Santa Barbara County officials plan to launch community engagement meetings in June in advance of selecting who will receive cannabis retail storefront business licenses.
The report, delivered Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, also looked at cannabis enforcement actions, land use permits, business licenses and tax revenues for the third quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal year.
Goals and next steps the county plans to take in regulating the industry also were outlined.
When supervisors changed the process of selecting retail storefront operators from a random drawing among prequalified applicants to a merit-based system in January, the new ordinance required community engagement meetings to be held for each of six community plan areas two months before the county begins accepting applications.
Applicants can use the public comments to develop community compatibility plans that are required as part of the license applications.
Meetings had been scheduled to start in April but were put on hold after the social distancing and stay-at-home orders were issued to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Assistant County Executive Officer Barney Melekian said Tuesday the staff is now planning to start those meetings with a virtual format next month and expects to present an updated timeline, along with scoresheet criteria for rating the applicants, at the board’s June 16 meeting.
County officials previously estimated that once the applications are received, it could take a year before operators can obtain licenses and permits.
Melekian said the staff is working to better align the land use permit and business license application processes to address some of the conflicts between the two that have slowed their processing.
To date, the county has received a total of 189 permit applications and issued 16 land use permits and four coastal development permits. The rest are still pending.
Of the 72 business license applications submitted, the county has issued 10 licenses.
As far as tax revenue, the county has collected $6.7 million for the first three quarters of the 2019-20 fiscal year compared to $6.8 million for all four quarters of the 2018-19 fiscal year.
But Melekian pointed out that because some processes had changed in response to COVID-19 restrictions, nearly $800,000 in third quarter tax revenue wasn’t posted until the first day of the fourth quarter.
So without the COVID-19 changes, third quarter tax revenue would probably have been nearly $7.5 million, even though 44 of the county’s 113 operators reported no gross revenues and 23 of them filed no reports at all.
“We do take the issue of not reporting very seriously,” Melekian said, adding officials will be investigating why those 23 filed no reports and considering whether to withdraw the county’s authorization for their state provisional and annual licenses.
He also said the county needs to support operators who are striving for full compliance with all regulations.
Melekian noted 263 state licenses held by cannabis operators in the county are set to expire within 60 days and most would automatically renew, but the county will review them to see if it should withdraw authorization for any of them.
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