Wednesday, February 8, 2023     Volume: 23, Issue: 49

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 18th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 7

Planning Commission continues hearing over controversial cannabis project

By Zac Ezzone

During its meeting on April 7, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission picked up a discussion it had started in early December 2019 over a cannabis operation in Cebada Canyon near Lompoc by a corporation called Herbal Angels. 

Despite not issuing permits for the project during this first discussion, commissioners praised some aspects of the operation’s plans. But a lot has changed since then. 

In December 2019 the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office raided a cannabis farm near Lompoc, which is currently going through the county’s application process.

On Dec. 16, the county Sheriff’s Office raided the project site and seized more than $1 million in cannabis products. On March 23, the county District Attorney’s Office filed two felony counts and two misdemeanor charges against Eli Sheiman for allegedly illegally operating the farm. Sheiman was named as the CEO of Herbal Angels in Secretary of State filings from January 2018. Mariette Wingard, who was listed as CEO in July 2018 Secretary of State filings, is also named in the misdemeanor charges—but not the felony counts—which relate to unlawfully growing and harvesting cannabis plants with the intent to sell the product.

According to the felony complaint the District Attorney’s Office filed, prosecutors are alleging that Sheiman falsified an affidavit claiming that medicinal cannabis was growing on the site prior to Jan. 19, 2016. After voters legalized cannabis in November 2016, the county Board of Supervisors decided that sites where medicinal cannabis was grown prior to that January date would be allowed to continue growing under a legal non-conforming status, as project applicants work through the permitting process. 

When the Planning Commission picked up the project again during its April 7 meeting, county Planning and Development Department Director Lisa Plowman told the commission to set aside these legal questions and to only weigh the project itself and the use of the land. She said the results of the Sheriff’s Office investigation and the upcoming court case will be assessed during the business license application process.

But some commissioners, including 3rd District Commissioner John Parke, said it’s impossible to separate the issues. 

“Yes we’re looking at the use, but all of the presentation on the use is submitted by the user,” Parke said. “And so the user’s credibility—I think—is very, very important.”

The project itself includes the cultivation of 16 acres of cannabis under hoop houses along with 1 acre of cannabis grown in six greenhouses, all on a roughly 102-acre parcel. It also includes plans for two manufacturing facilities—one of which is roughly 40,000 square feet—and three 800-square-foot employee dwellings. 

Commissioners raised a number of issues about the project, including the size of the larger manufacturing facility and potential noise concerns created by the fans and generators on-site. But most commissioners at some point of the meeting referenced the uncertain legal situations involving Sheiman and Wingard as significant concerns.

Parke questioned Rebecca Mendrilbil—an attorney representing Herbal Angels, the project applicant, and Avo Vista Farms, which owns the land—about Sheiman and Wingard’s role in Herbal Angels. Mendrilbil said that all information required to obtain a conditional use permit has been submitted and that she wouldn’t disclose who owns Herbal Angels.

“We’re not going to answer questions about criminal matters,” Mendrilbil said. “We’re confident we will prevail in the legal matters at hand.”

Following a lengthy discussion, the commission decided to continue the meeting to May 27. Commissioner Larry Ferini, who represents the county’s 4th District where the project is located, asked staff to return to the commission with information on some of the technical concerns the commissioners raised about the project. 

Coincidentally, the first court date for the legal case involving Sheiman and Wingard is scheduled for the following day on May 28. But this could change due to the limited operations at the Santa Barbara Superior Court during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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