CALIFORNIA CITY — The City Council approved a plan to allow three commercial marijuana cultivation companies to install temporary water wells on their properties on the western edge of California City, as the cost of extending the city’s water system to them is cost prohibitive.
“What we have been often accused of is standing in the way of getting businesses to go forward, so I bring this to the council for discussion,” City Manager Robert Stockwell said in presenting the proposal. “It is possible that we could allow the construction of water wells, storage tanks and pressure pumps for these three locations that would meet the technical aspects of the fire code and would provide water for these businesses to operate.”
The wells will be temporary and built to city specifications, and the property owners will be required to close off the wells and connect to the city water system once it is feasible to do so.
The city’s ordinance requires that water wells be built to the city’s standards and dedicated to the city for its water system, Stockwell said.
“It’s an option. It’s not the best option and it’s probably not the best policy for the city and its water system … but clearly it would have to be with the understanding that this is temporary access to allow the businesses to continue,” he said.
The properties in question are along California City Boulevard between Baron Road and the West Way Station park-and-ride, near the Wonder Acres area on the city’s west side, near Highway 14. The city’s water system reaches only as far as Baron Road, and it does not have enough pressure at that point to meet minimum code requirements.
The cost to extend the system to the businesses is at least $3.2 million if the businesses do it themselves, and $4 million to $5 million if the city does the work, under the requirements for paying prevailing wages, according to the staff report.
Public Works Director Craig Platt opposed to the proposal, on the grounds that the city needs to maintain jurisdiction over the water supply.
“My job is to protect the city’s water supply for the residents of California City,” he said. “I looked at every possible solution to provide water” to these locations.
The wells will have to be built to city standards, because as businesses the water use is considered public, not private, as it would be for a home, he said.
The firms are asking to install irrigation wells to be used for cultivation activities, which do not have to meet the same strict standards as for drinking water.
The firms would also set aside money for the next seven years to build a fund to eventually connect to the city system, when it becomes available, according to the staff report.
Proponents of allowing the wells argued that without them, the companies would not be able to move forward with their development plans, leaving the city without a source of tax revenue.
Representing one of the firms, Green Desert, Jeanie O’Laughlin said each of the three firms is already required to install a left turn lane on California City Boulevard to access their facilities at a cost of $500,000. The additional costs of obtaining water service “was the tipping point.”
“They’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in design work so far,” she said.
“The intent was never that we would build a well that the city would take over to feed into the water system,” O’Laughlin said, arguing for the irrigation well. If required to construct a municipal well, they will likely leave the city.
The firm expects to be operational in September. “As soon as they start, you collect the tax,” she said.
Stockwell cautioned that by allowing these three companies to install wells, the city will have to be willing to allow the same for others that come forward in similar situations.
Additionally, there is no guarantee there is water to be found on any of the properties in question, officials said. The companies will have to drill test wells to determine if it is even feasible.
“There is absolutely no guarantee there is water in these locations,” Platt said.
Councilman Nick Lessenevitch questioned if the city actually owned the water rights in that area, which had been annexed in the early 1990s. His recollection was that the annexation did not grant the city the associated water rights, as it otherwise holds for the land within the city limits.
City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen said the city could still approve a permit while investigating the water rights.
The city has plans to connect the Wonder Acres community to the city’s water supply, with a storage tank near the highway, but they have never been funded.
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