The report reveals how the technology has improved enforcement but at the same time impacted on the local economy.
Prior to April 2018, when the county first contracted Planet for the satellite imagery and data, there were “far less than 100 (citations) per year,” said Humboldt County Planning and Building deputy director Bob Russell.
“Last season in our pilot year, we did just under 700 using the satellite imagery,” he said. “It’s also important to understand the enforcement (prior to April 2018) was complaint-driven action whereas now, Humboldt County has mandated we do active enforcement on unpermitted cannabis. It has indeed produced the desired effect with respect to unpermitted cannabis cultivation without having to drive around the county.”
The county notifies residents of the citations through “abatement” notices — about 1,400 of which were published in the Times-Standard in 2018 because each notice must be published twice. Those notices are for unpermitted commercial cannabis cultivation, unpermitted structures such as a greenhouse and potentially for environmental violations such as unpermitted grading or streamside management violations. Each violation carries with it fines that can be as much as $10,000 or more and accrue daily until addressed.
In January, the county board of supervisors voted to extend the contract with Planet until December 2020. The staff report at the time noted extending the contract “allows staff to efficiently conduct critical code violations at a much higher volume than is possible using only static images.”
The contract with Planet costs the county about $200,000 per year. The services rendered through Planet only operate between March and November of each year.