By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers
Tax collections from pot, hailed as financial salvation by politicians who recklessly transformed Santa Barbara into the undisputed Cannabis Cultivation Capital of California, are drying up like desiccated weed plants in a drought.
We’re Number One!
Now comes Melinda Burns, Santa Barbara’s foremost practitioner of deep dive, enterprise journalism, to analyze and explain the why’s and how’s of the steady and sustained ebb of cannabis revenue, which seems to have surprised no one more than the geniuses on the Board of Supervisors who rammed through the industry sweetheart deal also known as the county’s regulatory ordinance.
Just home from a sabbatical Back East, Melinda straightaway resumed her singular, in-depth coverage of cannabis, and also returned this week to Newsmakers TV, for a special Press Clips conversation about her latest reporting from the front lines of Santa Barbara’s Weed Wars.
“Santa Barbara is the No. 1 county in California for active cannabis cultivation licenses (with) 22 percent of the total,” Burns reported. “The large number of licenses is a reflection of of the sheer size of the industry here — 1,575 acres of ‘grows, ‘ primarily in the North County, and 158 acres of greenhouse cannabis in the Carpinteria Valley.”
A walk down memory lane. As every school child knows, this splendid achievement for our county has been accomplished, despite SB constituting a mere 1.6 percent of California’s 163,696 square miles, almost entirely by the raw power politics and special interest associations wielded by Supervisor Das Williams and board colleague Steve Lavignino.
As the Grand Jury has chronicled in depth and detail, the pair crafted the pot ordinance largely behind closed doors, in close consultation with high-priced grower lobbyists, and in breathtaking disregard for long-established, local planning processes and norms — for the primary purpose of bulldozing a vast new industry into the county, heedless of the impact on neighbors and existing business, and the benefit of political sponsors, campaign contributors and personal pals.
“On it,” Williams famously, swiftly and obediently responded to über-grower Graham Farrar, who’d requested a pro-industry fix during the drafting of the local pot law, two words that memorably capture the spirit and sensibility of the “deliberations” behind the ordinance.
The cannabis regulations have triggered nearly five years, and counting, of political, legal and economic conflict and controversy in the county, while Boss Das and Wingman Steve have belittled, bullied and insulted opponents, insisting that their great vision offsets any pain, suffering or inconvenience the community might endure, because of the Pot of Pot Gold at the end of their conjured rainbow.
Capps questions sinking revenue. While other county revenue sources, including property, sales and hotel bed taxes are growing, “cannabis tax revenues for fiscal year 2022-23 now are projected to be…just over one third of the $16.3 million that was budgeted last June.,..” Burns reported this week.
Her piece makes clear the implications and complexities of cannabis policy and politics behind the slump, which the two supervisors try to spin with phony claims of how their “cannabis program” is all that stands between us and the shuttering of libraries, not to mention the enkindling of the atmosphere and a human extinction event.
As a political matter, the most intriguing aspect of her story is the emergence of newly-elected Supervisor Laura Capps as the first board member to raise substantive, serious and skeptical questions about cannabis policy since the departure of former Supervisor Janet Wolf after the 2018 election.
“This revenue update is a wakeup call for changes,” Capps said at a budget hearing this week. “We should take a look at how to do things better.”
To the surprise of no one among the cognoscenti and other hacks of the political class, Capps’ straightforward questions and rather innocuous comment immediately drew a crossfire display of huffy, toxic masculinity from Williams and Lavignino, whose bully boy partnership brooks no criticism of their grand project.
And no fair mentioning the emperor has no clothes, either.
In her low-key journalistic style, Burns reports fact after fact after fact in unfailingly comprehensive, fair and neutral reportage that invites readers to draw their own conclusions. On this week’s program, the usual genial host, reprising his past life as an editorial page editor, draws some of his own, barely managing to keep his aged head from exploding.
There were no injuries.
For those who prefer appointment viewing or listening, the program airs on public access TVSB, Cox Cable Channel 17, 8 p.m., Monday-Friday, and at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. KCSB 91.9 FM. broadcasts it at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays.