New Report on Deadbeat Pot Growers Stirs Supe Race
Das Williams and Laura Capps are scheduled to meet for two face-to-face debates over the next few days -- but the most consequential campaign event of the week could be Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
That’s when incumbent First District Supervisor Williams and his four colleagues are to hear a staff report on the status of the county’s controversial cannabis ordinance; on Sunday, school board President Capps already was ripping her rival over what's in it.
“Now, we learn that because of (Das’s) lack of oversight, 62% of cannabis operators paid ZERO taxes, despite the millions in profit they are making,” Capps said in an emailed statement.
“This latest bombshell makes it clearer than ever that it is time for new leadership,” she added.
Team Das, responding to questions from Newsmakers, said Laura "omitted and glossed over" crucial information from the staff report, accusing her of cherry-picking data to benefit her campaign.
"I have never denied the road to compliance has been bumpy," Das said in an emailed statement. "In fact, I've been very vocal about how long it is taking - but I am also leading the charge to ensure safe, legal access to cannabis that is beneficial to all of Santa Barbara County, as requested by the 70% of First District residents, including Capps herself, who voted for Prop 64."
Both of the campaign statements are published in full below.
State of play. Conflict over the cannabis ordinance has emerged as the central issue in Capps’ challenge to Williams’s second term.
She has accused him of crafting a new law that overwhelmingly benefits a favored special interest, pointing to the tens of thousands of dollars his campaign accepted from the industry before, during and since the ordinance was written; he argues that while some tweaks are necessary to the new law, county residents and services in the long-term will reap major financial benefits.
The new county staff report covers the first quarter of the current fiscal year, through last Oct. 31.
The good news: the county collected $2.8 million from the marijuana industry, the highest quarterly take to date; the bad news: of the 90 licensed operators, only 34 filed a gross receipts accounting – 38 percent of the total number of businesses – while another 34 claimed they had no income and the remaining 22 did not bother to submit a filing, according to the.report.
Because the county has not yet conducted an audit of the new industry, 19 months after the contentious ordinance took into effect, there is to date no independent accounting for any of the numbers submitted, or not, by those operating businesses. The supervisors last June approved $100,000 to get that done.
“Santa Barbara County’s policy requires a tax audit but inexplicably, as the architect of the policy, Williams has failed to make that happen,” Capps said.
"The Board allocated $100,000, generated from cannabis revenue, to fund a staff position for tax compliance," Williams responded.
The future lies ahead. The new report is likely to be a flashpoint at the two Das-Laura debates scheduled this week.
The Board of Supervisors is slated to hear the staff report on cannabis at its meeting Tuesday, starting at 9 a.m. in Santa Maria. Remote testimony may be delivered from the Board of Supervisors hearing room at the County Administration Building in Santa Barbara.
Last word on Round 1. Last week’s Newsmakers TV conversation with Das and Laura already has been viewed more than 600 times on our You Tube channel, and will begin airing soon on Channel 17, through the March 3 election.
Because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, we’re always loath to offer much analysis of our own events. That said, there is no question that the candidates' commentary on Newsmakers TV provided clear answers to the most important question of any political campaign: In a broad sense, what do the candidates believe the election is about?
For his part, Das defined the election as being about his Progressive Record, as he promoted what he termed a “clear record of results.”
After defending the process of writing the cannabis ordinance as inclusive, he suggested that pot legislation was just a small part of his agenda in any case, trumpeting his efforts on behalf of innovative housing projects, as well as policies and programs that advance green energy alternatives to fossil fuels, including the county’s recent changeover from Southern California Edison to the Monterey Bay Community Power system.
Noting that he and Laura substantively agree on many progressive issues, Das portrayed her as a political opportunist challenging him because of personal ambition, not policy.
“The painful part of this, at least for me, is the fact that we both share a lot of the same values,” said Das.
For Capps, the bottom line in defining the election is: Change vs the Status Quo.
While hammering away at the controversy over the county's disputed cannabis ordinance, she framed it broadly -- as a case study of far-reaching impacts that result from the influence of special interest money in local government. Arguing that Williams dramatically and effectively transformed Santa Barbara into California’s capital of weed, she reprised his $62,000 in industry campaign donations while voicing an array of concerns raised by residents about its long-term effects on property values, other crops, public education and the respiratory health of children and seniors.
“The main policy difference between us, which I think has ramifications on every issue, is too much money in politics," she said. "I want to change the way business is done” at the county.
Puzzling poll. Some First District voters have been called in recent days by poll-takers asking questions about the Das-Laura race, but who's behind the survey is a mystery.
One of our countless spies, who apparently knows shorthand, provided us the text of the poll questions, which collectively represent an effort to gauge the relative strength of campaign messages for the rivals
After asking respondents to rate how favorably or unfavorably they viewed Das’s performance as a supervisor, and then to identify who they would vote for “if the election were held today,"
those polled were presented with a series of five statements, describing him on issues like housing, environment and gun control.
Respondents were asked to grade each statement as “very convincing, somewhat convincing, a little convincing or not at all convincing.”
