County Approves Second Cannabis “Grow” for Central Coast Agriculture

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By Melinda Burns

A 24-acre cannabis “grow” on Santa Rosa Road owned by John De Friel, a North County industry leader, was approved for zoning permits this week by the county Board of Supervisors amid unresolved air quality violations, contradictory reports on the proposed water supply and references to “misstatements and misrepresentations” made by De Friel’s lawyer at a previous hearing.

On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, a countywide group that advocates for stricter regulation of the industry, argued that the wells for Central Coast Agriculture, located along the Santa Ynez River at 5645 Santa Rosa Road, would be drawing water from subterranean streams that replenish the river. The state Water Resources Control Board bans the use of such water for cannabis cultivation between April 1 and October 31.

“This site can’t sustain the amount of acreage that’s proposed for it,” Marc Chytilo, a coalition attorney, told the board.

De Friel had originally claimed river water rights for both 5645 Santa Rosa and 8701 Santa Rosa, where he owns a processing plant and 30 acres of cannabis; but he cancelled those applications to the state board last year. His team and county planners told the supervisors on Tuesday that the state had signed off on Central Coast’s wells for year-round use, confirming that they were unconnected to the river.

De Friel’s team also said the five-year average water use for cannabis at 5645 Santa Rosa was 82 percent lower than what previous row crops had been using there. Chytilo and the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District challenged those figures, saying that they dramatically understated what the project would likely need. But De Friel told the board he was using “drip tape” irrigation and plastic mulch and watering once a week, at most, from a metered well, beating out everyone else in the industry for low water use.

“We’ve got years of data on that now and it’s ‘dialed,’” he said.

Last year, the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District found a total of 16 illegal generators operating on Central Coast Agriculture properties at 8701 Santa Rosa Road (shown above) and 5645 Santa Rosa. Fourteen generators, including the one shown above, have since been removed. Two remain in operation in violation of the county's cannabis ordinance at 8701 Santa Rosa. (APCD photo)

“Worrisome history”

The supervisors approved permits for De Friel’s operations at 8701 Santa Rosa last May. On the heels of that approval, Chytilo recalled Tuesday, the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District revealed that De Friel had been running 14 diesel generators at 8701 Santa Rosa Road for months on end, in violation of district rules and the county’s cannabis ordinance. That was in addition to two illegal diesel generators at 5645 Santa Rosa, one of which ran for 301 days. The county’s cannabis ordinance bans the use of generators except in emergencies.

Most of the generators, including the two at 5645 Santa Rosa, have since been removed, the district said this week — except for two large generators that are still operating at 8701 Santa Rosa in violation of air quality rules. Meanwhile, negotiations to determine district fines for the violations are still ongoing.

On Tuesday, the coalition appealed to the board to overturn the county Planning Commission’s approval of the Central Coast project at 5645 Santa Rosa. Chytilo reminded the supervisors that De Friel’s team had misled the commission by claiming that the Terlato Wine Group, owners of the Sanford Winery & Vineyards, located 4,500 and 1,500 feet to the southwest of Central Coast, respectively, were not opposed to the project.

In fact, after the Sanford owners objected, Matt Allen, De Friel’s attorney, wrote a letter to the commission “to correct any misstatements and misrepresentations” he had made; adding that he “may have misled the commission and influenced its decision.” While De Friel does have a confidential agreement with the Terlato Wine Group, Allen wrote, the group “does not in fact support the project.”

John De Friel, center, the owner and CEO of Central Coast Agriculture, owns a second permitted cannabis operation at 8701 Santa Rosa Road.


This week, in a letter to the county board, John Terlato said he and his family shared the coalition’s concerns and wanted to forestall any “effort to downplay our continued concerns with this project.”

“We oppose cannabis cultivation in proximity to our tasting room and vineyards,” he said. “We know from past cultivation on this site that odors emanating from these grows impact our business.”

On Tuesday, the board majority put aside these concerns, voting 3-1 to approve zoning permits for De Friel’s operation at 5645 Santa Rosa, which has been under cultivation as “legal, non-conforming” for more than five years.

“The water issue is about as clear as mud,” Supervisor Das Williams of Carpinteria said. “That is unsettling to me, but I have to trust the regulators.”

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino of Santa Maria said, “We’ve approved much larger sites that are using water sources like this one.”

With regard to the air quality violations, Supervisor Gregg Hart of Goleta said, “There is a past history that is worrisome.” But the best way to address such problems, he said, was to grant De Friel a permit with conditions that could be enforced.

Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who represents much of the region west of Buellton where cannabis has moved into wine country, cast the sole vote against the project, saying, “It affects the river flow.”

“We’re in a 1,200-year mega-drought we’ve never see before in our history, and I’m not sure what the state water board really looked at,” Hartmann said. “Did they come out here, or are they just processing paper?”

Hartmann said that even as De Friel had become a “leader in the cannabis world in the North County, unfortunately, he’s been a leader with a somewhat troubled history.”

“I’ll be the odd person out here,” she said.

Supervisor Bob Nelson of Orcutt was absent for Tuesday’s vote.

Melinda Burns, formerly of the Santa Barbara News-Press, is an investigative journalist with 40 years of experience covering immigration, water, science and the environment. As a community service, she offers her reports to multiple local publications, at the same time, for free.

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100572P Feb 18, 2022 10:05 AM
County Approves Second Cannabis “Grow” for Central Coast Agriculture

I will take a picture the next time I drive by it. 100% run off the diesel generator. Maybe it is temporary but in the meantime people are charging their electric vehicles via a station run by a diesel generator. The one I am speaking of is right off I-5, Copus Road Exit 5. 10565 Copus Road to be exact.

100572P Feb 18, 2022 02:32 PM
County Approves Second Cannabis “Grow” for Central Coast Agriculture

why look forward to the picture? google map it. The charging station has not been built yet (in the google image) but you can see the clearing it was built on - in a field - which has no grid presence. Even if it is just this one location, is it not ironic? I have no reason to lie. I like Tesla. I just think it is interesting that the pot farmer is being hassled for running a diesel generator 24 hours a day when Tesla is doing the same thing. That is all.

a-1645210618 Feb 18, 2022 10:56 AM
County Approves Second Cannabis “Grow” for Central Coast Agriculture

We need to keep in mind these votes when the supes. run for election or re-election; unfortunately, Hart is basically unopposed and he has longed to do to the state what he has done for, first, SB City (and the Coastal Commission) and, now, the County. ...Whenever you see pictures of Gregg Hart grinning, think of the novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey.

Lucky 777 Feb 18, 2022 01:35 PM
County Approves Second Cannabis “Grow” for Central Coast Agriculture

What always amazes me is how these pot businesses are allowed to operate FOR YEARS without permits, when NO Other businesses in the county are allowed to. Where is the logic for that?
They rack up fines for going against what little regulation there is, neighbors are impacted, is it all just greed for tax revenue or are there mafia-level payoffs involved?

edney Feb 18, 2022 02:01 PM
County Approves Second Cannabis “Grow” for Central Coast Agriculture

TezLab has an app that can tell you what the mix of energy is at any individual charging station, but as noted above it has whatever blend the immediate region has at its disposal.
It is possibe they have diesel generator back up in case power grid shuts down (that does happen in CA).
There is also a map of the US that shows the power sources for given areas and ranks them from green to red.
Greenest is areas run by Bonneville dam hydroelectric.
Oddest mix is Las Vegas which has lots of clean green Hoover dam power(60%) mixed with coal fired (40%)

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