The San Diego County Board of Supervisors directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to develop an agriculture promotion program and to return to the board in 30 months with a developed ordinance to be considered for adoption.
The supervisors’ 5-0 vote Aug. 6 also establishes $535,000 for staff and consultant time to develop the program. The county’s general fund will provide $480,000 of that money and a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will account for $55,000.
“Farming remains strong in our county, and this program will only build on our strengths,” said San Diego County Farm Bureau president Julie Walker.
“Agriculture is a $5 billion dollar industry in San Diego County. It is important that there be policy in place to support it and help it thrive,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “The action taken by the board was an important step in continuing the county’s support of this vital industry.”
(The county’s 2012 crop value, according to the most recent annual crop report, was $1.75 billion; when supporting businesses are included agriculture is estimated to add $5.1 billion annually to the county’s economy.)
Several potential changes will be analyzed. 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; setback reductions and additional allowances for bees and bee-related uses such as honey production are currently under review. 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.
In June 2013, the county supervisors directed the chief administrative officer to identify ways to streamline regulations and provide more opportunity for agricultural venues such as microbreweries and cheesemaking. 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.
“This is far greater than when I initiated this,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “It’s grown since then.”
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.
A tiered ordinance is also expected for the beekeeping setback reductions; a unanimous Board of Supervisors vote June 18 directed county staff to return to the board with multiple draft tiered ordinances, which would provide the necessary alternatives to be analyzed during the environmental review stages, within four to six months.
The tiered winery ordinance currently only applies to properties with A70 Limited Agriculture or A72 General Agriculture zoning and not to properties with S92 General Rural zoning. Approximately 27 percent of land under the county’s jurisdiction has S92 zoning, and the supervisors’ Aug. 6 action also directed updates to the tiered winery ordinance including the addition of S92 land.
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. Grapes and other crops may be grown on S92 land, so farmers can currently grow grapes for sale to wineries elsewhere or for their own wine in the absence of on-site sales or tasting rooms which would be allowed if S92 properties were added to the tiered ordinance.
The supervisors’ direction to develop the program is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review, although the ordinance itself will be backed by CEQA findings. Jacob hopes that the program can be implemented in less than 30 months but notes the importance of thorough environmental and community review. “We need to do it right and it needs to be thorough and we need to make sure we have a good environmental document,” she said.
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.
“I’m just really, really excited about this,” said Supervisor Dave Roberts, whose district includes the Farm Bureau headquarters.
Roberts noted that the program also complements the county’s “live well” healthy lifestyles initiative. “The steps that this board is taking are the right steps,” he said.
On March 7, the county’s Planning Commission recommended development of a program, including the appropriations and the expansion of the tiered winery ordinance to S92 parcels, on a 4-0 vote with two members absent and one vacancy. The actual ordinance will return to the Planning Commission for a recommendation before the Board of Supervisors takes the final action to adopt the program.