Colusa planning commission, city council at odds on cannabis


The City of Colusa’s Planning Commission succeeded in temporarily delaying a pair of cannabis-related projects at last Thursday’s meeting, bringing an apparent rift between the commission and the City Council and city staff to light in the process.

Frustrated with what they described as a lack of adequate notice to the public; poor communication between staff, the city council, and the planning commission; and the lack of a guiding policy for cannabis businesses in the city’s general plan, the commissioners voted to continue a pair of public hearings pertaining to development agreements between the city and two cannabis businesses. By continuing the public hearings, rather than making a suggestion to the city council on whether to approve resolutions approving development agreements with the two companies, the commission was able to delay the development agreements – at least temporarily. The public hearings will be continued to their regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 28, at 6 PM.

Up for the planning commission’s consideration were two development agreements with two separate cannabis companies, Greenceuticals and Big Moon Sky. Although the companies are not associated, the development agreements are, in effect, intertwined. Greenceuticals, one of the more recent cannabis businesses to approach the city with a potential project, is looking to purchase two lots at 8th Street and Main Street – the site of the old Stokes Building, which currently houses Fur Fin & Feather Taxidermy.

Greenceuticals plans to tear down the existing building and build a new, state-of-the-art, three story, 17,000 sq. ft. growing facility at that location. Big Moon Sky – an e-commerce cannabis company that delivers cannabis products to adults in jurisdictions where cannabis sales are permitted (none of which are in Colusa County), and is the only cannabis business currently operating in the City of Colusa – already had a development agreement (DA) in place with the city. The company’s DA allows it to operate a temporary facility at an undeveloped lot adjacent to and owned by Brent Nobles of Fur Fin & Feather taxidermy, but the potential sale of the property to Greenceuticals prompted Big Moon Sky to look elsewhere in the city. They decided on 210 6th St., which, until recently, was the home of Sierra Flowers. According to the company’s CEO, the new location would better meet the interim needs, but not the long-term needs, of his business. Because the development agreements are tied to a physical location, Big Moon Sky needed to amend its development agreement to move its operations to that location. The amended development agreement would be for a period of 10 years.

Commission airs frustration with City Council, staff

Last week’s two-plus hour meeting included some tense exchanges between the planning commissioners, the public, the developers, and city staff.

Commission Chair Richard Selover said that the planning commission had previously directed staff that they “wanted a throttle” on cannabis businesses.

“We were discussing the levels of moratorium, in open discussion on public record at (a previous meeting), to get a handle on this,” Selover said. “This is as far from a moratorium as we can get.”

According to California law, the process for instituting such a moratorium would be via ordinance, passed by the local legislative body – in this case, the Colusa City Council. While it can make a suggestion to the city council, the planning commission has no authority to enact such an ordinance.

Commissioner George Parker, who has consistently been critical of the city’s process for approving cannabis projects in past hearings, said that he believed that an amendment to the city’s general plan is in order, which specifies the “developing processes about where should it go, what can it be, what it should look like, and how is it interfaced with the community with education, with knowledge…”

He also said that the planning commission’s suggestions on prior cannabis-related development agreements had fallen on deaf ears with the council.

“I think it puts a lot of burden on folks on this dais, (who) may say their piece, but it will go to council and it doesn’t go anywhere – meaning our concerns,” Parker said. “Our concerns (are), we’re going fast, we want to capture all of the elements of opportunity for everybody, but there’s no plan. There’s no roll-out guidelines that say, ‘This is how we have to govern.’ The ordinance – the lack of – is all subjective.”

Commissioner Parker particularly took issue with language in the development agreements that characterized the projects as being “in the best interest of the City of Colusa and its residents.” He said the wording was misleading and inaccurate.

“I’m concerned about the language as written – public necessity. It doesn’t meet the general plan, it is not a public necessity,” Parker said, addressing Big Moon Sky CEO Zach Crafton. “It is an opportunity for corporate businesses to make a dollar, because it’s permissible only by the city’s sake, not by the county’s sake. I’m looking at you, because I really want you to hear this. You picked Colusa for a reason: it’s easy, accessible, and you’ve got a partner in the city council. But I don’t think they represent completely the city in whole. There was no referendum saying, ‘We want this business here.’ I would ask you, if you have to be here, please get the message out about your business operation and how it’s going to benefit the community, somehow. If it’s just about you making money, please make it somewhere else.”

