The unwelcome smell of the growing Carpinteria Valley cannabis industry was the focus of Tuesday’s hearing for a Casitas Pass Road cultivation project.
Santa Barbara County supervisors voted Tuesday to approve Valley Crest’s cannabis permit without requiring carbon scrubbers for odor control, which was a condition that the Planning Commission added after reviewing the project.
The board’s decision came after concerned testimony from nearby residents and Cate School officials about the cannabis smell and the potential health effects from the Fogco misting system that the greenhouse uses for odor control.
Valley Crest wants a county permit to grow 8 acres of cannabis in greenhouses and operate a processing and storage facility at 5980 Casitas Pass Road.
In their objection to the project, Cate School officials argued that the operator doesn’t have an adequate odor abatement plan.
Santa Barbara County requires certain cannabis projects to have odor control systems and use the “best available technology.”
Several greenhouse growers installed systems that spray deodorized mist to mask or neutralize the cannabis smell, and more recently, some have installed carbon scrubbers.
At a July review hearing, the Planning Commission voted to approve the project but with the condition that operators add carbon scrubbers to address odor. Valley Crest appealed that condition to the Board of Supervisors.
Eric Edwards of Headwaters, the Valley Crest operator that has been growing at the site since 2019, said the site has “been a model project.”
Edwards said the Planning Commission’s condition to add a regenerative carbon scrubbing system within a year of project approvals is “unwarranted” since the project has an odor abatement plan that goes beyond county requirements.
When asked about the odor complaints in the Casitas Pass Road area, Edwards said: “I do not believe we are a significant contributor to the odor that’s being experienced nearby, but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect there will never be odor especially on the roadways in front of some of these facilities.”
Since county odor control rules address odor only in residential zones, Cate School, which is a private boarding school located in an agricultural zone, could file endless odor complaints and operators technically don’t have to take action under their odor abatement plans. Valley Crest plans to consider complaints from everyone, regardless of zone, Edwards noted.
Charlotte Brownlee of Cate School said she has been coming to the county podium for more than five years to talk about the impacts of cannabis, including odor they smell on campus every day. The school has filed appeals for multiple cannabis projects in the Carpinteria Valley, including operations near Carpinteria High School and the Cate campus.
“Don’t you think that all residents of Carpinteria deserve to be protected by the best available method and shouldn’t have to live with a complaint-based system that puts the responsibility on us instead of the growers?” Brownlee asked the Board of Supervisors.
Dr. William Hahn and Danielle Dall’Armi Hahn, who live about 300 feet north of the cannabis greenhouses, said they have lost tenants over the cannabis stench, and Danielle has experienced headaches, nausea and other symptoms since Valley Crest installed its Fogco system.
Carbon scrubbers are “the superior approach because they mechanically remove odors as opposed to creating new odors,” Dr. William Hahn said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Edwards and Peter Dugre of CARP Growers said about 1,000 cannabis industry employees work in the area with daily exposure to the misting systems “to no ill effect,” as Dugre put it.
Supervisors Das Williams and Steve Lavagnino said they understood the Planning Commission’s intent by adding the carbon scrubber condition, but they sided with planning staff who said the applicant met all county requirements for a permit.
Williams said supervisors may want to consider requiring carbon scrubbers for future projects, but that should be done through an ordinance change, not on project appeals.
“It seems to me that we’re adopting an inferior technology when we have a better one right at hand. For me this is a really frustrating case,” board chair Joan Hartmann said, adding that she thought odor should be measured at operators’ property lines — as planning commissioners have advocated — rather than in residential zones, which is what supervisors implemented in the permit rules.
“Do you go along with the law even if the law is unjust?” she said.
This gets to the longtime frustration of planning commissioners, who have recommended more robust odor control rules and tried to make controversial projects more compatible with neighbors by adding conditions.
Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve Valley Crest’s appeal and approve the cannabis cultivation and processing project without the Planning Commission’s carbon scrubber requirement. Hartmann abstained from the vote.
There are more than two dozen pending permit applications for cannabis growing in the Carpinteria Valley, including a cannabis operation proposed for the parcel adjacent to Valley Crest at 6030 Casitas Pass Road, according to the county’s interactive map of cannabis applications.