City plan to control pot grows criticized

April 14, 2005

David Edwards, Ukiah Daily Journal

A vocal and opinionated audience turned out at Wednesday night's public hearing at the Ukiah Civic Center, and many of the speakers roundly criticized the city's plan to regulate marijuana cultivation in Ukiah.

People from Fort Bragg and Boonville traveled to Ukiah to speak at the public hearing sponsored by the Planning Commission. Medical marijuana advocates addressed commissioners frankly, despite the potential chilling effect of an early comment made by Chairman Jim Mulheren.

'I prefer constructive criticism,' Mulheren said after the first two speakers had left the podium.

'I don't want to sit up here and listen to a bunch of crap.'

As the last speaker of the public hearing, Daniel De la Peza, approached the podium, Mulheren was sunk so far down in his chair that only his head was visible above the council dais. De la Peza asked Mulheren if the speakers were boring him. Instead of answering the question, the chairman told De la Peza to comment on the ordinance.

De la Peza drew applause from the audience -- as had several of the speakers before him -- at the end of his remarks. An almost adversarial air had reigned during much of the public hearing, but De la Peza's words changed the tone.

'It's impossible for all of us to agree on how to grow marijuana,' he said. 'I urge you to suggest the City Council not (defy) state law. We're hopeful that through you we can send a message to our elected leaders, the City Council. I urge you (toward) service, whether you like it or not.'

Commissioner Judy Pruden asked representatives of the two medical-marijuana advocacy groups on hand to follow through on their offers of cooperation. She suggested the groups draft a model ordinance of their own, saying that comparisons with the city's draft ordinance might further efforts to compromise.

Pruden also pointed out that the groups, the Medical Marijuana Patients' Union and the Northern California chapter of NORML, had volunteered their cooperation. She added that the real issue the ordinance needs to address is the abuse of medical marijuana laws.

The city's efforts to force marijuana cultivation indoors received the most criticism Wednesday. Several speakers questioned the city's calculations on indoor crop yields. Others raised concerns of the fire dangers associated with growing indoors, as well as potential health hazards from mold, fungus and pests.

A caregiver who spoke offered a compromise solution. She told commissioners the city should consider allowing outdoor growing in greenhouses, while requiring charcoal filters to minimize the unpleasant odor.

One citizen specifically addressed the issue of odor complaints.

'The smell is real,' she said. 'It doesn't smell like roses. So I'm for some kind of ordinance restricting it.'

City Councilman John McCowen also testified, saying he'd met with residents who felt terrorized and held hostage in their own neighborhood because of marijuana profiteers.

County Clerk Marcia Wharff countered by saying that outdoor growing disperses the smell so much that it's almost impossible to locate the source. She also responded to the robbery attempts and public safety concerns that largely spawned the ordinance.

'I could care less if somebody breaks into my backyard,' Wharff said. 'I don't want somebody breaking into my house.'

Numerous audience members vigorously applauded that statement.

Redwood Valley resident Gregory Skipper pleaded for an ordinance that respects the rights of patients as well as neighbors.

'It is very obvious as I stand here that we do not have the answer to this problem,' Skipper said. 'This plan needs to be scrapped.

'I understand both sides of the equation. The sheriff and the district attorney have been very supportive of Proposition 215. Do we make a mockery of their efforts?'

Commissioners agreed that the community still lacks an adequate response to the challenges of growing medical marijuana. After Pruden asked for an alternative ordinance, Noah Fraser, a representative of the Medical Marijuana Patients' Union, asked if the city could list the substance of all the odor complaints so far, as well as the general location involved.

Fraser said that would help him determine whether the problem is widespread or confined to a small area.

Pruden summed up the proceedings by saying, 'I think we're in the very early days of our ordinance.' To which Commissioner Kevin Jennings replied, 'I don't know where we go from here except more public input.'

Amid a newfound commitment to cooperation, the commission earned a final round of applause from the audience.



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