Valley News -

By Diane Sieker
Writer 

Take Back Anza discusses streamlining county cannabis abatement procedures

 

Last updated 2/14/2019 at 6:56pm

Diane Sieker photo

Cannabis is at the forefront of new regulations regarding its cultivation in unincorporated Riverside county.

The TakeBackaAza citizen's grass roots activist group and others met with Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington and members of his staff Thursday, Jan. 24, in Riverside.

Gary Worobec of Takebackanza.org, Bill Donahue of the Sage Town Hall Association and Jackie Hare with the Anza Water Quality Coalition were in attendance.

The meeting was held to discuss Ordinance 348.4898 deterrents as an attempt to get a handle on an influx of large, non-compliant marijuana farms in the unincorporated areas, especially the Anza Valley.

"In recent meetings with Supervisor Chuck Washington and Riverside County TLMA Assistant Director Charissa Leach, we presented our research on what other counties in the state are doing as far as deterrents to illegal marijuana activities," Worobec said. "All counties in the state are set up basically the same so what works in one county should work in another." 

Takebackanza.org indicated that the situation with transient growers, those using leased or rented property, living in a trailer, RV or fifth wheel, tent or plywood shack with no sanitation facilities, no electricity and no water source, who are here for the sole purpose of growing marijuana for profit with no past ties to the community are posing the biggest problem to the quality of life in the valley for the majority of the residents. Asking for monetary large monetary fines seems be a good course of action, Worobec said.

"The purpose of the high deterrent fines and strict time limits puts the responsibility on the property owner to get rid of the problem not code enforcement. Why should the cost of Code Enforcement for illegal marijuana be borne by the taxpayer? We would urge everyone who is concerned about the illegal marijuana cultivation problem in Anza, Sage and Aguanga to go to www.takebackanza.org and click on the link to send a message to Supervisor Washington to put forward a motion to implement strong  financial deterrents to transient growers," he said.

Ordinance 348.4898 was passed Oct. 23, 2018, and contains the cannabis regulations that will define Riverside County's entry into the California Proposition 64 environment. This ordinance is one of the most lenient of all of California's 58 counties, allowing entrepreneurs and businesses to open commercial marijuana cultivation and dispensary operations in the unincorporated areas of the county as well as to allow growing of recreational and medical marijuana within private properties.

"With this lenience, however, comes a responsibility and a public trust from the elected officials and staff of Riverside County to protect the safety, security and quality of life of the residents of its unincorporated areas," Worobec said. "Currently, Ordinance 348.4898 has no deterrent to affect the behavior of those currently growing marijuana illegally on a commercial basis yet hundreds of growers continue to abuse the water supply, pollute the ground, pay no taxes and infringe upon the safety and security of the residents of Anza, Sage and Aguanga."

Additionally, Riverside County Ordinance 725 deals with violations and for providing for reasonable costs related to enforcement. According to Worobec, it does not address the new reality of illegal cannabis activities – specifically cultivation. He said it needs to reflect the severity of the illegal cannabis issue in far higher monetary terms. Many other counties in California have realized that unless severe penalties are levied, the black market will continue to thrive and not only put residents at risk regarding safety and security but will discourage legitimate marijuana enterprises from setting up shop in the county, thereby denying the county of much needed revenue.

Many other counties have amended code violation ordinances to take into account this new reality and to provide strong monetary deterrents to violators.

In Humboldt County, which has been known for its cannabis cultivation for decades, violations are subject to an administrative civil penalty of $6,000 to $10,000 dollars, or as allowed by applicable state law, whichever is higher, per calendar day. This county issues a letter by regular mail and certified mail to the property owner as well as placing an advertisement in the local newspaper and placing not less than two notices in sealed plastic envelopes to the gate or fence of the property. If within ten days Code Enforcement has not been contacted, the fines begin. If the property is abated within that time and code enforcement has been notified for an inspection no fine is levied.

"The meeting was cordial, and Gary's ideas of adding teeth to the enforcement aspects seemed well received," Donahue said. "But resolving the black-market cannabis issue is no easy problem to resolve."

There has been some discussion within Riverside County to streamline the cannabis code violation procedure. It would involve Code Enforcement officers to identify a violator then going to county counsel to prepare a warrant, and proceed to a judge to approve the warrant before having the Code Enforcement officer or a sheriff's deputy serve the warrant on the violator.

This process would seem to be an arduous task and is heavily reliant on manpower considering the number of violators in the county. Worobec suggested that it is far cheaper to follow the Humboldt County model of certified letters, low-cost bulk newspaper notices and attaching a notices of violation to the actual property.

"Many of the violators lease or rent property from owners. If a severe monetary fine was levied on the property that an absentee owner would certainly not want to get involved with a fine and subsequent monetary attachment to their property tax," Worobec said.

The Code Enforcement proposal addressed at the Board of Supervisors Public Hearing, Dec. 11, offered a nine-month cycle from notice of violation to abatement. 

"It takes marijuana only seven months or less to grow," Worobec said. "What would be the point of doing an abatement two months after the crop is harvested? The proposed Code Enforcement fees are no real deterrent to illegal commercial marijuana growers. It's pocket change to a grower. The residents and voters of the unincorporated areas of this county deserve more than cursory and token enforcement of illegal marijuana operations."

Gary Worobec can be reached at http://www.takebackanza.org, [email protected] and http://www.facebook.com/Take-Back-Anza-2258084867803276.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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