A Beef Over Cows : Odor of Larger Herd Would Be Overpowering, Oceanside Residents Say

Times Staff Writer

Lewis Kintz doesn't have anything against cows. But he's not wild about what comes out of their tail ends.

A resident of east Oceanside whose home sits downwind of the Whelan Dairy, Kintz in recent years has become a reluctant authority on manure--and on what life is like less than a mile from the source.

"It's brutal, and it's downright embarrassing when you've got guests over," says Kintz, 69. "We've got a real nice patio. But in the evening, when the wind's against us, it's useless. That odor just bowls you over."

For years Kintz and hundreds of his neighbors have lived, albeit grudgingly, with the stench, figuring that short of conducting a surreptitious slaughter, there wasn't much they could do.

But now they're mad: The county Planning Commission has recommended that Whelan Dairy be permitted to increase its legal herd size from 327 to an unlimited number of cattle. County supervisors, who have jurisdiction over the dairy because it lies in a pocket of unincorporated land bordered by the city and Camp Pendleton, will consider the matter next month.

"When I heard the county was changing the zone (to allow larger herds), that really put me into orbit," said Kintz, who, ironically, grew up on a small dairy farm in Connecticut. "Living with 327 cows is one thing. Any more is just outrageous."

On Wednesday, Kintz and a handful of irate neighbors took their case before the Oceanside City Council, both to criticize officials for not acting more vigorously on their behalf and to plead for help. Kintz suggested that council members might have aborted the dairy's campaign to expand its herd had they made more of a fuss.

In August, City Manager Suzanne Foucault sent a letter to Board of Supervisors Chairman Leon Williams, expressing residents' complaints and urging that the county evaluate requests for herd expansions on a case-by-case basis, rather than change the zoning at Whelan Ranch. Then, in a September letter, Foucault amended that position; the city would withdraw its objections if the county would impose some limit on the herd, she wrote.

County planners agreed, and recommended that an agricultural preserve contract governing the property limit the number of cattle at the dairy to 1,200 cows and 300 calves. If the supervisors agree, that contract would supersede the Planning Commission's decision that an unlimited number of livestock be permitted to wander about Whelan lands.

None of this sits well with Kintz and other cattle-odor victims. "The city bungled it and acted irresponsibly for going ahead with that compromise without surveying the community first," Kintz said Wednesday.

Council members conceded that they apparently were unaware of the strength of the stench.

"I think we should take the bull by the horns on this . . . and go back to the county and ask them to reconsider," Councilman Sam Williamson said. He added that residential development under way near the dairy will soon bring in homeowners--who are apt to complain about the cattle odor.

After a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to send letters of protest to each county supervisor. Mayor Larry Bagley also asked that the city Water Utilities Department investigate residents' allegations that Pilgrim Creek, which runs by the dairy, is badly polluted by runoff from Whelan Dairy.

A spokesman for the dairy farm could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Oceanside is not the only community embroiled in a bovine debate. A brouhaha over herd size in rural Valley Center has prompted Supervisor Paul Eckert to propose a zoning change for dairies countywide.

In the Valley Center episode, owners of an 80-acre family dairy triggered a neighborhood outcry when it doubled its herd size from 200 head to more than 400. Both of those figures violate zoning laws, which permit roughly one cow per acre.

John McCormick, an assistant planner with the county, said the Valley Center example is not unusual.

"Dairies across the county are expanding simply because they require larger and larger herds to make a profit," McCormick said. Indeed, operators of Whelan Dairy have admitted their herd already numbers 1,200, not the 327 permitted on the property. Whelan Dairy covers 323 acres.

Eckert's proposed amendment, which is due before the board early next year, would increase the number of head permitted on each acre to 25--10 adult cows and 15 calves, McCormick said.

Because Whelan Dairy is the object of the special zone change and agricultural contract, it would not be covered under Eckert's amendment.

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