New Winery Rules Still in Limbo

County Supervisors Push Decision to November 22; Ask Vintners for Detailed Feedback; May Form Task Force

The impassioned pleas of more than 60 vintners, grape growers, and others employed by the Santa Barbara County wine industry who spoke out against the proposed winery ordinance clearly moved the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, when each decision-maker appeared quite reluctant to pass anything that would be so allegedly damaging to the industry. So after more than three hours of discussion, the supervisors voted to further consider the new set of rules at a special meeting on November 22, when they will review a very specific analysis of the ordinance from the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association and consider forming a task force, if needed, to implement changes.

That was the best way to try to salvage at least some buy-in from the winemaking community for 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr. Her office initiated the ordinance revision process five years ago to respond to the concerns of some Santa Ynez Valley residents about the impacts of winery development.

Since then, despite more than two dozen meetings and 800 comments submitted, winemakers say their input has been largely ignored, so they remain opposed to the rules, calling them far too restrictive. On Tuesday, of the roughly 65 speakers, only two spoke in favor of the new rules. Winemakers claimed it was a job killer, would make an already cutthroat industry more difficult, and that the new rules were, in one winemaker’s words, “a no growth ordinance masquerading as a slow-growth ordinance.” Putting it most bluntly was Morgen McLaughlin, head of the Vintners Association, who claimed, “The ordinance in front of you as written will go on record as the most restrictive winery ordinance in the state of California and in the United States.”

Instead, the winemakers wanted the entire set of new rules thrown out and a new task force formed. Farr wasn’t about to throw the whole thing out, so she asked McLaughlin whether she would submit even more specific suggested revisions and task force ideas. After a particularly poignant and emotional speech that received a loud applause, McLaughlin agreed, even though she said she’d sent such letters and task force ideas already.

The special hearing will be in the Santa Maria hearing room on Tuesday, November 22, at 9 a.m.

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