Rocci and Laura Costa, the applicants for a 10,000-square-foot open-air cannabis farm way out Warren Creek Road, west of Blue Lake, are either paragons of the industry or the bane of their neighbors’ existence. Maybe both.
Anyway, those were the dueling narratives across several hours of public comment during Tuesday’s virtual Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The Costas were appealing a recent decision from the Humboldt County Planning Commission denying a conditional use permit for a dry farming weed operation within the Blue Lake Community Area. Staff in the county’s Planning and Building Department had identified the main stumbling block as Warren Creek Road itself. It’s a narrow and winding rural road that would require new turnouts to accommodate increased traffic, staff found.
But at the March 5 Planning Commission meeting, commissioners got an earful from residents of neighboring properties who voiced concerns about odor, river access, increased traffic and the potential changes to the character of their residential road.
In letters and testimony, they also recounted personal conflicts with the Costas. The Planning Commission wound up denying the permit request, citing potential adverse impacts to the health, safety and welfare of the Warren Creek neighborhood.
In appealing the decision, the Costas and their agent, Cara Cordoni, argued that the Planning Commission had made “errors of discretion,” denying the permit request based in part on misleading public testimony.
“My family has been misrepresented,” Rocci Costa said via Zoom. “Laura and I and our family are no danger to community; we’re a compliment to it.”
Nearly three dozen people called or logged in to the Zoom meeting to comment on the matter, and they were divided neatly into two categories. On the one hand were cannabis industry colleagues (and a few family members) who attested to the quality of the Costas character and the value of their environmentally responsible farming methods. They are the very definition of “Mom and Pop” growers, many speakers argued.
For example, Natalynne DeLapp, operations director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, said the Costas’ plan to employ dry farming represents “the most environmentally sound type of cultivation” possible — the kind of operation that would showcase what Humboldt County’s product is all about. And she suggested that critics were motivated by anti-cannabis sentiments.
On the other hand were the critics: residents of Warren Creek Road who described the Costas as problem neighbors prone to confrontational run-ins with area residents, along with the unsavory tenants and squatters they’ve allowed on their property over the years.
Mike Zeppegno, one of several Warren Creek Road residents to speak, said the Costas have created “fear, anxiety and uncertainty” among local residents. The neighbors’ “strong position,” he said, was that approving the permit request “would be a great threat to the health, safety and welfare of our community.”
When the matter came back to the board for discussion, several supervisors expressed disappointment that the parties hadn’t been better about communicating with one another.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass both said that the uniformly negative comments from the Costas neighbors gave them pause. Fellow Supervisor Mike Wilson, whose Third District encompasses the region in question, floated the idea of postponing a decision to allow time for neighbors to try to hash out their differences.
Planning and Building Director John Ford said staff had reached out to two different neighbors who’d expressed opposition to the Costas’ plan, “and there was absolutely no willingness” to attend a community meeting on the matter.
Wilson also suggested the possibility of phasing the grow operation in — starting smaller and then checking in with neighbors a few years down the line before allowing the Costas to expand. Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone voiced support for that idea, and both he and Wilson endorsed the outdoor, dry farming methods of the proposal.
Ultimately, the board punted. With a 4-0 vote (Madrone being absent due to an apparent technical glitch), they postponed a decision to a date uncertain and directed staff to organize a meeting with the Costas and their neighbors, during which they will “discuss opportunities and solutions that can be brought back to the board for consideration,” according to the motion.
Earlier in the meeting, the board discussed responses to this year’s batch of reports from the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury. Of the seven reports produced by the independent judicial body this year, five requested responses from the Board of Supervisors. Four of those five responses were presented today.
As is generally the case, county staff agreed with some of the Grand Jury’s findings, disagreed with others and partially agreed with the remainder. While devoted public commenter Kent Sawatzky described the county’s response as dismissive and disrespectful, Bohn said the Grand Jury “opens up a lot of eyes and pulls off a lot of scabs.”
All the supervisors thanked the volunteer members for their service. Below we’ve posted links to the county’s responses, which were approved by the board unanimously. They spell out where the county agrees and disagrees with each report and which of the suggested reform measures are being implemented.
- County Responses to Civil Grand Jury Report “Inspections of Custody and Correction Facilities in Humboldt County”
- County Responses to Civil Grand Jury Report “Citizen Complaint Procedure”
- County Responses to Civil Grand Jury Report “A Growing Concern: Humboldt County Planning and Building Department and The CannabisIndustry”
- County Responses to Civil Grand Jury Report “BeHold: The Department of Mental Health’s Management of the Public Guardian Office andPatients’ Rights Advocate”