Mid-way through Thursday's Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department's third public hearing to gather input for revisions to the Winery Ordinance, one participant raised a point that momentarily silenced the crowd.
"Why don't we consider pulling special events out of the (proposed) winery ordinance and include them in a county-wide ruling" that is not specific to wineries?" asked Michael Dobrotin.
Many in the standing-room-only audience murmured or nodded in agreement with Dobrotin, who is involved in a vineyard project outside of Buellton.
Facilitating the two-hour hearing was Susan Klein-Rothschild, and in attendance were Dr. Glenn Russell, Planning Department director, as well as Deputy Director Jeff Hunt, Assistant Director Dianne Black and Stephanie Stark, agricultural planner.
Thursday's hearing, the third of five scheduled during which county planners hope to gather public feedback on the ordinance before it heads to the County Board of Supervisors for revision, was devoted to Special Events, and drew approximately 65 participants.
The planning staff encourages those interested in participating in the input process to attend a hearing and speak, fill out a comment card at a meeting, or comment via the department's web site. Comments emailed must be received within two weeks following each meeting date — by Jan. 24 in the case of the Jan. 10 meeting.
The planners define special events, Stark explained, as those lasting less than one day, with 80 or more people in attendance on winery/vineyard property, having concerts with or without amplified sound, and include weddings, advertised events, fund raising events and winemaker dinners open to the general public.
Clearly defined in the existing Winery Ordinance, created in 2004, are three tiers of "maximums" that limit wineries' events. A Tier 1 Winery is limited to four special events per year, and each event must not exceed 150 people. Tier 2 wineries can have eight events and 150 people at each, and Tier 3 wineries 12 events per year, and 200 people at each.
In order to host any kind of special event, a winery/vineyard site must be at least 20 acres in size, Black said.
Attendees Thursday spoke up either in support of rural wineries' attempts to hold special events — especially fundraisers — or complained that the ensuing noise, lights, traffic, dust and parking make their neighborhoods unbearable.
Phil Bond, who said his Santa Ynez Valley home of 20-plus years is located five miles from Gainey Vineyard, described hearing "significant" noise whenever the winery hosts an event. "Sound travels, especially at night," he said. He and other opponents present emphasized to the planners that it was the "cumulative" effect of several events throughout the years, not isolated concerts, weddings or benefit dinners, that have urging stricter rules.
In the hour-plus leading up to Dobrotin's comment, representatives of local nonprofit groups that have benefitted from special events spoke in favor of allowing winemakers and wineries to extend community goodwill by, well, throwing a party or two.
Bruce Porter, board chairman of the Santa Barbara County chapter of the American Red Cross, told the planning staff that "it's so important that we have access to wineries because they are our theaters" when it comes to events.
Many wineries throughout Santa Barbara County need special events to boost sales, said Kady Fleckenstein, executive director of the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association. Smaller wineries and winemakers often cannot afford to utilize brokers and wholesalers to sell wine, and so rely on "direct-to-consumer sales out of necessity," she said.
"There's so much competition in the industry, and wineries need that connection to consumers" that special events offer.
Lisa Bodrogi, newly appointed executive director of the Central Coast Wine Growers Association, threw her support behind wineries' events because, in turn, those parties benefit florists, caterers, graphic artists, wedding staff, lighting companies and more. "As an industry, we bring business to Santa Barbara County," she said.
As the hearing entered its second hour and Klein-Rothschild pushed to keep speakers to the agenda, some in attendance grew slightly impatient, but the overall tone remained congenial.
When former county supervisor and longtime cattle rancher Willy Chamberlin urged the planning staff to not regulate events "simply because they exist," the pressure in the room eased slightly. "Negative impacts (of events) must be shown to exist," Chamberlin emphasized, and several others agreed.
Representing the Santa Barbara County Cattlemen's Association, Chamberlin stood to hand to the planners a copy of a "white paper" drafted by the association and its attorneys. A white paper is typically used to help better define rules, organization and authority.
Chamberlin suggested that "rules for (wineries') special events can be included in this good-neighbor ordinance, and hopefully the two can be melded together."
It was Chamberlin's presentation that appeared to trigger Dobrotin's suggestion to pull "special events" out of the revision to the Winery Ordinance and into documentation better suited to businesses at large.
The next public meeting about the ordinance is from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, in Stacy Hall at St. Mark's-in-the-Valley Church in Los Olivos. The topic: Neighborhood Compatability.