Home Kitchens Officially Allowed to Operate in Santa Barbara County

Law Gets Final Go-Ahead by Board of Supervisors in 3-2 Vote

Credit: Jakub Kapušňák

Working from home is not a new notion for those with microenterprise home kitchen operations (MEHKOs), home-based food services that range from holiday baking endeavors to full time gigs. Authorized by the State Legislature in 2018, MEHKOs received a final thumbs-up from the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. And for the many Santa Barbarans who have made side hustles out of their kitchens during the pandemic, this decision comes at a pivotal time.

After granting preliminary support, the Board of Supervisors authorized permitting for all qualified MEHKOs in Santa Barbara County and approved funding for their regulation.

This decision will expand the County Retail Food Code to include them as authorized food facilities, which previously only encompassed Cottage Food Operations as well as bed and breakfasts.

Doing so will allow many home-based food services to operate legally that are not able to do so under current rules, said Environmental Health Services Director Lars Seifert.

Additionally, this law will expand home businesses opportunities, especially for those who don’t have the means to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, said Seifert. And allowing MEHKOs will increase community access to healthy foods, he said.

Opting-in to the policy requires countywide compliance, which caused many city officials to participate during the vote’s public commentary period.

Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino urged the board not to approve the ordinance, saying the costs of MEHKO regulation would overshadow their economic benefits, while Xenia Bradford, the city manager of Solvang, questioned the feasibility of county enforcement.

But despite resistance, the measure passed with votes from supervisors Joan Hartmann, Gregg Hart, and Das Williams. Supervisors Bob Nelson and Steve Lavagnino opposed.

Hartmann praised the impact that the decision will have on women who are unable to leave the house yet have entrepreneurial aspirations. “I can’t ignore that,” she said, when explaining her decision.

The board’s split vote was a sharp contrast from their prior unanimous support for the measure, which Williams attributed to economic insecurities caused by the pandemic. But despite the uncertain circumstances, Williams remained firm in his approval for MEHKOs.

“It’s about the larger mission to make sure that economic opportunity is possible in Santa Barbara County,” Williams said.

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