County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc title=
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc
Reads 4421

The county Planning Commission this week postponed voting on a permit for 16 acres of cannabis cultivation at the end of Cebada Canyon Road, next to a community of residential ranchettes. The applicant, Herbal Angels, was growing cannabis on four acres under hoop houses, shown in the foreground; the operation was raided and shut down by the Sheriff’s Department in December. In the background is another of the seven cannabis farms operating in the canyon. (Courtesy photo)

By Melinda Burns

The county Planning Commission this week postponed a vote on a zoning permit for a large cannabis operation in Cebada Canyon, a bucolic community of rural ranchettes northwest of Lompoc, noting that Sheriff’s deputies raided the premises just four months ago, confiscating $1 million in alleged contraband.

The permit would allow 16 acres of cannabis cultivation in hoop houses and one acre in greenhouses on a 102-acre property owned by Avo Vista Farms LLC at the end of Cebada Canyon Road. Herbal Angels, a non-profit corporation and the project applicant, ran a cannabis operation on four acres there.

In mid-December, Herbal Angels was raided by 20 members of the Sheriff’s Cannabis Compliance Team. On March 13, the county District Attorney’s office filed charges in Santa Barbara County Superior Court against the owners – two counts of felony perjury and falsification of public records, and two misdemeanor counts of possession of marijuana for sale and violating of the state health and safety code.

“That bothers me, because I went there on the property and it was represented to me that everything was on the up-and-up,” Commissioner John Parke, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley and western Goleta, said at Wednesday’s hearing. “… I don’t see how they can act as a legitimate applicant here.”

Commissioner Michael Cooney, who represents Carpinteria, Montecito and eastern Santa Barbara, said, “It’s impossible to look at this project without being colored by that.”

The commissioners said they would like to know the court outcome before they decided on the permit, brushing aside advice from staff planners and lawyers for the county and Herbal Angels, who urged them to focus solely on land-use considerations. After nearly five hours of discussion, including public comments from several dozen people who spoke by phone or emailed a letter to be read aloud, the commission voted 5-0 to continue the hearing to May 27.

The commissioners asked for more information on traffic, water use, landscape buffers, odor control and a 40,000 square-foot building for marijuana processing and storage that Herbal Angels was proposing to build.

“What do they intend to do – especially these folks?” asked Parke, noting that the building was 10 times larger than anything proposed at other cannabis farms.

“To me, there’s still a lot of questions,” said Commission Vice-Chairman Larry Ferini, who represents the Lompoc Valley and Orcutt. “I feel very rushed on this. I’m not ready to deny or approve.”

Unpermitted “grows”

The dispute over the zoning permit for Herbal Angels highlights the giant loopholes in the county’s lenient – some would say lax – regulatory approach toward the industry since 2016, when California voters legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Instead of requiring a county zoning permit and a county business license up front, the Board of Supervisors decided in late 2017 that if a grower signed an affidavit affirming that he was growing medicinal marijuana before Jan. 9, 2016, the county would forward the necessary “letter of authorization” to the state for a temporary business license.

These growers, who make up most of the cannabis industry in Santa Barbara County, were designated as “legal, non-conforming”; they were allowed to continue growing marijuana while they applied for a county zoning permit and county business license. Three years after the statewide vote to legalize, most of those permits and licenses are still pending here.

Without the affidavit and state license, the “grows” are illegal. Eli Sheiman, a co-owner of Herbal Angels, now faces two felony counts for allegedly lying on his affidavit in early 2018. According to the DA’s complaint, Sheiman falsely claimed that Herbal Angels was a “legal, non-conforming” operation – that he was growing medicinal marijuana there before 2016. Sheiman and co-owner Mariette Wingard were both charged with misdemeanors.

In a separate claim filed on Jan. 15 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, the state is seeking the forfeiture of $202,873 from Herbal Angels – cash that may have been found onsite during the raid.

The county Sheriff’s Department has confirmed that Sheiman and Wingard are the owners of Herbal Angels, but the commission appeared not to have that information on Wednesday. Parke asked Rebecca Mendribil, the attorney for Herbal Angels, for their names.

