Two agricultural issues that faced the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors went unresolved last week, with one sent back to staff for changes and the other left to complete the Planning Commission process it’s going through before any changes are considered.

Supervisors took action to take no action Oct. 9 on correcting a perceived failure of the staff and a consultant to follow board direction on an environmental review of proposed amendments to the Land Use and Development Code and Zoning Code sections regulating hoop structures.

Acting on the advice of county counsel, the board voted 5-0 to let the Planning Commission conduct its delayed hearing on the environmental impact report at its Nov. 7 meeting in Santa Barbara and send its recommendations on the proposed ordinance amendment to the supervisors.

County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni told the board taking no action would maintain clarity in the process should the issue face a legal challenge in the future.

Ghizzoni said once the Planning Commission sends the board the EIR and recommendations on the proposed amendments, supervisors can exercise their discretionary powers to make changes and come up with findings to support them.

Then, after nearly three hours of wrangling and hearing public comments, supervisors voted 3-1-1 to send proposed farmworker housing ordinance amendments back to the staff to make revisions the board will consider approving at its Nov. 13 meeting in Santa Maria.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf voted “no,” and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann abstained in the decision to remove some of the recommended provisions in the amendments designed to streamline and simplify the process of obtaining permits to build farmworker housing.

More than a dozen members of the public — some of them farmworkers, others farmworker advocates and one representing the residents of Tanglewood — addressed the board, and almost all of them opposed the amendments as written.

Hoop house miscue

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam had the hoop structures issue brought to the board with a request that staff be directed to take the necessary steps to see that the directions supervisors gave July 25, 2017, are carried out.

Specifically, Adam was looking for a complete exemption for all hoop houses 20 feet or less in height and no development standards.

Bob Nelson, Adam’s chief of staff, replayed a portion of the videotaped July 2017 meeting in which the board appears to affirm, more than once, the staff direction to provide the exemption without any development standards required.

But Nelson said that didn’t happen.

“The current staff-directed process has fallen short,” he said. “Planning staff has failed to include as a project alternative exemption for hoop houses less than or equal to 20 feet as directed by board action, and thus it was not studied as part of the environmental review.”

Nelson said when Adam’s office discovered the exemption wasn’t included in the EIR, the 4th District staff worked with the Planning and Development Department staff to correct the inconsistency, but they said they couldn’t fully correct their course without action by the Board of Supervisors.

He said the goal was to assure that supervisors would have that option to consider when the EIR and amendments come before the board.

“For me, this is about, ‘Who runs this place?’ You know?” Adam said, adding he was always told the board creates policy and the staff executes it. “Just as a policy matter, the question is, do we give direction and have it followed, or do staff run off and do something other than what we asked them to do.”

Adam said there should be some way to have the exemption studied in the EIR, because the board got studies of “a limited set of things we didn’t ask for to be studied.”

“This is such an egregious and graphic example that I couldn’t just let it go by,” he added.

Hartmann said there may be a difference of opinion about what the clip showed, saying the 20-foot height exemption was “pretty clear” but it didn’t show there weren’t supposed to be “any development standards at all.”

“I don’t even know what to do with this,” Hartmann said, noting the process was being delayed “by this odd procedure.”

Dianne Black, Planning and Development director, admitted the department did not provide the consultant preparing the hoop houses EIR specific enough instructions to include the exemption, and she didn’t become aware of the issue until late June.

“By that time the draft EIR had been completed, a proposed final EIR was prepared, and the amendment was before the Planning Commission,” Black said, so there was no way for the staff to address it.

Wolf said she felt uncomfortable getting into the middle of the process and recommended the board let it run its course, but Adam questioned how long it would take to recirculate the EIR and go back through the whole process.

“I always have concern on these cases, not just this particular case, but with planning and zoning law and with (the California Environmental Quality Act) that you’re following a process that will be clear to any reviewing court, if it comes to that,” Ghizzoni said.

Housing farmworkers

Supervisors were presented with proposed ordinances to ease the process of obtaining permits for building farmworker housing to address the high demand for labor and the need for affordable housing.

Planner Jessi Steele said the Land Use and Development Code amendment would allow agricultural employee dwellings for one to four workers with a zoning clearance and five to 24 employees with a land use permit in both the Agriculture 1 and Agriculture 2 zones.

It also increased the number of employees allowed in housing at all permit levels and modified the employment location requirements.

But supervisors had problems with several of the provisions, including requiring those housing occupants at the one-to-four and five-to 24 levels to be full-time employees in AG-1 zones.

They also questioned the need for — and ability of employers to meet — a requirement that employees spend 51 percent of their time working on the property where the housing is located at the 25-to-35 employee level, which would require a minor conditional use permit.

Wolf also questioned why 25 to 34 and 35 or more employees would be allowed in the AG-1 zones, where parcels are smaller than in the AG-2 zones.

Public speakers also asked the board to eliminate the need to verify individual employees are living in the housing initially and every five years and, instead, only require that the site is being used for agriculture employees.

Supervisors eventually agreed to send the ordinances back with a request to eliminate the need for employees to be on the housing site full time and change the 51 percent of time spent on the employer’s land, rather than the site where the housing is located.

The revised ordinances are scheduled to return to the board for consideration at the Nov. 13 meeting.

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