After nearly six hours of presentations, public comment and line by line discussion about proposed mitigation measures in the county’s final commercial cannabis Environmental Impact Report, the Trinity County Planning Commission Thursday night continued the special meeting to another night to finish up its recommendations to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors.
The Planning Commission review and recommendation is a required part of the California Environmental Quality Act adoption process before the document goes to the Board of Supervisors for certification.
The environmental analysis, headed by a consultant, has been under way almost two years and included the prior release of a draft EIR, mandatory public comment period, and additional public meetings above and beyond those required. Now the final EIR has been released for final certification.
The document will form the basis of the county’s entire commercial cannabis licensing program and new or revised ordinances regulating every type of activity.
As the clock approached midnight last Thursday night, the Planning Commission voted to continue the special meeting on the EIR to the next available date, Thursday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Trinity County library in Weaverville. The meetings are closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, but participants may join by Zoom. Directions are available on the agenda posted online at the county’s website: www.trinitycounty.org.
At last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, commissioners first heard from several local cultivators that the current licensing program is in a state of paralysis, stalling new license applications and renewals of expiring ones for months to the point no one knows if they will still be in business next year.
CEQA attorney Derek Cole responded that the sooner the county certifies the EIR and approves a new ordinance, the quicker those logjams will be resolved.
“This will streamline the process. For applications on existing and new licenses, they will quickly be able to work through the environmental checklist and mitigations. If we don’t certify and approve the ordinance, then delays will continue because every license will need its own CEQA review. This is mission critical to minimize delays. If we don’t, it will be the license applicants that suffer,” he said.
Commissioners found several faults with the EIR early on related to the fact that it did not analyze anything that was not part of the pre-existing cannabis program such as license stacking (multiple licenses on one parcel) or storefront retail cannabis sales.
“Storefront can be looked at, but it will really be a separate project. It would have to be treated as an entirely new facet of this project subject to new review,” Cole said.
Commissioner Mike McHugh argued that the EIR does not address density of cultivation in a given area and that most appeals heard by the commission involve cumulative impacts from too much density in a neighborhood. He suggested the formation of additional opt out areas would be one possible mitigation measure and he would like to see a chapter that adds density mitigations.
Asked about a timeline for licenses next season, the county’s environmental compliance specialist David Colbeck said that once the EIR is certified and new ordinance in place, it should be fairly simple for renewals as long as nothing is changing or expanding, “but there may be a learning curve for some. The county provides the CEQA coverage. It’s feasible to complete the checklist, but if you wish to expand, it could take longer. We’re likely going to have to require a plan, not deferring mitigation to some unknown date.”
“The standard of all the mitigation measures going forward next year would apply when we adopt a new ordinance. We would put together a program to phase that in, but we haven’t yet because there’s only so much we can do. The function now is to get the EIR certified,” Cole said.
Many speakers joined the meeting by Zoom, primarily from the cultivation community. None were completely satisfied with the EIR or the process, but most supported its moving forward as soon as possible.
Some emphasized the need for a transitional period once new mitigation measures are in place, and some argued against the “take it or leave it” approach, but acknowledged the EIR needs to get done, especially if the county is to have any opportunity at new revenue just approved by Measure G, a countywide commercial cannabis tax.
There were also up to 40 letters submitted in support of delaying the hearing to allow more time for the public to review the lengthy document and make comment.
There was discussion about alternatives presented in the final EIR, but commissioners were advised to leave that to the Board of Supervisors which will be responsible for selecting one.
Commissioners then endeavored to take the 64 mitigation measures on for discussion page by page, voicing several concerns along the way. They were advised against trying to rewrite them “on the fly” as they are standard measures adopted in many other jurisdictions and proposed by the expert team of consultants hired by the county to produce the EIR.
Commissioners argued that some of the proposed measures have nothing to do with cultivation and are not feasible to attain in Trinity County. Graham Matthews called the assumptions made “incredibly conservative with some bordering on ludicrous.”
After a few hours of it, commissioners agreed to come back one more night to finish up their recommendations about certification and summarize their concerns about mitigation measures for the Board of Supervisors to consider.