Cannabis Industry Critics Split Over Private Pot Stench Deals with Growers
By Melinda Burns
A grower’s proposal to build the most airtight cannabis processing warehouse in the Carpinteria Valley has exposed a growing rift between two citizens’ groups that for years have pressed the county to rein in the fast-expanding, foul-smelling cannabis industry.
Activists took opposing sides this month as the county Planning Commission approved zoning permits for a 25,400 square-foot warehouse next to five previously approved cannabis greenhouses at 3561 Foothill Road.
The operation, called G&K Farms, is co-owned by Graham Farrar, a founder of CARP Growers, a group of 14 cannabis operators with about 20 separate “grows” in the valley.
One hundred members of Concerned Carpinterians, a loose-knit organization of about 300 residents, signed a petition urging the commission to vote “no” on the warehouse project. They have long complained that Farrar’s greenhouses on Foothill were sending waves of the “skunky” smell of marijuana into their homes day and night on the prevailing winds, causing them to suffer nausea, headaches and respiratory problems.
They say that anyone who drives by the greenhouses – aging structures with open roof vents, originally designed for cut flower cultivation – can smell the stink.
“If G&K is considered a good neighbor, then God help us,” said Sara Trigueiro, a resident of La Mirada Drive above Foothill, where she has a sweeping view of what some are calling the “industrial complex” of cannabis greenhouses between Nidever and Casitas Pass roads.
“My grandmother, on hospice, complained constantly of the cannabis fumes,” Trigueiro told the commission at its June 9 hearing, fighting back tears. “That’s not right … We’re regularly subject to fumes that put our health and safety at risk …
“We should wait for operators to prove that they are good neighbors and are not causing nuisances before we allow them to expand existing operations.”
In its petition to the commission, and in support of Trigueiro’s appeal of the warehouse project, Concerned Carpinterians noted that the county has not been conducting quarterly odor inspections at G&K Farms.
The inspections were required as part of Farrar’s greenhouse permit, but county officials say it would be impossible to pinpoint the source of any odors. The inspections must wait, they say, until three neighboring greenhouse operations can get their zoning permits.
Collaboration vs. confrontation. In addition to Farrar and the county, Trigueiro also took aim at Marc Chytilo, an attorney for the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, a nonprofit group of 200 residents from Carpinteria to the Cuyama Valley who have filed lawsuits and dozens of project appeals against cannabis growers.
Like Concerned Carpinterians, the coalition has sought – without much success – to convince the county Board of Supervisors to amend its permissive cannabis ordinances and crack down on what both groups view as an out-of-control industry.
But in recent months, Chytilo has angered some members of Concerned Carpinterians by negotiating odor control agreements behind closed doors with cannabis operators, including, most recently, CARP Growers and Farrar. To date, three such agreements have been incorporated during public hearings into the growers’ zoning permits for cannabis cultivation. The coalition has promised those growers that it will not sue them.
Trigueiro is not impressed: she asked the commissioners to describe any communications they had had with Chytilo about Farrar’s warehouse.
Commissioner John Parke of Solvang responded that Chytilo had emailed him a message before the hearing, saying that the coalition “has worked with Graham and feels his project is worthy of support” based on “next-generation” odor-control technology.
Commissioner Mike Cooney, who represents the Carpinteria Valley, said Chytilo had left a message for him also, saying he was representing “concerned citizens, a group of citizens concerned generally about cannabis activities in the Carpinteria Valley.”
Trigueiro shot back: “He is not my representative. But perhaps he represents the applicant?”
(Cooney said this week that his remarks had been misunderstood. Chytilo, he said, had told him he was representing the coalition and made no mention of Concerned Carpinterians.)
“Role of government.” At the hearing, Parke asked Trigueiro if she knew about the odor control and complaint management agreement that the coalition had negotiated with members of the Van Wingerden family at CVW Organic Farms on Cravens Lane.
It requires the growers to monitor for the smell of cannabis in residential neighborhoods during harvest time, aggressively respond to complaints, and install “best available control technology” to keep the “skunky” smell from escaping from nearly 13 acres of future cannabis greenhouses.
Trigueiro was dismissive of such agreements, telling Parke: “I don’t think they’re worth the paper they’re written on from an enforceability standpoint, pragmatically. And the reason for that is that private-party agreements are only enforceable if you want to take them to court or to arbitration. You still end up with a situation where the grower is making a determination as to whether an odor complaint has merit, and that doesn’t sit right with me.”
It is the role of government, Trigueiro said, “to be an independent arbiter and decider, based on empirical information as to these odor complaints that residents quite genuinely have.”