After hearing that the commission reiterate that it wanted to throttle back on cannabis businesses coming into the city, City Planner Bryan Stice asked the commission to consider whether amending Big Moon Sky’s development agreement to allow it to operate at a new location would result in “no net increase” to cannabis operations in the city.

“I am frustrated with our city. I’m frustrated with our council. I’m frustrated with our staff. Ok?” Planning Commission Chair Richard Selover replied. “Is it a net increase? No, Bryan, it probably isn’t a net increase. Potentially, though, does it open up more square footage of real estate? …Based on tonight’s agenda, it does. In my opinion, we’re either going to be saying, ‘Staff, council: give us some tools to work with.’ And since nobody has addressed our concerns, the only other option I see is to say, ‘Here you go, here’s a denial.’ Ok? We’re asking for your help, we’ve asked for it for months, we’re not getting it.”

Commissioner Dick Armocido said that he felt sorry for the applicant, who was “stuck in the middle of all this.”

“It’s not his fault,” Armocido said. “It’s the poor guidance we’ve set forth for everybody, including ourselves.” He added that Big Moon Sky has had no issues since it began operating at its 8th Street location.

“It’s no reflection on you. I have observed your business on a daily basis, and I haven’t noticed anything that was disturbing at all,” Armocido said.

Commissioner Parker made the motion to continue the public hearing for the amended development agreement with Big Moon Sky to Feb. 28. The commission voted 4-1 in favor of the motion. Commissioner Kenneth Flagor Jr. was the lone “no” vote.

“I’m just sorry we have to continue it because we’re not properly prepared,” Armocido said before roll call. “I’m really sorry to the public and the applicant, but we have to make smart decisions, and we can’t make smart decisions until we have information that’s beneficial to everybody and fair to everybody.”

Armocido asked whether the continuance of the public hearing would impact Big Moon Sky’s operations at all. Crafton said that it potentially could. The company is currently operating under a temporary permit from the state, and the plan was to file for an annual permit at the new location. In addition, Crafton said, Big Moon Sky was already paying rent at both locations.

City Manger Jesse Cain said that continuing the public hearing two weeks would “cut it close” in terms of the timing for Big Moon Sky obtaining state permits.

“Zach, you wanted to go out and be a pioneer,” Selover said to Crafton after the vote was called. “You catch some arrows sometimes.”

After the hearing was continued, Colusa resident John Rogers questioned the motivation behind moving Big Moon Sky to a new location.

“When (Big Moon Sky) came before the council to put their facility in on 8th Street, they were going to bring in portables – multiple units,” Rogers said. “He says he’s out of space with 840 feet, but there’s only one unit there from what I saw, the last time I drove by. I haven’t seen multiple units. So does he have to move, or are we setting this up for the next item on the agenda?”

“Be here on the 28th,” Commissioner Selover replied.

Greenceuticals: ‘What happened to no cultivation in downtown area?’

During the second public hearing – this one for a new development agreement with Greenceuticals – City Planner Bryan Stice said that Brent Nobles, the current owner of the site proposed for the company’s new cultivation facility, had entered into a sale agreement with Greenceuticals. Stice added that Nobles had also entered into an agreement with the City of Colusa to purchase a city-owned property located on Bridge and Main Streets, which will ultimately be the new home of Fur Fin & Feather Taxidermy.

Tom Indrieri

“That’s been facilitating everything we’ve been discussing so far tonight, as well as the current item,” Stice said.

Greenceutical’s top brass was not present at the planning commission meeting on Thursday. Tom Indrieri, the realtor coordinating the sale of the property – who is also former Colusa resident and Colusa County Supervisor – appeared on the company’s behalf. Also present was the architect for the proposed new facility.

Some of the commission’s concerns over the Greenceuticals DA centered on the idea of cultivation in the downtown area. Commissioner Selover said that the Planning Commission had previously expressed, by consensus, that it felt cultivation was inappropriate for the downtown area.

“Once again, I see an inconsistency with staff, and with what this body has talked about,” Selover said. “I don’t know the names of these companies, but when we were dealing with the Yerxa property, (Green Leaf Processors) wanted an additional area for cultivation. And we let them know quite clearly that we were not anticipating any cultivation in the downtown area. I believe that’s all on the public record, while we were dealing with that project. And we’ve held fairly fast to that with (Big Moon Sky) and with our other projects. Then, all of a sudden this project comes in with cultivation, right in the heart of our Riverfront District. It’s inconsistent with what I thought as a body were telling the City of Colusa the public wanted. So, when did that change?”

