Letters to the Editors
Inaugural Event a Success
Congratulations to the Montecito Journal on a very successful and well attended 1st District Supervisor Debate. The evening was informative, professional, well organized, and even had some humor sprinkled in. Although free to those of us in the audience, I’m confident that even with the support from the Montecito Association, the Santa Barbara Foundation and KCRW, the event was not free for the Montecito Journal to produce. Thank you very much for giving back to the community with this important, relevant presentation, and I look forward to attending more Montecito Journal events in the future!
A Vote for Capps
Our 1st District County Supervisorial race is being characterized by certain advocates as one in which an experienced incumbent with a long record of accomplishments is being challenged by a newcomer without experience who might not even be a serious candidate. However, an examination of the factual record, particularly the incumbent’s record since the Cannabis sativa behemoth blew into Santa Barbara County just two years ago, belies this scenario.
Both incumbent Supervisor Das Williams and challenger Laura Capps are experienced public servants who grew up steeped in local politics. One gained experience in the rough-and-tumble of city, state, and county offices while the other practically had progressive politics served nightly on her dinner plate, received a top education at Berkeley and at the London School of Economics, and finally spent a decade crafting legislation at the highest levels of the federal government, in both the executive and legislative branches. The consequential, salient issue on which this election should be decided is integrity and ethics. While Mr. Williams deserves the gratitude of Montecitans for his constituent service in the post-mudslide recovery, we should not turn a blind eye to his record on the pot industry, fueled by his acceptance of more than $60,000 in that industry’s contributions.
Mr. Williams cannot have it both ways: It’s disingenuous to claim our incumbent supervisor possesses a superior level of legislative experience on the one hand, while on the other hand giving him a hall pass for ignorance and naiveté in opening the regulatory door wide for California’s marijuana millionaires. Our beloved Santa Barbara County, renowned for the heady Mediterranean-influenced scents of floriculture, viticulture and pomology – luring seven million visitors per annum – has been hit by two stronger scents. One comes from the stinky terpene chemical odors in Carpinteria and along Avenue 246 during the weed-drying process; the other comes from the stench of public corruption brought about by catering to special-interest lobbyists. Mr. Williams’s and fellow “Doobie Brother” Steve Lavagnino’s circumvention of the state’s Brown Act governing open meetings, by forming a two-supervisor, non-transparent committee in 2017, then working with pot lobbyists to craft a lax ordinance, is now well documented, thanks to two long investigative stories by the Los Angeles Times and the work of industrious local reporters. These supervisors’ gaffes have made Santa Barbara County a national case study in how not to introduce, manage, tax, and regulate Cannabis sativa. Stories such as “Flower Town Grapples With Pot Industry’s Stench” from the Associated Press are echoing round the world and could in future alter our county’s image as a wholesome and healthy mecca for beachgoers, mountain climbers, and especially families. Property values near pot-growing operations could also be at stake. Why couldn’t our supervisors follow the lead of Ventura County, which bans commercial cannabis cultivation but is earning tax revenue from its 4,000 acres permitted to grow industrial hemp?
Supervisors Williams and Lavagnino promised to limit pot farms to just 10,000 square feet, but instead we ended up with loopholes allowing growers to purchase and “stack” multiple licenses to create giant pot plantations. Parents and school leaders in Carpinteria are dismayed at having pot farms in uncomfortable proximity to Carpinteria High, the Howard School, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the historic 1910 Cate School. Pot farms are so close to traditional Santa Barbara agriculture that avocado and citrus growers, who must use certain pesticides on their crops, are worried about potential lawsuits from nearby pot purveyors. And given the enormous size of Santa Barbara County’s new pot industry, financial watchdogs have been calling for investigations into why comparatively little tax money has flowed into county coffers. Up county, my friends Blair and Dianne Pence, who grow award-winning pinot noir and other varietals in the Santa Rita Hills viticultural area, have been fighting “cannagribusiness” through the County Planning Commission appeals process, successfully persuading commissioners to deny a 73-acre operation next door and to scale back another’s 37 acres to 12.5. But this temporary measure is likely to be appealed and could be overridden by – guess who – the supervisors.
Six months ago, it was widely reported that farms in our county held 35% of all California marijuana cultivation licenses issued in 2019, despite our small size representing just 1.8% of the state’s land. This month, the County Planning Commission began hearings on the subject, with a wide range of residents asking for restricting the size and types of cannabis operations, tightening the permitting process, requiring odor control, and establishing more reasonable setbacks and buffers – safeguards that many believe should have been part of the original ordinance.
