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FORUM: New ordinance benefits backcountry
By Pam Slater-Price – County supervisor | Tuesday, July 22, 2008 1:21 AM PDT
Last month, my colleagues and I voted 4-0 to approve an interim ordinance that relaxes the permit requirements faced by small vintners who wish to open tasting rooms and retail outlets at their vineyards.
Answering the concerns of residents, we also approved commissioning an exhaustive study to determine the environmental consequences of a Boutique Winery Zoning Ordinance.
The study could take up to two years to complete, and I expect it will conclude that a tiered-winery ordinance will have no significant negative environmental impact.
We’re not envisioning massive operations, with tour buses and traffic choking the public and private roads of our backcountry. Our intention, rather, is to provide an incentive for agriculture and business to succeed.
Thanks to modern irrigation techniques, grapes are a low-water crop. During some months, the vines require no watering at all. In our agricultural zones, that’s good land use.
For some potential winemakers, however, county requirements are understandably sour grapes.
In the past, land use regulations have required small vintners to obtain permits through a public hearing process that can take a year to complete, with an initial deposit of nearly $15,000. Additional environmental analysis could increase that cost by thousands more. Those fees alone are tough for small vintners who are just starting out.
Under our new interim ordinance, the same, thorough review process takes place, but vintners producing less than 12,000 gallons per year can obtain permits from the county planning director at a fraction of the time and cost. Larger operations would face higher levels of regulation.
The new ordinance allows smaller wineries to sell their products directly to the public. All the wineries could sell by direct mail, telephone and through the Internet.
Wineries on private lanes would be obligated to pay their share of road maintenance.
Neighboring counties have seen tremendous benefits from the expansion of wineries. As it has expanded in recent years, wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley has contributed significantly to Santa Barbara’s economy and regional identity. The impacts, by and large, are positive.
I support a resurrection of the once-thriving wine industry in San Diego County’s agricultural zones for various reasons. Wine country can provide another convincing reason for tourists to come to San Diego County. Our tourism industry needs that diversity.
Also, if growers can’t make a living off their land, the acreage becomes vulnerable to development. And if agriculture is gone, I can guarantee you the next crop will be houses.
To conclude, I understand the worries of backcountry residents, who rightfully cling dearly to undeveloped space, peace and privacy.
But turbulent economic headwinds are bearing down on our agricultural community. To keep agriculture and the resultant open space a part of San Diego County’s future identity, we must take action now to help growers thrive and prosper.
The actions we took are the seeds of the future.
Pam Slater-Price is county supervisor for District 3.
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