News commentary: Nevada County BOS appoints CAG+2

NEVADA CITY, Calif. May 10, 2017 – The Nevada County Board of Supervisors (BOS)  appointed 16 people to serve on the Community Advisory Group (CAG) “for the purpose of gathering community input on long-term County cannabis cultivation regulations.”

Had the agenda item remained as advertised, a short story with a few quotes by Supervisors and members of the public, a reminder of what the CAG is and who was appointed would suffice. But, to borrow a favorite expression by former supervisor Beason, given the carefully orchestrated Kabuki performance by members of the public and the BOS, an expanded commentary appears warranted.

Act I – Enter the (dissonant) Chorus

After a very brief staff presentation, Chair Hank Weston opened the item to public comment. The first speaker was Bob Hren, the Chairman of the Nevada County Republican Party. In his prepared statement, Mr. Hren stated the supervisors needed to make every effort “to structure this CAG to be reflective of the demographics of the county” and proceeded to list 5 points “that deviate from the county’s demographics.”

Citing “county census” as his source, he stated 30-39 year-olds were over-represented, as well as the retired age group of over 70. Since age was not a question on the application, this reporter wondered where the info came from. It became clear when he made his second point, on voter registration status. The local GOP combed through the voter roll and gleaned information on the applicants. Hren’s third point on homeowner vs homeowner group introduced “a highly qualified candidate,” according to Hren. Moving on to political affiliation, another non-existing question on the county’s application, he stated that “approximately 35% each of Democrats and Republicans registered in the county,” therefore there should be 5 of each on the CAG – but “9 Democrats selected and ZERO Republicans.” According to the Secretary of State’s website, out of 77,460 eligible voters in Nevada County 67,393 are registered. 24,587 (36.48%) as Democrats – 23,563 (34.96%) as Republicans – 15,117 (22.43%) as No party preference or decline to state.

But, CAG participants could not be chosen from among all the county’s registered voters, only from the self-selected group of applicants.

Out of the 51 applicants, only 6 are registered Republicans, according to our search of the voter roll. 27 applicants are registered Democrats, 2 are registered American Independent, 2 Green Party and 7 are Decline to State or No Party preference. We were unable to locate 6 applicants on the voter roll and we do not presume to know the party affiliation of NID. The CAG, like all other county commissions/advisory groups, is non-partisan by its nature.

Mr. Wren’s final point was that the CAG would include 3 cannabis industry professionals/cultivators. Why indeed would industry professionals be consulted when it comes to specifics like “grows, acreages, zoning, setbacks, distance to schools, and distances that the skunk stench will extend from different sizes of grows.” He then presented the solution to all these issues in the person of Don Bessee, a registered Republican who “has experience in the technical details of grows and dispensaries.”

Next up was Fran Freedle, a former supervisor and local GOP activist. She voiced her concerns about the composition of the proposed CAG and hinted at possible conflicts of interest for some of the cannabis cultivators. She also had concerns that policies developed by the CAG during the final two closed door meetings would not be appropriate for Nevada County. “But this process, with two meetings held without the public able to at least observe is not following what the consultant says. So he is internally conflicted.” She went on to cite the Brown Act, ‘developed for all meetings and decision-making processes,’ saying the Brown Act was normally followed by Nevada County.

Ironically, Freedle was at the center of an attempt by a majority of GOP supervisors to ignore the regular process. In 2004, when the Clerk-Recorder resigned in the middle of her term, two panels vetted possible replacements and came up with 6 names they presented to the BOS. One supervisor then added Freedle’s name to the vetted list and the three conservative supervisors voted to appoint her as Clerk-Recorder, while another supervisor requested her name be removed from consideration. After a huge outcry from the public, passionate testimony during public comment and a very emotional deliberation, the BOS voted to rescind her selection. Process won that day.

Next up was Joey Jordan, who made it clear she was speaking only for herself, not for FONA, the Federation of Neighborhood Associations, on whose board she sits. A political campaign consultant by trade, Jordan wanted to clarify that the person whose name was put forth by previous speakers was no longer on the FONA Board.

She was followed by Brad Peceimer, a longtime medical cannabis activist. He said that integrity and honesty were very important to him, as they were to the board. “The list seems to be very appropriate,” he said. “The group that has been selected, in my mind, represents the whole community.”

Reefer Madness Interlude

Fran Freedle’s spouse Wade, also a local GOP activist, was next up. After a convoluted story about a blind man and a dog, he attempted an analogy between the dog being kicked and county residents being metaphorically kicked by the CAG. He stated, “It is a completely perverted selection of pro-pot selection of representatives in this committee…This is one of the worst things that has ever happened to Nevada County.” He went on to say “I’d like to remind everyone that Measure W was a battle. We lost. But that was not the war. The war is still on. We have not surrendered and we are not going to surrender.”  He encouraged supervisors not to be intimidated by “the mob actions” of the pro-pot crowd seen “last January/February.”

One can assume Mr. Freedle was referring to the public comment periods of several BOS meetings dealing with the board’s attempt to completely ban all outdoor cultivation. See the timeline below for more details. Spoiler alert: No “mob actions,” arrests or riots happened.

Act I Scene II

Diana Gamzon, a board member of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance and an unsuccessful applicant to the CAG, urged to board to let the process play out “This is not a war, this is about land use.”

Penn Valley resident and medical cannabis proponent Song Kowbell asked the board “not to nitpick this” and let the consultant do their job. If we don’t trust them and interfere all the time, let’s just give them their money ($115,000+) and send them home and we’ll go back into the boxing ring, she suggested. “You guys have done a heck of a job, we’ve been through the wringer together and we’re still talking. That is impressive, that’s the beauty of it.”

Several other people commented on the apparent politicization suggested by some GOP representatives and asked the board to stick to the original selection criteria  that did not ask for party affiliations.

Another speaker was Sue Hoek, the manager of Robinson’s Indian Springs Ranch and rumored to be Hank Weston’s handpicked successor. She suggested the agricultural community needed a representative on the CAG. One representative of the Farm Bureau who applied to be on the CAG just happened to be in the audience, Rich Johansen who was involved in crafting the winery ordinance and sat on several other committees.

After that, six more speakers urged the board to go with the process and emphasized the CAG could create consensus.

Nether Bessee nor Johansen spoke during public comment.

Act II – “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” (Hamlet)

The discussion then returned to the BOS, with Chair Weston clarifying that the CAG would not set policy, only give recommendations to the board. He also stated the issue of party affiliation never came up in all the discussions the board had prior to launching the applications. He then asked his colleagues who would kick off the discussion. Dan Miller said he wanted to go back to Sue Hoek’s comment about the ag community, and he would consider adding another member. He ‘saw’ that Rich Johansen was in the audience and given his resumé, Miller thought he would be “an appropriate selection.” Weston said the Farm Bureau supported Johansen’s candidacy and added “I think Rich would bring a lot to the CAG.”

Richard Anderson wanted to know what MIG, the consultant group, thought about the proposed size of the CAG. “We are reaching the upper limit, but I’ll leave it up to the Board if they want to add.” Saying they were reaching the upper limit of workability for the group, the consultants asked the BOS not to add a large number to the group. Anderson stated that since the board had absolutely no involvement in the selection, it was not unusual that comments and suggestions are made from the dais. He agreed with Song Kowbell’s comments saying the process needs to be respected.

Ed Scofield then said he “would get this started,” and prefaced his remarks by saying he had respect for everybody picked to be on the committee. He continued, “this is a very pro-cannabis group and you [waving at the audience] are very much in support of it says to me you recognize there’s a lot of very pro-cannabis people.” Supervisor Scofield, who represents District 2, has never hidden his opposition to any type of cultivation.

He and the other supervisors received two letters, one from Norm Sauer dated May 7 and one from the Nevada County Republican Party dated May 9 previewing a lot of the comments Mr. Hren made on Tuesday morning.

Scofield then read Jonathan Collier’s affiliations from his application, and asked “but who always speaks from the other side? You may not like him, but it’s Don Bessee.” He proposed to either add Bessee to the CAG or remove Collier to “create balance.” He also agreed to add Johansen to the CAG.

Heidi Hall said she felt MIG’s process had integrity and thanked them for the work done in such a short period of time. “What is most important to me is that we have people [on the CAG] that are not seeing this as a war, that are not seeing this as a battle but bring this community together. This effort has to bring people together and has to move forward toward an ordinance that allows marijuana grows with pretty serious constraints and very clear rules.” She said she was completely open to adding Johansen to the group, given the support he received from the ag community and her constituents.

“The only thing I’m looking for is some balance,” Dan Miller said. “Questioning someone’s integrity has no place in this process,” he continued, referring to questions raised by speakers about Bessee’s application. “Because of that I’m just a little upset with the people who came after him like that.” He did not appear upset about the characterizations used by the GOP representatives who spoke about “the obvious bias of the consultant,” “question the motives and predisposition of the consultant,” “recommendations are warped against Republicans,” and so on.

Richard Anderson was concerned that the CAG could turn into a free for all if the board made the wrong choice. Miller said he saw 9 applicants he thought had excellent qualifications but were not picked. Weston recalled that any member of the CAG could be removed from the group. CDA Director Sean Powers confirmed that the members serve at the pleasure of the Chair. “Rather than create a war, I would like to create a positive. If it becomes negative, then we take care of it. If we’re starting to talk about compromise and talking about getting along and not war, then bring your enemy in and sit there and discuss it with them.”

“We have a diverse community and we need to hear all the interests. Everybody needs to do that in a respectful manner,” Anderson said. “This is not a battlefield.”

Hall added, “My concern is that if we put someone divisive on this group, from either side, that it’s going to bollox up the process… There is a limited number of meetings and I would like to request that if you [MIG] see divisiveness or alternative facts pushed… that you bring it to all of us immediately.”

Dan Miller made the motion to approve the proposed selection by MIG and to add Don Bessee and Rich Johansen to the list. Ed Scofield seconded the motion. On roll call, the  resolution passed unanimously.

Meet the CAG +2

Don Bessee
Jonathan Collier
Tom Cross
Robert Erickson
Leland French
Forrest Hurd
Rich Johansen
Michael Mastrodonato
Rosemary Metrailer
Catherine Peterson
Mark Schaefer
Matthew Shapero
Pamela Swartz
Erin Tarr
Sharyn Turner
Debra Weistar

The moral of the story?

51 local residents offered to do their civic duty and be unpaid, volunteer members of a community advisory group. Their redacted applications were made public and a vocal minority was apparently able to influence three supervisors with their interpretation of “facts” to consider changing the composition of the group. This being Nevada County, the names of the two desired additions leaked.

While the majority of the public present at today’s meeting approved of the originally proposed group, politics won.

The ball is now in CAG’s court and the public will be able to watch and participate as they gather input from stakeholder groups, individuals and agencies to come up with recommendations for a permanent cultivation ordinance.

The permanent ordinance will be crafted by staff, based on the CAG’s recommendation. The final decision will be made by the five elected officials on the Board of Supervisors, likely in early 2018.

How did we get here?

On January 12, 2016, the BOS voted 4-1 to ban all outdoor growing of medicinal cannabis, and after over 5 hours of public testimony – mostly in opposition to the ban – took less than 10 minutes to approve a ballot measure for the June 2016 ballot.

On January 14, 2016 YubaNet published an analysis of the ballot measure after we discovered the proposed language would not allow for a Yes or No vote on outdoor cultivation, as promised by the BOS a mere 48 hours earlier:

YubaNet sought clarification on the matter from County Counsel, asking if voters turn the ballot measure down by a majority No vote, would it negate the updated urgency ordinance and outdoor growing would be allowed again?

“The ballot measure has no direct impact on the existing ordinance unless it’s adopted by the voters. If the ballot measure is adopted, it will supersede certain sections of the existing ordinance. If it is not adopted, then the current ordinance would remain in place,” Alison Barratt-Green wrote in her response.

On February 9, 2016 the BOS added clarifying language to the ballot measure stating “If the Ballot Measure is not approved by a majority of the registered voters voting on the measure, it is the intent of the Board of Supervisors to reject the Ballot Measure, to repeal the ban on outdoor cultivation of marijuana and to consider and adopt other outdoor regulations at the next available meeting after the results of the election have been certified by the County Elections Official.

Measure W outcome

On June 7, 2016 Nevada County voters rejected Measure W by 59.45% No votes.

On June 15, 2016 the first of several post-W stakeholder meetings took place.

On July 22, 2016 YubaNet published a summary Measure W’s long and winding road, including the legal challenges filed.

On July 26, 2016 the BOS adopted a revised interim urgency ordinance, repealing the outdoor cultivation ban by a 4-1 vote.

On November 8, 2016, Nevada County voted in favor of Prop. 64 by 52.9%

On April 11, 2017 the BOS approved a contract with MIG, Inc. “to facilitate an independent and impartial process of gathering community input regarding the development of long-term cannabis regulations.”

On April 18, 2017 the application for the CAG was made available. The application period concluded on May 2, 2017.

On May 4, 2017 a press release by Nevada County listed the names of 14 individuals selected out of 51 applications received.

On May 9, 2017 the BOS voted to seat 16 individuals on the CAG. You can watch the full proceedings below.

 

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