By Raiza Giorgi
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to amend the County Land Use and Development Code (LUDC) and Coastal Zoning Ordinance to make consistent, countywide, the permitting requirements for a variety of small scale uses on AG-II designated land to meet the amendments for the Gaviota Coast Plan.
“I have been asked for a while from constituents from other areas of the county why they can’t do something similar that was adopted in the Gaviota plan,” said Joan Hartmann, Third District supervisor.
The Gaviota Coast Plan which was adopted in October 2016, provided Gaviota Coast farmers and ranchers with substantial flexibility to change their operations without first obtaining coastal development permits, which can be costly and time consuming.
In October 2019 and January 2020, Third District Planning Commissioner John Parke facilitated several community workshops to gather input from the agricultural community on the state of agricultural tourism in the county, according to the staff report. These workshops were followed by meetings of an informal group of farmers and ranchers that grew out of the workshops and who continued the conversation. In October 2020, Planning staff met with the group to listen to their ideas. At the workshops and meeting with staff, participants discussed potential agricultural tourism uses that could help foster economic development while being compatible with the principal agricultural use of the farm or ranch on which the agricultural tourism use would occur.
Planning and Development Department Director Lisa Plowman said the board could do Option 2 which move forward now, which will include additional incidental uses on AG-II zone such as allowing farm-to-table dinners, cooking classes, small scale events and educational opportunities like tours from bird watching, ag tours and astronomy.
Plowman said the board could also do Option 3 which would expand on Option 2 with more commercial and entertainment enterprises like festivals and concerts.
“This would be larger and higher intensity tourism uses, and can have any combination of uses,” Plowman said. “Option 3 would take more staffing and consultant services which would mean an amendment to the budget.”
Hartmann asked if they could include breweries in the farm tours for Option 2 as a constituent would like to grow hops and have beer served on his property.
During public comment there were roughly 20 speakers who were mostly made up of Santa Barbara County vintners asking for at least Option 2 to expand on their operations.
“Ag tourism is unique and why it hasn’t really been allowed here is a mystery,” said Larry Schaeffer of Tercero Wines in the Santa Ynez Valley. “Every great growing area around the world has opportunities for people to connect with the land and we are getting passed by for Paso Robles which does this.”
Andy Caldwell of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business said the Agricultural Advisory Board needs to be consulted as they represent every sector of agriculture.
“Having all uses on all lands may be a fatal mistake as some places that butt up to row crops cannot have tours because of food safety issues,” Caldwell said. “You cannot take a broad brush to one size fits all. If dogs walk through avocado orchards they can bring spores which can decimate the trees. There are some ranch lands that this will work of course, but as you recall some farmers were not happy with the Gaviota Plan.”
One commenter, Renee O’Neill, said the board needs to consider appropriate land uses as she didn’t want to see the county become an industrialized area and trails put through private properties.
“I was completely unaware of the public workshops that Commissioner Parke held,” O’Neill said. “I feel most of the public is unaware of this ordinance amendment. The Agricultural Commission was not provided with a specific list of proposed uses, which also presents a problem, considering the board relies on them for important input.”
“Experiential tastings are the way to go as I had a group from a large food wholesaler come to Buttonwood that didn’t know peaches grew on trees,” said Karen Steinwachs, of Buttonwood Farm.
“Ecotourism is being done well all over the world and thriving,” said Ryan Zotovich, of Zotovich Wines. “When people get on the land is gives them a sense of place and connection.”
When brought back to the supervisors for discussion, they all said they would be fine with Option 2 and to discuss Option 3 at a later time.
To watch the meeting visit the County’s YouTube page for the Nov. 17 meeting.
To read the agenda and presentation visit https://santabarbara.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4693100&GUID=4AC292D2-F0E2-4967-9964-ABD79B3FF96A&Options=&Search=.