Neighbors’ complaints shut down green waste recycling

August 19, 2010


A battle over the smell of freshly ground greens has escalated to the point where most of San Luis Obispo County’s green waste composting will be eliminated, raising serious questions about the fate of the Cold Canyon Landfill.

On Sept. 1, Cold Canyon will begin trucking green waste to Santa Maria, the price will go from $20 a ton to $43 a ton with a small raise in curb rates. By the end of the month, the facility operators plan to have sold off any remaining compost.

“I buy their green waste and use it for landscaping,” said Larry Cusick, a local landscaper. “It is unbelievable that such a valuable service is no longer available.”

The Cold Canyon Landfill opened approximately 50 years ago, serves about 70 percent of the residents of San Luis Obispo County, while earning a reputation for having a high rate of recycling.

Twelve years ago, Cold Canyon began composting green waste. A few years later, the prior owner of the adjacent property sold four 40 acre parcels.

People who bought the properties soon built homes and moved next to the dump. This group of homeowners contends they thought the dump would be shut down when its latest permit expired, which is slated to occur in the next few years.

When the neighbors became aware that the plant’s operators had filed for a permit to extend the landfill portion of the facility, they joined together as a group and asked Bruce Falkenhagen, who owns a 40-acre parcel, to be their spokesperson.  They then started a concerted effort to shut down the Cold Canyon facility by lodging repeated complaints to regulators.

Following up on the neighbor’s complaints, the state sent investigators to check for composting odors.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery filed three odor violations against the facility for green waste smells in three months starting in April. As a result of three violations in three months, the state issued a cease and desist order for the green waste smells or the dump could be closed down.

State laws prohibit green waste odors, even the smell of Christmas trees, while allowing stronger odors to emanate from trash.

“The odor resembled freshly ground green material feedstock,” one violation said.

“It is not that it smelled bad,” landfill manager Tom Martin said. “If I grind Christmas trees and it smells like pine, it is a violation. Given these standards there is no way we can operate.”

In the past, San Luis Obispo County has received accolades and awards for their recycling programs and a diversion rate that is more than 60 percent. (Diversion rate is the percentage of waste materials diverted from traditional landfills to be recycled, composted or re-used.)

“In this day and age, when we know how important composting is, to be hauling this out of area is absolutely absurd,” said Jeff Buckingham, the president of Blue Rooster Telecom and an advocate for composting.

In early 2009, shortly after the Garbage Company began working on the permit process, the neighboring homeowners started making multiple smells and noise complaints.

“We saw a huge upswing in complaints in 2009,” said Karen Brooks, the San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control Board compliance section manager. “The record of complaints is forcing these issues.”

Since mid 2009, the neighbors have lodged almost 700 complaints with state and local government agencies, officials said.

Falkenhagan disagrees and claims that the neighbors starting making repeated complaints in 2004.

Officials at the dump contend they have had very few complaints until they began working on the permit and that the homeowners should have known there would be some odors before they built their homes next to the dump.

“They bought the land cheap because it is next to a landfill and then they complain that it smells,” Martin said. “They want to shut down the landfill completely.”

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill said the neighbors have the right to lodge noise and odor complaints. But noted there is a tradeoff to living near a dump.

“I would prefer that we can continue to compost,” Hill said. “That is why we have such a great diversion rate.”

Falkenhagan, who purchased 40 acres of land near the dump for $365,000 in 2000, objects to the argument that they purchased the land at a lower cost because of its location.

“While it appears that the neighbors are now being portrayed as whiners and we bought the property for cheap because it was near a landfill, I take issue with that,” Falkenhagan said in an email.  “When I bought in 2000, I paid a very high dollar for the land.”

Landfill officials contend that the neighbors have organized an email and phone tree to remind each other to send out complaints in an effort to close the dump.

In an email sent  Jan. 6 2010, Falkenhagan writes that the Cold Canyon’s EIR is reporting very few odor complaints. He urges his neighbors to correct that with email and calls to state and local government officials if they smell an odor. (The first circulated draft of the EIR was completed before the neighbors started filing multiple complaints.)

“I will be sending an email to all of you,” Falkenhagan says in the email. “Please go outside then and see if you smell anything. If you do, you make the same calls. This takes everyone if we hope to succeed.”

