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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Bakersfield has filed notice that it intends to sue the city for violating the California Environmental Quality Act by not conducting an environmental review before adopting its new medical marijuana ordinance.
The Bakersfield City Council approved the ordinance banning dispensaries within city limits on June 26, and it will go into effect Thursday, City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said Tuesday.
A lawsuit would only have an immediate effect if a judge grants an injunction for abeyance, effectively suspending the ordinance.
The notice of intent, which the City Clerk's office received Monday, is the precursor to an actual lawsuit.
The lawsuit, from Channel Law Group of Long Beach, seeks the ordinance "vacate(d) and set aside" and all related activity suspended "until respondent has taken such actions that may be necessary to bring the (ordinance) into compliance with CEQA."
The group also wants the city to "prepare, circulate, and consider a legally adequate Initial Study, and if applicable, an Environmental Impact Report."
Concerned Citizens' attorney Jamie Hall said it believes the ordinance violates CEQA because if the city's 24 dispensaries are closed in accordance with the ban, patients needing medical marijuana will impact the environment by going elsewhere.
"What they're going to start doing is cultivating medical marijuana in their homes, and that could potentially have a significant environmental impact," Hall said, adding that a rise in indoor cultivation could strain the power grid with excessive electrical consumption, generate greenhouse gases and increase wastewater run-off.
He declined to put a reporter in contact with Concerned Citizens without first contacting its leaders, and said he did not know if the group also had organized the failed effort to force a referendum on the ordinance.
Gennaro called the group's legal position "just a ridiculous argument to make."
"This is a use that has not been permitted in the city since 2004," Gennaro said, citing the year the city council passed its medical marijuana resolution. "We filed what was called a 'Notice of Exemption'. We did not feel that a CEQA analysis was appropriate."
Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell went farther.
"I think that if we had violated CEQA, then Riverside would have violated CEQA and the California Supreme Court would have said 'You need to look at this before you adopt an ordinance.' " Maxwell said, referencing a recent Supreme Court decision upholding a similar Riverside ordinance banning dispensaries that the city feels bolsters its legal position.
The city sent its Notice of Exemption from CEQA to the County of Kern on July 1, and according to law, Concerned Citizens' lawsuit must be filed within 35 calendar days of the county's receipt of the exemption -- on or about Aug. 5.
Hall said that the notice of intent and the lawsuit both were filed Monday, and that the city should be served with the lawsuit Wednesday.