At the beginning of the month, an ordinance took effect that makes it possible to apply for commercial licenses and legally cultivate cannabis in unincorporated San Mateo County. After months of public discussions, a group of citizens, from the Coastside and throughout the Bay Area, continue to challenge that decision. 

On Friday, the SMC Marijuana Moratorium Coalition filed a lawsuit against San Mateo County and its Planning and Building Department.  

A petition for a writ of mandate and complaint alleges that in enacting the ordinance, county authorities circumvented the California Environmental Quality Act, leading to “significant environmental concerns.” The coalition wants the county to vacate its approval of the ordinance unless the county complies with these environmental requirements.

One reason county officials said they approved the ordinance to permit cultivation of cannabis was to help the struggling agriculture industry. Cultivation, as outlined in the ordinance, would be restricted to greenhouses, an estimated 20 percent of which are currently empty throughout the county. But attorney’s documents filed with the Superior Court said that there were “several fair arguments” that the county’s ordinance would “adversely impact hydrology and water quality, sensitive species and habitat, air and light pollution, climate change” and other effects, and that the county “sidestepped” CEQA Environmental Impact Report requirements.  The Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group, representing the coalition, did not respond to requests for comment. While the lawsuit hinges on environmental concerns, the coalition previously circulated a petition calling for a moratorium on commercial cannabis, citing concerns about the potential for negative impact on youth, as well as increased criminal activity. Members of the SMC Marijuana Moratorium Coalition said that they want time to more thoroughly assess the ordinance’s impacts across the board. 

(4) comments


Lawsuits are the appropriate response when the Board of Supervisors ignores community input and concerns. They should have attended the HMB City Council meeting where this topic was discussed. Coastsiders, parents, teachers, students (all ages), the superintendent, healthcare professionals etc raised their concerns. Hundreds signed the petition against commercial cannabis farms on the Coastside. The BoS approved 5-0 which shows their ignorance. Who will benefit from the farms? For sure not the small farmer as they won't have the required funds to meet all the legal requirements. On top we are looking at a huge surplus in California which will erode the price - Economics 101...

Great to have CEQA and the LCP to protect the Coastside against out of scale developments and bad decision making.

Jim Larimer

This comment illustrates what is wrong with the California Environmental Quality Act. This law suite is not about the environment. It is about a political objection by a minority faction that opposes an action taken by the majority. Minorities have rights, they are spelled out in law. This is law suite is about a political objection not an environmental one, it is another example of the abuse of this law.

Jim Larimer

CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, was passed to protect the environment from new development that could harm the environment. The language of CEQA, however, lacks specificity and this has opened the door to use this legislation as a tool to support efforts to stop projects that special interest political factions oppose. CEQA can be used to delay the permit process and to make a project costlier. Defending a project against a frivolous CEQA claim can force the project owner to hire costly experts to generate reports and provide evidence that the environmental claims are false. This can happen even when commonsense attests to the false nature of the claim.

These costs and the delay can destroy an otherwise sound and harmless project from achieving its goal. To add to this injustice, a CEQA complaint can be filed anonymously. A minority political faction can slow a project and make it costlier without a clear path of accountability for their actions. Abuse of the CEQA law is prevalent in California today despite the good intensions that motivated the passage of this legislation.

John Charles Ullom

Can you provide an example of a project that you supported that was not able to achieve its goals due to CEQA?

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