Poodle | Fighting over Santa Barbara’s Santa Claus Cannabis Store

No More Kitsch, But Plenty of Smoke for the County’s Newest Dispensary

Credit: Courtesy Carpinteria Valley Museum of History

E CANNABIS UNUM:  Even with a scorecard, sometimes you don’t know who to root for. Or against. I was feeling that big-time during last week’s County Planning Commission’s deliberations over a high-end cannabis dispensary to be located on the eastern edge of Santa Claus Lane, perhaps Santa Barbara County’s last whiff of what was once genuinely, authentically kitschy and historically weird. 

Ultimately, the project was approved by 4-1 (Michael Cooney was the lone objector), a vote that utterly fails to reflect how profoundly, agonizingly ambivalent many of the commissioners were. It could have easily gone 3-2 the other way. Before the shouting’s over, we’ll hear repeat performances in front of the board of supervisors and the California Coastal Commission, where the battle will continue. 

The applicants for the new dispensary are the irresistible Pat and Maire Radis, salt-of-the-earth former electrical company owners who found that cannabis helped them dramatically as they navigated their way through a scary family health crisis. Like everyone else who ever survived a health threat, the Radises want to pay it forward by opening a dispensary. Okay, I get it. Sort of. Theirs will be called Roots; one of their partners runs another dispensary of the same name up in Lompoc. The Radis shop will be in the same place as, and the size of, their former electrical company. 

Leading the charge against the proposal is Dr. Steven Kent — a major property owner on Santa Claus Lane — his wife, and attorney Jana Zimmer, a former member of the California Coastal Commission whom most people have the good sense to be afraid of. 

While I like Zimmer, I harbor an abiding — though perhaps unfair — resentment of Dr. Kent. He is the man, after all, who evicted the giant 2,000-pound statue of Santa Claus out of Santa Claus Lane in 2000. That Santa — and an accompanying snowman statue — defined the skyline of Santa Claus Lane, and for 52 years, they were the defining landmarks for a pretend North Pole where families could ride trains, pet animals, drink date shakes, and enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice. 

Kent argued that the statue — a folk-art smorgasbord of papier-mâché, chicken wire, and toothpicks — had become unstable and could pose a threat to the rooftop of his property. It was not an unreasonable concern, but I also suspected the real reason was that Santa was just too tacky for his taste, which preferred the ersatz Cape Cod remodel he was intent on pursuing. 

I get it; the past is a heavy jacket. But I also have my doubts. Thanks to the intervention of the architectural preservationists, Santa was saved from the dustbin of history and was relocated to an auto supply yard in Oxnard, where he has been the happy target for multiple drive-by shootings since. For all the bullets and structural issues, you can still see him bravely smiling as you drive north on 101. 

I’m not over it, okay?

Leading the charge for the Radis family is the unlikely tag team of Joe Armendariz, the outspokenly and scornful libertarian crusader who has found redemption in cannabis, and Dennis Bozanich, the brilliant and effervescent former get-it-done dude in the county executive office. 

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Bozanich had a gift for tough, complex projects. He could juggle 15 plates with one hand and polish them with the other, while carrying on a delightfully candid and thoughtful conversation on any subject with anybody. Naturally, he was made the county’s de facto cannabis czar in charge of crafting the county’s own ordinance. While writing that ordinance, plates began crashing to the ground. 

Then, two years ago, Bozanich left Santa Barbara to take a job in Contra Costa County, but a year ago he went into private practice, part of the time as a cannabis lobbyist. Armendariz, knowing that three of the five county supervisors probably wouldn’t return his phone calls, hired Bozanich. Truly, no one could know the county’s ordinance better. 

This is yet another case of people being too smart for their own good. There’s this thing called the revolving door — where high-ranking government insiders become lobbyists for special interests. This engenders a deep, abiding suspicion in the hearts and minds of many citizens that their government is for the special interests, by the special interests, and of the special interests.

Too many people already believe the fix was in for cannabis; why add fuel to their fire? What did Humphrey Bogart ask in Casablanca? “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Rendering of The Roots Carpinteria

Not a good look. To the extent anyone wears shit on their shoes for this, it will be Supervisor Das Williams — too cozy by half with the cannabis interests. Once again, he should have advised against Bozanich’s involvement; once again, he lacked the good sense to do so.

Opponents of the dispensary packed the chambers with outraged neighbors; I think only two supporters for the dispensary spoke. Dr. Kent beat the crime gong a little too hard for my taste. The dispensary, he warned, would attract the criminal element, loiterers, stoners, people who wanted to get stoned on the beach, and people who didn’t pick up their trash. Having been in some of our dispensaries, I can say the demographic of shoppers is exactly the same as people who go to the Santa Barbara Bowl to see Dylan. Older white people who still remember when. (Okay, only sort of.) And they have money. 

Bozanich over-banged this gong just as badly as Kent did crime. He lost me at the word “nice.” He showed pictures of what the new dispensary would look like. It looked like the sort of place where Lamborghini-driving sugar daddies buy their third wives bottles of perfume for the price of a studio apartment on Chapala. Let’s say it had absolutely nothing to do with the beachy, sand-in-the-feet vibe of Santa Claus Lane. 

Hey, I remember Santa Claus. I loved his weirdness. For my money, Steve Kent killed Santa. But Dennis Bozanich seemed intent on exorcising his spirit.

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