Madera County Sheriff John Anderson addressed the issue of illegal marijuana gardens, which have plagued the county for years, during a Town Hall meeting in Yosemite Lakes Park, hosted by Madera County District 5 supervisor Tom Wheeler.
Anderson reported that while there have been seven homicides so far this year, marijuana is taking up the bulk of the department's time and resources.
"To grow marijuana, you need four things: sunshine, water, four months and seclusion Prop 215 has done away with seclusion," Anderson said.
Prop 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, allows patients with a doctor's recommendation to cultivate marijuana for their personal medical use.
"Two women in their 60s in YLP were growing more than 100 plants in their home," continued Anderson, "and no one needs that much marijuana for medicinal purposes."
Anderson explained that there is a huge profit margin when growing marijuana, giving the example that a stalk of corn is worth 35 cents while a single marijuana plant can be valued at $1,600.
"This makes for a tempting and lucrative business proposition," Anderson said. "It's a huge criminal operation ... there's so much money involved that police and judges can be bought. In Mexico, they've bought the government and the only thing keeping Mexico in line is the military."
In a sheriff's department report, there were 33 cultivation investigations in 2012 and so far this year, 50 investigations. To date, in 2013, there have been 148,242 plants confiscated with an estimated value of $179 million as compared to 62,249 plants with an estimated value of $138 million in 2012.
According to the sheriff, an effort is currently underway to garner enough support to reverse the legalization of medical marijuana, which would be placed on the Nov. 2014 ballot for public vote.
A recurring concern, expressed by one of the 25 audience members, was the homeless in Oakhurst and what exactly the sheriff's department was doing about the problem. Anderson reported that signs have been posted in the Oakhurst Community Park prohibiting visitors after 9 p.m. and drinking on premises, but there is nothing in place for lawbreakers.
"The problem is that the jail is full and they won't accept misdemeanor arrests," Anderson explained. "I don't know what else we can do. It's really a social problem, not a criminal problem."
Other topics mentioned
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson reported that the California rural fire fees are now being realized in the Tri-County area. These funds will be used to offset budget cuts by funding new positions, to repair or purchase new equipment, with some of the monies going towards fire councils.
Madera County Road Commissioner, Johannes Hoevertsz, reported the bridge in YLP is completed, sidewalks will be put in along Crane Valley Road (426) from Highway 41 to High School Road (427). The bridge on 425B and China Creek will be replaced, and locations with one-point-of-access will be upgraded to two-points-of-access for emergency purposes.
Wheeler commented on the 800,000 signatures that have been gathered in an effort to place an initiative before voters on the North Fork tribe's proposed casino. More than 500,000 verified signature are needed to place the tribal-state compact on the ballot.
"We really won't know until mid-January whether there are enough legitimate signatures, only 30,000 of which came from Fresno, Madera, Tulare or Merced counties," Wheeler said. "The bulk of the signatures came from San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, and these people had absolutely no idea what they were signing."
Matt Treber, senior planner with the county planning department, said there has been an uptake in building permits, which he believes reflects an improved economy and there is a commercial development permit currently being reviewed for the YLP entrance at Highway 41 to Black Hawk Lodge.
Treber said two properties are being looked at as a proposed site for a sports complex, which will include a new bowling alley.
The next Town Hall meeting will be held Oct. 24 at 6:00 p.m. at the Coarsegold Community Center.