Attempt to simplify events rules put on hold

For four hours Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors took on what one of its members, Bruce Gibson, called “the most complex land use issue that I’ve ever wrestled with” before declaring a draw and scheduling a rematch.They ended up kicking it back to their planners for more work.

The issue in question is the county’s so-called events ordinance, a sprawling set of do’s and don’ts that seeks to regulate weddings, concerts, and the many other festivities that take place throughout the county, year-round, and that are a backbone of the local economy.

County supervisors and planners have been tinkering with the “temporary events” part of the law, trying to make it more workable in a way that makes it less costly and easier for people and organizations that want to hold a special event.The discussion Tuesday centered on a recent county Planning Commission recommendation that sought to clarify what constitutes a nonprofit or an event in general, and looked at such issues as allowable setbacks from the road and the neighbor’s property.

It quickly became clear from audience comments that virtually nobody liked the suggestions to “fix” the ordinance, and in fact they were not too keen on the ordinance in general.

North County rancher Dee Lacey called it “a bureaucratic nightmare” that “has become far too complicated and unruly. We’d love to see this go away.”

Another speaker called it a textbook example of the government trying to remedy a small problem and creating a larger one.

Susan MacDonald of Hearst Ranch described it as “a well-intentioned effort that has morphed into a monster.”

Even nonprofit organizations, whom the government is trying to help, did not like the proposed changes. Representatives of the Hospice Partners of the Central Coast said the proposal to clarify the nonprofit part of the ordinance would hurt them.For policy makers, the difficulty lies in the complex nature of the many events that take place.

To make these events manageable through local law, supervisors must consider a dizzying jumble of issues: crowd size, hours, parking, fire and police safety, use of alcohol, the size of the venue, toilets, water, cost, exemptions, lifespan of the permit, concerns of the neighbors and many others.

The circumstances change with every separate event.

An events ordinance, in sum, must address who gets to hold what events, under what circumstances and at what cost. Supervisors made clear that they cannot just walk away from trying to regulate events because there are so many abuses.Jerret Gran of San Luis Obispo explained one of them Tuesday. Gran, the only person in the general audience who urged supervisors to adopt the ordinance, told supervisors he lives near a vacation rental that advertises weddings that are so noisy he has thought about selling his house.

But supervisors were equally clear that they were not satisfied with the proposal they were discussing.

“We’re supposed to simplify,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said.

In the end, supervisors asked their planners to “come back with the beginning of a users’ manual that will clarify, simplify, and provide broader discretion for events,” as Supervisor Adam Hill described it. “It should allow for greater flexibility and allow nonprofit events to continue.”