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courtesy of Ronnie Mellen

Don’t Kill a Flourishing Industry

Venues Are Us


I was quoted out of context in a recent article about the Planning Commission’s proposal to require conditional use permits for the temporary use of private properties for events of more than 25 people. I did say “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but my point was not so simplistic and I want to clarify.

I meant that we—a strong an united group locally who love Santa Barbara County—need and want to keep being able to do these kinds of events properly and respectfully, as we have in the past and intend to continue doing for years to come. We all acknowledge that there are at least two situations where there has been alleged abuse—one on Figueroa Mountain Road the other on a road in More Mesa. Assuming the allegations are true, the neighbors certainly deserve a reasonable remedy and the means to prevent such abuse in the future, such as limits on the number of events per year, capacity limits, etc. We, as an industry, absolutely hear and respect those complaints. But there are literally hundreds more locations that have been utilized for years without incident and with many, many community benefits.

The proposal as it stands is unreasonable and would throw the baby out with the bath water. It would ignore the thousands of events and short-term rentals at venues that have, in my 26 years of working with properties in this industry, resulted in zero complaints. Zero. I would like to thank the Montecito resident who slipped in and out of the commission hearing and testified that essentially, there have been no problems in her neighborhood – a neighborhood of estates utilized frequently for nonprofits, weddings, corporate events, and seminars.

The arrived proposal before the commission requires bureaucratic restrictions that are time-consuming, privacy-invading, and expensive ($5,000 for the application and as much as $100,000 for a conditional use permit- if issued). It would inhibit and possibly paralyze an industry that generates a sizable portion of the $1.35 billion dollar annual tourism revenue in Santa Barbara County.

These events at private venues fill hotels and short-term rentals for no less than three days and very often weeks at a time. Car rentals, restaurants, florists and growers, parkers and servers, furniture movers, dry cleaners, photographers, videographers, gas stations, musicians and entertainers, car rental agencies, bridal and costume shops, caterers and therefore markets and growers, event planners, ministers and judges, location-finders and monitors, security, party rentals and their suppliers, child care, shopping, shopping, and more shopping—the money spent locally circulates on every level from the student server to the property owner. Many property owners donate all or part of the proceeds to local charities, while others, whose income and recent investments have been sorely compromised by the economic downturn, actually need this income to forestall foreclosures and or pay their staff and groundskeepers.

The hand of government is heavy. It should always be applied with care and precision. It is being applied here in Draconian fashion to an entire, flourishing industry because of problems at two locations. Surely there is a better solution. It is counterproductive to regulate and penalize thousands engaging in legitimate, carefully managed business activities in order to control abuse by a tiny minority.

Whether you are having 25 people on half an acre or 300 people on 60 acres is not the point. The point is how these gatherings affect their neighbors. Stringent regulations, massive fees, and burdensome paperwork will send a negative message to future customers and planners. The clear implication will be that Santa Barbara County no longer welcomes these types of activities. Ventura, Malibu, San Diego, La Jolla, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Napa are all poised and ready to cash in on our failure to recognize the economic benefits our cities and county enjoy from these kinds of events on private venues. Why put up a “Visitors Not Welcome” sign on the American Riviera?

Short- or long-term conditional use permits for gatherings of 25 or more people will be impossible to support, police, and penalize. I urge the Planning Commission to re-think its knee-jerk reaction to a few blatant abusers when thousands are behaving correctly. I was not minimizing the grievances of the affected property owners. Such abuses can and will, I am confident, be eliminated by the cooperative actions of the responsible property owners, event planners, vendors, and authorities utilizing existing laws (e.g. noise ordinances, curfews, traffic, fire department requirements and parking limitations) without the need to smother a hugely beneficial industry under a shroud of ill-conceived regulation.

Ronnie Haran Mellen does business as Dream Locations and as Santa Barbara Location Services

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