Council Set To Endorse Grow House Abatement Measure I – October 3, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

While Measure I would attempt to reduce global warming effects of grow houses, the cannabis industry has many negative environmental effects throughout Humboldt County. The night of Sept. 24/25, someone deposited what appeared to be remnants of grow room remodeling on the banks of Liscom Slough, right under the No Dumping sign. The drywall, plastic sheeting and insulation was a change of pollution-pace for the growers, who usually dump chemical-laden soil and trim along the sensitive waterway. Photo by Ted Halstead

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – The City Council – most of it, anyway – will likely endorse Measure I  at tonight’s meeting.

The measure, which will be on November’s Arcata ballot, would impose a 45 percent tax on residential homes which consume extraordinary amounts of electrical energy. Advocacy for some kind of policy to abate excessive electricity use has been championed through years of Energy Committee meetings by Councilmember Shane Brinton.

Supporters, including the councilmembers who support the tax, openly acknowledge that the tax targets cannabis grow houses within city limits.

“My goal is to make them leave Arcata,” said Mayor Michael Winkler, an energy conservation expert. If effective, Measure I would push countless ongoing felony situations out of town, without use of law enforcement. It would also free police resources for other uses.

According to figures supplied by PG&E, some 633 of Arcata’s 9,500 residential meters show usage at more than 600 percent of “baseline usage,” which itself represents more than three times what an average house consumes.

While there are non-cannabis related reasons why a home might suck down that much juice – home ceramicists with kilns and some medical equipment – illegal cannabis grow houses are presumed to account for most of the excessive usage.

Apart from the neighborhood degradation, use of housing stock for agriculture and public safety impacts, the proliferation of grow houses has monkeywrenched the City’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reduction Plan for reducing energy use. Even as the City had been aiming at reducing GHG emissions by 20 percent below year 2000 levels by 2012, electricity consumption was headed in the opposite direction, increasing 30 percent between 2000 and 2006.

If it passes, the tax would net the City an estimated $1,250,000 annually. That figure would likely diminish over time if the tax had the desired effect of driving grow houses out of town. PG&E would take a one-time $650,000 cut of the revenue for implementation costs.

Winkler, who has been campaigning door-to-door for his re-election campaign, said Sunday that perhaps three-fourths of the 500 to 800 residents he’s spoken to expressed support for Measure I. The support stemmed not just from concern about energy use.

“The thing that upsets people the most is grow houses using the CARE program,” Winkler said. PG&E’s California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) program offers lower utility rates for low-income persons. Growers qualify only because their income doesn’t show up on official records. Other ratepayers, including the beleaguered neighbors, end up paying higher rates to subsidize the grow house that degrades their neighborhood.

“They find that very offensive,” Winkler said. “The growers are getting rich and ripping us all off on top of it.”

Some neighborhoods heavily afflicted with grow houses – Windsong, for example, where the houses are very close together – are especially militant. “People feel like there’s this loaded gun in their neighborhood,” Winkler said. “They feel embattled. It’s like a magnet for people with guns and attack dogs.”

The popularity and opposition to Measure I is difficult to ascertain, because some opponents may not wish to speak publicly and be identified.

However, the local cannabis industry supports livelihoods in many professions. There are the omnipresent trimmers, plus carpenters and electricians who install grow rooms, hydroponics stores that sell the equipment, hardware and garden stores, doctors who sell Prop 215 recommendations, attorneys who represent accused cannabis suspects, even landlords and property managers who work out deals with residential growers. How many are dependent enough on the industry to vote against the tax, or vote at all, is unknown.

“You don’t know, because it’s a subculture,” City Councilmember Alex Stillman said. Certain unlikely-sounding professions lend themselves to involvement. Dubious “massage therapists,” for example, may launder cannabis income by attributing it to arbitrary rates and imaginary customers.

The growers are our ‘one percent,’” said citizen Robin Hashem, who facilitated the “Nip It In the Bud” neighborhood gatherings that helped lead to formulation of Arcata’s cannabis regulations. She likened the grow housers to the elite plutocracy “in terms of people not caring about what happens to their neighbors.”

Well-heeled pot plutes may not care about a new tax, either. Replicating speculation first voiced during meetings of the City’s Energy Committee, Winkler said the growers may just consider the tax the cost of doing business. Growers are known to pay monthly PG&E bills in the mid-four figures, and with cash.

They could, as some predict, simply increase production to compensate for the tax, worsening problems. Winkler worries that the rate isn’t high enough to act as a deterrent.

Even some Measure I supporters don’t expect the tax to eliminate grow houses, Winkler said. “They just think they should pay some tax,” he said.

Never shy of regulating industry, Arcata could set a precedent, and Measure I is being widely watched by other grow house-hammered communities.

“If it passes, a lot of cities will try to do this,” Stillman said.