The prudent way to face this powerful and highly controversial industry is to elect Laura Capps and support her five-element campaign finance reform package, including: a ban on contributions from industries with business before the supervisors; limits on both campaign contributions and candidate spending; an ethics commission; and greater transparency on campaign donations. Voting for Ms. Capps, a candidate unconnected to the cannabis industry, would help send a signal to the rest of the supervisors that Santa Barbara County residents will not tolerate cosy relationships with lobbyists. We need public officials who possess the ethical chops to weigh special interests’ wish lists against more important criteria, the public interest and the commonweal.
Eileen White Read
Vote Das Williams for Climate Leadership
2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which took place in the wake of the first massive oil spill in Santa Barbara. It comes after the hottest decade on record, when consensus on the need to act on climate is so high the Oxford dictionary chose “climate emergency” as the 2019 word of the year. At the same time, the Trump administration has plans to open a million acres of public lands in Santa Barbara and surrounding counties and ocean waters of the Santa Barbara Channel to fracking and drilling, while eliminating safety measures taken after the 210 million-gallon Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the gulf and disallowing climate considerations from development.
We are fortunate to have strong environmental champions like Supervisor Das Williams fighting back to protect our environment and opposing these moves by the Trump administration. Das Williams had a 100% rating by the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters when he was in the California Assembly, where he helped advance ambitious climate legislation. Santa Barbara County need not become a fossil fuel sacrifice zone. California’s goal of 100% renewable energy and millions of electric vehicles is on track, and Santa Barbara County is leading the way with a wide range of active projects, including the Strauss Wind project, the Tajiguas Resource Recovery project, converting waste into renewable energy, a number of large battery storage projects, a new solar ordinance, community choice energy, county building renewable projects, and the electrification of the county’s fleet of cars. These will create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of tax revenue.
Critical to this progress is maintaining the environmental leadership of Supervisors Das Williams and Joan Hartmann, both instrumental to this progress, both endorsed by the Sierra Club, and both up for re-election on March 3, with mail in ballots dropping in early February. Vote Das Williams for 1st District County Supervisor!
Chair, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter
County Integrity Matters
For those of us who have done any building in SB County we can all agree, it ain’t easy. Indeed, it’s this understanding that makes our current cannabis process so suspect.
Prop 64 took effect in 2016 and for growers to expand from small medical grows to what are now the largest pot farms in the world, they needed to file an affidavit stating “yes” we were growing medical MJ on or before January 19, 2016. No photographic evidence or revenue receipts, just the affidavit. This scheme was created because earlier the County had banned recreational cultivation except for those who claimed (I won’t say “proved”) legal medical MJ grows.
This single piece of paper – approximately 200 were filed – formed the basis (“Legal Nonconforming Use”) for every provisional state license in the County. A County that now boasts 1,146 such licenses over approximately 70 parcels. Frankly, it’s utterly amazing how many folks were growing medical MJ – who would have guessed?
Anyway, here’s the rub: The County – usually sticklers for process – deemed these affidavits sufficient on their face. How about a quick site visit or a momentary search on Google Earth – no, too involved for our $950M County and second largest employer.
Or, how about settled law that requires the claimant to prove (and the County to “adjudicate”) the prior use at a public hearing? Something that the Planning Commission recommended – after all, it is the claimant seeking the entitlement. Not in our banana republic where when it comes to cannabis our Political Monarchy set no reasonable limits. And the costs, well the Supervisors require that other non-profiting residents pay – huh? I’m thinking about seeking a variance for an open-air dump and I can’t wait for the County to require my complaining neighbors to belly-up. Strange madness, wouldn’t you agree?
You might not care about how cannabis affects our vaunted American Riviera brand, health, values and wine/hospitality industries or that there are reasonable fixes that our Supervisors ignore. My question is whether you care about integrity? I ask because here is where things get downright weird – a certain number of affidavits have been questioned. Guess what the County is thinking about doing? Nothing! That’s right, they are considering ignoring a false affidavit when it comes time to issue a County Permit.
As questions and accusations swirl, the one thing we know for certain is that in this election year special interest money has flowed like a river to our Supervisors and pols. But this is still America and unless we make a change in March and November we can all expect more of the same. Integrity matters!
SB County Resident
Fair Trial Needed
I’ve lived in Santa Barbara for 50 years and raised my children here. I’ve been watching the impeachment proceedings with interest, and it seems crucial that a fair trial in the Senate will include a presentation of documents and testimony from witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the President’s actions. These witnesses have been muzzled by the President during the House proceedings, but in the Senate, they must be allowed to speak and present documents. Any evidence the President can produce to refute the charges against him must be heard, and he must hear from his accusers. It’s not just rational, it’s the Constitution.