Neighbors opposed to having another commercial cannabis farm in their midst were unsuccessful last week in stopping the county’s issuance of the requested cultivation license for a property located off North Vista Lane in Hayfork.
The appellant was former county supervisor Karl Fisher joined by some of his neighbors objecting to a license that was issued by the county Planning Director to the applicant Raymond Lavasseur for a small, mixed-light cultivation operation on his property of 7.5 acres zoned for Rural Residential use. The county’s commercial cultivation ordinance allows for limited cultivation within the RR zoning district.
The appellants cited numerous reasons for appealing the Planning Director’s approval of the license including detrimental effects on quality of life, health, electrical and transportation infrastructure, water resources, environmental quality and ability to earn income. They requested denial of the license.
The matter went to the Trinity County Planning Commission in August where with one member abstaining there were two different 2-2 votes on the appeal, effectively denying it to let the license stand.
The appeal went to the Board of Supervisors in September, but was pulled from the agenda because the appellants and their representative, attorney Jim Underwood, were not present. Underwood later stated they did not receive adequate notice of the appeal hearing and he petitioned to have the matter rescheduled.
The Board of Supervisors heard the item last week with Board Chair Bobbi Chadwick recusing herself. The final vote was 3-1 on a motion to deny the appeal, leaving the Planning Director’s issuance of the license to stand.
Recommending denial of the appeal, Deputy Planning Director Lisa Lozier said the license applicant had provided all required documentation, paid all fees and there were not grounds for denial of the application.
Attorney Jim Underwood argued the main issue is that the California Environmental Quality Act was not complied with prior to issuance of the license.
“There was no CEQA occurring before this license was issued by the Planning Director. That is the only issue. It is illegal. I ask the board to uphold the appeal. You have to comply with CEQA before you approve and issue these licenses,” he said.
Arguing on behalf of the license applicant, Ana Wright of Lewiston noted that a detailed project description was submitted as required, and that state law exempts cultivators from CEQA compliance until January 2022. County provisional licenses may be issued in the interim.
“He paid $3,500 for a county license in September and complied with everything at the state level, yet still no license. Local and state laws have not changed. The appellant’s argument regarding CEQA is null and void,” she said.
Wright added that there is no illegal build-out currently on the Lavasseur property, and that the appellants are mistaken in their arguments that involve other illegal grow sites occurring in the same vicinity on the other side of Fisher’s property.
“Everything has been done. The department is recommending approval of this license. The applicant is patiently waiting. This is a family looking to relocate here, to bring jobs and prosperity to Hayfork. They deserve this opportunity. Stop this madness and issue the license,” she said.
Others also spoke on the applicant’s behalf, saying all conditions have been met and “this is the type of license” the county should want to be approving.
The applicant, Ray Lavasseur said it’s taken five months to get this far and that from Fisher’s property, there are four illegal operations occurring in either direction.
“I’m the only one trying to do it legally. Please let me and my family get things going,” he said.
Underwood responded that the CEQA exemption referred to is only for the county process that is occurring now and not for individual licenses.
“Ask your county counsel. It’s an important issue. You have to follow the law into the white market. It’s a threshold question and CEQA has not been complied with. That is the question before you,” he said.
Sup. Judy Morris asked if there have been any complaints about the illegal grows in the same neighborhood and County Counsel Margaret Long said she was not aware of any. She added it is legal for the county to grant a provisional license to continue operations with requirements attached. A permanent license will require compliance with CEQA, she said.
Sup. Keith Groves noted “we have an applicant that has complied with everything we asked for up to this time. I would be in favor of the appeal had the applicant not done everything we asked of him.”
The motion by Sup. Judy Morris to deny the appeal, upholding the license, carried with Sup. John Fenley opposed and three ayes.