Special to the Vanguard
Brooks, CA – In an effort to hold Yolo County accountable for developing fair and sound cannabis land use policy, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation has partnered with the Sierra Club, Yolo County Farm Bureau, and local residents in a lawsuit to do precisely that.
The lawsuit does not seek to stop cannabis cultivation and related businesses in Yolo County, or to prevent County residents from profiting from the cannabis industry. Rather, it would simply require the County to comply with California environmental law by evaluating the full and real impacts of cannabis cultivation, and mitigate those impacts, before adopting an ordinance regulating it. Adhering to this process is what the California Environmental Quality Act requires, and indeed, these same requirements apply to every other regulated land use.
“The cannabis industry has a place in Yolo County, just as cannabis has a place in the medicine cabinets of many people in California,” noted the Tribal Council of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. “But sensible cannabis permitting can’t happen until the County is clear-eyed about the problems overconcentration creates, especially in sensitive areas around schools, near cultural heritage sites, and in smaller communities like those in the Capay Valley.”
The ‘green rush’ to the Capay Valley — which comprise rural communities west of Interstate 505 from Madison through Rumsey — created widespread blight and land uses incompatible with the organic farming practices and eco-tourism for which the area is known. Additionally, the Capay Valley’s location in the northern-most part of the county makes cannabis farms there difficult to reach and more expensive to regulate for inspectors and sheriff deputies, including deputies subsidized by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. With more than half of the grows concentrated in the Capay Valley, local residents have become unduly burdened.
The suit stems from flaws in the environmental review process that produced a Cannabis Land Use Ordinance the Yolo County Board of Supervisors adopted. One key flaw is the County’s refusal to compare the impacts of cannabis cultivation to Yolo County’s rural environment and agricultural landscape before the grows existed. By proceeding in this fashion, the County’s environmental document necessarily missed significant cannabis industry impacts.
While the County agreed it made sense to protect the upper Capay Valley from overconcentrated grows, its Ordinance allows cannabis grows to now concentrate in the lower Capay Valley, burdening small rural communities, schools, and businesses, particularly in Madison and Esparto. These communities are among the poorest and most diverse in the County, with Esparto and Madison having the highest percentage of Latino residents (55.3% and 76% respectively), and with Madison ranking as the most impoverished. The County’s rulemaking is unclear even on the issue of the Capay Valley’s boundaries, which is defined one way in some legal documents, and another way in the proposed Ordinance.
Not only does cannabis cultivation pose adverse impacts for residential rural communities, its production is fundamentally incompatible with traditional agriculture in Yolo County, and the County needs to account for that reality through appropriate mitigation.
The full extent of the increased costs and harms created by the industry cannot be known because the County refused to consider impacts of cannabis cultivation authorized as of 2017, without any environmental review. The lawsuit filed today seeks to correct that error.
For the full lawsuit – see here.