SLO County still looking at Cannabis Industry

Recreational marijuana on sale in San Luis Obispo County. (photo by Camas Frank)

SAN LUIS OBISPO — The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is expected to hear staff presentations and public comment on a “fine tuning” of Cannabis industry standards at their regular meeting on Dec. 11.

Far from the minor tweaking the term, implies correspondence filed by existing and would-be growers, as well as three days of meetings at the County’s Planning Commision, reveal there will still be much of import for the Board to discuss.

The Planning Commission started their review on Nov. 8, with the agenda listed as a request from the County itself to, “consider amendments to the Land Use Ordinance, Title 22 of the County Code (LRP2018- 00004), and the Coastal Zone Land Use Ordinance, Title 23 of the County Code, and the Coastal Zone Land Use Element, Part I – Framework for Planning and Part II – Area Plans, (LRP2018-00005) as applicable to Cannabis Activities.”

Those discussions were then continued to Nov. 16 and, while County staffers facilitating the meetings were careful not to rush the issue if more time was needed, finally concluded with a special meeting Nov. 19 in order to have drafts of their recommendations ready for the Board in December.

Between meetings Chris Macek, Secretary to the County’s Director of Planning and Building, Trevor Keith, summed up the issue to date as fairly as possible, writing, “Cannabis farmers want to be held to the same standards as other agriculture in the county. Neighbors want the county to do something about the smell, water usage traffic, and potential crime.”

In the end, with mostly minor clarifications or modifications from the Planning Commission to the ordinance changes drafted, they voted to forward on language and definition changes in 14 separate arenas.

Those include what constitutes a Cannabis Processing Facility, requiring a California state-issued license; permitting a new licensed cannabis transport activity with a State Distributor – Transport Only license; terminology clarification that address confusion between ‘Site vs. Operation’; changes to industry regulation to match up with recent changes in the Coastal Zone ordinances; clarification that Cannabis Hoop Structures are to be temporary without permanent plumbing or wiring; adoption of language recognizing Shade Cloth Structures as alternative to Cannabis Hoop Structures; Fencing and Screening being required for security purposes and so that cannabis plants are not easily visible; and a listing several subcategories addressing concerns over outdoor lighting - no all night photosynthesis for outdoor grows.

The changes also address concerns that there be proper noticing of surrounding properties and that residences may not be used as commercial cultivation sites.

That ensures that a vacation rental may not be, legally, filled up with cannabis growth in addition to regular zoning covering that use.

The personal and medical use cultivation limits adopted under state law remain unaffected.

In addition to the action items already being considered in the revisions, the Planning Commision heard from members of the Templeton Area Advisory Group, both officially and as private citizens, who had recently dealt with a controversial application surrounding a site at York Mountain.  Since approved and appealed, the Board of Supervisors is expected to take that up early next year, but the TAAG noted that much of the tension in the area between growers and neighbors stemmed from the placement of indoor operations on the property line and was not addressed in the current draft. Likewise, an issue brought up by growers who have established operations only to be shut down by a rule specific to SLO County did not have their issues addressed in this round of changes.

Specifically, John Sordelet, a farmer in the Arroyo Grande region who wished to add cannabis to his operation now that it’s legal, ran into problems with the County provision that such sites can’t be accessed through Federal land, a provision that’s also shut down would be permit holders in the Carrizo Plains-area.

“The Federal government has delegated authority to the State and the State to our local county. We have the privilege and ability to show our values through our ordinances, allowing the commercial cannabis industry to move forward without limiting long-standing Patient's Rights,” Sordelet wrote, “My requests are: that you remove the Federal lands location limitation for the reasoning I have presented, and, secondly, I request that Medical Patients and their Caregivers have exemptions to grow cannabis outdoors under Compassionate Use Act laws in rural lands.”

Crystal Bradshaw, representing family ranch in the Templeton Gap area was a little more direct in criticism rather than petitioning on humanitarian grounds. Noting that she was in partnership with one of the Cannabis Licensees to cultivate on their 32-acre property, “Let me remind you, we are a legal industry operating under a county ordinance that has already been passed. The law is not up to staff to try to ‘round about’ by enforcing strange technically questionable loopholes because of their opinions about odor or want to cater to those who oppose cannabis on the Central Coast. The ordinance was passed and it allows us to grow outdoors and we have been regulated by large setbacks to help mitigate odor issues. Our applications and site plans have been designed in compliance with the [existing] ordinance.”

Planning Commissioner Michael made the final motion of the day Nov. 19, adding the recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to hear out all those concerns raised but not acted on.

“I don’t personally agree with all of the changes [that revision would entail] but they should at least be considered further,” he said, “I want the people who came to us and participated to know we actually did listen.”


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