Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner John Parke. | Credit: Paul Wellman

The county’s Planning Commission, led by John Parke, sought to cut the proverbial baby in half when considering Sarah Rotman’s request to grow 22 acres of cannabis on her property near Buellton. Neither side was happy. Both have appealed the Planning Commission’s November 7 ruling to the county supervisors, who are already facing legions of cannabis issues coming before them in coming months.

Though commissioners approved Rotman’s proposal ​— ​and denied an appeal by a coalition of cannabis critics and a neighboring farmer, Sharyne Merritt ​— ​they attached 35 conditions. Rotman is objecting to five. One would reduce the acreage to 18; another would drastically reduce the number of hoops under which cannabis could be grown to four. Rotman also objected to some language about odor control.

Merritt and Coalition for Responsible Cannabis complained that Rotman be required to obtain a more stringent Conditional Use Permit and that her cannabis farm will intrude on existing agriculture ​— ​especially wine vineyards. Most outspoken was vintner Blair Pence, who has termed cannabis an “existential crisis.” His critics have noted that Pence violated the terms of his own land-use permits by operating a tasting room. Initially, county zoning officials fined Pence $4,000. But last week ​— ​after Pence blasted their actions as part of a “vendetta” instigated by the cannabis industry ​— ​they backed off. He must now pay just $500; the remaining fees have been suspended pending his bringing the tasting room into compliance.

The Rotman appeal highlights a growing tension between supervisors and their planning commissioners, who have tried to soften the impact legalized cannabis agriculture has had on their neighbors. Some supervisors feel the commissioners are in effect creating new policies which exceeds the scope of their authority.


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