Cannabis will continue to be farmed on a 29-acre lot in Nipomo after a fervent debate over the project's proximity to a local elementary school.
At a meeting on Sept. 12, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve a conditional use permit for the cannabis grow, a project widely disliked by Nipomo community members and the South County Advisory Council, which voted to oppose the project on Aug. 26.
Despite various concerns about odors, pesticides, security personnel, traffic, and the project's location, county staff said at the Sept. 12 meeting that the cannabis grow has actually been operating since 2016, and since then, there have been no verified nuisance complaints related to the facility.
- Screenshot Courtesy Of Slo County
- POT IN NIPOMO Nipomo Ag LLC's cannabis grow includes space for indoor cannabis cultivation, commercial nursery, and the processing and export of cannabis products.
Commissioner Dawn Ortiz-Legg said that while she understands the fear surrounding marijuana cultivation, it's important that those working to grow cannabis legally aren't the ones being punished.
"Our county has probably been one of the most strict counties as far as getting these things done," Ortiz-Legg said at the meeting. "So I appreciate everybody that is here and your comments, and of course, the children and knowing what kind of security needs to be in place to protect the kids. But I think we need to move through this and work through this."
The proposed grow, run by Nipomo Ag LLC, will include a 22,000-square-foot space for indoor cannabis cultivation, a 78,122-square-foot commercial nursery, and 35,328 square feet of space for the processing and export of cannabis products.
The project would be located in a low-density agricultural area at 662 Eucalyptus Road in Nipomo, about a half-mile from Dorothea Lange Elementary School.
Though the project site is more than 1,000 feet away from the school—the minimum setback required by law—several Nipomo-area residents with children and grandchildren attending Lange Elementary said the smell of marijuana is often present on the playground and near the school. Community members fear that children will be distracted by the smell at school, that air quality will be worsened, that kids walking to and from Lange might somehow get on the site, and that there could be violence associated with security personnel guarding the crops.
Other residents said they had made multiple complaints to the county regarding odors near the school, while some said they didn't even know that site was already being used for cannabis cultivation.
County staff said that while they have received various odor complaints since 2016, there was an illegal grow discovered in the same area, and it couldn't be verified that the odors were coming from the Nipomo Ag site.
Several Nipomo Ag employees spoke in favor of the project and said their jobs at the company are high paying and allow them to provide for their families. The company, which once farmed cut flowers under the name Koch California, still employs the same number of workers, but has lowered pesticide use, reduced traffic significantly, and has cut water use by 90 percent, employees said at the meeting.
As of Sept. 18, no one had appealed the Planning Commission's decision to approve the grow's permit. Appeals must be filed within 14 days of the vote.