(Featured in Greenfuse Newspaper September 2018- http://www.greenfuse.work)
On August 23rd, The Civil Liberties Monitoring Project and other organizers gathered alongside the highly educated, conscious, earth honoring farming community of Southern Humboldt, at the Mateel Community Center to voice their total dissatisfaction with the County’s cannabis permit process, ineffectiveness of protecting the environment, and abatement actions. 75% of abatements thus far have targeted mostly small, mom and pop grows in Southern Humboldt, under the guise of protecting watersheds and the environment. But no one was buying the political rhetoric. Brandon stated, “People are being strangled by this process… that’s why we are all here actually because of this process, it sucks. We should be leading that state in tourism, clubs, garden tours, garden schools, yet instead we lag in a county quagmire. I see a snake eating its own tail; I see a county consuming itself from the outside in…Streamline this process. This should be a boom time not an economic depression.”
The abatement program, (which one local lawyer said is likely unlawful on 5 counts), is ONLY necessary due to the impossibility of working with the County Government to get permitted. These abatements could have been avoided entirely had the county heeded many warnings to stop being so greedy and make the permit process attainable for the majority.
One speaker from a consulting firm, passionately explained her experience with the county taking way too long to approve permits, and then penalizing those, even in the process, with raids. She stated, “We can scale it down and make a real simple answer- get these permits approved…it’s egregious what’s happening, the wait… We have 13 farmers in Dinsmore and Mad River, applications are not being moved forward because we need Cannabis Airspace Variance.” If you are wondering ‘what does airspace have to do with anything,’ yes, the county’s claim is that a cannabis plant somehow inhibits air travel. Yeah.
Humboldt County has made the permit process so incredibly impossible, mind numbing, ever changing, confusing and expensive that most farmers chalked it up to a waste of money, and gave up. The abatement actions are in effect, punishment for those who don’t trust the County, while the county has given farmers zero reason to trust them. This fact was not lost on the speakers who one by one bravely stepped forward to share their experiences.
Nay Madison commented, “John, I believe you’re a good guy, trying to do a good thing. I need you to hear loud and clear that you are doing a lot of harm. Pillars in this community are being damaged. I’m one of them I’ve lost my home; I’ve lost everything I have.”
One speaker discussed what she called the, ‘life shattering, deep changes happening in So Hum,’ and stated, “The level of commitment we need is 100xs more than what we have here.” She professed to the panel, “Lets be real please, let’s commit to what these farmers are asking for and make this work for our community. We could be a beacon for the world. I don’t know if you guys realize what you’re missing. If you don’t set up a system that works for us, we will not succeed.”
The abatement program hit its height in May-August, and has distributed approximately 400 abatements so far. It has already raised $2.5 million for the County. When we calculate the notices average of 3 violations, each with a minimum $10k fine ($30k per x 400), that’s $12 million. If the fines are applied for 90 days, it could rake in hundreds of millions more, and countless liens on property. The County Staff panel (absent Fish and Wildlife) featured mainly responses from District 2 Supervisor Estelle Fennell and Planning and Building Department’s (PBD) Director John Ford.
Ford explained, “The fines are really a mechanism to have everybody understand that the county is serious about enforcing the law. I know it seems a money grab but its really not…we want compliance… There should be incentive to get into permit, and to come in to compliance.” Where is the county’s incentive is to make an effective permit process and serve their constituents? The only thing this abatement program seems to be deterring is the basic survival of the majority.
The Civil Liberties Monitoring Project panel added, “One of the reasons we might not have taken it so seriously is that the hills were blowing up for years, the county did nothing, and all of the sudden the little ones are getting abatements. That’s a part of the frustration.”
Another speaker explained that she tried to turn in her permit, but was a day late, so they wouldn’t take it. Now she has an abatement, and added, “You on this panel have all of the power to determine how Humboldt County will pull through this process so my question is why not send a letter to everyone saying- permit or quit and if you don’t we’ll send you an abatement (as seen in LA, Mendocino (and Santa Barbra). That seems like a really decent thing to do in a county like ours, if you actually care what’s going to happen. I’m having a really hard time believing you guys’ care… I don’t feel like all this notice we supposedly got was enough.”
Another speaker described her experience to the panel, “This whole thing seems like all stick and no carrot. I’m in both permit and abatement process. Still, I cannot suggest people go into permit process. The only reason is to not be abated on… there’s two sticks and were being beat on both sides, there’s no incentive. I had to do the same thing as my neighbor with 7 acres. I’d like to know how many permits have been approved and their size. I know no one with a 2k sq. ft. permit.”
