Thursday, October 21, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 34

Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on February 23rd, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 52 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 52

Greenhouse politics


Who knew building a greenhouse on agriculturally zoned land could be so controversial? 

Ooh, pick me! Pick me! 

It’s definitely not surprising that the same county that brought you years of discussion over whether or not hoop houses should be allowed over a nice view from Highway 101 is the same county in which a group of neighbors can hold up development on a property—even when the development in question seems to be in line with what the property was zoned for. 

I guess Steve Decker, who wants to build a 16,000-square-foot greenhouse on his property outside of Solvang, didn’t realize how loud the voices of opposition would chime when he received a land use permit last June. 

Or how loud they would be when he changed the application from a greenhouse growing cannabis to one growing vegetables. He had two strikes against him from the start: His property is in Santa Barbara County and it’s also in the Santa Ynez Valley, where nosy neighbors are definitely a thing, the NIMBY spirit is strong, private property rights only apply to them (not their neighbors), and he mentioned cannabis one time. 

Led by a very un-neighborly Stephen Jacobs, the appellants claimed the greenhouse was incompatible with surrounding residences, that Decker still intended to run a cannabis farm, and the project would use too much water. 

The crew of greenhouse gripers succeeded in swaying the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission in September 2020. The commission upheld the appeal, denying his project and ignoring staff’s take on the project: Decker’s property is zoned for “maximum agricultural productivity,” and the county has to weigh the merits of the actual application—not the project applicant’s intent. 

Decker appealed the decision to the Board of Supervisors, stating that he felt the commission didn’t give him a fair shake.

For one, they didn’t listen to his offer to add conditions to the project. Aren’t conditions a thing with the Planning Commission? If a project is going to decimate gophers on 1 square meter of open space, the commission conditions the project to create a gopher playground somewhere else as mitigation. For two, the hearing wasn’t impartial. Yep. There was a lot of cannabis talk thrown in there for a project to grow veggies! 

In a February hearing, Jacobs argued that the greenhouse would “dramatically change the current makeup of the neighborhood.” Well, maybe you shouldn’t have bought or built a house on ag land, man! Decker is hanging his project on the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan, which is all about “protecting agricultural uses on agricultural lands.” 

 Jacobs again voiced cannabis concerns, which Decker called “irrational.” I second that. All of his neighbors have their binoculars out looking for telltale signs, so Decker would be tempting fate to grow something like that illegally. And he told the Sun as much: “It’s an absurd notion.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she opposed the greenhouse because she was concerned about protecting the “rural and scenic character” of the area. It’s a rural, agricultural area where greenhouses are a thing, Joan!

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino couched his response in typical Steve fashion, saying he didn’t like the greenhouse project (why?) but legally, he’d have to side with Decker. 

Wow, greenhouse politics are so tense! 

Now, Decker has to get a California Environmental Quality Act review. For a greenhouse.

The Canary is for greenhouses on ag land. Send comments to

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