On Tuesday, April 9th, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted an agricultural buffer ordinance intended to protect agricultural properties from encroaching uses while also protecting the public from activities normally associated with agricultural production, including noise, dust, pesticides, lighting and more.

“The passing of this ordinance is a win for agriculture and the community at large,” said Teri Bontrager, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau. “It provides local farmers and ranchers a tool to help maintain agricultural viability.”

The ordinance, initially drafted as a policy by the Santa Barbara County Ag Futures Alliance (SBAFA), spent nearly two years going through the county process during which time it was reviewed and/or revised by the county’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors and other stakeholders. In choosing to adopt an ordinance as opposed to a policy, the Board’s action carries the full weight of local law, separating it from similar buffer policies around the state.

“The Santa Barbra Ag Futures Alliance identified the creation of a buffer policy as an important focus of the group’s efforts,” said Christina McGinnis, formerly of the Environmental Defense Center (EDC). “Over a year was spent researching other policies around the state and developing language that we felt would be useful in reducing land use conflicts for Santa Barbara County’s agricultural operators.” Ms. McGinnis was a driving force in the policy’s development for SBAFA, and is now the Agricultural Resources and Policy Manager for the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner.

Buffer policies intended to protect both agriculture and members of the public are common in agricultural communities, but can vary in size, scope and complexity. As part of the development process, members of the SBAFA reviewed existing policies from San Luis Obispo, Yolo, Fresno, and numerous other rural counties in order to glean the optimal conditions and requirements that would be most appropriate to Santa Barbara’s diverse agricultural conditions and surrounding communities. With input coming from local farmers, policy experts and community advocates, SBAFA’s proposal represented a model of informed, citizen-based policy development.

“The new buffer ordinance will provide clearer permit processes and add new development standards pertaining to agricultural buffers that will serve to minimize potential land use conflicts between agricultural uses and non-agricultural uses,” said Cathy Fisher, Santa Barbara County’s Agricultural Commissioner. “Both agricultural uses and non-agricultural uses benefit from the passing of this ordinance.”

As adopted, the buffer ordinance provides specific requirements for uses that might encroach on the borders of existing agricultural operations. Buffer widths are based upon an intended project’s land use and the type of adjacent farming operation. “Sensitive non-agricultural uses,” for example – a new day care facility or senior housing project – adjacent to a high intensity production agriculture operation will have a minimum buffer width of 300 ft. A project that proposes commercial or industrial development next to production agriculture will have a minimum buffer width of 100 feet.

SBAFA is dedicated to maintaining agricultural viability in Santa Barbara County through a process that values dialogue and collaboration. SBAFA is a project of the Ag Innovations Network.

For more information on this ordinance, please contact Teri Bontrager at 805.688.7479 or SB County Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Fisher at 805.681.5600.


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