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Santa Barbara County Sued over Hoop Ordinance

Lawsuit Claims County’s Environmental Impact Report Was Flawed

Photo: Paul Wellman File An example of hoop houses in Santa Ynez Valley

The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, a countywide group disaffected with the county’s approach to the new cannabis industry, has filed a lawsuit challenging the county’s hoop-house ordinance, recently approved by the supervisors. It’s a highly technical attack.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Marc Chytilo, claims the hoop-ordinance environmental impact report (EIR) was flawed, that it had been so changed it no longer described what the supervisors voted on in April, and that the supervisors ignored Class I impacts that can’t be mitigated. That document, Chytillo argued, should have allowed affected parties and the public a chance to comment. A key component in the public process “was … given short shrift,” he said.

Recently, cannabis growers have begun using plastic hoop houses that are routinely allowed for other crops. Because cannabis is not technically an agricultural product, the exemptions allowed for ag farmers do not apply to cannabis growers. With California’s registration deadlines looming, cannabis growers fought successfully to lighten what they claimed were time-consuming county regulations.

This lawsuit is another step in the widening struggle between cannabis growers and their more established neighbors. Vintners, tasting-room operators, and Santa Ynez tourism advocates are pushing to restrict cannabis crop acreage, in part because of odors and the proliferation of plastic hoop houses. Cannabis growers, who insist they are the most intensely regulated crop in California, claim there are only about 500 cannabis acres, compared to the 21,000 acres of vineyards.

The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis has just filed incorporation papers with the State of California’s Secretary of State’s office. Chytilo declined to release the names of its boardmembers at this time. The lawsuit was filed this week in Santa Barbara Superior Court. 

County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni expressed confidence the environmental review process for the hoop-house ordinance will withstand legal challenge. He noted that the Planning and Development staff conducted two public hearings on the scope of the environmental review document, that the Planning Commission conducted six hearings on the document itself, and the county supervisors held three public hearings, during which time the Environmental Impact Report was certified and the ordinance adopted.

[Editor’s Note: This story was updated on May 15 to reflect a response received from the county regarding the ordinance’s environmental review process, and, on May 17, the title removed the word “Cannabis” to clarify that the ordinance affects all agriculture.]

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