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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 10:38 pm | Fair 49º

 
 
 
 

Draft Winery Ordinance Revisions Draw Pushback from Wine Industry Representatives

Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to review proposed update at 2nd hearing set for June 22

Steve Pepe, vice president of the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County and co-owner of Clos Pepe Vineyard, speaks up about proposed revisions to the county’s winery ordinance during Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
Steve Pepe, vice president of the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County and co-owner of Clos Pepe Vineyard, speaks up about proposed revisions to the county’s winery ordinance during Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

An effort to simplify Santa Barbara County’s winery ordinance was criticized Wednesday by representatives of the wine industry during the Planning Commission’s first look at the proposed changes.

Meeting in Santa Maria on Wednesday, commissioners learned about the revisions during the first of at least two planned hearings in the coming months.

Commissioners declined to take any action, saying they want to wait until the environmental impact report is released around June 1.

“I do look forward to getting the EIR, but I’m appreciative of all the comments that were made today, because as I go to read the EIR I think it will help make sure I’m keeping a balance here,” Third District Commissioner Marell Brooks said.

Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough earlier said he wanted to see the environmental document, and he urged staff to spell out reasons for including restrictions on property owners.

“Anything you’ve got that’s restricting the property, I’ve got to have a good reason or I won’t support it,” he said.

First District Commissioner Michael Cooney explained the commission’s caution.

“What I think is not obvious to everyone is this is really our first crack at a new regulation that we haven't seen before,” he said. “We’re catching up and it takes a while to absorb what’s wrong with the proposed ordinance, as well as what we might think is right with it.”

A second hearing before the Planning Commission is scheduled for June 22.

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission hears comments about proposed winery ordinance revisions. The commissioners declined to take any action, opting to wait until the environmental impact report is released. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission hears comments about proposed winery ordinance revisions. The commissioners declined to take any action, opting to wait until the environmental impact report is released.      (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The process to revise the ordinance and what staff called its ambiguities began in 2011 and has included holding multiple meetings with various groups.

In addition to updating the ordinance, staff said the project sought to support the idea that the property must be used for growing and processing grapes. Tasting rooms and special events should be a secondary use supporting agriculture, staff added.

The proposal would establish a minimum premise size and planted vineyard acreage for winery tasting rooms and events while still maintaining three levels, or tiers, for establishing what activities can occur and how many visitors a site can host.

A requirement that 51 percent of the groups must come from Santa Barbara County and that 20 percent of the grapes must come from the parcel could be problematic in a number of circumstances, speakers said.

“What happens in a horrible year when you have to source fruit from elsewhere?” asked Courtney Taylor, a partner at SimasTaylor, a Los Olivos-based law firm.

“Are you then shut down? How do you monitor that someone’s then only producing a third of what they normally would?”

Katie Grassini of Grassini Family Vineyards in Happy Canyon said the ordinance would not address how complaints are handled.

“I just think it’s really a shame that this ordinance, as brilliant as other people may think it is, is bringing up a lot of questions,” she said. “I think we need to proceed very carefully because this is a wonderful industry. It’s bringing a lot of money and jobs into this county.

“We need to be really careful that we’re not squashing it. And I think this ordinance, it seems like it’s very incomplete if it fails to address this issue.”

Morgen McLaughlin, executive director of Santa Barbara County Vintners, said the new draft ordinance would put lots of restrictions on an industry that is creating jobs and tax revenue.

She noted that her organization recently hosted a marketing event to bring 47 wine buyers to the area, transporting them via a bus for more than two days. Under the revised ordinance, the group could not go to the smaller wineries due “an artificial cap.”

“That creates a very applicable example of how the ordinance is not reacting to the needs of the industry,” McLaughlin added.

Santa Ynez Valley resident Bob Field, who is campaigning to represent the Third District on the county Board of Supervisors, spoke in favor of the proposed changes he said would streamline the process.

“Like most compromises, this does not make everyone happy,” he said. “I’m not sure it makes anyone perfectly happy. But I think it’s extraordinarily good.”

Field called the proposed ordinance “a fine piece of work by staff to try to resolve the friction between the wineries and residents seeking to limit the number of visitors on smaller parcels.”

Others questioned restrictions on wine-related property, but not agricultural land involving different crops or products, adding that the rules would prohibit educational visits and family parties.

Steve Pepe, vice president of the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County and co-owner of Clos Pepe Vineyard on Highway 246 with a winery in Lompoc, said the proposed restrictions raise constitutional issues, including under the 14th Amendment and equal protection of the laws.

“Ag land without a winery — those are your cattle and horse ranches, your vineyards, your orchards and row crop farmers — are not regulated or discriminated against the way wineries are under this proposed ordinance,” he said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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