When Das Williams was elected 1st District county supervisor last November, conservatives grumbled. Even people who agreed with him expected him to polarize the board, given his reputation as a grandstanding progressive. But now, Williams and County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, a classic conservative from Santa Maria, have become strange bedfellows. What’s brought them together is pot.
“We’re seeing eye to eye almost all the time,” Williams said. He admitted he was “a little surprised.” “What we share in common is we both work in the real world.”
The idea that Williams and Lavagnino would get along so well would have been highly unlikely three years ago. Williams had zealously launched a campaign known as Measure P to halt fracking (and other unconventional oil drilling) in Santa Barbara County. Lavagnino was one of the first to oppose it, arguing fracking was not even occurring in the county. Voters shot it down. The only district where the measure passed was the one Williams now represents — spanning Montecito, Carpinteria, and the City of Santa Barbara.
It’s where some of the richest and most liberal residents in Santa Barbara County live. In contrast, Lavagnino represents a farming community in the Santa Maria area that leans Republican. But everyone from those in the Carpinteria greenhouses to the Santa Maria fields wants to get into pot.
Williams and Lavagnino have been holding regular private meetings to draft an ordinance that will regulate how much weed can be grown on the county’s 700,000 acres of ag land. The ordinance also includes land-use permits, zoning licenses, and taxes (which eventually must be passed by voters).
They have a long way to go. Growers have complained they are moving at a snail’s pace. Counties such as Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma are all ahead of Santa Barbara. And growers need the county’s authorization before they can get in line for state permits. That process opens next January.
“We are moving as fast we can,” Lavagnino told a packed room of growers and some marijuana critics on Tuesday. “The reality is we are not going to be ready by January 1.”
For starters, he said, it would cost $1 million to hold a special election to approve the taxes. “I didn’t think it was a wise decision,” he said. The tax will be on the ballot in June 2018. Second, the results of the environmental impact report (EIR) won’t be ready “best-case scenario” until next February. (The county supervisors will decide in June what firm to hire to complete the EIR, according to county spokesperson Gina DePinto.)
Few complained on Tuesday about odors, particularly in Carpinteria Valley, where there are an estimated 340 acres of greenhouses. Barbara Kloos — an opponent of Proposition 64, the law legalizing recreational marijuana — emphasized the drug’s societal impact, particularly when the plants are grown a short distance from schools. “Six hundred feet really isn’t going to do much,” she said. “I didn’t move into an ag area.”
While weed cultivation will be prohibited in neighborhoods zoned residential, Williams explained, it would be allowed in places that might feel residential but are technically zoned agriculture. To manage odors, he referenced a $1,500 device — the Nasal Ranger — that looks like a periscope you would attach to your nose. It could be used to determine whether or not the smells violate odor laws.
But Carpinteria growers argued most agriculture — save for roses — stinks. And the flower industry has been so financially strapped as cheaper flowers are imported from Colombia. The only way to preserve the open space throughout the valley, proponents said, is to allow them to grow pot. They just cautioned that too steep a levy on taxes would be bad for competition throughout California.
Tax measures are one of the elements Williams and Lavagnino still must figure out — and agree on — before they go to the Board of Supervisors and then to voters for approval. And given the politically charged nature of taxes, that could end the honeymoon.