California Valley sprouting pot farms

July 21, 2016

More than 100 pot farms of varying sizes and levels of sophistication have quietly sprung up in the California Valley, with little or no effort to conceal what likely are legal growing operations. Photos by Daniel Blackburn



Isolated and sparsely populated California Valley, on the eastern edge of San Luis Obispo County, is parched, flat terrain, part of the largest remaining native grassland in California.  And now it’s becoming known for the widespread — and wide open — introduction of a not-so-native grass, as in high-grade marijuana.

Sheriff’s deputies occasionally cruise the dusty streets of California Valley, sometimes stopping to talk to the pot growers, but the lawmen take no action.

Everything that is occurring is perfectly legal under California law.

Large commercial pot farms have sprung up on numerous parcels of land in this desolate area adjacent to the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Law enforcement, in fact, puts the number of fenced half-acre to two-and-a-half-acre farms at more than 100.

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Most of the farms are fenced, some fragilely, others with serious security in mind. Some residences even  have substantial crops growing in plain sight, like miniature orchards.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said in an email to CalCoastNews that his office “has received many complaints from residents of California Valley regarding their concerns over environmental issues, water use and general safety concerns.” The unincorporated community is home to about 500 people — some of whom have recently sold their homes for cash.

One person living near California Valley is worried about the nearly-predictable potential for a significant outbreak in crime in the near future. She asked her name not be used, saying she believes there are gang connections to the farms.

“Those plants are not worth anything today,” she said. “But when they bud (flower), that’s when it’ll start.” She said she has seen trucks carrying dozens of outhouses to the farms. And at night, she added, “you can see the lights of trucks” transporting agricultural supplies.

There are farms in all stages of development, from staked-out start-ups to large operations showing tall plants over six-foot fencing. Some farms are open, others support extensive greenhouse structures. Visible are water towers, solar panels, trailers and outhouses for workers, even a windmill trying to dredge water from sparse underground supplies. Most farms are supplied by regular deliveries from water truck owners, several of whom could be seen this day making deliveries of several thousand gallons to each farming client.

California Valley lots that were virtually valueless a few years ago have been selling rapidly for upwards of $30,000 until recently (as this season’s pot growing and harvest window has nearly closed). Many of the individuals purchasing the land tried unsuccessfully to pay in cash, according to local Realtor Mike Ryan, who sold property in California Valley.

On a recent visit to the area, a reporter talked to one grower, a tiny Asian man wearing a broad hat and wrapped against the blazing sun, who expressed in broken English typical farmer-like concerns about water, planting schedules, herbivores, and crop thieves.

The man didn’t want to be identified, and he abruptly dismissed a request to photograph around his foot-high plants. He said his grow, irrigated through a complex series of drip lines, will take several months to flower and produce buds for eventual sale through medical marijuana cooperatives and other outlets legalized by voter approval of Prop. 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

Parkinson said his deputies “determined that many of the growers moved into the area just to grow marijuana. In many cases, they came to San Luis Obispo County from neighboring counties that have ordinances regarding the size of grow locations and the number of plants.”

Noting that this county does not have such an ordinance yet, Parkinson said he has “requested assistance of County Code Enforcement to enforce obvious health and safety violations. Until an ordinance is developed, it is difficult to address the concerns of the community in criminal court.”

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On July 26, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss developing an ordinance regulating marijuana grows in the unincorporated areas of the county, such as the California Valley.

“We will begin the process of making thoughtful decisions on zoning for marijuana on Tuesday,” Supervisor Debbie Arnold said. “We need to remedy issues with marijuana cultivation without loopholes. I am concerned because it is a very remote area and water is not plentiful.”

Growers now planting in California Valley, said one person familiar with several of the operations, are banking on a successful current season to amortize their initial investment, and being fully operational and prepared to expand if state voters approve legalization of marijuana for all uses in November.

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Reporter Dan Blackburn will discuss this story today (Monday) at 3:05 p.m. on News/Talk 920 KVEC. Listen live at

I find it interesting that law enforcement seemed to have turned a blind eye to the meth cooking out in the California Valley and now that there are some Cannabis gardens showing up they are all about wanting to bring down the heat. We hear people wine about the water usage of the Cannabis plants! That’s when you know you aren’t talking to anybody who really cares about water…..the grapes in this county take more water than Cannabis in the whole country!!!! AND THEY ARE PLANTING MORE GRAPES! Do you think it is Welch’s grape juice they are making? Hell no, it is alcohol…..the true entry level drug that is lightly regulated and hugely abused! There is work to do to have a fair and equitable ordinance for Cannabis in SLO County.

Wow. California Valley has always been drug country but nothing that increased property values. Like many, I’ve looked at ads for 2.5 acre parcels since the 70’s that you had the money in your checking account to buy, but why?

Back in 1972 when the original Prop 19 was on the ballot they had mom, dad and dealers opposing legalization. Mom & dad fell for the government manufactured fear factor and the dealers, not a formidable voting block, were simply greedy. Now they have private prison systems and unionized correctional institution employees (each with deep pockets for lobbying) who won’t be swayed for selfish reasons.

I haven’t read anything about pharmaceutical plants popping up and creating law enforcement issues. The grass roots movement has considerable momentum these days and will eventually prevail. The Feds are slow to change (see lobby above) but reclassification is the logical next step.

An important point was missing from the article. Honest growers will pay cash for land but there is nothing seedy about it. Federally insured banks will not loan money to businesses that do not conform to federal law. These startups are forced to scratch. Of course there are greedy/wealthy opportunists that are willing to gamble but there are compassionate people who go all in for the right reasons.

Free enterprise!!

Total deaths from marijuana= 0

Total deaths from wine/alcohol= infinite

Nobody gets all but hurt when people grow grapes and use all the water.

Time for a change and I think these farms are a good stepping stone.

San Luis valley in Colorado switching crops from hay alfalfa to cannabis and quinoa to save water

I guess the Resniks don’t own land in Colorado.

Ahh….wait a minute, back up the Nice Dreams Ice Cream truck, please take the time time to review the number of fatal accidents in Colorado and Washington state directly attributed cannabis..

Also take time to review the number of fatal accidents directly attributed to alcohol and prescription medicines. Is it possible that cannabis legalization has lower these rates?

I’d bet my life savings that you have more lethal prescription drugs in your medicine cabinet at home. How many deaths a year do those drugs account for? A couple thousand at least…

First Parkinson ripped off the taxpayers to buy him a new play thing, the seldom used panga boat, one can only guess at what his next rip off request will be. Doesn’t he already have a helicopter, maybe he thinks he’ll need a jet plane, some new drones or other fancy expensive toys that will just collect dust or become play things for his staff.

I happen to know first-hand that Parkinson’s Panga Patrol strikes fear into the hearts and minds of drug dealers, gangs, and other boogeymen. This is the reason you never hear about the PPP.

So much fear we keep hearing about boats on shore and their product gone. Parkinson has bought into the whole war on drugs, actually it’s the taxpayers footing the bill.

It is “The War on Taxpayers”! The recreational pot bill AUMA is on the ballot in November and is more like regulated prohibition than it is legalization. Vote NO on AUMA… is Monsanto getting into the pot business!

While their at it they’ll need to regulate pot tasting locations too, this is to avoid from getting lost. I’d suggest in town zoning near pizza parlors instead of, far out, where driving would be required..

If there is ever a wildfire I am headed downwind.

Since Santa Margarita has been aggressively against trucks on State Highway 58, will these farms change the attitude to keep on truckin?