Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

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Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis
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A cannabis operation along the Santa Ynez River below Santa Rosa County Park stretches into the heart of the county’s most successful wine region, the federally-designated Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area west of Buellton. (Photo by Melinda Burns)


 

By Melinda Burns

The county Board of Supervisors tinkered with its cannabis ordinance this week, promising immediate relief to 500 residents of North County canyons, but angering Carpinterians and Buellton-area vintners who said the proposals would do little to restrain an industry they view as running rampant and unchecked.

In its biggest move, the board voted 3-2 in concept to ban commercial cannabis cultivation and processing in rural neighborhoods such as Tepusquet and Cebada Canyons northeast of Sisquoc and Lompoc, respectively, where residents have clamored for such a measure for years. At countless hearings, they have recounted how the generator noise, truck traffic, night lights and “skunky” stench of industrial-scale cannabis was disrupting their country way of life.

“I’m going to say I was wrong, and now is the time we can rectify some of the mistakes we’ve made,” said Supervisor Peter Adam, who represents Orcutt, Lompoc and the Los Alamos Valley. “We have to allow ourselves, as the policymakers that have to make peace in our county, to go out and fix some of these things.”

The votes came nearly a year after the board asked the county Planning Commission to recommend ways to address the pungent smell of cannabis that wafts into Carpinteria Valley homes and Buellton-area wine tasting rooms, and the conflicts that have arisen over the pesticides used on “legacy” crops, particularly wine grapes, where cannabis has moved in next door.

But a far-reaching “fix” was not in the cards on Thursday. On the table was a sweeping recommendation by the commission to require stricter zoning permits, called conditional use permits, or CUPs, for all future cannabis projects, with more than 170 applications in the pipeline. These permits would require the projects to be “compatible with” and “not detrimental to” the surrounding neighborhoods.

But on Thursday, the board majority, led by Supervisors Das Williams and Steve Lavagnino, the chief architects of the cannabis ordinance, supported conditional use permits only for some cannabis, and only in the North County. In recent years, the board has repeatedly voted to overturn or weaken the commission’s efforts to rein in the burgeoning cannabis industry.

“It is enormously important to indicate that the future of Carpinteria is dependent upon the reduction of nuisance from marijuana odor but a continuation of the presence of the marijuana business,” said Williams, who represents the Carpinteria Valley, where many residents have complained that the stench of marijuana from cannabis greenhouses with roof vents is making them sick.

“We have had a decimation of our flower industry, and we are in the midst of the worst recession in our lifetimes,” Williams said. “I am anxious to get to the point where I say thumbs up or thumbs down to the operations in Carpinteria. If we have a CUP process countywide, it will be a long time before we pick through these folks.”

Many Carpinterians have complained that the stench of marijuana from cannabis greenhouses with roof vents is driving them indoors and making them sick. (Photo by Melinda Burns)

 

“Enormously jaded”

Williams and Lavagnino, who represents the Santa Maria Valley and Tepusquet Canyon, opposed the ban on commercial cannabis cultivation in North County communities that are designated as “existing rural developed neighborhoods.” It was proposed by Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley and the Sta. Rita Hills, a federally-designated American Viticultural Area west of Buellton. Board Chairman Gregg Hart, who represents the Goleta Valley, joined Hart and Adam in voting for the ban, noting that there was “tremendous resistance” to cannabis in those neighborhoods.

Williams and Lavagnino said that a ban would be unfair to cannabis growers who had already made significant investments of time and money.

“I think it’s really bad government to have a set of rules and change them when many of these people are at the very end of a long journey we’ve put them through,” Lavagnino said.

Williams called the ban “bargaining against ourselves” and said he was “enormously jaded” by the actions of cannabis critics who tried to unseat him last November and have filed three lawsuits against the board this year.

Williams noted that the board has adjusted its ordinance in the past, banning outdoor cannabis cultivation in the Carpinteria Valley, placing a countywide cap of 1,712 acres on cannabis, and requiring millions of dollars of odor control technology at many operations.

“And I cannot name one person in this entire county who has been satisfied by that,” Williams said. “They have only gotten angrier the more we have tried to accommodate them. They have lied to the press, used the political route, appealed every project and then sued the county.”

Williams said that requiring a conditional use permit would delay the review process in the Carpinteria Valley for years, providing “a cloak for bad actors” who were dragging their feet on odor control.

