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Former Clearwater Nursery denied cannabis permit amid alleged violations



County supervisors sent one of San Luis Obispo County's largest and most controversial cannabis operations packing on April 9.

Supervisors voted unanimously to deny CFAM Management a land-use permit at 887 Mesa Road in Nipomo—formerly Clearwater Nursery until cannabis replaced cut flowers in 2015—after a recent inspection found multiple alleged violations of local and state cannabis regulations.

DENIED The former site of Clearwater Nursery in Nipomo will no longer house a cannabis operation (pictured) after SLO County supervisors denied CFAM Management a permit on April 9. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • DENIED The former site of Clearwater Nursery in Nipomo will no longer house a cannabis operation (pictured) after SLO County supervisors denied CFAM Management a permit on April 9.

County officials said CFAM was found to be illegally subletting its facilities to process cannabis grown outside of SLO County in unpermitted structures, according to a March 13 inspection.

Those allegations are set to go before a county cannabis hearing officer on April 16, where fines and/or plant abatement could be levied.

Cannabis officials from the state Department of Food and Agriculture—which participated in the March 13 inspection—are also investigating the site for possible state violations.

On April 9, county staff told supervisors that it wasn't the first time CFAM skirted local rules. In 2017, code enforcement found CFAM growing thousands more plants than the maximum allowed per county rules.

"It wasn't one mistake. It was mistake, after mistake, after mistake," 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton said.

Compton, who lives in and represents Nipomo, said the grow's neighbors have complained to her for years about odors impacting the area. She made the motion to deny the permit application.

"It stinks. ... It's out of control," Compton said. "It's been four years. We've given this organization chance, after chance, after chance."

CFAM applied to the county for a conditional-use permit to operate an indoor cannabis grow, nursery, culture lab, processing facility, and administrative offices on 39 acres. Planning commissioners approved the application in November 2018.

Neighbors Sally Dean, Pamela Kremza, Ron and Linda Ralphs, and Judy Murphy appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors.

In her comments to the supervisors, Kremza claimed the cannabis smell from the grow "lingers over" her property and "inside our home," and causes her young children to "not want to play outside."

"This is like pollution," Kremza said. "We all feel the effects of headaches and nausea."

In response to both the county's and neighbors' allegations, CFAM attorney Mike Azat asked that the board continue the appeal to a future date.

Azat claimed CFAM needed more time to respond to the charges—saying if the supervisors heard more of CFAM's side of the story, they'd find "this wasn't somebody flaunting the law."

"This is someone who thought they had permission to do something and they didn't," Azat said. "This is not the appropriate forum for an applicant to have an opportunity to examine the evidence against it."

He added that CFAM would offer to relocate their grows on the property and install an odor management system to address the odor impacts.

But county supervisors weren't convinced. John Peschong, 1st District supervisor, said the number and nature of CFAM's alleged violations demonstrated that they weren't "moving forward in good faith."

On an issue that the supervisors are frequently at odds over, there was unanimous consensus in the room to turn away what was one of SLO County's highest profile grows.

"I think these violations are serious," 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill said. "The message that has to be taken away is people operating within the industry need to follow the spirit and letter of the law." Δ

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