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.


These people have the right to ask that existing laws are enforced, the same right everybody commenting here has. Your solution, if the law is on these land owners’ side, is to get the law changed.

Booty JuJu

Like I said, people believe we are smart enough to execute time travel, cold fusion, and an endless life of consumption and goodies, that we’re entitled to drink that free Bubble Up and eat the Rainbow stew. Yet we can’t even manage to keep our sewers from clogging with tampons, our beaches free of human excrement and medical waste, and our country sides free of ginormous mountains of toxic garbage and stink.

We have NO IDEA how to manage our crap and NO DESIRE to do so. You lot living in Cold Canyon are truly and utterly effed. I suggest you cut your losses and move, the sooner the better. Forget you ever lived there and start new lives in a better environment. The only hope you have is for a miraculous new invention or for people to be willing to spend more to toss their weekly pile. In other words, by staying put you are relying on humans to completely change centuries of established behaviours.


I bought a house next to the airport and the airplane noise bugs me. They should close the airport down. My mom bought a house by the fairgrounds in Paso and the concert noise keeps her up at night. They should close the fair down. I can hear the highway noise from my house, they should close off the highway and make people walk. Come on folks, you bought a house next to a dump. Did you think it would smell like roses all the time?


First of all let’s get this absolutely clear. The only canyon in Cold Canyon is in the name. From the beginning garbage was being piled on the side of a hill in an area where the wind blows more than 15 mph every third day of the year. It has been very ugly being neighbors to Cold Canyon. My parents gave me the parcel I lived on when I was married; I was born here in the summer of 1875. The only canyon around here was named after my mother’s family, Carpenter. Many of my relatives live on treasured home places downwind of the dump. One of my sons and his wife, having gone back to the dust, are part of the landfill now which is a true tragedy.

Our government has let all of us down over the years. The County Health Department, Environmental Health, considered it harassment, and told us so, when they took our phone calls about fires at the dump when burning garbage was illegal. Year after year when papers and windblown trash, enough to cover every square foot of land with a piece of trash in a swath a half mile from Cold Canyon we were told to stop calling. The owner of the dump would come up our driveway honking his horn and screaming that we had better stop calling the Health Department if we knew what was good for us. Hospitals used to send waste which the seagulls would rain down, blood-soaked bandages, sanitary napkins, nasty biohazards. Bank computer printouts blowing in the wind, some from people we knew or knew of.

Various relatives have tried over the years to reason with the County Government about this problem in the middle of paradise. We were taken aside by the more compassionate and told “All is lost; it is already sited there, too bad. The environmental reviews to site a new landfill is prohibitively expensive compared to jury rigging this one to make do. All it takes is 3 votes on the Board of Supervisors and it is a done deal.

The County proposed the last expansion to be done without an Environmental Impact Report. A number of my relatives, including the sixth generation to live in our paradise objected. Chumash relics? No matter. The three foot wide ceremonial bowl with hand prints and shell pieces had been moved since its discovery in the 1800 a few hundred yards and according to the expert for the EIR so this treasure was not relevant to the expansion. Point after point was considered to be of no significance.

We were there for the first Board of Supervisors hearing that allowed Cold Canyon to open. Prior to Cold Canyon there was just the Dump run by the same people a bit closer to San Luis. In those days pigs were raised on the garbage, which eventually became illegal. The same family that ran the dump had a sausage company in town. We were told there would be strict controls on this new fangled dump, don’t call it a dump, it is a sanitary landfill! Nothing the county has said has ever been proven true for those of us who have been here before the dump was.

We used to take care of our own trash. Real compost is not smelly. It seems that Cold Canyon has a lot to learn about real composting. They have a lot of land and they could be composting correctly. We as a society have a lot to learn about trash and waste. When things are thrown away… there is no place called Away. Waste is something we need to create less of. Cold Canyon folks need to become better at real composting, not just the garbage companies idea of composting.


“I was born here in the summer of 1875. ” Bertie


that would be the grannie I think.


