Land-use ordinances to govern cannabis operations in Santa Barbara County were approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors at the end of a public hearing that spanned more than seven hours and included comments from more than 55 members of the public.
Supervisors approved the ordinances “in concept” on a 4-1 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, then approved specific language in several revisions after it was finalized by staff and returned shortly before 7 p.m. Adam had left the meeting.
Changes included the width of some buffer zones, a delay in instituting energy conservation plans, eliminating odor control requirements on some large parcels in AG-2 zoning, limiting where outdoor cultivation is allowed and placing a cap on the number of retail locations.
The ordinances will come back at the Feb. 13 meeting for a second reading and final adoption as part of the administrative agenda, a group of items usually approved in a single vote without comment unless an item is pulled for discussion.
Supervisors also approved tax rates for various types of cannabis operations, agreed to place a general tax measure on the June ballot and approved the ballot measure language.
The board got the four of five votes needed to place a general tax measure on the ballot, with Adam voting “no” as he promised he would if changes he wanted in the land-use ordinances were not agreed to by the rest of the board.
“It’s not going to generate the amount of tax you expect, and it doesn’t say how (the money) will be spent,” Adam said, calling the language “disingenuous.”
As a general tax, the measure will only require a “yes” vote from 50 percent of the electorate plus one to be approved; if it fails, the tax can’t be levied and the county won’t have enough funds to provide the level of enforcement supervisors want nor the revenue they hope will help fill in a looming budget deficit.
Unless supervisors decide otherwise at the time, the county would go ahead with issuing licenses and collecting processing fees so cannabis operators will have to meet ordinance requirements and enforcement can begin even without the tax revenue.
Two changes supervisors made in the tax and land-use ordinances will likely have an impact on that revenue, as well.
During a discussion of which types of operations will be allowed in various zones, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said she counted the number of parcels where retail sales would be allowed, and the county could have as many as 284 retail storefronts.
“Two hundred eighty-four storefront parcels is outrageous to me,” Wolf said, noting Los Angeles has 10, and she recommended the same limit for Santa Barbara County.
That number was later reduced to eight, with a limit of two per supervisorial district, with final limits to be worked out by the staff and included in the licensing ordinance that’s yet to be considered.
Under the tax schedule adopted by the board, retail operations were in the highest bracket, along with microbusinesses, at 6 percent of gross revenues.
Limiting retail storefronts to eight could reduce tax revenues estimated at $5 million to $25 million annually.
On the other hand, the board also eliminated the 8 percent cap on taxes for cannabis operators who hold more than one license — up to three are allowed.
The other rates are 1 percent on nurseries and distributors, 3 percent on manufacturers and 4 percent on cultivators. So for some operators with multiple licenses, total taxes could exceed 8 percent.
Supervisors eliminated the 8 percent cap in order to fit more information into the ballot measure, which is limited to 75 words, about how the county will spend the revenues. Adam abstained in that 4-0-1 vote.
“If we want the public confidence, we should say what we’re spending the money on,” said 1st District Supervisor and Board Chairman Das Williams.
Removing the cap allowed the board to add nine more words, specifying the money will be spent on law enforcement, fire protection, health services, parks and roads, but as a general tax, supervisors can spend the revenues however they decide during budget hearings.
In the land-use ordinance changes, the board banned outdoor cultivation in AG-1 zones within 1,500 feet of residential zoning and sensitive receptors like schools and day care centers and set buffer zones at 600 feet for nurseries and 750 feet for all other uses from an urban rural boundary line.
Cultivation on parcels 20 acres or smaller in the AG-1 zone and those in the AG-1-5 and AG-1-10 zones will require conditional use permits.
The energy conservation plans won’t be required until a year after a permit is issued so a baseline of energy use can be established after odor control measures are instituted.
The ordinances approved Tuesday with revised wording are available on the county website at www.countyofsb.org.