On Thursday, April 4, 2019 at the Planning Commission an important policy consideration was discussed. The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) pulled, “Emerald Queen Farms’” project from the consent calendar for discussion.
Scott Bauer of DFW said, “People are trying to group guerilla grows and a bunch of other patches and call it ‘pre-existing’ but it does not meet the ‘single biggest year’ definition of pre-existing” according to DFW.”
DFW alleged that the pre-existing cultivation was defined in Ordinance 1.0 as, “the definition is the ‘single biggest year’.”
False. Ordinance 2559 (Ordinance 1.0) “All operators of existing cultivation sites seeking recognition of cultivation activities that occurred on or before January 1, 2016, for purposes of obtaining a Zoning Clearance Certificate or discretionary permit for ongoing commercial cannabis cultivation for medical use pursuant to the CMMLUO shall register with the County of Humboldt Department of Planning & Building within 180 days of the effective date of this ordinance.”
When looking at CEQA, first we analyze existing conditions (baseline conditions) and then we work to mitigate the impacts. So the big question of the night was, “What is baseline? And does pre-existing cultivation need to occur concurrently in order for it to qualify as pre-existing?”
HCGA argues that it does not need to occur concurrently. Because regardless, if there was cultivation in the trees, and whether it was happening concurrently or sequentially it was still an impact and disturbance, and through retirement, relocation and remediation of guerilla grows the environment and forest conditions are improved.”
As a reminder, back in October 2017 when the Board of Supervisors was debating whether or not, and how to approve “Interim Permits” DFW testified that applicants had exaggerated their square footage on their applications. The county listened to DFW and instructed the Planning Department to verify all applicants’ square footage, and adjustments were made accordingly. In the case of Emerald Queen Farms, and all other applications that have been verified by County Staff as part of their Interim Permit approval, there is an agreement for what is pre-existing established.
On Thursday night, Planning Director Ford reminded DFW and the Commissioners that, “it is within staff’s discretion to determine what is verifiable.” Despite this work by the County back in 2017, DFW has continued to question projects moving forward to approval arguing about how pre-existing (for Ordinance 1.0 applicants) ought to be defined.
So even if the definition was “single biggest year” and a project applicant brings forth evidence (verified by a consultant and the county) that there were in fact guerilla gardens in the trees in effect operating at the same time, DFW argues, they weren’t there all at the same time because “from his experience when folks started planting full-sun, they abandoned their shade-grown gardens.”
Nearly a dozen cannabis community leaders spoke up on behalf of Emerald Queen Farm’s integrity, community involvement, commitment to the highest and best environmental practices, and quality of cannabis grown to the commissioners. Even DFW commented that Emerald Queen Farms had met all the necessary conditions for approval for the protection of fish and wildlife.
After public comment was closed, Commissioner McCarvor said, “Baseline conditions of CEQA focuses on the “bio-physical conditions of the environment” so we have to ask, what are the current existing conditions? We have to go with the evidence according to the bio-physical environment. How much of the land is degraded, and how much needs to be restored? Existing conditions show that the whole 32,000sqft were degraded and we want that cleaned up, and therefore will benefit from environmental restoration.”
And with that the Planning Commission voted to pass Emerald Queen Farm’s project (with the full square footage) with only Commissioner O’Neill in opposition (5-1).
HCGA believes that DFW heard the message, and that it is unproductive to question the historic square-footage of cultivation of Ordinance 1.0 applicants. We are so proud of Hannah and Riley of Emerald Queen Farms. While it can be challenging to be a “test case”, we are glad that we had solid arguments, solid evidence and lots of community support, allowing us (and the Commissioners and County Staff) to arrive at a positive outcome at the Planning Commission.