Mono County Supervisors approved changes in land-use designation which will pave the way for the establishment of a cannabis farm off Highway 6 outside of Benton.
The property of the applicant, Apogee Farms, sits next to Maranatha Drilling and Pump Service and below a defunct scrap yard.
Local resident Loran Kitts (who also happens to be running for Mono County District 2 Supervisor against Rhonda Duggan), observed, “This is the fourth attempt at cannabis in Benton.” He said one previous attempt by the local tribe went south when approximately $100,000 in product was stolen.
He described the Benton community as “cannabis tolerant” – but not really proponents.
His biggest concern: security.
According to the Executive Summary of Apogee’s specific plan prepared by Mono County Community Development, “Apogee Farms will cultivate cannabis to be sold in bulk and distributed from the property. Cultivation areas will be divided into three, 2,880 square-foot (sf) areas for a total of 8,640 sf. Cultivation will initially take place outdoors. After full build out of the project, all cultivation will take place within three greenhouses. Once cannabis is harvested, it may be dried, trimmed, packaged, and labeled on-site before being distributed to retailors. Commercial cannabis activities conducted on site will include cultivation, cannabis processing, and cannabis distribution.”
As for environmental impact – like every project under consideration these these days – a “mitigated negative declaration” was adopted.
In response to one neighboring landowner’s concern about water usage, Mono County Planning Analyst Aaron Washco said the proposed farm is anticipated to use 600 gallons of water per day.
This, noted Board Chair Rhonda Duggan, is less than the average residential usage (based upon 2.91 people per household) of 780 gallons/day.
A single residence using more water than a cannabis farm? Hmm.
A cursory search of our friend, the internet, came up with this rule of thumb on Cannabis cultivation courtesy of greenhousegrower.com: one liter of water per square foot of flowering plant canopy per day.
Based upon 8,640-square feet of cultivation area, using the greenhousegrower.com calculation, that would equal 2,281 gallons per day of water use.
*Washco later clarified that the 8,640-square foot cultivation area actually reflects the external dimensions of the greenhouses, but the actual growing area of the platforms is 3,960-square feet.
That calculation, per greenhouse, would equate to a little more than 1,000 gallons per day of water use.
Another issue raised by The Sheet during public comment was that the place currently looks like a dump – so how is a cannabis farm going to be an improvement?
Former Inyo Supervisor Duane “Hap” Hazard called in to say that the trailers in the accompanying photograph are located on an adjacent property which was operated as an active scrapyard for decades. The trailers were placed there as a “visual block” he said, and shouldn’t be confused with the proposed property under consideration.
Board Chair Rhonda Duggan added, “It’s unfortunate your project won’t be distinguishable from the abandoned junkyard.”
Duggan acknowledged the County has some work to do in addressing the unsightliness of neighboring properties.
Apogee Farms CEO Willie Wood described himself as an “environmentally conscious” individual who won’t use synthetic pesticides – he’s committed to making the place as “organic” as possible.
And he was clearly miffed at the suggestion the place looked like a dump.
“I don’t see it as being a dump,” he said.
Mono County Planning Director Wendy Sugimura addressed many Sheet questions via email Wednesday.
Q: How was the estimate of 600 gallons per day derived, and is it a reasonable estimate?
A: The estimate of 600 gallons of water per day for the Apogee Farms cannabis cultivation project was provided by the applicant based on the anticipated square footage, cultivation methodology, and water conservation measures. Full implementation of the Apogee Farms project may include water recycling and reuse, which will significantly reduce water usage. A “top-end” estimate that does not include any water-saving measures such as drip irrigation or water recycling/recirculation uses an assumption of one liter/square foot (https://www.greenhousegrower.com/production/how-to-calculate-water-use-and-transpiration-rates-for-indoor-cannabis-cultivation/). This estimate assumes the most demanding circumstances – high temperatures, high CO2, and intense light – and therefore water demand of this level is unlikely. Given that assumption, the calculation of one liter per square footage (3,960 sf) results in an estimate of 3,960 liters, or 1,046 gallons. With less demanding circumstances and water-saving measures, significantly less water is likely to be used and 600 gallons could be a reasonable estimate … If the applicant finds any part of their project design does not work, they may submit changes to Mono County, and we will determine if additional authorizations or environmental analysis is needed.
