The issue of cannabis reeks of contention in Santa Barbara County, most recently in the announcement on Thursday of finalists for a storefront in Orcutt, a bedroom community south of Santa Maria. The previous round ended in a lawsuit brought by NHC Orcutt 405, which missed moving to the finals by just one point. The owner of the property where the cannabis shop was proposed was Helios Dayspring, who made a plea deal with federal prosecutors, announced on Wednesday, that has him acknowledging his guilt in felony charges of bribery of a county supervisor and tax evasion.
In that case, brought by the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section of the Department of Justice in Los Angeles, prosecutors say Dayspring paid $32,000 — in dribs and drabs of $1,000 to $3,000, mostly in cash — for positive votes and advocacy on cannabis regulations to the Third District supervisor for San Luis Obispo in 2016-2019. That supervisor is known to be Adam Hill, who died of suicide on August 6, 2020; Hill had made a previous attempt on March 11 after the FBI searched his office and two other locations. The plea agreement lists payments to “Supervisor 1” and subsequent votes, including a text exchange during a hearing in March 2019 asserting that Dayspring should support his re-election; Dayspring held a fundraiser at his home in April that collected over $13,000.
The plea-deal filing also outlines Dayspring’s attempt to bribe the mayor of Grover Beach, where one of his dispensaries is located. That effort failed when the mayor did not respond to the offer of $100,000 from Dayspring and an unnamed “Business Partner 1” in exchange for two dispensary permits. The pair did, however, receive a permit for their Grover Beach Dispensary; when Dayspring asked his partner if they owed the mayor $50,000, the partner said they did not because they didn’t get their two permits.
In San Luis Obispo County, Dayspring’s name was ubiquitous. As of last October, he had access to 11 of the county’s 144 cannabis land-use permits and owned multiple grow sites and three cannabis shops.
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In Santa Barbara County, as of last October, Dayspring was an owner, through two limited liability companies, on seven different parcels in the Tepusquet area. Most of them were in an EDRN, or “Existing Development Rural Neighborhood,” which Santa Barbara’s county supervisors removed from the allowed cannabis growing acreage as of August 2020. He’d received notices of violation for expanding the cannabis footprint on two of the properties and four other grading, electrical, and building violation notices, as well.
The merits of the application for the Orcutt store were argued in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on July 23 by Randy Fox of Reetz Fox & Bartlett. Fox said said Judge Colleen Sterne ruled against them: “We had a hard time swallowing the decision,” he said. Judge Sterne found the county had avoided acting in an arbitrary or capricious way in scoring the application, but Fox protested she’d also acknowledged the county had mis-scored another applicant. The remedy was to appeal, although Fox wasn’t sure that would happen now. Fox was unaware of Dayspring’s federal plea bargain, which Dayspring had signed on June 24.
Brittany Heaton, the principal cannabis analyst for the county, said Dayspring, as a property owner, would not be part of any background check. He was not listed as an owner of the applicant, NHC Orcutt 405, she stated. As a limited liability company, NHC Orcutt 405 is listed at the California Secretary of State’s office at 998 Huston Street in Grover Beach, the same location as the Natural Healing Center owned by Helios Dayspring. If he were an applicant, said Heaton, the felony conviction would be a disqualifying factor. Santa Barbara County’s Chapter 50 ordinance states a cannabis business license can be denied if an applicant “has been convicted of a felony or other crime.”
Bribery of an elected official to gain a favorable outcome concerning cannabis laws fits the criteria for denial; so might the acknowledged fact that Dayspring lowballed his income to the IRS by about $5.2 million in 2018 alone. The loss to the federal treasury was $3,438,793 for 2014-2018, according to the plea deal, which also cited tax evasion in San Luis and Santa Barbara counties. Dayspring could face up to 13 years in federal prison, which includes reductions for his cooperation, acceptance of responsibility, and agreement to pay his taxes.
In Orcutt, the five finalists who made the cut have five days to protest their ranking to Santa Barbara County’s cannabis regulators, who judged them based on a site visit to the proposed retail locations. In the lead is East Clark SB dba Cookies, slated for 1604 East Clark Avenue, followed by Strategic Golden dba Unique Farms, set for 155 East Clark Avenue. In third is Haven IX at 255 East Clark; fourth is JCSB Ventures dba Beyond Hello at 3596 Orcutt Road; and fifth is SLO Cultivation dba Sunnyside, set for 3550 Orcutt Road, Building C4.
Correction: This story was revised to reflect the fact that Dayspring was not the applicant for the Orcutt storefront, but the property owner.