AVMAC’s Cannabis Emergency Regulation Committee looks at cannabis impact fees

The committee members review handouts at the Cannabis Emergency Regulation Committee meeting at Anza Electric Cooperative’s conference room Thursday, Feb. 22. Diane Sieker photo

The Anza Valley Municipal Advisory Council hosted its second Cannabis Emergency Regulation Committee meeting at Anza Electric Cooperative’s conference room Thursday, Feb. 22.

The CERC strives to help the AVMAC advise county Supervisor Chuck Washington’s office of the cannabis regulations that will best suit the Anza and Aguanga areas.

CERC members Edison Gomez-Krouse, Kevin Short, Bob Giffin, Kiran Samuels, Daryl Hossler, Richard Ku, Kendall Steinmetz and George Hanian were present. Committee member Phillip Canaday was not in attendance. Several members of the public attended the meeting.

Gomez-Krause called the meeting to order and summarized the highlights of the prior meeting, held Saturday, Feb. 10.

“It is my hope that after this meeting, the next meeting we begin crafting the CERC’s final report. I am hoping we can expedite this process a bit,” he said.

He moved to approve the meeting’s agenda and made sure everyone had a copy. It was seconded and approved.

The Feb. 10 meeting minutes were read by Samuels and approved.

Gomez-Krouse got the meeting underway by asking Giffin for his report on regulations in effect in other districts.

“I have the draft EIR from Humboldt, 496 pages; I’m reading though that one,” Giffin said.

He said that he had taken the chief of staff from state Sen. Jeff Stone’s office on a ride about Anza and Aguanga to show him the impact of the large cultivations.

“He was shocked at the expanse of canopies and greenhouses that have gone up in the last two to three months,” Giffin said.

Giffin shared that his research had shown that places like San Diego offer business improvement districts, and a cannabis impact fee could possibly be collected in this case to help with enforcement. He added that he had placed calls to attorneys and government officials to gather more information.

“I’m trying to get feedback from the county on something they may be open to as well,” he said.

He read some regulations from the Humboldt paperwork, and a discussion ensued regarding the definitions of the canopy sizes and other information

Gomez-Krouse mentioned that Anza is in a very particular situation with cannabis and something needs to be done to get enforcement, and get money from the growers to fund enforcement.

“We do have an emergency situation on our hands,” he said. “If we can’t get a regulatory body, perhaps a proposal would just be to modify Ordinance 925 in the unincorporated area.”

Giffin said that he did not think the county has been watching what is going on in the Anza area, and now it is being brought to their attention.

“We have a special circumstance because of the water,” he said. “Because we are adjudicated, we may have a problem with the state due to the fact that the basin is not adjudicated.”

Hossler said that to encourage more growing will tax the community’s resources even more.

Gomez-Krouse countered that regulations can prevent over-expanding the cannabis industry, and maybe even reduce the numbers of cultivators to sustainable levels.

Samuels suggested looking at the regulations created by Coachella and Desert Hot Springs as examples for a framework of regulation for Anza. She stressed the importance of getting accurate counts of the numbers of cultivators growing in the area. She said the regulations for Anza can prohibit the influx of large commercial grows that may be occurring some years down the road.

“I, as a resident, my main goal in supporting this effort is to get cannabis growers who wish to be compliant to understand that the community would benefit from their being in compliance and continues to suffer from and will continue to suffer from unchecked non-compliant cannabis cultivation,” she explained. “There needs to be a give and take.”

Gomez-Krouse moved to introduce AEC General Manager Kevin Short, who made a presentation regarding the impact of cannabis cultivation on energy consumption.

Short spoke using a PowerPoint presentation that showed graphs and images illustrating the effects of the loads of the industry on the electrical grid.

He described load data and forecasts and how the cannabis cultivators’ thirst for electrical power was stressing the entire electrical grid.

He discussed the issues of trying to reduce energy consumption by using LED grow lights, but he said that the product yields are not as large as with the more traditional, energy-hungry lighting systems.

