In response to public concerns, two Tri-Valley men proposing to build a cannabis farm near Livermore said their neighbors don’t have to fear the business will bring crime, swallow up well water or produce a pungent odor.
James Thomas Halter, who formerly ran a car repossession business on the same Tesla Road property that will house the 1.5-acre marijuana cultivation site, claimed the community actually will become safer.
“They are going to have a level of security in this neighborhood they’ve never had before,” said Halter, who holds a security guard license. “This is a safe place. This will be an incredibly safe place.”
Halter and his long-time friend, Frank Imhof — a member of the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments (ECBZA) that would approve the farm — proposed the cultivation site for Halter’s 4.36-acre property in unincorporated Alameda County four years ago. They funded a county study released in October that showed it will have no significant negative effects on the environment.
Despite that, at least one Tesla Road resident said neighbors were concerned about the project and its effect on their quiet way of life. Imhof suggested their concerns are unwarranted.
“We’re only talking an acre here. We’re not talking 20 or 30,” he said. “It’s like a backyard garden.”
Imhof said he will recuse himself when the subject comes before the ECBZA and will have no influence over how the other two panelists vote. The ECBZA will adhere to the provisions of the Brown Act, the guidelines for public meetings.
“I don't tell people how to vote or when to vote,” Imhof said. “That will be up to them.”
Imhof, the former president of the Contra Costa Alameda County Cattlemen’s Association, reported that he plans to hand over the reins of his current businesses — growing 500 acres of wheat hay, raising 200 mother cows, hydroseeding, weed abatement, and paving and grading — to his son.
The 60-year-old farmer and rancher said he proposed the idea for the marijuana farm with Halter because “I’m going to need something to do” in retirement.
At the same time, Halter, 56, noted that he hopes to find a quieter way of life from his years working in bail bonds enforcement and car repossession, which often involved violent confrontations.
“I love gardening. I love growing,” Halter said. “When you need (cannabis) for medical reasons or to function, that’s the side of the field I like to play on. I want to get into a peaceful business. That seemed like an incredible opportunity.”
Imhof and Halter’s proposal calls for 20 separate 1,000-square-foot hoop houses to grow mature plants, and one 3,000-square-foot hoop house to raise mature plants. The plan includes construction of four 10,000-gallon water tanks, an 8-foot security fence, lighting, video surveillance and parking.
Halter, who lives in a nearly 3,000-square-foot house on the property and holds a security guard license, would serve as the 24-hour on-site security listed in their proposal. He said they plan to hire security guards who would not only protect his property, but also patrol the streets outside.
“I’m going to have my security posted up, going from Greenville to Cross Road patrolling,” Halter said.
Halter, who has been friends with Imhof for about 18 years, described him as one of the smartest men he knows. He called Imhof a “brilliant guy.”
Imhof added that Halter’s property is an excellent secure location for a marijuana farm. He said it will meet the provisions of Measure D, which voters approved in 2000 to protect agricultural land.
“It’s pretty easy to do,” Imhof said. “Marijuana grows as a weed. It doesn't take a lot of water. It’s a weed. If you can’t grow this, then you’ve got a problem.”
Halter said he is looking forward to his new potential enterprise. His property formerly housed H & H Recovery, a business that repossessed some 100,000 vehicles in 18 years. After Halter lost his state license to run the business in 2012, another man ran Champion Recovery Services at the site. Halter worked for him until that business closed last year.
Halter said he became “tired of being the guy that is putting the nail in the coffin of some guy who is down on his luck.” He also noted he wanted a quieter lifestyle, far from the daily assaults that he and his employees faced.
“People joke that I’m bulletproof because I’ve been shot at so many times,” he said.
The cannabis business is peaceful and productive, he added.
“To see what CBD and THC has done for people who are ailing and lost, and are tired of doctors throwing pills at them, it’s exciting,” Halter said. “I want to be a part of that. That’s my goal.”
Halter took exception to California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) reports online that showed the state revoked his license to run his car repossession business following complaints and lawsuits involving five incidents in 2010 and 2011.
BSIS investigators accused Halter of using unregistered agents and failing to timely report violent incidents involving their interactions with debtors during repossessions. Investigators cited specific confrontations, but Halter said it was the car owners who became angry or violent.
“How are we the villains?” Halter asked. “Firearms getting pulled on agents were weekly occurrences, but no one wants to hear the dirty little secrets of what recovery agents must endure to try to recover collateral for financial institutions.”
Halter said he would have needed to hire extra employees to simply file reports, so he reported only those incidents where somebody was arrested or hospitalized.
“I’m so blessed I'm out of that industry,” he said.
Halter denied a report that a neighbor reported seeing him emerge from his house with a gun to meet someone collecting a car during his repossession days. Halter said he had not carried a gun in decades, and if anyone had one, it was an employee or Champion’s owner.
Officials at the state Department of Cannabis Control will decide whether to issue Imhof and Halter’s license for the Tesla Road farm. A spokesperson for the agency reported that Halter’s previous non-cannabis license revocation would not disqualify him from a cannabis license, but it would be considered during the process.
Halter, who holds a black belt in karate, said he has taught martial arts to 10,000 kids at businesses in Livermore and Newark. He said he continues to teach about 20 children for free.
“I do have a reputation as a tough guy,” Halter said, “but I'm also a fair guy and an honest guy.”
The county planning department is currently taking public input on the project through Nov. 15. Reports are available for review at https://bit.ly/Indy_farm.