County extends hemp moratorium

Decision expected in February

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors voted to extend its hemp moratorium Jan. 14 with the goal of lifting it in February.

Hearing concerns from the public about possible odors and theft, the supervisors on Dec. 10 enacted a 45-day moratorium on operations to allow time to amend the county’s ordinance on the industry. The decision on Jan. 14 extends the moratorium for more than 10 months—the maximum time allowed—but it will likely end long before that time period, according to Assistant County Counsel Joel Ellinwood. 

The county planning commission was scheduled to discuss changes to the ordinance on Jan. 15 and provide its recommendations to the supervisors. The updated ordinance would go to the supervisors for approval at a future meeting, possibly in February, Ellinwood said.

“We recommended the maximum period of time, recognizing the intent is to adopt the amendments as soon as possible and remove the moratorium,” he said.

The possible decision on hemp in February comes before the March 3 primary election, when the supervisorial candidates’ stance on the industry is expected to be on the minds of voters.

A Facebook group titled “Residents for a Stench-Free San Benito County” urged followers to question candidates on the hemp moratorium, especially supervisors Mark Medina and Jaime De La Cruz, who are up for re-election.

“These two supervisors both pushed hard to allow cannabis businesses to set up in areas with residences during their terms, and residents had to live for years with their windows closed and having to foot the cost of adding camera systems to keep their homes safe,” the group wrote on Dec. 22.

The county’s hemp ordinance went into effect in October, limiting operations to 10 acres per parcel and mandating setbacks 100 feet from parcel lines and 1,000 feet from “sensitive sites” such as schools.

According to Agricultural Commissioner Karen Overstreet, hemp is grown on 586 acres in San Benito County across 26 sites for both commercial and research purposes.

San Benito County Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Taylor said certain hemp-growing sites in the county have attracted more attention than others. The 6900 block of San Felipe Road, for instance, had no calls for service from January to Oct. 1, according to Taylor. However, from October to present, sheriff’s deputies responded to 39 calls for service, including 11 arrests and two vehicle pursuits, he said.

Eden Rift Vineyards and DeRose Winery, both located on Cienega Road near a hemp operation, both reported an uptick of thefts and trespassing on their properties.

Among the changes to the ordinance, the distance of hemp sites between residential properties is proposed to increase from 100 feet to 1,000 feet. Hemp grows must also be located at least a mile from a winery or other hospitality site.

An ad hoc committee that includes supervisors Anthony Botelho and Peter Hernandez met recently to discuss the changes.

“We’ve been very thorough with the changes to the ordinance,” Botelho said. “We pretty much covered all the bases of concerns and have a pathway where we protect the public as well as create an environment where the industry can thrive. I’m optimistic we will be on schedule.”

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