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Pot plaguing Rancho Tehama?
Residents unhappy about gardens
Drive around the 52 miles of roads in Rancho Tehama Reserve and what becomes obvious this summer are the dozens of marijuana gardens growing on the 11.7-square-mile reserve.
"It is ridiculous and completely out of control," Tehama County sheriff's Lt. Dave Greer said of the reported medical marijuana gardens.
Many of the people who live on the privately owned reserve 12 miles west of Corning are unhappy about the situation, but some admitted they are so scared of retaliation they are unwilling to talk about their concerns openly.
"I don't know what to do," said one woman who lives on the reserve. "Many of us are scared for our safety. It is completely out of control. (It is) squeezing all the decent people out."
Tehama County Supervisor Bob Williams said due to the explosion of marijuana gardens cropping up not only in Rancho Tehama, but all over the county, an ad hoc committee is taking a hard look at the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance.
"Many of the gardens are out of compliance and we have received an enormous amount of complaints. The problem is we don't have the resources, both in funding and manpower, to deal with the enormity of this problem," he said.
The pot cultivation ordinance adopted by the board in 2010 states all medicinal marijuana gardens must be registered with the county's Health Services Department. It also states a pot garden can be declared unlawful and a nuisance if it goes outside the number of plants allowed, or if it is located within 1,000 feet of a school, school bus stop, church, park, child care center, school evacuation site or youth-oriented facility.
It is also illegal to be closer than 100 feet of a property line.
Therein lies much of the problem for people growing pot in Rancho Tehama. More than one-third of the reserve is within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. Other areas have parks, child care facilities or a church.
"I would definitely have to say the vast majority of marijuana gardens in Rancho Tehama are out of compliance," Williams said.
Tehama Interagency Drug Enforcement Task Force Commander Dave Kain agrees.
He said the job of enforcing the pot cultivation ordinance has naturally fallen to his task force, although the gardens are supposed to be "medicinal in nature."
"This is a huge dilemma for my task force," he said. "The number of gardens out there and the number of complaints the county has received due to the gardens out there is way beyond the control of the task force."
According to Kain, the task force has "literally" received 250 complaints from one source concerning the pot gardens on the reserve.
"We absolutely do not have the resources to deal with that size of a problem," said Kain.
He explained the process of handling a marijuana garden nuisance complaints is involved and lengthy.
"For instance, if someone called in a complaint because his neighbor's pot garden was within 10 feet of the property line, someone from the task force would first evaluate the situation to see if it is a criminal case because there are so many plants or if it would remain a nuisance case.
"Then we would check to see if the garden is within compliance, such as whether it is within a school bus stop zone, or not registered with the county," Kain said.
From that point, if the garden is out of compliance, the grower would be issued an abatement notice. The grower has 10 days to file an appeal or 14 days to abate the plants, Kain said.
If the grower files an appeal a hearing is schedule with the Board of Supervisors.
If an appeal isn't filed, the task force has to go back out to the garden to re-inspect if the plants have been abated within the 14 day window.
"When an appeal is filed, we wait until the board issues its ruling. If the side with the abatement notice, the grower has another 14 days to pull the plants. We have to go out again within the window to make sure the order has been obeyed," Kain said. "If the owners again fail to comply, a warrant is issued for the task force to seize all of the marijuana on the property and a fine is issued."
That process takes a long time, he said, and often within that period of time the grower has already had the opportunity to harvest his product.
Kain said he is very hopeful the ad hoc committee will propose stricter amendments to the ordinance and require the county come up with the resources to carry out the code enforcement side of the ordinance.
"I believe Supervisor Williams is doing a really good job at revisiting this issue," said Kain.
"I applaud the Board of Supervisors' efforts to strengthen the ordinance and I am hopeful one of the changes will be to eliminate that enforcement is nuisance complaint driven and makes it so we can seize plants whenever a garden is out of compliance."
Williams said he is doubtful any changes in the ordinance will take effect for this growing season, but is hopeful it can make a difference next year.
"We need to make a stand as a county," Kain said. "A stand with some bite to it so people will know that if you come to Tehama County to grow pot, you are going to lose your marijuana garden."
During a Rancho Tehama Association Board Candidates Night held on the reserve Saturday, Williams said one of the main topics of questions and discussion was the concern over the number of pot gardens.
"People are afraid of the criminal element associated with the marijuana gardens," he said. "But there are also people who are out there to avoid 'Big Brother' and they want to be left alone and want things left the way they are."
A grower on Tulare Bend in Rancho Tehama said he rents the land where he is growing his 24 plants on 2 acres. He would only speak on the condition of anonymity.
The man said he and his family do not live on the property, which has no well or septic, so they transport water in every day to water the plants and have set up a small trailer on the property so someone can man the site at all times.
"I am registered with the county," he said. "And I am obeying the law. I grow it for medicinal reasons."
Williams, who is aware of that particular garden, said he is doubtful either one of those statements is true.
Many of the gardens at Rancho Tehama seem to be very sophisticated and appear to have been costly to cultivate, while others are very simple and thrown together.
Whichever the case, Kain believes many of the gardens are for profit and not for medicinal purposes.
"People obeying the law shouldn't have to suffer because of those who break the law, especially when those who obey the law are stuck living next door to those who break it," Kain said.