The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to deny permits for what would have been Riverside County’s first licensed outdoor commercial cannabis cultivation site, citing the incompatibility of the project with the area and the hundreds of people opposed to it.
“I have a lot of concerns for this community,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said ahead of the 5-0 vote against Fuego Farms’ proposal. “It introduces challenges in a community that is pretty well set in its current agricultural uses. I have trouble seeing how cannabis is going to fit into that. I don’t think this kind of industrial operation is compatible.”
The 72-acre project was intended to be established in the hills near the Santa Rosa Ecological Reserve, situated among large-lot properties in the area of Carancho and El Calamar roads, just west of Temecula.
The owners said only 4.3 acres were slated for development, leaving the remainder of the property vacant. However, the project called for 15 3,841-square-foot greenhouses, two 2,800-square-foot greenhouses, eight 3,000-gallon water tanks and a 4,800-foot administration building.
Upward of 600 residents in the area — along with the cities of Murrieta and Temecula — opposed the proposal over public safety, noise, odor, lighting and water use concerns.
More than 50 people showed up to speak during the board’s public hearing on whether to grant a development agreement and conditional use permits that would have lasted a decade. The hearing spanned nearly three hours.
“The peacefulness and beauty of De Luz are the reasons why most people move there,” resident Karen Brown told the board. “Safety is an important issue. How can this type of project be approved in a residential area?”
Another resident, Dawn Henry, said she feels safe allowing her children to walk to and from their bus stop a quarter mile from their home, but the idea of a commercial marijuana grow nearby would have that sense of security “snatched away from us.”
“To introduce this element would drastically change our reality,” she told the board. “This needs to happen somewhere else.”
Sheriff Chad Bianco voiced his opposition through Undersheriff Dennis Vrooman, who appeared before the supervisors.
“We’re against this type of operation,” Vrooman said. “This would be publicly known. It raises a security concern. We don’t think it’s a good fit for the community. It’s an agricultural and residential community. We’re against this project.”
The owners attempted to assure the board that the property would be well secured with armed guards, that lights emanating from the greenhouses and perimeter fencing wouldn’t ruin area residents’ views of the night sky and that the cannabis odors would be filtered to lessen their impacts.
Jeffries said his own experience with marijuana cultivation odors had left a bad impression.
“The odors are horrendous,” he said. “This is the wrong place for this particular project.”
Supervisor Karen Spiegel said the owners did a substandard job reaching out to the supervisors’ staffs and trying to encourage community support for the proposal.
“There wasn’t due diligence on this project,” she said. “It’s a very sensitive neighborhood, a sensitive biological area with the wildlife.”
She pointed to the pristine quality of the Santa Rosa Plateau and the fact that so many tours with children are taken there. Having a large-scale cannabis grow on the edge of the preserve did not sit well with her.
Supervisor Chuck Washington echoed the same sentiments.
“Our daughter takes our grandchildren to the Santa Rosa Plateau. It’s a jewel,” he said. “We have a wine (growing) district that’s recognized worldwide (in the Temecula Valley). I’m trying to imagine what a cannabis facility would look like on top of a vineyard or citrus grove. It’s not the kind of picture I can see in Riverside County.”
The Planning Commission had approved the proposal on a narrow 3-2 vote in September. But according to county documents, the overwhelming number of people who spoke at the hearings were in opposition. No one but the owner of the property and his attorney expressed support for the project during the board hearing.