Mary Carol: It’s all about the money; landowners, landlords beware
April 26, 2016
"It's all about the money," Sheriff Keith Royal has stated while defending his ban on outdoor medical marijuana grows. Well, I agree. It is all about the money — money the Sheriff's Office may generate through asset forfeitures and civil fines.
Buried in the current ordinance, but not yet used, is Section G-IV 5.12 Enforcement, A (3), that states the Enforcing Officer may "Issue administrative citations in accordance with Section L-II 5.23, et seq., of the Nevada County Land Use and Development Code." That's all it says.
However, if one looks up code Section L-II 5.23 they will find under B (3): "The administrative fine or penalty shall be $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second violation of the same Code Section on the subject parcel within one year, and $500 for each additional violation …"
This is similar to what Yuba County has implemented, only Nevada County's fines appear to be more severe. Last year, Yuba County banned outdoor grows and limited indoor grows to 12 plants. Their ordinance clearly states within it, that, if cited, a fine of $100 per day per violation will accumulate until the nuisance is abated, and that each marijuana plant will be charged as a "separate violation."
A key difference between the two counties, however, is Yuba County supervisors can change their ordinance to go back to allowing outdoor gardens ... Their ordinance is not locked in by voters.
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On March 27, the Marysville Appeal-Democrat reported: "Yuba County assessed about $2.3 million in administrative penalties in 2015 … Of that, about $319,000 has been collected to go back into costs for site cleanup. Typically, liens are also placed on the property for the amount of the unpaid fines." One landowner was assessed a fine of $202,712 because his tenants were growing pot, the newspaper reported.
A key difference between the two counties, however, is Yuba County supervisors can change their ordinance to go back to allowing outdoor gardens. Sound far-fetched? If they find they can make more money, more easily, by taxing and licensing local landowners for medical grows, they just might. Their ordinance is not locked in by voters.
If Measure W passes, Nevada County's supervisors will not have that option.
The board approved submitting Measure W to voters in less than 12 minutes without public input (going against Nevada County Resolution 13-050). This was done after a five-hour long hearing on the sheriff's new outdoor-ban ordinance, which they approved, even though public input was overwhelmingly against it.
So, why Measure W? The sheriff had his ban on Jan. 12. Why did he also ask for voters to "lock it in" on June 7? And why did the Board of Supervisors approve it, even at a cost of approximately $72,000 to taxpayers?
It sounds justifiable, if not downright considerate, when the sheriff says, "In June, the public will have the ability to vote on whether or not they support this new ordinance."
Really? There is no "or not."
If the "yes" vote wins, his outdoor-ban ordinance stands. If the "no" vote wins, his outdoor-ban ordinance stands. This seems to go against letting the voters decide anything. The outcome is the same no matter what. It's obviously a win-win for the sheriff.
Still, it begs the question, why W? Perhaps, there was, and still is, a fear that new board members may change the sheriff's revenue-generating ordinance (Supervisor Richard Anderson voted no on all this, and two other seats are up for election in June. That could tip the four-one vote to three-two in the other direction). During their brief discussion, County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green clearly stated, "Future boards will not have the ability to repeal the ballot measure …"
On April 5, Board of Supervisors Chair Dan Miller stated publicly, "That's why we did it. The composition of future boards will change." Interestingly, this was never discussed during the public ballot measure of ordinance hearings where the board is supposed to openly make decisions. He also said there would be no civil penalties (i.e., fines), only the cost of abatement.
When approving the submission of Measure W to voters, some supervisors expressed concern about their grandchildren and protecting our county's "quality of life."
Excuse me, but has there been a big decrease in the "quality of life" in Nevada County that I have missed during the past 25 years I've lived here? It still seems pretty good to me.
But what truly amazed me, back in January, was that none of the supervisors mentioned concern for 8-year-old Silas Hurd, even though his father had emotionally testified that Silas' very life depended on medicine produced locally by outdoor growers. The only way it makes sense, to me, at least, is if you consider the amount of money at stake for the Sheriff's Office and the county.
The supervisors and sheriff like to emphasize that its ordinance enforcement is "complaint driven." Do you know of anyone who has complained? I don't, and I bet very few folks do. One friend did tell me that the smell of medical marijuana grown in Nevada City has "bothered" her. I was surprised to hear that people were actually growing it inside the city limits. That's what I thought county agricultural zones were for.
Interestingly, the new ordinance continues to allow grows in county residential areas. Is this because Lake of the Pines, Alta Sierra and Lake Wildwood may offer more asset forfeitures? Watch out if you have a brand new truck or a nice, new motor home in your driveway! And, how about liens against properties?
The sheriff has already tapped into asset forfeiture funds to more than double this fiscal year's helicopter budget. There's other money in it for the county, too. California's new medical marijuana regulations refer to the state's Business & Professions Code, Section 19319, subsection (b) which says that if an action is brought by a district attorney or county counsel, "the penalty collected shall be paid to the treasurer of the county."
The sheriff has said many individuals have asked for "advice" about dealing with nuisance pot gardens, but were "fearful to make formal complaints, in fear of retribution."
As a landowner and landlord, I also fear retribution — quite possibly for writing this opinion — but not from my neighbors. Like the sheriff said, "It's all about the money."
Mary Carol lives in Nevada County.
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