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Letter to SLO County Board of Supervisors

SLO County Supervisors Peschong, Gibson, Hill, Compton and Arnold:


The purpose of this letter is to follow up on the May 23, 2019 Planning Commission Meeting and the proposed changes to the cannabis ordinances in San Luis Obispo County. I would like to provide you with points to consider for your June 4, 2019 review of Phase 2 amendments to the county cannabis ordinances.


As background…


As you know, the cannabis issues in SLO County are not easy to resolve. On the one side you have Big Cannabis entities that want to quickly profit on the recent legalization of marijuana in California. Then, there is Big Government at the State and County levels that want to generate additional tax revenues and see cannabis projects as an easy way to add funds to the government budgets. Unfortunately, Small Town America and surrounding areas suffer, because this is where Big Cannabis and Big Government want to establish cannabis nurseries, cultivation, processing, manufacturing and distribution businesses.  This is being done with little to no consideration of the residential agriculture communities and our rural quality of life.


This was evident at the Planning Commission Meeting on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Specifically, the bias and favors offered by County Staff (represented by Megan Martin, Supervising Partner of San Luis Obispo Planning and Building) to Big Cannabis in the proposed Phase 2 changes to the cannabis ordinances.  Little to no community comments/issues were included by County Staff from the impacted residential agriculture communities in the proposed ordinance changes.  This observation was raised by some of the Planning Commission Board members at the meeting in general and many times on specific issues/questions during the review of the ordinance changes. Big Cannabis was represented by County Staff - not the SLO County residential agriculture communities impacted by these cannabis ordinances.


County Staff should have used their learnings/inputs from the Creston community from a specific reviewed cannabis project made at the CAB meeting April 17, 2019. In addition to these CAB meeting community comments, County Staff, despite Staff attendance and active participation at this meeting did not represent our community's point of view - period.  County Staff should also have used our follow up communications via email and phone calls to include these issues in the proposed amendments. In addition, County Staff should have considered recent recommendations made by the Templeton Area Advisory Group to add residences as a sensitive receptor category. If County Staff work for the people, and represented our interests, one would assume our issues and solutions would have been included in the ordinance update proposed to the Planning Commission. They were not.


A number of us from Creston, Nipomo, Templeton, Paso Robles and other parts of the North and South counties attended the May 23 Planning Commission meeting to speak to the Planning Commission board.  Talking to the board for 3 minutes does not allow for a good discussion around the issues and the facts. It is unfortunate that this forum does not allow for a transparent dialogue and even a good debate with facts on the issues that are important to the communities impacted by cannabis projects. 


To get a better idea of the local SLO County Small Town America issues with cannabis projects in residential agriculture communities, please see the media news story coverage of the Planning Commission meeting at the link below from KSBY News which was aired at 5:00 pm, 6:00 pm and 6:30 pm May 23, 2019…


As a SLO County Supervisor you have decision making authority and must balance between Big Cannabis (as well as Big Government) and Small Town America. Cannabis use is now legal in California, but it is up to each county to determine how and where cannabis projects will be defined by county ordinance.


Common sense recommendations from your constituents…


At this Planning Commission meeting those of us that spoke for Small Town America highlighted these issues we believe should be included in the cannabis ordinance for SLO County…


1. Eliminate any type of industrial manufacturing on Agricultural Zoned land.


Restrict cannabis manufacturing operations to Industrial Zoned land - where it belongs.  Any kind of industrial manufacturing - not just cannabis - does not belong on agriculture property or in residential agriculture areas. The proposed ordinance amendments seek to expand this for cannabis to allow for additional chemical extraction/infusion manufacturing.


County Staff changes proposed expand industrial manufacturing to include the use of ethanol and CO2 gas/liquid in order to make end-user and edible products by extraction/infusion manufacturing on a cannabis cultivation site. County Staff seek to open up greater manufacturing flexibility to Big Cannabis in Agriculture Zoned areas at the expense of the environment and the interests, well-being and safety of Small Town America.


Ethanol is an alcohol, used as a gasoline additive and solvent.  It is highly flammable. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a gas but under high pressure it is liquified and acts as a solvent.  Both ethanol and liquid CO2 are used to extract the active compound THC from the cannabis biomass. Both act as chemical solvents to separate the THC from the plant matter. This refined concentrated THC extract/oil is then infused (added to) liquids, creams, ointments and edibles to manufacture the end-user final commercial product. 


Regardless of how Big Cannabis spins or positions this onsite manufacturing - this is a chemical extraction process - it is industrial chemical manufacturing. This is not “Farm to Table” agriculture.


Ethanol and liquified CO2 used in this extraction process are highly combustible. Storage and use of these flammable chemicals is a huge local safety and environmental concern. Brush fires are a big risk 8+ months of the year for residential agriculture properties and homes throughout North, Central, and South county regions of San Luis Obispo.


This infusion industrial manufacturing - as Big Cannabis would like to counter - is NOT like a winery. 1) Wineries do not use industrial/flammable chemicals to extract or refine wines. 2) Wineries do not require high levels of security to prevent crime nor do they bring crime elements into an area. 3) Vineyards harvest once per year and wine is fermented/barreled once per year where cannabis can be run at 8-12 harvests/turns per year with year-round processing/manufacturing which will add additional pollution, traffic and truck transport disruptions to a neighborhood.


