As I mentioned last week, Mendocino County staffers in the Planning Department have published their proposed County Oak Tree and Oak Woodlands ordinance, an ordinance required as part of local cannabis regulation. Staffers were supposed to write an ordinance that prevented the wholesale clearing of oak woodlands to plant cannabis, which has some merit. Instead, over-zealous anti-development crusaders wrote an ordinance that makes it expensive, inconvenient, and impractical for those who own more than an acre to control the safety and use of their own property.
As written, if you own property greater than one acre in the unincorporated part of Mendocino County, including residential parcels, the ordinance would require you to plant between 8 and 16 oak trees on your property for every tree that is cut, without consideration for the size of your parcel, the intended use of your property, and what else already exists there. How does this target cannabis growers who want to clear cut oak woodlands? It doesn’t. Instead, it uses a scattershot approach that injures all sorts of homeowners, business owners, and farmers in hopes of catching a few pot growers.
Here’s a scenario for you. You buy five acres of woodlands. There’s a clearing where you’ll build your home, but you need to clear 20 small oak saplings to create a driveway. According to the proposed ordinance, a county official can either reject your request and you’ll have to hike to your front door with your groceries, or you’ll be allowed to cut a driveway as long as you plant at least 160 additional trees on your oak-covered property. Nevermind that the additional trees will reduce the overall health of the oak woodlands on your property. And if you were hoping to heat your house with firewood from your property, too bad. You’re only allowed to cut three trees per year with a combined diameter of 15 inches or less. As a sole source of heat, this will last you about a week. If you’re a savvy buyer, all these unknowns will likely lead you to consider relocating to a different county. Who would invest in a property with so many potential restrictions?
And if you buy firewood on a regular basis, this ordinance will make it expensive and potentially impossible to find.
Here’s another scenario: an old oak tree threatens to fall on your house and has to be removed from your one-and-a-half-acre residential property. Because the acre already has fruit trees, a garden, and solar panels, there is nowhere for those eight replacement trees to go that will not impact your ability to live as you choose.
If you have three trees of at least six inches in diameter planted 150 feet apart, according to this ordinance, you have an oak woodland and additional rules apply. For example, you can only remove 10 percent of the total trees, which obviously doesn’t work with so few trees, and you are even discouraged from removing dead trees.
Let’s say you’re a law-abiding citizen. You hire a qualified professional to certify the need to remove your tree, you get the required permit, and you remove your tree. You then plant eight replacement trees. You’re not done. Once new trees are planted, they must be monitored for at least ten years, requiring five monitoring reports by a qualified professional, an expensive and burdensome process. What happens if a wildfire comes through and burns the new trees? Are you expected to plant eight more for each one lost? This proposed ordinance provides far more questions than answers.
I care about our community and I believe this ordinance, as written, is counterproductive. We have a serious housing shortage, and this ordinance makes it even harder to build new homes. Let’s go back to the drawing board and write an ordinance that protects oak woodlands from clear cutting, as originally intended as part of the cannabis regulation, rather than including 70 percent of Mendocino County land, regardless of zoning or use. While we’re at it, let’s define cannabis as an agricultural crop and place pot farmers under same restrictions as our other farmers.
Please consider participating in the Planning Commission’s December 17 meeting where they plan to hear public comments on this issue. For more information, you can find the whole proposed ordinance at www.mendocinocounty.org/home/showdocument?id=38690).
Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.