Yuba County supervisors precluded a voter referendum on its new marijuana cultivation ordinance by making a determination that it will take effect immediately.

It was expected the board on Tuesday would approve the second and final reading of the ordinance that bans outdoor grows and allows only a dozen indoor plants in unincorporated areas of the county.

But in taking action to also declare it an urgency ordinance, it removed the 30-day period for it to take effect. And it eliminated the signature-gathering period for opponents to circulate referendum petitions. It doesn't mean ordinance opponents have no other recourse, County Counsel Angil Morris-Jones said. They can still go through the voter initiative process to get the matter before voters.

The action to make it an urgency ordinance early in the meeting drew the ire of many marijuana growers and users — sending more than 50 storming out of the chambers. Some were shouting catcalls at the board as they walked out.

Just before that, Eric Salerno of Yuba Patients Coalition asked whether the urgency declaration was an attempt to evade the referendum. He said the action was legally "acting in bad faith and to avoid a referendum."

"We will move forward," Salerno told the board before joining those leaving the chambers. "We will continue to represent the patients of Yuba County. We were prepared for this today."

The action to create an urgency ordinance clouded what most anticipated would be straightforward action to approve the new ordinance, which has been debated in the board chambers since November. Opponents had already said they intended to circulate petitions seeking a referendum.

Supervisors unanimously supported the urgency declaration based on findings ranging from marijuana grows increasing "the risk of trespassing and burglary, and acts of violence" to pot gardens being detrimental to the drought.

It also came after a letter submitted to supervisors Tuesday from Gay Todd, Marysville Joint Unified School District superintendent, urged support of the ordinance.

"Not only are students fearful of unattended guard dogs at grow locations near bus stops, but the increased traffic on our roadways in and around our schools makes for a very dangerous environment for our students," Todd's letter said.

Supervisors ultimately voted 4-1 to adopt the ordinance with Mary Jane Griego voting in opposition. Griego, who supported the tougher ordinance, said she was not aware the earlier urgency declaration would prohibit a referendum.

Griego noted that referendums in surrounding counties opposing tighter cultivation restrictions haven't passed.

"That would probably also happen here," she said. "But this is America, and people have a right to petition."

However, Supervisor John Nicoletti said Todd's letter prompted him to support the urgency declaration, though it does not specifically ask for one. He said there is urgency in that it makes it more difficult for those charged with public safety to do their jobs.

Nicoletti was joined by supervisors Andy Vasquez, Roger Abe and Randy Fletcher in approving the urgency ordinance.

Several residents went to the podium to thank the board for its action.

"I am not here to threaten you," said Diedre Eschemann. "I am not here to harass you. I am here to thank you for representing what we believe are the majority of residents. I encourage you to hold strong."

Lee Smith of Brownsville also encouraged the board.

"I want to see you keep trying to make the county safe in all respects, she said. "I don't think commercial grows in Yuba County is what we need. I thank you for trying to stop that."

CONTACT Eric Vodden at 749-4769.

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