Falkenhagan said they oppose the extension because the smells are unbelievable and the county should stop using a landfill to dispose of trash.

If the landfill permit is not approved or the state shuts down the landfill because of the odors, Martin said the Garbage Company will most likely ship the county’s garbage to a landfill in Avenal. If that occurs, the cost to local businesses and residents is slated to double or triple.

Falkenhagan disagrees with the idea of shipping local garbage out of the area and has offered to build a modern waste-to-energy plant that produces energy through methane gases. He points out that waste to energy facilities are cleaner and expected to be the green garbage plants of the future.

While waste to energy plants can cost more than $100 million to build, Falkenhagan said he found a recently engineered facility that can be purchased for $25 million. The company has two plants operating at this time, one in Australia and another in Israel, Falkenhagan said.

“Anything that will be done to clean the environment or make the earth a better place will cost something,” Falkenhagan said. He added that the people of the county should not mind paying more for their trash disposal so that the neighbors of Cold Canyon will not have to smell trash for another 30 years–the length of time the landfill’s life will be extended it the pending permit is approved.

Even so, Martin argues that the cost to taxpayers includes higher operational costs and permitting costs making it unlikely the county would elect to put a burden on the community during a downturn in the economy.

He also points out that Falkenhagen paid a significant settlement for being one of Santa Barbara’s Counties most “egregious” polluters.

In the 1990’s, Falkenhagen was sued by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office for operating an energy power plant without the required air pollution control equipment and lying to the APCD to conceal the fact that his operation was releasing hundreds of tons of nitrogen oxides into the air.

Officials said Falkenhagen’s plant was one of the top stationary sources for air pollution in Santa Barbra County’s history.

Falkenhagan admitted to knowingly operating without the proper equipment. He paid a $155,000 fine and publicly apologized to the business community, according to a press release from the Santa Barbra District Attorney’s office.


If it only took 3 complaints to have this landfill possibly shut down then the rest of us need to pile on the complaints to the BOS…how can it be that the rest of us citizens will be footing the bill so that these few can live in this area. And Bruce Falkenhagen claims… “He added that the people of the county should not mind paying more for their trash disposal so that the neighbors of Cold Canyon will not have to smell trash for another 30 years–the length of time the landfill’s life will be extended it the pending permit is approved.” The arrogance of the wealthy. You better believe I mind.

I agree with Bobfromsanluis, these people knew the dump was there. If they were told that the permit would not be renewed then they need to go after whomever it was that sold them this ‘bridge’. I am so tired of these types of situation and our elected officials giving into those with the money while the rest of us are left footing the bill.

Apparently our curb site rates will already be going up, why wasn’t there a public notice letting us know that the green waste was going to be trucked out of the county because a few greedy, selfish people moved into the dump area and now can’t stand the smell?

Does it really matter how much Falkenhagen bought his property for? He knew the dump was there! I suggest the rest of the county residents form an email and phone tree to the BOS and CC complaining about this and demanding that Falkenhagan live with what he bought.

BOS 781-5450

Martin D

Fact: It took over 600 complaints to get the State to issue 3 citations.

Fact: The dump was there, that is not the primary odor source, the composting operation, which was added later, was the problem.

Fact: If you want to keep your curb rates from going up, compost your own greenwaste at home, then you can smell the freshly ground greens for yourself.


Its interesting how this story is portrayed, the misrepresentations, and how only one side was made, in spite of the 15 + emails and 300+ pages of documentation (with confirming data Ms. Velie received from me) before publishing and were chosen to ignore.

To make it clear, this is an issue about the composting, not the landfill. The article confuses the two.

On the point of moving to the nuisance, there are 35 households who are part of the neighborhood group. Only 6 households bought their property after 2004. This was the time that the County allowed negative declaration for expanding the composting operations by 400% physically occurred. Before that time as I understand it, there were few odor complaints. Those 6 households live more than a mile away, and between them all, there have been only 72 of the 679 odor complaints, 10.6%. But 89.4% of the odor complaints came from 29 households who have lived here for a long time, 46% lived here before the current landfill was allowed its 1991 expansion. The complaintants did not move to the nuisance and complain, the nuisance moved to the neighbors.

Why wasn’t this recited as Cal Coast News had it before publishing, as opposed to implying that the neighbors moved to the nuisance?

