Former foes sign a pact to get rid of the smell of pot

 

In recent years, as most of the Carpinteria Valley’s cut-flower greenhouses converted to pot, mostly without zoning permits, two citizens’ groups – Concerned Carpinterians and the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis – have pressed the county Board of Supervisors to rein in the cannabis industry, without much success.

Now, in a bow to political realities, the coalition, a nonprofit group with 200 members countywide, has changed tack. On Aug. 20, the group signed an odor-control agreement with its former adversary, the Cannabis Association for Responsible Producers, or CARP Growers, representing the owners of 21 greenhouse properties.

“As a result of our extended negotiations, I’ve come to believe that the growers really want to do the right thing,” said Rob Salomon, a coalition board member. “They don’t want to be associated with an industry that has stunk up the Carpinteria Valley and made them a pariah in the community.

“The contract puts in place a path to technology and protocols well beyond what the county ordinance requires.”

At the heart of the pact is a “model odor abatement plan” that requires the members of CARP Growers to install “best available odor control technologies” – widely believed to be carbon filtration systems called “scrubbers” – to get rid of the smell of pot inside their greenhouses before it can escape through the vents in the roofs.

Both parties say they are hopeful that with the scrubbers in place, the valley’s smelliest hot spots can be cleared up by the end of 2022. The growers with the most odor complaints, they say, will get top priority for new scrubbers. The first big shipment, 150 of the latest models, costing $20,000 each, is expected to arrive here in mid-November from The Netherlands.

“I’m very excited to see this deal happen,” said Autumn Shelton, the CARP Growers president and a co-owner of the Autumn Brands Farm, a nine-acre “grow” at 3615 Foothill Road. “It was definitely very close to falling apart. The coalition wanted more than what a lot of the growers can promise. We want to hold to our words. Whatever we promise, we’re going to deliver.

“It’s a monumental feat to be able to have accomplished this and come to terms with each other.”

 

The terms

During the past 12 months alone, Carpinteria Valley residents have filed 913 odor complaints with the county. It’s not only the smell of pot, but also the “laundromat” smell of the odor-neutralizing greenhouse “misting” systems that they object to.

Hot spots for the noxious odors have been Padaro and Cravens lanes, La Mirada Drive and Meadow Circle, the Polo Condos, and the homes nearest the greenhouses on Foothill Road, the stretch between Nidever and Casitas Pass roads that some call “Cannabis Alley.”

“I’ve probably sent 60 complaints to the county in the last 90 days,” said Paul Ekstrom, a retired firefighter who lives next to Ever-Bloom, a cannabis greenhouse at 4701 Foothill that is owned by Ed Van Wingerden, a CARP Growers member.

CARP Growers holds 299, or 88 percent, of the 338 provisional licenses issued by the state for marijuana cultivation in the valley. Half of the 18 landowners who signed the agreement are Van Wingerdens or Brands, two families that rose to prominence in the cut flower industry, decades ago.

In addition to installing “best available” technologies for odor control, CARP Growers will be required to implement a sophisticated network of wind stations throughout the valley to help anticipate odor episodes and identify which greenhouses are causing them.

In an expansion of the county’s rules, the growers also must follow a lengthy set of protocols for responding and investigating odor complaints – not only from homes but also parks, schools, churches and businesses.

The model odor abatement plan will be incorporated into the county zoning permits for each CARP Growers operation and will run with the land. Some of the odor-response protocols will be enforced by the coalition.

The county will enforce the growers’ odor abatement plans and will hire a consultant to ensure that odor-control technologies are functioning as promised, Lisa Plowman, the director of Planning & Development, said.

To date, 82 acres of greenhouse cannabis in the Carpinteria Valley have been approved for county zoning permits; 222 acres are under review, and 186 acres will be allowed. Under the county’s permissive rules, the operations of many CARP Growers members have been designated as “legal, non-conforming.” Once they get their permits, Plowman said, “There will be investigations when we get complaints.”

“The biggest challenge in this process is trying to figure out where the odors are coming from, because of the proximity of the grows,” she said.

The parties’ stated goal under the agreement is to reduce odors so that none are detectible beyond the greenhouse property lines. The agreement outlines a series of steps for growers to follow, working with the coalition, to clear up the smell when no single “grow” is the clear source of a complaint.

“It’s a new era for farmer-community relations in Carpinteria,” said Graham Farrar, who co-owns G&K Farms at 3561 Foothill and Mission Health Associates at 5601 Casitas Pass. “The coalition has identified that odor is the issue they want solved, and we’re going to figure out how to solve it.”

 

The compromise

The agreement does mark the end of an era, one in which the coalition pushed for ordinance amendments that would require stiffer permits for cannabis operations countywide.

Simultaneously, the coalition appealed to the board to overturn a dozen cannabis zoning permits in the valley. The coalition and Ekstrom also sued Ever-Bloom and four other Van Wingerden greenhouse operations on Foothill, alleging that the owners failed to give residents “relief from the awful smells and noxious odors.”

Now, that lawsuit is on hold. The coalition has pledged not to oppose or appeal any more permits, so long as the growers adhere to the terms of the agreement.

