The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal filed against a 23-acre cannabis cultivation project by Castlerock Family Farms at its Tuesday meeting.
The board voted 4 to 1. The lone “no” vote cast by 4th District Supervisor and board vice chair Peter Adam.
Filed by the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, the appeal against the Castlerock project cited eight issues that the county staff dismissed with a response detailed in the meeting’s board letter.
Grievances the coalition expressed during the meeting were largely centered on the issue of cannabis odors disrupting nearby non-cannabis agricultural operations.
Castlerock Family Farms had its land-use permit for cannabis growing approved on July 26, 2019, which was then appealed the following August. On May 19, 2020, the project was revised to remove on-site processing and remove all cannabis activities west of Cultivation Area C, its smallest cultivation area.
The project was then approved by the Planning Commission on July 8 and the Coalition filed a timely appeal against it on July 20.
In a hearing at Tuesday’s meeting, the coalition’s representative, Courtney Taylor, remarked that despite the changes Castlerock made to its initial plan, it doesn’t address the problem of cannabis odors.
“The appellant was pleased to see the changes made by the applicant, but there is a remaining issue regarding the odor impacts of this project and the cumulative impacts,” she said.
A chief concern of the coalition was cannabis odor impacts adversely impacting business at nearby wine tasting rooms, which generate a majority of sales for local wineries.
“In Santa Barbara County, the wineries with the top sales are in AG-II zones where odor abatement is not currently required,” Ms. Taylor stated.
First of the eight issues raised in the coalition’s appeal is that the project’s environmental review under CEQA is, in its view, inadequate. County staff replied in the board letter that a program environmental impact report was conducted in line with CEQA.
However, Ms. Taylor insisted that further environmental review is necessary because there were three changes in law after the PEIR was certified that would enable the board to take action that would require odor mitigation.
One of these changes was the supervisors amending its right to farm ordinance to exclude cannabis growing from AG-II areas that aren’t required to enact odor abatement. Ms. Taylor referred to this as a “substantial change in circumstances and local law” that should trigger “project level review and mitigation of projects’ odor impacts.”
Another change in law the appellant mentioned was removing the Agricultural Preserve Advisory Committee’s ability to oversee how cannabis would impact adjacent agricultural land uses on a case-by-case basis. While the PEIR assumed this would be done through APAC, cannabis cultivation’s classification under the Uniform Rules was changed from “compatible use” to “principle use,” removing APAC’s oversight and resulting in it never actually evaluating cannabis’ impacts on adjacent agricultural operations.
“Another substantial change in circumstances,” Ms. Taylor said of this.
The change in cannabis cultivation’s classification was done by the California State Legislature amending the Williamson Act, the third legal change cited by the appellant.
“We believe lack of odor control in this important region is problematic and your board has a legal basis for requiring mitigation to address this,” she told the supervisors.
Mr. Adam refused to vote yes on denying the appeal and approving the project on the grounds that it had no guarantee that its cannabis odor wouldn’t adversely impact nearby agricultural operations.
“I could support this project if I had that kind of assurance. But short of that I think I have to vote no,” he said.
Located a few miles west of Buellton, the Castlerock project is within 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann’s district. While she ultimately supported approving the project, Ms. Hartmann said that almost 800 acres of cannabis, more than half of the county’s 1,575 acre cap, is expected to be concentrated in the State Route 246 and Santa Rosa Road region, the same area as the Castlerock project.
“People are experiencing some really significant impacts and we need to look at that, we can’t simply ignore it,” she said.
First District Supervisor Das Williams said that while he would at some point like to deny a cannabis cultivation project to demonstrate the board’s desire to get the permitting correct, he said the Castlerock project is not the one to make an example of.
“This project site has less potential for conflicts than other places, they’ve already done what we wanted,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
“I don’t think this is the project we drop the hammer on,” he said.
In other business, the board accepted a COVID-19 update from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.