We have all driven through an area where a skunk had been killed on the roadway, and the stench was overwhelming. Do you, as a county resident, want this stench around your home or around your neighbors?
Now is the time to speak out and insist that the county of Santa Barbara require cannabis growers to install efficient order abatement systems inside the hoop houses they are now building with the local legalization of the product. The disgusting odor should not leave the hoop house or the grower’s property. This rule should apply to all zoning areas in the county, and not just for specific zoning areas.
This issue makes me reflect on my life and the decisions my wife and I have made. Early on, my wife and I searched for a getaway location for ourselves in Santa Barbara County that would provide us with open spaces that would be unlike our permanent home in the Orcutt area of the county. We planned on spending part of our week in Orcutt and the other half at our getaway. We searched through various mountain areas in the county and finally arrived in the Cuyama Valley. We went with a realtor who showed us a 120-acre ranch parcel in the foothills of the valley that overlooked the wide open high desert valley. We hiked up a slope and arrived at a high point on the property. We turned around and viewed the beautiful valley below, and we knew at that moment this was the getaway property for us.
Since our long-ago purchase, we have planned a beautiful home looking over the valley but instead have been busy putting in orchards, barns, tack shacks and other outbuildings. More recently, we are ready to start work on our new getaway home, but recent events have made us have second thoughts.
A close neighbor with a 20-acre parcel recently sold his property for double the normal price to a pot company that offered him a 30-day escrow with a cash payment of $225,000. Fencing, housing repair and hoop houses went up instantly. All of this greatly concerns us, as the possibility of clouds of skunk stench threatens our property. This is an issue that the county of Santa Barbara should be protecting all its residents from. But are they putting county tax income ahead of their voting citizens?
The odor problems are not in any sense just a Cuyama Valley problem; they are a problem for the entire county. It was started because our county was the most favorable to cannabis production after the state gave counties in 2016 the option of passing their own rules to regulate and tax the industry. Carpinteria, being the most impacted area, has been described as a location for “guinea pigs” in reference to odors.
We are one of the few counties to embrace cannabis. The possibility of odor control is technically feasible with strong county leadership and standards. If odor abatement can’t be proven safe, perhaps it’s time to end
cannabis cultivation in our county. But can the county step forward?
A business that can generate a super large county tax, making county elected officials drool, can also pay for the most sophisticated abatement equipment. There is no question that pot stinks, and when it is grown or processed on a commercial scale, it stinks even more. People living near marijuana facilitates have been forced to fight back, and in many states have started lawsuits.
Last year, the 10th Circuit Federal Court in Colorado ruled that a family that complained about noxious odors coming from a cannabis facility next door were well within their rights to argue that the aroma had damaged their property values and to sue the company for triple damages under a federal racketeering law. This should be a caution for not only pot growers, but also county officials with lax odor controls. County officials could end up paying much more in lawsuit damages from lax odor control laws and regulations than the tax income received.
Protecting the rights of county citizens is one of the main reasons we elect county officials. To live peacefully in one’s home is one of those fundamental rights we expect them to uphold. Call your district supervisor and insist that all county residences in all zoning areas be free of obnoxious cannabis odors. Insist that cannabis operations have effective odor controls within the buildings.
The author is a North Santa Barbara County native who holds bachelor and doctorate degrees in history, cultural geography, and law from various California universities.