Marijuana grow houses may soon help fund parks and energy projects in Arcata. A local ballot measure could force growers to pay the city more for their electricity usage.
Arcata voters will decide on Measure I next week. If it passes, the city will impose a 45 percent tax on residential electricity usage that exceeds 600 percent over the established yearly baseline allowance — the minimum amount of energy a household requires.
The current energy tax for all Arcata residences is 3 percent. Measure I would increase this tax for those over the threshold by 1,400 percent.
Arcata Vice Mayor Shane Brinton said that during his last campaign he heard a lot of complaints about marijuana grow houses in the city.
“I support medicinal marijuana, but we don’t want entire houses taken over,” Brinton said. “[Measure I’s] message is that you can’t do this in residential areas, and if you do you will have to pay.”
About 7 percent of Arcata households –– 633 out of 9,500 –– had energy usage more than 600 percent over the baseline.
In an analysis of Measure I, Arcata City Attorney Nancy Diamond wrote that the city will get an additional $1.25 million in taxes per year if the measure passes.
Arcata’s expected revenue for 2012-2013 is $12.25 million, 60 percent of which comes from taxes. The estimated additional revenue from Measure I would increase the city’s total revenue by about 10 percent.
“[It] is expected to decrease over time as residential customers implement energy efficient measures,” Diamond wrote.
The Schatz Energy Resource Center at Humboldt State, which specializes in researching and developing renewable energy and energy efficiency, worked with the city council to develop Measure I. Senior Research Engineer James Zoellick said the center found that, on average, Humboldt County increasingly uses much more energy than others in California.
“We got data that broke down usage by tiers,” Zoellick said. “We found that a very small number of customers in the very highest tier used an excessive amount of energy.”
Zoellick said that it is circumstantial evidence, but those in the highest tier are probably grow houses.
“There could be someone with medical equipment, like an oxygen machine,” Zoellick said. “Or somebody with a home business with a lot of computers, or just a really big household. Some of the very top users I think would have to be grow houses though. It gets kind of ridiculous.”
Households with life support or other high-usage medical equipment will be exempt from the Measure I tax.
Brinton would like to use the tax revenue for Arcata’s energy projects and parks.
“It is an opportunity to get revenue from people who can afford it,” he said.
Brinton said Measure I is a general tax, which means that no one can decide exactly where the money will go before the measure passes. If it does pass, the entire city council will decide how to spend the money.
PG&E spokesperson Brittany McKannay said Arcata is the first city it knows of to suggest a tax like this.
A poll of 474 random registered Arcata voters conducted last week by HSU journalism students found that 61.6 percent — 292 out of the 474 respondents — said they support Measure I.
About 15 percent of voters were still undecided. The error margin is plus or minus 4.5 percent.
HSU wildlife major Gabriel Paarmann is a registered Arcata voter but has not yet decided how he will vote on Measure I.
“I’m more in favor than against,” he said. “Growers use their own energy, but the way they keep the place is filthy. It’s detrimental not only to the environment but health too.” Paarmann also said that higher taxes could decrease the demand for energy, which would be beneficial for the environment.
Susana Gonzalez, an HSU biology major, said she would probably vote against Measure I.
“I see what they’re going for, but it wouldn’t be fair to those not involved [with growing],” she said. “It is not really budget-friendly.”