Monday, 29 November 2021

Tribe joins suit calling for changes to Yolo County cannabis ordinance

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA — The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation has partnered with the Sierra Club, Yolo County Farm Bureau, and local residents in a lawsuit to challenge a Yolo County cannabis ordinance.

Proponents said the lawsuit does not seek to stop cannabis cultivation and related businesses in Yolo County, or to prevent county residents from profiting from the cannabis industry.

Instead, they said it would simply require the county to comply with California environmental law by evaluating the full and real impacts of cannabis cultivation, and mitigate those impacts, before adopting an ordinance regulating it.

Adhering to this process is what the California Environmental Quality Act requires, and these same requirements apply to every other regulated land use.

“The cannabis industry has a place in Yolo County, just as cannabis has a place in the medicine cabinets of many people in California,” the Tribal Council of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation said in a statement on the lawsuit. “But sensible cannabis permitting can’t happen until the county is clear-eyed about the problems overconcentration creates, especially in sensitive areas around schools, near cultural heritage sites, and in smaller communities like those in the Capay Valley.”

The “green rush” to the Capay Valley — which is composed of rural communities west of Interstate 505 from Madison through Rumsey — created widespread blight and land uses incompatible with the organic farming practices and ecotourism for which the area is known.

Additionally, the Capay Valley’s location in the northernmost part of the county makes cannabis farms there difficult to reach and more expensive to regulate for inspectors and sheriff deputies, including deputies subsidized by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

With more than half of the grows concentrated in the Capay Valley, local residents have become unduly burdened, the lawsuit’s proponents said.

The suit stems from what the proponents said are flaws in the environmental review process that produced a cannabis land use ordinance the Yolo County Board of Supervisors adopted.

One key flaw cited by the groups who are suing is the county's refusal to compare the impacts of cannabis cultivation to Yolo County's rural environment and agricultural landscape before the grows existed.

By proceeding in this fashion, the county's environmental document necessarily missed significant cannabis industry impacts, the proponents said.

While the county agreed it made sense to protect the upper Capay Valley from an over concentration of grows, its ordinance allows cannabis grows to now concentrate in the lower Capay Valley, burdening small rural communities, schools and businesses, particularly in Madison and Esparto, the lawsuit proponents said.

These communities are among the poorest and most diverse in the county, with Esparto and Madison having the highest percentage of Latino residents (55.3% and 76%, respectively), and with Madison ranking as the most impoverished.

The groups bringing the suit said Yolo County’s rulemaking is unclear even on the issue of the Capay Valley’s boundaries, which is defined one way in some legal documents, and another way in the proposed ordinance.

The plaintiffs said cannabis cultivation poses adverse impacts for residential rural communities, also arguing that its production is fundamentally incompatible with traditional agriculture in Yolo County, and the county needs to account for that reality through appropriate mitigation.

The full extent of the increased costs and harms created by the industry cannot be known because the county refused to consider impacts of cannabis cultivation authorized as of 2017, without any environmental review. The lawsuit filed Thursday seeks to correct that error.

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