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Santa Clara County to Prepare Ordinance to Change Winery Regulations to Better Promote Agri-tourism

New Rules Would Reduce Permitting Requirements and Provide Greater Flexibility
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 (Cortese) on August 21, 2012 accepting Planning Department’s policy recommendations regarding winery regulation changes and directed staff to prepare and bring back in November an ordinance and environmental documentations as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). These actions are intended to enhance the viability of wineries and promote agri-tourism in the County.
grape vineUnder current regulations, a Use Permit is required for wineries to hold events of any size.  The permit application fee is a minimum of $14,732 regardless of the number of event attendees or the size of property.  Certain other activities require permits, and private events are not expressly addressed.
“The proposed revisions are the product of 15 public meetings held over a 12 month period to lessen the cost and complexity of the permitting process with the goal of promoting agri-tourism,” said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. 
The Board considered recommendations of the Planning Department and the Planning Commission that were very similar except for aspects of special events and outdoor amplified music. As for special events, now there will be three categories of events based on event attendance – small, medium, and large.  The Planning Department recommended limiting attendees to 50 for small events.  That number could increase to 100 for events on lots of five acres or larger. There would be no permit fee charged. 
Events with a maximum of 250 attendees would be classified as medium events, and would require a special permit.  Up to 12 such medium events per year would be allowed.  Large events would be defined as those with more than 250 attendees and would be governed by a Use Permit. As for the outdoor amplified music, the Ordinance would allow outdoor amplified music via Special Permit, and the Planning Department would evaluate noise impact issues on case-by case basis.

The Ordinance would specify that private noncommercial and fundraising events benefiting nonprofit organizations of any size could be held at wineries in the unincorporated areas.   The ordinance also would address onsite and way-finding signage.
"The Board's direction is clear," said President George Shirakawa, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors.  "By relaxing some of the burdensome regulations on area wineries, we can help those growers to capture agri-tourism dollars which will strengthen the county's economy."
Supervisor Dave Cortese voted against the measure, stating that he would be in favor of the proposals that had been advanced by the Santa Clara County Planning Commission.
“Many of the area wineries are family-owned businesses that are trying to adapt to these tough economic times,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors.  “They need even greater flexibility than the changes recommended by staff.” 
Since 2010, the Planning Department has been holding regular meetings with representatives of the Division of Agriculture and UC Cooperative Extension to discuss agricultural land use-issues. The participants of these meetings identified agri-tourism as being valuable to agricultural sustainability and began looking at ways for the County to better support agri-tourism. The group participants determined that the current winery regulations fall short of providing desired clarity about allowed winery activities. To address that, the Planning Office began a comprehensive review of winery regulations with a focus on ways to better support wineries and to accommodate a greater range of winery marketing activities. In February 2012, the Planning Commission held a workshop following by three public hearings. The Commissioners focused much of their attention on the subjects of special events and outdoor amplified music. The Planning Office believes that an ordinance that incorporates these recommendations will enhance the viability of wineries and promote agri-tourism in Santa Clara County. 

A matrix outlining the current practices, the changes proposed by the Planning Department and the Planning Comission

Map of wineries in Santa Clara County

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Shirley Zackor, Office of Public Affairs(408) 299-5119
Posted: August 27, 2012