“This is not an ideal situation, but I don’t see an alternative,” Salomon said. “We appeal, we appeal, we appeal, we appeal; we lose, we lose, we lose, we lose.”

The coalition has withdrawn its appeals of two CARP Growers projects – Autumn Brands and Bosim 1628, a six-acre cannabis greenhouse operation at 1628 Cravens Lane. In all, 12 projects that have been approved for permits, including these two and Farrar’s G&K Farms, will be required to upgrade their operations to meet the terms of the agreement.

The agreement does not include a dozen cannabis greenhouse properties whose owners are not members of CARP Growers. Salomon said the coalition reserves the right to contest the zoning permits for those projects, if necessary.

 

The skeptics

Salomon said the agreement would be posted on the coalition’s website in the coming weeks. But news of the compromise, as outlined in a recent press release, has angered some members of Concerned Carpinterians, a loosely knit grassroots group of about 300 people. Earlier this year, the group parted ways with the coalition over its change in strategy.

Paul Foley, a Concerned Carpinterian and an avocado grower, called the agreement “hollow.” His orchard lies next to Cresco California, a CARP Growers business with eight acres of cannabis at 3861 Foothill Road.

“It only represents the names of the people who sign it and very few others,” Foley said of the agreement with the coalition. “I’d like to see some de facto regulation of the industry; sheriff’s deputies driving up and down, county cars coming into this driveway. There’s no enforcement.”

The Foley family and Sarah Trigueiro, a resident of La Mirada Drive, have appealed to the Board of Supervisors to overturn two cannabis zoning permits that were approved by the county Planning Commission this year. They are the permits, respectively, for Cresco’s operations and Farrar’s proposed cannabis processing warehouse at G&K Farms.

Both growers have been required by the county Planning Commission to install carbon scrubbers. If these alone can clear up the smell of pot, Cresco says it will decommission its “misting” system. But the Foleys want guarantees.

“I’m finding it very hard to swallow that the CARP Growers are now touting this carbon scrubber system but haven’t been able to produce a reliable odor control program in the past,” Maureen Foley, Paul’s daughter, said.

In addition to the smell, the appellants want the board to address the potential impacts of industrial-scale cannabis on Arroyo Paredon, a major creek, and on Foothill Road traffic and the electrical grid.

“The appeals process is a way for the public to have a voice,” Maureen Foley said. “It’s one of the few mechanisms where there’s an attempt at least at parity, in terms of balancing the voice of the appellant with the voice of the growers. And the projects have become better projects, as a result.”

 

The scrubbers

CARP Growers is proud of what it has accomplished. Although carbon filtration has been used for years in sealed buildings where cannabis is grown in other states, such as Colorado, the technologies being developed for the high-humidity, large-scale, open-vented greenhouses in the Carpinteria Valley are brand-new, and CARP Growers is pioneering them.

The group says it has spent more than $50,000, testing multiple prototypes and settling finally on “regenerative” carbon scrubbers, a model developed by Envinity, a Dutch firm. With 150 scrubbers, a $3 million investment, Ever-Bloom will be the site of the first large-scale test of this emerging technology.

By early January, growers say, the greenhouse industry will know how well these new scrubbers work. Cresco representatives told the Planning Commission last month that they have been shown to eliminate up to 87% of the smelly gases given off by marijuana plants in a greenhouse setting.

Meanwhile, CVW Organic Farms, the first cannabis operation in the valley to commit to using scrubbers, has been using eight locally-designed units in a three-acre cannabis greenhouse on Cravens Lane for the past two months. The scrubbers are run at night, when the vents are nearly closed and the blackout curtains are in place. The “misting,” or vapor, system is turned on during the day, when the vents are open. A year ago, Cooney called this combination the “gold standard” for odor control.

The CVW scrubbers and vapor systems were designed and engineered by Marc Byers, a Summerland resident who owns Byers Scientific, an industrial odor-management firm. Byers said there have been no odor complaints at CVW since his scrubbers were installed.

“This Johnny-come-lately scrubber system from Holland is being pitched as a panacea; that’s maybe not true,” Byers said. “Our scrubber is the most energy-efficient scrubber there is on the market.”

The pact does not mention the Byers vapor or “misting,” systems that remain the frontline odor control technology in cannabis greenhouses throughout the valley. These systems send up a curtain of non-toxic plant oils to neutralize the smell of pot, using perforated pipes that are attached to the exterior of the greenhouses.

Spokesmen for both the coalition and CARP Growers say that, as the scrubbers are installed and prove to control the smell of pot, they expect the vapor systems will be phased out. As a sign of things to come, Ed Van Wingerden is applying for a permit to operate exclusively with the Dutch scrubbers and without a Byers vapor system at Roadside Blooms, a four-acre greenhouse operation at 3684 Via Real.

“We’re making a leap of faith for these scrubbers,” said Mike Cooney, the county planning commissioner who represents the Carpinteria Valley. “… We’re going to do the best we can to quiet the outrage among our citizens.”

 

 

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.

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