reasonable option. Why the County has dismissed what appears to be a potentially reasonable option is unclear from the record.
The “issues to be discussed” framework in the County staff report also appears to omit some of the options the Tribe has proposed over the course of the process. Consistent with the above, one such alternative involves requiring grows to be indoors, within industrial or commercial areas, away from residential areas, possibly even at the Yolo County Landfill. Many members of the commenting public shared this view. See, e.g., Comment 6 (noting “the industrial nature of the [cannabis] facilities present a very depressing aspect to the neighbors,” and that they create “de facto industrial zones, with attendant traffic, road degradation, and pollution.”). The Tribe understands growers oppose this approach due to cost. But such opposition is irrelevant given their lack of standing, and more importantly, given the impacts that outdoor cultivation poses for other people. The industrial indoors approach is sound and feasible mitigation—properly viewed as the cost of doing business in an otherwise extremely lucrative industry. At the same time, and consistent with the Board Chairman’s thinking, such costs could perhaps be more than offset by allowing cultivators greater density rights.1
The Proposed Structure Is Procedurally Flawed, Necessarily Denying The Public An Opportunity to Comment And Virtually Guaranteeing That Environmental Impacts Will Be Missed.
In addition to substantive deficiencies of the EIR and CLUO, the process is procedurally flawed. Indeed, staff’s proposed approval process inappropriately limits both the public’s and the Board’s access to relevant information. The proposed process would require the Board to enter an “intent to approve” the CLUO on May 4- after which point staff would prepare “a complete approval package” for the Board’s review. By definition, such an approach commits the Board to a decision before it has seen all relevant information in the “a complete approval package.” And it would not allow the public to meaningfully comment on the “complete approval package” before the Board chooses its course. For both reasons, the Board should take no action—”intent to approve” or otherwise—unless and until staff’s “complete approval package” is made available for meaningful review by the Board and the public.
Relatedly, staff has proposed to structure the May 4 proceedings so that issues are considered one at a time to determine whether—and for which ones—a consensus exists. This approach is flawed in two fundamental respects. First, it ignores the interrelated nature of the various choices to be made—in many (if not most) cases, a decision on one will foreclose available options on others. Second, contrary to authoritative references, common usage, and all common sense, staff has define d. “consensus” as “three votes on an option.” Following the suggested process will not illuminate genuine consensus—instead, it will impermissibly piecemeal a regulatory framework in which many of the different components are interdependent.
The Tribe has had an opportunity to speak with each of you about our concerns, and we thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We hope you will take our concerns to heart, consider the concerns of our neighbors as well as those of the Yolo County Sheriff and District Attorney, and take the time to develop sound policy that protects the rural communities that set Yolo County apart.
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