Williams, Lavagnino and Hart signaled that they would support a more limited change: a conditional use permit requirement only for those North County projects where cannabis cultivation would cover more than 50 percent of a property. Adam and Hartmann voted no. Proposals by Hartmann to require conditional use permits for cannabis in the Sta. Rita Hills and odor controls for all outdoor cultivation also were defeated 3-2.

“I’m sorry,” Adam told Hartmann, speaking to her via his computer screen.

The board also voted 4-1 in concept to require a 50-foot buffer from the property line for all cannabis cultivation in the North County. Adam voted no, saying that 50 feet was too close to neighboring farms, where conflicts have arisen over pesticide contamination.

“Nobody knew that there was going to be zero tolerance on a crop that could be worth a million dollars an acre,” he said.

And in a unanimous vote, the supervisors proposed to ban the outdoor drying and processing of marijuana to help control the strongest odors from crop operations. Under this rule, North County growers would be required either to ship cannabis offsite for processing or construct a building on the property, outfitted with the “best available” odor control technology.

The board also voted unanimously, in concept, to exempt already-approved cannabis projects from the new rules.

Cannabis cultivation under white plastic hoop-houses, shown here in the Sta. Rita Hills, a federally-designated American Viticultural Area west of Buellton, has created conflicts with vineyards. (Photo by Melinda Burns)

 

Mixed reaction

A public hearing and final board vote on the proposed cannabis ordinance amendments will be scheduled for later this summer, county officials said.

Thursday’s hearing was the continuance of a June 2 hearing on the ordinance. The public submitted more than 600 pages of comments for and against a conditional use permit requirement for all cannabis, and nearly 170 of these were read into the record.

Those in favor of greater regulation included Concerned Carpinterians, a loosely-organized group of 300 residents, business people and farmers; the Santa Barbara County Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, a non-profit group with 200 members and a plaintiff in the cannabis lawsuits against the board; the Carpinteria Valley Association, a preservationist group; City of Carpinteria; Cate School in Carpinteria; City of Goleta; homeowners’ associations representing the Polo Condos in Carpinteria, the foothills around Old North San Marcos Road and the neighborhoods of San Antonio Creek, More Mesa and Winchester Canyon in the Goleta Valley; the county Farm Bureau, with 800 members; the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, representing 170 fruit and vegetable growers; and numerous vintners, including former county Supervisor Brooks Firestone of Los Olivos.

In an interview on Thursday, Kevin Merrill, a Farm Bureau board member, called the supervisors’ proposed rule changes “a mishmash of regulations.” He said he sympathized with cannabis growers who now may have to adapt to changes mid-stream, but, he said, it’s a “no-win” for grape growers like him, too. The pesticide standard is so high for cannabis, Merrill said, it’s almost impossible for a neighboring farmer to reach it.

“Because of the drift problem, in many cases, it raises havoc,” Merrill said, noting that the Farm Bureau believes cannabis should be grown exclusively indoors and in sealed buildings in the county. “A 50-foot buffer is nothing.”

In Carpinteria, members of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis expressed dismay and anger after the board’s votes and what they said was Williams’ “tirade.”

“I’m very disappointed, very upset,” Anna Carrillo said. “I didn’t like us being called liars and naysayers. There is nothing that Das is helping us with – no reduction in the density of cultivation, no increase in buffers, no change in the odor requirements, nothing.”

Paul Ekstrom, a retired Carpinteria firefighter, a coalition board member and a plaintiff in a coalition lawsuit against four greenhouse operators on Foothill Road, now known locally as “Cannabis Row,” said he favors the open sale of cannabis on the market – he just wants growers to put a lid on the offensive skunk-like odors that penetrate his house on Manzanita Street, day and night.

For the Carpinteria Valley, Ekstrom said, the only recourse may be the courts.

“For Williams to be so self-righteous about this is just laughable,” he said. “This is a mess he’s got us into.”

Those opposing stricter zoning permits for cannabis included members of Carp Growers, representing 12 cannabis operations in the Carpinteria Valley; the North County Farmer’s Guild, a group of 40 cannabis growers; Carpinteria residents who cited the growers’ generous donations to their community in the pandemic; engineers, planners and other professionals employed in the cannabis business, and Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne.

This group also included vintners such as Teddy Cabugos, who grows 28 acres of wine grapes at the Sunstone Winery, a property he owns on North Refugio Road in the Santa Ynez Valley. Cabugos said he wants to put in eight acres of cannabis at the back of his land to tap into a younger clientele and “save his business.”

