Nipomo's Viva Farms moves distribution business to Oceano

Jan Porter, who lives next to Viva Farms, holds a protest sign near the entrance to Viva Way in 2013.
Jan Porter, who lives next to Viva Farms, holds a protest sign near the entrance to Viva Way in 2013. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Following a recent county code enforcement investigation, the owner of a Nipomo nursery — a longtime source of frustration for neighbors who have complained about the number of trucks lumbering down their rural road — has moved his distribution business to Oceano.

Neighbors of Viva Farms, a wholesale facility off Camino Caballo, maintained for several years that the distribution end of the business, Plant Source Inc., was out of compliance with local land use rules.

A third county investigation opened at the insistence of county Supervisor Caren Ray, whose district includes Nipomo, concluded that Viva Farms and Plant Source were in fact two separate businesses and that the distribution company could not operate there.

Business owner Steve Pyle was given until Aug. 1 to comply with the county’s notice of violation, said Harley Voss, a code enforcement investigator.

“It’s my opinion that Viva Farms is the only business remaining there; however, the same owner has both businesses, so there will be a new normal in how he’s going to operate,” Voss said Tuesday, a day after he visited the nursery. “I think there are a lot of exposed nerves over the situation, and I hope things will settle down.”

In an email, Pyle said Plant Source started distributing products from a new location in Oceano on Aug. 1. The distribution company is now at Ocean and Railroad streets in Oceano.

As part of the investigation, county staff measured traffic from Viva Farms and compared that to other greenhouses on the Nipomo Mesa. Voss said he could not disclose the results because it remains an active case.

But neighbors, who have long logged the number of 18-wheelers using an 18-foot-wide road to access Viva Farms, counted as many as 60 truck trips a day along with traffic from more than 100 employees.

They also complained that the nursery was operating at all hours. However, Pyle said in a previous interview that the nursery has operated on a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule since June 2012, and any traffic outside those hours is infrequent and unplanned.

As a nursery, Viva Farms is not restricted under county rules to any specific operating hours.

Eighteen-wheelers will still arrive at the nursery to deliver plants, and two trailers will remain on the site to be filled with finished plants to be taken to the new location in Oceano for distribution.

As a nursery, Viva Farms can not only grow plants but can bring in plants to repackage them, to continue growing them or to ready them for sale, Voss said. The county’s ordinance doesn’t specify that a nursery has to be a propagation program from seed to plant, he added.

Neighbors of the nursery said they welcome the county’s actions but are still apprehensive that their problems are not yet over.

They expect three to four trucks a day to arrive and leave the facility at least three to four times a week — as many as 32 trips on Camino Caballo.

“Although this is a huge improvement over what we have had to endure the past four years, we are apprehensive that this operation will evolve into another trucking and distribution venture, disguised as a nursery,” resident Dennis Delzeit said in an email.

Matt Janssen, division manager in the county’s planning and building department, said the enforcement case would remain open for a few months while staff monitors the traffic at the site to ensure that Plant Source is no longer there.

“I am so glad this situation has been resolved,” Ray said in a statement announcing the change. “Viva Farms is a valued member of our greenhouse business community, but its combination with Plant Source was too much for the surrounding neighborhood. Now the neighborhood can return to normal.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune