Cannabis forest

Cannabis is growing in a canyon near Santa Ynez Valley, where residents are concerned the ordinances passed by Santa Barbara County supervisors is threatening revenues and their way of life.

Cannabis ordinances that have been in effect for about six months in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County could be tweaked as early as January to deal with some “unintended consequences” that have cropped up.

Some members of the County Board of Supervisors last month said the ordinances already need revision, although at least one supervisor said the board should wait until they’ve been in effect for a full year.

But during the supervisors’ meeting in Santa Maria on Tuesday, a Santa Ynez Valley resident urged the board to revisit the regulatory program she said poses a threat to the Valley because it’s incompatible with the community plan.

Joan Hartmann, whose 3rd District includes the Santa Ynez Valley, said during a break the board could consider tweaking the ordinances in mid-January.

In the meantime, supervisors plan to approve an amendment to the County Code’s Chapter 50, which established the cannabis licensing program, at the board’s meeting next week in Santa Barbara.

The amendment is needed to deal with a California Coastal Commission decision that negated the effective date of the licensing ordinance in the Coastal Zone, according to county staff.

Coastal commissioners decided not to consider the licensing portion of the ordinance and instead pulled language from that into the land use portion, which they approved with revisions, said Dennis Bozanich, deputy county executive officer.

But the licensing portion of the ordinance said it would go into effect in the Coastal Zone when it was approved by the Coastal Commission.

When the Coastal Commission declined to consider the licensing regulations, it left that portion of the ordinance on hold with no effective date.

By approving the change Dec. 11, the licensing regulations will become effective 30 days later, and the county can begin issuing cannabis licenses in the Coastal Zone.

Plea from Santa Ynez Valley

During the general public comment period Tuesday, supervisors heard a plea for help from Nancy Emerson, president of WE Watch, a citizens group that monitors land use issues in Santa Ynez Valley, who was speaking via video connection from the board hearing room in Santa Barbara.

Emerson noted that neither WE Watch nor any other community organization or public agencies from the Santa Ynez Valley participated in developing the cannabis ordinances, and she apologized for her agency’s absence from the process.

But she said her organization began studying the cannabis ordinances last spring and is now asking for help in protecting the Valley’s ambiance and sources of revenue.

“Our valley is unique in the county in being agricultural but with much income from the wine and tourist industry because of our rural setting, Solvang and the (Chumash) casino,” Emerson said.

“Cannabis cultivation presents a compatibility problem not addressed in the (cannabis) ordinance,” she said. “The ordinance does not honor our Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan update.”

Emerson pointed out that Montecito, which has its own planning commission, had opted out of cannabis activities on its agricultural lands and county staff had outlined problems cannabis cultivation could cause in relation to the Right to Farm Ordinance.

“We are now convinced that the ordinance must be revised or the Santa Ynez Valley will be badly damaged,” she said. “The urgency level has risen due to a totally inappropriate but allowed cannabis cultivation application.

“Residents have had to hire an attorney to protect them,” she added.

Emerson later said the application involves cannabis cultivation in Fredensborg Canyon near Solvang, but she noted a cultivation operation in hoop houses is having a visual and odor impact on a Santa Ynez Valley winery.

She told supervisors WE Watch is asking that sections B and D of the land-use ordinance be reviewed and revised “to protect residents, tourists and wineries in the cities, townships and Ag 1 and 2 parcels in our valley and beyond our valley as applicable.”

She later said the problems with the ordinance’s text include outdoor cultivation, including in hoop houses, causing odor problems, enclosed cultivation on parcels that are too small, inconsistencies in requirements for conditional use permits and lack of protection for cities’ boundaries and hillsides.

“We recognize that long-range planning staff are already on overload, but this matter needs priority status,” Emerson told supervisors.

Tweaking ordinances?

Later during the board’s discussion of the licensing amendment, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked about the timeline for licensing retail businesses, which are limited to a maximum of eight with no more than two allowed in a single supervisorial district.

Bozanich said following a 60-day prequalification period, the county will open a 45-day notification period announcing the intent to issue retail permits.

The notification period will end around mid-April, then staff will begin the process of randomly selecting the applicants who will receive retail licenses.

At a meeting in October, Lavagnino said he had a list of issues that need to be addressed through amendments and suggested the board review the ordinances after the first of the year.

But at that time, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said the board should allow the ordinances to remain in effect as written for at least a year before making changes.

But the idea came up again Tuesday.

“As people are applying for permits, I am finding some unintended consequences,” Hartmann commented, adding the board needs to revisit the cannabis ordinance to deal with those and other potential conflicts.

“There are some nuisance issues,” agreed Board Chairman and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, who added he heard some “loose direction” for the staff to bring the ordinances back for review early next year.

During a break, Hartmann said two issues Santa Ynez Valley residents are concerned about involve permit applications for cannabis operations just outside Solvang’s city limits and off Jonata Park Road just outside Buellton’s city limits.

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