On Thursday, Cabugos said he was “very happy” with the board’s latest proposals, adding, “Had they adopted a blanket CUP for every project, it would have put a major hindrance on the industry. This would have crushed us. A lot of people would have gone to different counties.”

Now, Cabugos said, he knows 10 or 15 vintners in the valley and the Sta. Rita Hills who he expects will file the paperwork for cannabis permits within a month. Under the current rules, cannabis projects can be approved by the county Planning Department director without a hearing, except on appeal.

Cabugos said he envisioned future cannabis and wine tours in the North County, complete with “consumption lounges” for cannabis, alongside wine tasting rooms.

“Cannabis and wine can coexist; they can enhance being able to diversity your land and your business and come out with multiple products,” Cabugos said.

In the Carpinteria Valley, Graham Farrar of Carp Growers said, “The Board of Supervisors is recognizing that there is an upside to the community, having cannabis here. That’s always been the deal.”

Farrar is the only cannabis greenhouse operator in the valley with a zoning permit, issued for seven acres of cultivation on Casitas Pass Road. He is applying for a permit for his three-acre “grow” on Foothill. Growers do not need stricter regulations that would simply delay permits longer, Farrar said.

“I’m certainly relieved to know that the nine months of work we’ve done to get to almost-approved stage is not going to be thrown in the trash,” he said.

Farrar said the county conducts odor inspections at his greenhouses on Casitas Pass every quarter, inspections that cannot take place at greenhouses without permits.

“I want them to go to everybody’s farm,” he said. “When that happens, we are going to see better results.”

Teddy Cabugos, owner of the Sunstone Winery on N. Refugio Road in the Santa Ynez Valley, wants to put in eight acres of cannabis to attract a younger clientele. (Photo by Jim Bartsch) 

 

“The Cannabis Rag”

Perhaps the happiest person on Thursday was Renée O’Neill, a resident of Tepusquet Canyon who wept as she reacted to the news of the board’s proposed ban on commercial cannabis operations in her leafy oak-and-sycamore haven along a winding creek. The neighborhood of about 375 people formed a “crisis committee” in recent years, outfitting residents with purple hats for appearances at public hearings.

“I’m elated,” O’Neill said. “I’m just so relieved that after all these years of effort, it’s finally happening. Tepusquet community is very relieved and appreciative that the majority of supervisors voted to support prohibiting commercial cannabis in our neighborhood. It’s what should have been done and what we have advocated for since the beginning.

“For all these years, the personal lives of so many people in our community have been adversely impacted by the large-scale, commercial industry growers. Our lifestyle, our sense of peace, our health, safety, welfare have been affected.”

County records show that 14 cannabis permit applications are in the pipeline for Tepusquet Canyon; the board allowed growers of pre-legalization medicinal cannabis to continue operating there under “legal, nonconforming” status, and most of these operations have been expanded.

O’Neill had become a fixture at county hearings on cannabis, showing slides of the tanker trucks that rumbled by daily within 50 feet of her home as they traveled to and from “grows” high on the hillsides. O’Neill shared photos of truck wrecks on the canyon’s narrow and winding road, and she composed – and sang snatches of – a song for the board, entitled, “The Cannabis Rag.”

“Three-plus years of ‘Legal Weed?’” it begins. “What have we gained as we proceed?/ Revenue? Ha? What a joke! /We watch it going up in smoke!”

To the south in Cebada Canyon, off Highway 246, six cannabis operations would be shut down under the board’s latest proposals. There are about 50 homes in Cebada Canyon, each on about 20 acres. Many of the 110 residents in the canyon board horses, raise a few goats or grow hay and wine grapes.

But plans for a cannabis operation at the end of Cebada Canyon Road, next to the rural neighborhood, would not be affected by the proposed ban. Herbal Angels, the former operator, was shut down in a raid by Sheriff’s deputies last December; the owner faces felony charges for perjury and alleged falsification of public records.

On Wednesday, June 10, the Planning Commission voted 5-0 to deny a zoning permit to Herbal Angels for 17 acres of cannabis and two large processing plants. The operators have 10 days to appeal the commission’s decision to the board.


Melinda Burns volunteers as a freelance journalist in Santa Barbara as a community service. She offers her news reports to multiple local publications, at the same time, for free.

