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Santa Barbara County implementing consultant’s cannabis recommendations
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Santa Barbara County implementing consultant’s cannabis recommendations

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A consultant’s recommendations for improving cannabis permit and license application management, processing time and customer service are already being used by Santa Barbara County, officials said Tuesday.

Consultant KPMG delivered a report with seven recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors, and county staff responded that one recommendation has been implemented, most are in the process of being implemented and the rest soon will be.

According to an implementation timeline provided with the report, all but one of the recommended changes will be in place by June 2021, and the last of them will be implemented by June 2022.

The recommendations included starting the business license and land use permit application processes at the same time, which is already being done, and including the County Executive Office and other departments in the Subdivision Development Review Committee to be sure cannabis projects get a thorough review, a change that’s being implemented now.

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KPMG also recommended establishing requirements for digitally submitting applications and for reviewing plans as well as requirements for resubmittals and accepting applications as complete.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said those recommendations also will benefit permit processes in other areas where “do-it-yourself applicants” don’t understand what a complete application should look like.

“Maybe if you kind of provide some kind of pilot program with cannabis and then get that expanded to everyone else in all other types of projects, it could help people just get permits for additions to their homes or outbuildings or something like that in the end and [would] save a lot of staff time trying to remember who’s at day 89 … ,” Adam said.

“And it would help get things through the process faster and result in less projects that fall off the edge and don’t get processed in the end because they didn’t meet the 90-day requirement,” he said.

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Other recommendations included having the business license process use the same fee procedure as that used for the land use permit process and integrating the Accela program, currently used by the Planning and Development Department for land use applications, into the County Executive Office business license process.

KPMG also recommended that the county’s cannabis website be improved to make the process pathway clearer for cannabis applicants.

First District Supervisor Das Williams asked about what project information is available to the public without filing an appeal and said he’d heard complaints that some project details are difficult to find.

Planning and Development Department Director Lisa Plowman said copyright laws prevent the county from releasing some plans without the permission of the applicant.

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However, she said, the county has made some of those documents available in “clean rooms” where the public can review them but can’t make copies or photograph them.

Marc Chytilo, an attorney for a number of cannabis appellants, also called for planning manuals to clarify application requirements, but he was critical of the county’s handling of copyright issues.

“The county’s use of copyright as a shield has been much broader than necessary,” he said, asking that applicants be required to sign a copyright waiver when submitting plans or not include copyrighted materials in their applications.

Plowman told the board her department is working with the County Counsel’s Office to establish guidelines on copyrighted materials.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she’d heard some of the changes will lead to better projects being submitted and asked Plowman how that would come about.

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“I think as we’ve all grown and learned through this initial kickoff of the cannabis ordinance and the permit process … the applicants have been listening to the hearings, understanding what the concerns of the Planning Commission are, understanding what the concerns of the board are, [and] what we’ve seen is people molding their applications to address those concerns in advance,” Plowman said.

“We’re starting to see more collaboration between appellants and applicants and trying to resolve issues before it gets to that point,” she added, describing it as a “maturation process” leading to better coordination and streamlining.

County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato said her office will talk with KPMG about having the consultant help develop an auditing process for cannabis revenues.

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