Salinas >> Citing anticipated additional demands on law enforcement and other county staffing, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided to delay any consideration of allowing outdoor medical cannabis cultivation in the unincorporated parts of Monterey County.
By a unanimous vote, the board agreed with a recommendation from an ad hoc committee that a newly adopted county medical marijuana ordinance should continue to exclude outdoor commercial cannabis grows while the county continues to gain experience in dealing with an emerging industry under its new regulations. Those regulations were approved in July but won’t be operational unless and until a cannabis tax measure on the Nov. 8 ballot is approved by voters. The tax, known as Measure Y, is designed to help fund law enforcement and county administrative costs tied to medical marijuana.
The ad hoc committee of Supervisors John Phillips and Dave Potter, which led the effort to draft the local ordinance excluding outdoor grows in favor of indoor cultivation, recommended waiting until the state’s own medical pot regulations go into effect in 2018.
But Potter suggested revisiting the outdoor grow issue later this year, after the fall election when he said the county should know if it has a new revenue source. That was adopted by the board. The election also includes a statewide recreational use ballot measure that could further affect the issue. Potter said he intends to provide a “legal pathway” for outdoor growers as long as the county can afford the additional cost and suggested supporters back the tax measure.
“This discussion’s not over,” he said. “This (delay) doesn’t mean (outdoor cultivation is) not going to happen. We just need to see how it goes first.”
Supervisor Jane Parker said the outdoor cultivation issue can “only wait so long,” and it was “indefensible” for the county to favor larger, well-heeled business interests who can afford indoor grow space over smaller outdoor operations.
However, Phillips and Supervisors Simon Salinas and Fernando Armenta indicated they still had concerns about allowing outdoor growing, noting warnings from law enforcement, county staff and other counties who had already allowed medical cannabis about the potential social impact of the industry on the community. Armenta said he’d recently viewed documentaries tying medical marijuana to crime spikes, high-caliber weapons, gangs and human trafficking.
District Attorney Dean Flippo told the board it should wait longer to reconsider outdoor grows, noting that he and Sheriff Steve Bernal had presented their concerns about the potential of increased crime and environmental impacts, along with staffing issues.
Several supporters of outdoor cultivation argued allowing it was a matter of fairness and that concerns were overblown.
Also Tuesday, the board:
• Considered a status report on Salinas Valley efforts to comply with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, including stakeholder meetings aimed at establishing a groundwater sustainability agency by the summer 2017 deadline. A tentative proposal calls for a new joint powers agency with an 11-member oversight board charged with creating a groundwater management plan by 2020 capable of restoring the overdrafted water basin to balance by 2040. The agency would be funded by local taxes.
• Heard an update on the Interlake Tunnel project, now expected to cost $78.2 million. The update pointed out the need for up to $5.6 million financing to pay for environmental and engineering work ahead of a tax assessment proceeding aimed at paying for the project depending on whether the supervisors agree to accept a $10 million state grant tied to a project labor agreement under legislation or go with a public-private partnership. The legislation was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday night, and may be limited to construction costs rather than upfront environmental and engineering expense. Salinas Valley farming industry groups urged the board to stop spending any more money on the project until final modeling of the project benefits is completed in December, noting flood control is now being touted over water storage and conservation releases.
• Chose as a preferred option the removal of the crumbling Old Jail on the County Government Center campus and replacement with a commemorative park and educational display featuring farm labor icon Cesar Chavez. The move is a precursor to environmental review of plans for the Old Jail, including analysis of range of alternatives including preservation.
Jim Johnson can be reached at 831-726-4348.