Board of Supervisors hears update; meeting also covers industrial hemp regulation and vegetable greenhouse project
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard a COVID-19 update and discussed industrial hemp regulation and a vegetable greenhouse project at its meeting Tuesday.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso and Dr. Henning Ansorg represented the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to provide a COVID-19 update to the board.
Dr. Do-Reynoso, the public health director, noted cases are down from the previous update.
There are 181 cases per 100,000 people currently. This is lower than the previously reported 256 cases per 100,000 people.
Based on this information, Dr. Do-Reynoso concluded omicron cases have most likely peaked.
According to Dr. Do-Reynoso, unvaccinated individuals are four times more likely to contract COVID-19. There are currently 631 cases per 100,000 among unvaccinated individuals while there are 154 cases per 100,000 among vaccinated individuals.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 positive patients have more than tripled over the past month, Dr. Do-Reynoso said during the board’s meeting in Santa Maria.
After a meeting with hospital executives, Dr. Do-Reynoso concluded that about 25-33% of these patients tested positive for COVID-19 after coming to the hospital for other reasons. The remaining percentage were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19-related reasons.
Dr. Ansorg, the public health officer, shared strategies that he predicts are important for COVID-19 to move from the pandemic stage to the endemic stage.
The endemic stage would mean COVID-19 exists in the world without putting a heavy strain on healthcare systems.
In order for this to take place, Dr. Ansorg said there must be high vaccination rates with booster, easy access to testing and self isolation, readily available antiviral medications, newer vaccines that protect against all variants and social distancing and masking until the omicron surge is over.
In other business, the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office proposed an ordinance to the board that would regulate industrial hemp cultivation in the county.
This ordinance would require a county license to grow industrial hemp alongside the state license. Additionally, the grower must own the property or have written consent to grow industrial hemp, and no other cannabis product may be grown on the property.
There were previously no stipulations on cultivating industrial hemp. While industrial hemp is derived from the same species as cannabis, there are insignificant traces of THC in this derivative.
Growers would be subjected to testing to prove their plants have traces of THC that are deemed insignificant.
There are currently eight cultivation sites in the county. Altogether, these sites make up a little less than 180 acres.
The Board of Supervisors was altogether supportive of these regulations, and several supervisors wanted to add additional stipulations to increase their regulation of industrial hemp.
“I very much support a cap that holds the acreage to what we are now and focus on getting our regular cannabis market stabilized,” Chair Joan Hartmann said during the meeting. “We need to step up now, or it’s going to get out of control.”
The board passed a motion four to one to approve staff recommendations with the added clause that puts a 180 acre cap on industrial hemp cultivation in the county.
On another matter, the board revisited an appeal against the denial of a large-scale vegetable greenhouse project that was discussed in Feb. of last year.
This project was denied by the Planning Commission, and the board determined the proposed project required additional environmental review.
The proposed greenhouse would be over 15,000 square feet with six employees. The greenhouse would be in a residential area right out of Solvang.
Chair Hartmann had concerns for her constituents in that neighborhood considering the size of the agriculture project.
“Nobody expected to be living next to a commercial agriculture operation with employees, parking lots and a huge industrial size building in their neighborhood,” Chair Hartmann said in the meeting. “I believe it is inconsistent (with the Santa Ynez Valley community plan).”
Other supervisors, such as Supervisor Bob Nelson, claimed there was not substantial evidence the project was maligned with the community plan, as the area is currently zoned for agriculture.
“If I lived in that neighborhood, I wouldn’t be happy either,” said Supervisor Nelson. “That being said, it is agriculture-zoned. I support the appeal. It’s consistent with the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan, and it’s an appropriate use of the zone.”
“To all my former constituents in the Santa Ynez area, I want to deny the appeal,” said Supervisor Das Williams. “There just isn’t substantial evidence that this is against the community plan.”
The board decided to uphold the appeal three to two, with Chair Hartmann and Supervisor Hart dissenting.