The time has come to correct inaccurate, inflammatory, and unfounded reports about the so-called “controversy” over the Winery Ordinance. First of all, it is not a controversy. It is a process through which the Planning & Development Department (P&D) has been forced to go by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, one supervisor in particular. This process will cost the county (taxpayers) well over $175,000.
The current ordinance tries unsuccessfully to address the impacts of noise, traffic, parking, lighting, and dust. It dances around those concerns by using numbers related to frequency, attendees, acreage, etc. The five impact-concerns might be legitimate if you live close to a winery, but nonetheless, over the past three years, there have only been eleven complaints. None of them were about those impacts.
The third district supervisor tells us, “The winery ordinance issue affects the whole county, but most of all the Santa Ynez Valley. I was hearing about the increasing divisiveness, or polarization, as individual winery projects were coming through. Or there were zoning violations for activities that might end up being OK with revision.”
What divisiveness? What polarization? What zoning violations? Eleven complaints have been recorded by the county over three years. Three were found not to be violations. Two venues had no wineries. One was about an agricultural tour. Two were about construction issues. One was about a sign. One was about food service. One was about a “commercial” event.
Over a ten-year period there have been no DUIs associated with wineries, according to California Highway Patrol statistics. No traffic accidents have been traced to wineries.
So, what is the problem? There is one voice in particular from the east side of Santa Ynez that has been heard consistently complaining. The person who is complaining has written a number of commentaries and articles, published in this and other newspapers. The writings have used vast generalities, misrepresentations, and non-factual information. He has fomented rumors, speculation, and fear.
Now, the Cattlemen’s Association and others have come forward with a common-sense Good Neighbor Special Events Ordinance which is under consideration by P&D and the Planning Commission. Simply stated, the contents of this ordinance, although directed at the issue of non-winery special events, would solve the winery problem with simple, objective standards for all five of the potential complaint areas. A great part of this Good Neighbor ordinance can easily be incorporated into the current winery ordinance. If that is done, it will answer the primary concerns of neighbors and citizens.
A petition circulated throughout the county by the Central County Coalition asked potential signators if they supported wineries, tasting rooms, and wine-marketing strategies. There are over 1,200 signators. Most of them are not connected to the wine industry. Residents of Santa Barbara County support wineries.
In the face of this support, planners are publicly contending that there are large numbers of folks who don’t complain, don’t attend meetings, and don’t write about their concerns. The reason given is that they are intimidated and don’t like to come to meetings, despite the fact that the county is spending a fortune on outreach meetings for their benefit. A demand under the Freedom of Information Act has been put to the county asking for proof of the planners’ statements.
If the Good Neighbor Special Events Ordinance is adopted for wineries, the other outreach issues of tasting rooms, food, and regulatory structure will be solved. There will be no need for the next two hearings on neighborhood compatiblity and structure. The county should save this cost and devote it to adoption of the Good Neighbor Special Events Ordinance.
The author is the founder and president of the Central County Coalition in Santa Barbara. He and his wife, Linda, retired to Santa Ynez in 2003, where he founded the Vineyard Valley Theatre Company, whose mission is to bring the highest quality theatrical presentations to the Santa Ynez Valley and distribute the net revenues to charitable organizations and schools. Among other accomplishments, Rosenberg earlier in his career co-founded the worldwide talent agency Triad Artists, which was later acquired by the famed William Morris Agency.