As many of you may be aware the County of Santa Cruz recently completed the first draft of an Environmental Impact Report on cannabis cultivation for the unincorporated areas of the County. This document, which is only the 3rd County-level EIR to be completed within the State, and of them is surely the most comprehensive, outlines the different regulatory approaches the County could take in regards to future land use policies governing recreational cannabis cultivation. The policy approaches the document considers vary from “very restrictive”, which would severely limit what areas of the County that would be available for growing; to “permissible”, which would create the loosest level of regulation. The document then considers these approaches and how each one would likely impact the natural environment.
Interestingly enough, the EIR recommends that the policy approach that would impact the natural environment the least is the most permissible approach. Essentially, it argues that if new restrictions on cannabis cultivation are too onerous, then there would be no incentive for the growers who are currently producing cannabis illegally to participate.
The current impacts from illegal cannabis grows in Santa Cruz County are tremendous, including pollution of local waterways, illegal diverting, use of pesticides in protected spaces and others. However, the organized cannabis community and the County both agree that this is due to a small number of bad actors who likely won’t take the steps necessary to become legitimate businesses, while those who want to play by the rules are willing to accept sensible environmental regulation, so long as they have enough land to operate.
Below is a summary of the specific recommendations that come from most permissive overarching policy approach. This summary was provided to the Business Council by SCCBC member organization Green Trade Santa Cruz, which represents over 30 cannabis industry partners. The summary’s original author is local Attorney Trevor Luxon. Trevor’s full summary also deals with the EIR’s recommendation concerning the manufacturing of cannabis products, however this has been left off to focus on the land use element.
INCREASES IN CANOPY SIZE- Previous proposals set relatively small caps on the percentage of a parcel which could be used for cultivation, and the total allowed square footage of canopy, which varied based on zoning. The EIR recommends that the previously proposed allowable canopy be increased as follows (effectively doubling prior proposals for most zoning types):
1. CA (Commercial Ag)- increased from 2% of the parcel, up to a maximum of 22,000 sq. ft. to 4% of the parcel, up to a maximum of 44,000 sq. ft.
2. A (Agriculture)- from 1.5% of the parcel up to a maximum of 10,000 sq. ft. to 3% of the parcel, up to a maximum of 20,000 sq. ft.
3. RA- from 1.25% of the parcel up to a maximum of 10,000 sq. ft. to 2.5% of the parcel, up to a maximum of 10,200 sq. ft.
4. C4- no change from prior proposals, a maximum of 22,000 sq. ft.
5. M1, M2, M3- no change from prior proposals, a maximum of 22,000 sq. ft.
6. TP- from 1.25% of the parcel up to a maximum of 10,000 sq. ft. to 2.5% of the parcel, up to a maximum of 10,000 sq. ft. on parcels less than 10 acres, and up to a maximum of 20,000 on parcels over 10 acres,
7. SU- from 1.25% of the parcel up to a maximum of 10,000 sq. ft. to 2.5% of the parcel, up to up to a maximum of 10,000 sq. ft. on parcels less than 10 acres, and up to a maximum of 20,000 on parcels over 10 acres
MULTIPLE LICENSES PER PARCEL- Previous proposals allowed for only one cultivation license to be granted per parcel, regardless of the size of the parcel. The EIR recommendation is to allow multiple licenses per parcel. The first recommendation is to allow each license to allow the amount of square footage permitted under the above formulas, the secondary recommendation (dubbed the “More Permissive Project”) is to allow multiple licenses on a parcel, but the total square footage of all gardens combined must be less than or equal to the amount permitted under the above formula.
REDUCTION OF MINIMUM PARCEL SIZES: Under previous proposals, a minimum parcel size of five (5) acres was required for cultivation on parcels. Parcels zoned A (Agriculture) could not be licensed unless they were greater than 10 acres, and parcels zoned RA, TP and SU could not be licensed unless they were greater than 5 acres.
Under the recommended changes, the minimum size for A zoned parcels is reduced 10 to 5 acres, and for RA zoned parcels from 5 to 2.5 acres. Other zoning types are not affected.
In addition, the licensing official, in their discretion, would be permitted to license parcels that do not meet the minimum size requirement on a case-by-case basis.
CULTIVATION IN THE COASTAL ZONE AND ONE MILE BUFFER- Under previous proposals, cultivation was banned in the Coastal Zone, and also in a one-mile buffer zone from the Coastal Zone’s boundary, except in previously existing buildings in properties zoned CA, M, or C4.
Under the recommended alternative, no specific restrictions would be placed upon cultivation in the Coastal Zone or the one-mile buffer zone.
CULTIVATION IN THE SECOND DISTRICT- Under previous ordinances and proposals, special exceptions were made for the Second Supervisorial District, which did not permit outdoor cultivation, or cultivation on parcels of less than five acres.
Under the recommended alternative, no special exceptions or regulations would apply to the Second District for cultivation licensing.
WATER SOURCES- Previous proposals required all water used for cultivation must be provided by a legal source on the licensed parcel, and did not allow cultivators to import water from legal outside sources by methods such as delivery by truck.
SETBACKS- Under previous ordinances the following setbacks were included, which are recommended to be reduced in the following manner:
1. The minimum setback from cultivation sites to municipal boundaries, libraries, substance abuse treatment centers and parks was 600 feet. It is recommended that this be reduced to 300 feet.
2. The minimum setback from a habitable structure on an adjacent property was 200 ft., it is recommended it is reduced to 100 ft., with the Licensing Official allowed, in their discretion, to issue licenses with setbacks below 100 ft. on a case by case basis.
3. The minimum setback from a public right of way was 100 ft. on parcels from 1-5 acres, 200 ft. on parcels 5-10 acres, and 300 ft. on parcels over 10 acres. These have each been reduced by 50%, to 50 ft., 100 ft. and 150 ft. respectively.
4. No setback shall be required for indoor gardens.