Skunk-like cannabis will soon be wafting into Lompoc unless the county enforces odor control

I was transferred here by the U.S. Air Force in 1975, and I stayed in Lompoc primarily because of the moderate weather and especially for the clean, fresh air in this valley. That may change soon.

Our city is surrounded by agricultural operations; there is an abundance of row crops, vineyards, and several cattle ranches that dominate the landscape. 

In some rare cases, one or more of the operations can cause odor concerns; in our valley when the broccoli harvest is complete, part of the recycling process for vegetation residue is to mow the field and allow the residue to deteriorate for a couple of days and then plow it under to help rejuvenate the soil. The odor associated with this process is pungent; however, it only lasts for a couple of days.

My home is more than 2 miles from the nearest field, and we can clearly smell the odor, and even closing the windows doesn’t fully eliminate the putrid smell. But I figure that giving up fresh air for a couple of days a year is the cost of living in a farming community.

But there are currently 12 outdoor cannabis land use permits being processed for properties within a 2-mile radius surrounding Lompoc to the east, south, and west. The county has administratively approved two cannabis grows about a mile from Lompoc’s east side residential neighborhoods. 

Unlike broccoli odors during post-harvest field preparations, cannabis grows produce a skunk-like odor that can cause headaches, sore throats, nausea, and respiratory problems for several weeks during the growing period. What will happen to property values when realtors disclose that the town smells like a skunk for several weeks each year?

A cannabis grow west of Buellton is less than a mile from a residential subdivision, and the odor from this operation can be smelled throughout the neighborhood for weeks at a time.

The Air Pollution Control District says, “A person shall not discharge from any source whatsoever such quantities of air contaminants or other material in violation of the Health and Safety Code which cause injury, detriment, nuisance, or annoyance to any considerable number of persons or to the public or which endanger the comfort, repose, health, or safety or any such persons or the public or which cause or have a natural tendency to cause injury or damage to business or property.”

However, the Health and Safety Code says the nuisance provision “does not apply to odors emanating from agricultural operations necessary for the growing of crops or the raising of fowl or animals.”

A 2017 environmental impact report prepared for the county to establish standards to mitigate potential impacts from cannabis operations noted that “cannabis cultivation and, to a lesser degree, manufacturing, is/are often accompanied by strong odors. Odors can vary by variety, ranging from pepper, balsamic vinegar, pine, citrus, and skunk.” 

They continue: “Cannabis odors can spread through the air and be sensed by surrounding receptors. For example, based on scoping comments received for this environmental impact report (EIR), residents of Carpinteria (greenhouse growing) and Tepusquet (outdoor growing) communities can often smell cannabis odors from nearby cannabis operations, and the county has received several complaints from residents related specifically to cannabis odors. Additionally, in the Carpinteria area of the South Coast Region, cannabis odors were detected from the public right of way during site visits conducted in July 2017 by the EIR consulting team.”

The 2017 EIR also notes that “anecdotal evidence suggests that strong cannabis odors can still be detected large distances away from the source. Thus, buffers may be utilized but are likely to be more effective in remote areas of the county where larger buffer distances could be implemented. In more urban areas, odor mitigation technologies would be more appropriate as they would significantly reduce odors over a shorter distance.”

In 2019 the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District provided this comment to a pending outdoor growing operation: “Odor abatement: This project has the potential to cause odor impacts because of the nature of the operation. The applicant should design the project to minimize the potential for odor generation and public nuisance complaints through controls or abatement techniques and comply with the requirements of the county’s cannabis regulations.”

Apparently, county government regulators really don’t care about North County residents’ discomfort even after many residents have complained vigorously about the cannabis odors coming from outdoor operations for at least four years.

It’s time for the city of Lompoc, specifically the City Council and the Lompoc Unified School District, to go on record with the Board of Supervisors as opposing any cannabis operations that are not required to contain the skunk-like odors to the property. 

Lompoc city planners already require odor control for all the permitted cannabis operations in the city, so this isn’t something new.

It is unreasonable to subject the residents of Lompoc, including schoolchildren, to these putrid odors for up to 15 weeks each growing cycle especially when technology exists to mitigate those odors at the source parcels.

Perhaps both the 3rd and 4th District supervisors need to take an active and aggressive interest in this problem and convince their colleagues to direct county planners to apply best available odor-control technology to any cannabis grow within 10 miles of any urban or suburban residential area no matter where it is in the county.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a response via the editor at [email protected].

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