“Virtually all the growers we know about are located on RR-zoned property,” he said. “And on residential service with the cooperative.”

The AEC’s policy does allow for disconnection under some circumstances.

“If you like to get free electricity, you’re going to get disconnected,” he said. “If you can’t maintain your equipment in a safe, responsible way, we’ll disconnect you.”

He showed the committee several images of unsafe conditions and energy theft. Dangerously worn extension cords and wires bypassing the meters were highlighted.

“We estimate that half of our line loss is energy theft, and that’s over a half million dollars per year,” he said.

Short explained the current usage forecasts and how the system capacity is being challenged. The ceiling is 14 megawatts, and in 2015, the usage came within 700 kilowatts of that ceiling. This event was not forecast to happen until years down the road.

Gomez-Krouse asked if cannabis cultivation was credited for the huge increase, and Short replied that it was.

The result of this increase is an overloaded system. He described the incoming lines from Southern California Edison coming up the mountain from the Hemet side.

“One of these days, those wires are going to turn into a fuse because they’re going to overload and melt,” Short said.

The recent increases in energy sales by the AEC show unprecedented growth.

The 200 largest services on the system consume 14.5 percent of the energy, while being only 4 percent of the total membership. The 30 largest users last summer consumed 4.5 percent of the services.

The largest user uses an average of $5,000 a month in electrical power. That residence is an indoor cannabis cultivation.

The ball is rolling to upgrade local substations and Edison’s incoming lines.

An additional transmission line is not something that is feasible, due to the immense costs, Short said, but the solar array helps and the AEC is investigating battery backup systems.

“What we’ve seen with some of the grow operations is these folks will come in, set up shop. They’ll run for a while, they’ll stop paying their bill and their friend comes in and takes over the service,” Short said. “Well, we can’t charge the friend that guy’s bill so he takes over the service, he runs for a while. He stops paying his bill, and we disconnect him. These guys do this over and over. It’s a great game until we figure out who they are, and we stop turning them back on. Everybody has to pay for that. It’s not right.”

Solar power is not an option for most high-usage cultivators; it just cannot produce enough electricity to run a farm without huge costs and acres of panels. Riverside County is unlikely to permit such structures, he said.

“When you look at this aspect of it; this is not good for our community,” Samuels said.

Short answered questions and elaborated on details from his presentation. The discussion encompassed rates changes, policing and other points.

Steinmetz suggested the growers simply grow outdoors to avoid energy issues.

Short concluded his lecture by handing out information useful for the committee’s research.

Steinmetz dispersed informational paperwork informing the committee members of cannabis cultivation methods, ordinances, permits, zoning, uses, water rights and other important details. He set the stage to justify the cannabis industry in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County.

Committee members asked questions about water usage, which is of special concern.

“We talked about 5 gallons a day per plant. Of course, when the plants are small, they don’t need all that, but as they mature and it gets hotter and drier, they do need the 5 gallons a day,” Steinmetz said. “Six months would be 180 days; 5 gallons times 180 days is 900 gallons per plant, per crop. Ten plants would be 9,000; a hundred plants would be 90,000 gallons for the whole crop, for 100 plants. It’s not actually considered a water-thirsty plant.”

Other states are not requiring permitting for water, but Giffin spoke of the ongoing water suit, which makes Anza’s water situation unique.

Cannabis values have dropped considerably, Steinmetz said. Production and processing costs have gone up or remained the same. He detailed the differences between the value of indoor grown to outdoor grown cannabis, with indoor commanding the highest prices. The buyers are dictating the market prices, and the bumper crop supply is causing the prices to plummet due to over production.

Steinmetz read a statement about growing in Anza, reflecting on its long history in the valley. He mentioned past persecution and the good effects of legalization and the benefits of tax revenues.

“We have a growers’ association forming up here representing all local farmers including the Asian and Hispanic residents here. Most want to participate in this new taxed and regulated paradigm if it includes them, too,” he said. “We are calling for a broad-based, reasonable permitting that encourages all to join in.”