Trigueiro then vowed to appeal the commission’s vote all the way up to the state Coastal Commission, if necessary. The state panel has not yet weighed in on any cannabis project in the Carpinteria Valley.
Concerned Carpinterians recently waged a letter-writing campaign against the nomination of county Supervisor Das Williams, a Carpinteria resident and chief architect of the cannabis ordinance, to the Coastal Commission. He didn’t get the job; it went instead to Santa Barbara Councilwoman Meagan Harmon.
Anonymous attacks. Within hours of the June 9 hearing, Concerned Carpinterians sent out the first of two unsigned emails to county leaders, accusing Chytilo of “misrepresenting” who his clients were.
In one email, the group asked the Planning Commission to consider filing a complaint against Chytilo with the State Bar of California. The group also called on the commission to conduct an “ethics inquiry” into a $20,000 donation from CARP Growers to the Foothills Forever fundraising campaign. Chytilo helped lead that effort, which recently reached its $18 million goal for the purchase of 100 acres in the San Marcos Foothills.
“Who is Marc Chytilo ACTUALLY representing is a question that needs to be answered,” the email from Concerned Carpinterians said, asserting that “the facts presently suggest that he may be backing cannabis growers, not the community …”
This week, Chytilo called the emails “unfortunate’ and said he “did not appreciate being vilified through a smear campaign.”
“These attacks prove that no good deed goes unpunished,” Chytilo said. “I’m working hard to try and solve a difficult community problem.”
The coalition and CARP Growers expect to announce a joint odor control agreement next month, further refining the deal that’s in place for CVW Farms, Chytilo said. Both sides, he said, want to ensure that there’s no odor detectible at the growers’ property lines.
“There’s no ordinance that can do that,” Chytilo said. “By voluntary agreement, everybody’s working to make it happen.”
In all, the county has received permit applications for 222 acres of greenhouse cannabis cultivation in the Carpinteria Valley; 186 acres will be allowed, and 82 acres have been approved to date.
“The county ordinance is so weak, particularly on enforcement, that we have to get something else in place,” said Rob Salomon, a coalition board member. “The agreements we’re negotiating are not perfect. There’s going to be no perfect in this; it’s too new.”
Referring to Concerned Carpinterians, Salomon said, “We call it negotiating with the growers; they call it ‘collaboration’ with overtones of evil. I don’t understand. I think what we’re doing is good. It gets the growers to commit, investigate and invest; and it provides a path to technology as it evolves.”
“My feeling is that a lot of members of CARP Growers really do want to be a good industry, one that is not smelled along the roadways or interferes with the quality of people’s lives.”
“Airtight” warehouse. In voting 4-1 on June 9 to approve Farrar’s cannabis processing warehouse, the Planning Commission said it could not address the existing odors at G&K Farms in the same vote; any upgrades to the greenhouses would require a separate zoning permit.
(According to Chytilo, Farrar is willing to install state-of-the-art odor-control technology at the greenhouses as part of the CARP Growers agreement with the coalition.)
Parke was the only “no” vote on the warehouse; he said it should have included a robust plan for responding to odor complaints.
The processing of cannabis – the trimming, drying and packaging of marijuana plants – is the smelliest part of commercial cannabis operations.
Farrar is proposing to construct a “building-within-a building” with an interior shell; an outdoor vapor-neutralizing system; 19 carbon filters indoors to “scrub” the smell of cannabis; a “negative pressure” ventilation system to more thoroughly treat the indoor air, and “air curtains” at the entrances to further prevent smells from escaping.
“We designed this building to be airtight from the beginning, not a conversion from a packing house,” Farrar said. “It will be the first-of-a-kind in Carpinteria.”
At the warehouse, Farrar plans to process cannabis from both G&K Farms and Glass House farms, a cannabis operation he co-owns at 5601 Casitas Pass Road. Currently, he sends most of his plants to Lompoc for processing.
Farrar told the commissioners he had delayed the warehouse project for 18 months, incorporating “every suggestion” that Trigueiro made so that smells from processing, he said, “will not be detectible in residential zones.”
“We are indeed committed to improving the odor on Foothill Road,” Farrar said. “…We are confident that this project will make that better.”
Cooney called the warehouse project “a light in a dark tunnel” and said it “will do nothing but set a high standard for future processing plants.”
“We could hardly do better,” he said. “We need to have processing done locally, and we need to have it done well.”
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.
Images: View of cannabis industry greenhouses from La Mirada Drive above Foothill (courtesy); Sarah Trigueiro; Mark Chytilo; Graham Farrar; Siting of G&K greenhouse operation at 3561 Foothill Road (SB County Planning).