| Ventura County Star
The political committee backing an initiative for commercial production of marijuana in Ventura County has spent nearly $1.5 million and raised nearly all its campaign funding from a business that stands to benefit.
More than 99% of the $1.7 million raised came from Glass Investments Projects, Inc., according to public documents filed by Ventura County Citizens for Responsible Cannabis Cultivation, the committee promoting Measure O on the November ballot.
The business would like to see its patented climate-control technology implemented in the greenhouses where the marijuana would be grown, said Jeanette Lombardo, CEO of Glass Investments Projects.
“This is simply a business investment,” said the executive at the patent management company in Camarillo.
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The company would make money from sales and consulting on use of the technology, she said.
The initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot allows up to 500 acres of cultivation of cannabis in greenhouses and 100 acres in nurseries in certain unincorporated areas.
Permitted are commercial cultivation, processing and distribution of the cannabis in agricultural and certain industrial areas. Sales could be made between licensed distributors but no retail sales would be permitted to the general public in the unincorporated areas.
A study by an Orange County consultant estimates that only 220 acres or a third of that 600 acres would materialize because of the restrictions in the measure and existing land use.
Organizers say the initiative would allow a small pilot project for indoor cultivation, which they do not expect to cause problems with odor. The acreage would constitute less than 1% of the total irrigated cropland in the county, but bump up acreage in greenhouse cultivation statewide by 63%.
Currently, almost 348 acres of cannabis cultivation exists in greenhouses in the state, according to the study by the Orange County consultant, HdL Companies. A little over 60 acres exists in neighboring Santa Barbara County, the study ordered by the County of Ventura says.
Lombardo said the community would benefit from additional jobs and tax revenues, plus owners of greenhouses would get a new crop to replace flowers and tomatoes that are no longer economical to grow locally.
“When any company is successful, the community thrives,” she said Friday, adding that she considers the initiative a win-win for everyone.
The measure says the greenhouses must already exist, but it is not clear how many there are or who owns them. Nurseries are also covered by the measure and are expected to propagate seedlings.
“There is so much promise in this market,” said Lombardo, a longtime advocate for the agricultural industry. “It is a high-value crop. We have to keep finding the next high-value crop.”
Lombardo said the Glass Investments firm does not own the greenhouses and that she does not know who does. Campaign finance records show no evidence that any of the greenhouse owners are donating significant amounts of money to the initiative.
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The new crop could potentially bring in more than $70 million annually in gross receipts, based on the estimate of an Orange County consultant who conducted a study on the impact of the measure.
Five other contributors have donated a total of $4,200, according to the most recent campaign finance records. That’s less than 1% of all contributions totaling $1.7 million. The contributors were listed as GroLink Plant Co. Inc., Sunshine Floral LLC and Topstar Floral Inc., all of Oxnard; Lee Lin of Moorpark, owner of Taiwan Plant Corp.; and Case Van Wingerden of Carpinteria.
Van Wingerden, who gave $200 but expects to donate more, said he owns greenhouses in Ventura County that would qualify under the terms of the initiative.
“The cut flower industry has not been profitable for the last five years so we’re looking for alternative crops,” he said Friday.
No political committees have raised or spent money to defeat the initiative called Measure O, according to campaign finance filings. The county information guide sent to voters contains only an argument from Lombardo in support of the measure. No statement was published by any opponents.
California allows interests benefiting from political initiatives to finance them as long as they disclose their involvement, said Tim Allison, adjunct professor of political science at CSU Channel Islands in the Camarillo area.
Then it is up to the voters to educate themselves on who is pushing what, he said.
A clear case of that is happening now with the campaign to pass Proposition 22, he said. Uber and Lyft are pouring tens of millions of dollars into the effort that would classify drivers as independent contractors and not employees who would draw standard benefits, Allison said.
Chris Collier, a consultant working on the campaign to pass the cannabis measure, said Glass Investments discloses its role on campaign materials. The firm is named as a “sponsor,” which under state law indicates heavy involvement in the fiscal and/or administrative management of a ballot measure committee.
Close to SOAR
County-wide measures are rare in Ventura County, but this one is approaching spending on the campaign to renew the Save Open-space & Agricultural Resources initiatives in 2016.
Expenditures are now about $300,000 shy of the roughly $1.8 million spent in the SOAR campaign that year by both supporters and opponents, according to campaign finance records.
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The contributions for and against SOAR came from hundreds of people, businesses and other interests, while this one is being financed by six businesses and individuals, based on current records.
Organizers of the cannabis campaign did not expect to spend seven figures, estimating it would take $500,000 to $750,000 for the entire effort, Lombardo said. But costs escalated dramatically when the campaign had to drop plans to collect signatures in person due to COVID-19, she said.
COVID forces switch
Collier said about 15,000 to 20,000 petitions on legal-size paper were ready to be circulated in person about the time that the lockdown orders came down in March. Organizers shifted to a mail campaign to comply with the rules plus they determined it was the right thing to do to minimize risks, said Collier, who is president of Rincon Strategies in Santa Barbara.
The original petitions had to be abandoned because they would not fit in the envelopes that also had to contain the full measure and a business reply envelope, he said.
“We literally had to start over,” he said.
The committee collected 38,311 valid signatures of registered voters, about 7,200 more than required for placement on the ballot, according to an analysis by county elections staff.
Lombardo said spending on the effort is not completed.
“We’re not done, but it is not going to be too much more,” she said.
The cost of the successful petition drive consumed almost $670,000 of $780,000 in cash spending on campaign costs between April 1 and June 30, a campaign finance report for the period shows.
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The report shows Glass Investments paid about $544,000 more in an in-kind contribution for signature-gathering, which would push total spending for getting the voter petition qualified above $1 million. The contribution brought total spending up to $1.37 million for the period, a figure that includes an unpaid bill of $45,000.
Campaign spending totaled about $100,000 in the latest reporting period from July 1 to Sept. 19, most of it for political consulting, slate mailers and polling.
The next campaign spending report is due Oct. 22.
To see the current reports, click on the public access portal at https://ssl.netfile.com/static/agency/vco/.
Kathleen Wilson covers the Ventura County government, including the county health system, politics and social services. Reach her at [email protected] or 805-437-0271.