Q: How is water usage compliance monitored?
A: The applicant is required to keep records of water usage for the life of the project, in this case, rather than the standard five years. The State Water Resources Control Board has regulatory authority over the project and access to those records, as does the California Department of Fish and Game. Mono County will review the water records at least once a year to verify operation within project parameters during the annual renewal of the Cannabis Operations Permit. If water use is exceeded, the applicant is out of compliance with the Specific Plan and code enforcement action may follow, which may include a notice of violation, citation, non-renewal and/or rescission of the Cannabis Operations Permit, and potentially rescission of the specific plan approval. Likely, state licensing issues will arise as well, but that would be the responsibility of the State to enforce.
Q: What is the status of the junkyards on the adjacent parcels?
A: The parcel to the west with the junkyard (APN 025-020-012-000) is designated Industrial (I), which allows for junkyards and auto wrecking and salvage yards, subject to a use permit. This junkyard has been in existence for a very long time, and staff would need to research whether it is an existing non-conforming use or has a use permit. No complaints have been filed against this property. The property to the south (APN 025-040-003-000) is designated Rural Residential (RR). However, no complaints have been filed against this property and therefore no code enforcement investigation has been conducted. Neither property has an active code enforcement case open against it at this time.
In other news …
Mammoth Lakes Town Council approved a second amendment to the Town’s Solid Waste Services agreement with Mammoth Disposal.
That’s longhand for another rate hike.
As Mayor Bill Sauser groused, “This is the second time we’ve revised a fairly new contract.”
“Bad optics,” he added.
The amendment includes a one-time base rate increase of 2.94% to cover increased hauling costs, as well as allowance of a fuel surcharge.
As Sauser observed, “The problem I have with surcharges is that they never go away.”
Further, there’s nothing in the contract to provide for a “reverse surcharge” if prices go down.
But the damning part was Sauser, in resignation, basically saying ‘Ah well, we’re out of time. The public hearing has to take place tonight.’
Translation: This contract should be amended but it won’t be.
That was the first of two items – the amendment to the Franchise Agreement.
The second item was a resolution adopting rates from 2024-2027.
What does that mean for 2024?
A base rate increase of 5.6% plus 3.3% for CPI (consumer price index) plus 2.94% for that one-time base rate increase. So that’s 11.87%.
Or, as Tom Cage said afterward in the hallway, if you had been paying $160 for your quarterly bill, that will now be $180 per quarter.
In 2025 and 2026, ratepayers can expect increases of between 6.6% to 9.6%.
If the rates max out in 2025 & 2026, by 2027, that $160/quarter will seem quaint, because you’ll be paying $217. Or $228 more per year.
Then there was the agenda item at the Mono Supervisors meeting regarding EIFD or Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts.
Local taxeaters have been toying with this idea for at least 15 years.
And what it really amounts to is nothing more than the establishment of a forced savings account – like a gambler who wins a few hands and stuffs some chips in his pocket because if he leaves the chips on the table he’ll spend ‘em all.
Here’s the example. Say you want to create a housing fund.
And you see those cranes there at the Limelight, and you realize once that place is done, it will be reassessed at a stratospheric value.
The EIFD game is – let’s pretend not to notice the increase in value.
We’ll all agree (all agencies that get a piece of the property tax action) to keep collecting the same amount of taxes from that parcel we’ve always collected – and put the incremental increase in tax revenue into a district to benefit housing or whatever other pet project of the moment you might have.
Sounds clever, except you have to convince a bunch of government agencies to buy into the idea that what you want to spend the money on is what they want to spend the money on.
And public agencies typically don’t let anyone tamper with their funding streams, especially if there’s no glory in it for them.
As I told one Supervisor afterwards, “You don’t need a forced piggybank account. What you need Is leadership in budgeting when development occurs and coffers swell.”
But I guess once the employees and the varied special interests get a look at elevated tax receipts, political discipline goes out the window.