Following a heated debate about the role of government and the nature of enforcement, a divided San Luis Obispo City Council voted 3-2 during its March 17 meeting to introduce an ordinance that would ban causing “offensive” odors to waft across any parcel or property line.
As passed, the ordinance states that “it is hereby declared to be unlawful and a public nuisance to cause or permit any persistent odors, which are offensive to individuals of normal sensitivity, to emanate across any parcel or property line.”
The council’s debate centered on how to define “offensive” and “normal sensitivity,” as well as establishing the overall necessity of the ordinance in the first place.
“We will be reasonable in our interpretation of this ordinance,” said Councilman John Ashbaugh, speaking in favor of the law. “We will ask for mediation in most cases so people don’t have to go through the whole rigmarole, but there are some cases where people depend on [the city] to have professionals in place.”
In contrast, Council Members Dan Carpenter and Dan Rivoire—who both voted against introducing the ordinance—argued that the odor law was vague, subjective, and overreaching.
“It’s just not an enforceable law; there’s just too much subjectivity, and I can’t support it,” Carpenter said. “It’s going to be a nightmare to enforce, and it’ll be staff time intensive.”
The odor ordinance is the byproduct of a May 2014 council discussion about the impacts of medical marijuana cultivation, when the council opted not to ban medical pot growing, but did direct staff to craft a proposal focused on the “potential nuisance effects of medical marijuana cultivation, such as odor,” according to the city staff report.
Mayor Jan Marx supported introducing the ordinance, which she said was specifically designed to address bad odor situations. She also opined that the law will “help the community get along better.”
Rivoire directly objected to that conclusion, pointing out that SLO residents should be able to resolve neighborhood odor issues among themselves—without the involvement of city code enforcement staff.
“This ordinance won’t help, and I’d really hope there are other ways we can work towards mediation,” Rivoire said.
Four speakers addressed the odor ordinance during public comment, and none supported introducing the law.
“A smell is a hard thing to control,” pointed out Don Hedrick, a frequent council critic.
The ordinance is slated to return for a second reading and a final vote during the council’s March 31 meeting.