Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

This first appeared at Newsmakers with JR.

California Coastal Commissioners on Wednesday slammed Santa Barbara County’s ruinous cannabis ordinance and its implementation — but balked at blocking a local permit for a disputed Carpinteria retail pot emporium.

A 7-to-3 vote by commissioners held that the state agency lacks jurisdiction in the matter.

“The county is not well-known for doing a good job on cannabis,” longtime Commissioner Dayna Bochco said during a hearing on whether the Santa Claus Lane weed mart, known as The Roots Dispensary, posed significant problems that pertain specifically to the California Coastal Act.

“The county ought to pay attention,” she added.

Dayna Bochco | Credit: Courtesy Newsmakers with JR

In the end, however, Bochco was on the losing side, as a majority of commissioners decided that concerns over parking, traffic, and beach access, raised by opponents of the retail outfit, do not rise to the level of what the Coastal Act identifies as a “Substantial Issue.”

Among Bochco’s colleagues who believe the project does raise a Substantial Issue in the coastal zone was commissioner and S.B. City Councilmember Meagan Harmon.

She said the “absolutely voluminous record” of arguments over facts, evidence, and the law filed in the case convinced her that the commission should reexamine the appropriateness of the permit, which the Board of Supervisors granted Roots last fall, in reference to the Coastal Act.

The commission’s vote against interceding in the matter was not a surprise, because its staff strongly recommended a finding of “No Substantial Issue,” guidance that aligns with the commission’s customary practice of avoiding local imbroglios involving cannabis.

“We don’t want to be the pot police,” said Commissioner Linda Escalante.

Bashing S.B. 

What was surprising, however, was sharp criticism by multiple commissioners aimed at Santa Barbara County over its cannabis law fiasco.

“Underlying this is the problem with the Santa Barbara ordinance,” said commission chair Donne Brownsey, commenting on a related marijuana matter before the board; this was another grow owned and operated by a member of Carpinteria’s prominent Van Wingerden family, major political sponsors of Supervisor Das Williams, chief architect of the insalubrious ordinance.

“It is time for the county to revisit this ordinance,” Brownsey added, noting “a lot of community concern” over its impact on residents.

“Where there’s so much smoke, there may be a fire,” stated Bochco, who noted the widely reported clashes over pot in Santa Barbara.

Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders, who joined Harmon and Bochco in favoring the commission’s intercession, said that a letter submitted in opposition to the project, from longtime Santa Barbara-based coastal advocate Susan Jordan, was very persuasive.

“To truly understand why the idea of placing a cannabis dispensary in this prime beach access location is highly problematic, and why the community is so opposed to it, especially when other appropriate commercial locations in nearby Montecito and Summerland were not even considered by the Board of Supervisors,” wrote Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network — “it is critical to understand how Santa Barbara County has been transformed, in just five short years, into the legal cannabis capital of California and how the small, sleepy city of Carpinteria, located almost entirely in the Coastal Zone, became the ultimate sacrifice zone.”

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What Meagan Did 

As we reported on Wednesday, Harmon was in a tight squeeze on the Roots controversy, caught between a commission staff report that insisted there were no coastal issues, and a persuasive mountain of evidence and argument, presented by those appealing the permit, that the county irresponsibly signed off on a project that will have major impacts on parking, traffic intensity, and beach access in and around Santa Claus Lane.

She responded with a nimble performance of terpsichorean triangulation.

Meagan Harmon | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom
  • Mindful of the beleaguered residents of Carp, ground zero for Das’s plan for world domination of the weed market, Harmon began her remarks by “acknowledging the residents who’ve struggled with the ordinance.”
  • Respectful of the commission staffers who stood in stark opposition to any finding of a Substantial Issue, she praised their professionalism and clearly expressed her understanding that the question at hand was a narrow one: “Is this compliant with the Coastal Act?”
  • Troubled by the comprehensive and strong arguments against Roots raised by Jana Zimmer, the lawyer for those appealing the permit and a former commissioner herself, Meagan said her “concerns have grown” in reading the “voluminous record,” a process that left her “open to a finding of Substantial Issue.”

Rather than committing herself immediately, however, she said she wanted to hear from other commissioners; only after Bochco aggressively pushed for the commission to jump in (“I find this project very troubling…there’s so much factual evidence here that we should examine”) did Meagan join the parade in favor of stanching Roots.

Well played.

Revolving Door Dennis

Another notable cameo actor in the day’s political drama was Dennis Bozanich, the lobbyist for the owners of Roots.

Dennis Bozanich | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

As a political matter, perhaps no one, save Das himself, better epitomizes the fetid atmosphere surrounding Santa Barbara County’s cannabis ordinance.

Shortly before California voters approved Prop. 64, legalizing pot in the state, in November 2016, Bozanich was installed as Deputy County Executive Officer. From that perch he later “led the development and implementation of local cannabis land use permitting and business licensing regulations,” as he describes it in his LinkedIn bio.

Six months after Joe Mozingo of the L.A. Times blew the whistle on the hiding-in-plain-sight scandal unfolding in Santa Barbara in the wake of the ordinance, Bozanich decamped for Contra Costa County, for a similar public trough job.

Then last year he suddenly resurfaced in Santa Barbara as the public-facing lobbyist for Roots, making bank to importune the very same public officials whom he served as Chief Pot Czar about the very same law for which he “led the development and implementation.”

How snug and cozy for Revolving Door Dennis.

Bottom line. When the full, sad history of Santa Barbara County’s pay-to-play pot ordinance is written, the most consequential document is likely to be the county Grand Jury’s damning 2020 report on how the deal went down.

Das Williams | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

On days like this, it’s worth remembering the full context of how and why more than 10 percent of the provisional cannabis licenses in the state of California are held in Santa Barbara County, according to a study by the California Coastal Protection Network.

As the Grand Jury wrote:

“The Board of Supervisors granted nearly unfettered access to cannabis growers and industry lobbyists that was undisclosed to the public during the creation of the cannabis ordinances,”

“The action taken by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to certify the development of a robust cannabis industry as the primary objective of the cannabis ordinances has altered the quality of life in Santa Barbara County, perhaps forever.

“The fulfillment of that objective dictated the actions taken by the Board from the excessive allowance of licenses and acreage, creation of an unverified affidavit system, ignoring widespread odor complaints, not acknowledging the conflict between cannabis cultivation and traditional agriculture, to rejecting the environmentally superior alternatives of limited cannabis development.

“Instead of a balanced approach carefully evaluating how the cannabis industry would be compatible, both as to amount of acreage and location, the Board simply opened the floodgates. These ordinances must be amended.”


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