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A public hearing has been set for Dec. 2 in San Jose, CA, to determine whether a referendum should be held earlier than required by law on the fate of the California Cut Flower Commission. State law establishes the commission as an adjunct to the California Department of Food & Agriculture, which recently announced the hearing date, and requires a referendum among the state's growers every five years. The next one is due in 2010. However, a group of growers is pushing to have the referendum held earlier.

The commission is funded by an assessment on growers selling more than $500,000 of flowers a year, and has been controversial among some of the state's growers. In a referendum, a majority of growers voting must vote in favor of continuation or the commission will disband. In the last referendum in 2005, 31 growers voted in favor of continuation and 24 voted in opposition, a margin of about 56 percent to 44 percent.

Hans Brand, head of B&H Flowers in Carpenteria, CA, and chairman of the commission, addressed the issue in the firm's monthly newsletter. He was quoted in a press release as saying in the newsletter, "While I'm not surprised that the commission recently received a letter of petition from Joe Goldberg's attorney, Brian Leighton, who continues to use all avenues to bring their courtroom fight to our fields, I would be surprised if growers didn't see what I see in the commission: an organization that does for all of us what none of us can do alone."

The commission reduced its assessment rate for 2008. Its executive director and ambassador, Kasey Cronquist, hired in October 2007, has repeatedly asserted that the commission is "doing more with less" in its activities in governmental affairs, grower economic development, transportation and promotion, according to the press release. Recent projects include a "hint card" flower promotion, an economic impact study, an agreement on Light Brown Apple Moth quarantines (which according to Mr. Mr. Cronquist saved cut-flower growers $4 million) and plans for a new transportation hub, probably near Oxnard, CA.

Mr. Leighton, an attorney in Clovis, CA, sought the hearing with a petition signed by 34 growers. According to the press release, he seeks a referendum earlier than required because the commission "has not effectuated its declared purposes." The hearing was announced by CDFA on Oct. 30.

The CDFA found only 20 of the 34 petitioners were qualified (sales over $500,000 in the past year). The 20 represent about a third of the 59 qualified cut-flower growers in the state. State law requires the department to schedule a hearing if one is requested by at least 20 percent of the qualified growers representing 20 percent or more of the gross dollar value of flower sales in the preceding year.

"The commission has done nothing," Mr. Leighton was quoted as saying in the release. "It is a waste of money. We have steadily lost market share since I became involved with the commission in 1995-96." In his letter to the state agency demanding the hearing, he said that the commission had been "a miserable failure."

Set for 10:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn, the "suspension hearing" will be conducted by CDFA. Officials will take both written and oral testimony from cut-flower producers and other interested persons.

Signatures for the petition were solicited between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15.