“We’re not going to answer any questions that have to do with any criminal orders going forward at this time,” she replied. “Those issues are relevant when it comes to the business licensing. Today, we stick to the land-use requirements.”

Parke said, “My position is, it is extremely relevant because it goes to the credibility of the applicants.”

Parke later noted that Herbal Angels had been suspended by the California Secretary of State for failure to pay Franchise Tax Board charges.

“They failed to answer our questions today, and I find that very offensive,” he said.

The permit that Herbal Angels has applied for would run with the land, not the operator. In theory, that means that if the commission grants the permit and the owners of Herbal Angels lose their state license because of a felony conviction, Avo Vista could lease the property to a different operator, and the project would proceed.

On Wednesday, Parke pressed staff planners in vain for information about the owners of Avo Vista and their relationship to Herbal Angels. Avo Vista is a shell company with opaque ownership, registered with the Nevada Secretary of State.

“A little piece of heaven”

Cebada Canyon, located a mile north of Highway 246 and about three miles northeast of Lompoc, is one of North County’s 54 “existing developed rural neighborhoods,” places that were zoned for low-density agricultural and residential uses.

There are about 50 homes in the canyon. The residents, some of whom board horses on 20 acres, raise a few goats or grow hay and wine grapes, describe a loss of paradise in recent years as seven cannabis operations, including Herbal Angels, took root in their midst. They want the county to ban cannabis cultivation outright in or around rural communities such as theirs.

“People move here to raise families, dogs and maybe a horse or two,” Randy and Barbara Miller of Cebada Canyon wrote to the commission this week. “We have community workdays to maintain our roads and get together for neighborhood BBQs. It is truly a little piece of heaven for us and our neighbors … Permitting this large-scale, commercial facility to operate will essentially destroy everything we have built for the past 30 years.”

Residents say their narrow two-lane road with its blind corners cannot handle a steady stream of big trucks and employee traffic from a cannabis “factory” in their box canyon. They told the commission they have had to put up with bright night lights, mysterious nighttime truck traffic, noisy generators and ugly views of a sea of hoop houses at Herbal Angels – plus the “skunky” stench of cannabis that traps them inside their homes.

“It’s a paralyzing feeling to not have control over your future and not be able to enjoy or plan while this life-altering project looms,” Leigh and Ronnie Johnson told the commission.

In addition to more than quadrupling the area of cannabis in cultivation, the proposed permit for Herbal Angels and Avo Vista would allow the construction of a parking lot with 50 spaces and two two-story buildings for processing, drying and storage – 12,000 square feet and 40,000 square feet in size, respectively.

A 43-acre avocado orchard that provides a buffer for the neighborhood could be cut down – residents told the commission it is already being cut down – but it would be replaced with a buffer of native plants and shrubs, 100 feet wide.

Ferini said he wanted to send the larger building back to the drawing board for a more aesthetic design. Parke and Commissioner Daniel Blough, who represents the Santa Maria Valley, questioned why one of the proposed odor control systems would not encircle the entire property. Cooney asked why so much water – 500,000 gallons – needed to be stored in tanks on the property. And several commissioners wanted to know why the avocado trees were being taken out.

Additionally, Cooney said, the three-year-old environmental impact report that covers all of the county’s cannabis applications is out of date. For one thing, he said, it does not consider the impact of the clusters of cannabis farms that have popped up next to residential neighborhoods such as Cebada Canyon.

“This project is not ready for approval,” Cooney said.

Jobs and taxes

Under the proposed permit, 20 year-round employees would work on the property at 2761 Cebada Canyon Road, plus an additional 36 employees during four 10-day harvests. And on this point, a number of Herbal Angels supporters, including employees, friends and other cannabis growers, told the commission that the county could not afford to lose the jobs and taxes that the project would provide, especially in these precarious times.

Emmanuel Estrada of Santa Barbara, a former Herbal Angels employee, said he had been “enthralled to be a part of such a well-run operation that brought happiness and joy not only to me, but also all who heartily gave hours of their lives to grow the cleanest high-quality organic cannabis possible.” It would be “heartbreaking and a tragedy to force talented and hard-working passionate people” out of work, Estrada said.

