Santa Barbara: Tilting Toward Tyranny

By Jeff Giordano   |   November 22, 2022

At a time when, nationally, we’re discussing (i.e. screaming at one another) democracy, I thought it appropriate to bring the issue a bit closer to home. You see, part of any great democracy is the idea of Checks and Balances – it’s what separates us from authoritarianism. Unfortunately, in Santa Barbara we tend toward tyranny where power is unchecked and the public good suffers. Allow me to explain:

For those few who read my pieces, you know that all roads in our 3,800-square-mile county lead to five district Supervisors. They control our 20+ departments, hire our County executives and appoint, among others, our five Planning Commissioners. These Commissioners are subject-matter experts charged with “acting in the public interest” and recently they did just that by ruling that a Cannabis grow, one relatively close to the children at Cate School, should install a Carbon Filtration system. 

Part of the issue for the Grower was cost but since when is private profitability a public concern? Short answer: It isn’t! But, when it comes to Cannabis, always remember it’s more about spin than the facts. In a recent Forbes article, one of our local growers gleefully exclaimed that Cannabis will soon be grown for just “$100 per pound.” Now, I’m no Jeff Bezos but when wholesale pricing is $800+ per pound that sounds like a pretty spectacular profit margin.

What burns me is that just 13 months ago these same Growers signed and broadly publicized an agreement touting Carbon Filtration. I guess being a “good neighbor” (Cannabis’ slogan) doesn’t mean all that much when dollars (or children) are involved—it’s always about the spin. 

Anyway, knowing that the Board has never ruled against Cannabis, the Grower appealed. Cate was represented by Holland & Knight, a premier firm, who spoke about the supremacy of Carbon Filtration. Remember, our Planning Commission, two of whom (Parke and Cooney) are attorneys, had already reviewed the legal briefs, heard arguments, and ruled in Cate’s favor. 

The appeal went as expected with a few of the Supes, doing their best to “play” lawyer. Our First District Supervisor lead the charge by literally advocating on behalf of the Grow as if this particular seven acres of Cannabis (in a County where the “Cap” is 1,700 acres) was his raison d’être for service. The optics of the decision were as troubling as our uniquely different and cozy-Cannabis deal that will gross just $10M in taxes for our $1.4B County.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, the only lawyer in the bunch, was the lone dissenter with questions that, frankly, should have been asked before the Ordinance was passed: Shouldn’t we demand (like CO) that odors not cross the property line? If Carbon Filtration (used in CO) is the best technology, shouldn’t it be required in Santa Barbara? Board unanimity is a followers-game so, yes, dissenting opinions matter! One other Captain Obvious thought: The Board can amend the ordinance!

The real issue, however, is not Cannabis, it’s unchecked power that knows no ethical bounds. Out tax scheme was developed without the input (hmm) of our elected Tax Collector, Harry Hagen. Also, the most recent filings show that certain Supervisors continue to take Cannabis money! We desperately need disclosure, moratoriums (how close to a vote is too close) and recusal standards – for all Special Interests. Believe me, there is much more because our lack of rules differ from most any other CA county and while the State has taken notice, even SB 1439 (Google it!) may be too little too late. We need to do more to shine a light on Santa Barbara’s dark underbelly because a democracy without Checks and Balances is like, well, turkey without the stuffing – enjoy the holiday.

Jeff Giordano, SB County Resident 


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