Supervisors adopt ordinance for temporary agritourism

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance to address temporary agritourism community events.

Because the changes amended the county’s code of regulatory ordinances as well as the county’s Zoning Ordinance two readings were required. The supervisors’ 4-0 vote Jan. 29, with Kristin Gaspar not present at the time of the vote, approved the first reading and introduction of the ordinance amendments to define and allow for temporary agritourism community events while a 5-0 vote February 12 approved the second reading and adoption. The action also included permit fee waivers.

In March 2017 the Board of Supervisors approved the county’s Agriculture Promotion Program which allows commercial accessory uses on properties where agriculture is the primary use. In May 2018 the Board of Supervisors directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to explore options to ease the ability of local small-scale businesses to provide food and goods at community-based events on agriculture-producing properties, to add to the county’s legislative program support for state legislative efforts to reduce or ease regulations for local small-scale businesses seeking to provide food or goods at community-based events on agricultural property and/or direct marketing of agricultural products, and to return to the Board of Supervisors within 120 days. The options the CAO was to explore included a permit fee waiver program, a pilot program, and revisions to the Agriculture Promotion Program including Zoning Ordinance revisions.

Five different county departments worked on the options. The Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures has regulatory and permitting authority for certified farmers’ markets and certified agriculture producers. The Department of Environmental Health (DEH) has regulatory and permitting authority for food operations. The Department of Planning and Development Services has expertise in county code and zoning. The Sheriff’s Department has a Licensing Division which licenses vendors. County Counsel reviewed the proposed options for conformance with the California Retail Food Code, county code, the Zoning Ordinance, and current business practices.

The options were grouped into four categories:  allowing food or goods vendors at community events on agriculture-producing land, expanding opportunities for commercial agriculture operations to build small agriculture stores, holding certified farmers’ markets on agriculture-producing land, and providing incentives to encourage food truck participation at agricultural tourism events. Each potential option included a summary of what changes would be needed for implementation, the anticipated level of environmental review, the estimated cost for environmental review and for permit fee waiver pilot programs, and the anticipated timeframe for the implementation to occur.

The four options provided for food and goods vendors consisted of limiting events to one temporary food facility vendor, allowing for multiple food vendors without limitations to the number of food vendors, allowing for food and goods vendors with a requirement that at least 51 percent of the sales be agriculture-related, and allowing multiple food or goods vendors without limits. In November 2018 the supervisors chose the option of multiple food and goods vendors with a majority of sales being agriculture-related. That action adopted two recommendations involving permit fee waivers for pilot programs and sent the other recommendations to county staff for development and environmental review.

One permit fee waiver was for the Zoning Verification Permit for small agricultural stores. The other waiver provided for a rebate from the DEH permit fee for food trucks participating in at least four or more agritourism events at different locations during the previous year.

Under current state law and county code agriculture producers may host a vendor to sell locally-produced food through a temporary food facility permit which is administered by DEH under the California Retail Food Code. Food trucks are currently allowed at boutique wineries, small wineries, large breweries or distilleries, or agricultural production land associated with agricultural tourism. Certified farmers’ markets are allowed only on public property or commercially-zoned parcels. Temporary food facilities can operate for no more than 25 days of any 90-day period.

A Zoning Ordinance amendment was necessary to define and authorize agriculture tourism community events. The amendment limits events to 350 people, which is consistent with existing county code for Sheriff’s Department licensing of for-profit events, while also limiting the hours of operation, prohibiting outdoor amplified sound, and specifically excluding carnivals, swap meets, and weddings.

Agritourism activities are defined as an accessory agricultural use where the public visits a commercial agricultural operation for enjoyment, education, or active involvement in the agricultural activities. Such activities include customers picking their own agricultural products, tours, agricultural instruction or demonstrations, lectures or classes about agriculture-related topics, and participation in agricultural operations on the premises. The intent of those activities is to aid the economic viability of agriculture both by providing additional economic activity and by educating the general public about the importance of agriculture.

Small agricultural stores are separate from agritourism activities and were approved as part of the Agricultural Promotion Program. A Zoning Verification Permit was required although the revised ordinance eliminates that permit requirement.

The ordinance revisions also define temporary agritourism community events and provide criteria for commercial agricultural operations to include for-profit sales during agritourism activities.