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Supervisors fine landowners cited for large pot grows

Sheriff Kory Honea presents his TRUTH Act report, on requests for cooperation from federal immigration officers, at the county supervisors meeting Tuesday (April 23).

Sheriff Kory Honea presents his TRUTH Act report, on requests for cooperation from federal immigration officers, at the county supervisors meeting Tuesday (April 23).

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

When Carmelo Talamo stepped up to address the Butte County Board of Supervisors Tuesday (April 23), it was clear she was pleading in vain. Not only had the board’s members, on a series of contentious votes, already decided against property owners such as her, but they also were just about to vote again when Chairman Steve Lambert agreed to let her say her piece.

Talamo, an elderly woman from San Jose, reiterated much of what her son had told the supervisors moments earlier. The family bought a home on 5 acres overlooking Lake Oroville, where she and her husband hope to retire. Needing income two years ago, they rented out the house. Their tenants grew marijuana, in excess of what the county allows: according to code enforcement, 58 plants on 900 square feet and a greenhouse full of more plants. Personal users can grow six plants; medicinal users are allowed to plant in a 150-square-foot area.

The Talamos, per state law, could not remove the marijuana themselves, so they began eviction proceedings. An administrative law judge agreed to drop their penalty by $22,000. Still, their case was among the seven Tuesday, after 10 at the previous meeting, in which supervisors decided on five-figure property liens. The Talamos faced owing $4,705, plus a $31,500 penalty.

“The whole thing doesn’t seem fair,” Talamo told the supervisors.

In their case, like the others, Lambert, Bill Connelly and Doug Teeter voted to levy the full lien, over the dissent—vocalized in unison—by Chico’s first-year supervisors, Debra Lucero and Tami Ritter. The majority approved liens totaling just over $350,000. Including the previous meeting, the county stands to collect $814,407.49 from the 17 property owners—$733,500 from penalties. Because these liens attach to each parcel’s title, the county expects to see the full sum eventually.

“Pain and compliance” is how Connelly referred to the program. His district encompasses Oroville and the surrounding foothills. In response to Chico supervisors’ critiques, he said he’s gotten far fewer complaint calls once the county imposed penalties.

The supervisors proved more accepting of hemp, the cannabis plant related to marijuana but without the psychoactive compound THC. The 2018 federal farm bill moved hemp off the controlled substance list and classified it as an agricultural commodity. In addition, California Proposition 64, passed in 2016, which legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults, allows industrial cultivation of hemp.

Louie Mendoza, the county’s agricultural commissioner, explained that state regulations for registering and operating hemp farms could be in place by July 1. Supervisors directed Mendoza to continue preparing for implementation once the rules take effect.

Before the cannabis items, Sheriff Kory Honea made his annual report on the TRUTH Act (Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds). Adopted in 2016, the law sets standards for cooperation by local law enforcement to requests for information and detention of suspects by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Butte County Jail processed 13,561 bookings last year, up from 12,329 in 2017. ICE expressed interest in 25 of the 2018 arrests, constituting 22 suspects. Of those, 11 suspects met TRUTH Act criteria for cooperation, and ICE took two into custody.

Honea told the CN&R after his presentation that the statistics show “there’s not a significant presence of ICE or interest from ICE in people being booked in our jail. But that said … [state law has] limited our ability to communicate and cooperate with ICE.” To get information from the agency, he gets referred to its public affairs office—partly due to bureaucracy, he said, but also because “you can’t deny the fact that it’s such a politically charged situation, where there might have been in the past a tendency or a willingness to interact informally.”