Wineries bring tourism to the county, new businesses and families to our residential agriculture communities - what will cannabis chemical industrial manufacturing bring?  Why does County Staff want chemical industrial manufacturing on Agriculture Zoned lands?


2. Include residential dwelling units in the “sensitive receptor" definition and site restrictions.


There is a prohibition to cultivate cannabis at locations within 1000 feet - from property line to property line - of a “sensitive receptor” use facility. This includes schools, day care, addiction treatment and elder care etc.  Families and children living in their homes in residential agricultural communities are not provided the same set-back protection from cannabis projects which can be as close as 300 feet. 1000 feet in Agriculture Zoned properties is very, very close - residential agriculture is not the suburbs.


This is a huge problem and an inconsistency that the County Staff did not address despite feedback specific to this glaring oversight for agricultural communities. Residential agriculture citizens deserve the same environmental, health and safety and well-being as residents of suburban and urban communities.


Why would the County Staff not want to safeguard residential agriculture family homes and include residential dwelling units as a designated sensitive receptor site? Are these homes not where the individuals in the 'sensitive receptor' categories actually live?


3. Keep the cultivation of cannabis indoors and limit to sealed facilities and greenhouses that do not vent to the atmosphere.


Do not allow the outdoor cultivation of cannabis operations. Skunk-like odors or “Nuisance Odors”, allergic reactions and unhealthy air pollution are a big local objection to any cannabis project. Cannabis is NOT agriculture. There are many unknowns associated with these “Nuisance Odors” for the safety, health and well-being of neighbors within breathing distance of an outdoor cannabis project.


The County Staff needs to define the ordinance term “Nuisance Odors” and establish a validated scientific way to measure this odor - then, establish measurement guidelines and enforcement regulations in the cannabis ordinance. The best solution for the community that is forced to live near a cannabis project is to require that all cannabis is grown in specialized indoor facilities where closed filtration systems can scrub the air and at least reduce these “Nuisance Odors” to the surrounding neighborhoods.


In addition to requiring cannabis cultivation only indoors, minimum property line to property line distances between neighboring cannabis projects need to be established in the ordinance. A dense grouping of cannabis projects in a neighborhood will multiply the “Nuisance Odors” and local air pollution as well as increase the potentially negative health impacts to the community.


The technologies for indoor cultivation are in use today - why is County Staff not requiring indoor cultivation technologies be used for all cannabis cultivation sites?  Why is County Staff not mitigating/regulating the “Nuisance Odor” impacts to residential agriculture communities?

4. Require compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act - do not give exemptions to cannabis projects.


Any new business undertaking construction activity on Agriculture Zoned land requires an environmental impact study and, if warranted, an environmental impact report, in order to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Cannabis cultivation, nursery, processing, manufacturing and distribution buildings and operations are all unknown impacts to the environment where negative impacts can be short term to the agriculture viability of the land and longer term to the community shared aquifer. Simply, cannabis project impacts to the environment and the neighboring community are not known.


At the April 17 CAB meeting, County Staff ignored the repeated questions/request from our community for the specific cannabis project under review to undergo these environmental impact studies/reports. A CAB board member specifically asked for CEQA compliance. County Staff ignored these requests at the meeting without any explanation as to why cannabis projects were treated differently. Other cannabis projects in SLO County have been questioned on CEQA compliance and communities are now filing lawsuits to address this issue of 1) County Staff not following the state’s CEQA guidelines in reviewing a cannabis project, or 2) finding ways for the cannabis project to circumvent the CEQA requirements. 


Why are the state CEQA laws being ignored by County Staff and exempted for cannabis projects when any other new business in SLO County must comply?


In summary…


These are common sense changes to the cannabis ordinances that have been raised at advisory board meetings, emails to County Staff and direct communications with County Staff, yet for some reason not included in the proposed ordinance updates. They cannot wait until Phase 3 amendments are proposed and considered!


•    Eliminate any type of industrial manufacturing on Agricultural Zoned land.

•    Include residential dwelling units in the “sensitive receptor" definition and site restrictions.

•    Keep the cultivation of cannabis indoors and limit to sealed facilities and greenhouses that do not vent to the atmosphere.

•    Require compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act - do not give exemptions to cannabis projects.


Most of the proposed cannabis projects for SLO County are from individuals/investors/LLCs/Corporations and parties outside of SLO County.  SLO residential agriculture communities vote, pay taxes, support the local SLO economy and highly value our communities and rural quality of life. We all live, work and raise our families in SLO County, so please represent us as our County Supervisors.


On behalf of Small Town America, I ask at the June 4  Board of Supervisors Meeting, that you include our point-of-view into your decisions on the Phase 2 (and the still to be defined future Phase 3) cannabis ordinance changes and not just accept the positioning or influences by Big Cannabis outside SLO County interests.


Simply stated, we do not want industrial manufacturing or unsafe/unhealthy cannabis operations forced next door to our Agriculture and Rural-residential zoned homes and families.  Citizens of SLO County living in incorporated cities near the unincorporated areas don't want it either! My hope is that you do not want this as well.


Thank you

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