County Planning Commission tries to help promote agriculture – County hopes to streamline regulations for ag properties

The County of San Diego’s most recent initiative to promote agriculture in the unincorporated county by streamlining regulations for small operations won’t go into effect for at least a couple of years.

The county’s Planning Commission recommended development of a program on March 7, although the San Diego County Board of Supervisors will make the final decisions on those actions to develop the program.

The actual development of the program, including the composition of necessary Zoning Ordinance amendments and other county code changes (with community input) and the completion of an Environmental Impact Report, is expected to take between 24 and 30 months. The actual ordinance will then return to the Planning Commission for a recommendation before the Board of Supervisors takes the final action to adopt the program.

The Planning Commission’s 4-0 vote, with Adam Day and David Pallinger absent and one vacancy, was thus only a step in the creation of the program albeit an important step. “We really appreciate the county moving forward with this,” said San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson.

The recommendations for the Board of Supervisors were to find that the development of the program (although not the ordinance itself) is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review, to direct the county’s chief administrative officer to develop the program and return to the board within 30 months, to appropriate $525,000 of Fiscal Year 2014-15 general fund revenue to fund the development of the program, and to amend the tiered winery ordinance to add land with S92 General Rural zoning to properties eligible for on-site wine sales and tasting rooms.

Several potential changes will be analyzed in addition to adding S92 land to the tiered winery ordinance. Microbreweries are currently limited to areas with commercial or industrial zoning; the hope is to allow them in agricultural-zoned areas with existing operations growing some ingredients on-site.

Cheesemaking and dairy operations are currently limited to industrial areas or on-site use in agricultural areas; the county will explore expanded uses on agriculturally-zoned land. The existing beekeeping statutes limit bee uses including setbacks; additional allowances for bees and bee-related uses such as honey production will be considered.

Cooking, canning, tanning, rendering, or reducing operations which are related to on-site food production are currently limited to industrial areas as a general industrial use but may in the future be allowed with limits in agricultural areas in conjunction with existing agricultural operations.

Packing and processing for market use is now limited to specific uses with on-site produce and limited to specific zones, in some cases only with a discretionary permit, and the study may allow that in more zones in conjunction with agricultural uses while amending the permit requirements in existing zones to allow more uses.

Horticultural sales accessory to agricultural nursery uses are now only allowed with a minor use permit but after the analysis may be allowed without a discretionary permit. The existing animal number limits for animal raising will be analyzed and updated if warranted.

Roadside sales of agricultural products, currently limited to agricultural zones, could be allowed in commercial zones and updated to state code. Agricultural tourism, farm-to-table, and educational agricultural activities are currently limited to specific zones with no temporary events allowed; the changes could allow those in more zones and allow some temporary events.

A bed and breakfast, host home, or agricultural homestay is currently limited to specific zones and structures and allowed only with a discretionary permit; the county might add more zones and change permit requirements along with other regulation amendments.

“Agriculture is an important industry,” said Carl Stiehl, the project manager for the county’s Department of Planning and Development Services. “The agriculture promotion program is intended to expand opportunities for agricultural operation.”

In June 2013, the county supervisors directed the county’s chief administrative officer to identify ways to streamline regulations and provide more opportunity for agricultural venues such as microbreweries and cheesemaking and, in October 2013, the supervisors directed county staff to work with stakeholders on changes which would protect and promote beekeeping operations in the unincorporated county. “It’s important to have an active and flexible approach to update regulations periodically,” Stiehl said.

The program will likely utilize a tiered ordinance as has been the case with two previous county initiatives. In August 2010, the county supervisors approved a four-tiered winery ordinance which bases the type of permit on production volume. In September 2013, the supervisors approved a tiered equine ordinance basing the approval process on the number of horses and the available acreage.

Unincorporated San Diego County had one winery tasting room prior to the adoption of the tiered winery ordinance and now has more than 20. “It is really turning out to be an exciting thing,” said Planning Commissioner Peder Norby.

