Santa Barbara County’s Planning Commission struck down Maureen Foley Claffey’s appeal in a 4-1 vote, securing the go ahead on the county’s first permit for cannabis cultivation in Carpinteria Valley. The decision was far from swift and came with an amended condition mandating quarterly odor testing.
Located at 3561 Foothill Road, the greenhouses in question date back to 1983 and for decades were used to cultivate orchids. The now empty greenhouses are owned by Graham Farrar of Glasshouse Farms, who proposes to grow marijuana in them, expanding his cannabis operation on the 14.66-acre farm nestled between Via Real and Foothill in the outskirts of the city. The county’s Planning and Development Department determined that Farrar’s application was in compliance with the coastal zoning ordinance, and on March 6 issued Farrar a Coastal Development Permit to cultivate cannabis in five existing greenhouses. By March 19, Claffey, a Foothill Road resident had filed an appeal, stating at the hearing that she had done so as a representative of Concerned Carpinterians.
In her testimony, Claffey stated that the group had launched this appeal because this case was a microcosm of local concerns with cannabis cultivation in Carpinteria Valley, principally targeting the issue of malodors in residential and school zones. County staff assured commissioners that the plans provided in the application and evidence gathered on multiple site visits conformed with all recorded codes and processes, and no cannabis was currently cultivated onsite.
From the onset, planning commissioners agreed that the perceived efficacy of both the odor abatement system and the county’s ability to make a reliable determination of compliance were at stake in this first permit appeal hearing, and were likely to resurge in dozens of applications and appeals over the next few months, if not sufficiently resolved. To this end, throughout the hearing the commissioners questioned a team of experts and consultants including Mark Byers, CEO of Byers Scientific & Manufacturing, the company responsible for the odor control system that will be installed at Farrar’s greenhouses.
Claffey contended that the Byers system “will not work” and that the company is “using Carpinteria as a test ground.” On Farrar’s side, Nate Seward, a certified industrial hygienist and licensed mechanical engineer, testified that he had certified the odor abatement plan for this project after determining that the equipment and methods were consistent with “best available technology to mitigate cannabis odors.” The Byers custom vapor-phase odor control systems, he said, use the odor neutralizing product CNB100, “a product specifically formulated and engineered to counteract cannabis emitting odors.” Seward, and later Byers, emphasized that CNB100 is not a masking agent—a product designed to disguise a malodor with a stronger more pleasant smell—but a neutralizing (or pairing) agent which changes the chemical or molecular makeup into a neutral or odorless compound. “Installed correctly, the Byers system will properly mitigate odors and prevent them from entering residential zones,” stated Seward.
Installed correctly, the vapor system runs 24/7 according to Byers, who has 26 operating odor abatement systems in cannabis cultivation facilities in North America, including at least 12 at work today in Carpinteria Valley. “We’re going to encircle—completely—the greenhouse,” stated Byers, “(Depending on) size we might need more than one system… it’s a virtual halo.” Commissioners pressed Byers on the impacts of high winds and inclement weather, to which he responded that the odor neutralization system is predicated on physical contact––the neutralizing agent coming in contact with the malodor––meaning air currents create more movement and thus, more contact. “Like mixing sugar in your coffee,” said Byers. “Wind is exactly what we want,” he contended, weather conditions will create more mixing, and more dissolution. Once installed, the price tag for operating the custom-engineered system is upwards of $80-100,000 per year, according to Byers.
At present, Carpinteria Valley has a mix of some cannabis cultivators using the Byers system, some using another system and some using no system at all. As a result, judging the efficacy of one farm’s future system against a valley-wide odor problem is a quixotic task for commissioners. At one point, Chair John Parke asked staff, “When will every cannabis cultivator have an odor abatement system?” Staff audibly giggled, and one of them responded, “It’s not clear when. It could be a couple years before everything’s done.”
Carpinteria’s immediate representation on the Planning Commission is Commissioner C. Michael Cooney, who represents the county’s 1st District. Cooney, who lives in Carpinteria, stated during deliberations, “We’re looking forward. How long is it going to take? But I keep thinking back. I can remember the first time I smelled “the skunk” … and I was surprised to learn that it was not an animal... I don’t need anyone in the community to tell me that there is an odor problem… and in my opinion, it rises to the level of an odor nuisance.”
Expressing her consternation, Vice-Chair Cecilia Brown commented, “The issue for me is there are no standards... The odor abatement plan… it needs to have some rules, standards, best management plans, backup generators, parameters, third party testing… (We need to know) that what has been installed works…”
Commissioners agreed and requested that staff add language to the permit that would implement a condition of approval that upon installation of the odor control system, and quarterly thereafter for one year, staff will conduct an inspection of the odor control system to assess its compliance with requirements. As part of each inspection, a professional engineer or certified industrial hygienist will have to certify that the odor control system meets requirements. Prior to this amendment, odor control systems were generally only inspected after three neighborhood complaints.
Staff noted that they have not been able to identify quantifiable standards for measuring malodor in cannabis cultivation. Odor, staff noted, is subjective and depends on a given individual’s sensitivity. However, the additional condition will allow for staff to regularly monitor odor abatement systems to ensure they are effectively operating in compliance with the ordinance.
Claffey’s appeal was denied in a 4-1 vote with Brown dissenting. In her remarks, Brown explained, “for me this is not detailed enough for staff to assess whether a system is in compliance. Its progress, it’s better than nothing, but I just feel that it needs to be more rigorous and robust to ensure that the systems are working.”
However, other commissioners noted that Farrar’s application was earnestly completed and in compliance with the law, expressing optimism that the new condition would provide a mechanism to enforce compliance with odor control standards.
“I think that I made a mistake when I agreed to the ordinance,” said Cooney, “but I thought we would find a way to keep odors out of residential neighborhoods...but I think this (additional condition) gives staff a way to do it.”