Monday, November 18, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 37
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 16th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 7

A new county ordinance outlines exemptions, permits for hoop houses

By ZAC EZZONE

Santa Barbara County farmers have a new ordinance to navigate. It requires a permit to use hoop and shade structures for crop protection, unless growers meet certain exemptions.

Almost two years after tasking staff with preparing an ordinance to clarify the permitting process for hoop and shade structures, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the measure and its exemptions at the board’s April 9 meeting.

Sara Rotman, one of several county residents who spoke during public comment at the meeting, said that there were some things in the ordinance she disagreed with, but she felt it was a compromise and urged the supervisors to approve it.


REGULATING HOOP HOUSES
Amid an increase in the number of hoop houses used in the county, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance clarifying the permitting process for hoop and shade structures.
PHOTO BY ZAC EZZONE

“Over the course of the past two years with the Board of Supervisors, the general public, and our local farmers, we’ve had a much heated and often contentious debate regarding these hoop structures,” Rotman said. “During this time, we learned our community understands, as we do, that if farming becomes impossible for us living in the county ... you’ll see farms fail.”

Although the ordinance includes some exemptions, a few individuals who spoke during the public comment period said the permit process could hurt farmers in an area where agriculture is such an important part of the economy. According to Santa Barbara County’s 2017 Agriculture Production Report, the agricultural industry contributes $2.8 billion to the county’s economy and provides 25,370 jobs.

Amid an increase in the number of hoop houses used in the county, the board decided it needed to clarify the permitting process for using them. Prior to the ordinance, hoop houses faced the same permit process as greenhouses.

A staff report from May 2018 defines hoop and shade structures—or hoop houses—as removable structures used to protect plants from factors such as dust and moisture, and enhance the growing environment, by moderating temperatures and extending the growing season.

The ordinance requires growers to obtain a zoning clearance for hoop structures covering an area of 20,000 square feet or less, and a land use permit for those covering an area of 20,000 square feet or more. Ranchers and farmers can be exempt from obtaining a permit if the hoop houses are 20 feet or less in height, are located on land that has been cultivated in one of the last three years, and on a slope with an average grade of 25 percent or less. Hoop houses covering an area of 4,000 square feet or less are exempt if they are located in the Santa Ynez Valley Design Control Overlay or Gaviota Coast Critical Viewshed Corridor Overlay.

The ordinance also includes a measure providing a permit exemption for hoop houses built at least 100 feet away from natural rivers, streams, and creeks to protect the habitats of plants and animals.

County residents who spoke during public comment also expressed concern regarding cannabis growers’ use of hoop houses and requested that the county add restrictions to the ordinance regulating cannabis growers’ ability to use those structures.

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said the vast majority of hoop houses are used by berry farmers, not cannabis growers, while 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam said attempts to shift the focus of this ordinance to cannabis were harmful to farmers.

We did not start this on cannabis but the anti-cannabis people have hijacked this issue, and I think, in so doing, they have caused a lot of problems for the bulk of the industry that uses [hoop houses],” Adam said during the meeting.

Some supervisors also expressed concerns about the 100-foot setback requirement. Adam—who cast the lone vote against the ordinance—said a 100-foot setback is far too restrictive for farmers.

“This isn’t a development in terms of a building for a structure or some kind of land use where somebody is going to be doing something,” Adam said.

Claire Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, also spoke against the setback restriction during the public comment period. She said the association supported the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission’s recommended setback of 50 feet, but finds 100 feet to be too stringent.

Although the Planning Commission recommended the 50-foot setback, the Board of Supervisors opted to follow the recommendations included in the county’s environmental impact report—which was reviewed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife—that included a 100-foot setback.

According to county staff, changing the setback to 50 feet would have required the county to recirculate another environmental report, which would require additional public hearings and further delay the process of establishing the ordinance.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he didn’t want to make any changes that would extend the process of setting an ordinance for a practice that’s already widely used throughout the county.

“We’ve had 10 meetings on hoops that are already being used. … We’ve made a lot of progress, and I would hate for us to go backward,” Lavagnino said.

In addition to the distance of the setback, Wineman said the association is also concerned about the streams that the setback rules apply to based on the county’s definition. According to county staff, concrete channels and other streams created purposefully by humans are excluded from the setback requirement, but all natural streams are included.

First District Supervisor Das Williams said the definition is vague and asked county staff to create a set of setback requirement guidelines for the board to review at a future meeting.

Staff Writer Zac Ezzone can be reached at zezzone@santamariasun.com.




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