Authorities recently removed 11,400 marijuana plants from illegal grow sites in San Mateo County, California. Four people have been arrested. (Courtesy of the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force)

$22.8 million worth of marijuana found growing in nature preserve in Bay Area

SAN MATEO COUNTY — Authorities on Thursday announced the removal of thousands of marijuana plants from illegal grow sites on public and private lands in San Mateo County.

The 2-month-long Campaign Against Marijuana Planting netted 11,400 plants with a street value of $22.8 million, according to the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force.

Led by the California Department of Justice, the campaign was designed to eradicate large-scale grow sites on public and private lands that cause deforestation, damage wildlife habitats and pose a danger to residents.

The sites were well hidden on San Francisco Water Department and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District property near Devil’s Canyon, west of Skyline Boulevard, authorities said.

Four men were arrested in connection with the illegal grow sites: Joaquin Sanchez 38, and Joel Ochoa Sanchez, 32, both of Redwood City, and Juan Farias Galeana, 28, and Jose Antonio Mendoza, 26, both of Michoacán, Mexico.

The suspects, who were linked to 6,889 of the plants, dammed a creek and diverted the water into a man-made pool, which they used to irrigate grow sites in the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

Authorities said they also found well-supplied camps near the sites.

Last week, Galeana and Mendoza pleaded no contest to misdemeanor stream diversion charges. They each received 18 months of court probation and were ordered to repair the environmental damage as well as serve eight and five days in jail, respectively, prosecutors said.

On Monday, Joaquin Sanchez pleaded not guilty to unlawful cultivation of marijuana, a misdemeanor. He is out of custody on a $10,000 bail bond.

Joel Ochoa Sanchez also is charged with unlawful cultivation of marijuana, as well as resisting arrest and assaulting a police animal. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Sept. 1.

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