There is friction afoot in the Santa Ynez Valley between applicants for cannabis grows and vineyard owners, other farmers, and residents.
So far appeals have been filed to stop Busy Bee (22 acres of outdoor cannabis, or about 17 football fields), Santa Barbara Westcoast (50 acres; 38 football fields), Santa Rita Valley Ag (37 acres; 28 football fields), and Castle Rock (23 acres, or about 18 football fields).
These four grows illustrate not only the size of applications, but all are concentrated in a 2-mile corridor on Highway 246 west of Buellton. The first three alone account for about a third of the non-residential land west of Buellton south of Hwy. 246, though there are far more to the west and on Santa Rosa Road.
I mention the size of each because the size of these grows intensifies their impacts on wine grapes and other crops, the tourist industry, and the quality of life in the Valley; and their concentration cumulates and further intensifies those impacts.
Grape growers have been threatened by pot growers with law suits for spraying mildew-fighting fungicide, tasting rooms have closed because of odor from neighboring pot grows, and several Santa Rita Hills winemakers are considering building wineries in San Luis Obispo county which has less than 1% of the state temporary cannabis cultivation licenses, compared to Santa Barbara County's 29%.
But it’s not only vintners being affected. Growers of food crops fear lawsuits if they spray even certified organic pesticides. A Buellton official recently told planning commissioners that residents were affected by the smell and tourism in Buellton is being harmed. After all, tourists come for the wine country, not to see plastic hoop structures and smell an odor oddly like skunk.
It’s worth asking how other counties in California are handling this. First off, only 11 of the state’s 58 counties allow outdoor commercial cannabis cultivation. But what’s really interesting is the limits the 11 counties that allow it have.
Humboldt limits outdoor cannabis to 1 acre per 100 acres with 8 acres max; SLO 3 acres max; Santa Cruz 2 acres; Alameda, Lake, Trinity, Yolo, and Sonoma 1 acre; Imperial, a ½ acre; Mendocino and Monterey, a ¼ acre. Santa Barbara County has no limits. The county is currently reviewing an application for a 147-acre (113 football fields) grow. That’s pretty much all of Mendocino’s and all of Monterey’s outdoor grows together.
The counties that have limited the size of outdoor cannabis grows still have cannabis production and cannabis taxes, they’ve just kept each small, part of agriculture instead of industrial, and helped local farmers supplement their incomes. Mendocino and Monterey, with a ¼-acre cap each have 12% of the state’s temporary cannabis cultivation licenses. Santa Barbara’s 33% has lots of out-of-town owners.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has asked the Planning Commission to consider some ways to limit conflicts around cannabis. How about caps on acreage per parcel – no more than 3 acres, preferably 1 acre. While they’re at it, how about making that all grown indoors?