The forecast called for a storm to come in today, and stick around for “several” days. It was a beautiful morning so I packed up and left for Ukiah, about an hour’s drive north. If I’m going to be stuck waiting out bad weather, I’d rather be in Ukiah than Santa Rosa.

I got a small look at the fire damage in Santa Rosa. What happened last fall was a typical wildfire: high winds pushed a grass fire around, perhaps scorching the oaks and conifers. Completely normal and natural, and generally harmless. But, recent home building provided fuel. To look at the countryside that burned today is to see nothing but healthy green grass, nice mature trees, and some perfectly fine vineyards. Not a structure to be seen.

This is a natural fire area, fire is routine here. If the houses hadn’t been there, it would have been most ordinary. Nonetheless, Sonoma County voted the other day to issue permits to build again (with one dissenting vote), guaranteeing that the disaster will happen again in the near future. The same that California does with slide-prone areas: Bury the dead, clean up the mess, and build again.

If Sonoma and Napa didn’t insist on building housing developments, they could leave it to grapevines, hay, pasture, and now, cannabis. Ventures that can withstand the routine fires.

I came into Ukiah while it was clear and sunny (the storm came in an hour later) and given the time of year, the brown swatches in the hills marked the cannabis farms. I’ve seen this damage around Ashland, Oregon, and it looks like crap. The amount of the scarring is astonishing. All of those operations (with few exceptions) are now illegal in CA, but moving them to more rational places is very expensive, very bureaucratic, and very time-consuming.

Santa Rosa took some very pro-active moves last summer to provide suitable areas at reasonable cost to correct this, but their plans got interrupted by the fire. It’s planting time, and there are no legal places to plant. Besides, do you know much land costs in Sonoma County? Compared to “borrowing” the public land up in the hills?

Ukiah (Mendocino County) might be the most cannabis-intensive area around, and just last Friday they approved developing a plan to allow sales in town. It seems odd, but the residents don’t buy marijuana for personal use, and the farmers export to the illegal states, so it’s not completely baffling. But it does suggest a lack of forward-thinking.

California legalized and regulated cannabis just nine weeks ago, and is issuing licenses at a fast clip. And, they have already started warning that everyone without a license is illegal. No slack: get your paperwork in right now or be shut down. There is going to be some serious complaining around here pretty soon….

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