Most of the Orcutt residents and business owners who spoke at a community engagement workshop as part of the cannabis retail storefront business license process said they do not want such an operation in the community.
While a few said it might be OK to allow a cannabis storefront in a remote part of the Orcutt Community Plan Area, almost all said Santa Barbara County should not allow one to open in the Old Town area.
But two speakers — neither of them Orcutt residents and one representing a company seeking to open a retail storefront in Old Town — urged the community to consider the tax revenues and how the money could be used to fund improvements.
The virtual meeting held July 9 was one of six the county is holding to gather public input on what the criteria should be for business license applications and neighborhood compatibility of such businesses.
One cannabis retail storefront will be allowed in each of the county’s six community plan areas, and operators will be selected from applicants based on scores assigned to their applications that must include a neighborhood compatibility plan.
Residents and business owners said a cannabis retail storefront would not be compatible with any neighborhoods in Old Town, which they have worked hard to make a charming, pedestrian-friendly district of small shops and restaurants frequented by children headed home from school.
“We’re a very family-oriented community,” said Joe Dana, a resident and 30-year educator with the Orcutt School District. “We’re about school and baseball and church and barbecues, and there’s a really community spirit about Orcutt.”
He noted Orcutt voters bucked the county trend, with a majority voting against legalizing recreational cannabis use, so it’s understandable they don’t want a retail storefront located there.
Dana said a site with the proper zoning near Highway 101 and Clark Avenue would make the most sense for a cannabis storefront, but Old Town makes no sense.
“Cannabis is not compatible with Old Orcutt,” he said. “In fact, it would be jarring. It would be a slap in the face.”
Wendy Stellar focused her concern on the volume of traffic a retail storefront would bring, a lack of parking and safety for the many schoolchildren who cross Clark Avenue.
She pointed out the potential storefront sites are on two-lane roads where parking is already a problem, yet the businesses anticipate employing 40 to 80 people and serving 800 to 1,000 customers a day and asked how the county would handle that as well as safeguard children.
Stellar and husband Mark own Old Town Market and the Antique Mall, yet she didn’t dwell on how the market building was recently purchased by a company owned by Helios Dayspring, who operates the Natural Healing Center cannabis shop and served the Stellars with an eviction notice.
But others did.
“Our businesses are being bought out and kicked out as we speak,” said Lisa Bodrogi. “How can we dissuade cannabis operators from considering Old Town Orcutt as a potential site?”
Danny George worried that money would influence the decision on a location.
“It’s become obvious the county has put a lot of its tax eggs in the marijuana basket,” George said. “I have my fears that cash money is going to speak louder than the wishes of the community.
George Armendariz, representing Natural Healing Center, said a cannabis retail storefront could generate as much as $1 million in taxes annually, and he would advocate for the County Board of Supervisors to put that money right back into the community.
“We can make Orcutt a world-class place to be, to live, to recreate, to worship,” he said. “This company — this industry, I should say — this potential opportunity here in Orcutt, whether it’s Old Town or otherwise, is the opportunity to create a dynamic, financial, big-bang, shock-and-awe opportunity — not just for the people but for the businesses.”
Assistant County Executive Officer Barney Melekian, who coordinated the meeting, told participants their comments and opinions were being heard and considered.
“It’s very clear what the opinion of this meeting is regarding the placement of a dispensary in Old Town Orcutt, and I can assure you it will be part of the neighborhood compatibility review once the application period begins,” he said.