The thing to know about a civil lawsuit is that the facts as they are written are allegations; they have yet to be proved. An employment claim may be a case in point, brought against Ed St. George, the well-known Santa Barbara developer turned unpopular political pundit — he recently advised a pregnant council candidate to take a break.
William “Nate” Bree, a master cannabis grower and cultivator from Sacramento, filed suit against St. George in June, claiming he was brought to Santa Barbara to improve a cannabis operation at 5295 Shoreline Drive, not far from More Mesa, in September 2017. By May 2018, he’d quit. His brother, Aaron, had quit six months earlier in disgust.
He and Aaron had worked 12-hour days, Bree contends, to turn 7,500 square feet of moldy greenhouses into 22,000 square feet of cannabis grow on a property that sits alongside West Covina Nurseries and the ocean-front homes along Orchid Drive. Bree had even contributed some of his own stock. However, instead of the 20 percent of profits Bree expected to receive, St. George would not open his books to him, instead giving Bree an “advance” of $50,000 for all his labor. He’d also let Bree live in an apartment on Camino del Sur for free.
Things went sour when Bree objected to what he contends were black market sales of cannabis and the hiring of undocumented workers and a felon. Because he refused to go along “quietly,” the complaint reads, St. George “discharged” Bree in July 2018, locked him out of his apartment, took all his stuff, and wouldn’t let him onto the greenhouse property.
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According to St. George, who texted replies from the middle of the night in Italy, Bree was a problem. He never showed up to work, and his brother rebuilt the greenhouses. St. George contends he hadn’t heard from Bree in all this time except for the lawsuit. St. George explained that Bree is the felon mentioned in the lawsuit, who was supposed to have his record expunged, and acknowledged two of his employees had finalized their legal residency after Bree left. He stated the land was leased to a pot grower and that he himself has never grown cannabis or sold it, black market or otherwise, at any time. He also stated he never paid Bree $50,000 but thought that was the amount Bree said he was owed.
Santa Barbara County has administered a cannabis permit process since January 2019, after these events took place; before then, existing grows could get a temporary license from the state. When the Sheriff’s Office busted the grow in June 2019 after many complaints about odor, netting 3,000 pounds of cannabis, a spokesperson stated the property’s temporary license had expired. According to state records, it had been held by the longtime nursery at the site, Diegaard’s.
St. George, who appears to have bought the 32-acre property in 2013 for close to $6 million, is on file with the county to apply for a land use permit to cultivate cannabis at that address, and no cannabis business license application is on file. Steven Yee, of the county’s cannabis division, stated that background checks, which would discover legal residency or felony status, would only be done for owners of 20 percent of the business, as well as managers and supervisors.
St. George was served papers in July and has not yet answered Bree’s complaint. Asked about St. George’s comments and his client’s status as a felon, Bree’s attorney, David Myers of Santa Barbara, said it was his practice to refrain from commenting on ongoing litigation.
CORRECTION: Attorney David Myers is based out his firm’s Santa Barbara office, not Rancho Cucamonga as originally reported.