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a-1592059926 Jun 13, 2020 07:52 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Thank you, Melinda Burns and Edhat! Good for the north county canyons, Tepusquet and Cebada, but what a shame for the rest of the County! As for Williams, "self-righteous" is an excellent description; add self-referential, since everything comes down to self, including, during his recent campaign, amazingly enough how his 4-6 months living in a van while attending SBCC gave him an understanding of present day homelessness. When he bounced onto the SB City Council scene, he said he was there "speaking truth to power". Between then and now, something very unfortunate happened that the younger Williams would have decried.

a-1592062924 Jun 13, 2020 08:42 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

What a colossal failure this Board is. Let me get this right. So almost a year ago, after hearing pleas from constituents, cities and businesses throughout the county to tighten their ridiculously generous cannabis ordinance, this Board asked staff to have the Planning Commission study various changes to better protect neighborhoods and surrounding businesses. It took several months but finally staff brought the issue to PC who spent several meetings and dozens of hours carefully analyzing options. Finally they recommended a simple fix, that would still allow cannabis growers to apply anywhere (no bans, no limits) but require a CUP- the only kind of permit that affords communities a public hearing to analyze compatibility. Seemed a reasonable compromise. Yet the “THC Three” of Hart, Williams and Lavagnino - or even one of them -could not bring themselves to join their two colleagues in this simple fix?? Has there EVER been a Board or Council in this County SO beholden and owned by an industry as these three are to the Cannabis industry?? None comes to mind. The cannabis growers have invested resources in all three of them and it appears to have paid off.

a-1592068467 Jun 13, 2020 10:14 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Voters had a choice, and they voted for Das. Laura Capps campaigned on restricting the power and scope of cannabis farms in his district and she lost. It's going to be a long four years for people in Carp and Montecito with the cannabis spokesman Williams "representing" them.

a-1592068666 Jun 13, 2020 10:17 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Das Williams has been bragging that he has generated funding for the county via the Cannabis taxes. I suspect that the numbers presented are flawed and any real net positive funding is insignificant compared to the negative affect on the quality of life in Santa Barbara county. We are being sold out! In addition there sure is a lot of additional law enforcement activity associated with the cannabis grows. For some reason there are also known un-permitted grows that are allowed to stay in operation. (This includes grows which have exceeded the bounds of their permits)

a-1592069554 Jun 13, 2020 10:32 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Keep in mind that Das is not one of your phony politicians who will do anything for your vote. He's a principled, hard-working individual who is working for ALL of us...not just the special-interest groups as so many of the other pols do. Bottom line is that he gets the job done, and it appears that one or two "squeaky wheels" have a problem with his work ethic. What he has done is a win-win for agriculture, and most importantly, for the rest of us. If we had more people in politics like Das, things would be so much better.

a-1592071602 Jun 13, 2020 11:06 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

No doubt you are someone who has not experienced the saturation of the unpermitted cannabis proliferation around rural Carp and Santa Ynez. The only “special interests” at play are those From the cannabis industry that lined his pockets and those of his campaign and PAC set up by his buddies.

goletaspring Jun 13, 2020 11:03 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Gregg Hart was the swing vote, his votes prove he's squarely in the pockets of the cannabis industry along with Das & Steve. For years he's been saying he had no responsibility because he wasn't on the BOS when the canabbis ordinances were written.. after this week he can't use that excuse anymore. I hope his constituents remember this when it's time for his reelection.

a-1592072662 Jun 13, 2020 11:24 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

This is what happens when you don't have a competitor in an election. No one came forward to challenge Hart. So voters didn't have the opportunity to hear where he stood on important issues. I am really shocked and very disappointed in his votes on this issue. I invite him to come up to Buellton and sit in Riverview Park any day after noon. The smell of cannabis is overwhelming. Can't imagine what is is like for the vineyards around there. Not to mention residents of the western part of Buellton. Lavagnino also ran unopposed, come to think of it. And now Bob Nelson, 4th district, is coming on board......unopposed. Poor Joan Hartmann. She is the only principled person up there. Poor SB county.

a-1592107624 Jun 13, 2020 09:07 PM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

I don’t think that’s entirely true. While I am disappointed Hart didn’t vote for CUPs, he did vote to eliminate cannabis operations from our local canyons. The impacts have been great to these EDRNs and it’s about time someone listened. I was not a fan of Gregg Hart when he was elected, but I have found him to be someone who has really listened to his constituents in the Eastern Goleta Valley on a variety of topics. He has been accessible and responsive. I do disagree with his decision, but after getting to know him a bit I have respect for him.

