On April 22, the Humboldt County Planning Commission Board voted 5-2 in favor of the proposed eight acre industrial sized cannabis farm. At-large commissioner Brian Mitchell, and Fifth District commissioner Peggy O’Neill dissented from the majority.
The farm is set to be constructed on the former site of the Simpson Lumber Mill, a 38 acre plot of land between 27th street and Foster Avenue.
The special meeting held by the Planning Commission was for additional public comment on the project after the March 18 review of the project was overwhelmed with public comment that exceeded the Zoom meeting’s 100-person threshold.
The large number of callers came with concerns about what this project could mean for the 900-plus Westwood neighborhood residents living within a half-mile radius of the site. Community members felt as though these neighbors will be most affected by the farm’s odors, greenhouse fan noise, increased traffic and possible pollution.
Joan Edwards, an Arcata resident that lives on 27th street, said in a letter to the editor for Mad River Union on April 21 that the neighborhood feels as though having an industrial sized cannabis grow just outside the city does not promote the kind of image Arcata needs to grow both professionally and sensibly.
“Our town used to be known for HSU, its liberal politics, and for its art scene,” Edwards said. “To be known for allowing one of the biggest grows in the state just outside the city limit does not promote the kind of image Arcata needs to grow both professionally and sensibly.”
The Sun Valley group originally announced that the project would take up 23 acres, about a quarter of the size of HSU. The cut back in land came as the Humboldt County Growers Alliance rejected the plans, saying that they are only permitted to issue 8 acres of land per individual grower, including the necessary space for nurseries.
Tristan Strauss is the CEO and co-founder of Headwaters, a data-driven bulk cannabis supply company that is partnered with Sun Valley and Arcata Land Company LLC on the project.
“It’s an economic argument for the project to create viability and year round jobs,” Strauss said at the April 22 meeting in response to concerns with the environmental impact of using a limited amount of solar. “With mixed light facilities, we’re continuously cultivating 365 days a year.”
Strauss said that there will be 80 full time employees that will operate the farm year round. These employees would work in both mixed-light greenhouses and light deprivation structures, along with 30,000 square feet of nursery.
Many residents believe that the project should undergo an environmental impact report to help ease concerns of Arcata residents.
“If you’ve read all of the facts thoroughly given by folks against the project, it clearly indicates that at least an environmental impact report should be conducted,” Peggy Proctor, an Arcata resident and public commenter at the meeting said.
She said that by conducting the test, the commission could ensure that they are listening to the over 600 people who have signed petitions and other Arcata residents who have expressed concerns over the past month.
The commission ultimately approved a negative declaration of environmental impact, rather than requiring a full environmental impact report (EIR). However, they added two conditions for the project before passing it: that trees must be planted around the property to mitigate public disturbance and for them to enroll in PG&E’s “Power+” program, which will provide 100 percent renewable energy.
The cannabis farm is projected to be the largest cannabis farm in Humboldt County and fifth largest in the state of California.