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Alameda County — The Darcie Kent Vineyards has received approval to operate a cannabis dispensary at its Tesla Road property, the first business of its kind to open in the unincorporated East County area near Livermore.

According to the East County Board of Zoning of Adjustments (ECBZA), Garden of Eden at the Highlands will open in a building previously used for wine tasting. However, it is required to keep its cannabis business separate from vineyard operations. The ECBZA board unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for the venture on May 26. Cannabis will not be grown at the farm and is not allowed to be consumed on the property.

The dispensary, located on the southern portion of the property at 7000 S. Tesla Road, hopes to open for business within several weeks. The Darcie Kent Estate Winery, including its barn tasting room and production facility, are on the north end.

“In California, wine and cannabis are both legal, highly regulated consumer products that bring a lot of joy into people’s lives,” Darcie Kent said in an email. “My family has been licensed to sell wine in California since 1996, so this is the kind of business we understand.”

Darcie Kent’s daughters, Kailyn Kent and Amanda Benjamin, will serve as the owners and their mother as manager. Alameda County last year awarded Darcie Kent with a Cannabis Retail Operators Permit (CROP).

“The addition of a much-needed dispensary to our area will attract new consumers to the region, which will directly contribute to the area of a planned vision for us to be an attractive full-service destination,” Kailyn Kent told the ECBZA panel during the meeting. “Our boutique dispensary will educate consumers not only about cannabis, but about the wide array of agritourism opportunities in our region.”

The business will include a sales room and counter, along with an “Education and Resource Galley” that will provide information on the responsible use of cannabis and the agricultural products grown in Eastern Alameda County.

“We'll be featuring locally grown products from the area, like cannabis infused-olive oil and honey,” Kailyn Kent said. “Many of the brands of cannabis goods that will be on sale will also contain local raw materials, such as terpenes.”

Oakland-based Eden Enterprises, which grows hemp in Byron and operates the Garden of Eden dispensary in Hayward, is partnering with the operation. Eden also operates a farm in Calaveras County; a manufacturing and distribution center in Watsonville; and a research center in Union City. A “campus” with cultivation to distribution and retail operations is coming soon to Union City, along with another dispensary in Sunol, the company’s website says.

Darcie Kent said the firm has “extensive knowledge of the local cannabis industry” as a retailer and grower.

“Collectively, their management team has more than 100 years of cannabis experience at their existing dispensary, Garden of Eden Hayward,” Darcie Kent said. “They have over 17 years of retail experience with an impeccable reputation for security, safety and customer service.”

According to the Kents, the permitting process took about two years, gaining support from local winegrowers, the county’s Agricultural Advisory Committee and the Tri-Valley Conservancy.

The Kents said they hope the dispensary can invigorate the local wine industry, which suffered during the pandemic. Darcie Kent said her winery’s tasting rooms were closed for the better part of a year and other local wineries curtailed their businesses, laid off staff or ceased operations.

“The recovery process has begun, but we need more visitors to our Wine Country,” Darcie Kent said. “This will be the first dispensary in the entire Tri-Valley and will bring thousands of new customers to our area. I am always surprised how many people have driven along I-580 and never knew that such a beautiful wine valley is hidden behind the rolling hills just a few miles to the south.”

Darcie Kent said the hope is new visitors will frequent many local businesses nearby.

County documents showed the Kents have plans to add or have already completed improvements for security, including video surveillance systems, motion detectors, burglar alarms, panic buttons, fire alarm systems and lighting.

During a recent inspection, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office offered security advice, including the replacement of rollup doors with security-grade doors, sealing off the inventory area from view, moving some cameras for better views and adding or replacing some indoor doors.

“Due to all the added security and surveillance, statistics actually prove that crime drops in the vicinity of a dispensary, and I don’t think we will be any different,” Darcie Kent said. “We raised our daughters in this neighborhood and my family remains very active with a long list of nonprofits that contribute to our community on a daily basis. It's important to us to preserve the quality of life for both our family and our neighbors.”

A county reported stated that there is a demand for a cannabis dispensary in East County since there are none in the immediate vicinity. Four other businesses have been approved in other parts of the county, officials said. The report also said county planners believe the dispensary meets conditions of Measure D, the East County Area Plan and the South Livermore Valley Area Plan “to preserve the area’s unique rural and scenic qualities” because it will operate in a building already on the property. They believe it also conforms to Williamson Act provisions, because the cannabis business is replacing the winery tasting room in the same structure.

ECBZA member Derek Eddy expressed concern during the approval meeting about the separation of the wine and cannabis operations. He questioned whether some customers might try to enjoy both marijuana and alcohol during a visit.

But Pamela Epstein, Eden’s chief regulation and licensing officer, assured him the site will have security to try to prevent customers from consuming cannabis products there.

In approving the CUP, Eddy and his fellow commissioners, Lori Souza and Frank Imhoff, voted to review the business in a year to make sure it is meeting conditions. The CUP includes more than 30 requirements for the Kents to meet, including not selling to anyone under 21 years old; maintaining records of customers; complying with state and county laws; and meeting security requirements.

No one spoke against the business’ approval during the period for public comments during the meeting. Three people voiced support for the Kent family.

Darcie and Kailyn Kent said their family had already discussed the dispensary with neighbors and local business owners, posting public signs and offering preview tours.

“Everyone has been really supportive of our efforts,” Kailyn Kent said. “We truly believe this is an outstanding opportunity for the Livermore Valley Wine Country.”