Grand Jury: Supervisors “failed Santa Barbara County” over cannabis decisions


A recently released Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report condemned the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors regarding the implementation of the cannabis industry in the county.

According to the report, the Grand Jury accuses the board of ignoring public outcry regarding the odor, allowing an excessive amount of licenses and production, as well as ignoring environmental impacts. In addition, the group alleges county officials showed poor ethics and created an unverified affidavit system, among other issues.

“Instead of a balanced approach carefully evaluating how the cannabis industry would be compatible, both as to amount of acreage and location, the board simply opened the floodgates. These ordinances must be amended,” the report said.

The report added that due to these actions, life in Santa Barbara County has been altered even “perhaps forever.”

The major objection the report found with the county’s handling of this situation was from the ad hoc committee, created in 2017, which was meant to review and create regulations for adult use and cannabis cultivation in the county.

According to the report, the meetings were not open to the public and therefore in violation of the Brown Act. 

“The creation of a non-Brown Act Ad Hoc Sub Committee that was not open to the public led to a lack of transparency and distrust by Santa Barbara County residents,” the report found.

Additionally, the committee’s number one objective was to “develop a robust and economically viable legal cannabis industry to ensure production and availability of high quality cannabis products to help meet local demands, and, as a public benefit, improve the County’s tax base,” the report found, leading to excessive grants of business licenses despite outcry from the public.

The Grand Jury also stated in the report that the number one complaint they received from citizens was the “skunky smell” that is produced by cannabis operations.

The Grand Jury received two letters from the Carpinteria School Board reporting “ill effects, such as headaches from the nauseating odor” at Carpinteria High in late afternoons due to the cannabis stench.

Additional complaints came from the Santa Ynez Valley including Buellton, the Santa Rita Hills AVA wine tasting rooms, Cebada Canyon and Los Alamos residents.

The Grand Jury alleges that the committee’s goal to develop a robust cannabis industry overrode the many concerns regarding the smell.

The report also cited that by allowing cannabis operations to be so close to traditional agriculture has led to “disastrous results.”

One example given was the Santa Rita Hills AVA wineries and vineyards. The strong odor released from the cannabis locations makes it so that the two types of operations could never coexist.

For one, tasting rooms rely on pleasant smells to not upset customers. Additionally, when strong odors are introduced to customers it ruins their perceptions as to what they are tasting.

“The heavy skunky odor, of even just a few cannabis plants, can elicit a strong response from people nearby,” the report read.

The affidavit system was also heavily critiqued, saying that “The Board’s disregard for potential abuse is incomprehensible.”

Finally, another major critique the Grand Jury called into question was the board’s ethics. 

During ad hoc meetings, notes and minutes were not prepared in order to avoid any Public Records Act requests for those documents. 

“The lack of a paper trail does not fit with the concept of open government which seeks input from all interests. This unchecked process led to an imbalanced perspective,” the report read.

The report also noted a number of emails found between cannabis lobbyists or growers and board members were “unnerving.”

“The tone of these emails appeared at times as if to direct specific actions to the board members and gave the perception of an attempt to command instead of recommend,” the report said.

Ultimately, the jury believes the board, “failed the people of Santa Barbara County.”

“Now they must amend the cannabis ordinances to regain the people’s trust.”

The jury recommended a number of things to the board. A few of them are: 

  • Directing the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department Director to prepare Environmental Impact Reports addressing each region of Santa Barbara County after holding public hearings to evaluate public concerns.
  • Directing the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department Director to develop Project Objectives for the Environmental Impact Reports that reflect a balance between cannabis, traditional agriculture, and the residents of Santa Barbara County.
  • Requiring all future ad hoc committees be open to the public and subject to the Brown Act.
  • Developing standards that require Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors members to publicly disclose all access granted to lobbying individuals or groups, especially while a matter involving these individuals or groups is before the Board of Supervisors.
  • Amending the Land Use and Development Code and Article II, the Coastal Zoning Ordinance to require all pending cannabis land use permit applications be subject to a Conditional Use Permit review.
  • Requiring  all applicants with cannabis use and development permit applications and licenses pending, who claim legal non-conforming status, to prove their claimed status before the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission.

The board has 90 days to respond to the report. A full copy can be found at: http://www.sbcgj.org/2020/Cannabis.pdf.

email: jmercado@newspress.com 



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