You’re 135 years old? Congratulations.

Still think it’s BS to build NEW homes near the dump and then complain about it.


excellent post, bertie.

thanks for sharing the anecdote about the Cattaneo’s pigs.


Martin D

The compost operation was shut down by the State, not the neighbors. Waste Connections Corp. did not comply with the conditions it agreed to. If your airport did not meet it’s noise or safety standards, it could be closed as well. What you may not know is that there was no local State enforcement. Waste Connections got away with air polution way too long, and finally got caught. The Cataneo’s and Rizzoli’s were not as Corparate and were much better neighbors. I have no sympathy for the Corporation that Karen is trying to protect.


I don’t know why everyone thinks that the group of neighbors are so “greedy”, all we want is fresh air in our neighborhood and I can’t believe anyone would say that is to much to ask. The only one that is greedy is CCL who is making all the money in this story.

The odors are very disturbing and determine if you can be outside and enjoy where you live or if you have to go into the house. I have personally smelled this and some days I could even smell it inside my house. It is very disturbing to everyday life at my house. This is a problem that needs addressing the group of neighbors has worked with the landfill to help them determine what may be causing the odors and help them try to mitigate the odors. The landfill has been unable to even get the odors to be fewer. This is a very real problem that many people are living with not just the people that live “next door” to the dump. The composting is also a “new” process they are working on there and it is causing problems so it needs to change. The landfill has decided to move it to a better location where it won’t be disturbing the neighbors. Many of the neighbors have lived here long before the composting project. I am a second generation and I have lived in this canyon for 30 years and it was never a problem until recently.

For all you people that live in town how would you like it if your neighbor had something rotting in there backyard on a regular basis and the odor cloud would come over to your house on a daily basis?

For everyone who wants the composting to stay in our town maybe you should look into getting a composting bin in your own backyard. I personally know people who received a composting bin from their landfill and they make there own compost and it works out great for everyone.

Please stop attacking your fellow residents of San Luis Obispo specifically Bruce he should not be singled out as there is a large group of people with this problem. Also this article is very one sided maybe the author should have thought of getting more information from other parties not just the huge corporation that is making all the money and one land owner that lives out here. And maybe the author should stay on topic instead of bringing up one of our neighbors past that has absolutely nothing to do with the composting at the landfill!


Cold Canyon Native: Was the landfill there when you bought your place there? If so, it would seem that you really have no room to complain. If someone (or a company) bought a place near me in town and then started to use that residence to create some awful smelling business, they would have several issues to deal with, like proper zoning, having a business license to operate a business in a residential area and so on and so forth. The crux of the situation is that unless you were living in Cold Canyon before the landfill opened, you were fully aware that there was a landfill operating there and you should have expected that there were going to be odors coming from that operation. As a separate issue, YES, the landfill should employee the latest and greatest technologies in removing as much recycling out of the waste stream as possible, the composting should most likely be contained in an indoor operation, but for the neighbors of the landfill to move to shut down the facility without consideration for the spiraling costs that everyone in the city will have to pay seems to be self-centered and self-serving, similar to my analogy about people buying near an airport then complaining about the noise. If the issue of the neighbors is truly about the efficiency of the operation out there, address that issue, don’t cloak it complaints about the smells.


Bobfromsanluis I was born here on this property and have lived here most of my life. I do not own any property. This is about the composting being shut down not the landfill and this composting permit began I believe in 2004 long after I lived here so no I did not move to this problem. We as a neighbor group are simply asking CCL to comply with the state laws and regulations. When I was growing up we rarely heard or smelled the dump and it was not an issue. It has now grown into this giant mountain taller than most any others in the area and it has crept out to the road and it is now a problem.

The landfill is now awaiting a new permit as the one they have for their business is ending and I guess we will all see what the EIR comes back with to decide if it is going to greatly impact our health and lives.

Nothing ever stays the same forever maybe it is time to examine some more ideas of what to do about our cities trash. If they were trying to find a new location for a landfill the county would never approve it where it is now because it is to crowded with residential housing. And it is located in our cities precious Edna Valley. They are trying to get a new permit the one they have is ending!