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18 Responses to “Council Set To Endorse Grow House Abatement Measure I – October 3, 2012”

  1. No one I know would speak to Mr Winkleron the street, let alone open a door to speak to him.

  2. Kevin Hoover

    Well, you spoke to Mr. Winkleron, when you wanted a signature on your nomination petition.

  3. Hmmm… The caption of the picture above claims that the construction debris is likely from a grow house remodeling. Why is that assumption made? Were grow materials found along with it, or is this another attempt to demonize the pot industry by attributing anything you can to growers. Many growers grow safely, are good neighbors, and do not dump, are not violent. The more laws you make, the more you oppress my people, the less of a chance honest growers have to make it, the more likely people will resort to devious tactics. If power consumption is such an issue why is not Safeway, or the ballpark under similar scrutiny. If the mis-use of the care program is a problem why not target users of the care program? Mr. Winkler, please stop trying to run your competition out of town, thanks.

  4. Jayelle Farmer

    >If it passes, the tax would net the City an estimated $1,250,000 annually. That figure would likely diminish over time if the tax had the desired effect of driving grow houses out of town. PG&E would take a one-time $650,000 cut of the revenue for implementation costs.

    Ah yes, first come with the energy argument and then come with a proposed solution of a 45% tax – and then come with the bottom line of the Measure in the first place – making money out of prohibition.

  5. Jessica Haag Callahan

    I would open the door and speak to him. Not that city council candidates often come to Valley West to entice voters. The last two that came campaigning here were Mark Wheetley and Paul Pintado and that was years ago. But if Mr. Winkler or any other candidate actually came to Valley West and knock on my door I would not only give them my attention I would give them my vote too.

  6. Kevin Hoover

    That was the opinion of the guy who found it and cleaned it up, based on innumerable previous instances of the same sort of thing.

  7. Anonymous

    does the 99% know that pge taxes these demon grow houses at incredible rates? pge increases cost at certain percentages of usage. those jerks growing plants are getting taxed very hard to begin with.
    Lets turn Arcata into Orick! If pge is taking a huge piece of the pie, we should too!

  8. Kelly Kvek

    I spoke to him, Mark. Call me if you'd like my opinion. However, we both know how I feel on the matter.:)

  9. Kevin Hoover

    That's what the growers do. Might as well bring some benefit to the City.

  10. Jayelle Farmer

    Total hypocrisy on the part of local government. Nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black. They would make much more money by going about it in an honest manner by regulating cannabis through a legalised use via a tax system – instead of cowering behind their useless rhetoric of prohibition and trying to milk it at the same time.

  11. Kevin Hoover

    The City can't regulate cannabis through legalized use, thanks to the federal government. Invoking the Supremacy Clause, it has threatened to personally prosecute municipal officials who treat cannabis as anything other than a Schedule 1 drug, which it still is.

  12. Jayelle Farmer

    True and it is totally repugnant of fed gov to pull out all the stops in doing so just because they continually refuse to debate the issue of marijuana – but I don't see Arcata petitioning the federal government to remove cannabis from Schedule 1 – which still boils down to a local government milking the prohibition system for what it can get. When growers do it, they get busted, when local government wants to do it, it might get passed? Now where's that at? I will be watching the news on this meeting tonight to see if this passes.

    As I said, it's hypocrisy and there are plenty of us who are working to end cannabis prohibition so as to bring the financial benefits out of an illegal commodity system and into a legal commodity system – which will also remove the penalties associated with the system of prohibition. Until then, I will call every piece of hypocrisy that I set eyes on.

  13. Kevin Hoover

    Your diligence is appreciated. Perhaps you could train your hypocrisy-meter on the cannabis industry folks who oppose legalization.

  14. Jayelle Farmer

    Oh, it's very well-focussed all over the place, Kevin, and thanks for the heads-up 😉

  15. Everyone is leaving out the fact that the city is not going to profit from this at all, the money collected will just go to cover the costs of implementation.
    If the city wanted to do something about energy use, they would back subsidies for solar installation, and maybe work on a local energy PRODUCTION company…


    I speak to everyone in politics, I am even respectful to them 99% of the time.
    I speak to you even though most people I associate with are boycotting your paper.

  16. Kevin Hoover

    "Not to be a jerk, but a lot of the people that dislike the medical cannabis situation in Arcata see you as the enemy, as a defacto agent of the police. Not that I agree, but I get 20 people a week asking why I take pictures for your paper since you are “so anti pot"

    Your friends don't like the newspaper, don't like the mayor… what DO they like about Arcata? Oh let me guess.. what could it be… maybe, POT?

  17. […] indicated the residents were currently enrolled in the PG&E CARE program for low income families. Nicholas Jackson, 31, and Sarah Keeble, 24, both of Arcata, were arrested […]


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