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(Photo - Esteban Lopez on Unsplash)

REGIONAL — At this week’s Alameda County Transportation and Planning Commission meeting, the supervisors showed a preference for a cannabis retail operation in South Livermore rather than North Livermore.

During the Nov. 2 meeting, the Commission directed staff to proceed with bringing the draft ordinance amendments of the County Ordinance Code to the Planning Commission and subsequently to the full Board for consideration. The proposed amendments would allow the remaining unallocated cannabis retail permit to be made available in East County for a “boutique” operation.

Currently, the Alameda County Ordinance Code allows a maximum of five permits for cannabis retail in unincorporated Alameda County. The two allowed in East County were already issued through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Three are allowed in West County, with two already existing. The County Code Ordinance would need to be amended in order to allow the boutique cannabis retail operation to gain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) in East County.

At present, a staff report of the county’s operator permit application stats showed four cultivators and one retailer have applied for a CUP. The only cannabis retailer to have submitted an application, Larry Gosselin, is currently considering modifying his proposed cannabis operation.

In previous weeks, following a directive from the Board at the Transportation and Planning Committee’s Oct. 5 meeting, staff prepared the draft ordinance amendments and presented them during a recent meeting of the Agricultural Advisory Committee for comment.

Proponents of the cannabis permit included David Kent, chairman of the Tri-Valley Conservancy, who said he attended the Ag Committee meeting, which had a focus on how to keep agriculture viability alive. He stressed the importance of rebuilding visitation in wine country.

“I would propose that you consider changing the ordinance slightly from what was recommended to say, ‘Should a third permit be issued for a retail operation in East County, (then) that permit must be issued in the agritourism core of the South Livermore Valley Planning Area and include a boutique component,’” Kent said.

During the public comment period, a handful of residents from Morgan Territory Road in North Livermore expressed their concern regarding cannabis retailers in the area. Linda Jensen and Tracy Wood pointed out the increased danger to bikers and runners with large water trucks operating along the narrow roadways, noting the residential area was no place for such business.

They also stated their concerns of crime associated with cannabis operations by pointing out an incident on Oct. 20. At that time, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team responded to an incident at a current cannabis facility, where gunfire was reported. Speaker Brenda Morris said she was directly impacted by the SWAT investigation, when her ranch was used as a staging and interview area by officers for more than three hours.

ACSO Commander Kelly Miles stated that he is also opposed to more cannabis retail.

However, District 1 Supervisor Scott Haggerty said he only wants the CUPs to be made available in the South Livermore Area Plan, not North Livermore, which includes Morgan Territory Road. He said “bad actors” would have their permits revoked and the “five-mile rule” would not apply to these boutique retailers. The five-mile rule is the county’s requirement that no permit shall be issued for retail operation within five miles of another retail operation in the unincorporated area. Heather Littlejohn, deputy county counsel, confirmed that the Board could make a policy decision to eliminate the five-mile rule for boutique cannabis retail operations.

Board Reviews Zoning Amendments for Event Centers

The Board directed staff to continue work on the proposed amendments to County Zoning Ordinance definitions for winery, microbrewery and olive oil mills in order for these businesses to expand on their service models.

“This additional flexibility is intended to promote agri-tourism to further economic development in the East County Area, including the South Livermore wine region,” wrote the staff report.

Kent spoke during this item as well, stating the Tri-Valley Conservancy understood the county’s desire to broaden business models to create CUPs for special events.

“But we’re very concerned this might water down the provisions that favor bonded wineries who are struggling in the area, many of which are dependent on these events,” Kent said.

He noted the Ag Committee proposed that non-bonded operations should have a minimum of 12 acres in local cultivation in order to become an event center site.

“If we’re going to broaden the definition of who is eligible, it should be done for those who are cultivating here and making an investment in East County agriculture,” Kent continued.

Haggerty expressed his support for intensive agriculture, along with a wariness of event centers becoming a dominant land use in the South Livermore Valley region.

“I’m interested in that 12 (acres), but I would like to work it through the committees,” Haggerty said. “I am not interested in having a bunch of event centers scattered throughout the South Livermore Plan; I am interested in maybe a couple more; I am interested in making sure that there’s some sort of minimum … ”

He told staff they were moving in the right direction. He would like to hear from the Planning Commission and Ag Committee for further input in time to meet the December deadline. Staff aims to report on the outcome of the Planning Commission meeting at the Dec. 7 meeting in anticipation of taking the final ordinance language to the full Board for adoption at its Dec. 15 meeting.