Joint meeting illegal marijuana

Members of the Lancaster and Palmdale city councils meet, with Los Angeles County Supervisor (center) moderating, to discuss the problem with illegal marijuana cultivation sites around the eastern Antelope Valley.

LANCASTER — After Pastor Paul Chappell gave the invocation at the May 10 joint meeting between the Lancaster and Palmdale city councils, he asked the councils and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who moderated the meeting, to make combating the thousands of illegal marijuana cultivation sites proliferating in the eastern portion of the Antelope Valley a priority.

“We have, in my opinion, a district attorney who is beholden to a philosophy that will not allow him to protect us in the way that he should,” said Chappell, senior pastor at Lancaster Baptist Church. “I would just like to ask you all to please make this a great priority, work with our sheriff, and keep safety at the forefront of this meeting.”

Although the item was not on the agenda for discussion, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris addressed Chappell’s concerns.

“This grew up around COVID and none of us saw it coming,” Parris said. “We now have a situation where cartels are moving into the Antelope Valley; there’s no other way to say it.”

Parris cited serious environmental concerns associated with illegal marijuana grow operations.

“We have trucks at night stealing water to the point where the ground is subsiding,” Parris said. “It subsides, it never comes back. … We could lose our water table. This has got to be stopped today.”

The Lancaster mayor said there is a short window to shut down the illegal marijuana operations before it becomes such a problem it cannot be shut down.

“Mayor, I think one of the key players in this might be enlisting federal assistance,” Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer said.

Hofbauer added the illegal marijuana grows in another area up north used illegal chemicals and herbicides that warranted the involvement of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Parris agreed, and said they also need to get the state involved. But he cautioned they cannot rely on them.

“We’ve all seen what happened south of the border,” Parris said. “What makes us think it’s not going to happen to us?”

Barger said from an immediate standpoint they need to see what can be done within the county’s resources.

“Long-term, we do have to work with the federal government,” Barger said.

She added illegal marijuana cultivation sites are also in neighboring counties. She recommended the councils agendize the topic for future discussion and action.

“This is definitely an issue; it’s a quality of life issue but it’s also a public safety issue,” Barger said, “because to your point we almost had to have water boiled because they sucked so much water out of the aquifer, so we need to address this; we need to address it quickly.”

Palmdale Mayor Pro Tem Laura Bettencourt said the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has a marijuana eradication team that has been working feverishly in the county areas and the City of Palmdale.

For example, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies assigned to Community Partnerships Bureau recently served two search warrants in the Fort Tejon area of Palmdale targeting some of these illegal operations.

A suspect was arrested, and authorities seized and destroyed approximately 3,800 marijuana plants.

Bettencourt, an analyst for the sheriff’s department, said a lot of the intelligence they get about the illegal grows comes via tips from the public.

“If neighbors see something, please say something,” Bettencourt said.

Anonymous tips can be called in to LA Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477). They can also be reported by downloading the P3 mobile app or visiting http://lacrimestoppers.org

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