City Manager Cain responded that the Greenceuticals had pitched the project at a recent city council meeting, and that council liked it and directed staff “to move forward with it and get it here.”

Other concerns centered around the CEQA exemption being applied to the Greenceuticals project, the planning commission’s role – or lack thereof – in the approval process for cannabis-related development, and the lack of a clear, guiding policy.

“We did make it pretty clear that we did not want any growing in the downtown, core area,” Selover said. “…I think there are better locations for this project. That goes back to my argument that we didn’t write the code (governing commercial cannabis operations in the City of Colusa) right in the first place… So this is where I need some clarification, because I still think we’re confronted with some more problems down the road… We haven’t done the piece of the pie that needs to be done. We haven’t sat down and said, ‘We don’t want it in these areas.’ So, you’ve given us no direction at all.”

“Well, the council has,” Cain said.

“No, the council does,” Selover interrupted. “The council hasn’t.”

Cain continued explaining the process, saying that the council had indicated it would allow cannabis uses in properties zoned General Commercial or Light Industrial. He added that, through a special use permit, the city council gets to “pick and choose where they go in the General Commercial.”

“So, in essence, the city council decided they didn’t want (this project at another location).

They’d rather have it here,” Armocido said. “So, what are we here for?”

Among the members of the public to speak at the public hearing for Greenceuticals was county resident Janice Bell, who raised concerns that the potential three-story facility would “remove a scenic viewshed” from residents in the area, which she said could lead to lawsuits. Bell, who is the Office of Emergency Services coordinator for the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office, said the department had not been adequately notified of the project prior to the meeting.

“Not sure how that didn’t come through us, or we weren’t aware of it, and I apologize if I missed a public notice or something, but this is very surprising to me,” Bell said. “I just wanted to make note that I support everyone else who is asking for more education for the public. They really would benefit by learning more about it.”

Bell also questioned how development of the property could be exempt from CEQA, when an old building was being torn down and a new one constructed – particularly at a site where there may be issues with soil contamination.

John Rogers also spoke during public comment, and noted that issues of smell would be exacerbated by the company’s location on the north side of town, considering the prevailing wind direction. Rogers also claimed that owners of adjacent properties – including himself – were not mailed notice of the public hearings.

“I was never notified… This just hit us broadside. I mean, we were blinded,” Rogers said. “I had no notification until I came to city hall and they asked if I was going to be here.”
Stice refuted that claim, saying that the notice was sent the County of Colusa, as well as Rogers and other nearby property owners, in addition to being in the newspaper.

That wasn’t good enough, Commissioner Parker told Stice.

“You see the pattern here? It’s like we did everything right, but yet they just don’t know,” Parker said. “Again, how can we get the messaging back to the community to embrace this process, versus just, ‘We’ve done our job,’ and move on. I can’t support a CEQA process that has a lot of loose ends, in my opinion… All I know, is it’s not informative enough.”

Commissioner Armocido said he had an issue with community participation.

“I look into the audience, and I see two against, and one for,” Armocido said. “I’m supposed to represent this community, and they’re not here, because they’re not properly notified… We’re supposed to make a decision based on what we hear from our audience. When we have a little audience, we’re trying to make a decision when we’re not getting enough input for us to base our decisions on. We want to hear from the public, but the public is uninformed… My problem with it is, how can I represent the constituents when they don’t come themselves?”

The issue with notification didn’t stop at the public, commissioners said. Parker added that the planning commission hadn’t received the agenda for Thursday’s meeting until less than 24 hours before it was held.

“Part of inclusion into the civic body process is, give it to us,” Parker said. “If the council is really wanting to move forward with these types of projects, why aren’t the applicant’s addressing some of our concerns? We’re the first stoppance (sic). We’re the gatekeepers on municpal code, right?”

Selover reiterated Parker’s concerns.

“Much like George, Jesse, I’m tired of this, OK?” Selover said. “If you guys are going to spend 20 meetings with some individuals, bringing some stuff on, and you want to get it passed, don’t give me an agenda 12 hours before the meeting. Get me involved. Unless you want to run the whole city yourselves. If you do, disband the planning commission. But let’s go one way or the other.”

Brian Pearson is the former 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 included reporting local government and the sports page.