A permit for a small cannabis cultivation operation on Santa Rita Road about halfway between Buellton and Lompoc was approved last week by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which rejected an appeal focused primarily on an easement for accessing the site.

Supervisors on Sept. 21 unanimously rejected the appeal filed by JCCrandall LLC of the Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use permit for Santa Rita Holdings to grow 2.54 acres of cannabis on a site where cultivation is already taking place as a legal nonconforming use.

The permit will allow Santa Rita Holdings to cultivate 1.88 acres of mature plants under hoops and 0.55 acres in the open, with 0.11 acres used as a nursery, according to a County Planning and Development staff report.

County planner Gwendolyn Beyeler said the operation will have three employees who will live on-site with an additional 12 employees added during the three-day harvests three times a year.

The operators estimate annual water use will be 1 acre-foot, which is about 326,000 gallons or enough to serve roughly two households.

Beyeler said no odor-causing drying, curing or trimming will take place on site, as harvested cannabis will be frozen and trucked away.

That trucking out the cannabis via an easement over private property was the crux of JCCrandall’s opposition.

“Although we appealed the permit on multiple grounds, our main argument applies to this easement and the county’s decision to allow a commercial cannabis activity over my client’s property without my client’s consent,” said Ernest Guadiana, representing JCCrandall.

Guadiana said because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, his client could be prosecuted as an accessory and have her property seized, and he noted state law requires the written consent of a property owner before a cannabis operation is approved.

He said even if his client consented to the easement use, the road is inadequate to handle large cannabis-hauling trucks, and if the permit was granted, the county should require Santa Rita Holdings to widen and improve the roadway.

Guadiana also said Santa Rita Holdings is cultivating within the 50-foot setback and has brought in cannabis trucks after hours, and he said Vista Hills Mutual Water Co. does not have sufficient water to serve the operation.

But Jason Hillenbrand of Santa Rita Holdings said several surveys of the site have been conducted to assure cultivation is not taking place within the setback and the trucks Guardiana referred to were not cannabis trucks.

He also produced a Vista Hills letter saying the company has adequate water.

Hillenbrand also pointed out there are a lot of large cannabis cultivation operations in the surrounding area.

“We’re 2½ acres, tucked away, kind of up in the middle of nowhere,” he said, adding he thinks that’s the type of small operation the public wants.

Supervisors didn’t buy the appellant’s arguments.

“The appellant came today with a laundry list of things … for them to oppose [the permit] on,” said 4th District Supervisor and Board Chairman Bob Nelson. “I didn’t think many of them held much water. … I can’t find anything I would do different on this project.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart and 2nd District Supervisor Das Williams all agreed, noting the project is small, is in a good location to minimize nuisance and has had no complaints.

But 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he believed the appeal was unnecessary.

He acknowledged people’s right to be heard but said the problem is that anyone can pay $701 and file an appeal.

"And this cost us, I think it was 75 hours of staff time and $19,000 to hold this hearing,” he said. “This project, to me, is a no-brainer. It should have just sailed through.”