Regulating marijuana is a difficult public policy issue that has evaded an adequate solution for decades. The passage of Prop. 64, only 53 days before I took office as 1st District Supervisor, and the decline of the domestic flower industry forced me into the fray. It is an issue that has been particularly divisive in our community, stirring up and adding to a long history of grievances between Carpinteria’s flower growers and residents around the greenhouses in which they grow.
I socialize with people on both sides of this debate — you do too if you go to any nonprofit event in our town. The closeness of my friendships on either side is something easy to twist to sound sordid. I have met with people on both sides over coffee, over beer, over pizza, and occasionally in the office to hear concerns that should be addressed and ideas for policy. Sometimes that has meant a marijuana grower comes up with an idea I like. Sometimes that has meant opponents of marijuana come up with something I support (as in a ban on outdoor/hoop-house grows, migrating odor being criteria for losing a license, and the cap on acreage). You can call those backroom dealings, but if so I’ve had more of them with the critics of marijuana than I have with anyone else.
One of the meetings that has been twisted to sound dirty was an informal gathering at my house with members of the Carpinteria Valley Association, well established in opposition to the valley’s transition to cannabis, and associates of a local family of growers, the Van Wingerdens, to meet with odor-control experts so residents could have a say in how odor control developed on the grow sites. More recently, I’ve convened a group of four growers and four opponents to talk about current community concerns related to cannabis in an effort to bridge the divide between the two groups. In addition to my own efforts in our community, the Board of Supervisors and County as a whole held over 50 public meetings, including meetings around a countywide Environmental Impact Report.
The result of all of this is an ordinance that I believe will address the concerns of Carpinteria residents once permits are issued to those that meet our standards. It is the ordinance that gives Carpinteria additional safeguards the rest of the county doesn’t have — including a cap on acreage and a ban on outdoor grows. It is the ordinance that has enabled us to shut down 34 cannabis operations countywide since August, a number that will continue to grow as operators go through the permitting process. Due to the stringent permit requirements regarding odor control, water usage, energy usage, and security, only 12 permits have been issued countywide — only one in the Carpinteria Valley.
Odor control is not required statewide — it is a product of our own local permitting process. Therefore, we need to permit operations to enforce odor control. In the meantime, many Carpinteria growers have taken the steps to implement odor control ahead of when we can force them to. That being said, it needs to get better. Our ordinance says that once someone has a local license, after three complaints the county sends out our Planning Director. If she smells it at the closest residential properties then it will require corrective action. Repeated problems can mean someone loses their local license entirely.
Which leads to a question I have to ask — is the situation better than it was before November 2018? That is when our ordinance went into effect, and the answer I’ve heard from most residents is “yes.”
I understand people are scared by the number of applications in our small town. But the standards we have written into the ordinance and the cap I added will ensure that only some of them will end up getting permits. I also understand that it is not yet good enough — especially for those who have been living in the Wild West for the last five years. I planned for us to be further down the process of cleaning things up by now, and for that added frustration I apologize. I work on this issue constantly, and I will keep working to get it better.