Last night’s three-hour meeting of the Humboldt County Planning Commission.




The Humboldt County Planning Commission last night gave its thumbs-up to Sun Valley Floral Farm’s giant proposed cannabis farm in the Arcata Bottoms.

The board voted 5-2 in favor of the project, with at-large commissioner Brian Mitchell and Fifth District commissioner Peggy O’Neill dissenting.

The proposal — technically put forward by an entity known as “Arcata Land Company, LLC,” which is controlled by Sun Valley — would include 8 acres of cannabis cultivation, in both mixed-light greenhouses and light deprivation structures, along with 30,000 square feet of nursery. It would employ a maximum of 80 people.

Though the project was cut down in response to citizen concerns – originally it would have a 23-acre footprint – it will still be the largest cannabis cultivation operation in the county.

The commission approved, as part of its vote, a negative declaration of environmental impact, rather than requiring a full environmental impact report (EIR). Commissioner Noah Levy asked Planning Director John Ford to explain why this was the case, given that so many neighbors of the project are concerned about potential impacts — smell, traffic, light pollution — why that would be the case.

After giving a little primer on the particulars of the California Environmental Quality Act, Ford said that while many people — presumably opponents of projects — consider an EIR a “panacea,” in fact its purpose is to list reasons why a local agency might approve a project despite unmitigatable environmental impacts. As far as analysis of impacts go, the two types of reports are much the same.

“In reality, the level of study and the level of impact analysis is very similar between a [mitigated declaration] and an environmental impact report,” Ford said.

Commissioners added two conditions on the project before passing it: that trees be planted around the property, and the project enroll in PG&E’s “Power+” program, which supplies 100 percent renewable power.

Commissioner Mitchell said that he would like to vote in favor of the project, but in his opinion the county’s environmental documentation didn’t take into account the impact of the project on traffic in the neighborhood — particularly bicyclists. He asked his fellow commissioners to add an additional condition on the project that would require Sun Valley to provide pedestrian improvements to Foster Avenue, but other commissioners declined to incorporate this suggestion. Director Ford said that pedestrian improvements would require work on land outside the area’s control, and so would be difficult to implement.

The project will almost certainly be appealed to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. If so, that board will have the final say on the subject — barring a lawsuit.