Friday, August 30, 2013

Santa Barbara County Winery Development Ordinance

Santa Barbara County Winery Development Ordinance Revisions

Santa Barbara County is still in the middle of a budget crisis.  One of its largest industries are the wineries and vineyards.  On top of the revenue that this industry creates directly, it is also one of the major attractions for tourist visiting the area.  All this being said, one would think that our County would be supporting these businesses, instead of enacting further unnecessary restrictions upon them.

Instead, the County has a proposed new ordinance that does not support the industry.  If this is not stopped, it will leave any new winery being permitted severely handicapped with respect to their ability to compete with the existing wineries or to even run a sustainable business.  Along with the incredible long and expensive processing times for a winery permit in this county, this inability to compete will simply drive prospective investors to start wineries somewhere else.

Let me tell you just a few of the issues with this proposed ordinance:
  1. The ordinance reduces the number of allowed visitors from 80 to 50 without triggering the need for a special events permit.  This is a dramatic reduction and is being proposed for new wineries that are both 40 acres and 500 acres.  Clearly, the impacts of 50 people is different on these two parcels sizes. Thus, the across the board reduction is simply arbitrary and not related in any way to impacts or efforts to balance the industries needs.
  2. The ordinance allows for wine maker dinners to be hosted on the winery premises.  However, it also requires that all guests be off the property prior to 7pm.  This early closing time is simply to strict for wine maker dinners or special events that often occur later in the evening.  While it is fine to limit the normal tasting room hours to 7pm, wineries need to be allowed to hosts guest into the evenings for events and dinners. Many of these events are held in support of our local charities, and the community and our charities needs this support.
  3. The ordinance provides an incredibly broad definition of who a winery visitor is.  If someone only wants a winery and no tasting rooms, they are not allowed to have any winery visitors at all.  This would mean that you could build your winery and never be allowed to show it to your parents and friends.  It is broad enough that you would also be prohibited from allowing potential buyers on the property to look at it.
  4. The ordinance does allow for finger food and prepackaged items to be served in the tasting rooms.  This will assist with both the visitor experience, as well as having  insuring that only sober drivers on the road.  However, for special events, only catered food is allowed.  It is not clear whether this implies that the food cannot be made onsite in the wineries kitchen, but to require all food to be made offsite would simply degrade the quality of the food and increase the amount of traffic to the site for little or no apparent reason. It again seems entirely arbitrary to require offsite food production, as this has no impact on the neighbors.
  5. Lastly, the County has stated that these revisions will not affect the holders of existing permits.  However, there are terms being defined in this ordinance that were not clear in the previous ordinance.  An example is by appointment tastings.  Presently, the County is very coy about whether this is allowed without a tasting room permit  Going forward, they have defined this as needing a permit.  It is hard to imagine how this could not affect people with an existing permit.
Clearly the County has done a lot of outreach. They have held meetings and listened to a large number of people.  As someone speaking from the industry side, the issues above are serious and would severely harm our chances of convincing new wineries to come here.  Thus, it is hard to see the balance in the proposed ordinance.