Child care, cannabis regulation amendments to be prioritized by county

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors chose to focus some of the county’s zoning ordinance amendment efforts on cannabis permitting and child care facilities for this fiscal year.

When the board adopted the county budget in June, it approved a new position within the Planning and Development Department that would focus on processing zoning ordinance amendments. 

“We are now before you to get direction on what that Planner III … will be working on in terms of an ordinance program,” Planning and Development Director Lisa Plowman said at the Sept. 14 Board of Supervisors meeting. 

There are more potential amendments than the new staff member will have time to process, Plowman explained. 

The cannabis-related zoning ordinance amendments brought to the board included requiring a conditional use permit for cultivation greater than a certain size and limiting the cultivation area to a certain percentage of the total lot size in the Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area. The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis supported these types of changes in a public comment letter dated Sept. 10, but wants to take things one step further by requiring conditional use permits for all outdoor grows in the county, not just the Santa Rita Hills.

“Experience has shown that if you want to learn about a cannabis project, you really need to appeal it to get access to the documents and the staff’s rationale for the approval,” Marc Chytilo, the coalition’s attorney, told the Sun. “As it is, when they issue a land use permit, there’s no CEQA [environmental review], it’s just an approval, and even those documents aren’t always publicly available ahead of time.”

Conditional use permitting comes with a public hearing and a county staff report, Chytilo said, “so just the process, the decorum associated with issuing a conditional use permit, is much more open and transparent than land use permits.”

The organization’s letter went on to list a number of other requests beyond what was presented by county staff, such as requiring odor abatement plans for all outdoor grows. The coalition was recently successful in reaching an agreement with Carpinteria cannabis growers for an odor abatement plan, but reaching such an agreement in other parts of the county is proving to be more difficult. Chytilo said he hopes the successful resolution with Carpinteria growers and the coalition’s requests to the board will put odor abatement on the radars of other growers countywide. Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann expressed similar hopes.

“One of the interesting things about the whole cannabis thing is how much innovation we’re seeing, especially in Carpinteria and Cuyama,” Hartmann said. “I’m hopeful that we’re going to see innovation in other areas as well, and that that could be incorporated into our ordinance at some future date.” 

The board also considered amendments for child care facilities, oil and gas regulations, and wireless communication facilities.

The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) supported amending oil and gas regulations in a March 5 letter to the board. Some of the organization’s requests included regulating onshore oil development as stringently as offshore drilling and putting a termination date on oil drilling and production plans. 

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino brought up the potential for changes to child care regulations. Dan Klemann, deputy director of long-range planning, said that anecdotally these businesses say that development standards and permitting requirements are too restrictive.

As far as wireless communication facilities, planning staff said they’d like to devote staff time to “provide clarity regarding requirements resulting from a recent Federal Communication Commission rule related to small wireless facilities and a new state law that requires emergency standby generators for macro cell towers,” the board letter states. While not as glamorous as child care, cannabis, or environmental debates, staff said the new FCC rule makes this an important priority. 

“It’s not the sexiest item and we don’t want to necessarily do it, but it is one that is slowing us down and is creating inefficiencies,” Klemann said. 

He added that if the board decides to prioritize wireless communication facilities for the planning department’s new staff member, it would take up the majority of that person’s time.

The board ultimately voted unanimously in favor of making child care the top priority for ordinance amendments. As its second priority, the board directed the planning department to develop an ordinance amendment to the Land Use and Development Code that would require conditional use permits for some cannabis applications, which passed 3-2. The board plans to hold a hearing on the cannabis change.