Dear Santa Barbara County Planning Commissioners, Friends of Save Arroyo Paredon Watershed, and Members of the Media,
I am the founder of Save Arroyo Paredon Watershed (SAPW), a grassroots organization founded in 2021 that is working to protect Carpinteria’s Arroyo Paredon Creek. I am also a farmer and farm business owner whose family farm and homes are located in Carpinteria’s new “cannabis zone,” between Nidever Road and Cravens Lane, off Foothill Road, right next to Cresco, near the Arroyo Paredon Creek. I accidentally became a community activist because, due to my proximity, I have a front-row seat to the nuisance and environmental degradation caused by cannabis in our neighborhood. Today, I am writing, again, to strongly urge the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to oppose Cresco’s industrial cannabis project adjacent to Arroyo Paredon Creek, at their next meeting on September 1, 2021, on behalf of the 93 neighbors who signed our SAPW petition to oppose the project.
Carpinteria, as I’ve witnessed, is ground-zero for many massive pot operations and is the canary in the coal mine for the environmental disaster which is coming due to Big Cannabis’s relentless push for money, at the expense of local neighborhoods, air quality, and truth. Though I’m often discouraged, I’m an optimistic realist, at heart. I believe in concrete solutions based in scientific research. And, due to Santa Barbara County’s history and interest in environmental justice, I am confident that together we can establish practical, affordable, environmental policies that balance protections of our plants, animals, water, and air with the need for sufficient profit for pot growers. That’s why, working on behalf of SAPW, our family has engaged environmental land-use attorney Elise Cossart Daly, along with a biologist, David Magney, and air quality specialist engineer, Dr. Paul Rosenfeld, to investigate how Cresco’s project will directly endanger Arroyo Paredon Creek and its surrounding air and to urge solutions based on research and facts. We submitted our original findings to the Planning Commission, at its August 11, 2021, meeting, and I am re-submitting the information to you now, to consider. (See attached. It is all part of the public record, as of August 11, 2021.) In further consultation with Ms. Cossart-Daly, Mr. Magney and Dr. Rosenfeld, here are our points, upon review of Cresco’s updated odor plan with carbon scrubbers and more:
• Cresco’s updated odor control plan is still insufficient. While the goal to implement and employ carbon scrubbers in all buildings is a step in the right direction, the timeline and continuing use of Byers are major problems. According to our air quality engineer, there is no need for a 12-month timeline or use of Dutch technology. There are domestic carbon scrubber companies that can and must implement this technology ASAP to the greenhouses. It is critical that Byers/vapor phase systems are eliminated entirely and no longer considered “best available technology” for any growers, county-wide. We saw both growers, activists and planning commissioners agree at the August 11, 2021, meeting that vapor phase does not work. So, it must be dismantled and stopped now, to protect the air.
• Cresco’s plan for Arroyo Paredon Creek’s habitat is still insufficient. A CDP and CUP cannot be legally issued for Cresco because they do not fulfill the mandates for habitat protections dictated by the Toro Plan and Coastal Zone Plan.
• Cresco is already a nuisance. Because the site is up and running and already causing daily odor, traffic, safety and environmental issues, this project is a current and future odor, safety, traffic and environmental nuisance. For this reason, it cannot be granted a Coastal Development Permit, which clearly states that no project may be considered a “nuisance.” How do we know it’s a nuisance? The County already sued and shut down Island Breeze pot farm, just down the road, on the grounds of just two public odor complaints. Cresco has received many, many more complaints, for odor and other issues. For this reason, it cannot legally receive a CDP.
By way of background, in 2017, due to my background in journalism, I became committed to researching and recording facts and the truth about Big Cannabis in Carpinteria, as a firsthand witness its horrors. (In 2019, with Concerned Carpinterians, another grassroots group, we lead the first cannabis project appeal of G&K Farms, farther down Foothill Road in June 2019. At that time, we recommended that Byers be eliminated due to ineffectiveness and replaced by carbon scrubbers. I’ve attached a draft of that early plan to show that it is not a new idea crafted by the growers, but an old idea based on existing smell control standards.)
