Walker on the Wildside
In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana act, to allow for the growth, sale and usage of recreational cannabis in California. The question put to the Mono County Board of Supervisors this week: should a farm growing a half-acre of marijuana, complete with greenhouses, storage sheds, and oil extraction capabilities, be allowed on North River Road in Walker?
Not if a group of vocal Walker residents have anything to say about it.
The Board adjourned its weekly Tuesday meeting in Bridgeport to head to the Walker Community Center to hear residents’ concerns about the proposed farm, Colitas Farms, at 324 North River Lane.
Nearly every seat in the Community Center was occupied, with a number of attendees opting to stand along the wall to listen to presentations from Bentley Regehr, County Planning Analyst, Wendy Suigmura, County Development Director, and Jeni Pearsons of Colitas Farms.
An allotted space for public comment from the gathered crowd followed the presentations.
John Peters, District 4 Supervisor, kicked off the meeting with some clarifying information, telling the crowd, “The will of the people voted in California in 2016 to legalize the activity that this permit is being proposed for … We don’t want to shout over each other, but if you’re going to come up here to tell us you don’t think pot’s a good thing, that’s not a good use of anyone’s time.”
Sugimura provided a brief overview of the history of cannabis regulation in Mono County, which included 2 RPAC workshops in Antelope Valley as well as four workshops at Board of Supervisors meetings to establish general regulations.
At the Antelope Valley Meetings, Sugimura noted a “sentiment about using less regulation” on cannabis with a focus on allowing commercial cannabis on residential properties.
Sugimura explained that Colitas Farms’s permit was being evaluated based on the prior agreed-upon regulations.
Regehr then stepped in to detail the proposed farm layout, which included two 10,000 sq. ft greenhouses, two processing sheds, and a 1,000 sq. ft barn, among other features.
He also went through the county’s findings on Colitas farms, noting that the farm would comply with all current regulations and laws, with the applicants passing a background check and possessing a history as successful business owners.
Regehr’s presentation featured preliminary answers to a number of concerns that had been voiced about the farm. He explained that there would be no significant odor impacts due to ventilation on the indoor farms and that Colitas’ security plan had been approved by the Sheriff’s department.
Pearsons was the first to speak during the public comment. “We love it here, and we’ve met incredible people,” she said. “We want to be good neighbors and make the front of this [property] beautiful for people to drive by.”
She showed slides of dilapidated structures currently on the property, including a leaking septic system held together with PVC pipe, an outhouse situated directly over an irrigation ditch, and an abandoned campsite complete with the remains of a fire sitting on dry pine needles. Pearson reported that she and Mike Storc had already removed 9,000 pounds of trash from the property.
“We’re asking for a chance to prove ourselves, prove that we’re going to stand by and be good neighbors,” Pearsons told the crowd. “We’re asking to allow us to live out our dream, a little bit of, honestly the american dream.”
Following Pearson’s remarks, Board Chair Stacy Corless reminded everyone to “be civil and respectful and follow the rules” before opening the podium for public comment.
Will you NOT be my neighbor?
Nancy Boardman, a North River lane resident, began by telling the supervisors, “You have undoubtedly received so many letters from all of the community. I hope that these letters have helped [you] gain some insight into issues we are concerned about.”
Boardman expressed a fear “that the character and personality of the river neighborhood will change” with the addition of Colitas Farms, citing concerns about traffic and security for the residents.
“What kind of people will be drawn to the road?”, she asked. “Curious ones …that have things in their mind that we would not like to see.”
Mary Roeser, another neighborhood resident, said that she was “concerned that this [farm] is incongruent and incompatible with our neighborhood. We’ve never had any commercial activity on our road as far as farming of any sort.” She cited water, traffic and odor as key concerns, along with a fear that the farm would have a detrimental impact on Walker as a whole.
“We are very opposed to this … we think that was absolutely the wrong location to choose,” she said. “It’s going to impact all of us and its going to change the Walker that we know.”
Many community members reiterated the points made by Roeser and Boardman throughout the evening, citing similar concerns that the project goes against the character of the neighborhood and Walker as a whole.
“Out of 18 counties in California that have allowed growing cannabis, they all regret their decisions,” said Karen Hoffman. “They’re now being sued multiple times a year.” She concluded with a statement, “ The safety that we now enjoy will, in time, be gone.”
Red Patton captured that sentiment during his allotted time at the podium, asking the supervisors, “Would you want [Colitas] in your town?”
While many in the community were against the project, some took the time to affirm their support of the project.
“I am in complete support of their efforts as a farm, and I see them not as the person who’s going to be tearing down their road,” said DeeDee Grafis, who brought a number of statistics on the positive impact that tax money generated by cannabis has had on communities in California.
Sally Rosen explained her opinion that “Colitas farms is exactly the kind of growth that this town needs. It’s encouraging to me as a younger person who wants to try to make a future here to see those opportunities.”
“I worry that if small businesses like this aren’t allowed to exist … our small town will start to fizzle out,” Rosen said. “I’d almost feel a little safer [living near Colitas] than living next to something that has zero oversight.”
Priscilla Rosen expressed a worry that the petition against the farm contained false information and that her flyers with more accurate information had been repeatedly taken down. Rosen also noted that she had received one of her own flyers in the mail with the suggestion that her safety was at risk.
“Someone wants to keep people in fear,” said Rosen.
The final comments came from CJ Haramis, who brought a presentation that he’d put together on the negative impacts Colitas would have on the community. He showed videos of loud fans at other farms blowing out particles and pointed to other growers who have backed out on investing in property along North River lane.
“This is going to make everyone hate marijuana, Haramis siad, “and I don’t think thats what the county wants to do”
When it came time for board deliberation, Supervisor Peters declared that he could not support the project. “I think I know a little bit about community character,” said Peters, “and why the opposition has been so adamant about the location of this project. I would never have imagined that community character would include something to this extent.”
Supervisor Gardner agreed, citing similar concerns about damaging community character, as well as a worry that “if the permit were to be approved, it would be very difficult for the business to thrive.” He also expressed disappointment that compromise couldn’t be reached in the matter.
Supervisors Kreitz and Corless were in support of the permits, with Kreitz noting, “I think the issue is that there’s ag permit land use right across the street from residential but that’s not their fault.” Corless also expressed concern that a lot of disinformation had been spread.
Kreitz took issue with the strong feelings involved in the issue, “I would be scared to come out and speak in support of this…it was intimidating, the negativity around this that i feel is trumped up.”
Supervisor Stump provided the decisive vote against approving permits, citing water and road issues as reasons why he could not vote in favor.