top of page
  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Das, Steve and Joan Back Back Even More Delay on County's Failed Pot Odor Policy - 1 (One!!) Citation in Six Years

By Melinda Burns


A long-awaited county Board of Supervisors hearing on cannabis odor control ended in a split vote this week, as three board members voted for more study, and two said they were frustrated by the delay.


Dutch-made carbon filters, called “scrubbers,” have been shown to dramatically reduce the smell of cannabis in Carpinteria Valley greenhouses before it can escape into the outside air; but at $22,000 each and a recommended density of 10 per acre, they’re expensive. In addition, electrical upgrades for the scrubbers could cost tens of thousands of dollars more, a “potentially prohibitive expense,” county planners told the board on Tuesday.


Board Chair Steve Lavagnino of Santa Maria and Supervisor Das Williams of Carpinteria, co-architects of the county’s permissive 2018 cannabis ordinance, said it would not be advisable or fair to mandate a single clean-air technology such as scrubbers to get rid of the “skunky” smell of pot that persists in hot spots around the Carpinteria Valley, from the foothills to the beach.


Together with Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, they voted to commission a six-month study of the power upgrades that may be necessary in advance of scrubber installations. To date, only five of 20 active greenhouse operations in the valley are fully equipped with scrubbers, county records show.


Hartmann said she supported requiring state-of-the-art clean-air technology in cannabis greenhouses, but she wanted her colleagues to address the smell from outdoor “grows” in the North County as well. The stench of cannabis along Highway 246 and Santa Rosa Road blows eastward into Buellton and as far as Solvang on the prevailing winds and “must be dealt with,” Hartmann said.


“It’s really a disservice to our public not to regulate cannabis odor for the most sensitive people,” she said. “We need to find out where we’re measuring odor, what tool we’re measuring it with and what’s the limit.”


Supervisors Laura Capps and Bob Nelson objected to any further study of cannabis odor control, saying they favored mandating scrubbers in valley greenhouses across the board.


“My frustration level is coming to a place where I feel we just need to push forward with something,” said Supervisor Nelson, who represents Orcutt, Los Alamos and a portion of the Sta. Rita Hills west of Buellton. “… Sometimes, we do too much planning.”


Many Carpinterians claim that the smell of pot has caused them to suffer headaches, runny noses, sore throats and respiratory problems; Capps, who represents portions of Santa Barbara and the Goleta Valley, said she did not support doing more studies “as people continue to suffer.”

“Is it our role to be deciding what a business can afford to do?” Capps said, referencing the staff's concern about the cost of power upgrades to the industry.

“I don’t think we’re doing our job if we kick the can down the road longer,” she added. “Who are we trying to serve? I don’t know what more studies are going to get us, other than more frustration from the neighbors.”


Lavagnino said: “There’s a lot of people who are also our constituents who work at these places. That’s why when we talk about the cost of these facilities, it matters. People could lose their jobs.”


“Wildly unsuccessful.” As part of Tuesday’s vote, the board majority asked county planners to return to the board with recommendations on how to control the smell of outdoor cannabis and how and where to set a maximum threshold for the smell.


In the Carpinteria Valley, planners said, that might be at the property lines of cannabis operations, or around clusters of greenhouses where the smell of pot consistently pervades surrounding neighborhoods. Under current ordinances, growers are required to “prevent odors from being experienced in residential zones,” a standard that’s been difficult to enforce.


The staff report for the board, six months in the making, identified three hot spots in the valley, based on inspections by county planners armed with Nasal Rangers, an odor detection technology: They were the 3500 block and 4400-4500 blocks of Foothill Road, and the 5600-5700 blocks of Casitas Pass Road.


Nelson noted that not a single one of 3,700 odor complaints filed by Carpinteria Valley residents with the county since mid-2018 has ever been “verified” or enforced by county staff, who've said it’s impossible to pinpoint which operation within the clusters of valley greenhouses is to blame for the smell. And without verification, the county cannot require any one operation to install better odor control technology.


“This isn’t working,” Nelson said. “… It’s wildly unsuccessful … Zero verified complaints is really alarming. Additional planning or studies is not the solution.”


Echoing an idea that has the support of the City of Carpinteria, Nelson said the county should start requiring scrubbers when the growers’ business licenses come up for annual renewal. As things stand now, licenses are renewed even for operations that have long been a focus of odor complaints.


“We could solve this problem and it would no longer exist, and we could stop having these hearings and these issues,” Nelson said.


About 116 acres of cannabis are currently under cultivation in the Carpinteria Valley, out of 170 acres approved for permits there. Maps in the staff report showed that inspectors hired by the county detected the smell of cannabis around the perimeter of 19 greenhouse operations in the Carpinteria Valley — and along a section of Highway 246 west of Buellton in the North County.


In six years, though, the county has issued only one notice of odor violation to a cannabis operator (at Valley Crest Farms, 5980 Casitas Pass Road).

Quarterly inspections during the past 15 months have found that the growers’ “misting” systems, the odor control technology most widely in use in the Carpinteria Valley, are largely working, the report showed. These systems set up a curtain of plant oils that is supposed to “mask” the smell of pot. The problem is, the technology doesn’t fully neutralize it; and residents complain about the “laundromat” smell of the mist itself.


Growers weigh in. At Tuesday’s hearing, a number of Carpinteria Valley growers, in writing and in person, urged the board not to mandate a “one-size-fits-all” solution for all greenhouse operations.


Tadd McKenzie, co-president of the Pacific Dutch Group, said his company had switched to “non-odorous” nursery plants overall at International, five acres of cannabis at 4532 Foothill, and was nearly finished installing Dutch scrubbers there. At Rincon Point Farms, a 2.5-acre “grow” at 5775 Casitas Pass, 30 percent of the cannabis cultivation area is being eliminated, McKenzie said.


Improvements to odor control “have already been made and will continue to be made by operators,” he said. “… Using valuable county resources on costly regulatory updates instead of improving ongoing compliance will only make market conditions more favorable to non-tax-paying black market competitors.”


Autumn Shelton, a co-owner of Autumn Brands, six acres of cannabis at 3615 Foothill, said she recently learned that a power upgrade for her greenhouse operation would require running utility lines under Highway 192 and likely cost more than $1 million, “rendering it financially infeasible.”

Noting that the price of cannabis has plummeted in recent years, Shelton urged the board to provide tax rebates or some other financial incentive for growers to improve their odor control systems.


“While scrubbers is a really great idea, when the market crashes only two years ago, it’s really hard to come back from that and continue to spend and spend and spend,” she said.


Nonetheless, as the hearing ended, Nelson and Williams both urged growers to start investing in better odor control technologies now.


“The longer anybody delays, the more burdensome the final result will be,” said Williams, who lost his bid for re-election to Supervisor-elect Roy Lee, who was buoyed by overwhelming support from voters in Carpinteria, and who will replace the loser next January.

“I hope there’s a clear warning sign that progress needs to be made," the defeated supervisor said,


Nelson put it more bluntly: “This is an issue I see coming. I want to say again to this industry: Get ahead of it. At some point, if you’re not ahead of it, you’re going to get run over by it.”

Melinda Burns is an investigative journalist with 40 years of experience covering immigration, water, science and the environment. As a community service, she offers her reports to multiple publications in Santa Barbara County, at the same time, for free.























86 views0 comments


bottom of page