Photo stock people cooking in kitchen

As of June MEHKO can legally operate in Santa Barbara County after the Board of Supervisors approved the ordinance at the May 11 board meeting.

Lompoc residents can put their culinary skills on display following the passage of countywide ordinance AB 626, which allows the operation of mini-food businesses — known as a Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations or MEHKOs — from private home kitchens.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on May 11 approved the ordinance, which went into effect last month despite opposition from Santa Maria and Solvang city leaders.

MEHKO operators are permitted to sell a wider variety of goods than is permitted by home-based Cottage Food Operations, which only allow the sale of low-risk foods that do not require refrigeration, such as certain baked goods, candies and jams.

According to county regulation, MEHKO operators can offer take-out or delivery services, and customers can even dine at the residential location.

Lompoc Planning Manager Brian Halvorson explained that other than prohibiting signage and enforcing the city's noise ordinance, the city has little reach as the MEHKO ordinance falls under county jurisdiction.

"Right now the city only requires a business license," Halvorson said, referring to the city's business tax certificate, which can be obtained through an application process conducted by mail or by visiting the Planning Division at City Hall.

Processing time for a tax certificate application is approximately three to 21 business days from the date a fully completed application is received, according to the city's website.

"The county is pretty flexible," Halvorson said. "There are not a lot of requirements."

Prior to opening shop, applicants must also obtain a health permit to be issued by County Public Health that requires food handlers training and a kitchen inspection to be passed.

Halvorson expects at some point the city will amend the zoning code to include MEHKO as a permitted use in residential zones and doesn't foresee other changes beyond that.

He said that although a reoccurring concern that the city's sewage system might not be able to hold up to the daily operations of MEHKO, such as dumping grease, is a valid one, there is no real data on it.

"Sometimes you have to go by trial and error," Halvorson said. "You have to just say, 'OK, let's try it out.'"

Lisa André covers lifestyles and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record.