Former Lindsay Olive plant goes from pits to pot

Cannabis cultivator to begin growing marijuana indoors in a small portion of 35-acre complex which once made Lindsay a household name

LINDSAY – After decades of watching weeds take over the former Lindsay Olive site, Lindsay may have finally found some weed to revitalize the 35-acre property once home to the household name.

At its March 9 meeting, the Lindsay City Council approved a conditional use permit for the indoor cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of commercial cannabis at property located at the corner of North Westwood Avenue and West Tulare Road.

Mayor Ramona Caudillo asked business owner Eric Hanson how many people he would employ. Hanson said he will start the operation with less than 20 employees working out of just one of the buildings on the complex doing indoor cultivation in a cold storage unit. He said the state requires a new license for every 22,000 square feet of processing, so they are starting with one, 10,000-square foot building. The company will only be using a portion of the cold storage unit on the property to start. He said the facility needs to generate enough money to fund expansion into leasing and filling other areas of the industrial complex.

“There is a long wait to get licenses from the state,” Hanson said. “That’s why we need to get this started.”

Councilmember Hipolito Cerros made the motion to approve the conditional use permit. The motion was seconded by Councilmember Yolanda Flores and passed unanimously.

“I think this is a great idea and it would be exciting to see other businesses in other buildings,” Cerros said.

The permit was approved on conditions the project did not impact the city with odor, smoke, its water use or issues with public safety. Any potential of odor from cultivation operations will be controlled through ventilation. Water use is estimated to be less than 3,000 gallons per day at full operation. If additional water demand at the project site is needed, alternate water sources from the city may be implemented. Project operation activities will be inside the existing buildings and no significant noise level increase are expected from project operations. The project will be secured with a camera system that can be monitored by local law enforcement. Solid waste from project operations will mostly be compostable plant materials. Recycling and repurposing waste will be implemented as required. The property is about 1,000 feet from the nearest school, Jefferson, a K-8 school located at corner of Hermosa Street and Westwood Avenue.

The facility has been vacant since July 2011 when Tulare Frozen Foods (TFF) closed its doors and laid off 90 employees. TFF was hurt by rising shipping costs under the previous ownership of short haul lines operated by the San Joaquin Valley Railroad. According to property records, Capstone Business Credit LLC acquired the property for $2 million during a public auction in January 2008. That amount was about half of the loan that Lindsay Foods International defaulted on in 2007 after it declared bankruptcy.

But most in town still refer to the plant as the former Lindsay Olive Growers. In 1967 the plant was home to the Consolidated Olive Growers, a combination of Lindsay Ripe Olive and Orinda Olive Corporation, the largest olive canner in the world. At its peak, the plant employed 500 people and earned Lindsay the nickname of the “Olive Capital of the World.” Lindsay Olive Growers ceased operations at the plant in 1992 after mismanagement, lawsuits and steady increase of highly subsidized foreign competitors.

Hanson purchased the 373,000-square foot processing plant for $890,300 during an internet auction of tax-defaulted properties June 2016. That was well under what the property was valued just a year earlier when the plant almost sold to IND Lifetech for $3.5 million. The British Columbia-based company was interested in acquiring the facility to produce powdered milk to ship to an emerging dairy market in China. The deal was held up indefinitely as the IND Lifetech awaited approval for work visas that never materialized. The company had made claims it would have hired more than 300 people.

Hanson has been quiet about his project for the last two years. Dustan Bagliere, who represents Hanson, attended the Feb. 12, 2019 council meeting to urge the city to amend its zoning ordinance to allow cannabis businesses to operate manufacturing in industrial zones, and testing of cannabis in both the industrial and professional office zones. It was the first step in allowing Hanson to develop his business since Lindsay voters approved a marijuana tax in November 2018.

Under Measure G, the city can tax Hanson’s business up to $25 per square foot or up to 10% of gross receipts. Proceeds from the tax can be used for anything but priority was given to public safety, street maintenance and park maintenance. Now that the business is moving forward, it may provide much needed funding Lindsay’s Public Safety Department, which Chief Chris Hughes told the council earlier month has been under budgeted for years and that asking its officers to pull double duty as firefighters is no longer a sustainable model.

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