Bob Hren: Outdoor cannabis cultivation will ruin neighborhoods | SierraSun.com

Bob Hren: Outdoor cannabis cultivation will ruin neighborhoods

Bob Hren
Guest Column

Outdoor cannabis will ruin neighborhoods. That is all you need to know about the cannabis regulations proposed by Nevada County's Citizens Advisory Group.

This unelected group of 16 was selected by a consultant and met 10 times over eight months. The guidelines provided to the CAG included critical areas of concern from the public.

Sadly, the most important guideline, protecting neighborhoods, was completely ignored.

Here is the guidance from the CAG report, derived from public input:

"The intent of the ordinance should be to protect neighborhoods. There was strong agreement on the importance of addressing, reducing, and mitigating impacts on homeowners and neighborhoods in proximity to growing operations. Many homeowners in the County feel burdened by the nuisance impacts of cannabis on their neighborhood, highlighting the offensive odors that impact those who live near cultivation sites."

All single-family parcels zoned R1 and RA parcels (residential-agriculture) will be allowed three to six "personal use" plants grown outdoors. If you live on small R1 city lots, you can expect to endure outdoor grows and the nuisances they produce, including the obnoxious skunk-like odors.

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Parcels zoned RA are generally larger than one acre and are in the unincorporated areas of the county. Many of the RA neighborhoods are close to the cities and the county's zoning guidelines consider them to be primarily residential, not agricultural parcels. Yet, these residential parcels are now slated for outdoor commercial grows of up to 100 plants each, in addition to the smaller six plant personal grows.

The negative impacts to our residential neighborhoods will be intense, to say the least.

How did this complete disregard for protecting neighborhoods occur? The CAG in no way represents a cross section of the voters in our county. That was evident to any astute observer from the beginning. Some well-intentioned people served, but there was a disproportionately high number of CAG members that represent or sympathize with growers.

The Cannabis Alliance held at least two seats on the CAG. It represents about 500 growers. That is a lot of growers, but not in comparison to the number of voters in the western county, which number over 68,000. A total of 500 growers is less than 1 percent of county voters. Yet the Cannabis Alliance directly controlled 12.5 percent of the CAG votes. Plus at least one advocate for medical cannabis was on the CAG, bringing industry advocates to almost 20 percent of the CAG membership. And other members were sympathetic. The stage was set from the beginning for pro-grow recommendations.

The industry advocates were vocal and adamant in their positions, thus influencing other members. From my personal observations of CAG meetings and from reading all the meeting summaries and comments submitted to the CAG, it is my opinion that the group was heavily influenced by the vocal grower minority to the exclusion of the clear overriding public guidance to protect neighborhoods.

What can you do? The county staff and the supervisors will take the CAG recommendations and inject their guidance before final regulations are written. I urge you to contact your supervisor and insist on at least the following:

1. All residential RA zoned parcels should be removed from the commercial grow category (up to 100 plants each). There would be plenty of acreage for growing in the county that is not in residential areas because commercial grows are also allowed on General Agriculture, Exclusive Agriculture, Forest and Timberland Preserve parcels.

2. If you live on a single-family R1 parcel, you should also voice your opinion to your city council members on allowing three to six outdoor plants on such small lots.

3. To protect neighborhoods from the obnoxious odors of cannabis growing, adopt best practices from other states. This includes odor ordinances together with penalties for violations. These have proven to be very effective in keeping the obnoxious odors under control. Odor control techniques are easily applied, and instruments are available to accurately measure, so the standard would be objective rather than subjective.

The cannabis industry is aware of the odor problems, knows how to minimize them, and has in other states embraced odor ordinances and the new odor detection instruments for enforcement. Don't take my word — just go to this cannabis industry article from the January 2017 edition of Cannabis Business Times (see this story at TheUnion.com for direct link).

As proposed by the CAG, every residential neighborhood in our beloved county will have the obnoxious smell of dead skunk much of the year. Then there are other issues like proximity to children and increased crime.

The future of our county is in your hands. Let your voice be heard.

Bob Hren lives in Nevada City.