Das, Steve & Supes to SB Grand Jury on Pot & Ethics Reform: No Way, No How, Not Now, Not Ever
The Board of Supervisors could have saved their staff lawyers time and trouble in the drafting of their disgraceful and disrespectful response to the Grand Jury’s bombshell report on the county’s cannabis ordinance - by simply publishing the five-word message embedded within its 11 pages:
Go piss up a rope.
As a practical matter, that is the bottom line of the supervisors' response: anyone familiar with the controversy will recognize it as little more than a political rant by pot industry puppets Das Williams and Steve Lavignino, tarted up in a 3,054-word bouquet of legalese in defense of a local brand of stuff-it-down-their throats power politics worthy of Mitch McConnell.
Last Monday, the supervisors approved their formal response to the landmark report by the civil Grand Jury, which conscientiously, painstakingly and responsibly catalogued and detailed the reckless and sleazy process, led by Supervisors Williams and Lavagnino, by which legal cannabis cultivation was implanted in the county.
As the jury detailed, the Doobie Brothers, amid an atmosphere of secrecy, rammed through a troubled new law, which managed simultaneously to inflict damage to the health and quality of life for many residents, disrupt the long-established wine and avocado industries, desecrate the integrity of creditable land use processes and ignite bitter and ongoing political division and lawsuits across the county.
Alone among the board, only the resolute Supervisor Joan Hartmann uttered a word of concern or care about the conflicts, mess and muddle brought about by the pot ordinance (though Peter Adam noted that he had cast many votes in opposition, which reflect concerns raised by the jury).
The board's formal, written response in defense of the Das-Steve Pot Patronage and Protectorship Act, however, not only treats the good citizens of the Grand Jury with utter contempt but also categorically refuses to acknowledge -- let alone take responsibility for -- the myriad of problems the legislation continues to cause.
L'etat c'est moi.
Deny, deflect, dismiss. In flatly rejecting 18 of 19 Grand Jury recommendations for action, the supervisors' philipic on 10 different points proclaims, "This recommendation will not be implemented, as it is not warranted."
To be sure, the document employs occasional linguistic variations, perhaps for stylistic reasons: “This recommendation will not be implemented, as it is not reasonable," the supes assert seven times, while applying the phrase, "This recommendation will not be implemented as it is not necessary," once.
This deny-deny-deny strategy mirrors how Das dealt with the cannabis scandal while running for re-election a few months back, when he bumptiously and brazenly spurned repeated invitations from voters and debate moderators to express even a trace of regret or remorse for his botched legislative handiwork.
By failing to acknowledge the personal and economic pain and suffering of people whose day-to-day lives have been afflicted by the politically-connected cannabis industry, heavily populated with his personal pals and donors, Das has ceded any moral authority attendant to his elected perch, by making clear that he governs on behalf of his supporters and damn the rest.
The President of the Red States of America, would be proud.
Not warranted! Here is a look at how the supervisors dismissed and derided a few of the Grand Jury's recommendations for cleaning up the kinds of shady political dealings that defined the passage of the cannabis ordinance:
Special interest influencers. Pointing to the "unfettered access" pot industry lobbyists and operatives had to Das and Steve during the preparation of the ordinance, the jury recommended that supervisors in the future "publicly disclose all access granted to lobbying individuals or groups” when they have business before the board.
"Not warranted," declared the supes.
Why? Basically because they don’t have to: Determined to maintain the cozy status quo at the county, the board invoked a 1991 state supreme court ruling in which then-Governor Pete Wilson fought off efforts by the L.A. Times to review his daily calendars, to determine exactly with whom he was meeting in devising key policies.
Wilson, then soon to embark on his immigrant-bashing Prop. 187 crusade, did not have to disclose his meetings, the court ruled, because it would have "a chilling effect" on deliberations.
Ha! No kidding. Nice company, Das.
Ethics in politics. The Grand Jury recommended the supervisors establish an “independent Ethics Commission with oversight over the board,” to prevent a repeat of the unsavory dealings that produced the pot law, a move that has been taken by many other counties, including Ventura, San Francisco and Los Angeles, to ensure sunshine in local government activity.
"Not warranted," said the supes.
Why? Their answer claims there simply is no need for a local ethics watchdog -- because anyone who perceives a problem of conflict of interest or corruption amid their transactional behavior need merely direct their complaints to Sacramento, where they can take the matter up with California's Fair Political Practices Commission.
And hey, don't forget to call if and when you penetrate that state government bureaucracy.
Pay-to-play. The jury recommended that supervisors “publicly disclose receipt of campaign contributions from donors who have matters pending a decision by the board.”
"Not warranted," adjudged the supes, well-qualified to attest to their own integrity.