Zach Rengert stated that he had known the Herbal Angels owners for 10 years and could vouch for them as “honorable entrepreneurs.” Jennifer Fornero of Lompoc wrote, “Our farming community needs to be allowed to participate in the cannabis industry for the same reasons we allow wine and avocados.”

And Mark Ervin of GreenGro Biological, an organic soil amendment company, said he had worked closely with Herbal Angels and found them to be a “breath of fresh air” compared to “conventional farmers” who use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

“They have always been excellent at maintaining the highest organic and environmental standards on their farm,” he said.

As the long hearing came to an end, county Planning and Development Director Lisa Plowman, who had earlier told the commissioners, “The land use process is about the use and not the user,” now reminded them that the Avo Vista property was zoned for commercial agriculture.

“As much as cannabis is an unsavory product, water use would increase if somebody put in strawberries,” she said.

Melinda Burns is a freelance journalist in Santa Barbara, CA. 

Login to add Comments


Toggle Comments (Show)
buckwheat Apr 10, 2020 10:30 AM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Back in the old days, things were so much simpler. The Humboldt County Sheriff used to look the other way regarding the illegal grows. Those growers provided much needed revenue to merchants in the area. It was the feds who were interested in busting growers. Nowadays the black market is thriving due to the difficulty of getting a permit.

Tee Gee Apr 11, 2020 07:09 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Midair; you are correct- cannabis is an agricultural product; and so is broccoli. (I congratulate you on your proper spellings of both cannabis and broccoli.) Let's make a hypothetical situation; let's say that broccoli had been deemed illegal since the 1920's- but let's also admit that there have been a lot of people in these United States who have indulged in the eating of broccoli; in fact, they have been regular users of broccoli and feel- as you do- that broccoli is an agricultural product, and by extension, it is a God-given right for any of the citizens of these United States to purchase, hold, and ingest broccoli as they see fit. I agree with you, Midair; we are on the same page. The intrinsic problem, however- sort of like the angry viper at the bottom of the pit- is that the broccoli farmers, for a hundred years, have been growing broccoli illegally, and therefore have had to peddle their product in an underground, or "black" market. Ultimately, the big money is made by organized crime, because they like money. They don't necessarily like broccoli, but they like money. So here we are, a hundred years later, and broccoli has been legalized. Who, Midair, do you think will be proficient in cloning, hybridizing, growing, processing, and marketing the product? Well of course, it will be those who have become proficient at their craft over the past hundred years while broccoli was illegal. The good people who live in Cebeda Canyon have a clean, honest, simple way of life. They managed to purchase homes and acreage there through diligence, sacrifice, and hard work. They do not want their lives to be upset by a criminal class- defend the growers all you want, but in order to hold the amounts of cash these folk have in hand, they have either been selling their "broccoli" under the radar for a long time, or have exploited illegal growers and have made bundles- for a long time. Someone in these operations knows what the hell they're doing. It's valuable to explore the history of agriculture, and not merely propound a shallow opinion

midair Apr 10, 2020 12:59 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Have you ever smelled broccoli in the field? Stinks worse than weed. It only has a "street" value because of the reefer madness crowd getting their panties in a bunch, clutching their pearls, and screaming illegal grow. Supply goes up, price comes down.

a-1590529715 Apr 10, 2020 08:14 AM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Or maybe any other crop that is hugely popular because of its street value, which is cash-based, which produces and whose harvesting and even growing produces serious odor issues, and which has to be grown under cover to maximize production, ...doesn't sound at all like broccoli or anything other than marijuana. What's surprising is how once environmentalist supervisors should be so supportive of such landscape- and neighborhood-destroying agriculture as is cannabis.

a-1590529715 Apr 09, 2020 03:06 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

The fact that "Herbal Angels, a non-profit corporation and the project applicant" is involved along with Avo that's a Nevada outfit seems to me would be enough to deny this right out the gate. Talk about shady dealings here! I hope this gets shot down and the Cebada Canyon neighbors can get their rural lives back.

a-1590529715 Apr 09, 2020 04:41 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Correct but in this case, as well as most of the license-holders in our County, the licensees were based in other counties and states and only “moved” to SB to profit off of the non-existent regulatory scheme

Bird Apr 09, 2020 02:50 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Plowman's comment that "the land use process is about the use, not the user" brings to mind the thought that criminal law is about the crime, not the criminal. How absurd is that!?! As the criminal can't be separated from the crime, nor should the land use be kept separate from the user, including the neighbors.