For the people objecting about the composting moving out of the area, we proposed that the composting be put in a building on site; that way the odors can be contained. Waste Connections, the owner of Cold Canyon Landfill, does it at its LRI site in Puyallup, Washington. In fact, if you look at the website, Waste Connections proposes and answers the question: “Why is the building enclosed”; response: “The building is fully enclosed because composting can be odorous and we collect and treat air from inside before releasing it outside. We have neighbors that live close by that we have to consider.” Check it out yourself.

The building cost would be $8,000,000, for which the individual household (44,000 in the service area) works out, using a 20 year building life, to cost each household $0.76/month, less than 1/2 the cost of downloading a ringtone each month. In fact, looking at Mr. Martin’s figures of the increased cost to take it to Engel and Grey, the building would be paid for in less than 6-1/2 years, about an 15% rate of return for Waste Connections. And this ignores the business contribution to composting costs. Why wasn’t this objectively reported? The material could have stayed here..Mr. Buckingham should endorse that. In fact, the commenters before me should strongly endorse this alternative; it keeps the recycling here. The landfill made the decision to move it out, not the neighbors or the odor complaints.

And why did the article not mention the illegal water discharge from the composting site last January, where RWQCB issued an NOV because of high levels of contamination? In the testing, the water failed the bioassay test, the fish kill test. This water is going down into Pismo Creek. Think it might be what could contribute to the loss of salmon down there? It killed all the frogs up by the landfill.

And on the closure of the landfill (not the composting as the story confuses), why did you not recite Condition A-4 of the landfill’s operating permit that states ” This Development Plan shall expire and become void when the designated fill elevations in Exhibit D860156D:Q, as approved, are reached, or the use is abandoned or discontinued for a period greater than twelve (12) months pursuant to Land Use Ordinance Section 22.02.052a(3).”

And why does the article portray the odors and leave the impression as if the smells are just from Christmas trees? Ms. Velie has a copy of the log, the descriptions and things like “horrible”, “dog poop”, “vile, putrid”, “nasty”, “gross”, “worst smell ever and that was thru nose plugs”.

As to homeowners knowing that there were odors before they built their homes near a dump, the odors, at least as the State, the local regulators, and even the composting managers know, are attributed to the composting, not the dump. As for me personally, we may smell the dump once a year and I personally don’t have a problem with that. We bought, we had to read the complete 1991 EIR for the landfill before purchasing, and based on the government’s contract with the landfill that it was to close in (at that time) 8-10 years, we said, no problem, we will live with it, whatever it is. Now due to recycling and that CCL, (and the world), is not just digging a hole and burying everything, that life is extended until 2019. Again, I have no problem with that. In fact, with our proposal the landfill stays where it is for the next 70+ years, without having to give the Landfill a new permit. I just want the conditions of the contract, the permit, that were negociated and accepted by both the government (the Planning Commission) and the Landfill, be complied with. Whose not environmental now, commenters?

The neighbors have proposed a better answer for the landfill, a Trash to Energy Plant that diverts 90% of the waste stream to recycling, not the 65% or so the current landfill attains. I have some questions about the system, the ones I am aware of have been in operation for over 11 years, so it isn’t new technology. In my interview, Ms. Velie originally spouted out data for an incinerator plant. That is not what this is. I would object to an incinerator anywhere around here.

On the land I purchased was a steal, first of all, my comment was to Ms. Velie’s charge that I bought the land for $75,000. Yes, that would be a steal. I told her that was wrong and corrected her. Well, the land had been on the market for many years before, all of the commenters had a chance to buy it; we paid almost the asking price. And tell me commenters, would you by a 40 acre piece of property that had no water? We had one well that started at 7.5 GPM; after 2 years it had dropped to 1.2 GPM. And the water is very hard and undrinkable, 3,400 ppm TDS. Many had looked at the property before, none bought it. We have drilled 3 dry holes looking for water. A steal? I looked at it as an engineer’s design dream. I had to design and install a whole house reverse osmosis system because the water was so bad. I also had to install a rainwater collection system to get water for our house. I need to collect enough water to last an entire year. It is one of the largest, if not the largest in the state. I have a solar array that has me completely off the grid. And what can be done with the land? It can’t be used for grapes or agriculture, there is no water. It is only good to run 3-4 head of cattle, but there might not be enough water for even that. You call $9,000 an acre a steal? You haven’t looked at many desert parcels to buy. And for those “wise” purchasers out there, who say it was a steal, the property can not be subdivided or split, which was never our intention anyway. But the thing is, we don’t have any of these problems with owning it, or even being next to the Landfill.

