The issue of cannabis reeks of contention in Santa Barbara County, most recently in the announcement on Thursday of finalists for a storefront in Orcutt, an upscale bedroom community in the hills south of Santa Maria. The previous round ended in a lawsuit brought by Helios Dayspring and his Natural Healing Center Orcutt 405 outfit, which missed moving to the finals by just one point. Background checks are part of the process, which might have affected Dayspring’s application; on Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced a plea deal that has Dayspring acknowledging his guilt in felony charges of bribery of a county supervisor and tax evasion.
In that case, brought by the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section of the Department of Justice in Los Angeles, prosecutors say Dayspring paid $32,000 — in dribs and drabs of $1,000 to $3,000, mostly in cash — for positive votes and advocacy on cannabis regulations to the Third District supervisor for San Luis Obispo in 2016-2019. That supervisor is known to be Adam Hill, who died of suicide on August 6, 2020; Hill had made a previous attempt on March 11 after the FBI searched his office and two other locations. The plea agreement lists payments to “Supervisor 1” and subsequent votes, including a text exchange during a hearing in March 2019 asserting that Dayspring should support his re-election; Dayspring held a fundraiser at his home in April that collected over $13,000.
The plea-deal filing also outlines Dayspring’s attempt to bribe the mayor of Grover Beach, where one of his dispensaries is located. That effort failed when the mayor did not respond to the offer of $100,000 from Dayspring and an unnamed “Business Partner 1” in exchange for two dispensary permits. The pair did, however, receive a permit for their Grover Beach Dispensary; when Dayspring asked his partner if they owed the mayor $50,000, the partner said they did not because they didn’t get their two permits.
In San Luis Obispo County, Dayspring’s name was ubiquitous. As of last October, he had access to 11 of the county’s 144 cannabis land-use permits and owned multiple grow sites and three cannabis shops.
In Santa Barbara County, as of last October, Dayspring was an owner, through two limited liability companies, on seven different parcels in the Tepusquet area. Most of them were in an EDRN, or “Existing Development Rural Neighborhood,” which Santa Barbara’s county supervisors removed from the allowed cannabis growing acreage as of August 2020. He’d received notices of violation for expanding the cannabis footprint on two of the properties and four other grading, electrical, and building violation notices, as well.
Dayspring had his day in Santa Barbara County Superior Court over his Orcutt application on July 23, represented by Randy Fox of Reetz Fox & Bartlett. Fox said said Judge Colleen Sterne ruled against them, finding the county avoided acting in an arbitrary or capricious way in scoring Dayspring’s application. “We had a hard time swallowing the decision,” Fox said, who had not yet heard of Dayspring’s federal plea bargain, because the judge acknowledged the county had mis-scored another applicant. The remedy was to appeal, although Fox wasn’t sure that would happen now.
Whether convicted felons can gain a retail cannabis license is something of a gray area of California law, which requires “a detailed description of the owner’s convictions.” In Santa Barbara County’s Chapter 50 ordinance, however, a cannabis business license can be denied if an applicant “has been convicted of a felony or other crime.” Phone calls and emails to the county for certainty were not returned
Bribery of an elected official to gain a favorable outcome concerning cannabis laws should fit the criteria for denial, as well as the acknowledged fact that Dayspring lowballed his income to the IRS by about $5.2 million in 2018 alone. The loss to the federal treasury was $3,438,793, according to the plea deal. Dayspring could face up to 13 years in federal prison, which includes reductions for his cooperation, acceptance of responsibility, and agreement to pay his taxes.
In Orcutt, the five finalists who made the cut have five days to protest their ranking to Santa Barbara County’s cannabis regulators, who judged them based on a site visit to the proposed retail locations. In the lead is East Clark SB dba Cookies, slated for 1604 East Clark Avenue, followed by Strategic Golden dba Unique Farms, set for 155 East Clark Avenue. In third is Haven IX at 255 East Clark; fourth is JCSB Ventures dba Beyond Hello at 3596 Orcutt Road; and fifth is SLO Cultivation dba Sunnyside, set for 3550 Orcutt Road, Building C4.
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