Norby noted that the availability of local tasting rooms not only helps local vineyards but also reduces travel for the general public. “We do not have to go to Temecula or Paso (Robles),” Norby said. “We’re very excited to see the success of that.”

Dave Harbour, who owns 20 acres and a you-pick farm in southern Ramona, hopes to add craft distilling to the options. “It’s an offering that I’d like to offer at my farm,” he said. “Currently there’s no administrative process that allows it.”

Harbour noted that he is currently allowed to distill fuel and brandy but not other types of spirits. “I have the ability to grow most of the items I need to do it,” he said.

The tiered winery ordinance currently only applies to properties with A70 Limited Agriculture or A72 General Agriculture zoning and not to properties with S92 zoning. Approximately 27 percent of land under the county’s jurisdiction has S92 zoning. “That would expand the footprint down south,” Planning Commissioner Bryan Woods said of making S92 land eligible for the tiered winery ordinance.

An S92 zone is a residential and agricultural zone which is intended to provide appropriate controls for land constrained by rugged terrain, desert, watersheds, fire or erosion risk, dependency on groundwater for a water supply, or other environmental constraints. “The areas out in the far backcountry are heavily groundwater-dependent,” said Planning Commissioner Michael Beck. “I’m wondering if the analysis is going to be able to identify some sustainability thresholds in respect to groundwater.”

Norby expects the groundwater analysis to address each community. “We know that we have some areas that are really tight on water,” he said. “Some are flush and some are really tight, and we want the analysis to include that.”

Beck notes that different crops utilize various amounts of water. “It seems like it’s going to be interesting to get down to different types of crops,” he said. “It will be pretty interesting to see how that’s reconciled.”

The environmental impact reports for both the tiered winery ordinance and the tiered equine ordinance assumed a “worst-case scenario.” For the winery ordinance every possible property would have on-site sales and a tasting room and for the equine ordinance every parcel would utilize the maximum number of horses. In both cases the Board of Supervisors adopted a statement of overriding considerations when certifying the EIR. The agricultural promotion program EIR may also make worst-case assumptions which would equate to impacts beyond what could reasonably be expected.

The Planning Commission opted not to include properties with rural residential zoning in the analysis. “I’m happy that they passed it but very disappointed that they weren’t willing to look at the rural residential,” Larson said.

Larson noted that he was only asking for a review of including the rural residential areas. “These are decisions just to study it and look at it,” he said. “That’s why I’m disappointed about their decision on the rural residential. They aren’t even going to consider it.”

Family residential uses and crop growing are permitted by right in rural residential zones. Group residential uses, limited packing and processing, and other uses are allowed if a use permit is issued.

“We have a lot of farms in San Diego County that operate under rural residential,” Larson said. “We think there might be an opportunity for some minor tweaking, some expansion.”

7 Responses to "County Planning Commission tries to help promote agriculture – County hopes to streamline regulations for ag properties"

  1. Lee   March 21, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Promote agriculture? Ha, that’s a good one!

    For years now, San Diego’s agriculture has slowly but surely disappeared to make way for housing developments. (A perfect example is Fallbrook’s own smashing . . . Horse Creek Ridge development to make room for affordable housing for, shall we say, the boys next door.) Many people are not aware that agriculture — yes, agriculture — was and hopefully still is San Diego’s no. 1 economic sector. Just look at the two dairies along the 76 east of the 15 that have disappeared; or even San Marcos’s dairy is just a processing plant now without any actual cows.

    Absolutely shameful!

    Yes, yes, I know, water is expensive here in San Diego County. But our local politicians have done nothing, or very little to make it appear as if they actually have, to promote agriculture.

    Housing. Taxes. Revenue generation for the county. Dinero. Affordable housing for the semper fi. Rural lifestyle out the window. Homes. Congestion. Traffic. Money. Taxes. But agriculture? AGRICULTURE? Are you kidding me? (Yes, I’m channeling my inner Jim Mora here.) Are you kidding me?

