The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is about to hear its first appeal for a cannabis cultivation permit and it’s for a property in the Carpinteria Valley, where residents have raised odor-related complaints for years.
Marijuana has been grown in the valley for several years and, in many cases, was being sold to medical dispensaries. Operators are now going through the dual permitting process for the county and state to bring them into compliance for the adult-use commercial market.
Operators are proactive in the Carpinteria area, organizing as the CARP Growers, helping develop local regulations, and wanting to be known as the good guys following the rules who want “bad actors” shut down.
The 20-or-so members of CARP Growers operate more than 30 acres of cannabis cultivation greenhouses and employ about 600 people.
Its president, Graham Farrar, says Santa Barbara County has the perfect climate for cannabis, with its weather and existing agricultural labor force and infrastructure.
He described a rigorous review process, including inspections and requirements to reduce energy use on the sites while adding lighting, security and odor control.
“There’s nothing like cannabis to give you anxiety,” he laughed. “The rules change on a regular basis.”
Farrar runs an operating greenhouse cannabis farm, Glass House Farms, which started about four years ago under the medical marijuana regulations. It has a provisional state permit and has a permit application being reviewed by the county for the commercial market.
It has several harvests a year so the workforce is year-round, not transitional like some agriculture, he said.
Lighting, odor control and security are major pieces of the county’s ordinance requirements, and he noted that the Glass House Farms greenhouses have blackout curtains to prevent light pollution as well as manage daylight hours for the plants to control the harvest.
He said his operation also has a vapor phase odor control system, one of the two odor-neutralizing types allowed by the county.
Farrar started in the cannabis industry about four years ago with Glass House Farms, and also owns one of the three permitted Santa Barbara dispensaries — The Farmacy Santa Barbara at 128 W. Mission St. — and a manufacturing facility in Lompoc.
He plans to operate another cultivation business on a property that has the distinction of being the first one in the Carpinteria Valley to be issued a county permit — and get appealed.
The 3561 Foothill Road/3480 Via Real property in the western valley has vacant greenhouses that once grew orchids, and was sold last year. It had a list price of $11 million and is currently owned by Magu Farms LLC, according to the county.
On March 6, the county issued a coastal development permit for the site, to G&K Farm/K&G Flower, and it was appealed by the grassroots Concerned Carpinterians group, specifically former school board member Maureen Claffey.
According to its website, Concerned Carpinterians organized to “address the impacts of cannabis activities on Carpinteria communities, residents, children, visitors and wildlife,” including the odor issues.
Members have spoken at numerous Santa Barbara County and Carpinteria public meetings, and a related group, Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, filed a lawsuit challenging the county’s agricultural hoop structure ordinance amendment.
The appeal asks the county to deny the coastal development permit, and alleges the owners added a new entrance, gate, perimeter fencing and odor control system without permits.
“In addition to the foregoing, we believe there is credible testimony from ‘site’ neighbors that unlawful cannabis cultivation was being carried on prior to submission of the permit application,” the appeal says.
Farrar says the site never had cannabis planted there, and on a brief site visit showed that the westernmost greenhouse is largely empty, with a few dozen jalapeno pepper plants growing inside.
“They flung the grenade at us because we were the first ones they saw,” he said.
The appeal is scheduled for the county Planning Commission meeting that starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Santa Barbara County Engineering Building, Room 17, at 123 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.
The staff report for the Planning Commission hearing recommends denying the appeal.
Residents and growers have clashed over the marijuana smell in the Carpinteria Valley for longer than the county has had a cannabis ordinance, with frustrated neighbors asking the county to enforce the odor control regulations. Even though the cannabis operators are outside city limits, the City Council will talk about taking action to address the problems at a future meeting.
The multiagency Cannabis Compliance Team has conducted raids and seized product from some allegedly illegal grows, but the county isn’t enforcing permit rules — including odor control — on operators who don’t yet have permits. Very few operators in the county have secured county permits so far.
“Those of us in the Coastal Zone, the Coastal Commission didn’t adopt (regulations) until November so we couldn’t apply until December,” said Autumn Shelton, of the Autumn Brands cannabis company in the Carpinteria Valley.
“We thought it would take three months, six maybe, and now that we’re in this, it’s looking like longer.”
Autumn Brands was the first local operator to get a state provisional cultivation license, and is still going through the county permitting process for its site at 3615 Foothill Road, adjacent to the Magu Farms property.
The company is named for partners Autumn Shelton and Hans Brand, a cut flower grower, and sells packaged products to about 160 dispensaries in California, including three in Santa Barbara, Shelton said.
They started the cannabis business around 2015, she told Noozhawk in an April interview, and it recently moved from the collective model to the regulated commercial market.
“This process with the county is onerous at best,” Shelton said. “It’s definitely more work and more expensive than any of us ever imagined.”
She didn’t want to put a specific dollar amount on the costs for an operator to enter the commercial cannabis market, including permitting.
“I’m going to say hundreds of thousands of dollars if you look at everything they require us to do, with the ordinance and business license, not just short term but the long-term fee,” she said.
As of May 21, Santa Barbara County had received 150 land-use permit applications (for 117 unique parcels), approved 16 of those, and issued nine permits.
Five of the permitted operations have been appealed, including Farrar’s and four in Supervisorial District 3, in Santa Ynez and along Highway 246 west of Buellton.
The most applications have been submitted in Supervisorial District 1 — mostly in the Carpinteria Valley and a few in the Cuyama Valley.