Ken Switzer, owner of the Figueroa Mountain Farmhouse, said the complaints about parties on his property are overblown and exaggerated.

Paul Wellman

Ken Switzer, owner of the Figueroa Mountain Farmhouse, said the complaints about parties on his property are overblown and exaggerated.

‘Party Houses’ Still Irking Neighbors

Permitting Loophole Reaches Supervisors Who Kick it Down the Road

Thursday, April 4, 2013
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When Kim Kardashian got married at a Montecito home in August 2011, it put a very public face on an issue that some residents in More Mesa and Santa Ynez had been dealing with for some time — a wedding held at a private residence, rented just for that occasion.

Montecito residents felt the sting from the chaos surrounding that wedding affair, and they complained — the Sheriff’s Department received 22 calls for service related to the Kardashian bash. Of course, helicopters and paparazzi added to the inconvenience for neighbors, two impacts not usually felt by people who live near other venues around the county.

Two locations — specifically a home in the More Mesa Shores neighborhood, and the Figueroa Mountain Farmhouse — have become what neighbors call “party houses.” Almost every weekend, they say, the properties are filled with weddings. The result? Unhappy residents enduring dozens of events that bring with them delivery trucks, traffic, and, they say, disorderly conduct. “We’re tired of waking up to see another weekend takeover of the street,” said Bonnie Freeman, who lives in the More Mesa Shores neighborhood, “when no county inspectors are available for complaints, or calling the Sheriff for removal of cars or shutting down noise.”

The owners of those properties claim a short-term rental loophole in the current ordinance that governs special events. The loophole allows people to hold commercial events in residential and agricultural properties without permits. The owners just rent to the tenants, who then put on the event. The owners aren’t connected to the event, and what happens on the property after the weekend rental isn’t their problem, though they don’t mind pointing tenants toward wedding and party services. By a technicality, it becomes a noncommercial event. Noncommercial events would include homeowners or tenants hosting parties and the like ​— ​the key is there is no remuneration from the party for the host.

Currently in Montecito, charitable or noncommercial events of less than 300 people are exempt from permitting and are allowed three times a year. A conditional-use permit from the county is required for commercial events. Outside of Montecito, on agricultural or residential properties of less than five acres, no permit is required for up to five charitable or noncommercial events of no more than 300 people. A land-use permit is required for more than five events. For commercial properties, a minor conditional-use permit is required. On ag or residential properties five acres and larger, charitable or noncommercial events are exempt from permitting and not limited in number, so long as the max number of guests stays below 300. Commercial events require a minor conditional-use permit.

The Kardashian wedding brought this loophole issue to a head, and county staff began examining the situation. What they came up with was a recommendation they say closes the loophole but still allows for all types of events to take place. The recommendation from county staff was to include amendments that, among other things, made events associated with short-term rentals (30 days or less) commercial events that require permits.

The permitting process is cumbersome and inefficient, they claim, and the fixes “create more problems than they fix,” said Beth Collins-Burgard, an attorney working on the behalf of many of the opponents.

The point, according to supporters and county staff, was to regulate events associated with short-term rentals and preserve the county’s zoning laws. Commercial events should take place in areas designed for them. Residential areas should only have to endure the rare large-scale event, they said. The amendments would also make enforcement of permits easier.

But opponents of the amendments, from the operators of venues to businesses who rely on weddings ​— ​hair stylists, deejays, caterers, and more ​— ​rose up in protest, saying the amendment was bad for business and too much regulation. The permitting process is cumbersome and inefficient, they claim, and the fixes “create more problems than they fix,” said Beth Collins-Burgard, an attorney working on the behalf of many of the opponents.

Not just that, they said it was unconstitutional, violating the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. There was no economic impact study done on the amendment, nor did anyone look at the impacts to noise, traffic, lighting, and dust. So they came up with an alternative, what they call the Good Neighbor Ordinance. They say it’s an ordinance that’s clean, concise, and easy to understand — and one at which the county should take a closer look.

The supervisors — with 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf wanting to go ahead with the amendments — decided to hold off, punting the issue until after the budget hearings, when they will decide whether they will in fact take the time and money to study the Good Neighbor Ordinance. They will return in June to see in which direction they want to head.

This story was amended on April 10, 2013, to correct Bonnie Freeman's quote.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

That definitely seems to be an unfair situation for the neighbors seeking solitude. I guess it would depend how often it happens and if the neighbors were made aware ahead of time. People in general should be more respectful or considerate of others and things would progress at a much more civil pace.

Happy (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 3:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Good and accurate summary of the issue. Too bad Sup. Carbajal decided those out of his district suffering from the greed of these "party house" operators don't deserve the protection afforded by our zoning. Take a look at Switzers operation and imagine living next to it-

switzerneighbor (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 7:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Kicking the can down the road is the normal reaction of the Supes to anything controversial.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 9:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Switzer Neighbor - that's excellent documentation. Impressive in details which helped me understand more the scale of this activity.

mgreg (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 10:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Doesn't look like anyone really lives next to the Switzer property. Per the picture provided, it's in the middle of nowhere- def not a tract home. No fan of the Kardashians but that mess was years ago and there hasn't been a debacle like it since (locally). Time to move on.

