After two hours of deliberation, one Santa Barbara County planning commissioner stood firm about denying a local grower’s cannabis permit, which would have otherwise been approved unanimously.
“We’ve succeeded in extending our one case to the same length as three others,” Planning Commissioner C. Michael Cooney said near the end of the Planning Commission’s Oct. 12 meeting. “I think we better get to a decision on this and do our best.”
The sole item on the meeting’s agenda was for the Planning Commission to consider granting farmer Gary Teixeira a conditional use permit for a 60.4-acre outdoor cannabis cultivation operation at 4301 Dominion Road in the Santa Maria and Orcutt area, according to the staff report.
Before the permit was approved in a 4-1 vote, Cooney voiced his doubts about the project, starting with odor abatement. After Cooney questioned staff about anticipating odor complaints from residential neighbors to Teixeira’s property, Planning Commissioner John Parke said he doesn’t think that will be a glaring problem, based on his site visit.
“I look to the left, there’s the applicant’s own berry farm—he’s the neighbor. Behind him is Greka Oil, OK. We’re going to protect them from noxious odors from cannabis?” Parke said. “Then, to the right, is a Chevron property that’s very large. … It’s a depositing site for contaminated soil. So it’s not as if this property is surrounded by immediate neighbors that are concerned about the possible noxiousness of odors.”
Teixeira joined the meeting via Zoom and commented on a landscaping condition of the permit that he believes will anger nearby farmers in the area, and requested to be omitted. The condition required that the cannabis cultivation be hidden from public view with vegetative screening, which would attract birds and other animals to the area, the applicant argued.
“We have no intention of making any of our neighbors mad,” Teixeira said. “I still grow blueberries on the other partial and grapes we’re putting in, and it’s not beneficial to any of my neighbors or myself to have more planting of trees in an ag area when we’re trying to keep the birds, the deer, the coyotes away from our fields.”
Speaking from his own experience dealing with unwanted birds as a farmer, Planning Commissioner Larry Ferini said he supported Teixeira’s request.
“As a grower, birds are horrible. … The reason they’ve become horrible is there’s no control for birds,” Ferini said. “You can’t shoot them, or you’ll harm your crop, or you’ll scare your employees, or I don’t even know, it might even be illegal to shoot them.
“The concern that birds can spread is the one we’ve all heard of, of course—salmonella. That’s the big food safety concern,” added Ferini, who described enforcing the vegetative screening in this case as “encouraging a food safety violation.”
“If something ever happened, I don’t want that liability on me,” he said.
Cooney described his view as a “rare disagreement” with Ferini, and said that the applicant should be responsible for finding a solution to meet the screening requirement without jeopardizing the area’s crops.
Ferini said he’s never come across a plant-based landscape screening that doesn’t attract birds and motioned to approve the permit without the screening condition, which passed in a 4-1 vote, with Cooney dissenting.