Two years after Helios Dayspring was caught breaking county zoning and state water quality laws, for illegally expanding a cannabis operation on private land in Los Padres National Forest and polluting the creeks, Santa Barbara County officials are taking steps that could lead to the shutdown of his last remaining grow here.
Dayspring’s rise in the Central Coast cannabis industry was swift; he opened three dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County in recent years and was granted 37 provisional state licenses for the cultivation of medical marijuana in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
A glowing promotional video from 2017, posted on YouTube, called Dayspring “The Sun King.”
“It’s a high-risk business,” Dayspring says in the video, which features his cannabis grows in the Los Padres and Tepusquet Canyon, east of Santa Maria. “You can lose everything. You have to have the confidence to pull this … off … We’re never leaving the mountains if we don’t have to. We’re always going to be staying out here, because this is where the true beauty of California is.”
Yet he may be leaving soon.
In an abrupt reversal of fortune, Dayspring is expected to plead guilty this month to felony charges of tax evasion in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and bribing a San Luis Obispo County supervisor.
The plea agreement was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles on July 28. Court documents state that the bribe was $32,000, and that Dayspring will pay the Internal Revenue Service $3.4 million. He faces up to 13 years in prison.
Helios Dayspring, owner of the Natural Healing Center cannabis dispensary in Grover Beach and multiple cannabis cultivation sites in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Here, he stands next to drying hemp plants to be used for biomass and CBD oil, in a 2019 photo. (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)
Now, Santa Barbara County officials have been laying the groundwork for a state order that would force Dayspring to surrender the six provisional licenses that allow him to grow cannabis on his Los Padres in-holdings – two parcels totaling 160 acres on an oak-studded ridgeline in the San Rafael Mountains, two miles from Tepusquet Road.
These are the only active state licenses that Dayspring currently holds for cannabis cultivation in this county, down from 18 in 2018.
His company, 805 Ag Holdings Cannabis Cultivation LLC, applied for a county zoning permit in late 2018 to grow six acres of cannabis in Los Padres National Forest.
According to a new permit application that was submitted to the county last week, one acre of cannabis is currently under cultivation on Dayspring’s holdings there.
In a July 19 letter this year, the Santa Barbara County CEO’s office warned Dayspring that because he had “failed to make appropriate progress through the land-use permitting process” and no longer had a zoning permit application pending, the county intended to notify the State Licensing Authority that “your cannabis operation does not comply with local laws and/or regulations.”
Helios Dayspring was growing cannabis on steep slopes in Tepusquet Canyon without proper erosion controls. This grow, seen in 2019, was shut down in 2020. (Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board photo)
Four of Dayspring’s six active provisional licenses for his Los Padres in-holdings are set to expire this month; two are set to expire next year.
Absent a notice of non-compliance, the state would automatically renew them for another year, Brittany Heaton, principal analyst for the county’s cannabis program, said.
Last week, Heaton met with Stacey Wooten, an agent for 805 Ag Holding, and Ty Green, a lawyer for the company, to discuss the county’s proposed letter to the state. If the matter cannot be resolved, Heaton said, they will have 10 days to request a one-hour hearing before a “neutral hearing officer” – another county employee – to present their case.
“We provide due process,” Heaton said. “We’re moving forward as quickly as we can. We are committed to ensuring that the cannabis operations in our county are complying with all local ordinances and regulations.
Wooten did not return a reporter’s request for comment this week. Green said: “This was not a high-level meeting. We’re just trying to work through the issues they raised in the letter. I don’t know what their decision is going to be.”
Growing Around Tepusquet Canyon
Residents of scenic Tepusquet Canyon, a remote rural community of 375 people east of Santa Maria, have been pressing the county for years to shut down Dayspring. His truck drivers and employees use Tepusquet Road, a narrow and winding throughway, to get to and from his cannabis grows in Los Padres National Forest.
County planners cited Dayspring in early 2019 for violating the county cannabis ordinance by falsely claiming to be growing medical marijuana as a “legal-non-conforming” crop on one of his Los Padres properties.
Helios Dayspring abandoned large areas of hoop-house cultivation on his private property in the Los Padres, leaving a hard-packed surface that could create significant erosion during rains. This photo was taken in 2019. (Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board photo)
Then, during the next two years, the record shows, planners repeatedly extended the deadlines for Dayspring to complete his permit application. Last month, they gave him until Aug. 2 to submit everything or risk having his case closed.
“We recognize and appreciate that the county is finally taking action, but we want to know why it took so many years,” said Renee O’Neill, a leading activist for stricter regulation of the cannabis industry in the county. “Tepusquet community has been documenting and reporting illicit activity in relation to this grower since 2015.”
In addition to his Los Padres in-holdings, Dayspring grew marijuana for several years on four properties he owned in Tepusquet Canyon. He applied for county permits to grow 44 acres there, but last summer, the county Board of Supervisors narrowly voted to ban all cannabis cultivation in “existing developed rural neighborhoods,” including Tepusquet Canyon.
Frazzled Tespusquet residents said the heavy truck traffic, truck wrecks, speeding cars, boomboxes, bright lights and noisy generators that cannabis was bringing into their bucolic canyon were threatening their quality of life.
The record shows that Dayspring racked up a dozen zoning violations in the canyon, such as using night lighting on his hoop houses; erecting hoops without permits; installing generators, fuel tanks and water tanks without permits; and grading without permits.
But the board stopped short of extending the cannabis ban to properties that can be reached on roads through rural residential neighborhoods, including Tepusquet Road.
Polluting the Creeks
In recent years, Dayspring’s cannabis operations also have come under scrutiny at the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
In 2019, the record shows, board inspectors reported numerous violations of state water quality law on Dayspring’s properties in Santa Barbara County, both in Tepusquet Canyon and in Los Padres.
The violations included leaking irrigation lines and tanks of liquid fertilizer, and growing marijuana too close to a creek.
In August 2020, the water board sent Dayspring two Notices of Violation classifying his operations in the Los Padres and on one of his Tepusquet Canyon properties as “high risk” to creek water quality.
But there have been no follow-up inspections: on the Central Coast, the board has only one staff person for more than 400 cannabis sites.
Several years ago, Tepusquet Canyon residents Dave and Lil Clary helped create a “crisis committee” to fight what they regarded as an invasion by the cannabis industry into their remote rural haven.
“The biggest problem has been Dayspring,” they said in a joint statement to the press this week. “He’s been a royal headache here in the canyon. He is a prime example of someone who found that illegal activities under the color of law worked a lot better than attempting to behave strictly legally – up to now, at least.”
Melinda Burns volunteers as a freelance journalist in Santa Barbara as a community service; she offers her news reports to multiple local publications, at the same time, for free.
Liquid fertilizer tanks on Helios Dayspring’s property in Los Padres National Forest were stored on bare ground within the 50-foot creek setback, as seen in 2019. (Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board photo)