Winchester Canyon Cannabis Grow Gets Green Light
Santa Barbara County Planning Commissioners Reject Appeals
The potential for strong cannabis odors coming from an outdoor project proposed for Winchester Canyon Road brought three appeals to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on May 25, from the Bacara Resort, City of Goleta, and neighboring farmers Danny and Michael Cavaletto. By the time of the hearing Wednesday morning, most issues in two of the appeals had been settled the night before, the commissioners learned. They ultimately denied all the appeals, but not before neighbors protested the strong smell from previous grows at the property.
The farm, which is owned by Paul and Diane Garrett of Temecula, grows organic row crops on about 100 acres of the 349-acre property, which is bisected by Winchester Canyon Creek. It’s already had small medical marijuana grows from 2015-2018, and farmers Jack Motter and Jeff Kramer experimented with hemp in 2020 in conjunction with Allan Hancock College.
Paul Garrett, who is 96 years old, had bought the land in 1965 and told the planning commissioners he was happy to be leasing it to two young men who “wanted to keep that organic thing going.” Motter explained it was tough to survive without the efficiencies of a larger farm but that cannabis fit the narrow layout of the ranch, which is on the canyon floor and flanked by ridges several hundreds of feet high. The cannabis crop would occupy less than 17 acres — about 12 acres under hoops, a half-acre nursery, and the rest in the open — but it would keep the farm viable, he said. The rest of the land would lie fallow.
Diane Garrett also spoke, telling the commissioners that she and her husband were longtime cannabis users and viewed it to be an “ancient medicinal plant. Cannabis can benefit and heal people,” she said, adding that it was life-enhancing and mind-expanding when used properly.
To the north of the Garrett property, the Cavalettos tend a 400-acre lemon and avocado orchard, which Danny Cavaletto recalled his cousin George Cavalletto had bought from the Hollisters. (Branches of the family spell their name differently.) The proposed cannabis farm is right on their border, and a huge odor filled the canyon when cannabis was grown next door in 2018 — illegally, he thought — and security and crime could be an issue, as well as the fact that a children’s park was 800 feet away. Public commenter Jennifer Fullerton confirmed that the smell was strong in 2020, which she now understood to be hemp growing on the Garrett property. Because the neighbors at the mouth of the road couldn’t find out who was growing cannabis or figure out where the smell was coming from, they hadn’t been able to file a complaint, she said.
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In the City of Goleta’s appeal, the city noted several issues, from transportation and traffic to odors from cannabis and the hydrogen sulfide in the canyon’s water wells. Amy Steinfeld, the farm’s attorney, said carbon scrubbers and vapor curtains were being voluntarily added in the drying and processing buildings. They would be sealed, she said, and only process the cannabis grown on-site. The location of the cannabis grow was more than 3,000 feet from the nearest residential area, and she said odors would be decreased by the natural topography and vegetation: “If there are any complaints, they would be addressed immediately,” she said.
For Goleta, the settlement agreement requires the farm, known as Hidden Trails, to investigate odor complaints and make sure its equipment was working. If that didn’t solve the problem, Hidden Trails had to hire a specialist and implement measures to address the odor. The farm also monitors hydrogen sulfide levels during irrigation and stops if thresholds are reached.
The settlement agreement with the Bacara was private, though the hotel’s appeal noted it was downwind of the cannabis farm and that widespread media reports indicated adverse effects to health and well-being to individuals and businesses near cannabis operations.
Goleta refused to settle on the issue of being notified immediately of a hydrogen sulfide leak. The highly toxic gas is endemic to the well water in the canyons in the Winchester area, and the city’s phones ring off the hook when the smell drifts down-canyon. In 2016, a well drilling operation up in Ellwood Canyon to the east hit a pocket, and the drift of the gas nauseated Goleta residents as far away as the ocean cliffs.
Reports of hydrogen sulfide smell go first to County Fire, which has a well-established protocol to notify Goleta after the rotten-egg smell is investigated. The Planning Commission agreed with planning staff that the existing system worked, and that the city would continue to be notified after the Fire Department had made its investigation, not before.
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