In summary, what the neighbors have proposed is environmentally better and potentially cheaper in the long run. We proposed putting the composting in a building onsite, the landfill chose to move it offsite. We propose a trash to energy plant to replace the current digging a hole, the cost will be cheaper and better than the current process. It will extend the landfill’s life from 9 years to 72 years. If you object to this, then I really don’t want to hear you crying about global warming, smog, Diablo Canyon, oil spills, dead salmon, or pidgeons polluting the water in Pismo. Here we are proposing a better solution, possibly with our own money, and the cost to the residents would be less than $2.37/month. It possibly could be a reduction in the costs. To indicate to you how strongly I feel this new technology will work, I am considering locating it on my own property (it only takes 3 acres vs. the 216 acres of landfill). To the commenters above, are you willing to do that? I am putting my money where my mouth is.

This looks like a hit piece on me personally, authored by Waste Connections, in spite of me clearly explaining to Ms. Velie that I was chosen as the spokesperson for the neighbors group, and that I rarely could smell the composting or the landfill, and that I really had no objection to it so long as it operates within its permitted requirements. On the landfill, the same thing, but I think there is a better engineering way to deal with our trash and dumping it in a hole; that is technology from the 1850’s. I won’t dignify the attack Mr. Martin has decided to wage on me personally for an issue that occured 15 years ago.

And Ms. Velei, why did you publish this article before meeting with the neighbors next Tuesday as I had proposed?


Bruce: You make some very serious allegations concerning how Karen put this article together, specifically that she omitted facts that you claim are very pertinent to the overall understanding of the entire situation; so far, every article that Karen has written has always been proven out in the end and every objection by the subjects of her articles have been proven to be “less than honest” to put it mildly. I really hope that Karen did not get this situation wrong, but I also don’t wish for you to proven to be “less than honest” as well. Karen is scheduled to be on Dave’s show tomorrow (8/20/10), so it will interesting to hear Karen explain this story on the air. Your assertions are pretty compelling, your figures seem to be sound, and if everything you bring out is born out as being the truth, then Karen will need a “mea culpa” big time. The only real question I have at this moment? Who’s version of the story is the “truth”?


Karen is going to kick your ass on Congalton tomorrow Bruce. I suggest that people listen, you’ll have yourselves a good laugh. These folks had a calling tree going between them, it was all planned and you can bet they had an agenda and a rather transparent one at that. They were even reminding each other of whose turn it was to complain.

Martin D

Bruce really got the other side of the story out there with this comment. I hope this does not get removed. I always thought investigative journalism was a great way to get the facts out that were not being represented. Karen towed the corporate line, justifying air pollution and possible health risks for the big Corporation while sliming the little guys. I have lost all respect for her and her editor Dave Congalton. I really wish she would have gotten the facts straight rather than trying to beat the New Times to the press.


I’m very disguested with Supervisor Adam Hill’s response to this issue. He presents himself as pro environmental. Yes, there may be additional costs to users but even more serious are the multiple environmental impacts. I can’t help but wonder if he’s more concerned with his next election and doesn’t want to alienate potential voters.

Its hard for me to believe that it only takes 3 complaints to the Department of Resource Recycling and Recovery to stop a green waste recycling center. Do they go out and check the complaints to confirm there is a problem or is it just based on a complaint. (Has Supervisor Hill gone out and checked?) If that is the law it needs to be rewritten and Supervisor Hill should start the process to change the law. If he doesn’t take action other people will buy land next to dumps cheap and then try to shut them down.

As for Falkenhagen he is one smelly dude.

Martin D

I understand your frustration,3 neighbor complaints would not be fair. But in reality it took over 600 complaints to get just 3 State N.O.V. citations, because there was no local State inspection taking place. Karen did not make that clear.


