No change for Santa Barbara County's winery rules

Nov 22, 2016

In a move that surprised many, Santa Barbara County officials have struck down a controversial and long-planned update to the county’s winery ordinance. In a 4-to-1 vote, the Board of Supervisors rejected the adoption of new rules governing the area’s wine country. 

During a three-hour hearing held Tuesday in Santa Maria, about 50 people from the wine industry spoke against the update.

Daniel Klemann is Santa Barbara County’s deputy director of long range planning. He said his department has been working on the amendments for five years, trying to balance the needs of wineries and vintners with those of nearby residents and other land uses.

“On the one hand, we were experiencing some complaints from people who live within proximity to the wineries who were getting upset about the activities that were going on at the wineries,” Klemann said. “More specifically the type of temporary events that occur out there such as weddings and wine industry events.”

Many objected to increased traffic and noise over the years. But the county also got plenty of complaints from vintners.

“Particularly [from] people who have gone through the permit process under the existing ordinance regulations, and they are saying there is not enough specificity or guidance in these regulations. A number of them had been appealed by their neighbors, which takes a lot of time to resolve and can be expensive,” Klemann said. “The goal of the amendments project was try to reconcile all those interests and return back to the board with a group of amendments that could provide that clarity and also address all those issues.”

The sole vote in favor of changing the existing winery ordinance came from 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose district encompasses the vast majority of Santa Barbara county wineries and the Santa Ynez Valley. Farr told KCBX Tuesday evening that she had initially brought up the need for winery ordinance reform five years ago, and board members at that time unanimously agreed there were many issues that needed to be addressed.

“It was unfortunate that we got all the way to the end and spent over half a million dollars and thought we came up with a plan that was a good compromise between the needs of the industry and the needs of the community,” Farr said. “We’ll just have to hope going forward that the issues will be resolved in another way.”

Klemann confirmed the entire process of developing the amendment package has cost the county more than $500,000 since 2011, and county staff held scores of community meetings with various stakeholders. Before coming before the Board of Supervisors, the changes were approved by the county’s Planning Commission and vetted through an environmental review process.

However, county officials voted this week to take no action and Santa Barbara County’s existing winery ordinance remains in effect.