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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

SB Pot Wars: As the Hoop House Turns...

In the latest installment of Santa Barbara’s most riveting civic soap opera, the plot thickens, twists and turns:

As Laura fires an editorial shot across Das’s bow, he abruptly postpones a big fundraiser, but manages to shore up his political base anyway, while Hannah Beth shouts a warning from the far-off state capital and Mr. Cranky Pants goes in search of Actual Facts...

(Our story to date. Supervisor Das Williams has filed to run for re-election, undeterred by the siren song of seeking an open state Senate seat, but suddenly is confronted by a red-clad pitchfork posse, furious at the foul stench of skunk weed spreading over the land.

Then, a crusading young newspaperman reveals that Das has broken bread with ganja growers, and the anti-herb brigade implores school board veep Laura Capps to challenge Doobie Brother Das and help end their olfactory misery.

"Perhaps I shall, perhaps I shan’t,” Capps replies, with furrowed brow, as all parties prepare for yet another public confrontation over the tendentious cannabis decree that rules the land).

And now, today’s exciting episode…

Laura’s op-ed hit. Still calculating the high-risk, high-reward odds of a potential 2020 challenge to First District Supervisor Das Williams, Laura Capps this week took square aim at the county’s cannabis cultivation ordinance, assailing the Das-sponsored law in a June 26 L.A. Times op-ed headlined, "Santa Barbara County has too much marijuana too close to kids."

Building on her political brand as a champion for children, Capps seized on the most emotionally laden aspect of the controversial pot law – its enabling of large and stinky grows next to two schools in Carpinteria – to make the case that the ordinance facilitates a health hazard to kids.

“The stench of cannabis cultivation is something students should not have to endure at school,” she wrote

The opinion piece recapped SB County’s transformation into the California capital of cultivation, a narrative crafted by LA Timesman Joe Mozingo, and described how the pot ordinance massages zoning rules for growers to “the effect of allowing pot farming on parcels that would otherwise be exempt, potentially moving closer to schools.”

“At the top of the list of goals for counties and municipalities should be protecting the health and safety of all, especially children," she wrote. "Unfortunately, in my home county of Santa Barbara, the prospect of attracting a high-profit, taxable growth industry seems to be outweighing every other consideration.”

As a political matter, highlighting the impact of the Das-based pot ordinance upon school kids is a shrewd play: while stating her personal support for legalization, in a district where the 2016 state ballot measure authorizing recreational marijuana passed more than two-to-one, she nonetheless inferentially accused the incumbent of failing to protect children.

“Health professionals and scientists concur that marijuana affects memory, attention span, decision making and cognitive development in children," Capps wrote. "That’s why possession remains off limits for anyone under 21, and why the state prohibits cultivators from setting up shop close by K-12 schools, youth centers and day-care centers without local consent.”

Despite her widely-disseminated opinion piece, however, it remained unclear at post time whether the op-ed was the opening salvo of a campaign to oust Williams, or just a one-off. Taking a page from the Monique Limon textbook of delayed decisiveness, Laura said she remains undecided, still weighing what could be a career-defining decision.

Das hangs in. Should she choose to run, Laura’s decision not to decide early (for the March 3, 2020 primary, formal filing runs from Nov. 12-Dec. 6) would be politically costly in at least one way: it ensures Das will capture the critical Democratic Party endorsement.

The county central committee is scheduled to take up the First District endorsement on July 11, a date that was scheduled after Das formally requested the party’s endorsement.

As of now, Das is the only applicant; Dem county chair Gail Teton-Landis said that, according to the party's routine procedures, it is a candidate’s request that triggers the endorsement consideration process; thus Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, also seeking re-election, requested an endorsement early in the year, and got it way back in March.

Amid whispers that the party might push back its endorsement meeting amid the ongoing brouhaha, Teton-Landis put the notion to rest with a statement sent out this week that affirms the July 11 date; the endorsement will give Das a big boost in wooing Democratic voters, who dominate in the district. Per Gail:

"The Democratic Party’s endorsement communicates to voters that endorsed candidates hold and represent Democratic values. Candidates gain efficiency and effectiveness by sharing activities and resources with other endorsed candidates, such as neighborhood canvassing, literature distribution and voter registration."

At the same time, however, some Das backers were taken by surprise this week, when he abruptly announced he was postponing a major fundraiser he had scheduled for Sunday.

Every year, Williams rents the Condor Express for a fundraiser around the time of his June 29 birthday, an event that perhaps could raise $100K or more. In an e-blast invitation to the cruise sent on June 24, Das recounted the work he is doing at the county on green energy and Montecito disaster relief, while acknowledging the pot controversy clouds his re-election prospects.

"All of this is in danger of being derailed over the issue of marijuana,” he wrote, adding that, “there are those who are trying to make the challenges of legalization a path to remove me from office. “

We name no names.

Last Thursday, he sent another email, cancelling the cruise for now. In it, he said he had been unaware when the event was set that it would conflict with the memorial service for environmental hero Jean Schuyler, which is expected to draw a large crowd paying their respects.

Team Das says no makeup date has been set.

Sacto stirs the pot. On July 9, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up several key marijuana matters involving permits and business licenses.

The Carp-based anti-Das crowd, among others, is expected to stage a big turnout and demand that Das and fellow Supervisor Steve Lavignino, another key player, recuse themselves from such matters.

We’re not holding our collective breath.

Meanwhile, Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature this week added another wrinkle of complication to the situation, when they pushed through a trailer bill to the just-passed state budget that extends for two more years temporary licenses held by growers.

Such licenses lie at the heart of much of the conflict that has emerged over SB County’s ordinance.

Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson flagged the measure, known as Assembly Bill 97, in announcing her lonely opposition to it. While most other legislative Democrats went along with the bill, Jackson told us she did not, because of its potential effect in deepening the confusion and conflict over cannabis that is specific to Santa Barbara.

“I had hoped that this trailer bill language might be better refined to help us get at bad actors, ensure adequate environmental review, and provide greater safeguards,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately those changes were not made.”

So there’s that.

Actual Facts. In an effort to gauge public sentiment on the marijuana issue, and to assess more scientifically a possible Williams-Capps matchup, Newsmakers has searched high and low for any recent polling that might shed light on the matter.

Alas, so far we've come up empty.

In the absence of such data, however, one rough, if admittedly outdated, marker of community sentiment lies may be found in the precinct numbers of how in the First District cast their ballots on Prop. 64, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized cannabis statewide.

According to a precinct analysis of the First, voters overall favored the measure, 69-to-31 percent.

Carpinteria and Montecito, the two areas where outcry over the ordinance has been most visible, together represent about one-third of the district, with the remainder Santa Barbara and small unincorporated areas.

A yes-to-no ratio breakdown of the vote shows:

Mission Canyon: 75-to-25 percent.

City of Santa Barbara: 73-to-27 percent.

Summerland: 70-to-30 percent.

City of Carpinteria: 64-to-37 percent.

Montecito: 62-to-38 percent.

Unincorporated Carpinteria Valley: 59-to-41 percent.

Stay tuned.

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