Lisa Bodrogi

Peter Adam, 4th District Supervisor, placed an item on Tuesday’s agenda to discuss the progress of the Hoop Structure Ordinance. His office staff met with Planning and Development in June to raise questions regarding the adequacy of the environmental impact report. They presented their findings to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday stating the direction of the board was not followed, and the baseline used for the analysis in the report was flawed.   

Planning staff acknowledged the California Environmental Quality Act document erred by not including hoop structures less than 20 feet in height in the environmental setting as exempt per the board’s direction.

The record is clear the direction and intent of the board given to staff was not to exempt hoop structures less than 20 feet in height. The former Planning director, under the direction of the board, issued the exemption, which was appealed by Committees for Land, Air, Water and Species, which claimed adequate environmental review was necessary to evaluate impacts associated with hoop structures on agricultural lands.

CEQA requires proposed development to be evaluated for environmental consequences. Several speakers, including myself, illustrated why hoop apparatuses on agricultural lands do not constitute development.

It has been the will of the board and the Planning Commission to acknowledge that hoop structures are integral to farming in the same manner as irrigation lines, plastic covering, or crop support implements. Hoops only serve to elevate the plastic covering above the plant to improve plant growth and resource efficiencies.

Santa Barbara County defines agriculture in its purest form as the “growing of plants.” The hoop apparatus is simply another farming implement.

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In accordance with the state Revenue and Taxation Code, certain “farm equipment and machinery” are exempt from sales and use taxes, which considers “single-purpose agricultural and horticultural structures,” such as hoop structures, to be farm equipment and machinery. They are entirely removable. They serve as a mechanism for the growing of plants and no more.

The Board of Supervisors is charged with ensuring consistency with the county. Goal I of the Agricultural Element states: “Santa Barbara County shall assure and enhance the continuation of Agriculture as a major viable production industry in Santa Barbara County. Agriculture shall be encouraged. Where conditions allow, (taking into account environmental impacts) expansion and intensification shall be supported.”

The Planning Commission repeatedly grappled with the fact that hoops do not precede cultivation, rather they are a tool in the production of agriculture. As such, to conclude and continue a pursuit to regulate hoop structures would contradict the county’s Agricultural Element.

The premise for the Hoop Structure Ordinance is based on the lack of explicit reference to hoop structures in the table of allowed uses in the county’s Zoning Ordinance. The fact that hoops are not explicitly listed in the table of allowed uses is not an oversight, but rather, an acknowledgement that these farming implements are on par with irrigation lines, plastic coverings, and trellising.

“Cultivated agriculture, orchard and vineyard” is referred to in the table of allowed uses. This being a land use, and acknowledging that the use of land for cultivated agriculture is exempt under the Land Use Development Plan. A use is the activity. To say the implements to perform the use is redundant and nonsensical. This would be like saying the walls of a building are a use and must be included in the table of allowed uses. Clearly, this type of logic unravels quickly.

The board was directed by County Counsel not to take any action at Tuesday’s hearing and wait for the Planning Commission to complete their review of the ordinance at their Nov. 7 hearing. The hope is the debate over hoops will be back to the board before the end of the year, so our farmers can keep farming.

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Lisa Bodrogi is a land-use planning and public relations consultant, and Committee INC board member, and can be reached at: 805-937-8474 or lisa@cuvee.me or www.cuveeconnections.net