Mushroom farm faces new deadline

Petaluma grower must move foul-smelling compost operation by July

January 16, 2002


The Petaluma Mushroom Farm on Tuesday was given less than six
months to find a new place for its foul-smelling compost operation.

The Board of Supervisors, hearing an appeal by neighbors, gave the farm
until July 1 to find a new site or a supplier for its specialized compost.

Mushroom farmer David Cerini had a Nov. 1 deadline but was given an
extra year to complete the move by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The board, expressing concern over permit violations at the farm and
impatience with the pace of relocating the compost operation, cut Cerini's
time to find a solution in half.

Supervisor Mike Kerns, who represents the area, said it is a difficult
situation because it pits rural residents who complained of an unbearable
"rotting carcass" stench against an agricultural business.

But he said the mushroom farm must find an alternative to its composting

"I don't know how I can make this any more clear. I want the composting
operation out of the Thompson Lane site, period," Kerns said.

The Petaluma Mushroom Farm label is well-known locally on
supermarket shelves, with about $4.5 million in annual revenues. The farm
grows up to 5.5 million pounds of mushrooms annually and creates the
straw-based compost in which they are planted.

Dozens of neighbors showed up for the appeal hearing.

Afterward, some said the 5-0 vote is the first sign the county will get
tough on the farm. They said they can't invite friends to barbecue or go
outside to read a book or garden on days when the smell is bad.

"If it's gone, we'll have a block party to celebrate," a neighbor said.

She said the board sounded as if it won't be sympathetic if the composting
operation isn't moved -- or a solution isn't offered -- by July.

"There needs to be some relief to the neighbors, not just an endless
continuation," Supervisor Michael Cale said.

The farm's attorney, Eric Koenigshofer, said the owner is planning a
modern composting facility at a site surrounded by agricultural property
on Roblar Road about a mile from Bloomfield. But residents have sued to
halt that project, and it is unknown when or if that project will be finished.

The farm hasn't found anyone willing to sell compost to them, farm
manager Duncan Soldner said.

Businesses seeking to sell compost to the farm would have to get a county
permit and would likely not be able to get started by the July 1 deadline,
Koenigshofer said. "We'll keep looking," he said.

He said if the county were to shut the farm down, it would put 80
employees out of work and jeopardize the farm's position in the

Koenigshofer hopes the litigation over the Bloomfield site can be settled
before the July 1 deadline, but he said that doesn't appear likely.

He said Cerini wouldn't be able to relocate to the Bloomfield site for more
than a year under an optimistic scenario.

You can reach Staff Writer Tobias Young at 762-9498 or

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