Residents voice contrasting opinions to Board of Supervisors
Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors convened on July 9 with an audience of nearly 200 spread across the Santa Maria chambers and Santa Barbara’s telecast. The large public turnout was owed to the meeting’s main topic: hearings on amendments to the county cannabis ordinance and regulatory structure.
In the first of two hearings, supervisors voted unanimously to implement additional noticing requirements for commercial cannabis activities, expanding the number of people who must be notified when a cannabis operation submits any number of permitting applications.
The second hearing was a broad consideration of amending terms to Chapter 50 of the county cannabis ordinance—cannabis business licenses. While no formal adoption would be determined at the meeting, supervisors did expect to vote provisionally on a conceptual direction. However, after several hours of public comments, a late afternoon power outage curtailed the vote, postponing further discussion and decision until the next hearing on July 16.
Deputy CEO for the county, Dennis Bozanich, explained the options on the table for supervisors including implementing a countywide acreage cap for cannabis cultivation and requiring odor control systems in place during the business license application process. Supervisors could also opt to maintain existing regulations, without changes.
Opponents to amending the ordinance pointed out that this was a midstream change that would disrupt the economic health of a new local business sector that has already gone to great expense to comply with the current regulatory process.
Lompoc’s mayor, Jenelle Osborne, was outspoken in her support of the cannabis industry, urging supervisors “not to make any major changes” because there were many businesses already in the industry “doing everything they can to be responsible and play by the rules initially set out.” Changes midstream to land use, she argued, represent a failure on the part of the government to all agricultural producers.
City of Carpinteria asks for change
Carpinteria’s mayor, Wade Nomura, however, disagreed, taking a moderate but clear position. “I know for a fact that we have a number of responsible growers in the valley… and what we’re looking for is a balance,” said Nomura, noting three of the seven requests for amendments/enforcement that the city listed in a letter to the county supervisors on June 24: pare down the clustering of cannabis greenhouses (through cultivation acreage caps and/or minimum separation requirements); increase the buffer zone from 750 to 1,000 feet; and require public hearings before issuing conditional use permits.
The city of Carpinteria has a footprint of 2.5 square miles, said Nomura, with unincorporated county agricultural land immediately surrounding, “right up to the city line,” in close proximity to schools and residential neighborhoods.
Carpinteria residents like Nancy Robertson supported Nomura’s stance along with amendments to the ordinance. “I’m a senior citizen and longtime resident of the valley,” said Robertson, “I’m not against cannabis, I voted for it… But is it ok to grow cannabis right next to schools where it’s illegal to use until you’re 21?”
“Quality of life has suffered,” said another Carpinteria resident, Anna Carrillo. “There are just way too many licenses in an 8-mile perimeter... The ordinance has allowed for an over-concentration and clustering in one place.”
Cannabis ag workers speak out
Still, dozens of speakers used their time to express support of “good actors” in the cannabis industry. Cannabis-related professionals (growers, compliance specialists, trimmers, pest control managers, etc.) expressed gratitude to the supervisors for setting up regulations that thus far had supported a thriving cannabis agricultural sector that provided them with jobs.
Speakers donned stickers with the words, “Let it grow,” and shirts emblazoned with “Cannabis jobs support my family.”
Many cannabis workers provided personal details. Lucia Contreras, who works in the cannabis industry in Carpinteria, said she was a single mom, “speaking from the bottom of my heart.” Contreras also said, “When you make a decision for the farmers, there are a lot of families that depend on these farms and this industry. This industry brings a lot of opportunities.”
Headwaters employee Gabriela Martinez stated, “I was born and raised in Carpinteria. This (cannabis cultivation) provides stable jobs to local families.” Another Headwaters employee named Ruby said the job provided a “buen sueldo” (good wage) and “más tiempo con nuestros hijos” (more time with our kids).
CARP Growers support current regulations
Prominent Carpinteria growers (members of CARP Growers) such as Eric Edwards of Headwaters, Frances and Hannah Brand of Autumn Brands, Ed Van Wingerden of Everbloom and Graham Farrar of Glass House Farms, among others, spoke in support of the regulations in place (many welcoming tighter odor control enforcement) but voiced their deep concern for detrimental impacts to their businesses when regulations are changed in medias res.
Farrar went further, stating he supported a cap for the county, but noted that the county needs to make decisions and stick with them. When Carpinteria imposed its cap of 186 acres, Farrar effectively lost half of his usable acreage.
Members of CARP Growers also pointed out the industry’s positive impact to the community, estimating that among their 14 member farms there are over 900 employees. The starting wage at Autumn Brands, stated Frances, is $15/hour, work is fulltime and everyone receives health insurance benefits. Edwards also stated that all of Headwaters employees receive health insurance.
Byers system, nontoxic
On the technical side, Mark Byers, owner of the odor control system used in most CARP Growers greenhouses, stated that the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District had analyzed his company’s product and found that it was safe and innocuous, that “none of the ingredients … are considered toxic air contaminants as identified by the state of California.”
Williams responds to challenge
In her public comment period, Ann Louise Bardach of Concerned Carpinterians directly challenged 1st District Supervisor Das Williams for the comments that he made in emails to cannabis industry professionals, at one point writing to a lobbyist, “I’ll fix it” and "don't tell anyone," in reference to a policy on who would pay permit appeal fees (as reported in The Los Angeles Times on June 15 by Joe Mozingo). Bardach implored that this “warrants his recusal from all cannabis votes and an investigation.”
Williams responded immediately that on multiple occasions he made assurances to residents, “to Anna Carrillo and to Cate School, I also said, ‘I will fix it’ … That’s why we have a cap, odor control and ban on outdoor grows (in Carpinteria) … Part of this job is being accessible to everybody and sometimes there were ideas from the cannabis industry that I agreed with, but more often it was from residents that I got ideas for controls.”