a-1592074283 Jun 13, 2020 11:51 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

The choice was between Williams and Capps. Williams crushed Capps. We elected a true leader, not a rubber-stamping "nice" person who would look to mommy to make any/all decisions. I don't know about you, but i want independent free-thinking people leading us.....not someone who needs to ask around every corner "what do I do next?".

a-1592085631 Jun 13, 2020 03:00 PM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Polls in the days before the election had Capps up by 5-6 points. Losing by 5 points certainly was a crushing blow for the continuation of the family legacy. As a lifelong competitor, I can tell you that losing by 0.001 second/point/percent is "crushed." There's no participation trophy when you lose in politics....you just lose.

PitMix Jun 15, 2020 10:09 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Capps lost by a few percent, almost beating an incumbent with access to unlimited funds from the unions and pot growers and their workers. That was a lesson that William's has not seemed to learn. Let's see how it serves him in the future, because his political ambitions certainly don't end at the Canna Barbara Supervisor's podium.

a-1592106935 Jun 13, 2020 08:55 PM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

This headline is misleading. This vote was a huge win for those living in existing rural developed neighborhoods. Cannabis should never have been permitted to be grown there. It is unfortunate that the board once again didn’t follow the recommendations of their planning commission by requiring stricter permitting for all cannabis. Look at the list of community members, businesses and neighborhoods who also asked for tighter restrictions. Of the public comments received only about 20% wanted no change to the current ordinance. They were all growers, a few employees and out of town investors.

a-1592156950 Jun 14, 2020 10:49 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

My “what utter, self-serving crap!” reaction to Williams & Lavagnino is pegged at maximum. Selling their votes & their souls for the hope of money from an industry where more than half are lying about their pre-existing grows.

The citizens who were here first, who have their life’s invested in their homes, jobs, and pre-existing businesses have been screwed by this capitulation to the dope growers who are hoping to strike it rich (& the hell with you naysayers), and many of whom are from outside the area.

Public shaming should come first, followed by a recall vote. We existing residents got screwed! A CUP isn’t an unreasonably high or lengthy hurdle, and was an eminently reasonable attempt to regulate & control a nascent industry that was having serious, negative side effects on existing neighborhoods and businesses.

I’m disgusted with Williams & Lavagnino, and disappointed in Hart.

Eggs Ackley Jun 15, 2020 06:47 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Lawsuit filed in federal court against growers and County will soon end this nonsense. County will be on the hook for hundreds of millions in damages. Are you still there Das? That’s not going to play out well for you and your cronies in the criminal syndicate.

PitMix Jun 15, 2020 10:06 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

That giant sucking sound is the political career of Das Williams going down the drain. Amazing that 375 rural residents in North County can be protected but thousands of urban/suburban voters in South County get thrown under the bus by their Supervisor. I have stopped patronizing Mr. Farrar's shop as a result of this. I can get my Vet CBD for my arthritic dog from shops outside of SB County.

ZeroHawk Jun 15, 2020 10:22 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Pit. way to go! yeah! punish a local farmer and businessman for doing...business. Yeah that's how we keep our economy going. Good job *claps* but in reality, i highly doubt he's going to be hurt financially by missing your little CBD purchase.

PitMix Jun 15, 2020 11:10 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Zero, like you said, millionaire farmer Farrar isn't going to miss my $50 bucks much. But I would be a hypocrite for supporting him if I am against his permitted and unpermitted farming operations. Sorry if you would rather that I be a hypocrite.

ZeroHawk Jun 15, 2020 10:25 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

lol...that's all i can say right now....lol...
the way you all go on and on and whine and complain and whine and complain. He's growing something I don't like! He's growing something I like! Do you really think he cares either way? It's his land. Period. You do what you want on your land, they do what they want. Yall really should find better hobbies than sticking your noses in someone elses business and affairs. Are you really that bored and frustrated with yourself? Apparently so. It's a flower and we voted. you lost. again, get over it. it's not going away.

PitMix Jun 15, 2020 11:06 AM
Supervisors Take a Pass on Stricter Permits Countywide for Cannabis

Yeah, get rid of all those useless land use policies and reviews! Your neighbor should be able to open up a cousin to the Casmalia toxic waste dump on their property if they want. Keep those guvmint hands off my higher power rights! And get rid of taxes too, except the ones that support the programs I use like highways and utilities.

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