Short-term rentals are something we know as Airbnb. Our shortage of reasonably-priced hotel rooms makes STRs popular with wine tourists.

Complaints against STRs are noise, parking and traffic. These are correct in residential areas but are nonexistent on AG land. There are many benefits to STRs on agricultural land:

Extra income will keep farmers in farming. Consumers who stay on farm land will be more loyal customers. Urban dwellers who support the farm-to-table and organic movements want ag land experiences.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has directed staff to prepare a STR ordinance for its Oct. 3 meeting that bans STRs in residential zones; AG-I zones of 40 acres or less but with a home-stay exception; and AG-II zones of 40 acres-plus but with a farm-stay exception.

According to county staff there are 535 lawful STRs in the county providing $1.66 million in bed-tax revenue. Of those legitimate STRs, 128 are on AG-I or AG-II land. Staff also estimated an equal number of STRs are operating illegally and not paying an estimated additional $1.5 million in bed tax. Staff also stated the board’s decision would eliminate 92 percent of existing STRs because they would not qualify for the exceptions.

Banning STRs will continue the board’s hostility toward wine tourists. Paso Robles, two hours north of us, attracts 1.5 million wine tourists. Santa Barbara County attracts 866,000.

The Paso Robles wine tourists are not coming from Bakersfield or the Bay Area. They are from the southland. They are driving through Santa Barbara County to stay in Paso Robles because of the shortage of reasonably-priced hotel rooms, because they want to experience staying on vineyards and dining in vineyard restaurants, which is permitted in Paso Robles but prohibited in Santa Barbara County.

They also want to see where the grapes are grown, where the wine is made and interact with winemakers, all of which is permitted in Paso Robles, while Santa Barbara County continues to cram wine tourists into urban tasting rooms divorced from the vineyard and winery.

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The Visit Santa Barbara statistics for the last several years record an increase in day trippers, confirming that southland wine tourists are stopping in Santa Barbara for lunch and continuing north to stay in Paso Robles.

The recent EconAlliance/Vintners Wine/Tourism Forum demonstrated that by all available metrics, the Santa Barbara County wine industry is a distant also-ran to the Paso Robles wine industry.

On March 7, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted to permit STRs on Williamson Act land.

Banning STRs on ag land has no rational basis and will benefit the Paso wineries and adversely impact the local wine industry and county taxes. If you support STRs on ag land, please email the Board of Supervisors at sbcob@co.santa-barbara.ca.us and tell them so.

Stephen Pepe is president of the EconAlliance.

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