El Dorado County hashes out plan to confront pot concerns
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — A little more than a year after passing a county ordinance allowing outdoor medical marijuana grows under certain restrictions, El Dorado County Supervisors on Tuesday discussed whether or not to repeal the law and possibly issue a ban.
The majority of supervisors seemingly opposed the immediate revocation of the ordinance since the board voted unanimously to organize a committee to discuss the situation further, instead of nixing what they currently have.
However, Supervisor Ron Briggs, who originally helped form County Ordinance 5000, said without a repeal, he doesn’t know how the county will turn around its escalating pot problem.
“In affect, politically speaking, we stuck a sign out on our borders of El Dorado County and we said ‘we’re open for business,’ that we are a ‘pot-friendly’ county,” he said of the ordinance’s passage last year. “And I don’t believe that’s really what this board intended to do.”
El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini presented a video at the meeting that laid out exactly what he and Briggs believed to be the problem, which is that the ordinance informally labels the county as “weed-friendly” to outsiders.
Because of this, many people come from outside of the area to start illegal grows, D’Agostini said. In fact, about seven out of 10 marijuana-related arrests are out-of-county residents.
There has also been a rise in marijuana reports at schools since the ordinance passed, he said, as well as other concerning indicators in the county.
However, many of the community members who stood in the packed meeting room Tuesday claimed that while some cultivators are operating outside of legal means, many are not.
And many, like Joyce Carter, said they need marijuana for medical purposes and would have a hard time getting it without the ordinance.
“You take that right away from me to grow my own medicine and you will kill me,” Carter told the supervisors, “in a very horrible, painful way. At least (with marijuana) I have some relief.”
But not everyone in the audience was in support of the ordinance. Others spoke about the effects outdoor cultivation has had on county neighborhoods, including the smell pot grows can emit and the difficulty selling a house in a pot-centric location.
All in all, there was more than two and a half hours of public testimony.
In the end, though, all five supervisors agreed that a committee should be formed to evaluate the ordinance further, with Board Chairwoman Norma Santiago calling the vote.
“I personally think a repeal of this ordinance is way, way too premature,” Santiago said before the decision. “We obviously have a problem, and I’m not sure the problem we’re experiencing is totally as a result of the existing ordinance.”
In other county business, supervisors heard public concerns earlier in the board meeting about the county’s looming financial crisis and reports of layoffs, which Auditor-Controller Joe Harn explained were possible in an October interview regarding the budget gap.
After comments concluded, county supervisors and staff addressed some of those concerns. Interim CAO Pamela Knorr said the county is working on the budget and “getting to a model where there is more stability or certainty.”
“I imagine there’ll probably be a little pinch point, a little pain along the way, as we make that adjustment,” she said. “But the CAO staff and the auditor are working to come up with figures to provide to the board in the near future.”
Supervisor Ron Briggs also commented on the matter, saying the board has never uttered the words “layoffs” or “budget cuts” so any employees concerned can “assuage their fears.”
“I don’t know who’s saying what, but whoever’s saying it should shut their mouth because they’re not speaking for this board,” he said. “This board speaks out here, the five of us, on a vote, and anything short of what we say here is not county policy.”
Santiago also briefly discussed the Draft Meyers Area plan, letting people know it is still on supervisors’ minds.
“The board is very cognizant of the desires that came out, and the action that was taken out, on Oct. 28 with regards to having a board workshop on the Draft Meyers Area Plan,” she said.
However, transitions in the board and county, time restrictions with the staff, and an “unwillingness of some part of some groups to actually come to the table once again” led to the decision to continue the item off calendar.