Why Transparency and Ethics Matter in SB Politics!

By Jeff Giordano   |   June 11, 2024

On June 18, the Supervisors will decide whether our revenue-starved County will approve a ballot referendum that would increase our cannabis tax rates. Frankly, I’m not nearly as concerned about the tax itself, as I am about the fact that Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Das Willams continue to dominate the cannabis conversation. Allow me to explain: 

On May 14, our Deputy CEO Brittany Odermann put forth a professional presentation re: cannabis tax alternatives. This time, costs (albeit not all of them) made their way into the analysis. Excluding our huge Full Time Employee expenses and state fees, it costs $5M to collect $5.4M In cannabis taxes i.e., the program is DEEPLY underwater adding NOTHING to our General Fund.

Against this reality, Supervisor Laura Capps asked whether our tax policy was “now shifting” from making money to simply “subsidizing” the cannabis industry? Supervisor Joan Hartmann followed by asking whether the “squeeze from 285 acres of outdoor cannabis was worth the revenue juice?” Staff recommended a 4X rate increase for outdoor cannabis which, according to my calculations, contributes just $741k to our $1.6B county fund. 

I actually “felt” for the Supes because they were faced with an industry parade of growers, lobbyists, and attorneys who pushed back, without any of the citizenry arguing on behalf of the County because, after all, it is the supervisors’ role to do what’s County-best. Indeed, it’s exactly this type of issue where the community needs to be certain that our supervisors are doing the “people’s work,” because as Supervisor Bob Nelson said, the status-quo is “untenable.” 

Staff proposed a tax increase for outdoor cannabis from $2,610 per acre to $10,750. This is still low, with some counties charging as much as $87,120 – but it’s a start. Now, who was there to advocate for the industry and to strenuously object to more money for our budget-challenged County? You guessed it, one of the original ad hoc cannabis engineers, Supervisor Lavagnino. Remember, it was Mr. Lavagnino who in 2023 said his only regret was “that cannabis didn’t earn the County more money.” Trust what people do, not what people say.

After running unopposed for his fourth term (we need Term Limits!), Mr. Lavagnino transferred $239k to his Supervisor for 2026 account. How is it that he amassed a war chest that is so very large when his district is so very voter-small? Simple: Special Interests, including, among others, cannabis. In just one short filing period more than 20% of his contributions came from cannabis. Over two years, more than $30K came from cannabis interests, many right here in the First District – you know, the folks who are yelling the loudest about taxes and carbon scrubbers. 

Special Interest money is not illegal, and because we have no clear county standards, it need not be disclosed (SB 1439?). At some point, though, shouldn’t recusal become more than an ideal? This is not about Mr. Lavagnino’s integrity or character. It’s not even about cannabis! Instead, it’s about the Appearance of Impropriety and our desperate need for a County Code of Ethics. THE POINT: Shouldn’t we talk about the elephant in the room – if for no other reason than that it exists?

Will we get the four votes needed for a consequentialtax change – you know, one that would add revenue to the General Fund from outdoor AND indoor cultivation? With Supervisors Lavagnino and Williamsweighing in, I doubt it. Not because it isn’t warranted, but because Special Interests hijacked the bus that the other 400,000 County residents are riding on. I only hope the same doesn’t happen when the supervisors discuss odor abatement, because taxes are not the “only” thing wrong with cannabis.  

Jeff Giordano, SB County Resident


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