Live downtown or IV if you want to complain about loud parties.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 10:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

There are more laws in this "free country" telling us what we CAN'T do than there are those telling us what we CAN do.

Stop the madness.

MesaJim (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 11:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken_Volok..looks like there are multiple pictures which show a neighbor living close by. Regardless, it doesn't matter whether there is one neighbor or ten. I can't fathom being subjected to those kinds of weekends where all the trucks and traffic start around Thursday, as is shown. We're not talking about a few weddings/events a year... or even easy for one to say move on unless you are that neighbor. And it could happen to any of us in the future if that loophole isn't closed. Interesting is the photo of the cars on tall dry exhaust pipes have been known to start forest fires, and I believe there was one in that area a few years back. The photos are very telling imo.

So where does one go if you don't get help from the county, or sheriff? I can only add if my neighbor was that disrespectful, my last resort would be having my Duck Dynasty friends over on weekends for redneck revelry.. that could go on till the late hours. I wonder how they would feel about skeet and target practice during the vow ceremony? Non- enforcement of ordinances goes both ways, and not a road we want to go down.

sambati (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 1:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Seriously your complaint is trucks and cars on public roads?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 4:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm sorry I'm looking to find the neighbors side in this complaint. Switzer certainly can not be held responsible for TMZ's helicopters and the like. If anyone, blame the people who keep those tabloids in business or the Kardashians themselves, they probably invited them!
And now you have "Real Housewives of Santa Barbara" coming soon, that will really make us all look good, not.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 4, 2013 at 4:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hopefully, the County will come up with a solution that doesn't put the small wineries out of business and kill off the tourist dollars they generate.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
April 5, 2013 at 8:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

You can tell this 'switzerneighbor' is abnormally obsessed with the activities of the farm house. Perhaps they need to get a life and stop worrying about the neighbors activities.

Indyholio (anonymous profile)
April 7, 2013 at 10:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Whiiinnne whine whine!!

Stop having fun!! NOBODY can have fun!! Only quiet is fun!!!

If you don't like your neighbors, easy solution: MOVE.

When you sell your house, MAYBE somebody who also likes to have weekend gatherings will pay a PREMIUM to have understanding neighbors like yours and then you can move to a more quiet neighborhood.

Eventually as these shifts occur, there will be neighborhoods where these types of activities are more prone to occur and there will be other neighborhoods where they almost never occur.

All of these people begging those with government costumes and guns to go to their neighbors house to threaten them for behavior that occurs on their own property are just creating divisiveness and stressing out everyone involved.

That's why markets exist, that's why we buy and sell things in this country. It is so that increased amounts of voluntary associations can be made by people with more common interests. By taking people to court you are slowing down this process.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 8, 2013 at 10:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

In fact, if you are this guy's neighbor, why don't you ask him to make an offer to buy your property? He can then bring in sets of catering/decorating trucks and host TWO SEPARATE VENUES/EVENTS each weekend!!

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 8, 2013 at 10:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@loonpt - Whoa, whoa, whoa. The solution to a noise burden is to sell your home? No.

There's a huge difference between normal noise from parties and BBQs and repeated, nuisance noise and traffic. This complaint falls into the latter.

If this were a different story - let's say one about someone who couldn't AFFORD to move - then what would the advice be, then?

You're way off base.

Native1 (anonymous profile)
April 9, 2013 at 6:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If you buy a piece of property large enough to have these type of gatherings then I think you have the right to have them.

If they drive out their neighbors and lower the property value of the surrounding houses, then their property value will be lowered also. So they will have to take that into consideration. But maybe there is actually a bigger market for these type of events than people realize and maybe having a neighborhood or small area in Montecito where these types of properties exist, all close together, would solve everybody's problems because people would just know not to live in that little corner if they want it quiet 24/7. Sure, it's going to take some time and re-adjustment, but that is part of life. And we're just talking about 2 houses right now, I'd imagine as many as maybe 8 could exist feasibly. That is really a significantly SMALL area we are talking about impacting a significantly SMALL number of people. But if they allow the parties to go forward unhindered and they sell their house, maybe they will get a really good price since the house will be used more commercially.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 10, 2013 at 12:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I hope they move to Deltopia to that house.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 10, 2013 at 12:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Great photos. Shows the property is without a doubt being used illegally as a commercial entity. Not to mention the fire hazard ... Over 25 events for the summer...that comes out to 6 months living next to a party home.

I would be aghast if I sold my home to a real estate agent, who turned around and did this to my former neighbors. Was this disclosed. The very fact that a Realtor would knowingly break the law for profit, and continue after warnings is pretty unethical imo. And the lack of concern for the neighbors, and refusal to stop.. what is this all costing? Simple, enforce the zoning laws - the board should be ashamed!

Denise61 (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 7:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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