Vintners Dominate Subdued Winery Ordinance Hearing

All Six Public Speakers Are Pro-Winery at Environmental Hearing in Los Olivos

Despite continued angst by some Santa Ynez Valley residents that the County of Santa Barbara’s proposed winery ordinance update won’t ease their fears about the future wine country growth, a Thursday night hearing on the topic in Los Olivos was dominated by vintners. There were about 50 people in the room at St. Mark’s-of-the-Valley Church, but only six people spoke during the public comment period that focused on the ordinance’s environmental impact report, and all were either winemakers or their supporters.

Though the mood was relatively subdued compared to past meetings — of which there have been more than two dozen since 2011, some quite heated — winemaker Mike Roth alleged that the proposed ordinance would amount to “class warfare.” The proposed update would establish a rigid tiered system in which a property’s acreage would dictate the allowed production capacity, visitors, special events, and whether a tasting room can be built. Because a 40-acre property would be needed to get the maximum allowances, Roth believes only the very wealthy or large corporate entities would be able to afford future winery development. The small property he saved up for and bought two years ago, for instance, would never be able to pay the bills without an ability to sell the wines on-site.

Additionally, winemaker Michael Larner — whose still-moving proposal for a winery on his family’s vineyard in Ballard Canyon stirred some of the neighborhood concerns that led to the ordinance update process starting almost four years ago — called into question basic statistics that the county used for analyzing traffic impacts, among concerns over inflated case production estimates and outdated agricultural report information. According to Larner’s calculations, the county’s assessment assumed his tasting room would be packed with 150 people all day every day, which would be both extremely unlikely and a violation of his permit in the first place. Even the basic averages they used were faulty, said Larner, who specifically identified a number of tables and chapters within the report during his comments.

Despite their silence in Thursday, some neighbors remain concerned that the ordinance will not go far enough to halt noise, traffic, drunk driving, and other potential problems caused by more wineries, and believe that the environmental report understated those impacts. They will presumably be submitting their concerns in writing by the July 13 deadline as will other winery supporters.

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