YUBA COUNTY — Randy Fletcher has lived in the foothills for 35 years.
And he said he still highly recommends living there, despite some of the recent criminal activities, such as marijuana cultivation.
“Now, has the environment changed in the last 35 years? Yes,” the county supervisor said Friday. “And with the element of marijuana brings a higher propensity of potential problems. That is present — and we’ve seen that this last week. That’s a spinoff of what the potential has to offer.”[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]The shooting in Oregon House on Tuesday that wounded two deputies and killed a suspect doesn’t necessarily mean the area as a whole is unsafe; rather, the perception of the area has been affected, Fletcher said.
“I don’t want to project the image that you have to run from the hills because it’s not safe,” he said. “Because I don’t believe that. It’s still a safe place.”
Fletcher said he is hoping to work with Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor to see if more can be done to increase patrols in the foothills. But, the challenge lies with staffing and funding. Fletcher hopes within the next few months to bring the possibility of a tax to fund more deputy positions in the Sheriff’s Office.
“I think it needs to be community-driven and not politically-driven,” he said. “None of us like tax, but all of us like safety.”
Though marijuana grow sites have prompted search warrants and arrests throughout different areas of the county, the geographic nature of the foothills offers a unique challenge for residents and law enforcement.
Pat McGrath, Yuba County district attorney and longtime resident of the foothills, said whether it be marijuana grows, rattlesnakes, or wildfire, people should always be aware of their surroundings.
“In some areas, you have people living on 2 to 5 acres; essentially they’re neighbors,” McGrath said Thursday. “When you get into areas where you may have 20-, 50-, or 100-acre parcels, people may not be as aware of who their neighbors are — That’s just the nature of living in a rural area.”
And though residents may not always be aware of what neighbors are up to — including the cultivation of marijuana — McGrath said the foothills are still generally a safe place to live. But he did cite ways of life those from the city may not be aware of when moving into the country.
“Do understand that you can’t let your dogs run loose. Where tragedy comes in is when a dog has broken a fence line, and there’s livestock on the other side,” McGrath said. “They can be, and are, shot — Sometimes it’s difficult for (new foothill residents) to understand why this has happened.”
Jeremy Strang, division manager for Yuba County Code Enforcement, said it’s hard to say whether there’s been an increase in illegal marijuana grows, given the department is complaint-driven.
As for danger, he said, it depends who they’re dealing with.
“There’s definitely different challenges within the foothills that don’t happen down in the valley,” Strang said Friday. “Larger parcels, access, gates, longer response times’ I don’t think that makes it more dangerous; it makes us more cautious and more aware of our surroundings.”
The Appeal-Democrat on Wednesday posed the question of safety in the foothills on Facebook and received an array of comments from those familiar with the area.
Angela Jerzak wrote that as a family with children, she feels living in the foothills is still relatively safe.
“We love it up here. That said, I don’t like the idea that a grow (legal or otherwise) could potentially move in next door,” Jerzak wrote. “(Grows) bring an unsavory element to the neighborhoods, strange cars showing up at all hours, and despite the growers’ best efforts, they literally stink up the area’ many of the illegal grows also bring in an element of pollution and steal water.”
On the other hand, Jerzak said she feels the bigger threat to public safety is not necessarily marijuana but unsafe drivers who pose a risk to her children riding bikes.
“I think there is a HUGE difference between the guy growing a bit of pot for himself, and the large-scale operations that seem to keep popping up,” she wrote.
McGrath said, overall, the foothills is a great place to live.
“There’s all sorts of things you learn — that have to do with the unique nature of the foothills,” he said. “The open country — it’s gorgeous, people are almost always welcoming, you have the opportunity to raise animals … It’s a different lifestyle.”
Durfor was busy Friday tending to Tuesday’s shooting and its aftermath, including visiting his deputies in the hospital. Yuba County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Leslie Carbah said Durfor would be able to comment on the issue Monday.
The most recent discovery of a large marijuana grow came Tuesday, after two Yuba County sheriff’s deputies were shot after pursuing an alleged pot grow caretaker.
The sheriff’s office has declined providing the number of marijuana plants found in the 9000 block of Marysville Road, Oregon House, during the incident. But records show the property the initial call for service came from has a history of non-compliance with the county.
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