Martin D

The landfill does not stink, the composting does. It was added later. If it smelled like freshly ground Christmas trees, we would not be having this discussion. I’m not the Grinch. the problem is, it smells like dog poop. I did not agree to move next to that. The landfill, I have no problem with other than noise, traffic and trash on 227.


You live next to a dump fool. You and the Air Resources Board are real the clowns it appears. So, the answer is pollute our air with he diesel fumes to truck the compost into another backyard. Really smart people. Deal with it.

Booty JuJu

We feel entitled to cars that run on water, yet we still can’t even manage AM radio reception.


Ms. Velie, Your article looks more like propaganda for Waste Connections, the company that owns both Cold Canyon Landfill and all the local trash collections companies. We as neighbors have always complained to the county about the smell, noise and trash that is created by the Landfill but it always fell of deaf ears. That is until the EIR of about 2 years ago when it clearly stated that noise and smell were not problems because there were little or no complaints. That is when we started keeping a log of who and when these were problems. The other huge issue with the composting facility is their using 20,000 gallons of water a day. If they use all of our ground water what are our homes, farms and ranches to do? It is my belief that the reason they are moving the compost is because the do not want to do a Health Assessment survey, if they find out that there is a health hazard from the landfill either from composting or the fill its-self this will set president for all landfills and composting operations, an expense they do not want to incur.

The property I live on had its first house put on it in about 1948, the main house built about 1960 and I purchased it in 2004. It was not cheap!

As to burying our trash this is out dated technology how many more years can we just keep throwing every thing away? It is time we step up as a community and insist that our trash be converted into energy. If or rather when the Cold Canyon gets its new permit to expand the size, that is only a 25 year fix. WHAT RE WE GOING TO DO THEN?

Let get on this problem now and not wait until it is too late, as we most often do.


This is exactly what we are talking about. You bought a house in 2004 and decided to move in next to a landfill…. Now you complain about the odors. Its no different than a person who buys a house near an airport and then complains about the noise. We all choose where we want to live…


Hmmmm. Before Falkhagen moved in, an insignificant number of complaints. He organizes a campaign to create complaints. Composting moves out as a result of complaints. He offers to build a facility to solve the “problem” (at a profit, of course). Something really stinks – and it isn’t the compost.


Bruce did not organize this campaign, he just spear headed it.

Greg McClure

I’m glad I read the comments far enough to get to srichison’s comments because Icould’nt have said it better…and gotten it printed HAH!!! What an arrogant, self centered, LAW ABIDING, intelligent piece of work! Mr.B.F that isn’t the landfill you smell it is your other neighbor, Mr. M.D., and yourself. What amazes me is that any agency would take 700 complaints from a handful of folks serious and not have them locked up for harassment. These people don’t even deserve to live where they do, the dump is way too good for them.


“…cost each household $0.76/month, less than 1/2 the cost of downloading a ringtone each month…”

I don’t download ring-tones, Bruce.

“…You call $9,000 an acre a steal? You haven’t looked at many desert parcels to buy….”

That part of Highway 227 isn’t desert, Bruce.

Who are you greedy people trying to kid? You’re willing to nail others so you can turn a buck. You should be ashamed of yourself.


Those 4 landowners are nothing but 4 greedy troublemakers. All they want is money. It doesn’t matter to them if their greed will be satisfied by higher garbage rates. It doesn’t matter if more fuel is burned and more pollution is produced to haul green waste to SM due to their greed.

Maybe SLO County should get creative and offer to buy the four out at current fair market value. When they refuse, maybe we can use eminent domain to force a sale. Then their land can be used to extend the life of the dump for an even longer period.

40 acres on Highway 227 in 2000 for $365K? That WAS cheap and it was cheap for a reason — your property is next to a dump you greedy troublemaker. Falkenhagan, Darway, et. al. you people are nothing more than thieving scoundrels!


There are more then 4 properties involve here.