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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:18 pm | Fair 49º


Letter to the Editor: ‘Clearly, something went wrong’ with Santa Barbara County Wine Ordinance

“Clearly, something went wrong.”

Supervisor Salud Carbajal made this apt observation at the close of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ review of the Proposed Winery Ordinance after 65 wine industry speakers passionately and emotionally objected to the Proposed Winery Ordinance.

Only two spoke in favor of the ordinance and neither were from the wine industry. Supervisor Carbajal also correctly noted there was a “problem with the process.”

The wine industry has been scratching its collective heads for the past four-plus years as we attended 27 public meetings, four Planning Commission meetings and spoke hundreds of times without any apparent impact.

We believed we must have been lousy communicators because no matter to whom or how many times we explained our issues and problems, the planners continued to propose the most regressive wine industry ordinance in California and thus in the United States.

Arbitrary numbers were produced. We knew they made no sense. When we asked the planners how they came up with their numbers, they ignored us.

In contrast, the task force that developed the current ordinance in 2004 spent about six months meeting twice a month to develop it. The Board of Supervisors approved it 5-0.

One major difference between 2004 and 2012-2016 was that the then-Third District supervisor, Gail Marshall, actively participated in the process. Current Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr has been MIA, at least to the wine industry side of the equation. However, this does not explain why the planners were not listening.

We finally found out at the Board of Supervisors meeting why we were ineffective. At the end of the supervisors’ meeting, Dr. Glen Russell, the director of Planning and Development, demeaned the collaborative task force approach and stated:

“Staff would take input from the task force and then write the ordinance.”

In other words, it was never staff’s intent to engage in a dialog and use a collaborate approach. The 27 public meetings were all a charade because there was never any dialog with the planners.

Also during his presentation, Dr. Russell dismissed the heartfelt, passionate pleas by the wine industry “as a well-coordinated attack.” This is further evidence of Dr. Russell’s ignorance of the Santa Barbara County wine industry.

Morgen McLaughlin wishes she or the Vintners Association were so powerful. Anybody who knows the Santa Barbara County wine industry knows it is made up of many small family wineries that are fiercely independent, passionately individualistic and blissfully egocentric. Herding cats is a picnic to trying to get local winemakers to sing out of the same hymnal or even sing for that matter.

The passion, emotion and barely controlled fury from the Santa Barbara County winemakers were their individual reaction to the regressive Wine Industry Proposed Ordinance, not anything McLaughlin or the vintners orchestrated.

The other thing that “went wrong” is the First and Second district supervisors’ erroneous assumption that this is a Third District issue and their deferral to the Third District supervisor. It is true the squeaky wheels are all east of Highway 101. However, there are as many wineries in the Fourth and Fifth Districts as there are in the Third District.

The flawed “Approved Wineries” in the EIR says there are 64 wineries in the county. None — yes, none — is in the First or Second districts. According to the flawed EIR, there are 27 or 30 or 33 “Approved Wineries” in the Santa Ynez AVA, which means there are 37 or 34 or 31 “Approved Wineries” in the Fourth and Fifth districts. Thus, the First and Second districts should defer to the three districts that have wineries.

To correct what “went wrong” we need to use the collaborative approach of a task force.

Steve Pepe
President, Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County​

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