In a moment that Chairman Terry Withrow described as “democracy at its best,” the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday shot down a proposal for a commercial cannabis grow in Mountain View after residents of the small community showed up in droves to protest.
Central Valley Growers, LLC, had applied to build a nearly 30,000 square-foot greenhouse building that would eventually house 22,000 square feet of mixed-light cannabis cultivation at 1301 W. Fulkerth Road, between Crows Landing and Carpenter Roads, in Mountain View. The unincorporated community sits just west of Turlock on Stanislaus County land, for which the Board in 2017 approved a Conservative Allowance Strategy for cannabis and is home to Chatom Union School District.
Nearly 40 Mountain View community members were present for Tuesday’s Board meeting, participating in a public hearing that lasted over two hours and saw parents, farmers and even school principals take to the podium in opposition of the grow operation. Those who couldn’t make it signed an online petition to the site, which amassed over 200 signatures. A majority of speakers on Tuesday had one question for the Board: Would you want this next to your home?
Although the County Planning Commission approved the proposed cannabis cultivation in March, concerns about the grow operation’s proximity to nearby homes, potential odors from the plant and the safety impacts on both neighbors and nearby schools were vocalized by the community. In a letter to the Planning Commission, CUSD indicated safety concerns with the site, seeing as the proposed location is close to a bus stop and could potentially be the target of armed robbery.
On Tuesday, CUSD Superintendent Cherise Olvera once again voiced her concerns to the Board of Supervisors.
“Such a facility will be capable of producing a large amount of cannabis and I’ve already shared with the County that this raises great concern for the district,” Olvera said. “Any such incident at the project location could result in a situation that would require our school to go into lockdown or shelter in place. If the incident occurs while students are waiting for the bus or immediately after they’re dropped off, there’s little that could be done to keep those children out of harm’s way.”
Michelle Borba shared that since she had concerns about the odor of a potential cannabis cultivation site so close to her home, she took a drive out to another County-approved cultivation site in Patterson. It smelled so strongly of a propane-like odor, she said, that it made her daughter feel sick.
Borba’s sister Candace Gonsalves, a resident of Mountain View and downtown business owner of Farm House, lives on the same block as the proposed location and shared that should a cannabis operation be built, she would no longer feel safe letting her children walk through the orchards to their aunt’s house, who lives nearby.
“I am a next-door neighbor to this. Would you be willing to expose your family and be the County guinea pig?” Gonsalves asked. “While something might meet all district standards, while all the boxes may be checked and while experts might even say there’s no risk at all here, there’s still so much unknown potential harm to our children…Are you willing to take that risk on my child, on my nieces and nephews and on the children of Mountain View school?
“I’m not against growing, necessarily — I just don’t want it grown in my backyard.”
Mountain View Middle School Principal Steve Lewis also lives near the proposed site, he shared, and also lets his children explore the countryside without fear for their safety. The cultivation site would have changed that, he said. He also had concerns for his students.
“That’s the personal side of me and why this affects me so much because I don’t think that’s going to happen ever again, or at all if this site goes in because I just don’t feel safe,” Lewis said. “When I’m at my school site we experience a lot of odors out in the country and most of them are very recognizable...if you can imagine a bunch of 10, 11, 12, 13-year-olds asking what’s that smell or what’s this all about, I can only imagine how much time I’m going to have to take to talk to my students about what is in our neighborhood now and what is happening.”
When it came time for the Board to make a decision, the community’s concerns regarding safety, odor and the integrity of their neighborhood led Supervisors to come back to the item at a future date, allowing for the applicant to try and find a different location for their cultivation site.
Other similar sites have been in agriculturally-zoned areas like Mountain View, though the Board expressed interest in looking at industrial zones for future cultivation sites.
“Even though these are tense issues and there’s a lot of stuff going on here, we very much enjoy when we have participation…this is how it should work,” Withrow said. “We are here to serve, and so we react to the public and how they feel about issues.”