Board tables discussion of county water contracts
The Board of Supervisors amended Santa Barbara County’s Code Tuesday regarding the licensing of commercial cannabis operations. The change seeks to streamline the application process.
The amendment requires commercial cannabis operators to submit a cannabis business application within 15 calendar days of an approval of its land use entitlement. The site plan and the security plan are now combined.
Previously, there were long gaps between applications, which slowed the process for the businesses and the county. After the county approves an application, then operators must apply with the state.
“When you start stacking all of these processes in line, it can take a very long time to get to the finish line,” Gregg Hart, 2nd District supervisor, said. “I think everybody has an interest in making sure that everybody’s licensed according to the county ordinances and the state law as fast as possible, so that they can be doing what they need to do safely and equitably.”
Officials also added that applications must be consistent, from local to state licensing.
The amendment emphasizes the employers’ responsibility to perform criminal history checks on all employees. It also adds the category of seasonal employment, so employees can work at multiple companies with transferable identification and a background check.
The ordinance also addresses ownership changes. A new application is required after someone obtains 20% or more stake in a company, aligning the county with the state’s requirements. Prior to the amendment, owners had to obtain another license.
The 20% threshold stirred discussion from the supervisors and Bernard Melekian, the deputy county executive officer, who presented the amendment.
“I do think one of the challenges from the beginning in the industry has been that the ownership and a lot of operations is never quickly stable,” Mr. Melekian said. “It’s not stable. The years change; the money changes.
“And we’re trying to match a single business license model process to the industry change.”
The board was also concerned about businesses “losing their place in line” in the application process, especially with frequent ownership change. It agreed to revisit the code annually and potentially adjust the 20% ownership threshold higher.
The board also heard from George Chapjian, community services department director, regarding the state’s emergency rental assistance program.
The state extended the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act until June 30. It budgets $14 million for Santa Barbara County and will pay landlords 80% of rent (should they accept) to forgive overdue rent.
The county has the option to distribute the funds itself or trust the state to handle it properly. The county already has $13 million from the federal government for the same cause, but the federal funds don’t expire until Dec. 31.
“I just don’t honestly have any confidence that the state can be able to do this. They have a lot on their plate. And, you know, the experience so far with these guys has not been good,” said Mr. Hart.
“And so, you know, I know, this is a daunting idea that we would staff up and handle this ourselves. But, you know, I think I would have more confidence in our ability to do that than I would do in the state,” he said.
The board acknowledged that the county would be better equipped to distribute the state and federal funds to its residents but is worried that it’d have to spend federal funds before accessing the $14 million from the state. They worried the county couldn’t meet the state’s deadline.
“You have to assess whether it’s going to be more of a failure in the state’s hands or in our hands. That matters or potential for disaster in one or the other,” said Das Williams, 1st District supervisor. “Because people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake; their ability to remain in their apartments is at stake.”
Mr. Chapjian and the supervisors were wary of committing to such an undertaking, so they gave direction to keep the funds in the state’s hands. But they will revisit the decision Feb. 9 and may change their minds.
The board tabled two proposals by the Central Coast Water Authority.
CCWA wanted its contract extended from its current expiration of 2038 to 2085, which will allow it to finance capital over 30 years and lower customers’ rates.
In Amendment 21, CCWA asked for permission to sell water to outside areas. Currently, it is only allowed to exchange water deliveries, not sell.
“The charge that the county is simply interested in the financial aspect of this and the money when the virtuous, noble CCWA members have the best interests of county taxpayers at heart is ridiculous. And the reason why we’re talking about Amendment 21 is so you can sell water to other Californians, whether that’s in San Luis Obispo County or Victorville or wherever you want,” Steve Lavagnino, 5th District supervisor, said.
He was in favor of the amendments except wants the county to have the right of refusal before CCWA can sell water.
“And if the benefits serve the county residents, that’s one thing, but if the benefits serve a district that’s selling out of county, to me, that’s another thing,” said Joan Hartmann, 3rd District supervisor and vice chair of the board. “I would like to add into it not only the right of first refusal for members, but if it’s sold outside, then what does the county get for the investment that it made?”
Board Chair Bob Nelson, 4th District supervisor, expects taxpayer reimbursement if Amendment 21 is enacted. He spoke harshly against CCWA.
“I am right now not in favor of these amendments, and it’s in part because of the relationship that one of the CCWA’s largest members has with the unincorporated area of the Santa Maria Valley,” he said. “Over the last eight years of staff, I’ve seen over and over how they’ve used state water to prevent growth and opportunities in my community.”
The board tabled the discussion to March 2.
Brought forward by Mr. Williams, the board unanimously named February Black History Month in Santa Barbara County.