Morgan Hill – The stench and bugs are Ralph Santos’ main complaints, and he doesn’t believe either will vanish if his neighbor – the largest composting facility in California – spreads its product far and wide.
The Z-Best Composting Facility is asking county planning commissioners for permission to expand onto the remaining 80 acres of its 157-acre property, less than five miles from Gilroy on the south side of Highway 25. Fifty acres of the additional 80 acres will be used to spread out its 10-foot-high mounds of manure, tree branches and other “farm and yard” waste, while the remaining acreage will allow for additional parking and a new processing center.
The company and the county say the project may actually reduce odors, but Santos, who has lived a half-mile northwest of the site since it opened in 1998, doesn’t buy it.
“As time has gone on, they’ve covered more and more of the ground to the point we have a major odor issue, a tremendous increase in flies and large trucks traveling down there,” Santos said. “They’ve also been allowed now to put in restaurant and food waste. Combining all this, it’s gone from something that was a minor nuisance to a major problem. Now they’re looking to cover over the balance.”
Santos claims that such an expansion was not contemplated in the site’s original environmental review. The new round of studies he is calling for could delay the project by a year or more.
“When you hear the word ‘expansion’ project, people think ‘Oh my god, it’s going to get bigger, there’s going to be more traffic.’ That’s’ just not the case,” said Peggy O’Laughlin, Z-Best’s attorney. “We’re spreading out the compost we have.”
Nine hundred tons of waste arrive at Z-Best each day, though its permits allow a daily average of 1,500 tons daily. The expansion would technically allow it to reach that maximum capacity, but that is not the company’s plans. Instead, it plans to spread out the 10-foot-high mounds of “green” waste – known as windrows – by expanding into the 80 acres on the east side of its property. The new windrows will be half the height and far shorter than the 350-foot mounds. The wider surface the compost is spread upon, the more efficient the composting process is, according to a county analysis.
More importantly for the 16 homes within a mile of Z-Best, the larger composting area could reduce the odors emanating from the property. The handling of compost, such as grinding and turning, is the main source of odor, and extra space means waste can sit untouched in windrows for more time.
“I think it actually will be no new impact, and it actually might be a benefit,” said Rob Eastman, a county planner who reviewed the project. “You have these high compost piles that create more odor. Now you’ll be able to spread them out and manage them better.”
County planners have recommended approval of the project, pending resolution of drainage and fire safety issues at the site. Planning commissioners expect to vote on the project Feb. 1.
Serdar Tumgoren, Senior Staff Writer, covers City Hall for The Dispatch. Reach him at 847-7109 or