Ford described the size of abated farms, and why the larger more egregious sites are not often busted, “The smallest one that got an abatement on was 500 sq. ft. … a lot of the things that would appear to be egregious violations also have permits on them.” That’s right, mega-mono-crop farms who can ‘pay to play’ have County support to destroy the environment if they choose, while tiny, often 215 farms who couldn’t afford or navigate the permit process are under attack.
Mona also voiced her frustration with the permit process and abatements, explaining she too got the 3 most common fines (cannabis, greenhouse, grading), and, “[The abatement notice] was left on my land gate on a Friday afternoon, you have only 10 days and you cant even talk to somebody for 2, just to give you an idea of how frustrating that feels. I was at PBD in 2 days, with photos of my empty greenhouse; there was no marijuana on the land. … none of this happens quickly, the idea that I have a $30k fine, day after day is outrageous, I am shaking, I am furious and frustrated… One last thing, if you’re considering having an office hours in Garberville, we have plenty of county buildings here that are dilapidated that could use renovation.”
Many speakers brought up the irony of So. Hum’s ‘dilapidated’ county owned buildings, next-to non-existent social services, and their attack on small farmers, often for structurally sound greenhouses. One stated, “I’m doing the best I can to get permitted. My friends called me a carpetbagger, which I resent… Some things I see happening in our community, I see our roads are still terrible, the hospital. I think it takes 2 years to build hospital, I don’t know what’s going on with that.”
The economic impact of these abatements (and permit process), have immense consequences, regardless of affiliation with the industry. Consequences of which, our county has proven ineffective at addressing, such as failing structures, small business’, addiction, overdose, suicide, mental illness, homelessness, crime, roads and the like.
Cinnamon stated, “I tried to warn people but they were dazzled by legalization. Why aren’t we regulating cannabis like an agricultural product? I want to remind folks there is no other crop with a tax on it. Why aren’t we taxing rice, wheat or grapes used for alcohol? This could have all been solved if you rolled out Prop 64 with agricultural regulations that we already have in place. The minimum taxes on a bud are four times… Our kids and non-profits are loosing big time on this. I don’t know how we are going to raise money this year and that’s the trickle down of what’s going on around here.”
Many folks at the meeting were not surprise by the County’s actions. This is and always what legalization promised, a corporate take-over of our non-corporate environmentally conscious tri-county region. The effects are seen in the small business’ boarded up and left empty all over Garberville (See Greenfuse’s new business obituary section, RIP), the size of permitted grows (often required to afford elaborate fees), and in the non-profits struggling to stay afloat. Leaving those with foresight, with their heads in their hands wishing ‘I told you so’ would bring some solace or solution. But of course it doesn’t; were all on this county orchestrated rollercoaster ride heading off a cliff.
Paul Encimer passionately spoke to the hearts of those in the room that evening. Some media outlets claim Paul’s life-long advocacy for the unheard poor and disenfranchised, and devotion to hold power accountable, is ‘outlier thinking,’ which is terrifying to consider and really speaks to why we are in this mess to begin with. The room’s response to his speech seemed a more accurate depiction of his work, demonstrated in the roaring applause and support for his propositions. Encimer encouraged the community to get organized around 4 R’s: RESIST corruption, RECALL Supervisor Estelle Fennel (etc.), REPEAL the ordinance 2576 (etc.), and REFUND the 2.5 million in fines thus far stolen from small farmers and the community at large. Encimer also highlighted that the county was still operating out of ‘resentment, revenge and retaliation’ against farmers even in the legalization process.
Fennell gave one of her infamous happy-spin speeches directed at the room of concerned community members, while The ‘Civil Liberties’ Banner fell to the floor. Such appropriate metaphorical poetry from an inanimate object, screaming exactly what I was thinking, ‘What happened to our civil liberties!?,”
Fennell said, “You can’t just point [to the panel] and say you have to make this right for me, there is a role for everybody in this. Change has happened and its up to people to make it work. I’ve often worried about the power of the negative message. I think the negative message resonates more easily than the positive one, that requires work. We have people saying, don’t go for a permit, stay in grey market, they only want your money.” And one audience member appropriately yelled out, “But your designing this, not us.”
Fennell’s typical rose-colored-glass slant is part of what is so offensive. She used to be a news director at KMUD Free Speech Radio, a supposed non-bias trusted-ally to the whole community; quite a contrast to today. The ‘negative message,’ is but an Orwellian term for the truth of what’s actually happening, as demonstrated by nearly every single speaker there who explained they couldn’t navigate the permit process, and now enduring terrorism via abatements.
