City Council Protest

The Council Chambers were packed with citizens protesting the proposed Del Puerto Canyon Dam project at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. The protestors spoke during the public comment period, as the dam was not on the agenda. The city is not on the list of agencies who must approve the dam.

Cannabis fine increases, Naomi’s House funding on agenda

Dam protest

A steady stream of concerned citizens, beginning with former mayor David Keller and including a very well-spoken 13-year-old young man, took to the podium against the proposed Del Puerto Canyon Dam for more than an hour during the public comment period of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, demanding that the city take a position on the project.

Before opening the public comment period, Mayor Deborah Novelli read a prepared statement indicating that city staff is “evaluating the Environmental Impact Report (EIR),” and advising the assembled group that the council would “take no action other than referring the item to staff for study and analysis and shall place item on a future agenda, per Resolution 92-25.” (This statement appears on every council agenda, and is read at the beginning of every public comment period.)

As at the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) comment meeting last Wednesday, members of the group several times attempted to shout down city officials. Mayor Novelli responded by pounding the gavel to restore order.

Unfortunately, the City of Patterson is not on the list of agencies who have a say in whether the project is approved.

Stanislaus County is, both for permits (relocation of Del Puerto Canyon Road, grading, building and tree removals) and, possibly, for a General Plan Amendment. A number of state and federal agencies must approve the project, as well.

The next meeting scheduled for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors is Tuesday, January 28, 9 a.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall in Modesto, 1010 10th Street.

Cannabis cultivation fine changes

Per the staff report, under state law, individuals age 21 and older are permitted to cultivate cannabis for personal use. However, illegal, unpermitted cannabis cultivation in the City of Patterson is an escalating concern, as evidenced by the 15 grow houses raided during a massive operation in December. Illegal grow houses often pose dangerous building hazards, degrade the natural environment, and produce malodorous smells. Unpermitted cannabis cultivation also threatens public safety as it increases the risk of criminal activity in residential neighborhoods.

The Patterson Municipal Code prohibits the cultivation of cannabis outdoors and permits cannabis cultivation indoors, with an administrative cultivation permit from the Community Development Department. The city adopted Ordinance 806 in 2017, which allowed the city to issue administrative penalties of $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for any subsequent offense. These penalties have been interpreted as per plant, City Attorney Nubia Goldstein said.

The fines will be increased to $1,000 for each violation of the City’s prohibition on cannabis cultivation in excess of six (6) plants and $100 per plant, per day, for each day the violation remains uncorrected past the deadline set forth in the administrative citation. This amendment will allow City staff to take more aggressive enforcement measures against grow houses in the City and cite multiple violations over multiple days as separate violations. The amendment is intended to deter violations of the PMC and enhance the penalty for violators based on the scale of the violation.

Assembly Bill 2164 (AB 2164), effective Jan. 1, 2019, allows cities to immediately issue administrative fines to property owners for building, plumbing, electrical, or other similar structural, health and safety, or zoning violations, if the violation occurs as a result of, or to facilitate, the illegal cultivation of cannabis.

Before AB 2164 passed, cities were required to issue a notice of violation, and allow a reasonable time for the violation to be corrected before imposing fines or penalties, for violations related to cannabis cultivation.

The ordinance is intended to allow the city to work with residents who are growing more than the allowed six plants, but are not engaged in cultivating on a scale large enough to warrant the involvement of law enforcement. Instead, an administrative citation can be issued to the property owner, imposing a fine of $1,000 per plant, per day.

The Municipal Code also gives the city the right to lien properties for any administrative citations related to cannabis. The updated ordinance will also allow the city to place liens to recover the costs to enforce the ordinance, as well as for abatement.

Landlords can take measures to protect themselves from such citations, including specifically prohibiting cultivation in the lease or rental agreement.

City Manager Ken Irwin referenced the raids in December involving about 60 members of law enforcement, 15 illegal grow houses and 12,000 plants, adding that there are more grow houses, and saying that “such hard terms” were needed “to get this turned around,” and discourage illegal cultivators from coming to Patterson. “We’re not targeting little grows,” Irwin said, “we’re targeting large grows.”

MOUs with Stanislaus County for Naomi’s House

In presenting two memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Stanislaus County for Naomi’s House, Irwin said he would normally have put such an item on the consent calendar, but “it’s such a big deal for our city,” and acknowledged Cambridge Academies Executive Director Dr. Geni Boyer, as “a driving force in getting a lot of this done.”

As supporters of the project are aware, Stanislaus County will be providing $350,000 for the construction of Naomi’s House through Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funding, which is provided to assist cities and counties in addressing the homelessness crisis in California. 

To accept the HEAP funds, the city must enter into an MOU with the county that the county will provide the city with HEAP funds to cover the full estimated costs of constructing the Project. In return, the city must submit reports on the progress of constructing the project to the county.

The second MOU, between the city and Cambridge Academies, covers reporting that Cambridge is required to provide to the city, which the city will then submit to the county.

“I believe it’s already been approved at the county level,” Irwin said, “so we should be able to get funding fairly quickly. I know we are ready to start,” he said, mentioning contractors and volunteers who are “ready to get started on getting this done.”

“Boy,” Councilmember Dominic Farinha said, “when you see that one person (who needs help)… you know that there’s so much more to do, but taking this on bit by bit, I’m very proud of what we’re able to accomplish, and what our city will be able to accomplish in the future.”

Dr. Boyer told the council, “I feel so honored, and so proud to be in this community. It’s a pleasure for me to come here, because this is such a giving community.” There are cities that ignore people that need help, she said. “From day one… you were committed from your heart, and many of you have been highly involved with our homeless. They have many issues, but I feel really blessed and honored to be part of this community, helping “the least of these,” as I call them. They have drug issues, they have mental issues… So we have to take action.

“You encourage me to go stronger,” she added. “It’s such a nice relationship that we have.”

Fundraising efforts for Naomi’s House have allowed the organization to hire a part-time staff member to do outreach with the homeless women in the community. “It’s much harder to work with the women. Men are broken, women are shattered. We have to help them realize they are worthy.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that we have, to push and shove,” to get help for those who are homeless, Boyer said. “The county has really responded well to the needs of this city,” she said, adding that the city manager “has been knocking on doors,” and using his clout to get funding and assistance, as well.

Never one to settle, Boyer said that the goal after Naomi’s House is established is a place where those who need to can go through detox, “because everyone has drug issues.”

“Now,” Boyer said, “women are asking and getting closer to receive services. They come to H.O.S.T. House, to shower, and get clothes. I’m the one that gets the greatest blessing,” she said, “because I get to be part of this that you guys are taking part of. Thank you so much.”

The goal is for Naomi’s House to be operational by April, Boyer said, adding that she had met with the county, who will provide funding for the running of the women’s shelter, at least temporarily.

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