Given the recent skirmishes over pot taxes, this one caught our attention:
Williams knows the importance of a balanced budget. He will work to ensure the County continues to provide high quality services to its residents by establishing sustainable revenues sources like the cannabis tax.
After that section of the poll, an equivalent series of statements was made about Laura, with the same request to rank their credibility. Her position was described this way:
Capps believes that the cannabis industry has grown unchecked in SB County. If elected she will limit cannabis market rates, cultivation permits, increase buffer zones and sponsor more research on the health and environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation.
What's most intriguing is that both campaigns insist they're not behind the poll.
“It’s absolutely not ours," Capps told us.
“It could be anybody,” said Das strategist Pat Dennis. “We haven’t polled since September.”
Which most likely means somebody's putting together an independent expenditure committee to run ads and mailers on behalf of one of the candidates in the home stretch before the March 3 election..
The only relevant IE we found registered with county election officials was set up last summer in the name of Montecito developer Ron Pulice. It reported $10,000 on hand as of September.
In a text message exchange, however, Pulice said that while he and his wife have contributed to both Das and Laura's campaigns, he knows nothing about any IE.
"Confusing," he said. "I have not done anything but support both candidates in this race, I have not registered for a committee to do anything at all."
Curiouser and curiouser.
Images: Debate forecast; Stoner cat (doobieculture,com); Lincoln and Douglas; After the Newsmakers TV conversation; Q&A; Mr. Cranky Pants after brief bout of investigative reporting.
Here is the text of the statement from the Laura Capps campaign about the new SB County staff report about the marijuana ordinance:
Today the Capps campaign issued a response to the recent report from the County on the failed cannabis policy.
The report details that 62% of cannabis operators failed to pay any taxes in 2019. Das Williams has received $62,000 from the cannabis industry while writing the marijuana ordinance and regulating it. He has not insisted upon an audit of cannabis operations, many of whom are located in the district he represents, even though the Santa Barbara County ordinance requires it.
“As documented by the Los Angeles Times, the cannabis industry was granted nearly every major demand from Das Williams while he spearheaded the most permissive marijuana policy in the state – one that has negatively impacted the health and quality of life of many of the people he has been entrusted to represent,” said Laura Capps, President of the Santa Barbara School Board and candidate for County Supervisor.
“We learned that he accepted $30,000 while writing the ordinance and later another $32,000 from the very operators requesting permits. Now, we learn that because of his lack of oversight, 62% of cannabis operators paid ZERO taxes, despite the millions in profit they are making.
"The County has full authority to withdraw consent for their state licenses --- why are they still able to operate tax-free? This latest bombshell makes it clearer than ever that it is time for new leadership.”
The report demonstrates that of the 90 state licensed cultivators authorized by the County, 34 operators claimed “no receipts” and 22 operators failed to submit any tax reports. Tax revenue from cannabis was expected to be as high as $25 million per year to help fund the priorities of the County such as libraries and climate change mitigation.
Instead the County received just $6.7 million in revenue; most of that has gone to fund the enforcement of the ordinance.
Despite Williams’ repeated claims that the state law is to blame for our County's pot problems, Proposition 64 gave most power to local governments including tax compliance (the proposition made it clear that absent local authorization, the only activities it legalized statewide are: personal possession, personal use, and cultivation of up to six plants in one’s home.)
Santa Barbara County’s policy requires a tax audit but inexplicably, as the architect of the policy, Williams has failed to make that happen.
Here is the response from Das Williams and Pat Dennis, his campaign's senior strategist:
Pat Dennis statement
"This is more misleading and false information from the Capps campaign. Honesty and facts are a baseline for those in public office and voters should expect more from Capps,"
Das Williams statement
"Here are the facts, which are clearly outlined in the report, yet have been omitted or glossed over by the Capps campaign.
To date, the county has only authorized 5 businesses for cannabis cultivation. While 22 have applied - only 5 have been authorized.
The Board allocated $100,000, generated from cannabis revenue, to fund a staff position for tax compliance. This staff person works directly with the state to ensure all current operators are paying ALL local taxes as well, not just those with local licenses.
This is explained in the very next paragraph of the staff report my opponent references but conveniently leaves out of the release.
In addition to issuing the $100,000 for tax compliance, I have also pushed for the additional $1.1 million in cannabis money going to maintenance for parks, roads, and other infrastructure; dedicated nearly $600,000 to proactive measures to fight climate change; $350,000 for a Recreation Master Plan to ensure children have open space available for them long into the future; and nearly $300,000 that has gone to keep libraries from having to reduce hours, all on top of the $1.5 million was added to County reserves to ensure fiscal stability- all funded with cannabis revenue, which has consistently gone up quarter after quarter.
I have never denied the road to compliance has been bumpy - in fact I've been very vocal about how long it is taking - but I am also leading the charge to ensure safe, legal access to cannabis that is beneficial to all of Santa Barbara County, as requested by the 70% of First District residents, including Capps herself, who voted for Prop 64."