The committee members agreed that more research is needed to try to quantify the number of growers in Anza and the cultivation methods used. An idea was introduced to place a survey at the local hydro store to try to get more information.

“If too much money is charged, they will stay black market,” Giffin said.

“A lot of those people voted to legalize cannabis,” Samuels said. “And none of them thought about, ‘Oh my God, what is the impact going to be on a rural community in Southern California?’ Their whole things is, ‘I like to smoke pot; I want it to be legal. You know, I want my little stash,’ and if the impact is you wipe out quality of living because it’s an ideal location for cannabis, it might not save Anza but it’s a point that would be appreciated.”

Giffin spoke about the impact to housing.

“Eighty, 85 percent of the buyers coming in are to grow,” Giffin said, repeating information he presented at the previous meeting. He continued to talk about the chemicals used and the danger to the water supply.

At this point, resident Gary Worobec stood up and presented photos of the destruction left behind on a lot across the street from his house. Clearly upset, yet polite and accommodating, he drove his point home to the committee that illegal chemicals and trash will not be tolerated in his neighborhood.

“This is what’s going into our water system,” he said.

Gomez-Krause said, “What we’re really trying to get to here is ‘how do we avoid this?’”

Giffin suggested a cannabis impact fee to help with enforcement, while Steinmetz said that if the county chooses to go with Proposition 64’s tax structure, the state will assist with enforcement.

Short pressed the committee members most familiar with growing to give him a permit fee amount that they considered reasonable. No answers were apparent, as the variables are so hard to define at this time. His point was that it is unlikely that growers will pay for permits, since they can simply continue as they always have in Anza.

Discussion on the survey continued. Questions would include: what are reasonable fees and a reasonable canopy size? How many grow outdoor and how many indoor growers are there and would they comply with the new regulations?

Steinmetz and Hanian were assigned to handle the survey.

Steinmetz took issue with the term, “cartel” as being a racial slur, as ethnic names are put before the word, as in “Asian” or “Hispanic” cartels. Samuels replied that she was Asian and was not offended and the word “cartel” defines a group of people, not a race.

“I’m Asian. I never use the word ‘Asian cartel’ but cartel is a legal term,” Samuels said. “And we need to use it because that is one of the major concerns for community members who are not growers.”

Gomez-Krause said that a law enforcement officer told him there were no cartels operating in Anza. It was decided not to combine the term “cartel” with any ethnic designation.

Canaday was not present but had forwarded his Anza Ground Water Association information to the committee, and this information was analyzed and discussed.

AGWA member and AEC employee Brian Baharie spoke about the water studies and assured the board that he will make sure they get as much information as possible.

The meeting wound down, and it was agreed that a significant amount of input had been shared, but much more work will need to be done.

The next meeting of the CERC will be 5 p.m. Friday, March 9, at the AEC offices. The public is welcome to attend.

For more information regarding the AVMAC Cannabis Emergency Regulation Committee, email anzavalleymac@gmail.com.

The public can listen to the meeting as recorded by Anza’s KOYT-FM 97.1 radio on their radio or by streaming online at www.koyt971.org.

To contact Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington’s office, call (951) 955-1030 or visit http://supervisorchuckwashington.com.

For more information about the AVMAC, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AnzaValleyMAC.

For updates on cannabis ordinances and laws in Riverside county, residents can visit http://planning.rctlma.org/Home/Cannabis.aspx.

For information on what is currently allowed in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County, including a public input page to leave comments on this issue, visit http://planning.rctlma.org/Home/Cannabis/PublicInput.aspx.

To learn more about state cultivation regulations and fees, visit http://calcannabis.cdfa.ca.gov.

For information on all areas of cannabis regulation and tax structure in California, visit https://cannabis.ca.gov.

Diana Sieker can be reached by email at anzaeditor@reedermedia.com.

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