Star Lane winery’s cellars under construction in 2007
Paul Wellman (file)

It’s been nearly two years since the County of Santa Barbara started revising the rules for building new wineries on unincorporated county land, as was initially directed by a unanimous decision of the Board of Supervisors. But despite many meetings, tons of public comment, and lots of adjustments to the draft ordinance, vintners and those of their neighbors who worry about the industry’s growth seem unhappier than ever.

Vintners, who have now formed their own political action committee, believe the new rules will amount to business-stifling overregulation whereas concerned residents of certain pockets of the Santa Ynez Valley feel that their woes won’t be resolved by the planning department’s ongoing efforts. Such complaints will again come to a head at a hearing next Wednesday, July 16, at 6 p.m., inside St. Mark’s of the Valley Church in Los Olivos, where county planners will be accepting comment on what to study as part of the environmental report on the ordinance.

“We were blindsided,” said Ross Rankin, owner of Imagine Wine and president of the new PAC, Winegrowers of Santa Barbara County, which was incorporated almost one year ago. “There was no discussion with us prior to the proposed winery ordinance revision, and during the process, it has become extraordinarily clear that this is not to our benefit and was not intended to be in the first place.” Rankin, who would not divulge the members or funds raised by the PAC, citing fear of reprisal, said that the group’s immediate goal is to get the ordinance tabled.

Cerene St. John, a Ballard Canyon resident who has become one of the loudest voices calling for stricter rules, isn’t pleased either. She claims the new rules would allow small wineries to have “very large entertainment facilities,” explaining, “This version also does not adequately address the impacts on neighbors. It does not address the issue of the roads at all, and it does not add any enforcement mechanisms, metrics, or penalties to make the ordinance enforceable.”

County planner Stephanie Stark expects that a draft of environmental report will be released later this summer, triggering another round of hearings and public comments. In related news, her supervisor, Jeff Hunt — the former deputy director of long-range planning who had been lured to the job from Maui in 2010 — abruptly resigned in May, which was a sudden shock to many involved in this process.


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