It sometimes seems as though the best public policy is the one that takes the longest to develop. If that concept is correct, Santa Barbara County’s next winery land-use ordinance should be nearly perfect.
Today, beginning at 1 p.m., county residents have another opportunity to speak out on the proposal for revising standards for activities at wineries. It will be round three of a prolonged bout, the outcome of which is not likely to be known until sometime next year. The final of five preliminary public meetings will be held Feb. 21.
Today’s meeting will focus on special events at wineries, which has been a major sticking point between vintners and critics of further winery development. The meeting will be in the Public Works conference room, 620 W. Foster Road in Santa Maria.
Besides on the ongoing battle between wineries and some of their neighbors, mostly in the Santa Ynez and Lompoc valleys, there is the issue of county officials considering the existing winery rules to be, in their words, broken and ambiguous.
What makes a better ordinance necessary is that this part of the Central Coast has become a mecca of new winery development. Of 59 existing wineries, nearly 60 percent have been permitted since 2000, and there are eight more applications for new wineries waiting in the wings.
The county’s ordinance governs activities at local wineries, about whose future there is considerable disagreement, especially the part of the rules that deals with special events — the focus of today’s hearing.
Vintners and other merchants say special events are a necessary function for both the winery, those participating, and the local economy. Opponents, mostly neighbors of wineries, argue that such events are an inappropriate use of agricultural land.
Vintners say that not only are special events crucial to their commercial success, but many of the events are sponsored by community groups and are therefore crucial to fundraising efforts for local causes.
Conversely, opponents argue that such events can be and often are noisy and disruptive, and have at least the potential to release a lot of intoxicated drivers onto local roads.
There is certainly a possibility, but so far the Sheriff’s Department has not identified a major problem, and caravans of drunk drivers have not been seen.
The issue of excessive light and noise pollution from winery events is real, and will be the focus of a meeting Feb. 11 in Los Olivos.
Wineries are an important element of the Central Coast economy, and especially here in this county. We can’t see the value of an ordinance that the local wine industry can’t be comfortable with. On the other hand, if winery owners succeed in pushing the rules too far, the charming country ambiance on which they’re banking could be destroyed.
In addition, lots of folks have stayed in, or migrated to, this coastal region because of its peaceful, rural atmosphere. Agricultural zoning is designed to provide farmers and ranchers, as well as their neighbors, with some assurance of what can and can’t happen on that farm land; that’s an appropriate purpose for the ordinance and, frankly, the neighborly thing to do.
Neither side is likely to get everything it wants, so, in the interests of having a civil, constructive dialog on this issue, if you enter the conference room in Santa Maria this afternoon, it would be best to check your rhetoric, rancor and vitriol at the door. Please try to bring an open mind and constructive suggestions.
Dire predictions about an industry being bankrupted by over-zealous county rules, or roads becoming jammed with drunk drivers at high speeds, will not help pinpoint the proper balance in a revised winery ordinance.
What will get the job done to everyone’s highest satisfaction will be an examination of facts — on both sides — and then finding a reasonable compromise.