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May 23rd
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Supervisor Neal Coonerty

neal-coonertyWhen it comes to potentially regulating marijuana-growing operations, what do you think the county’s role should be?  

I think county government needs to play an active role in regulating marijuana-growing operations in the unincorporated area of the county.  Although this is a confused and contradictory area of law at the current time, county regulation is important for a number of reasons.

First, unregulated cultivation of medical marijuana is causing environmental degradation in certain cases. The Board of Supervisors has received testimony that large growing operations near streams and other environmentally sensitive areas have caused extensive environmental damage.

Second, extensive cultivation activities in residential areas, such as grow houses, are incompatible with good land-use policy.

The Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance regulating medical marijuana cooperatives in 2011. That ordinance was suspended due to a couple of pending court cases. These cases have now been resolved. The Board needs to move forward and provide reasonable rules for medical marijuana operations as well as ensure that public safety and environmental concerns are recognized.

On June 18, the Board directed the County Council to prepare an ordinance to regulate both dispensaries and cultivation.  A draft ordinance will return to the Board in September.

At that time, the Board and the public will consider how well the ordinance balances the need to assure medical marijuana patients access to their medicine while maintaining good land-use policy, protecting public safety, and preventing environmental damage.

What’s the overall tone of the county’s current budget?

The County Budget for 2013-14 reflects another difficult year resulting from the slow economic recovery. Despite the challenges there were some bright spots.

In an effort to support the community programs providing critical safety-net services to some of the most vulnerable members of our community, the Board of Supervisors increased funding to these programs. Programs such as Meals on Wheels, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Dientes and Santa Cruz AIDS Project received increases.

I was pleased to support this increased investment in our community programs. 

The upcoming re-opening of the Veterans Memorial Building in Downtown Santa Cruz was also discussed as part of our budget hearings.  After significant county investment to repair the structural deficiencies of the building, the county expects the building to be available at the end of September 2013 (barring any unexpected problems). I am looking forward to getting the veterans back in the building.

I was happy to push for a modest increase in funding for the Veterans Memorial Building Board of Trustees, who will manage the building.

Through the county’s budget process, I worked to secure the necessary funding to continue several successful county programs. The first is MOST (Maintaining Ongoing Stability through Treatment), which provides mental health services to clients to help them live productive lives and avoid incarceration and other negative community impacts. The second is Serial Inebriate Program (SIP), which improves the quality of clients’ lives and reduces social and financial impacts on the community by providing substance abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration for chronic public inebriates. The third is Gemma, which is run by the Community Action Board and assists women in successfully re-integrating and becoming contributing members of the community after incarceration. This program reduces recidivism and improves lives.

All in all, despite another difficult budget time, there have been successes.

What’s the latest news on the Twin Lakes Beach Project?

As your readers may remember, the county has been pursuing a project to improve public access at Twin Lakes beach adjacent to the Yacht Harbor. The project will take automobile parking off the sand and provide both a pedestrian and bicycle path. The project will be heard at the Coastal Commission hearing at their August meeting in Santa Cruz. The exact date hasn’t been determined. I encourage readers to come and support this very important and necessary project. They can contact my office at 454-2200 for more information.

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