The Yuba County Board of Supervisors has one last opportunity to adjust some of the massive fines assessed to property owners whose tenants were cited for growing marijuana plants outdoors in violation of a county ordinance.
One property owner in Olivehurst owes over $200,000. Two others owe in excess of $100,000 based on a $100 fine per plant per day until the plant is removed. The county's attorney admits that the higher fines might not be collectible since they exceed the property's worth.
Others say the fines are illegal in any case.
Attorney Roberto Marquez represents several landowners whose fines were nullified by judges who ruled that the proper notices weren't given.
“So now you owe us $60, $70, $80,000 and the landlord didn’t even have an opportunity to go to the tenant and say 'You have to clean this up or I’m going to have to evict you'," said Marquez.
He says the ordinance may be legal but the way it's been enforced isn't.
Clarence "Buck" Weckman sees it differently. The Brownsville resident found himself surrounded by illegal pot grows after returning from an extended trip to Alaska. They were started by outside business interests who hired people to erect fences and cut down large trees.
"There is some sympathy for the landowners, but the landowner has some responsibility for what happens on their property," said Weckman.
Weckman is a part of two organizations fighting the expansion of marijuana growing measures, including one on the June 7 ballot that would allow medical marijuana grows. He says he has been approached by numerous out-of-state buyers at the same time the illegal growing operations around him were being shut down.
"In too many cases they know what's going on, it's just a front," said Weckman.
A neighor of a residence where the owner was assessed a $200,000 fine said that owner helped his tenant build the marijuana growing operation.
But those who represent medical marijuana patients say there is a larger issue of punishing patients who band together to grow their medicine to avoid high dispensary costs.
"Are there guerrilla marijuana grows out there? Absolutely… but those aren't the ones targeted by code enforcement," said medical marijuana patient's attorney Charnel James.
Her clients are heading up several ballot measures to ease restrictions on medical marijuana and suing the county over its ordinance.
The city code enforcement will offer a reduction in some of the heftier fines as an option for the Board of Supervisors, which has broad authority over fines. But the county counsel says no matter what the board does, the ordinance will remain legal and enforceable despite prior court judgments.