County, City of Colusa agree to settle CEQA lawsuit

More than $20,000 in attorneys’ fees later, the City and County of Colusa and Green Leaf Processors, Inc. have agreed to settle the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit filed by the County in August.

Absent two members, the Colusa City Council approved the settlement agreement in closed session at their regular meeting on Jan. 16.

The County initially filed a Writ of Mandate under the provisions of CEQA against Green Leaf and the City of Colusa in the Colusa County Superior Court on August 24, 2017. In the action, the county alleged that the City’s approval of the Development Agreement and special use permit for the Green Leaf facility on Fifth Street abutting the levee “was a discretionary project under CEQA that requires environmental review, and (the City’s and Green Leaf’s) failure to perform the required environmental review is a violation of CEQA.”
According to the settlement agreement, all parties mutually concluded that settlement was “the most efficient and practical way to resolve the matter at this point.”

The settlement agreement stated that “(w)ithout any Party admitting or denying the truthfulness of any of the allegations or claims raised between the Parties, and without accepting any liability arising out of such claims, the Parties to this Agreement now intend to settle…”

As a part of the settlement agreement, Green Leaf agreed to comply with all applicable state regulations governing its manufacturing operations; obtain and at all times maintain compliance with a hazardous materials business plan and any other authorization required by the County Certified Unified Program Agency; obtain and at all times maintain compliance with all permits and authorizations required by the Colusa County Air Polution District; comply with all statutes, regulations, and rules governing the disposal of solid an hazardous wastes; and obtain and at all times maintain environmental pollution insurance for the facility.

The settlement agreement also stipulated that the Colusa Police Department “promptly make surveillance video available to the Sheriff’s Office if necessary to allow the Sheriff’s Office to provide proper law enforcement assistance or complete any law enforcement investigation or portion of such an investigation.”

Green Leaf also agreed to pay the County a sum of $14,583.10 for attorneys’ fees. For its part, the county agreed to dismiss the action with prejudice within three business days of the payment of the attorneys’ fees. They also agreed not to oppose the facility, so long as certain criteria are met.

While the Colusa City Council may have agreed to settle the CEQA lawsuit with the county, they remain unhappy that it got to that point in the first place. When approached for comment, Councilman Dave Markss and City Manager Jesse Cain both deferred to Mayor Greg Ponciano. Ponciano made it clear on Monday that he didn’t believe the lawsuit had anything to do with the California Environmental Quality Act.

“First of all, it was never about CEQA,” Ponciano said. “There was nothing that was spelled out in our conversations that came after that initial suit that had anything whatsoever to do with CEQA. That’s one of the reasons that I found it offensive… The questions and concerns that the county had could have been settled in a very simple conversation. Green Leaf paid the county’s legal costs, but that’s not the only cost to the taxpayers. (The county) dedicated staff time, as did the city, so it cost everybody money. We had to take our city attorney and put him on tasks outside what his norm would be.”

The real issue, Ponciano insisted, is with cannabis, which he said nobody from the county has been willing to come out and say explicitly.

“I’ve been on the council for over five years, and I’ve never, ever had them comment – I mean, we’ve had big land rezoning, we’ve had annexations, and not a peep,” Ponciano said. “And now, five projects, five letters, and all have to do with cannabis… If they want to sit down and talk about cannabis, I’ll sit down and talk about cannabis, but let’s not sit down and pretend that it has anything to do with CEQA, the Airport Land Use Commission, or anything else. I do find it a little bit hypocritical that they’re trying to impose their will over a city over which, of course, they have no jurisdiction, but at the same time they don’t have a plan (for cannabis) themselves.”

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors is currently in the process of exploring how it will handle the legal cannabis industry, and what facets of it – if any – will be allowed in unincorporated areas of the county. They have taken a ‘measured approach’ and have hired a consultant to conduct public outreach and surveys of county residents before making a decision.

Ponciano said that it was getting to a point where all of the comment letters and the lawsuit were creating a “really hostile business environment to the point that it could cost us potential businesses.”

“I hope it’s not intentional… but if it’s such a pain to deal with the county and the red tape to do business in the City of Colusa, people just won’t come, and that doesn’t help anyone,” Ponciano said. “It doesn’t help us or the county.”

Colusa County CAO Wendy Tyler said on Monday evening she didn’t agree with Ponciano’s comments.

“I don’t think the county is taking issue because this is a cannabis issue. I think the board has made it very clear that we are taking issue with this because of the process. This is about (the city’s) failure to follow the processes we believe they should have followed, whether that is CEQA or otherwise,” Tyler said, adding that the county would have been similarly critical of the process with any industry, and not just cannabis.■

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net