As many of you know, the CDFA, BCC and CDPH require annual applicants to provide CEQA compliance in order for their applicants to move forward through the review process and ultimately be granted an annual commercial cannabis license. This requirement has been a challenge for cultivators in the Salinas Valley to comply with, because their projects have been stalled through the land use regulatory process due a variety of issues. These include water, environmental health issues and various other land use necessities that are costly, take time and have been difficult to achieve.
Aware of these issues, the State of California adopted the provisional license that allows operators to continue operating if you had a temporary license at the site, you submitted your annual application by December 31, 2018 and you show your project is moving forward to comply with the CEQA requirement. However, applicants only have through 2019 to meet this requirement. As such, time is of the essence. In an effort to assist projects in the unincorporated areas of Monterey County move forward through the state licensing system, the County of Monterey proposed that a programmatic initial study and mitigated negative declaration be conducted and drafted by a third party land use consultant that would cover multiple individual projects that have similar environmental impacts which can be mitigated similarly. The study would focus on cumulative impacts of the individual projects that covered utility/service systems, traffic transportation, energy, air quality, biological resources, odor, flooding, water demands and greenhouse emissions.
Upon completion of the initial study and mitigated negative declaration, CEQA requires the document be circulated for public review and comment. Once the review and comment period is completed the consultant would address comments and revise the mitigated negative declaration accordingly. Ultimately the project would be presented through a public hearing and if all goes well it is approved. Once approved, the applicants that chose to participate in the study would have CEQA compliance to provide to the State and meet the CEQA requirements to be granted an annual application. In evaluating the various pending projects in the Salinas Valley, specifically in the Spence Road, Fuji Road, Encinal Road, Potter Road, and Zabala Road areas, we have determined that it would be in the applicants best interest to come together to participate in the initial study discussed above rather than go through the CEQA process alone. There are several benefits in joining forces such as sharing the costs, having a professional land use consultant team take the lead and securing your project will meet the CEQA requirement by the 2019 deadline.
We held an initial kick off meeting February 4, 2019. If you did not receive notice please contact the County RMA department, my office or MCCIA for more information. Depending on how many land owners/operators choose to participate in the study the cost will be divided equally and accordingly.
Jennifer Rosenthal is a local cannabis and criminal defense attorney. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and does not reflect an official position of the Association.