For the record, here are just some of the things I’ve experienced firsthand and seen at Cresco (formerly called SLO Cultivation) on 3561 Foothill Road, as a neighbor: illegal building of unpermitted greenhouses at site (pre-2017); false affidavits filed claiming they were growing cannabis (2017); multiple gun safes delivered to the property (2018); multiple people living illegally on trailers and using port-o-potties (2018); Cresco property owner lied that they were not going to grow cannabis because his wife opposed it (2018); illegal generator noise from gas-powered generators at Cresco (February 2019); armed break-ins at Cresco followed by with multiple policemen and dogs arriving on the scene (July 2019); speeding traffic with kids nearby (July 2019); illegal use of residential home next door to Cresco as commercial business office (2020), illegal growing of cannabis in “greenhouses” with no walls and clearly visible to pedestrians from Foothill Road (2021). Throughout, there has been unpermitted construction, clearing of trees and riparian habitat and daily nuisance odor and air pollution caused by cannabis smell and the ineffective Byers System vapor smell control.
I have reported all of these issues to various county agencies, including the county’s Odor Complaint website and the Planning Department and others. There may have been some fines issued and actions taken, but these have not resulted in any significant improvements to our neighborhood. (For a full list of County actions, feel free to ask the Planning Department to print out the full list of violations at the site and/or asking me to furnish proof of the above incidents.) I want to record this mountain of problems here to make it clear that we should not be surprised when these problems (and more) continue if this project is approved. I anticipate that the bad behavior will continue and grow, once final permits are approved. I want to submit these problems also, to counter Cresco’s false claims of their “perfect” project and wonderful outreach to the neighborhood. As the primary neighborhood activist countering their project, not one official Cresco employee has ever talked to me, emailed me, or sent me a letter. When their pot farm was broken into at night, my young child slept on the other side of a porous chainlink fence while armed cops searched their orchard. At no point did anyone from their staff call me to alert me to the dangerous situation (but obviously the swarm of police vehicles and the cop’s descriptions of what happened alerted me to the danger.)
I founded SAPW because I realized that beyond Cresco’s problems, Big Cannabis’s larger damage to our environment, specifically our air and water quality, are the real story here. Big Cannabis’s air and water degradation on a massive scale will have impacts for the entire county, state, and country, as pot becomes legalized for cultivation across much of the United States. I realized how greed was trumping best-practices for the environment and there would be many areas where laws were not going to be followed. (To see how a preview of future creek disasters, follow along on how Cresco’s property owner, Rene Van Wingerden, is currently dealing with accusations by water nonprofit Channelkeeper and the Regional Water Quality District of several illegal discharges from their Ocean Breeze flower operation, on Cresco’s adjacent property, also in the Arroyo Paredon Watershed, into the Carpinteria Salt Marsh, causing massive algae blooms.)
It is clear Cresco’s project is not appropriate in the Arroyo Paredon Watershed or on the Environmentally Sensitive Habitat of Arroyo Paredon Creek. Cresco’s project will bring a newly-built, two-story warehouse/office, large cut/fill soil removal, two septic tanks, 75 workers everyday, regular discharges of cannabis wastewater into the creeks, oil spills, chemical spills and an avocado orchard destroyed when the inevitable, regular floods hit this project, located in a High Risk Flood Zone. Cresco’s project will be an environmental disaster for Arroyo Paredon Creek, which is already degraded based on the current flower nursery greenhouse operations, further ruining the air and water for the neighborhood and washing into the Pacific Ocean at Padaro Lane.
Finally, I want to express my disappointment that none of the Planning Commissioners responded to my invitation last week to tour our property and Arroyo Paredon Creek, even though I invited them and know that they have visited the cannabis operation, Cresco, numerous times. I offered this as an in-person or virtual tour. Arroyo Paredon Creek is a beautiful gem in our neighborhood and County and should be appreciated by all.