The Board of Supervisors wrestled with prioritizing a cannabis amendment over other Santa Barbara County projects during a budget workshop Wednesday.
That left officials divided over which projects take precedence in the Planning and Development Department’s budget this fiscal year.
Department officials initially presented their top projects for the coming years during a Supervisors meeting March 9. The prioritized projects included a number of state-mandated projects in addition to projects requested by county officials.
These propositions are included in the department’s Strategic Plan, and supervisors approved the plan in a 3-2 vote during the March 9 meeting. But Wednesday’s meeting had some supervisors puzzling over where the money in next year’s budget should go, raising the question of whether a cannabis amendment should be prioritized above projects listed in the Strategic Plan.
The cannabis amendment, which was not originally included in the Strategic Plan, aims to address the concentration of cannabis operations in the Santa Rita Hills.
Supervisors approved the zoning permit for the Santa Rita Hills nearly a year ago in a 3-2 decision, yet officials are now considering an amendment that could limit the acreage of each cannabis project in the area. The amendment to the cannabis ordinance has not been passed by supervisors, but they expect an update on the operations in the Santa Rita Hills in the coming months.
The main dilemma comes down to the timeline of projects. County Executive Office CEO Mona Miyasato told supervisors there are essentially two paths: Either the supervisors allocate more money to increase staffing to enforce the cannabis amendment, or they must slow the progress of other long-range projects on Planning and Development’s radar to prioritize the amendment.
Lisa Plowman, the director of Planning and Development, told supervisors either path is tricky, but if they decide to delay state-mandated projects, they could find themselves in a sticky situation with state officials.
“There isn’t any magic bullet here,” Ms. Plowman said. “It’s not to say we wouldn’t take direction from the board and choose one of those other mandated elements to delay, there’s just risk associated with it.” This risk, she later explained, has to do with the loss of earned grants if the department does not enact projects on a certain timeline.
First District Supervisor Das Williams voiced support throughout Wednesday’s budget meeting regarding the cannabis amendment, claiming a “one-sentence” change in policy would impact only a few of the project requests awaiting approval in the Santa Rita Hills. Mr. Williams expressed that he did not see how projects needed to be shifted in order to enact policy change.
“It’s hard for me to conceive of how we cannot make one sentence of a change of public policy because all the dominos will fall and all projects will collapse and the state will come after us,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s just too much.”
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino of the 5th District pushed back on this point from Mr. Williams, explaining that the amendment is bigger than just changing one sentence.
“To say that it’s a one-sentence, that’s way too simple,” Mr. Lavagnino said. “Nothing in the cannabis ordinance is one sentence. It affects different things, and now we’re getting way down in this rabbit hole … One of the reasons concentration is so high there, we have to remember, is because we banned it in so many other locations.”
After a lengthy discussion, the board was unable to meet an agreement on what projects should be prioritized in Planning and Development without more information on the state of cannabis operations in the Santa Rita Hills. They agreed to hold a meeting with Planning and Development in a few weeks to receive an update before determining what projects will be prioritized.
For the coming fiscal year, Planning and Development is proposing an operating budget of $27.1 million. The county’s General Fund would account for $3.6 million of that budget. Ms. Plowman also requested an expansion of approximately $74,000, which would allow the department to hire an enterprise leader to oversee budget and fiscal responsibilities for the administration division.
Other departments within the county’s Community Resources and Public Facilities sector also presented budget proposals to the board Wednesday. The Public Works Department proposed a budget of approximately $147.7 million for FY 2021-22, the Agricultural Commission proposed a budget of $6.8 million and Community Services proposed a budget of about $60.5 million.