El Cajon one step closer to allowing home kitchen enterprises

With the ordinance adopted by the County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 12, the city of El Cajon voted unanimously to direct staff to initiate a zoning code amendment to incorporate Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations performance standards.

The second reading of the county ordinance was at the Jan. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting, and if approved would be adopted 30 days later.

The City is responsible for the investigation of MEHKO nuisance complaints. The Zoning Ordinance already includes performance standards but did not contemplate MEHKOs as a land use.

The City’s zoning code currently contains performance standards for residential zones, but it does not include specific regulations related to MEHKOs. To ensure that performance standards are clear and concise for MEHKOs operating in the City, staff recommended that City Council initiated an amendment to the zoning code to:

• Add definitions for MEHKO-specific terminology to ensure proper enforcement.

• Establish restrictions and conditions related to commercial equipment not intended for residential purposes; and

• Establish performance standards related to traffic and congestion, grease storage and disposal, fire hazards, vermin, wood-burning, refuse storage.

Adopting a zoning amendment would require a public hearing before the Planning Commission before coming to City Council.

Any complaints to the operation of a MEHKO impacts to the community would be enforced by the City and anything related to violations of Retail Food Code would be enforced by the County.

City Manager Graham Mitchell said the amendment would deal with zoning violations to make it clear to MEHKO operators what the thresholds are.

“If there were complaints, police would not be involved,” he said responding to Council member Michelle Metschel’s question about how violations would be handled. “It would become a code enforcement issue.”

City Attorney Morgan Foley said the County owns the vast rights to permits in the city of El Cajon.

“That is unique,” he said. “It is like food grading and food handling at the restaurants. We do not handle those. If we get complaints, it does not come to us, it goes to the county. In the case of a MEHKO, if it is a similar complaint, it goes to the county, not us. If it has to do with parking, congestion, noise, smells, and things like that, we have the ability to adopt our own nuisance guidelines and criteria. That is what staff is recommending is that we come back to amend our zoning code that allows us to undertake those types of enforcement actions.”

The temporary MEHKO ordinance approved by the Board will apply to all jurisdictions in the county and includes requirements or operational provisions for categories including food safety certificates, allowable food storage areas, potable water, and ongoing testing to be enforced by the County Department of Environmental Health and Quality. Nuisance complaints regarding the operation of a MEHKO will be enforced by individual cities within the county, which may choose to utilize existing performance standards or adopt new standards. Violation of a performance standard is considered a nuisance and would be subject to code compliance action.