The Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday took the first step toward adopting rules for home-based food businesses, although some members expressed concern whether restrictions should be added to prevent possible neighborhood problems.
Council members unanimously agreed to amend the Santa Maria Municipal Code to spell out the rules for cottage food operations.
Since 2013, the state has allowed small home-based businesses that involve the preparation and sale of “low-risk” food such as some baked goods, pasta, jams, dried fruit and popcorn. Under the California Homemade Food Act, local governments can adopt zoning regulations to address parking, traffic or noise impacts that could affect neighborhoods. The county and most local cities adopted their rules previously.
“I think this is a long time coming," Mayor Alice Patino said. "There’s a lot of people who have been wanting to this for years, and they have not had the (legal) ability to do this.”
The city rules would allow activities such as direct sales and deliveries only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week. Other regulations would limit the cottage food operation to a maximum of 20 employee, customer and delivery vehicle trips between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic wouldn’t be restricted.
As of May, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 231 cottage food operators, including 14 in the city of Santa Maria. The 14 in Santa Maria were contacted regarding the proposed regulations and none complained about the hours of operation or trips per day, according to city staff.
But the fact the activities would be allowed seven days a week raised concerns among some council members that weekend operations could cause trouble in neighborhoods when more people are home and on-street parking may be at a premium.
Councilman Bob Orach said he objected to allow operations on Sundays because “sometimes Sunday is a sacred time in neighborhoods — kids are home, families are doing things.
“I don’t want to put neighbors in conflict on a day that probably should be reserved for doing other things, besides earning your home business, having deliveries, those types of things that in my mind is not necessarily appropriate … I think Sunday should be off-limits.”
Patino agreed, saying that along with not allowing operations on Sundays she would also like to see fewer hours on Saturdays.
“I don’t want to shut anybody down, but I think these parameters might be very responsible,” Patino said.
Councilman Jack Boysen noted that many people have a full-time job, leaving only weekends available for their home-based business. But, he added, some people use Sunday to sleep in beyond 7 a.m.
“I don’t know if we can flexible on that at all, as far as maybe limiting the weekend hours,” Boysen said.
Still, he noted that home-based businesses are growing popular among those seeking to earn more money.
Community Development Director Larry Appel said state rules don’t restrict days of operations. A cottage food operator may have its busiest day on Sundays, to bake bread to meet a customer’s order, he added.
“Our whole premise behind home occupations is that you shouldn’t notice a difference in your neighborhood if your neighbor has a home occupation,” Appel said. “That’s the indication it’s a good operation. … We really wanted to try to give it a chance without having to put that type of restriction on it to see how they work.”
Of the 14 operating legally in the city, none has a generated complaint, Appel said.
Assistant City Attorney Phil Sinco warned the state rules only allow “reasonable regulations” related to noise, parking and traffic so the council would need to make findings justifying implementing more restrictions.
He urged the council to adopt the rules as recommended by Community Development Department staff .
“Right now, we’re just speculating that these operations are going to cause problems on the weekend when they may not cause any problems at all,” Sinco said.
Ultimately, the council unanimously adopted the rules with a pledge to review them. The ordinance must return for a second reading of the ordinance in two weeks and then will go into effect about 30 days later.