In a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Virginia Bass absent, the Board of Supervisors approved over $1 million in funds to help the homeless, with the money being spread across five different agencies.
Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives, Inc. will be getting nearly $100,000 for a new shower trailer; the Arcata House partnership will be getting $192,500 for emergency shelter and support services; Humboldt County Housing Authority gets $130,800 for housing assistance services; Humboldt Senior Resource Center gets $323,529 also for housing assistance services; and, finally, the Humboldt County Public Defender’s Office will be getting $274,599 for supportive services aimed at reducing the homeless population in Humboldt.
But the bulk of the meeting focused on a report from the Planning and Building Department. The report — “Annual Review of Limits and Prescribed Distribution of Commercial Cannabis Permitting and Acreage Allowances” — highlighted where cannabis growing permits have been allocated, how many permits are in the permitting process and how many have been allocated for watershed each area.
The cannabis growing permit cap in Humboldt County is 3,500 permits spread throughout 12 watersheds, with an acreage cap of 1,205. The largest potential growing watershed is the South Fork of the Eel River, with a permit cap of 730. There have only been 611 permits submitted to the Planning and Building Department in that watershed so far, and 133 have been approved.
“We are nowhere close to exceeding the permit cap,” Planning and Building Director John Ford told the Board. Ford went on to say that there are only two watersheds where the total number of grows are nearing the acreage cap.
Countywide there have been 2,497 permits submitted; of those, 1,457 are currently in the permitting process. Countywide, only 471 permits accounting for 123.3 acres have been approved.
During the meeting, Supervisor Steve Madrone said he has recently received a number of complaints about Sheriff’s Office raids of cannabis farms where officers acted in very thuggish ways. Madrone said he received complaints of money being stolen and houses excessively torn up while deputies were conducting raids on illegal grows. Madrone classified the raids as being “out of control.”
Shortly after Madrone made the remarks about the HCSO, Sheriff William Honsal showed up. Honsal said his office takes marijuana enforcement “very seriously,” and they work closely with the Code Enforcement team to determine who is and is not in compliance. Honsal said the raids of illegal grows are court ordered and raids may include the seizure of all property related to the growing of illegal cannabis — including cash, processed weed, and other items. Honsal said when the HCSO enforces a search warrant they do so with guns drawn because of past experiences.
“People don’t want us there and people aren’t greeting us with open arms,” Honsal said during the meeting. “It is not pretty sometimes.”
He stressed that the money and all other items seized during a raid are documented. Honsal went on to say the HCSO has conducted over 40 raids so far this year that have resulted in over 100,000 plants being cut down and over 15,000 pounds of weed seized. He stated the HCSO does not target farms that are in the permitting process unless the HCSO can prove the farm is selling the product out of state or conducting other illegal operations.
“We are not targeting a normal 50-plant grow,” Honsal said. “But for people outside the law, know that law enforcement is coming.”
Honsal also addressed the HCSO policy of cutting up greenhouses while raiding a property by saying it is a safety precaution. He said officers need to see any movements that take place across the property and the fumes from some of the pesticides and fertilizers are a respiratory danger.
When it comes to code enforcement for grows in Humboldt County, Director Ford said the Planning and Building department mostly focuses on enforcement of grows over 6,000 square feet. According to the Planning and Building report there are potentially 147 illegal grows within a critically impacted watersheds.
During the meeting, Patricia Lai of Mother Earth Engineering stressed that the Board of Supervisors are not doing enough to help small farmers. She brought with her a crowd of about 15 who said they have been impacted by the high costs associated with growing cannabis in Humboldt. Supervisor Madrone agreed with this sentiment.
“I firmly believe that we have never given the small farmer an economic pathway to become compliant,” Madrone said. “We never went after the timber industry for environmental impacts and it is too much of a burden to put on growers.”
Madrone said he takes issue with how the environmental impact reports are done and wants future cannabis EIRs to look into how the cannabis is being grown instead of just the amount of land growers are using. Madrone said he wants to see a cannabis future in Humboldt County that focuses on quality and not quantity — something he said Napa County did when it came to wine.
“If we can simplify the pathway for the small farmers, then we could have a future of small farmers coming back into the light,” Madrone said. “We really need to do this.”