When Kelly Lincoln asked Fennell, “Is it true that your partner works for a permitted grow?” Fennel nearly choked, hesitated and responded, “absolutely– (insert mumble),” Lincoln asked for clarification. Fennel quickly stated, “–not…absolutely not.” The fellow sitting next to me said, “Well that’s a bold faced lie.” Fennel proceeded to claim the question (held by many in the room), was a personal attack. The People have a right to know their public official’s business interests.
Eugene ‘ED’ Denson, local Civil Rights Advocate and Attorney, elaborates on why the community is so disenchanted by Supervisor Fennel, “Estelle was a backer of the Measure S tax, and of Ordinance 2575, which illegally revised it to get millions in taxes from permit holders. Likewise, for Ordinance 2576 which purports to give the county the authority to fine pot growers $10,000 a day. She has heard presentations of the damage these ill-considered ordinances have done to the county’s rural population, and the businesses and charities that depend on that population. That population includes most of the people she was elected to represent. . She has not used her position on the Board of Supervisors to correct or mitigate the damages caused by her votes on the Board, instead defending them and championing them.”
A topic that continues to come up is PBD’s forced garden bed removal. Ford has addressed this numerous times, yet his staff at PBD still has not got the memo. I was personally told by PBD’s John Moreno, Heather and Warren Black that ‘the garden beds and soil had to be removed.’ Contrary to Ford’s claim at the meeting, the misinformation given by county staff, was not due to ‘the way I asked the question,’ but was volunteered. I’m not the only one.
Ford explained, “Part of the thing we’re trying to do with raised beds is restoring sites to pre-cannabis condition. We are not requiring removal of dirt, just the structure. They can grow veggies… You don’t have to take the soil out, just the structure. Most of those beds are the structure for the greenhouse.” Pre-cannabis condition!? You mean an eco-groovy permaculture paradise turned to lifeless-open soil spread out just to run off? Forgive me while I catch my balance. Clearly these officials have no experience cultivating anything, no business educating the masses, shaping policy, or enforcing sustainable practices.
One speaker shared a story of a friend who also got mixed messages about garden beds, stating, “A friend’s beds were not used to support greenhouse. He had 4 beds, it’s good soil, you made them take the boards down and spread out the soil. That causes more damage. …That’s an oxymoron.” Ford interrupted, “That’s something that needs to be rethought,” and the speaker continued, “Your scaring people! I know people didn’t count on PBD because it’s chaotic. This is why people don’t trust you guys. That’s why some people started process and stopped… I want to know about the big grows you’re permitting, instead of the small homesteading farmers you’re going after… these are the true people who care about the trees and the environment. The big growers don’t give a crap.”
Another debate, still left unanswered by County staff was the validity of the 215 medical cannabis program. A speaker named John, asked, “Is 215 still on the books with the state?” Ford responded, “Yes.” The speaker followed by asking, “Well what gives you the right to override a doctors prescription? If he says you can grow this many pounds, you are limiting that. This is between doctor and patient.”
Ford responds, “That’s a little bit grey and legal minds disagree on that. One of the things we all need to weigh is state and local regulation where 215 prevail. Under 215, people cannot be arrested or prosecuted criminally, BUT this does not override compliance with local regulations…in all honestly I have not gotten a clear answer from anybody on that. I’ve looked into it, people disagree on that point. That’s the best answer I can give you.”
A previous speaker reiterated her initial comment from the audience; “The fact that this panel doesn’t know the answers to some of these questions speaks volumes to the complexity.” It also raises the question, how can the County violently enforce laws that they don’t even understand themselves?
The abatement program just like with legalization, is now having the opposite effect of its intention. People thought the county was going to go after the massive grows. Instead the county has targeted 215 holders, mom and pops, off-grid living, cancer patients, war vets, and respected community members. An estimated 10% of recipients are not even growing at all. Humboldt County’s method of abatement selection is also beyond flawed. The idea that every greenhouse on the blurry 2016 GIS system is full of cannabis in 2018, is not a sound basis for enforcement. It seems like the county is too lazy to do any real investigating on the ground. The county changed the cannabis tax to avoid having to send inspectors out, and now they are trying to do this Abatement process without gathering evidence either.
Another topic that came up a few times, including by Fennell was that tired propaganda that newer farmers are here with greed-based intentions. Fennel stated, “I want the maximum number of people who care about this land to feel like they can stay here. I don’t care a whip about somebody who came here to make money.”
If I hear another elder speak negatively of younger generations, who mostly came here in honor of this sacred plant and community the elders created, I might explode. Elders, do not forget, you created this culture, many moved here because of our respect for it, we followed your lead, aspired to live off-grid, and get involved with the community and non-profits to make a real difference, not offered in the often-violent mainstream society. We kept up with inflation, industry decline, and economic collapse to mirror the same effect you had. We are not greedy and we do care about the environment, so please get your facts straight. If farmers could still get, ‘20k yearly by growing a single plant in the backyard,’ as one speaker shared, we would do the same. Yet that’s not what the industry offers today. Those who grow this plant, more commonly is for the purpose of supplementing their non-livable wages, offered in any other slavery-like professions provided in the mainstream culture. This system is a crime against humanity. Elder cultivators of all, should know better.