DBD Apr 09, 2020 04:11 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Illegal grows multiplying since cannabis was made legal really says something about difficult it is to be legal. It's thousands of hours of work by reputable land use planners and people still can't get to the finish line successfully, lol. Not as simple as some in the comments section might lead you to believe.

a-1590529715 Apr 09, 2020 12:31 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Excellent article and research- I've followed County land use for decades. Watching the development of this so-called ordinance was a travesty. This count and environmentalists used to care about zoning yet for some reason the usual voices were "hands off" because....pot?? In this case, rural lands that were designated Ag for food, cattle grazing, etc are allowed to be transformed into industrial operations that in most places must only happen in sealed greenhouses in industrial areas- not in areas zoned "rural neighborhoods". For the P&D Director to be so enmeshed and aligned with the industry is also beyond inappropriate. She knows better. A "Conditional Use Permit" is the very definition of discretionary- and has EVERYTHING to do with compatibility with the neighborhood, etc. For her to try to force a Commission to ignore pertinent facts? Shame on her, and shame on the elected officials who appointed her. Thankful to the Commissioners for holding fast to their roles. and for the County to be pushing this during the pandemic, when residents are unemployed, sick, stuck at home- . Thank you Melinda for reminding us that these actions are still underway, cloaked in the shroud of secrecy

NotReallyDave Apr 10, 2020 09:22 AM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Here in the City of Santa Barbara, a neighborhood has the same problems with illegal land use and major odor and nuisance problems by one business. The City Attorney has verified the violations, but has chosen to not enforce the Zoning Ordinance. There must be a lot of fish being delivered to that office because the smell is getting pretty ripe.

a-1590529715 Apr 09, 2020 02:42 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Agree about the P&D Director --- and, indeed, she did know better than to be "enmeshed with the industry." There was a lot of concern at her appointment after a career as part of teams of developers. See about her here,

a-1590529715 Apr 09, 2020 11:47 AM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Parke, as 3rd district PC, also represents a good portion of the Lompoc Valley, to include VVillage, Mesa Oaks, Mission Hills, all ag. land west and south of Lompoc City. That's lots of territory in the North County. You list him as rep for only western Goleta and SY Valley. He also represents the Gaviota Coast and Guadalupe.

a-1590529715 Apr 09, 2020 11:38 AM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

Anther well written article by Melinda Burns. As one of the best local journalists, I'm sure that she has lots of ideas for future articles. If you're taking requests, here are a couple of ideas on future articles that I'd like to see related to the changing world we live in post CV19: 1) SB/Goleta has an economy largely dependent on tourist. With tourism decimated, and unlikely to bounce back for years, what long term changes can SB/Goleta expect in future? (taxes, city budgets, short term vacation rentals, service economy, population exodus, etc.) 2) Local universities and colleges have switched to remote learning due to CV19. Will UCSB, Westmont, and SBCC permanently switch to a hybrid remote/onsite learning model? What long term changes can SB/Goleta expect if this occurs? (housing demand, reduced employees at colleges, Isla Vista, footprint reduction of colleges, etc.) 3) Governments are shutting borders to not just travel but also trade. Protectionism will result in fewer imports, and fewer exports. How will SB/Goleta be harmed or benefit from this trend?

PitMix Apr 09, 2020 01:30 PM
County Permit Stalls for Herbal Angels Cannabis Farm Near Lompoc

12:55, there was plenty of medicinal pot around in the days before these industrial operations showed up next to our cities and rural neighborhoods. Never heard of anyone going without if they needed it. What problem did giving away all these long term temporary permits to cannabis growers solve except supervisor campaign cash shortages?

Please Login or Register to comment on this.