The City of Goleta plans to appeal a Santa Barbara County-approved cannabis cultivation project that lies just a half-mile outside of the city’s limits, citing concerns of hydrogen sulfide hazards, an inadequate odor abatement plan and insufficient environmental review.
The White Light Cannabis Cultivation Project, located at 222 Winchester Canyon Road, was granted a land use development permit from the county Planning and Development Department on Sept. 16, but city officials say that they have been voicing concerns about the project during the past year and believe that the county approved the permit before those concerns were adequately addressed.
“The county has not addressed our concerns surrounding the project prior to the project being approved,” Mayor Paula Perotte said in a statement released Tuesday. “A cannabis cultivation project has no place near a residential neighborhood without adequate safeguards and environmental review.”
Over the summer, city staff informed the county that there had been significant hydrogen sulfide safety concerns in the area that needed to be addressed in a formal plan analyzing the hazards, but county staff told the city that the applicant submitted a letter from their attorney saying that the request was not a legal requirement and would not be provided, according to city officials.
The applicant’s letter indicated that they would be installing hydrogen sulfide monitors voluntarily if the project was approved, but the city “does not believe this is an acceptable approach or substitute for a full and complete investigation to potential hydrogen sulfide safety standards.”
“We don’t believe that the county complied with its own policies in its comprehensive general plan, the Eastern Goleta Valley community plan, and the land use development that go around hydrogen sulfate,” Peter Imhoff, the city’s Planning and Environmental Review director, told Noozhawk. “All of those set out policies and standards that govern development, and the county is obligated in approving permits within its jurisdiction to make sure projects conform to those standards.”
Cannabis code includes specific regulations, and in this case, that means an odor abatement plan, adequate setbacks and all necessary approvals from other agencies, among others.
Christopher Schmuckal, a county planner overseeing the project, said the Planning and Development Department reviewed all of the requirements and made sure that the project was in compliance before approval.
“A number of concerns have come up; we’ve addressed them as much as we can,” Schmuckal told Noozhawk. “This project is a land use permit, so what that means is that if it’s a project where as long as it meets all the requirements within the development code, the county would approve it.”
The city also claims that the applicant’s updated odor abatement plan did not adequately address the city’s concerns, and Imhoff said city officials hope that the county Planning Commission will revisit the plan and the need for additional hazard analysis during the appeal process and direct county staff to require that the applicant revise the odor abatement plan further.
“The project is about a half-mile north of a developed residential neighborhood in the city, and the residents would be directly affected by this project not just because of odors, but because of potential safety hazards of releases of hydrogen,” Imhoff said.
Schmuckal said the proposed cannabis processing and storage building has odor abatement carbon filters to reduce the odors from the processing and storage phase.
The city believes that the project has been properly analyzed during the required programmatic environmental impact report, but believes that there have been “significant changes in circumstances that need a focused, supplemental environmental impact review before the project could be approved,” according to city officials.
The project calls for the development of 17 acres of nursery and outdoor cannabis cultivation, 0.44 acres of nursery cultivation, an existing 6,000-square-foot processing building that will be rebuilt and used to dry, process and store cannabis, and distribution, according to Schmuckal.
Imhoff claims that the permit provided no information on how the cannabis material would be transported off site, which could create traffic issues for Goleta residents.
“We don’t know where it will be taken, what routes they will follow, if they go through city streets and how that would affect residents,” he said.
Regarding cannabis transport, Schmuckal said that the project proposed transportation through a third-party distributor and limiting deliveries to one or two times per day during harvest season.
“They’re not able to bring in 10 cars on a daily basis,” he said, adding that the applicant submitted a site plantation demand management plan to reduce the amount of traffic coming and going. “We’ve addressed those as much as we can throughout the measures.”
Schmuckal said the project has been in process since 2019 and underwent an “extensive” review period before approval.
The county had not actually received an appeal from the city or any other appellants as of Thursday, Schmuckal said, but opposed parties have until 5 p.m. Monday to file an appeal. Once an appeal is received, the county Planning Commission would hold a public hearing with the appellant and county staff.
The Planning Commission’s review is de novo, meaning that it will consider the facts and permit findings anew without deference to the staff-level decision.
“The (Planning Commission) would look at the entire scope of the project, and then it’s up to the decision-makers to decide,” Schmuckal said. “They’re going to weigh the project proponents against the land use development codes and required findings.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.