Board of Supervisors hears update at its final scheduled meeting of 2021
A COVID-19 update, cannabis operator appeals and the 2022 Juvenile Justice Realignment Plan were all topics of discussion at the final Board of Supervisors meeting of the year.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso and Dr. Henning Ansorg represented the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and shared an update concerning COVID-19 and the omicron variant.
Dr. Do-Reynoso, the public health director, reported that the county currently has a case rate of 12.8 cases per 100,000 residents.
The director additionally showed the case rate among vaccinated individuals is 6.2 cases per 100,000 residents, while the case rate for unvaccinated individuals is 24.1 per 100,000 residents.
According to Dr. Do-Reynoso, approximately 84,000 booster shots have been administered in Santa Barbara County thus far, slightly outpacing the national statistics.
The director also shared clarifications from the new California Department of Public Health’s statewide masking mandates, saying that counties with existing local health orders, like Santa Barbara, continue to apply.
The state health department also considers indoor sports as well as exercise and conditioning as exempted activities to the mandate and recommends weekly screen testing.
Dr. Ansorg, the county public health officer, provided an update on the omicron variant. He told the board there are currently at least 50 mutations of the variant, which likely will lead to more rapid spread.
Dr. Ansorg also explained that the omicron variant is more contagious than the delta, causing a new surge of cases in Britain.
In light of this new information, both health officials concluded their presentation urging residents to get a booster shot if they are eligible.
In other business, the County Executive Office provided an update to the board on cannabis compliance, enforcement and taxation in the first quarter of the fiscal year.
County analysts Brittany Heaton and Steven Yee shared information regarding cannabis tax revenue, business licenses status and enforcement over illegal sales.
Addressing declining numbers of revenue, Mrs. Heaton told the Board “making a dent” in the illegal market is difficult as they are neutered by state taxes.
Mrs. Heaton explained to the board that, “there are several counties attempting to lower the burden of state taxes,” on cannabis cultivators and distributors in order to take some market control from illegal distributors.
Despite this, the cannabis industry still collected $3.1 million in tax revenue this quarter.
Issues arose over legal operators investing in illegal sales because of the demand in the black market.
“I support this program because it brings in revenue for the county,” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said in the meeting. “I don’t support a program where people are circumventing the rules and leaking in to the black market.”
Despite this anxiety, Supervisor Lavagnino and others recognized the cannabis industry as the second largest source of revenue for the county and said the program is in a relatively good place.
Additionally, Bien Nacido Vineyards presented an appeal to the Board regarding the Canna Rios, LLC Cannabis Cultivation Project.
This appeal was denied by the County Planning Commission in May.
Representatives of Bien Nacido explained concerns with the project water source, air quality impacts, odor control and several other potential factors.
Canna Rios responded with its agricultural history within the county and how it has been approved by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission.
“This is a case study on how difficult it is for an applicant to get through our process,” Supervisor Lavagnino said during the meeting. “The staff report is 267 pages long. This has been exhaustingly evaluated. This process has been vetted, and I support the staff’s recommendations.”
“I appreciate all the issues raised by the appellants,” Vice Chair Joan Hartmann said. “I believe there are conditions that we may see one day that will require additional environmental analysis, but that did not happen in this case.”
The motion to deny the appeal passed four to one with Supervisor Williams dissenting.
The Probation Department presented its 2022 Juvenile Justice Realignment Plan to the Board.
Their plan represented the county’s push towards restorative justice, offering youth incentives to perform well during their time at the Juvenile Justice Center.
The department presented new initiatives to the board such as individual development coaches assigned to inmates upon their arrival, offering leadership opportunities and preparing high school graduates for post-secondary educational and vocational training.
The board congratulated the Probation Department on its presentation and progressive initiatives.
“These are folks who made serious offenses. We need to do more work at younger ages to keep people from being in this situation,” said Supervisor Gregg Hart. “This is an innovative and much more humane approach driven by data and experience.”
Chair Bob Nelson also affirmed these programs and emphasized the importance of state funding.
“I want to echo the optimism of the board,” Supervisor Nelson said in the meeting. “We need to encourage the state to continue to fund this. I hope we continue to advocate for the backfill necessary for this program.”
The board additionally heard the appeal of several environmental groups regarding the Santa Barbara Ranch Inland Development Agreement.
The Environmental Defense Center, Surfrider and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy presented their concerns regarding the developer working in the Gaviota Coast region. They claimed the developer did not abide by the Inland Development Agreement and did not provide any creek restoration plans.
Staff response maintained that the developer abided by the IDA and offered significant assistance to the nonprofits as specified in the agreements.
After further comment, the board raised many concerns with both parties in the disagreement.
“I’m struck by the fact that this feels like a failure of imagination and execution,” Supervisor Hart said in the meeting. “There’s a lot of effort that didn’t result in anything of value, and the Inland Development Agreement was predicated on there being something of value to the public.”
While the majority of the board was supportive of the development, supervisors passed a motion for staff to reevaluate the performance of the developer and report their findings to the board at a later date.