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Traffic study to be funded by Santa Barbara County cannabis tax money

Posted at 6:39 PM, May 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-21 22:23:42-04

If you’re heading to the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo next week, you might be part of a new traffic study.

Santa Barbara County is hiring consultants to determine the feasibility of adding a frontage road that would help traffic flowing in and out of the rodeo grounds.

“On the Santa Maria Way offramp, traffic was backing up onto the 101 freeway and causing problems there, and leaving – it’s the only way we have out of the grounds – so people were taking a bit of time to get out,” said Peter Sterling, Elks Recreation President.

However, there could soon be a solution. Santa Barbara County is using money from its Cannabis Tax revenue to work with consultants on a traffic study and environmental impact report for a connection between the Union Valley Parkway and Highway 101 interchange and the adjoining frontage road known as Rodeo Drive.

“Depending in part on some of the information they gather, we will determine what type of environmental document will be required for the project and we’ll begin the process of preparing that document and the consultants will be helping us with that,” said Dan Klemann, Santa Barbara County Deputy Director of Long Range Planning.

The county collects money from those with cannabis operator licenses four times a year as part of its Cannabis Tax, collecting an estimated $5.6 million by the end of this fiscal year.

“Over the next two years, the Union Valley Parkway project will receive $361,000 of Cannabis Tax revenue,” said Dennis Bozanich, Santa Barbara County Deputy County Executive Officer.

The county says it will only fund “one-time use” projects with this tax money as the future of the cannabis industry is still uncertain.

“We don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future with federal regulations, state regulations – all of that is changing. In a dynamic environment like that, the responsible budget process would be to take it and use the money you have in hand and don’t expect it to be ongoing revenue,” Bozanich said.

This proposed road would help more than just the rodeo. There’s also a new agriculture campus being built out near the rodeo grounds for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District and the area is also used for staging for emergency personnel during fires.

According to Caltrans, once this study is completed, the project would have to be “amended into the county’s general plan and also be included in the regional transportation plan.”

The county’s Cannabis Tax fund has already generated more than four million dollars this fiscal year, compared to the only $55,000 made in San Luis Obispo County since its cannabis tax was passed in July of last year.