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 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 14

County faces another lawsuit over Santa Ynez cannabis farm

By Zac Ezzone

A group of Santa Barbara County residents recently filed a second lawsuit over the county’s decision to approve another cannabis project in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The county Board of Supervisors approved plans for West Coast Farms, the project at the center of this most recent lawsuit, during its April 21 meeting. This project is located off Highway 246, about 1 mile west of Buellton, and includes plans to grow 46 acres of cannabis, a 4-acre nursery, and the construction of two 3,000-square-foot buildings where the plants will be processed.

Supervisors approved the project on a 3-2 vote. About a month later, on May 22, the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, filed its lawsuit over the county’s approval of this project. In its lawsuit, the group claims that by approving this project, the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act and other state laws. 

In the lawsuit, the group claims that the programmatic environmental impact review the county completed when it first drafted cannabis cultivation ordinances in 2018 is inadequate because the cannabis industry was new and its impacts weren’t well known. Since this review was completed and the ordinance has been in place, the coalition claims that county residents and businesses have been adversely affected by the operation of nearby cannabis farms.

“These impacts include new and substantially increased impacts to agriculture including wine grape production in the Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) where a large concentration of cannabis cultivation projects, including West Coast, are proposed or already operating,” the lawsuit states.  

Blair Pence, who owns and operates a vineyard near West Coast Farms, is listed as the CEO of the coalition on Secretary of State filings from May 2019. Carpinteria resident Paul Ekstrom is also listed as a member of the coalition and signed the lawsuit as the group’s representative. 

Prior to filing this lawsuit, Pence appealed the county Planning and Development’s decision to approve this project in May 2019. This sent the project to the county Planning Commission, which denied the project in December. Representatives from West Coast Farms appealed the denial to the Board of Supervisors, which ultimately approved the plans. 

This lawsuit follows one the coalition filed over the board’s March approval of plans for Busy Bee’s Organics in the Santa Ynez Valley. The coalition filed a lawsuit over the decision a month later, which also contends that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by approving the project based on an inadequate programmatic environmental impact review. 

Lawrence Conlan, an attorney who represented West Coast Farms during the April board meeting, didn’t respond to a request for comment prior to press time. However, during the meeting in April, he said many opponents of the local cannabis industry may want to re-litigate the programmatic environmental impact review, but the time to do so has long passed. 

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