Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Mushroom farm permit in jeopardy

October 18, 2000
Press Democrat Bureau

Petaluma Mushroom Farm has until January to resolve wastewater disposal and other issues with county and state agencies or face possible revocation of its use permit. Meanwhile, a Sonoma County judge is expected to rule next month on the farm's request for a one-year extension of the deadline to relocate an odor-causing composting operation from Thompson Lane. County officials told the Board of Zoning Adjustments that the judge's decision and other permit-related matters should be determined in time for the board's Jan. 25 meeting. If the issues are not resolved, officials probably will recommend permit revocation, said Pete Parkinson, assistant director of the Permit and Resource Management Department.

Two BZA members said last week they were running out of patience with the mushroom farm, which has been tagged for numerous permit violations since 1994. "I don't see enough progress," board member Jeff Civian said, endorsing member Howard Levy's suggestion to revoke the farm's permit. But the board ultimately voted, 4-1, to postpone action until January. "Not all of this is their fault," Chairman Charles Cooke said, referring to the delay in resolving the permit issues.

Petaluma Mushroom Farm, in operation since 1973, is the county's largest mushroom farm. It supplies brown and white mushrooms to about 250 customers in Northern California and Hawaii, including grocery chains and pizza restaurants. West Petaluma neighbors have complained about the farm's odor, noise, water consumption and truck traffic since 1983.

The currently unresolved issues include:
Obtaining a county permit retroactively for a wastewater pipeline installed under Thompson Lane.
Reaching agreement with the Regional Water Quality Control Board over wastewater disposal at the 6.7-acre Thompson Lane site. In February, water board inspectors documented an illegal wastewater discharge and complained about "the recurrent nature" of such permit violations.

Zoning board members complained last week about the time it has taken the state water board to resolve the case.

A court order requiring relocation of the composting facility, part of farm owner David Cerini's settlement of a pollution complaint filed by the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office. The farm also paid $15,000 in penalties. The relocation deadline was September, but Eric Koenigshofer, attorney for the mushroom farm, said he is seeking a one-year extension. Cerini has purchased a vacant 92-acre site near Bloomfield, where he plans to move the composting operation and build an additional mushroom farm, Koenigshofer said.

Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Holtzman said his office is not opposing the farm's request for an extension, on the condition that no subsequent extensions will be allowed. Cerini's delay in moving the composting is reasonable, Holtzman said, because the site at Roblar Road and Valley Ford Road is better suited to the operation. Bowing to protests from residents on Middle Two Rock Road, Cerini scrapped plans to expand the mushroom farm and move the composting to that area. A court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7 on the farm's request for another year to relocate the composting.

A neighbor of the Thompson Lane farm, complained last week about the repeated deadline extensions. "You enable them to make a mockery of the system," the neighbor told the county zoning board.

"I have to agree that we lack credibility," Levy said. But board member Nadin Sponamore rejected punitive action, saying the mushroom farm had tried to resolve the issues. "I don't see that there is anything they could have done differently," she said.

County officials said they thought the outstanding issues, including the court hearing, would be resolved by the Jan. 25 meeting. At that time, the zoning board will consider the Thompson Lane permit issues and approval of the expansion on Roblar Road.

"I'm confident we'll have all our ducks in a row when January 25 rolls around," Koenigshofer said.

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