    Whatever makes more dinero for the county is the new "crop." And agriculture be darned.


  2. Legal Citizen and Vet   March 22, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    You are absolutely correct Lee…"Promote agriculture? Ha, that’s a good one!

    For years now, San Diego’s agriculture has slowly but surely disappeared to make way for housing developments. ….Absolutely shameful!

    Remember Lee, its more about selling OUT Fallbrook, California, America, for their own self serving needs..$$$$$$$

    Proof: school on Gum tree hill where 1 parent was killed the first year.. Who puts a school on top of a hill?? $$$$$$$$

    The Shell / Car Wash (really we need another car wash in Fallbrook?) fiasco on the corner of Mission and San Margarita, next to FPUD. I am sure they will also (in the near future) be adding a traffic light to FURTHER CAUSE MORE TROUBLE AND CAOS at the bend in the road…More deaths like the school on the top of the gum tree hill??? $$$$$$

    And McDonalds at the dangerous corner of Mission and Ammunition (at the busiest corner in Fallbrook) where traffic jams are a common occurrence (coming to and fro from base, Fallbrook, etc..) $$$$$$$$

    Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce stressing more Non Citizen owned businesses in fallbrook, yet its harder than heck to get a building permit or business license for actual citizens. $$$$$$

    I better stop here. To many examples of those in Fallbrook, coming in to transform Fallbrook into Los Angeles, Orange County, etc… Say good bye to your quiet community the past decade…$$$$$$$$$$

  3. Reality Checker   March 23, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    This is a great example of why we don’t need big gubmint interference in the local community. How do you think people lived before we had some gubmint inspector fellar looking at eggs as they popped out of a chickens butt, declaring that egg safe to sell and eat? Or vegetables, for that matter. When I was growing up, whatever we didn’t have on our little farm somebody else did, and we traded. That’s how our whole community worked. What you didnt have, somebody else did, and you agreed to let them come get what they needed in return for you getting what you needed. Milk, cheese, pears, peaches, squash, potatoes, beans, corn, eggs, flour, sugar, meats, whatever. We didn’t have no stinkin gubmint guy standing there treating us like we were criminals for doing it. Not then. Now, that kind of lifestyle is beyond gone. You’ll be raided, handcuffed, and treated like a murderer for bartering with your neighbors. Does that sound like America to you? Does it? Is that the way you want your kids to live, at the whim of some gubmint guy telling them what they can eat, drink, drive, wear, watch, read? Huh? Well, is it???

  4. Carla   March 24, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    @3. People are free to engage in barter. Where has anyone been "raided, handcuffed, and treated like a murderer for bartering with your neighbors"? However if you end up poisoning someone don’t be too surprised if you find yourself the defendant in a tort lawsuit. But when you’re running a restaurant or producing food FOR SALE there are food safety regulations you must follow for public safety. Even certain groups that give away food to the public such as Food Not Bombs, a group whose efforts I mostly support, has come under various health department and other regulatory scrutiny for their food handling practices. I don’t think this is improper either.

    Ensuring food safety is a reasonable function of government in any civilized, modern society.

  5. @ #3   March 24, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    I like your comments, but that word "gubmint" has got to go, really, "gubmint"?

  6. Ray (the real one)   March 26, 2014 at 10:06 pm


    Your so concerned about regulations and public safety but you can`t fathom the concept of “illegal”.

    Legal Citizen and Vet:

    I agree with you 100%. I am suprized how you got your comment about the chamber got past the censors. I agree, too much nonsense going on in Fallbrook like the Mc Gang Hangout relocation.

    One question I have, how did Mc Donalds pass the FCPC? Al those bright and big signs. Must have drove Ms. Chairwoman crazy.

  7. Carla   March 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    @6 Unlike you, I don’t consider ethnic cleansing to be a legitimate government interest.


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