After a four-hour hearing, most of which consisted of public comments, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a conceptual ordinance to regulate hoop structures used by cannabis and food growers alike.
But it took a straw poll and some informal give-and-take to gain the 3-2 vote necessary to approve the proposed regulations in concept at Tuesday’s meeting in Santa Maria.
The provisions will now be reviewed and refined by the Planning and Development Department staff and brought back for a final vote at the April 9 meeting, which also will take place in Santa Maria.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino cast the “no” votes on provisions that, for the most part, mirrored the recommendations forwarded by the Planning Commission following a series of public hearings.
It’s almost certain the provisions of the ordinance will not fully please anyone who spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing.
The ordinance approved in concept on a motion by 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, seconded by 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, will exempt hoop structures from permits if they are 20 feet tall or less — with some exceptions.
They also must be on slopes of 30 percent or less, set back 100 feet from creeks and riparian zones and located on land that has been agriculturally cultivated in one of the previous three years.
The Planning Commission had recommended an exemption for structures on slopes of 20 percent or less.
In addition, if the hoop structures are in the Santa Ynez Valley Design Control or the Gaviota Coast Critical Viewshied Corridor overlay districts and reach the 4,000-square-foot threshold, they will require a permit.
But the levels of permits required were reduced from the Planning Commission’s recommendations.
Supervisors decided that at the 4,000-square-foot threshold, a zoning clearance will be required rather than the land use permit the commission recommended, and at the 20,000-square-foot threshold, a land use permit will be required rather than development plan recommended by the commission.
One thing the board discussed but did not end up part of the motion was to separate cannabis cultivation from all other food and fiber crop cultivation.
“A lot of complaints (we’ve heard) about the hoops were because people want to complain about cannabis,” Lavagnino said. “We’re talking about the hoop; we’re not talking about what’s under the hoop.”
He said many of those complaints regarded illegal cannabis operations.
Lavagnino objected to the permit requirements in the special Santa Ynez Valley and Gaviota zones, which he referred to as the “poison pills” in the Planning Commission’s recommendation.
But 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann was of the opposite opinion.
“For me, the (Santa Ynez Valley) Design Overlay is very critical,” she said.
Lavagnino also didn’t like the requirement for the land to be cultivated in one of the previous three years to qualify for the exemption.
Adam objected to regulating hoop structures at all, arguing as he has in the past that they are temporary, not permanent, and are agricultural equipment, which are generally exempt from county permit requirements.
He said the ordinance is “impractical, economically infeasible and threatens agriculture in the county. It’s just totally unacceptable.”
Hart said the Planning Commission’s recommendation was close to what he wanted to see, noting the commissioners and staff put a lot of effort into it, but he acknowledged the differences of opinion among fellow supervisors.
“It’s going to take some creativity here to find something reasonable and that people can live with,” he said.
But Williams said he agreed that hoop structures are farm implements, and regulations that are too restrictive would hurt the objectives of making agriculture more efficient, producing larger yields and using less water and pesticides.
“The product to me is too restrictive,” he said of the recommendation. “It’s too restrictive on berries, and it’s too restrictive if growers are willing to try new (crops).”
Hartmann also supported an ordinance that would give growers flexibility.
“I think we’ve heard compelling arguments that agriculture is dynamic and needs to adapt over time,” she said, referring to public testimony. “Hoop houses are important (for that) and can protect other resources.”
But Hartmann also favored some of restrictions in the Planning Commission’s recommended ordinance.
“It behooves us to work with the (environmental impact report), try to work with the laws that we have and give agriculture as much flexibility as we can,” she said.