For the past three years, the “skunky” stench of marijuana swirling around Carpinteria, penetrating homes, schools, parks, beaches, freeway lanes and even funerals at the cemetery, has pitted neighbor against neighbor as the cannabis greenhouse industry exploded just outside the city limits.
Now, some technological advances — combined with a groundbreaking odor control agreement between one of Carpinteria’s oldest farming families and several members of the citizens groups that have fought for tighter regulation of the cannabis industry — are upping the ante for future projects.
The pact between Cindy and David Van Wingerden of CVW Organic Farms and members of Concerned Carpinterians and the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis goes well beyond what’s required under the county’s lenient cannabis ordinance.
A few other growers are buying new technology and committing to air quality testing. They, too, are eager to end the raging pot wars in this once-peaceful seaside community. But it is the Van Wingerdens’ plan that is the most far-reaching.
County Planning Commissioner Mike Cooney, who represents the Carpinteria Valley, has called it “a real gold standard — as good as it gets.”
“Above all the others in the Carpinteria area, this project offers the potential for solving the odor problem that has been presented to us painfully over the last couple of years,” Cooney said. “I liken it to discovering a vaccine that’s going to end the pandemic we’ve had of odor throughout the valley.”
On Dec. 2, in a first for the county — and for North America — the commission approved a zoning permit for CVW Farms that requires installing carbon air filtration systems, or “scrubbers,” inside 346,000 square feet of cannabis greenhouses and a two-story, 36,000-square-foot processing building.
The 16-acre property is at 1296, 1400 and 1480 Cravens Lane, next to the city boundary. Only one of the greenhouses there is presently growing cannabis, and the rest are growing Gerber daisies and cymbidiums.
The scrubbers, a brand-new technology, are designed to get rid of the stinky smell of pot before it escapes from the greenhouse roof vents. They would run when the vents are closed and blackout curtains are down, chiefly at night. In test runs, the scrubbers have reportedly been shown to remove nearly all the smelly gases generated by cannabis.
As a backup, odors that escape outdoors during the day will be neutralized by a “curtain” of vapor made from plant oils that is released through perforated pipes suspended on the outside of the greenhouses. The vapor system is currently the frontline odor control technology in most Carpinteria grows.
But, judging by the persistently smelly hot spots around town and the number of odor complaints — 867 filed with the county since June 2018 — it doesn’t always work.
The vapor systems and scrubbers were designed and engineered by Mark Byers, a Summerland resident who owns Byers Scientific, an industrial odor management firm. The cost of this equipment for the Van Wingerdens’ project will be between $350,000 and $500,000, he said.
In a written statement this past week, Cindy Van Wingerden said she and David wanted carbon scrubbers for their greenhouses “as soon as we learned that this extra layer of odor treatment could be effective.” Their farm is close to the Franciscan Villas, Seahouse development and Sandpiper Mobile Home Park.
“David and I value peace with our neighbors and open dialogue,” Cindy wrote. “We have a long history of operating our agricultural businesses responsibly on Cravens Lane, and we have worked in tandem with our neighbors to address their concerns for decades. It is the same for cannabis.”
The City of Carpinteria has long pressed the county to rein in the cannabis farms that are operating or preparing to operate in the valley — nearly 40 in all. Nick Bobroff, a principal city planner, said city officials were “cautiously optimistic” that the project “would be successful at peaceably coexisting with adjacent residential developments.”
Marc Chytilo, an attorney who has sued the county and four growers on behalf of the coalition, said the Van Wingerdens’ plan was “a significant accomplishment” and “should be a model” for other farms.
“We’ve made some real progress,” he said. “We’re pleased to be working with responsible growers who can step up and make a difference.”
Making an Agreement
In all, including the Van Wingerdens’ greenhouses on 8 acres at 1540 Cravens, there will be nearly 600,000 square feet of cannabis cultivation at CVW Farms when the projects are complete.
In addition to using scrubbers, the Van Wingerdens must hire a vapor monitoring service for seven days at the start of their first cannabis harvest, when the smell is strongest.
The service, called VaporSafe, will test the air for cannabis molecules on the premises and in neighbors’ yards. It is the only air quality sampling service that analyzes cannabis odors in the field, and it was invented by Mark Kram, a Santa Barbara chemist and UCSB graduate.
Finally, the Van Wingerdens must personally field all odor complaints, report them to the county and fully investigate the source of the odors. If problems persist, they will be required to upgrade their odor control system with the “best available control technology” if it is reasonably available.
The plan specifically “ensures that odors will be generally confined to the cannabis activity site and not beyond the property line” — language that appears nowhere in county ordinances. Today, when residents file odor complaints, county officials often can’t find the source of the smell.
Cooney concedes that the plan “may be a bridge too far for the Carpinteria cannabis industry.” But he invites other growers to “line up here if you’re willing to accept the conditions attached to this project, and we will give you a permit the same day.”
In going beyond the ordinances, the Van Wingerdens sought to avoid conflict in a community where their family has been farming for 50 years.
Some cannabis industry members and supporters have called concerned coalition members “elitists,” “not-in-my-backyard NIMBYs,” and “prohibitionists.” Even county Supervisor Das Williams of Carpinteria has suggested that some residents will never be satisfied with cannabis policy, no matter what the county does.
But the Van Wingerdens thought differently, and they reached out to community members. This fall, the couple spent weeks hammering out an odor control plan with Judy Dean, Anna Carrillo and Rob Salomon of Carpinteria, as well as Chytilo and their own attorney, Amy Steinfeld.
Initially, Cindy said, they contacted Salomon and Dean, “since they both live on Cravens Lane, and we felt that it was our neighborly duty to understand their concerns.” After many discussions, she said, “We established a strong foundation of trust.”
Dean, a medical doctor, had appealed the Wingerdens’ project at 1540 Cravens after the county planning department approved it for a permit. She told the commission that she believed she had contracted asthma because of the noxious odors from cannabis.
“I encourage the commissioners to visit Carpinteria and smell for themselves,” she said.
Last week, in a letter to county staff, Dean withdrew her appeal, citing the Van Wingerdens’ “diligent efforts” and “willingness to work with the community.”
And she had some final words for the Board of Supervisors: “I look forward to a time when the county makes a meaningful effort to address the air quality problems cannabis is introducing in our communities.”
— 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.