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Applicants’ qualifications and their compatibility with the community will determine which ones are offered the right to operate retail cannabis storefronts in Santa Barbara County if proposed code amendments are approved by the Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, supervisors gave their preferred selection process changes to staff, who will draw up proposed amendments that will be vetted by the County Counsel’s Office before returning to the board for consideration.

The proposed ordinance amendments are scheduled to return to the board in the first week of January and will include preventing retail cannabis storefronts from being located in three communities not part of any community plan area.

Under current regulations, a maximum of two cannabis retail shops could operate in Vandenberg Village, Casmalia and New Cuyama, with only one allowed per community.

Supervisors' requested elimination of those two will reduce the number of retail cannabis operations allowed in the unincorporated area to six, with one permitted in each of the Orcutt, Los Alamos, Santa Ynez Valley, Eastern Goleta Valley, Isla Vista/Goleta and combined Summerland and Toro Canyon community plan areas.

Deputy County Executive Officer Dennis Bozanich outlined a number of options to address public and staff concerns that the currently approved process incorporating random selection might result in less-than-desirable operators being chosen for the limited number of retail licenses.

But 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam also worried about the merit-based process setting a precedent that might be extended to all project applications at some point in the future.

“I’m a little uncomfortable with this whole thing,” Adam said. “I realize [cannabis] is a special matter. What if someone wants to put a grocery store there? … It seems like a slippery slope, and I don’t like it.”

But ultimately, supervisors chose to create a three-step, criteria-based selection process that will assign applicants a score and rank that will be determined by combining an evaluation of their community compatibility plans by a county committee and an analysis of their business plans by an independent third-party consultant.

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Supervisors seemed emphatic that the county selection committee should not include members of the board.

“I have a 10-foot pole in my office that I don’t intend to touch this with,” Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino joked.

The business plan would include such elements as cannabis business experience, a record of compliance with county regulations, a procedures manual, an employee training program and financing, procurement, delivery, communications and security plans.

Supervisors also said the public should be involved early in the process of determining what a community would want in a retail cannabis operator, but County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni cautioned that to be legal, criteria should be equally applied across all areas of the county.

Individual supervisors brought up certain elements they want included in the business and community-compatibility plans.

Adam asked for a parking evaluation, and 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said the applications should include a staffing plan, an inclusive hiring process and a labor peace agreement for 15 employees or more, with a report on that agreement delivered at the end of the license year.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said the scoring should give preference to local operators and those who emphasize hiring people of color, and she said a health education component should be included in the plans.

Williams wanted community priorities to be heavily weighted in the scores, and Lavagnino said he wanted to see a “local product” from retail operators to benefit the community.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.