It is this lie that ‘bad people’ only ‘came here for money’ that is one of the primary reasons we are in this awful situation today. Too many bought the propaganda that put us at odds with our neighbors. It’s no different than the polarity-based tactics trump and his cronies use, putting US against some illusion of THEM. We need to stop buying the BS force-fed to us by politicians and their spun media outlets and instead stand strong together. Until we stop blaming the youth or newcomers, and redirect our resistance towards the actual agencies and officials behind this corrupt campaign, we will continue to fall for the separation myth and fail as a larger community.
Darryl Churney addressed this misplaced blame, stating ‘Nobody is to blame everybody is responsible for where we are,’ and painted the big picture, “Crime is raging all over streets, business is down between 40-80%, including the farm stores…people are stressed out, talking about ghost towns, we have 2 businesses closing this week, another one for sale. Our culture is being completely altered. Law enforcement is selective in who they go after… first they come for the big growers then they go after your house because that is the law, even though you can say you’re only going after these groups now… sale taxes are down and real estate is plummeting and people are going to start applying for reduced property taxes.”
Another hot-topic was questioning the assumed authority of county government, to set ‘egregious’, ‘arbitrary’ and ‘excessive’ fines, in addition to the time period given to farmers to resolve claimed issues. One speaker asked, “What’s your authority to charge 10k fines…[or] make people mind, that’s like spanking people if they don’t conform…” When Fennel responded, “the Constitution of State of CA,” the speaker inquired with a simple follow up question, “What article?” Fennel-scoffed “Oh God-,” as if she shouldn’t be required to know, the speaker continued, “–No Really you’ve effected people’s lives.”
Ford responds, “That is written directly into ordinance 2576, written by County Counsel and adopted by BOS.” Fennel added, “Its basically to get people to abate rather than tag along, because that’s what they would do and usually do in cannabis.” Why, because farmers are all criminals? That sure sounds like what is implied here.
Another speaker added, “I came here to live in this beautiful country. I saw big corporations cutting every tree they could find and nobody gave a damn. They didn’t fine them anything. The fishing is the same thing. Every river in this state is dead because the fish are all gone, logging, grading was never fined for, now it’s the marijuana people being fined. Arbitrary is a hell of a good word.”
The fact that a Deputy Sheriff was present at the panel, and asked literally one question by Supervisor Fennel, reveals exactly what we are dealing with today in SoHum. Farmers are in totally unjust code enforcement territory, which is far from the norm of criminal accusations, but instead a flash back to the 80s and 90s comparable code enforcement attacks against homesteads.
Charles from NorHum explained that he too tried to get a permit but was overwhelmed by the process. He took us on a walk down memory lane,
“I’ve been to a lot of meetings like this. … Supervisors had one in the 80s on code enforcement. I looked to my neighbors with grim faces. They were hefting rotten fruit. Sups had to flee behind sheriffs. You guys aren’t very popular. I’m being abated. You being abated? Yeah, we’re all being abated. I just built my own house. I didn’t even have marijuana.”
It’s not too late to change our course. Realizing solutions starts with resistance. In honor of the tens of thousands of slaughtered sacred cannabis plants, empty garden beds, and trashed plastic greenhouse materials in the dumps across Humboldt County this year, bring your solution and action-oriented ideas, and let’s get organized around Encimer’s 4 R’s, Sunday, 2pm September 16th, at the Redwoods Playhouse.
Chris Hedges brilliantly reminds us of the imperative moment we face today and encourages us to overcome the all-too-common politician’s response of placing blame on the citizen for systemic ineffectiveness, in a recent speech in Oregon featured on Alternative Radio, “This dark epoch of ceaseless capitalism and imperialist expansion is over. It is dooming the exploiters and well as the exploited… [Leaders claim] It is only a question of having the right attitude and technique. When capitalism thrives, we are assured we thrive. The merging of the self with a capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self-reflection and moral autonomy. We define our worth, not by our independence or our character, but by the material standards set by capitalism; wealth, brands, status, career advancement. We have been molded into a compliant and repressed collective…When magical thinking doesn’t work we are told, and often accept that WE are the problem, we must have more faith, we must envision what we want, we must try harder, the system is never to blame, we failed it, it does not fail us, and all our systems of information …sell us this snake oil.”