What a scoundrel. This is going to cost every resident in SLO County increased fee’s for our green disposal and a loss of county revenues. I have a perfect solution and while Mr “F” won’t like it, I think the rest of us just might. SLO County has a need for a green waste disposal / compost facility and if there was ever a good cause for an eminent domain acquisition this is it. It is also very very affordable, 40 acres purchased at $365K back in 2000 hasn’t appreciated much either. If there was ever a reason to contact your CC and the BOS and campaign to save our green landfill facility, I’d say it’s NOW.

Buy out the 40 acres SAVE THE LANDFILL…


The health and quality of life being at risk for a few for the community at large is OK?


“State laws prohibit green waste odors, even the smell of Christmas trees, while allowing stronger odors to emanate from trash.”

And don’t forget, the highest amounts of methane released into the atmosphere from cows…

Great ready folks because when theses fees along with the carbon tax start popping up someone is going to profit…


This story reminds me so much of people who buy a home in the flight path of an airport and then complain about the noise of the aircraft; did they really expect to buy next to a landfill and NOT have any odor issues? The way I see this situation; either the buyers of the land were extremely naive about what sort of smells they were going to face, or they seriously were mislead about the landfill closing in a few years, or they planned all along to try and shut down the landfill as soon as the current permit expired. If they were that naive about the odors, then that is just too bad for them. If they were mislead about buying next door to a landfill, then sue the realtors, and if they were planning to attempt to shut down the landfill all along, let’s have the Board of Supervisors have their land condemned, buy it from them and expand the landfill. We don’t need to contribute to even more air pollution by having our garbage, recycling and green waste trucked out of county. So, you landowners near the landfill, are you idiots or just evil?

Martin D

Landfill and compost are two very different things, confused by the article.

Landfill = good.

Compost = bad.


Typical SLO county BS. They move onto the mesa and complain about dust. Move next to a landfill and complain…. Yeah something stinks its the A**holes who should know better from the beginning. Why do we continually have to cater to the needs of a few when there is an overwhelming community good in having green composting in county?


As for moving onto the mesa; the source of the dust was only recently confirmed by scientific studies, so how many people who are now complaining about the dust issue on the mesa were informed before they bought about the dust issue?


The study was scientifically faulty and confirmed nothing on the Mesa which is why they are starting over with new independent scientists approved by all sides. Second, there is no medical evidence that blowing sand is an issue, and if it is we will have to close all of the Southern California beaches from Malibu to Coronado Island in San Diego because millions live within blocks of these beaches where the sand blows all the time.


What is particularly ironic is the public wanting green waste recycling, recycling in addition to regular treash pickup, solar power plants, wind power plants, desal plants for fresh water, cell towers for added reception, all the green convieniences, yet no one wants them in their view or backyard.

You just can’t have it both ways…

Most of you have it nailed, Don’t move in next to the airport, then start whining…


“Falkenhagan, who purchased 40 acres of land near the dump for $365,000 in 2000, objects to the argument that they purchased the land at a lower cost because of its location.

“While it appears that the neighbors are now being portrayed as whiners and we bought the property for cheap because it was near a landfill, I take issue with that,” Falkenhagan said in an email. “When I bought in 2000, I paid a very high dollar for the land.”

OH Give me a break. What’s going on here is more than apparent. Do we all have to pay double to have our green picked up now? Isn’t there something that can be dona about this. How about if we buy the 40 acres back from Falkenhagan for the $365 he paid?? WIN/WIN


Ah where to start so I don’t turn this into a novel. Well how about this little gem….

“Falkenhagan said they oppose the extension because the smells are unbelievable and the county should stop using a landfill to dispose of trash”.

HELLO!!! Stop using a landfill to dispose of trash?? What in the HELL do you think you put in a landfill????

Or this diddy. “When I bought in 2000, I paid a very high dollar for the land.” By my math that is about $9600.00 per acre. Can anyone say STEAL!! Hell at that time in Paso, per acre cost of land in the Geneso area was $30,000-$50,000. What utter BULLS**T stories.

Last. So these four people get a steal on the land, hold up the landfill and EVERYBODY in SLO will get to foot the bill for them in the amount of three to four times your bill. So I guess my question to anyone here posting living in SLO, do you like this deal??


Once again it is not about just 4 properties there are families that have been here for 2 and 3 generation. and a majority of the properties were here long before the composting. AND they have been in gross violation of their permit since day one. What would happen if you in in violation of building permits at your home? Would you be allowed to just let it go?

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