Jill Stassinos and Carla Singer
We are deeply disappointed by our local weekly publication’s endorsement of Das Williams for 1st District Supervisor. The Independent could have chosen a candidate of impeccable integrity, Santa Barbara School Board President Laura Capps, who has campaigned on a platform of introducing reform and ethics into our current county government swamp — a swamp, rare even for politics, where there are no limits on campaign contributions, or even quarterly disclosure reports for citizens to learn who is bankrolling who and why.
Instead, they threw their weight behind Das Williams, a ruthless local politico who has been called out for his mendacity since the beginning of his career. Mr. Williams lies as casually as the sun sets, whether about his role as the architect for the county’s disastrous Cannabis Ordinance, its permitting structure, his donors, or his ever-changing biography.
Nor did the Independent note Mr. Williams’ history of vicious campaigning against women, be it against former Supervisor Janet Wolf or coastal advocate Susan Jordan. These days, Mr. Williams employs surrogates, financed by his dark money PAC (funded by a good deal of cannabis and oil money), to smear Ms. Capps with outrageous falsehoods. Indeed, Mollie Culver, who created this PAC and headed up the Cannabis Business Council, worked hand-in-glove with Mr. Williams in writing the deeply flawed ordinance. All, singularly disqualifying.
Then there is the damage he has done to our county with his pay-to-play Cannabis Ordinance, establishing our county as the No. 1 cannabis cultivation region in the nation. Never mind the health and safety impacts to schoolchildren, who now smell and breathe pot fumes every day, as do too many residents throughout the five districts. How about the disastrous impacts to our avocado and wine industries, as well as home values? Again, fully disqualifying.
Although we have long championed a free and open media, the Independent too often reads as an apologist for the cannabis industry, replete with columns to sell their pot products while virtually ignoring the myriad illegalities of the ordinance and its negative impacts to residents.
Certainly, its endorsement cited several of Mr. Williams’ well-documented abuses. So we wonder what level of governance atrocity would Mr. Williams have needed to commit to not garner an endorsement.
Let’s review: Throughout 2017, Mr. Williams championed and enacted the most industry-friendly cannabis regulations in the country. These regulations were developed in special closed-door sessions with cannabis lobbyists and shamefully voted on during the historic Thomas Fire and mudslides, when much of his district was evacuated.
One need look no further than the January 2020 raid of Barry Brand’s cannabis facility in Carpinteria to see the pay-to-play motivating Das Williams. On Dec. 14, 2017, Mr. Williams received several thousand dollars in donations from Mr. Brand and three other marijuana cultivators. On Dec. 17, 2017, Mr. Williams led the charge for the Board of Supervisors to adopt an “unverified affidavit” scheme that would allow Mr. Brand and other growers to accumulate hundreds of state licenses before receiving land-use permits. Mr. Brand forked over another $5,000 to Mr. Williams in March 2019, about a month after the supervisors directed staff to authorize new provisional licenses. At no time since the bust has Mr. Williams returned Mr. Brand’s tainted contributions.
Hence, the Indy’s concern rings hollow, as does its stated belief that Mr. Williams has learned and will change. In fact, he has said that he would do nothing differently. Indeed, there is every reason to believe he will dig in, emboldened by this endorsement, and reward his cannabis donors.
As of this writing, a broad array of community groups, residents, schools and business owners have retained multiple law firms to pursue legal remedies to our cannabis crisis. Attorneys have also been hired by community and homeowners associations while a Grand Jury, convened last year, has been reviewing evidence and complaints about the Cannabis Ordinance. In addition, residents have filed nearly 400 odor complaints relating to cannabis, and have appealed every cannabis license that has come before the county for final approval.
More significantly, a referral was made to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District seeking a federal intervention to halt the out-of-control cannabis cultivation in Santa Barbara County. More than 100 residents representing the five districts signed the referral. Also submitted were letters of resolution from four major cities — Carpinteria, Solvang, Goleta and Buellton — condemning or seeking mitigation of the Cannabis Ordinance, and a letter of resolution from prominent Santa Barbara pulmonologists seeking an investigation into the health impacts of mass cannabis production.
All of this is the direct result of Mr. Williams’ reckless, self-serving politicking.
Consider the years of litigation ahead of us — plus the millions of dollars and countless hours that will be spent by the county and its residents — all to seek protection from Mr. Williams’ grand plan to turn Santa Barbara County into the world’s go-to cannabis mecca. Then ask yourself how any responsible media entity can make such an endorsement.
Jill Stassinos and Carla Singer
The authors represent Santa Barbara County Cannabis Concerns, a group of residents from Carpinteria, Montecito and Summerland.