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The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission moved forward with changes to cannabis operation permits in the unincorporated inland areas last week, unanimously supporting a shift from a land-use permit to a conditional use-permit for new and pending cannabis operations.

Per their direction, new and pending cannabis operations will be required to obtain the more restrictive conditional-use permit (CUP), rather than a land-use permits (LUP). Seven applicants with land-use permits are currently going through the appeal process; all other pending cannabis operations are already in the process of obtaining a CUP, staff said. 

The amendment states that some operations – those adjacent to an existing rural neighborhood or an urban rural boundary, are within the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan area or exceed 51% of the property on Ag-2 lots – provide an odor abatement plan. The board first requested information about potential changes from a land-use permit in September 2021. 

Commissioner John Parke said last week that while he supports the changes, calling them “a pretty smart way to go,” cannabis operators believe the change is unfair. 

“Anything that hasn’t received its final approval yet (from the commissions) is going to be subject to this change (…) I’ve hearing a lot from cannabis people that that’s unfair, that’s terrible, and they’ve got a point,” he said. 

“They’ve done a lot of work going down one direction, and now the rules are going to change.” 

Planner Corina Venegas explained the shift to a CUP requirement increases application submittal costs and allows for “greater discretion” on the commissioners’ part – shifting to a CUP requirement requires public hearings for each cannabis application. 

For existing cannabis operations who went through a LUP process, a CUP would be required for “non-minor” changes, Venegas says. This includes new, adverse environmental affects or actions that “substantially deviate” from already approved operations. 

Public commenters went back and forth on the proposed changes, such as land-use constant Jay Higgens, but others, such as commenter Hillary Long, pressed the planning commission for stronger cannabis limitations. 

Higgens, who has worked with an Ivan Van Wingerden cannabis grow in Carpinteria, said the shift to a CUP now is “patently unfair to do this to cannabis applicants.” 

“My client on appeal has a land-use permit on appeal, but it’s only for 5% of the land,” Higgens said. “I’m going to write a book about this process that literally zero people will read, and it’s called, ‘Are You Kidding Me?’” 

Long, who said she lives in the second district, said the amendment wasn’t strong enough. 

“I am concerned the currently proposed amendments do not go far enough to preserve our quality of life in this county,” Long said. “Why should we be making it any easier for these applicants to stink up our town?” 

The Planning Commission voted 5-0 to send the matter to the Board of Supervisors, with three potential changes for the board to consider. Those changes include: providing exemptions to the seven applications currently under appeal; removing indoor cultivation and nurseries in manufacturing zones from the CUP requirement; and requiring odor control plans for all cannabis cultivation operations. 

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