Lawsuit Challenges County's Cannabis Hoops Ordinance
Illegal marijuana grow operation raided in Santa Ynez (Photo: Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office)
By edhat staff
The newly formed Santa Barbara County Coalition for Responsible Cannabis (SBCRC) filed a lawsuit challenging the Board of Supervisor's Hoops Structures Ordinance approval and certification of the Final Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
According to the lawsuit, the "EIR identified numerous Class I significant impacts associated with the new permissive rules for the plastic-covered structures, including impacts to visual, biological and water resources from the disposal of plastic waste."
“Large, unregulated hoop structures are a blight on Santa Barbara County’s pastoral open agricultural lands. They create land use incompatibilities and generate hundreds of tons of plastic waste annually,” said SBCRC attorney Marc Chytilo. “The weak ordinance adopted by the County will have ten 'Class I Significant Impacts', but the County rejected nearly every mitigation measure and alternatively suggested in the EIR that could have reduced these impacts. The Ordinance opened a loophole for potentially significant expansions of cannabis grows in inappropriate areas under exempted hoops. Rather than strengthen the ordinance to avoid these impacts throughout the community, the County swept the impacts under the rug, hoping no one would notice. The action was brought to address both the impacts of unregulated hoops and runaway cannabis cultivation in hoops.”
The lawsuit explains hoops have been used for growing berries in recent years and have become common in the Santa Maria Valley. They require permits under the County's zoning ordinance, but some agriculturalists asked for exemptions for hoops below a specific height.
After the 2016 passing of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the lawsuit states some cannabis growers have installed unpermitted hoops throughout the Santa Ynez Valley. In April 2019, Santa Barbara County adopted an ordinance that exempted hoops below 20 feet tall from permitting, with certain exceptions. The final EIR established the Hoop House Ordinance would not allow exemptions for cannabis grown in hoops, and any cannabis grown in hoops would require the hoops to be specific in their cannabis permits. The lawsuit states that during the approval of the ordinance, County Staff and Supervisors acknowledged that exempt hoops could be added to already-permitted outdoor cannabis operations without any additional permit process.
"The Hoops EIR relied on improper assumptions of the amount of cannabis use, failed to provide substantive responses to public comments, and flip-flopped with ongoing changes to the Project Description and saw the evisceration of the mitigation measures, none of which the public got to comment on and all of which culminated in a legally deficient EIR," the lawsuit states.
The SBCRC is described as an umbrella Coalition of residents, vintners, avocado growers, small business owners, non-governmental organizations and schools in all five Supervisorial Districts in the County. They claim to include leaders from communities and neighborhoods throughout the County that have been affected by cannabis grows. They claim avocado farmers have been unable to apply organic pest controls, some vineyards are surrounded by large cannabis grows with no odor control, and greenhouses surround schools in Carpinteria.
SBCRC states the County has adopted some of the "weakest and most permissive permit programs for cannabis grows in the state, allowing licenses for small 1⁄4 acre grows allowed by Prop 64 to be 'stacked' into massive grows, such as one in Santa Ynez Valley that combined over 200 'small grower' licenses for into one 50-plus acre grow." The group states it recognizes that cannabis has been sanctioned in the state and does not oppose its use, but does oppose "industrial-scale operations being approved under weak and unenforceable permits."