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Land-use politics 

An open letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors regarding cannabis regulations

Our goal is to help San Luis Obispo County avoid a very expensive legal battle, a legal battle that the county is going to lose. So, I hope you, members of the county Board of Supervisors, listen to our comments with that in mind.

However, these comments were written in conjunction with a world-class land-use planner, a world-class retired lawyer, and a currently practicing lawyer in Long Beach who won against Los Angeles city and county and several other cities before everybody down there wised up and stopped this kind of regulation of medical cannabis and now recreational cannabis growing.

There's a carrot and there's a stick, and I'm here to talk about both.

As to the carrot, the land-use planner advises us that analysis of the land-use plan in California Valley by anybody who knows anything about land-use planning will show that there has been absolutely no land-use planning in the California Valley in decades—in fact, since 1963. None. The place was subdivided by a bunch of speculators who thought that the California Aqueduct was going to go through there; they were going to make a fortune, so they put in 2.5-acre parcels for agriculture. For agriculture, my friends, they subdivided the entire valley.

But then, the California Aqueduct went a different direction so the agricultural lots were a total bust, and the place has never had any kind of population to speak of since, ever. If you look at the records of tax sales in the California Valley, it's notorious in California that the cheapest 2.5 acres that anybody could buy for the last 20, 30, 40 years have been in the California Valley. I have friends who call me up every year during the tax sale and say, "Hey, there's land in San Luis Obispo County for $700 for 2.5 acres. It's near you. What about that?" And then they tell me it's in the California Valley, and I tell them about where that place is—55 miles away, winding dangerous mountain roads so it's a 1.5-hour drive, and nobody lives there except people who think they can somehow produce something in an area that has too hot of summers, too cold of winters, and half of it has bad water.

Do any of you know that? Do any of you visit California Valley? If you had made a trip to the California Valley you wouldn't be thinking that this was a real great place that you should make sure people don't live and grow cannabis in because you've got to worry about protection other people who don't like cannabis growing around their suburban houses. And those six constituents of yours are the kind of people who think it's a good idea to live there so one spouse can drive 55 miles to SLO for work every day and the other spouse can drive 50 miles to Bakersfield. Is it any wonder there hasn't been a large population there before cannabis growing became a practical use?

Now you claim that 70 percent of the lots there are already zoned for suburban residential use, so to protect them you are going to basically outlaw growing in the whole California Valley. One of our land-use planners told me that more than 90 percent of the lots in the California Valley were vacant before this year. That shows us the zoning didn't work. That's what you notice when you're a professional land-use planner. Nobody wants 2.5 acres in that valley for suburban residential use.

The zoning in the California Valley needs to be changed because it needs to be something that will allow the land to be used. First of all, you've got to decide what you want to do with the California Valley. Do you want people to live there? That hasn't happened in 40 years of trying. Do you want people to grow things there? That agricultural use would be what it was intended to be in the first place. See your staff report from 2013 for the problems you know about that haven't been addressed with regard to the valley's zoning.

Do you know those problems? Did you look at the history of land-use planning in the California Valley and read that staff report? Clearly, you did not.

It is ridiculous for you to be saying that the decision against growing marijuana in the California Valley is simply a land-use planning decision. Clearly, it's not. This is a political decision to try and prevent people from growing medical and recreational marijuana.

I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn if you think that anybody is going to believe that all of a sudden you decided to ban growing cannabis in the California Valley as a mere land-use decision. It's not a land-use decision.

It's a political decision against the people who registered with the county last September as was required of medical cannabis growers, the people who told you they were growing medical cannabis. They had a right to do that under the state law because you didn't bother to pass any regulations on growing after California legalized medical cannabis in 1996. But once recreational marijuana was on the ballot, you decided to put together regulations for growing medical cannabis. You mixed up propositions 215 and 64 in an way that makes it obvious that what you were doing is a scam. You trapped the people who registered, who paid money to beat a quick deadline to register—with 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold telling them that the rules wouldn't change after they registered.

Now, she's saying too many people registered and that 150 more are growing illegally, therefore growing should be banned. That's an irrational decision. The lawyers we spoke to tell us that the government can't make irrational decisions. The Long Beach lawyer said he's happy to hear we may be hiring him because the counties and cities to sue over cannabis regulations down south have just about dried up.

Now I've gone and mixed up the carrot and stick, just like you mix up land-use and political decisions.

While I'm at it, I'll tell you that I own a farm in the California Valley that is actually grandfathered in as a cannabis and food farm, no matter what you do. The farmer who built it in the 1970s died farming there and we discovered hidden cannabis grows when we rehabbed the greenhouses. It doesn't matter to me what you do. However, I was planning on taking action against the county for some other things you have about that farm, and if you pass this it will allow me to bring in the cannabis growers, get them organized, and have them represented by a real lawyer.

William Powers has a stick to shake at the SLO County Board of Supervisors over California Valley land-use decisions. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or send a letter to the editor to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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