County does outreach to public, minus the press, on pot rules

Marijuana

County supervisors Wednesday held a special meeting to discuss medicinal marijuana in an attempt to provide public outreach on the controversial issue, but the local newspaper didn’t receive an agenda as usual before the gathering.
A county subcommittee on medicinal marijuana comprised of Supervisors Anthony Botelho and Jerry Muenzer recommended the special gathering to discuss potential changes to local laws. It came after the board in early October pulled back on a prior approval to ban all outdoor medicinal marijuana cultivation in unincorporated San Benito County.
Supervisors on Sept. 22 had approved ordinance draft language to ban medical marijuana cultivation and limit indoor growth to 12 plants. The relatively abrupt vote came without a process to gather public input. Criticism of that process and the law itself led supervisors to back off an official approval, but they formed the new subcommittee to examine regulations in light of state legislation requiring local governments to further solidify their marijuana laws by March.
At the meeting Wednesday, many people spoke and all of them were supportive of allowing medicinal marijuana cultivation, Supervisor Robert Rivas said afterward in a phone interview.
The district attorney and a sheriff’s representative attended, but did not speak, said Rivas, who alluded to lobbying by law enforcement authorities in some regional communities such as Monterey County for these types of stringent restrictions. Gilroy also is considering a relatively stringent pot ban in light of lobbying from law enforcement arguing that banning medicinal marijuana growth will help them enforce illegal operations, which was the same contention from the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office in initially pushing for the local ban.
Rivas called it “unfortunate” that neither District Attorney Candice Hooper nor Sheriff Darren Thompson, who had a representative in attendance, spoke on the matter.
“From a public standpoint, they haven’t really given their professional opinions in a public hearing,” he said.
Rivas said the meeting was the first step in the public outreach process. He said he was “embarrassed” as a supervisor that the county did not send an agenda to the only local newspaper in town.
“I’m disappointed because in a small county like ours, the fact that we only have one paper, they should be certainly kept abreast of all the business we do as far as our county government,” Rivas said. “And something like this is extremely important.”
Clerk Louie Valdez took responsibility for not emailing the agenda to the Free Lance, which subscribes to those listings, as the county normally does.
“My job is let everybody know,” Valdez said by phone after the meeting. “I try and reach out and I try and be as open and transparent as I possibly can.”
He said when someone subscribes to the agendas, it is his “obligation” to send them.
“It was just my oversight,” he said.
Valdez pointed out that the county legally posted the hard copy outside of the County Administration Building and an electronic version on the county website Tuesday afternoon within the required 24-hour notice for a special meeting. He mentioned that when he arrived to the job earlier this year, he pushed for the county to move hard-copy agenda postings to an area outside the administration building, as required, instead of inside.
Valdez said he didn’t have immediate access to the list of email addresses where the county sent the special meeting agenda, and added that many of the speakers at the Wednesday meeting were pro-marijuana organizations or residents that had been following the issue closely.
Valdez also noted that supervisors briefly broached the special meeting at a Dec. 1 gathering when Muenzer noted he could not attend because he would be in Washington, D.C. and how the county worked with Community Media Access Partnership to broadcast the meeting.
Moving forward with outreach and examination of changes to local regulations, the marijuana subcommittee members expect to tour a commercial grow site and work through some of the many issues involved, Rivas said. Some of those issues could include the number of plants allowed; the size of potential commercial operations; and whether to allow indoor, outdoor or both, he said.
“Then obviously we have to address the issue of zoning,” he said.
Rivas said Botelho mentioned at the meeting plans to have a preliminary draft ordinance ready by sometime in February.
Looking ahead even further, the county may have to adjust again if state voters eventually OK legalizing recreational marijuana on an upcoming ballot.
“I hate to pass a stringent ordinance here, and then we have to go back and go through this public process to revise it,” Rivas said.

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