Why? This one really takes the cake:
When asked about the need for local political reform during his campaign, Das never tired of deflecting the question by shedding crocodile tears and bemoaning the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision, beating his breast about how it has corrupted our political system by flooding it with cash.
Now comes Das and the board, per Page 11 of the taxpayer-financed response to the Grand Jury, to declare shamelessly that the jury's campaign contribution reform recommendation would “curtail contributors' constitutional rights”; citing a 1980 state court decision, the document adds that “Public policy strongly encourages the giving and receiving of campaign contributions.”
Now there’s the understatement of the year.
A final outrage: In adopting their response to the grand jury, the supervisors departed from routine procedure -- declining to allow a batch of letters and emails sent in by constituents to be read into the record.
Das and Steve may not be interested in hearing what ordinary people who aren't giving them money have to say, but Newsmakers thought our readers might. So here are some excerpts from a few of the communications sent to the board they couldn't be bothered to hear.
Debra Eagle, General Manager Alma Rose Winery: "It's an insult to the citizens and business owners of Santa Barbara County that the thorough and thoughtful recommendations of the Grand Jury are being ignored by supervisors who seem to have a vested interest in the success of the cannabis industry at the expense of the residents and other businesses."
William and Elizabeth Geiger, Carpinteria: "The response of the BOS to the Grand Jury's exhaustive report and investigation into the cannabis industry In our county, is infuriating to the citizens of Carpinteria. Your refusal to listen to the residents of this county raises the question of your objectivity with this issue. We are only asking for your consideration for the health and welfare of the people you are supposed to serve."
Alexander and Patricia Globa, Carpinteria. "We have reviewed the Board of Supervisors' draft response to the Grand Jury report (Attachment A) and find it unacceptable. The issues identified in the Grand Jury report are real. Rather than deflect their responsibility, the Board needs to acknowledge its mistakes and make some significant course corrections."
Judy Paulson, Santa Maria. "The Cannabis Grand Jury Report contains clear and convincing evidence that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors failed in fulfilling their mission to, "Protect the Health, Safety and Welfare" of their citizens. I believe all Supervisors are culpable regardless of whether they were aggressively pushing or meekly following.
"In reading the report, I was struck by the lack of cooperation provided to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is comprised of integrous individuals appointed to keep watch over government agencies, cities, and districts within Santa Barbara County. To accomplish their mission, the Grand Jury must have full cooperation when investigating which evidently did not occur in this case:
'This investigation by the Jury was hindered by the denial of its request for subpoenas to be issued to non-government witnesses who might have been helpful to the inquiry. The investigation was further hindered by a two month delay in the final production of requested documents from the County of Santa Barbara that was purported to be responsive and complete. During the investigation, the Jury learned that all documents requested have not been provided." (Page 1, 2019-20 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury)'.
"Even with the obstruction the Grand Jury received in their investigation, they amassed compelling evidence and outlined factual Findings and Recommendations which appear to have been unilaterally dismissed."
Paul Ekstrom, Carpinteria: "The Supervisors of our County need to come to terms that they made wrong (possibly illegal) decisions and need to amend the current cannabis policies to make better neighbors of the cannabis industry. We are slated to have commercial growers from Canada growing cannabis in Carpinteria Valley, already saturated with commercial cannabis. Canada has a glut of cannabis products (article from Marijuana Business Times-Sept. 2020).
Commercial cannabis has already begun to over saturate the world market. I urge the BOS to reconsider their response to the Grand Jury Report and stop the charade. The Grand Jury report was made by decent citizens of this county and deserve respect for their work on the cannabis issue in this county."
Anna Cronshaw, Santa Barbara. "Beginning with word of heinous backroom meetings between Supervisor Das Williams, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino and many of the major players in the cannabis industry during the time of the terrible mudslides that occured in our South County after the dreadful Thomas fire - which resulted in no coherent responsible planning by County officials for cannabis growing including: county codes, accountable/responsible permitting, grow size limitations and requirements for the installation of filtration systems.
"What a relief it was to know that the Grand Jury was granted a year to gather information and create an extensive report with twelve well thought out recommendations for our Board of Supervisors to address.
"It is imperative that that our County Board of Supervisors not rebut these recommendations - and embrace them wholeheartedly for the well being of the people who reside in this county - especially those that live in the Carpinteria Valley."
Allan and Sandra Wei, Carpinteria. "The Recommendations from the Grand Jury Report were earned because of your lack of transparency the past three and a half years....The Recommendations of the Grand Jury Report were warranted and we do want to hold each member of the Board responsible for an acceptable quality of life in Santa Barbara County."
Screw you, Das, Steve and their colleagues effectively responded to such Santa Barbara County residents, whose real-life concerns with the pot ordinance fueled the Grand Jury's investigation.
Images: Lavagnino and Williams (SB Independent); shop.spreadshirt.com; Ethics (shutterstock); rageon.com.