The time has come to correct inaccurate, inflammatory and unfounded reports about the so-called “controversy” over Santa Barbara County’s winery ordinance.

First of all, it is not a controversy. It is a process through which the Planning & Development Department has been forced to go by the Board of Supervisors, and one supervisor in particular. This process will cost the county (taxpayers) well over $175,000.

The current ordinance tries unsuccessfully to address impacts: noise, traffic, parking, lighting and dust. Unfortunately, the current ordinance dances around those concerns by using numbers related to frequency, attendees, acreage, etc. The five impact concerns might be legitimate if you live close to a winery facility. Nonetheless, over the past three years, there have only been 11 complaints.

The 3rd District supervisor tells us, “The winery ordinance issue affects the whole county, but most of all the Santa Ynez Valley. I was hearing about the increasing divisiveness, or polarization, as individual winery projects were coming through. Or there were zoning violations for activities that might end up being OK with revision.”

What divisiveness? What polarization? What zoning violations? Eleven complaints have been recorded by the county over three years. Three were found not to be violations. Two venues had no wineries. One was about an ag tour. Two were about construction issues. One was about a sign. One was about food service. One was about a “commercial” event. This is data supplied by the county.

Now, the cattlemen and others have come forward with a common-sense “Good Neighbor” special events ordinance that is under consideration by P&D and the Planning Commission. Simply stated, the contents of this ordinance, although directed to the non-winery special events issue, would solve the winery problem with simple, objective standards for all five of the potential complaint areas. A great part of this Good Neighbor ordinance can easily be incorporated into the current winery ordinance. If done, it will answer the primary concerns of neighbors and citizens.

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A petition, circulated throughout the county by the Central County Coalition, asked potential signers if they supported wineries, tasting rooms and wine marketing strategies. There are more than 1,200 signers. Ninety percent of them are not connected to the wine industry. Residents of Santa Barbara County seem to support wineries.

In the face of this support, planners are publicly contending that there are a large number of folks who don’t attend meetings on the ordinance revisions because they are intimidated and don’t like to come to meetings, despite the fact that the county is spending a fortune on outreach meetings for their benefit. A demand under the Freedom of Information Act has been put to the county asking for proof of their statements.

If the Good Neighbor Special Events Ordinance is adopted for wineries, the other outreach issues of tasting rooms, food and structure will be solved. There will be no need for the next two hearings on neighborhood compatibility and structure.

The county should save this cost and devote it to adoption of the Good Neighbor special events ordinance, which you can see at: www.centralcountycoalition.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/White-Paper-SB-County-Proposed-Special-Events-Ordinance.pdf

Lee Rosenberg is a Solvang resident.

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