A federal judge has blocked a Northern California county ban on supplying water to Hmong cannabis growers, saying it raises “serious questions” about racial discrimination and leaves growers without a source of water for basic sanitation, vegetable gardens and ranching.
On Friday, Senior District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller issued an injunction against the ban on trucking water through Siskiyou County to Hmong farmers growing marijuana in the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision in the Big Springs area north of Weed.
“Without a restraining order, plaintiffs and other members of the Shasta Vista Hmong community are likely to get by without water for their basic needs and are likely to lose more crops and livestock,” she wrote. “Fires can burn more houses. People can be forced to leave their homes and lands without compensation.
“The plaintiffs have also raised serious questions about their constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination.”
In the past five years, hundreds of Hmong farmers have bought cheap land in the subdivision and built hundreds of marijuana greenhouses on the lava rock-covered hills, in violation of the county’s ban on commercial cannabis cultivation.
Authorities estimate that there are 5,000 to 6,000 greenhouses in the Big Springs area that grow potted plants that are cared for by 4,000 to 8,000 people, most of them Hmong and immigrants of Chinese descent.
Most of the parcels have no on-site wells, so the water the Hmong get from the farmers’ nearby agricultural wells is trucked to the growing areas, where swimming pools and large portable tanks supply the greenhouses.
The expansion of the greenhouses led to complaints about the drying up of local residential wells. At the same time, the district police officers named an increase in violent crime as well as illegal pesticides and fertilizers, mountains of rubbish and unprocessed sewage during cultivation.
This spring, citing the need to protect residential wells and prevent the supply of illegal cultivation areas, the district passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of well water without a permit and of water vehicles on the roads leading to the subdivision. The MPs aggressively attracted anyone suspected of hauling water.
‘Racial Animus’ in the game?
The lawyers for the Hmong breeders sued in a federal court in Sacramento that the regulations were racially motivated and violated their civil rights.
Her lawyers claimed that the removal of water for the families who tended the cultivation stifled more than just the cannabis. The county also deprived Shasta Vista residents of bathing, tending vegetable gardens, and keeping their ducks, chickens, and other livestock alive.
Mueller’s injunction on Friday made it clear that she believes farmers have a reason “the regulations are motivated by racism” as her civil suit expires. But the judge put a district ordinance in place banning the sale of well water specifically for the illegal cultivation of cannabis. The injunction only covers the sale of water and supplies for human needs such as bathing and gardening, said Allison Margolin, one of the Hmong’s lawyers.
Siskiyou County’s attorney Edward Kiernan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. In previous interviews, Siskiyou County officials denied that their motivation was race-driven.
Mueller noted that the county is coming up with its own compelling case that crime is increasing.
“Violent crime in Shasta Vista has also increased in recent years,” she wrote. “The sheriff’s office has responded to reports of armed robbery, assault and murder. In just one week, one man was beaten and robbed with a pistol, another was shot off from a neighbor, and six people were handcuffed and robbed by armed men with AK-47s. Few similar crimes were reported in Shasta Vista before the illegal cultivation of cannabis took hold. “
She also took note of the sheriff’s arguments that living conditions were unsafe and that people had died in improper structures after carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as the growing areas that contribute to environmental problems.
But she said the county has different zoning and different laws on the books to enforce these issues without stealing water from families.
“Shasta Vista residents may drink and bathe in non-potable water transported to Shasta Vista from nearby agricultural wells, but the alternative is very little or no water,” she wrote. “If drinking water is indeed available, as the county claims … this order in no way prohibits officials from helping the people of Shasta Vista find and use this drinking water.”
Investigated shots for lava fire
Mueller also noted that while the county is ready to issue permits for legal water transportation, Siskiyou County has made it clear that it is not really interested in granting them to the Hmong, many of whom do not speak English well.
The forms are all written in English, and the county requires that anyone who signs an application must swear not to violate any county rules – which Mueller notes that there is no proper water supply in their homes.
“Many people in the Shasta Vista Hmong community do not live in approved structures or have approved water sources for the very reason that they would apply for a permit in the first place,” she wrote.
The Hmong breeders also argued that the ban on water deprived them of the ability to put out any fires that broke out in the subdivision.
In late June, a lightning strike set off the lava fire nearby before blowing several parcels in the subdivision of Mount Shasta Vista.
The Hmong in Shasta Vista accused the firefighters of failing to put out the fire and prevented them from bringing their own watercars to fight the fire themselves.
Local authorities denied these allegations, saying the marijuana growers blocked roads, threw stones and forced the Cal Fire crews to withdraw from the scene.
Tensions became deadly when officials shot and killed a Hmong man who allegedly tried to drive a gun through a fire control point.
The investigations into the shootings are ongoing, according to the district. Authorities have not yet released a final report or footage of body cameras or dashboard cameras recorded from the shootings.
Meanwhile, Mueller’s injunction comes into effect immediately and will remain in effect until federal proceedings are completed. A trial appointment is not planned.
Raza Lawrence, another attorney for Hmong breeders, said Tuesday that his clients hope Mueller’s injunction becomes permanent as it fends off a “humanitarian crisis” in Shasta Vista, but they will take the water they get in In the meantime.
“Now you can finally lead a normal life on your land again,” he said.