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Santa Barbara County moves toward allowing, regulating home kitchen operations
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Santa Barbara County moves toward allowing, regulating home kitchen operations

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When Bobbi Thompson’s mother stopped cooking for herself, the Santa Maria woman took over the job, delivering food to her daily until she passed.

But Thompson found there were many seniors in the community who no longer wanted or were able to cook for themselves and she could fill their need for freshly cooked food through a similar service, but she had no legal way to do that.

So on Tuesday, she was at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting to support developing an ordinance to allow microenterprise home kitchen operations so she can legally operate the service she’s dubbed Chef’s Pick of the Day.

“This permit helps protect consumers and improves health safety standards,” she told supervisors at their meeting in Santa Maria, noting she is a certified food safety manager and a member of the COOK Alliance, a coalition of immigrants, stay-at-home parents, home cooks and others that advocates for home cooking as dignified and socially valuable.

Thompson was the only member of the public to speak, but supervisors indicated they support allowing and regulating microenterprise home kitchen operations, which counties can choose to do as a result of two recently approved state laws.

The board directed the staff to work on developing ordinances that will establish a permit and inspection process that will not only apply to unincorporated areas but, by state law, also to the cities within the county.

Because of that, the county will work with the cities on developing the ordinance provisions that could be tailored to the needs of individual city needs, said Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Public Health Department, and Larry Fay, director of Environmental Health Services, which would be the regulating agency.

“We would do heavy community engagement,” Do-Reynoso said. “The cities would be involved in developing the standards.”

Fay said the microenterprise home kitchen program essentially would be an expansion of the existing cottage food operation ordinance.

“The cottage food operation, from my perspective, has been largely successful,” he said, adding the county has not heard any concerns about parking in residential areas and that most complaints come from one operator over another producing food that’s not allowed under that program.

But he added the county would have to coordinate with the various wastewater treatment agencies to be sure their facilities can handle the discharges from home kitchens.

“Generally, I support the deal,” said 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam. “I think it’s pretty good. … It’s better than trying to be chasing all the illegal operations around.”

First District Supervisor Das Williams agreed: “There’s a logic to working out of your home. … We need to move in a direction [so] that this comes out of the shadows.”

Do-Reynoso said they expect to return to the board with some potential ordinance options at the end of July.

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