An almost 10-acre cannabis cultivation operation in Cebada Canyon near Lompoc was approved by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on a split vote over the objection of neighbors last week.
Commissioners voted 3-2, with 3rd District Commissioner John Parke and 1st District Commissioner Michael Cooney dissenting, to grant a conditional use permit to Tu Tran for the NewEra LLC cannabis cultivation operation on 9.66 acres of a 100.49-acre property at 2720 Cebada Canyon Road.
“I understand the concerns of the neighbors, as cannabis is still a controversial subject and the stigma that surrounds it, and I want to do whatever I can to ease the neighbors’ concerns as much as possible,” Tran told the commission.
Tran modified the project originally presented to the commission in May to address some of the neighbors’ and commissioners’ concerns, including reducing the size from 10.16 to 9.66 acres by increasing the setback on the north side from 630 to 650 feet from a neighboring home.
He also agreed to eliminate the hoop structures proposed for that northern section, designated Area 4, which will be used for younger plants, and to retain 395 citrus and avocado trees currently growing on the site.
In addition, Tran changed the project description to include the removal of the plastic on the remaining hoop houses after the single harvest each fall and its replacement only after spring planting begins.
No processing will take place on-site, and cannabis will be transported out as soon as it is harvested using Mercendes-Benz Sprinter vans. The five full-time employees and eight additional seasonal employees will be transported via vanpool.
Stephen Peterson of Flowers & Associates said the changes increased the amount of open space preserved from 73% to 80% and the water use would be reduced by 71%.
When Parke asked how water use could be reduced if the existing avocado and citrus trees were retained, Peterson said they would not be watered to the level needed to maintain production.
Six people spoke against the project, citing concerns about security, inadequate odor control, danger from increased traffic on Cebada Canyon Road.
“The key issue is neighborhood compatibility,” said Marc Chytilo, representing the Johnson family, although he also cited the odor plan, potential harm to biological resources and water use.
He asked that a decision be delayed so Tran could do more work to improve the odor control plan, which primarily relies on terrain and buffer vegetation but would respond with increasing measures based on complaints.
Five people spoke in support of Tran, testifying to his character, his community-oriented activities and his willingness to change the project to address concerns.
“The main question is, is cannabis agriculture or is it not?” asked Chairman Larry Ferini, whose 4th District encompasses the site, noting the site and surrounding properties are zoned AG-2. “It makes it difficult for residents that built homes in the middle of big ag properties. It’s agriculture. Ag smells.
“I don’t see where they don’t have the right to move forward,” he said.
Second District Commissioner Laura Bridley agreed and said she fully supported the project, as did 5th District Commissioner Dan Blough.
Cooney said he could not make the finding the project would fit into the neighborhood but would support a continuance to let Tran work on the odor control plan.
“I have to oppose the project on that basis because I think we have ample evidence that the project will not be compatible with the neighborhood,” Cooney said. “The project as presented is not going to assure us that the neighborhood will be comfortable.”
Parke said he couldn’t imagine how to do more to mitigate the impact of the project.
“The finding that it is incompatible is hard to make,” Parke said. “But a finding of ‘compatible’ is also hard to make. … On balance, I could not make the finding [of compatibility]. I would not support the project.”